Monday, March 29, 2010

Love...Pure and Simple

This is just a quick post to say how much I love and appreciate my husband. An old friend reminded me today that I am so happy I married someone who grew up, but who knows how to be kid-like (in a good way). He's not perfect, he doesn't seem to mind that neither am I (clearly), and I appreciate that he makes a choice everyday to be a stand-up guy. And, when I look into Little Kidlet's eyes, which are the same as his daddy's, I melt.

~ Love, The Wife

Photo by feltcafe (I wish I were even remotely crafty)

Friday, March 26, 2010

I Feel Rotten, Oh So Rotten: A Beauty Intervention

Today's accomplishment falls under the goal of doing some restoration of body and soul...

Some people have therapists, some people have bartenders, and others have their hair stylists. My longtime stylist is Michael, and although I am a terribly inconsistent client, each time I slip into that chair, a bedraggled mess, I know he'll work his magic and I'll feel just a little better on the other side. He knows me well (and is reeaaallly good at what he does) well in fact that when I slipped into that chair after an eight month absence, he stopped, leveled me with a long look in the mirror I could barely stand to look at myself in and asked with subtext "moving a little slow today?" Oh crap, I can't lie to my mother and I can't lie to Michael.

We have a long history, and he's been there through my ups and downs. The first time we met nearly eleven years ago, I plopped into the chair of his new salon that opened conveniently close to my work place, with long, long blonde virginal hair and said, "I want it short and I want it red." He looked at me steadily with a bit of surprise, and a bit of wariness reflected in his calm eyes, and asked some probing questions designed to ascertain if I really knew what I was asking him for, and assessing my "crazy factor." But once he surmised that I was resolute, and reasonably sane, he proceeded to give me the best cut I'd ever had and a color that I wish my budget and my lately developed awareness of the adverse effects of hair coloring would allow me to duplicate.

It was life changing that cut and color. The look on The Husband's (then The Boyfriend) face, as well as those on the faces of every work colleague who thought they had me pegged, made that cut worth every living penny I paid.

Through the years the cuts and colors have changed (we both mourned a little bit when my decision to stay at home with my kids curtailed my beauty budget and spelled an end to my color habit), but we comfortably knew what to expect from one another. Michael knows that if he's lucky he'll see me maybe twice a year, and I will arrive thoroughly in desperate need of a beauty intervention, but that I will more often than not arrive with an agenda that will probably surprise him and he'll get to have a little fun because I trust his judgement and skills completely. I know that he won't judge that I have let his former masterpieces fall to ruins, and he'll keep a lot of his goops and serums to himself because I generally "don't like crap in my hair." He will let his latest proteges work on me because he knows I'm patient and a risk taker (at least in the hair department), willing to let someone learn. I will tell them some of the crazy things we've done, and urge them to listen to every single thing he teaches them, because they hit the jackpot in mentors. Some I can tell get how special he is in what and how he does what he does, and understand that in addition to having unbelievable skill, more importantly he sees people. And to top it all off we'll usually have a great conversation spanning religion, politics, relationships, business, philosophy, you name it, while his skilled scissors are flashing around my head. Truly for me he is the holy grail of hair care.

Today I told Michael, my eyes glistening a little bit despite my best efforts, "I need a change, I need to feel beautiful." And that's just what he did for me...again.

My fantasy hair... photo by michael mccormick

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Depression is Not a Life Sentence for Your Children (I Pray)

Recently an article in the Los Angles Times reported, "Evidence is mounting that growing up with a depressed parent increases a child's risk for mental health problems, cognitive difficulties and troubled social relationships." This is one of my greatest fears. That's because in my own experience I know this to be true. As I read this article, it definitely struck a chord for me. It's something I worry about often, and in those moments when I fail to hold it together as a parent grappling with my own demons, I beat myself up stridently for this reason.

Depression runs in families. I am certain that my father has suffered from undiagnosed and largely untreated depression for most of his life, and I suspect that it started very early on. He had a troubled relationship with his father, whom he idolized, but had a difficult time connecting with. Things got to the point that my grandfather took him to a therapist with the goal of finding out why my father "hated him." The therapist worked with my father, and ultimately told my grandfather that his son did not hate him, and in fact worshiped him, and helped the two to ultimately have what my dad described as "a wonderful rediscovered relationship." But this new found father and son connection was tragically arrested when my grandfather had a massive heart attack and died when my dad was barely 14 years old.

In the years that I've known my dad he has been prone to intense anger, has at times been both verbally and physically abusive, and has fallen into deep periods of hopelessness, punctuated by terrifying threats of suicide. My husband doesn't quite grasp my aversion to the guns he enjoys in a sporting fashion. My father always had a sawed off shot-gun just under his sweaters on the top shelf of his closet, and I believed that he could and would use it at any moment growing up as a child. Guns represent violence and insecurity to me.

As I age, I also suspect that my mother also suffered, and continues to suffer from depression. But she manifests it very differently. She withdraws from everyone and everything. She prefers to give her care and attachment to animals, with whom she has a deep connection and a beautiful gift for healing. To this day, my mother largely remains a mystery to me. Whereas my father, a deep lover of history, regaled me (repeatedly) with stories of his life, when I would ask my mother about hers, she would vaguely and flatly tell me she "didn't remember." I remember looking at photos of my mother as an obviously spunky and stunningly beautiful young woman, making up the stories that I knew were there, feeling very hurt that she chose not to share them with me.

My parents are both still living, but I consider myself all but orphaned. They emotionally abandoned me long before I physically left them. That's how it feels to me anyway, although I know they disagree. We don't have any kind of functional relationship now. This is largely their choice. For years, I stayed silent about how I felt about their distance and estrangement from me, fearing that they would completely cut off what little relationship we did have. That was until this year, just after the birth of Little Kidlet, whom they have yet to meet.

I finally, in the twilight of my thirties, had mustered the courage to tell them how much it hurt me to be estranged from them, to not know what was happening with them unless I made it my business to find out, and to ask them why they didn't seem interested in their grandchildren, let alone their only child?

It was my fear realized. My mother flatly rejected that they had not expressed care and concern as parents, that if anything happened to them, "I would be contacted," and that if I needed them to tell me that they thought about me, or loved me, then the problem was mine. End of discussion. As I sat on the phone (on speaker so my husband could hear) trying to control my body shaking sobs, my father tried to soften the precise blows just delivered by my matter of fact mother. But, we have not spoken since that day. I periodically send them updates about the boys, but that is the extent of our relationship. I can't manage much more at this point. Looking at it now, and the timing of that conversation, it factors as a trigger for the depression I'm now moving through.

Instinctively I know they do not mean to hurt me, but it doesn't lessen the pain of feeling unwanted. My ninety-plus grandmother, who always sees the bright side of things (how else to survive losing your husband, and raising two teenage boys alone, put them through college, and live to be the last of your immediate family), sees the fact that they don't contact me (or her for that matter) as their attempt to protect me. And I guess she has a point; they must know that I was and am miserable in their world, and was happy to leave it. I do consider the day I left home for good at nineteen, as an escape from the frequent and explosively angry arguments between them, fear, and sadness that was pervasive in their home. I returned briefly a few years ago to help nurse my father after a surgery, and I could barely breathe before I was able to get back to my life again.

I work a lot in my prayer and biblical study trying to give them and myself grace for this. It is really only through the lens of my own depression that I can even attempt to do that, to understand how you would want to shield your children from your own darkness and despair.

Reading about the effects on children identified in the article, "learned helplessness," resonated, but not in the way many would think. It is true that from my experience of my father's expression of his depression, I felt, and feel the lure of fatalistic helplessness, of succumbing to the belief that no matter what I do, I am not able to "fix it." But from my mother's expression of her depression, I learned a complete revulsion of helplessness (she often complained about this fact scathingly regarding my father). I learned that if you wanted to fix something you had to do it yourself, and if you failed, you only have yourself, and your weakness to blame. This leads me to the feelings of shame that I am not somehow
"strong enough" to, as my mother would say, "grunt and bear it." She never had any patience for my intense sensitivity and tendency to cry, and secretly, neither do I. I fight that feeling myself now at times as a mother, and focus on being a "soft place to fall" when my emotional toddler is melting down.

But even though it runs in families, it's not a foregone conclusion according to the findings this article reports. The overarching theme of the article is that the effects of a parent's depression on their children is to a degree combatible. The article states: "Studies suggest, for example, that changing destructive parenting practices and teaching children good coping strategies can make a big, positive difference in kids." This is a main driver behind why I attachment parent. I understand how being insecure in your relationship with your parents, from the very beginning, can lead to a profound insecurity in oneself and one's relationships with others. I know how exerting my need to control, and not setting up parameters of true respect between parent and child, can alienate and estrange them, and ultimately not equip them well to make good decisions for themselves, or worse make them fearful to make decisions at all.

As one mother who grapples with depression shared in the article: "My son is a lot more prone to worry and anxiety. He struggles with big, big feelings. He feels things on a very deep, empathetic level and is so affected by the feelings of others." Another in the comments on the article explained the extreme "empathy" they (and I to) developed as a "defense mechanism" because of the need to "tailor one's activities to the parents 'mood of the moment.'"

That hit the nail on the head of what I experienced and I worry what my own swinging emotions and moods are already doing to my nearly three year old. He shows he is sensitive to my moods, and tells me "I be a nice boy, mama" in particularly tense moments between us when he realizes he has pushed me and I show him I have been provoked. Sometimes this breaks my heart. I know how scary that can be for a kid. He doesn't need to twist and turn himself to make his mama happy, and I shouldn't make him feel that way!

The findings about the physiological effects of depression on a child's growing brain are particularly chilling as well. You are literally influencing the growth of their brains, long after they leave your physical body.

I figure that with this knowledge, both of my self and my struggles, as well as the effects it can have, I need to parent in the best possible way to counteract it. As the author also writes, ""Not only do children fare better if they are taught not to blame themselves for a parent's depression, they also flourish when caregivers can give them plenty of attention, says Beardslee."

I often write about my faith and God, and what place does God have in all this for me? The answer is a lot. Although faith was absent in my parents house, I was exposed as a young child, and have never lost that deep sense of connection, one I can't always explain. In my darkest moments, God was and is a constant for me. Many people that grow up in unstable homes easily fall into addictions and substance abuse. While I had other issues, I never ventured, nor wanted to venture in that direction. Frankly, I think I feared the lack of control. But, I also felt "guided," for lack of a better term.

When I worry about these issues, I am reminded that before I was my parents' child, I was God's child, and the same is true of my children. So another "coping mechanism," in fact what I believe to be a truth, I will teach my children is that they are loved well and wholly, even when mommy doesn't do such a great job of it. They are not here to complete, fix, or reflect me, but to live out the love and purpose that God has for them, and them alone. I am not the true compass of their lives, God is.

As an adult and a parent that has made plenty of mistakes, I also find hope and comfort for myself in my faith, and especially when encountering this challenge of circumstance and biology. It is a daily exercise in trust for me. Trust that I am intended to be just who I am, that my trials and triumphs have purpose, and that I am loved in my brokenness.

So, bottomline, I believe that depression can be encountered and combated for myself and my children. Just because I struggle doesn't mean that they cause it, or are doomed to also, but I will continue to work to try and protect them from the darkness, by showing them a light out, and showing how their mama fights through it, with every breath I have. God willing.

I always appreciated this iconic photo from the Great Depression, housed at the Library of Congress, but as a mother I "get" it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow. ~Swedish Proverb

The house is quiet (well, if you ignore the snoring of The Husband) and the baby sleeps (for the moment) in the co-sleeper. Last night he slept a tiny bit in the co-sleeper, but was still keen to be snuggled next to me. I had one of those deep in the pit of the night moments when having unsuccessfully tried once again to resettle him in the co-sleeper, I had to leave bed and have a terse conversation with God. But as I prayed curled on the couch, a calm voice overtook my frantic mind and said that I had to be more patient, and the start was just that--a start. I returned to bed and snuggled my little one back into me, not so much resigned, as accepting of the fact that I would end up perched and crinky in body on the edges of my bed, but hopefully we would both sleep and breathe in unison once more (for now).

Today dawned as a day of re-centering. Wednesdays are my lifeline days, they are the days I mindfully and intentionally walk with God. This Wednesday was also especially anticipated for a special time set aside to celebrate a friend.

The subject of today's study was "Treasure and Worry" based in Matthew 6: 19-34. The discussion prompt started with "What do you worry about? What are you anxious about?"


In view of the fact that I was voted "Biggest Worrywart" in my senior class "gag" awards, I decided to remain silent...this could take a while. I decided to let the other ladies around the table have the floor, and studiously avoided the eyes of the facilitator as she guided the conversation.

I answered the questions silently, making mental notes about points to explore in writing later, and listened to the women around me. That was until the woman next to me suddenly turned to me and said, "What do you worry about?" All eyes swung my way and I mentally went through the humorous response I could use to deflect and move on. I knew one person at the table fairly well, and the rest are virtual strangers to me. The person I knew well is hooked into my local network of moms. How much did I want to reveal?

I decided to be real.

It was scary, and I felt ashamed, still feeling that if I could just be stronger/better/saner I wouldn't be whining about things that virtually every new mother goes through, but I'm having a ridiculously hard time coping with.

But that's what this study was about. Confessing brokenness and weakness, and placing trust in God (and friends).

And that's what I'm doing.

Later that evening, the person I knew at that table, suddenly appeared on my doorstep with a meal and a hug to share.

I felt very humble, but very encouraged in faith (and friends).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Separate, but O.K...Eventually

The thing with depression that throws me for a loop are the peaks and valleys. One minute I'll be coping very well and feel I've got a handle on it, I'm happy even, but the next a mighty storm blows in and I'm right down in it once again. On the peak days, I chide myself, "see, you're just being a drama queen about a few bad days, you're doing fine." But on the rough days, I know this isn't something to be taken lightly, the tone of my thoughts is way to scary to be dismissed. It's when those thoughts become highly analytical that it really gets downright chilling.

Part of getting through this is understanding my triggers. Today is a really bad day. Not surprisingly, this comes on the heels of a night of little (even less than normal) sleeping because Little Kidlet was awake and/or nursing more than he was asleep. For eases sake, and also when I admit it to myself a need for continued attachment to who will probably be my last child, I've kept him with me far longer than I did his brother.

I also support the principles of the family bed. Instinctively it just makes sense to me. But I also feel that it really only works well if all members of the household are on board with it, and pretty much it's only been Little Kidlet and (decreasingly) myself who have been in favor of it. The Husband isn't sleeping well either, and gets up for work at an ungodly hour, so his brief hours of rest are precious. Little sleep also is a trigger for his coping mechanisms as well.

Plus, he wants his, you know, wife time. Not that that can't be accomplished elsewhere, but with Little Kidlet's near constant desire to be preferably on me at all times, it's easier to deny and deflect. And I want to deflect right now. I'm just not really ready for much intimacy, in fact it's really the furthest thing from my mind. I know that it is hormonally based and affected by this exhaustion and depression also, because when I was pregnant... This has been true for both pregnancies. I have to consider our needs as a couple, however; we're stretched thin as it is.

Big Kidlet is wildly jealous also I can tell. We moved him to crib at night by this time, and he has always been "a great sleeper" since, and truly loves his crib. It is profoundly hard to put down the baby when the older child is bouncing around, "trying" to be quiet (yeah, right), and the whole process takes longer as a result. This takes more time away from the older child, thus making him mad, and then he acts out...and it can really go downhill from there, and regrettably does alot more than I would like, or feel is acceptable.

Before those who think bed-sharers/co-sleepers literally made your bed, I think that many people (and I know a few) do just fine, and in fact thrive. But I submit that it also has to do with the personalities at play, and I'm certain it can be tougher for someone who is struggling with ppd. While I love, and in a lot of ways crave the closeness with my child, I also have an intense need to have my own space. It comes on very strongly, and it's almost painful to be touched when it does, such is the intensity of the need to have everyone off and away from me. This even happens in my labors--I prefer to go it largely alone and don't like to be touched. Therefore, for me, having separate sleeping spaces ultimately is the way I can continue to physically give, by ensuring that I don't get overloaded with "nearness."

This is an obvious problem for a baby. My husband, and to a certain extent my 3 yr. old, I can tell I need space and they can adjust, but you can't just flip a switch on a baby.

That is why today is a really bad day. I'm exhausted. It's time to start giving myself some (physical) space, so that I can continue to meet the needs of my family even in the midst of this hard time. I've spent the morning starting the transition of moving Little Kidlet out of the bed full-time. We're starting with the co-sleeper (which has sat unused next to the bed...well except as a dumping zone for all my baby stuff). Big Kidlet is not out of the crib just yet, but lately I can see that it is coming, so the co-sleeper in our room, at least for non-shared naps has got to be it. Also, the specter of getting two children to sleep in the same room, so different in age, is admittedly daunting. I tried a few months back, and they woke each other up. And, I still want to have him close, following the path of healthy attachment parenting.

As you can guess it did not go well. I should revise that. It's not go easily, but in my sleep deprived, completely off balance mind it was a disaster. I do not do "cry-it-out," nor will I, so I worked on making the co-sleeper inviting (towel that we have used in bed with our smells, putting a heating pad on low to warm the area before putting him down) and made sure to start putting him down fully fed and drowsy awake. When he cried I came back and soothed him by rubbing his back/tummy, but I left him in there. I laid on the bed and put my hand on him, letting him know I was right there. But he was not happy, understandably so, he doesn't see any need to change the status quo. He doesn't understand. This cycle went on for three hours.

I ping ponged between my two children for the duration, working hard to keep my cool. Somewhere in that span, my husband came home from work early (hoping to catch a nap himself) and took over with Big Kidlet, gratefully, but not before he destroyed the play area and took many of my books off the shelves, because he knows I really don't like that. He to was not happy, and let me know it.

NObody was happy. But I'm not a quitter, and I'm stubborn. I don't do gradual well. Honestly in retrospect I was an idiot to even try such a thing in such a vulnerable sleep deprived state.

Ultimately I did compromise and after nursing him in bed, transferred him to the attached co-sleeper (again, but this time he was sufficiently worn out to allow it). Everyone, except me was down for their naps (including The Husband), and I headed out for some food and some sanity time, which I used to begin this post to work through this challenging day.

The peace lasted for twenty-seven minutes.

What ensued was a thoroughly running on empty attempt to restore the peace, which failed, and ended up with me leaving the house for a breakdown in the backyard and my demons running rampage through my mind. I set myself up for failure, and not surprisingly I failed, and miserably.

Ultimately as I write this, my husband has (finally) recognized the fragility of the situation, and is taking care of my kids so I can write this out and get a shower. It will have to be enough. The danger with ppd is that normal everyday issues, like getting the baby to sleep, can become full blown crisis. I'm once again choosing to avert another more serious one.

I will continue to try again, but with a more equipped mind and body, because it is time. I feel very guilty for changing the rules on my precious Little Kidlet for what feels like a selfish reason. I'll perhaps have some censure from my friends who do the family bed faithfully, as well as some "I told you so"-s from my non "crunchy" friends. But, I have to follow my instincts,and my instincts are telling me that for their health and mine, the baby has got to move a mere one foot away and we need to start our journey into healthy "separation."

Monday, March 22, 2010

I, Being of Sound Mind and Body...

I took some time last week to just be in my skin and live my life. I focused on getting out and getting some sun and exercise, and on cooking good food in my kitchen. These are the ways that I best care for myself and my family. And it definitely helped drive back the clouds of ppd.

As is thankfully often these days, people with good and healthy messages were put in my path, for which I give great thanks. I also experienced some healthy humility in the form of hearing from and extending care to some that are in far worse circumstances than I. The wisdom of not letting oneself withdraw when those clouds roll in, even if painful and leaving one vulnerable, has been especially important to me this last week. You have to emerge from the darkness of the cave to see the truth in the light.

Particularly helpful to me last week was the speaker at my weekly bible study, Danna Demetre. Speaking about the beauty battle for women, she made several key points that are applicable to any internal battle a woman is waging.

Drawing from Psalm 139, she spoke about accepting yourself as specifically designed to be just who you are. "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb." (Psalm 139:13) I find this tremendously comforting on the one hand, but also pretty frustrating as well in those moments when I wonder why I have to go through this stuff. And, I'd imagine that those who also struggle with far more serious burdens and sorrows also feel similarly. What is the purpose of struggling so mightily?

I can really only speak for myself, and I know that only when I have been to the lowest point, and become very vulnerable am I able to really see, or at least follow the path that will eventually lead me out of it. But until that point, I'll wander stubbornly in the dark, not asking, or not listening more the case, to direction.

She also drew from Romans 12:2:

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

As she told us, "in the human brain, the most dominant thought wins," and "before you can begin, you must identify the lies you believe and replace them with the truth." She concluded with :

"Watch your thoughts; they become your words.
Watch your words; they become your actions.
Watch your actions; they become your habits.
Watch your habits; they become your character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny."
My verse of prayer and meditation this week is 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV):

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

I'm counting on that sound mind.

Monday, March 15, 2010

When Enough is Enough: Post-Partum Depression

This weekend was rough, no two ways about it. While we all eagerly awaited the arrival of The Husband from "The Business Trip That Would Not End," I decided in my desperation to leave the house, and my bull-headed determination to attend the HUGE children's consignment sale I had had on my calendar for months, to load up the kiddos and bring them with me into bargain hunting mayhem. I felt wildly guilty bringing them, felt the sanction of the other veterans there for even thinking of it, much less attempting it. I mean "what kind of woman brings a 3 year old boy and a 6 month old infant to a cramped, slightly avaricious exercise in economy?"

A desperate woman, that's who.

I already felt like a crappy mother for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was subjecting my sweet Big Kidlet who just wanted to go and see the promised horses (conveniently nearby at the fairgrounds) to the melee, when the woman at the checkout (who wasn't even my appointed cashier by the way) with the ROCK that said "I don't need to bargain shop, I just volunteer for all the poor souls that do," didn't need to speculate aloud, "that baby's (the one I was carrying all snuggly warm against me) head looks cold." I was a bit aghast, so I made her repeat it, feigning not understanding what she had said. Um no lady, he is just fine thanks. It was her entree into expressing her derision. I shut her down. I will confess I worked the "poor dear obviously must be a rookie" assumption to allow myself to score getting my stroller to seat my rambunctious, but really doing pretty awesome considering, 3 year old while waiting in the line. (Strollers are a no-no due to the space constrictions, although the veterans get around that by buying a stroller for sale inside.)

What was I thinking? Clearly I was out of my mind you are saying?

You would be correct.

Over the last month or more of super charged emotionalism (more than usual), over the top hypersensitivity (view some of my recent posts on friendship struggles), and misconstruing each time my son declared in all his toddler asserting-independent-control glory, "Mommy go away, I want Daddy!" as a clear sign of rejection that would land him in juvenile hall down the line for having such an abject failure for a mother, I thought this is not normal. You think?! I am given to a certain degree of, um, shall we say "dramatics," but this was topping all previous benchmarks for absurdity.

And it was rapidly getting worse. Bella Swan in Twilight tells the morose hero Edward, "Your mood swings are kind of giving me whiplash." My mood swings were heading towards a crash that could possibly do a little more physical damage.

It was in the shower, when my son was throwing an epic fit because I was the one showering with him and not his (much missed and recently home) dad, that I had a breaking point. And the hell was further scared out of me when the voices and images in my head started to get, well scary. That was when in yet another irrational crying jag that I pulled myself up short and really let myself acknowledge that post-partum depression had returned, and stronger than after the birth of my first son.

So I got proactive, because I love these little boys and my husband and I never want them to have to live in the aftermath of something like I witnessed after a friend suddenly and inexplicably took her own life violently earlier last year, leaving two young children under five.

Gratefully, also over the last few days God has made sure that little beacons have been placed in my path. People whom I read regularly, who have never previously written about ppd, posted on the subject, emails appeared in my inbox on the subject. That alone gives me the resolve to rise and meet this latest struggle with the pernicious "D." Hopefully, I do that for someone else as well. A resource that I'm finding helpful: When I want to figure something out, the nerd takes full control.

The first step is I told people I trusted that I am not o.k. From there I am grabbing on to the rope they have thrown to me, and my own resolve and moxie, and I'm grabbing and pulling myself forward, one step at a time.

Another step...sleep.

Photo by wonderbjerg

This has been an anthem of sorts at periods like this over the years. Just ignore the bad 90s pop fact you know just close your eyes and listen. :)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mama Take Note, There is "Fun" in Functional

A good day. I don't mind saying I was a little scared, given how things have been lately to send off The Husband for a few days and go it solo. But I'm happy to say that more than halfway through and everyone is still in one piece, and in fact we have been... enjoying each other. I know, right?!

The thing about having a big challenge in front of me is that I seem to just gather myself, shelve my, well you know, and stand up to meet it. Because my husband isn't around to help, I've had to anticipate and plan better today, and consequently have been able to head off most issues before they blew up. Because he wasn't around, I had to be both functional AND fun mommy; usually it's mostly about functional, because daddy is decidedly more fun than mama. Last night I rolled around on the floor and let Big Kidlet blow strawberries on my tummy, which he of course loved, and I did to. But despite our relatively smoother sailing I will be extraordinarily happy when The Husband walks back through that door.

I tweeted something that pretty much covers it:

"Held a toddler mommy summit and we agreed on a constructive 2 part plan to cease aggressive maneuvers: He'll listen more & I'll play more :) "

A good day. I'll take it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On Scarlett O'Hara, Attachment Parenting, and Prayer

Oh Scarlett O'Hara in all her crazed and delusional glory would be so very proud of me. I've been "After all...tomorrow is another day"-ing myself silly these last few weeks. We, and by "we," I mean Big Kidlet and I, have hit a mother of a rough patch and we are keeping our seats, but just barely. Each day as the sun sets, I resolve to try again the next day to navigate the deep and treacherous ruts on this particular fork of the road we find ourselves on, and not fall prostrate in the mud, thrashing and flinging it all about (metaphorically speaking of course, but hopefully you get the picture).

I should preface the rest that follows with the statement that I am a praying woman of faith. At this point I'm not so much an "evangelical" in my Christian faith, as I am a "searcher." I don't pretend to have the answers, nor do I discount the wisdom of other traditions. However, for me, since I was a small child, Jesus has always been there--He just makes sense. Never more tested has my faith been than in the difficult moments with my children, so you will understand me when I say that this morning, it was literally by the grace of God that we made it.

Big Kidlet's trigger to full scale, intensely angry, meltdowns is very very fine at the moment, as is mine frankly. As closely as I can tell, the novelty of Little Kidlet's arrival has definitely worn off, and behaviors I was relieved to not have seen early on, such as trying to hit his little brother, have emerged when he is in the throes of a temper tantrum. I get this much clearly...the little man is really pissed off when he has to do just about anything any other way than he decides to do it. Control, oh brother do I get it, he doesn't like being controlled. One of these days he'll come to the fundamental question of life that I encountered as a young college student, studying Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales: "do we act of our own free will, or are we acted upon?" Ah, I could go on about that for an age, but I'll spare you.

This morning was going fairly peacefully, and we shared a rare private breakfast together while Little Kidlet slept in. We were on track for an on-time departure for my weekly mother's Bible study and his playschool program. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I have literally been counting the days and hours until this precious break; things have been rough and it is truly something I do for me that keeps me sane. The peace was broken when he was not invited (allowed) to come into our bedroom to bounce around and all over a just awakened Little Kidlet (that's a lot of energy to handle two seconds after waking up for an adult, never mind an infant). What followed was akin to what I think it might feel like to be caught in the whirling edges of a tornado, in other words, it royally sucked. No royalty is to lowly, I'd venture to say it biblically sucked. We needed God. Right. That. Second.

And that's what I did. I prayed fervently to God to still our hearts, and minds, and voices, and hands, and show us what to do. Although my son had been previously protesting that under no circumstances would he a. let me change his stinking-to-high-heaven diaper nor b. accompany me to Bible playschool, and we were so hopelessly late, so that it was highly doubtful that there would be room for him anyway, a voice urged me to try, to leave the house, and on the double. Miraculously it seemed my son stilled, allowed me to change his diaper calmly, get him dressed and in the car without further fuss, and finish loading us up. All the while I plotted a plan a,b, and c, but come, well, hell, or high water, we were leaving this house, and now.

When we arrived, I fairly sprinted in front of another late comer with a similar aged kid bound undoubtedly for the same drop-in playschool program. I prayed that God and this mother would forgive my selfishness, but this was a mayday situation, and I needed to get him safely cared for and away from his verging on speaking in tongues mama pronto. I still feel chagrined about that one, but we both got in, and I started praying that he would be OK as fragile as he had been acting all morning. I watched that pager like a hawk for the first ten minutes, but it never went off.

As is so often the case in my life of faith, serendipitously the study being taught by a friend that day was about "Learning to pray from 'The Lord's Prayer.'" I have loved The Lord's Prayer since I was a tiny child, and I kneeled with my grandparents each morning when I would visit them in the summers. My home with my parents was devoid of faith, or at least a "don't ask, don't tell," policy on the subject. But in my grandparents house, faith was the soft click of the clock that marked the passing of each moment of each day. Each morning was begun with the prayer of The Lord's Prayer. As my friend taught, the daily opportunity for encountering God in intimate relationship through this beautiful, but more importantly instructive prayer, made me understand the reasons that my grandparents began each day by praying it not by rote, but remarkably in sincerity.

Many days I struggle to practice attachment parenting principles with my children, but I continue to try because my faith leads me to feel this is the way I am intended to parent. I see a correlation to my mandate as a parent when God invites us into a close and intimate relationship, where we are encouraged to trust that we will be loved despite our flaws and foibles. I hear the truth of drawing my sons close, firmly guiding them in how to live a life lit by God and intended just for them, assured that their mother unconditionally loves them. I picked up my son from playschool and once again had the energy to love him just where he was.

In our discussion, we spoke about prayers of puzzle, petition, and praise, and here are mine:
  • My prayer of puzzle is why when I so fiercely love these children it is so surprisingly easy to hurt them in my own brokenness.
  • My prayer of petition is that God will guide my son in stilling his own anger and hurt even when his parents are not capable of guiding him.
  • My prayer of praise is that despite my brokenness, in those frightening moments of despair, a voice continues to tell me to try.
What are your prayers of puzzle, petition, and praise?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Everything is Just Fine (Sure It Is)

I've been delaying posting something all day, and now it's late and I'm telling myself I'm now to tired to do anything of quality. It's a perfectionist thing. But then I remember my commitment to just write something, good, bad, or indifferent. Here we go...

I took Little Kidlet for his well check-up this morning, something that gives me anxiety for days in advance. We do things a little more alternatively than our HMO would like, but we have about as wonderful a doc as one can get within such a system. But I fret nevertheless, praying that I will be able to properly articulate our positions on things when the touchy topics inevitably emerge. This whole dance is a loaded one for another time.

And there is another reason I realized I was dreading this particular visit--the new mom "state of mind" checklist questionnaire, intended to screen for signs of depression. I knew I was going to have to lie. I've had to acknowledge over the last few weeks that I'm indeed struggling with some post-partum depression. I am not someone who has chronic depression issues, mine have always emerged hormonally and situationally, both coming to bear right now.

Why would I lie? For a few reasons. First, honestly I didn't want to be thrust through their protocol that gets triggered when you mark down such things. When I was pregnant with Big Kidlet I will never forget the fact that the combination of marking down that I had been in treatment for depression (saw a therapist a grand total of THREE times during a particularly difficult professional patch), coupled with a positive answer to the "have you had a drink since becoming pregnant" question (I had a SINGLE margarita before I knew I was pregnant) landed me in a prenatal counseling session, and a very uncomfortable prenatal visit with a substitute doc who assumed that I had "issues" based on the fact that I had had to have this prenatal counseling session. It was well intentioned, but I assure you anything but helpful.

And there is the issue of feeling, well, a little self indulgent. The narrative that runs in my head goes something like this: "c'mon drama queen, you're not depressed, you're whiny." Curiously this voice sounds very like my mother's voice. I can't imagine why. (Sarcasm intended) Suffice it to say that my emotionalism was one dimension of my person that made her muse often, out loud, how I could possibly be her child? It was not welcomed, and not tolerated. Consequently I don't have much tolerance for this "nonsense" in myself either, and feel that if I shake myself hard enough I'll snap out of it.

Except when I don't.

But a positive legacy of my childhood is that once I drop my denials, I get down to the business of accepting that I've got to deal with the demons pounding on my doors, and re-balance myself. Easier said than done with kids. Jobs, and sadly even husbands, can and are walked away from everyday. But for me, my family, the one I've created for myself, and especially those babies keep me in it, even when I feel like screaming that I want out, and it's just too painful to endure one second longer. When they aren't particularly nice nor gentle with me, take that feeling and add some exponential compounding to it. But, I also (try hard to) remain mindful that it's not their job to keep me here, it is always my choice and my responsibility.

I know I'm not alone in this little subterfuge. If I've read one obligatory quote from one celebrity new mother, I've read them all. The one that goes, "being a mother is amazing, I love it so much everyday." Right there, she just lied.

Photo by alibubba

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mommy, Mommy, Go Away, I Want Daddy Anyway

So, we're here. My almost three year old told me this morning that he doesn't "love mommy," and wants daddy to stay home instead. My friends and developmental bulletins have told me to expect this, and I "know"that he doesn't "mean" it, but it doesn't make it sting any less. If it were any other person other than my kid, the impulse would be to tell him some not so polite places he can stick those nasty words. He's not exactly my favorite person day in and day out either.

OK, lets be real, I still have the impulse, but, you know--I'm an adult, and clinging tenuously to that. My husband always tells me that because he loves me so much I can make him madder than anyone, faster than anyone.

My mother used to tell me something when I was a kid that sticks with me: "I will always love you, but I don't like you very much right now." I didn't get that as a kid...I do now.

How do you handle when your kids say hurtful things to you, whether intentionally or unintentionally?

Friday, March 5, 2010

I'm Known, But Sometimes I Would Just Rather Be Liked

I had a little light bulb moment today, aided by an article by a psychotherapist on the topic of relational communication. Don't stop reading because it sounds to nerdy and technical, because this article really has some very good nuggets to think about, and applies to everyone.

As I have written about previously, I struggle with relationships, and it is a source of immense frustration and continuing pain for me. It's particularly bewildering because I have struggled to understand why, and it's all to easy and tempting to think I must be flawed somehow. But this article had some insights that have begun to shed some constructive light on this issue for me.

The article entitled, "Would You Rather Be Known or Liked?", describes two types of individuals based on how they prefer to relate to others. Those who would rather be liked are invested in keeping their relationships peaceful, stressing commonalities, and they shy away from really revealing how they may feel about things in a effort to preserve this peace. Those who would rather be known, on the other hand, crave real and authentic conversations, even when there is disagreement, and they declare their positions to see how others will react.

The problems arise when a "liked" and a "known" are trying to communicate, and the article offers some useful tips for both types to carry on with the other.

What are your thoughts. Are you in the "liked" camp, or the "known" camp more predominantly? Considering your current relationships, do you think this is a factor in whom you feel most drawn to, or frustrated by?

Photo by shadphotos

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Captain Mommy on Deck Makes Me Ill at Ease, But a Good Hug Means Fair Sailing

I'm cultivating a little more of an "attitude of gratitude" after delivering a little shakabuku action to myself while rereading what I've been writing lately.

An article about a new book caught my attention about cultivating happiness in your family's life. The author of Raising Happiness, Christine Carter says to ask yourself two questions:

1. When are you happiest with your kids?

2. What part of the normal day with your family routinely causes suffering?

My happiest moments with my kids tends to be when they wake up in morning, and sometimes even more so, from a good nap. In fact, I love, love, love, the things that come out of Big Kidlet's mouth when he wakes up from his afternoon nap. It's like busy little electricians have been furiously working on the wiring inside his little head, and when he wakes up the light switches have been flipped on. In the morning, I look forward to the moment when I open his door, and he pops up in his crib, unzips his crib tent (yeah, it's only for show these days), and fairly trumpets "Good Morning, Mama!" followed by all the things he can't wait to tell me. When I lift him from his crib we share a big hug, and recently I noticed that he has picked up my habit of humming while hugging. Now Little Kidlet also comes in with me, and he grins and wiggles to see his brother, and Big Bro Kidlet is equally excited and eager to get at him and insists on choosing one of his crib animals to share with his little bro while he's getting his diaper changed. In these moments I feel so incredibly blessed.

My hardest moments are in what I'll call the "have to" moments. "You have to wash your hands," "You have to climb into your carseat," "You have to let mama change your diaper." These are when my patience is at its most stretched, and usually it is exacerbated by an equally as impatient infant close by. When I forget, or am too lazy/distracted to build in extra time for Big Kidlet to move through these transitional times, that is when we suffer, and the meanie mommy monster muscles her way into the situation. I have a snarky habit of saying "aye, aye, Captain," to my husband when he gets bossy and commandeering, which is a not so veiled reference to my childhood with a Naval Captain. Well, truth be told, the anchor didn't fall too far from the ship. Madame Captain reporting for duty.

Where do you find the most joy with your kids in your daily routine? Where do you find the most woe?

I also read a quote that is post-up-prominently-in-my-house worthy:

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who matter don't mind, and those that mind, don't matter." ~Dr. Seuss

Write that down...

Photo from the George Eastman House Collection

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Defusing the A-nger Bomb

The common saying is so disappointingly true, "you always hurt the one you love."

A lyric by the Mills Brothers referenced in an journal abstract captures it well:

You always hurt the one you love, the one you should not hurt at all;

You always take the sweetest rose, and crush it till the petals fall;

You always break the kindest heart, with a hasty word you can't recall;

So if I broke your heart last night, it's because I love you most of all.

I need to hit the "reset" button; I'm in a rut. I need to find a way to jettison the trained responses of my childhood coupled with the missteps of my adulthood, and chart a new road previously untaken with my kids.

I guess the biggest practice I can think to take each and every day is challenge myself in my most vulnerable moments, and ask: "who am I really angry with?" Nine times out of ten I would venture to say that it's not the kid in front of me.

I may have to revise that assessment when they are teenagers I realize.

Photo by gilesclement

Monday, March 1, 2010

It's Not All About You, Except When It Is

A few days ago I revealed a struggle that I have been having that I'm not to proud of. In that post, I referenced some people in my life that I'm sure would probably not appreciate being the subject of a post, and I'm sure would have their own perspective on things. They have not to my knowledge read this post, nor may they ever, but I felt I needed to say a few additional things about it regardless of whether they ever do or not.

My intent is never to hurt or embarrass anyone on purpose, or needlessly. I never view a blog as a vehicle to inflict harm on others. My blog is my perspective on things, it's my space to work things out. The goals I had for this particular blog was to be authentic and fearless, even when what I have to say isn't comfortable for myself or others. I fully expect that people will disagree with my view of things, and that is absolutely fine. My standard for myself is "am I being real?" That being said, I'll always endeavor to be careful to be mindful of others, and have a care for their privacy, and won't reveal details that are not mine to reveal.

As is common when one is in the throes of their emotional wave, once the seas calm and one reviews things with a more clear head, the impulse, for me anyway, is to smooth the raw bits, mitigate the intensity of my feelings on the page, because in my life I have always been afraid to really expose those ugly bits for fear of not being pleasing to others. I thought about altering it, so as to soften it, or taking it down entirely, and ultimately decided that I would edit some specifics out that don't take away from the overarching tone and purpose of the post. I struggled with deleting it altogether, but even though I'm not proud of those feelings and it's not easy on my heart, it pushes me forcibly ahead in one of my stated goals--"tackling fear," as well as developing my authorial authenticity. Every writer needs a good editor, and in this case my editor self came to bear to channel and refine some of that raw emotion the writer had spewed upon the page.

Now to speak to the specific contents of that post, with the benefit of a few days to think and hear feedback. One commentator (none of whom left comments here, lest you think I deleted them) shared that from their perspective, the common denominator was me, and that I was deferring blame to others for my issues with forming good relationships. Ouch, that hurt! But, what they didn't know is that that is precisely what I fear as well. It is precisely why I tend to put so much pressure on myself about these issues, and why it is such a raw nerve for me. But perhaps by focusing so much on my own reaction to what essentially happens everyday to many others as well, it diverts the attention away from something I feel, based on other feedback, I'm not alone in feeling in the community of women and mothers.

While others may be blessed with a true north, unshakable sense of themselves, and I know some like that, I think they are the exception. Most of us are trying to navigate uncertain seas and searching for buoys of friendship to give us something to anchor ourselves to. When you can't find those buoys you feel...adrift, and it gets hard to keep swimming. This is what I was trying to get at.

Outside a small bird is flinging itself at my window. I figured long ago that they see their own reflection and see it as the enemy, and so are attacking it repeatedly, even though each time they just hit a glass wall. A few have killed themselves this way over the years. They are fighting the reflection of what is essentially themselves, beating their wings at a perceived enemy, and some have killed themselves in their misguided delusion.

Being different is hard. Being yourself is hard. It's a defining challenge I continue to struggle to surmount. Finding a way through it is the best gift I can give to myself, and my children.

Beautiful photo by nickburlett