Wednesday, February 24, 2016

relax: I don't do it

Somehow, I have forgotten what it is to relax. I remember days when I used to spend hours piecing together a puzzle while singing at the top of my lungs. I remember long bubble baths and reading more than a page in one sitting. I remember it, but I just don't do it anymore. My body and mind are constantly engaged in "go," with no red lights in sight.

I work twenty hours a week at the coffee shop and all hours that are not spent there are spent parenting my two children. That means shuttling them from one field trip to another; it means grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning this house. Then I try to work out. I'm training for a marathon, first of all. But also, my sister and I have agreed to run 2016 miles in 2016 between the two of us - so I must log at least 85 miles a month. And then, I'm trying to finish writing this book I started in 2014.

That means there are very few moments in my life when I am not working, breaking up wrestling fights gone too far, doing chores, working out, writing, or sleeping. Now my body is paying the price for it. Monday I woke up with a sore throat and phlegm, but I powered through. I took the boys on a long walk in nearly freezing temperatures which I somehow thought was warm enough (I've been cooped up too long in the Nebraska winter here). I grocery shopped and cleaned. I made dinner. Then I went to bed before Brandon.

But I picked up two extra shifts at the coffee shop this week, instead of resting. So now six days this week I am awake at 5 a.m. And when I'm at home, I am doing a massive project: preparing for the garage sale every family has at some point in their lives: the one where you get rid of all the baby clothes and gear so you can finally end the conversation on whether or not there will be more babies. There will not. No one is buying all that shit we already had again. Reason one million that another baby doesn't make practical sense. 

I tried to run this afternoon, but my body just didn't feel up to it. So I searched for a long-lost library book instead, which we found and returned to the library. And on the way home, the boys fell asleep in the car. I thought about what I could do if I could transfer them successfully, and of course I thought of all the chores my house needed to have done to it. I transferred Holden into his crib: success! Brandon is a bit trickier. I brought him upstairs and laid him on his bed. His eyes fluttered open and right when I was about to creep out of his room, he said, "mama, stay." So like an obedient dog, I did.

I fell asleep next to him and woke up no more than 15 minutes later, drooling and delirious with joy from the stolen moments I had taken for myself. I need a few more of those. I need to relearn how to relax. Is there a such thing for mothers of two young boys?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

two kids isn't like having one kid twice

I posted on Instagram today how much yoga has meant to me these past two years and in that post I mentioned the post-partum depression I had after Holden was born. I haven't talked about it much (if at all), but now that almost two years have passed, I think it is safe to release. I feel like "post-partum depression" is a bit overused and over diagnosed, so let me preface this by saying I have not been to a shrink and been formerly diagnosed, but I do know that the depression I felt after Holden was very real and very strong. So call it what you will, but I will categorize it as "post-partum," whether that is correct or not.

So here it goes: my catharsis. There are many factors that contributed to my depression, and they all came at once like a giant thunderstorm. First, I had been fired at seven months pregnant which was a massive blow to the ol' ego. Then I found myself looking for a temporary job with a giant belly, ashamedly explaining why my last job had ended, even though it was nothing I should have been ashamed of. I pride myself on good work ethic and my productivity and I have always been valued in the workplace, so to feel not only unimportant, but also discardable hurt.

I did take a temporary job, wherein I was trapped in a windowless cubicle staring at the computer screen all day with very little people interaction. It was a less-than-ideal job for me. I got through it by telling myself it was only for two months and then I wouldn't work anymore and would be home with my babies. I thought that was the silver lining.

But then I actually was home every day with my babies. To say I felt useless was an understatement. I know I wasn't - I know those early days and weeks and months were so important for Holden to be safe at home in his haven, becoming close to me and his brother. And it was important for Brandon to adjust to home life, recovering from the chaos that was daycare. But not having a job made me feel as if I was a person without ambition, which I have never been. Rather than feeling like a strong independent woman, I suddenly felt like a dependent, weak one. I had become that cliche'. I was no longer all the things I once was, now I was just a mom. I had lost myself in adding a epithet.

I hadn't expected too much to change with Holden, quite honestly. I had had one child already, another boy, so I thought this would be much the same, just two years later. I had taken to motherhood quite proudly, even blogging here that I didn't feel any depression at all, but rather like a better version of me. I didn't know that the second child would be completely different in every way. The day I was induced, I was crying in the bathroom changing into the hospital gown. Holden wasn't even born yet and I was sobbing already, because I was away from Brandon, and Brandon was my world. I tried to think of anything other than Brandon, coping by scarfing down raspberry ice after raspberry ice. But then my water broke and the emergency C-section all happened so fast.

I didn't hold Holden for about an hour after he was born - I was still under anesthesia. And although I think a lot of that "skin to skin" is bullshit - children will love their parents for how they treat them, not based on whether or not they had bare skin touching each other immediately upon introduction - I couldn't help but wonder if that was a reason that I didn't instantly bond with him the way I did with Brandon. The first I knew of Holden was his scream whereas the first I knew of Brandon was his cuddle.

At home with two boys, I was recovering from the C-section surgery, I was fat and tired all the time. Being a stay-at-home mom means the parenting duties are no longer shared equally - the lion's share falls on one who stays home, but you can't bitch about it because you don't want to sound ungrateful to your spouse who makes enough money that you even have the opportunity to stay home in the first place. And I was overwhelmed that two children is more than double the work. I had hit a nice plateau with Brandon nearing age two and becoming much more independent, and then Holden came and required constant attention and screamed what felt like endlessly.

On April 27, 2014, I journaled this:

I'm afraid I have post-partum depression. I just read about it online and many of the symptoms fit me. I am haggard and frazzled and stressed out and wishing I had a job to return to so I could get a break from the constant caring of these kids. 

Holden has started screaming for no apparent reason and I can not take it. I scream myself when I can't calm him down. I feel like I am a bad mother because I can not deal with this calmly.

...I also feel like my bond with Holden has been weakening ever since his crying spells began. I feel like I can't do anything but hold and rock him when he's screaming and that's infuriating because I have other things to do and another child to care for. 

I am angry that I can not give Brandon the attention he deserves now that Holden is here. I am angry that Holden screams so much and that I don't know why or how to help him. I am angry that I don't feel the same bond with Holden that I felt with Brandon. 

Oftentimes I regret having two kids. I feel like I was a better mother with one. 

When I was reading about post-partum depression, it said one of the risk factors is experiencing stressful events during the past year such as pregnancy complications, illness, or job loss. 

Holden's birth in itself was stressful, as was losing my job in January as a result of my pregnancy. I don't know if I need to seek treatment or if I can heal on my own by airing all of these thoughts - writing them down and getting them out of my head so I have space for happiness. 

Fast forward to two years later and I have healed from that, thanks to the people who recognize my need for a break once in awhile. I am grateful for yoga and running, reading and writing - my hobbies that remind me of who I was before being a mom and who I can continue to be while being a mom.

Having two kids isn't like having one kid twice. It is completely it's own experience. The second child doesn't come with the same fanfare and enthusiasm the first one does. The second child comes out like a hurricane - whirling childcare and jobs and money as worries in its wake. The second is welcomed, of course, but by frazzled, weather-worn parents rather than by bright-eyed naive ones.

When you advance from a one-child family to a two, you are no longer that cute couple with a child that accompanies you as if he is a miniature adult, your lives slightly changed. Now you're saying, "fuck it, we're all in on this!" and soon your house, your mind, and your days are consumed completely. So if you're in the midst of that complete consummation like I was once, remember you. You. Not the parent, but the person. And god damn it, let yourself be again, even if at first that just means screaming into a pillow.

Monday, February 15, 2016

relics of my childhood and adolescence

Gel pens, Lisa Frank peechees, floral skirts, turtlenecks. Miniature backpacks, Jansports, keychains, malls. Mr. Freeze ice pops, Avon, scrunchies. Scrunch socks, crimping irons, pink foam hair rollers. Roller skating rinks, roller blades, knee pads, Huffy bikes. Neon rope friendship bracelets, seed beads, collecting stuff. Porcelain dog figurines, oversized t-shirts, slap bracelets.

Loading perforated paper into the printer, making banners with The Print shop, Fraction Munchers. The Oregon trail, actually floppy discs, my first website (Geocities). Dial up, free 30-day trials of AOL, that door opening and closing in AOL Instant Messenger. Juno email address. Playing Caesar III and War II for hours on end. Sega Genesis - Road Rash and Sonic. Nintendo 64. Tetris. Paperboy.

Encyclopedias, Nancy Drew, The Babysitters Club, The Boxcar Children. China Tate series. Christian bookstores. Fred Meyer. Bulk clubs once a month. Loving camp. Awana. Going to the library to use the internet. Driving without automatic steering or automatic windows or an FM radio or A/C. Cassette tapes that had to be wound back up when the tape got loose. Six track CD players for the cool kids in high school.

Turning in school assignments handwritten. Passing notes written with our gel pens. Bottled frappuccinos. Trying to order at a coffee shop before coffee shops were this popular. VHS tapes. Telephones with cords that you would stretch into another room for privacy. Parents listening on the other line so you had no privacy any way. Pen pals. Chain letters. Shared family popcorn bowl.

Dilly bars at Dairy Queen. Chili, chips, and cheese at Wendy's. Donuts before high school from Mega Save. Riding my bike as a mode of transportation. Delivering newspapers. Eating out of neighbors' cupboards while I babysat. Full House, Family Matters, black and white shows on Nick at Night. Jaws. Free Willy. A whole lot of movies about animals, really.

Drawing and writing stories during the sermon each Sunday. Making clothing store ads with my sister. Playing M*A*S*H. Easy Bake oven. A chubby version of Barbie so I wouldn't have unrealistic body expectations. Buying return address labels and cards out of catalogs like Current. Swimming lessons at the city pool. Learning to play the piano out of Alfred music books.

Magic Nursery babies (I got twins!) Metallic fabric lizards filled with beans. Beanie babies. Doo daa birds at the fair. Pizza parlors with TVs and mini arcades. Tupperware. People sold knives by Cutco door to door. Professional pictures in department store studios like Sears or JCPenney. Oakley sunglasses. Unionbay striped t-shirts. Old Navy had a moment. I thought a Mitsubishi Eclipse was my dream car.

That Chumbawamba song. "I'm Blue" and the Barbie girl song. Point of Grace, Destiny's child. TLC. Lots of girl groups, really. Bulletin boards held all the news. Pictures were always printed and we could only alter them by cutting them smaller. And we could remove red eyes with a black Sharpie. Letterman jackets, class rings, signing yearbooks (with our gel pens).

Cash was king. Staying up to hear our favorite song come on the radio again. Listening to old radio shows like "Fibber McGee and Molly." Dogs stayed outside. Rubber stamps. Interior decorating meant stenciling and fake ivy. And air freshener came in packets and everything smelled like vanilla. Until cucumber melon was discovered. Body spray was a cheap perfume. Shaving my legs with hair conditioner instead of shaving cream because it made my skin softer. Herbal Essences looked like plants were growing in them.

Warheads. Three-ring binders. Denim skirts. I never did own jelly shoes. Nanopets. Fruit Stripe gum. Collecting and trading baseball and basketball cards. And looking up their value in a Beckett. Pogs and slammers. All the cool kids had trampolines (and even we did). Everyone had the Little Tikes kitchen and plastic food. I was jealous of the neighbors with a Cozy Coupe. At one time I thought I would be able to save up enough money for one of those plastic cabin playhouses.

I think about everything my kids have now, of all the advances just since I was a child. But they will never know life like I did. Which is sad, because some it was actually pretty rad.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

flopping fish

My days of rocking children to sleep are almost over, but I haven't quite been able to kick it yet. Although Holden has never needed to be rocked to sleep, he has recently taken to it, and I will not deny him. Because he is my last baby and he is only holding onto babyhood by a very thin thread.

When I tell him it's time to go upstairs he fusses and screams, wanting to stay and play, forever, it seems. On the changing table, I strong arm him down while I change his diaper and put on his pajamas. Then I wrap him in his favorite blue holey blanket and try my best to read him stories.

But he doesn't give in easily. He is like a flopping fish - relentlessly fighting bedtime. He wriggles out of my lap and runs to the gate, trying desperately to escape. He screams and hollers. He tells me of all the things he wants to do instead - play cars or trains or watch "Aristocats" for the gazillionth time. But eventually I will find exactly the right book or he will bore himself out of distractions and he will crawl back onto my lap.

He finds his favorite resting place, right over my heart. He will guzzle a gallon of milk if I will give it to him. All in one sip, he sucks down everything in his cup. And then, his thumb finds his mouth. His eyelids, which were like the type of magnets that repel each other, instantly transform into the type that attract each other. The flopping fish gives in and stops flopping.

And there, in that moment, while I watch him sleep, I smell his hair and cup his head in my hand. I whisper sweet nothings into his ear. I stay like that for a moment, because in this calm I forget all of the crazy. But always, I know that he is recharging for tomorrow, when we will go through this ordeal again. And always, I know, after all the struggle will come the sweetness of peace.

Monday, February 8, 2016

a tangent

Today I was eating lunch, listening to Pandora when this song came on:

Hang on, just hang on for a minute
I've got something to say
I'm not asking you to move on or forget it
But these are better days
To be wrong all along and admit is not amazing grace
But to be loved like a song you remember
Even when you've changed

Tell me did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you seen, that wasn't me
That wasn't me, that wasn't me

When you're lost you will toss every lucky coin you'll ever trust
And you'll hide from your god like he ever turns his back on us
And you'll fall all the way to the bottom and land on your own knife
And you'll learn who you are even if it doesn't take your life

Tell me did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you seen, that wasn't me
That wasn't me, that wasn't me

But I want you to know that you'll never be alone
I wanna believe do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet
When you fall I will get you on your feet
Do I spend time with my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
When that's what you see, that will be me
That will be me, that will be me
That will be me

 ~"That Wasn't Me" by Brandi Carlile

I sat there at our kitchen table, tears streaming down my cheeks. And Holden came up with the most concerned look in his eyes and gave me a kiss. And my mom emailed me after reading yesterday's blog and said, "Count your blessings, not your mistakes. You are loved by all of your family, count that as a huge blessing!"

Thank you to everyone who loves me even when I go on a tangent. And for lifting me up when I'm in the depths of great despair. For family and my husband, who are the best examples of unconditional love.

I thought about something I wrote the day after my college pregnancy became public knowledge:

I know if I made 
it through yesterday
I can make it through today. 
And although life doesn't get easier; 
I learn to adapt.  

And if there's one thing I know, it's that that is true.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

this damn elephant

I'm pushing an elephant up the stairs
~"The Great Beyond" by R.E.M.

Steve was playing this song in the car the other day and I just sat there, listening to the lyrics, swallowing a lump in my throat. Because that is how I feel - I am pushing an elephant. I am the pusher and the elephant is my baggage and it seems like there is no top of the stairs. I am constantly overwhelmed and under-equipped. Am I pushing the elephant up, or is it pushing me back down, really?

Just when I think I'm making progress, I take a step back. How do people live with shame and guilt? Is there any recovery from bad choices? Or does abnormality become the new normal?

I remember being a freshman in college, before bad choices had been made. I remember bragging that I rarely cried. Now if only I could make it through a week without crying. Or hell, even a day. This damn elephant of mine.