My mommy secret

My baby boy turns 8 weeks old tomorrow.  The last two months have brought major changes to our family and I will freely admit, the moments haven’t all been a happy Hallmark card.  While I feel truly blest to have two beautiful and sweet children, adjusting to life as a family of four and welcoming a newborn into our midst has been challenging.  Even though I was up about 7 times last night and am currently contemplating a coffee IV, I am feeling like we are finally getting our groove and that the moments with my son are increasingly filled with more joy and less frustration. I have learned a lot about myself in the last few weeks and I have also rediscovered a secret that I had buried deep in my mommy brain. I don’t really like babies.

Now before you go feeling sorry for me or my children let me clarify that statement. I love both of my kids with all my heart and being a mom is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. However I do not enjoy the company of newborns – at least not 24 hours a day. I knew the early weeks were going to be hard because we had gone through it all before but the strength of my true feelings were brought to the forefront when my mother-in-law was visiting about 3 weeks ago. After staying with us for a few days she was holding my son and looked at me and said “It is so fun having a baby for the holidays.” She had a blissful smile on her face and I am sure was shocked when my only response was to blink at her in abject silence. Fun was definitely not what I was feeling.

I do not find it fun to spend my days covered in spit up and breast milk and various other bodily fluids, cleanliness a feeling that I can only recall vaguely in the depths of my sleep-deprived mind. I do not find it fun to wake up every 90 minutes all night long to sound of a small child screaming loudly to inform me that he is hungry again. I do not find it fun to have to plan my trips to the bathroom around someone else’s sleep schedule.  I do not find it fun to pace the floor for hours at a time holding a fussy baby who is only happy being shushed, rocked and bounced incessantly, dinner snatched in bites between acrobatic soothing.  I love my son, he is an incredibly sweet baby but parenting a newborn is definitely NOT fun for me.  In fact all I could think about in the first few days we had him home was all the fun I was not having.  I was not getting to spend quiet time with my husband at the end of the day.  I was not able to truly play with my 4 year old and spend time immersing myself in her silly imagination.  I was not able to do the things that I love most about the holidays: bake cookies, go ice skating, see holiday shows like the nutcracker, wander through stores on my own searching for the perfect gift for my loved ones.  

So while I feel incredibly lucky to have my two children, I will freely admit that life has not been very fun for me over the last 8 weeks.  But as any parent of a newborn will tell you, around 2 months babies start to change for the better.  Already I am getting more smiles and coos and genuinely enganging play time with my son.  While he isn’t really sleeping better and the days are still long, it is wonderful to watch him learning about the world and interacting with his sister and father. So I am still not sure if Christmas is going to be very fun this year, but I am absolutely certain that every day will slowly but surely be filled with more joy.  The dreaded fourth trimester is almost done and I can tell that the fun is just beginning.  So that is what I will be celebrating this holiday season, the return of the possibility of fun.  

A letter to my daughter about “that boy”.

Darling girl,

 

This is your last year of nursery school and you have been so excited to head out the door each morning to learn and play with your friends. While you are just getting settled into your new room, it has been wonderful to watch your curiosity blooming. I am so happy to see how you are growing into a strong and exuberant child. Everything about this transition back to school has been wonderful except for one problem – “that boy”.

 

I knew that this year was going to bring more complicated friendships, but I never imagined we would be having this conversation so soon. It started when you came to me after the first week and said that a little boy in your room had told you he didn’t want to come over to your house to play because you probably just have princesses and that wouldn’t be any fun. At first I was confused, because this little boy has only known you for about four days. I’m sorry that I didn’t know how to respond. I’m sorry that I failed you at first. I’m sorry that I told you that the solution was you shouldn’t invite people over to play without talking to me. As time has passed I have come to realize that I missed what was really happening with “that boy”, as you now call him.

 

You knew right away what I missed, your eyes were filled with righteous indignation and you told me “we have to tell him that he’s wrong, I have lots of other toys.” You gave me a second chance to see it, when you came to me later and quietly asked me if your baby brother would also think your toys were not fun when he got older. You knew that this interaction wasn’t about how long you had know “that boy” or if you were good enough friends to have a play date, this was something more. It was your first personal experience with gender discrimination and misogyny. I know those are harsh terms to use when talking about a four-year-old boy, but it’s the truth.

 

You saw “that boy” as a fun kid, someone who might like to play your board games or be silly building with Playdoh, and he saw you as a girl. It was the first time you realized that some people think that being a girl is a bad thing. That it makes you less – less fun, less strong, less worthy of friendship and respect. When I came to you two nights later and apologized, you told me “some people say girls aren’t as good at sports but I am super fast and strong.”

 

You know already at four years old that some boys make separate rules for girls. That they think they know what you like to do and what you are capable of, that they think you are defined entirely by your femininity and that this makes you weak. I am so proud of you for standing up for yourself when “that boy” tells you that blocks are just a boys activity, or when he tries to push you off the slide because it’s a pirate ship and girls cannot be pirates. I am also so proud of how kind and forgiving you are when the boys who are your friends join in at times and form “no girls allowed clubs”, or when they ask you questions like “do you only have girl toys at your house?” But it breaks my heart that you have had to learn these lessons already at such a young age. It also breaks my heart that “that boy” may never get to know what a truly amazing kid you are and what a generous friend you can be.

 

I wish I could tell you that it gets easier, but the reality is that there will always be boys like “that boy”. They are going to try to push you down and box you in your whole life. I wish I could tell you that they will listen when you proclaim your truth, but sadly some of them will never hear your voice unless it is in harmony with their own. They will always see you as something to be manipulated and controlled. To use your own words, they will not respect your possibilities.

 

I am sorry that you have to live in a world where all of this is true. Where being a girl means have to defend yourself and constantly push back against the walls and doors that try to close you in. But I promise that I will always be there to be your cheerleader, to lend a supportive ear. I promise to see you as you are, to respect the image of yourself that you carry in your heart and are trying to project to the world. And I promise that when you keep having run-ins with “that boy” I will not tell you that it was your fault, but will instead help you to see that no one has the right to define you. That no one knows you better than you know yourself and that no one has the right to put limits on your potential.

 

Love,

Mama

Starting over again, this time with a new plan.

Yesterday was one of those days where nothing seemed to be going my way.  I was frustrated and discouraged and tired and wanted to spend most of the day in bed watching reruns of Gilmore Girls and eating popcorn.  Instead I had to do my usual job as a stay-at-home mom to my wonderful 4 yr old which has becoming increasingly more exhausting as I enter into the third trimester of pregnancy with my soon-to-be-introduced baby boy.   In between calming breathes and pity parties and frustrated sighs I realized several things: 1) Nothing that bad was really happening all day long and 2) Most (if not all) of the stress and frustration I was feeling was self-inflicted.  And while I was not always successful in stopping the cycle of negativity in the moment I realized that I needed to find a new way of relating to my life.

There are all kinds of reasons that I could list off to explain my current feelings of stress and powerlessness: our dwindling bank account, being uncomfortably pregnant in the hot and muggy summer, recent evidence that we may have rodents living in our basement, an inability to resort to my preferred stress relievers of red wine and long runs, etc.  But none of these are real big problems.  These are first-world problems at best and overall I know I live a relatively charmed life.  I have a wonderful husband, a loving and charming daughter, after losing a baby last October I am currently in the throes of a very healthy pregnancy and while we are currently hemorrhaging money my husband just starting a new job that will result in a very significant increase in income in a few weeks.  So what was my problem?  Why have I been feeling increasingly restless and discontented over the last week?

I typically blame my pregnancy hormones and I am sure they are playing a role but when I took a bit of time to think over it I realized that the real root of my anxiety was coming from a place of self-doubt and self-blame.  Feelings that I am failing, that I am not doing a good enough job as a wife and mother to keep our family afloat.  That I am not contributing enough financially and otherwise. Basically I was experiencing a daily deluge of critical thoughts and putdowns and I wondered what it would be like if instead of spending so much time being my own harshest critic, if I tried instead to be my best cheerleader?

It’s kind of a no-brainer.  If you don’t believe in yourself then how can you expect anyone else to?  But if I am being truly honest, the practice of unconditional self-love is something that feels very strange.  I am much more comfortable with being a healthy skeptic of my own potential and providing constructive criticism of my accomplishments than I am with celebrating myself and believing in my ability to succeed in the face of adversity.  Maybe it was part of my upbringing, always striving to be better and work harder and believing that success was something expected more than something to be praised.  On the one hand it is a heady feeling when your parents believe that you can succeed at all things, but on the other hand it leaves you with the feeling that if you aren’t succeeding it is really because you have failed to try hard enough – it places perfection as the only marker of true grit and leaves no space for struggle.  And the older I get the more I am realizing that struggle is an integral part of life and I need to start becoming more comfortable with it.

In recent years it has become increasingly obvious to me that I am far from perfect.  I will never be a perfect mother or a wife and I am certainly not a perfect psychologist since I have all but abandoned the field for the time being to focus on my children and to wrestle with my calling to be a writer.  But I have struggled with getting my writing on track as well and a major part of that struggle is the fear that I will never be a perfect writer, that I will never win awards or have a following of millions, and that because I am unlikely to achieve fame and accolades the process is futile.  Well, yesterday after some soul searching I realized that the only appropriate response to all those feelings is – f*ck that.  I am tired of always focusing on the ways in which I am not measuring up and so I’ve decided I am going to make a true effort not to do that any more.

Starting over with a new habit is never something I have excelled at.  I knew walking into this self-proclaimed journey towards greater self-acceptance and hopefully a resulting increase in movement towards my goals that I was going to need help.  So like a dutiful student I started to do some reading and research to find tools that might help me achieve these goals.  After a bit I settled on the idea of trying out positive affirmations. Why positive affirmations?  Well I am not really a new-age hippy person who believes in the power of positive vibrations or harnessing your internal energy to manifest what you want out of life, but being a trained psychologist I knew that if I wanted to change my negative thought patterns I had to find a way to retrain my brain.  Positive affirmations can be a good cognitive tool and when used effectively they can help you to become more aware of your negative thoughts, pinpoint how they are blocking personal progress, and learn how to put them behind you and move forward to try and change up my patterns. So as a result of my admittedly limited and somewhat arbitrary research I decided to try two sets of tools for the next few months and see if they seem to help me to develop new patterns of thought and behavior.

The first is just a simple list of positive affirmations that I intend to try and use every day, picking a new one to repeat and meditate on daily.  I found my list from a Huffington Post article entitled “35 Affirmations That Will Change Your Life.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-carmen-harra/affirmations_b_3527028.html

However, these kinds of daily affirmations can be found in a wide variety of places.  I chose this list because I felt comfortable with the breadth of topics covered and egotistically I liked that it had been written by a psychologist.  It made me feel more comfortable.

But I didn’t feel like mantras were probably going to be enough to help me really change up my patterns so I also looked around for something more detailed, a plan of action if you will.  The place where I settled was  on a webpage titled “9 habits to manifest your dreams using the law of attraction.”  http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-16150/9-habits-to-manifest-your-dreams-using-the-law-of-attraction.html

Now I do not feel entirely comfortable with the idea of the law of attraction but I really liked a lot of the things that were suggested in this plan.  So I decided to ignore the parts that that felt too new-agey and unsubstantiated (discussions of energetic vibrations and the use of the horrible phrase unconscious thoughts) and to focus on the concrete suggestions because they are really very good.  Here is the plan in a nutshell.

1) Note what you focus on and try to shift towards noticing more of the positive and beauty in the world rather than ruminating on the negative.  To this I am going to add, try to only spend time focusing on problems that are controllable and let go of the things that are out of your power.

2) Keep a worry list.  Giving a voice to your anxieties can help you to feel less overwhelmed by them and in time it will help you to realize that anxious and negative thoughts are no more powerful than any other kind of thought – they are just words and you can choose to shift your focus away from them and onto the things that are in your power.  Most of your fears will never come to pass and this can also be a very powerful realization.

3) Practice diaphragmatic breathing when you are feeling overwhelmed.

4) Use mediation to quiet you mind and soften some of your negative thoughts.

5) Move your body in whatever way feels good to you.

6) Keep a gratitude journal.

7) Write down your goals and connect to t why you want to achieve these particular things.

8) Spend time every day visualizing what it would look like to achieve these goals.

9) Live your life with the feeling that you already have everything that you want.

I know that I only have this one life to live and if I want to truly experience it, accomplish things that will make me look back upon my life with pride and wonder, then I need to start now.  The only person standing in the way of my constructing a life of meaning and purpose is me.  So I am starting over, with a new plan for success.  Wish me luck and let me know if any of you have tried these tools recently.  Do you have any suggestions or insights into ways to let go of the negativity that so often holds us down and keeps us from moving forward in life?

Loss

It’s been a long time, a very, very, long time since I have updated this blog.  Partially I have stayed away because I had reservations about whether I truly wanted to be honest and vulnerable with strangers (or anyone really), and then life just got in the way, the every day things of being a mommy and wife and a person independent of those roles with her own sets of needs and goals for her day.  And then something big happened and I knew that I needed to share it with people but I wasn’t quite ready.  I’ve been thinking of this moment for weeks now and feeling nervous and unsure but today my husband is out with our three-year-old and the house is quiet and suddenly the words were calling to me, begging to find a space and life outside of my head.  So here is the story – be warned, it’s a bit of a sad story – but it’s both completely mine and also somewhat universal and today it feels like it needs a voice.

Everything began on one of those beautiful fall days in mid-September when the East coast was bathed in a pleasant warmth.  It was a week of Indian Summer and I was awash with joy.  My mood enhanced by the knowledge everything was changing and very soon sun-dappled trees would lay bare under frost and ice and arms now welcoming a gentle breeze would hide from the bitter wind under layers upon layers of wool and down and whatever substance makes outwear truly water-resistant.  I gripped my daughter’s hand as we crossed the street.

“You know what momma?”

“What sweetie?”

“Sometimes, babies don’t come out of their mommy’s tummy, because they die when they are still really little.”

 

As is common, I feel completely unprepared for this parenting moment even though I suppose I should have been expecting it.  My daughter had two obsessions all spring and summer – babies and death.  Babies have been one of her favorite topics since she was able to talk, all little children both real and imaginary fascinate her. If you added up all the hours we have spent diapering and rocking and tucking in imaginary babies it would be an astounding figure, surely more than enough time to have written hundreds of these blog posts.  So babies have been a staple in conversation in our house for two years but death is a new topic.  I would like to blame Disney because it was in fact our very first viewing of Frozen that seemed to set off this obsession.  My daughter’s toddler face crumpled upon the realization that Elsa and Anna’s parents were not coming back and from that moment on she saw death everywhere. Every fairy tale we had been reading for months she realized contained this motif of parental loss, every child on the street who was not visibly with both parents she turned into an orphan in her imagination and every day contained an ongoing battle wherein she commanded that she was not going to ever die and neither were any of the people she loved.  So I would like to blame Disney for my daughter’s obsession with death but I know that just like babies, it is actually a very common topic for children to become fixated on at this age.  But I really had not expected that babies and death would meet in my daughter’s mind and so I struggled for a microsecond to decide what I should say to her right now.

 

“Yes, you are right. Sometimes that does happen.”

 

This was the response I settled on because for the most part I believe in being honest with my child unless it is something that I think she really can’t handle or will destroy the magic and wonder of her childhood. And since she initiated the topic I decided it would be better to give her space to voice her thoughts and feelings rather than declaring it to be taboo.

 

“Yes.  Yes.  And then the mommy and daddy are very sad. Right momma?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Why are they sad?”

“Because mommies and daddies don’t want their babies to die. They love their babies and they want to be with them and protect them and play with them.”

“Yes. Yes, that’s right.”

 

And then somehow one or the other of us changed the topic abruptly and we went about our day.  Later I laughed it off with my husband as we were debriefing in our room after our daughter was asleep.  It seemed like one of those silly, strange, kids-say-the-darndest-things parenting moments.  And truthfully it was easier to laugh about it than to admit the reality that in that moment my daughter had given voice to one of my deepest fears.  She didn’t know that I was currently 7 weeks pregnant and excited and nervous about the changes going on in my body. She also didn’t really understand death, because thankfully she has never had to cope with real loss and grief.  So it was easier to just ignore her comments and move on but as the days passed the words haunted me because in some strange way my daughter who doesn’t really understand babies or death had been prescient in touching upon what lay ahead for our family.

 

Five days later I woke up with a start from a very vivid dream.  In the dream I had gone to the ER because I had been experiencing cramping and pain. I waited and waited alone in a room until finally I screamed at a nurse or doctor to help me.

“We’re waiting for you to push. Just push and let it happen.” He said.

“No – I can’t. Don’t you understand.  He’s too little. It’s too early.  I can’t.” I cried.

“I know. There’s nothing we can do. Just push and it will be over.” He said and then he walked away.  I rushed out of the room and found my husband and told him we had to go back home because they weren’t going to help me. We needed to leave because they were not going to protect the baby. And then I woke up.

 

Later on that morning I told my husband the dream and he was unphased. “I had crazy dreams last night too.”  He said as he went upstairs to shower and get dressed.  I was equal parts annoyed, amused, and somewhat relieved by his response.  As a rational person I knew that dreams are usually nothing more than a reflection of our worries and desires and it was natural that the idea of a miscarriage would worry me.  But part of me was rattled as we went about our day picking apples and then making mini pies from scratch.  I was exhausted and sometime that afternoon I started spotting.  This is normal, I told myself, same thing happened during my first pregnancy, nothing to be worried about.  I busied myself in household tasks and drank some extra water.  The rest of the weekend passed relatively uneventfully.

 

In the early hours of Monday morning I woke up feeling like I needed to use the bathroom, which was pretty standard for being pregnant.  But then as I sat down to pee I heard things falling out of my body and my heart stopped.  I wiped and sure enough – blood, real red blood was there.  I went back to bed and lay there in the dark, wondering what to do or say.  Maybe I had pushed myself too hard running at the gym?  Maybe if I had been in better shape before I got pregnant this wouldn’t have happened?  Maybe this was a punishment for the fact that I secretly had mixed feelings about going through the whole sleep-deprived infant stage for a second time?  Maybe it was because I had been ungrateful and craving a glass of red wine every night for the last few weeks?  Maybe we didn’t have our life together enough?  Maybe God had decided we weren’t strong enough to raise another child or a child with a disability? After awhile I worked up the courage to speak.

 

“I think I’m having a miscarriage.”  I had to say it several times before my sleeping husband registered the words.

 

“What’s happening?”  He finally asked.

 

I described the symptoms and then I said “I’m sorry.”

 

I heard him shift closer to me. “You don’t need to apologize” he said, as he wrapped his arms around me and offered some expression of sympathy and then we just laid there quietly.  He fell back asleep for awhile, I think, but I didn’t.  Nothing felt right with my body and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do or say.  I thought about all the people I know in my life who have lost a baby, friends, family members and wondered how they did it. Many of them experienced much worse than I and yet in those early morning hours I could not fathom life ever going back to normal.

 

Eventually the sun rose and the day started. My husband offered to take my daughter to work with him but I declined because there was no way he could effectively lecture to medical students with a three-year-old sitting in his office chair. I called the number for the OBGYN practice I had decided to use for my pregnancy.  I hadn’t even had my first appointment with them yet because it was still so early, but I didn’t know who else to call.  The doctor on call talked to me for a few minutes and told me to call the office when they opened at 9 am.  So that’s what I did.  They couldn’t get me an ultrasound appointment until 2:30 pm so there was nothing to do but wait for the time to pass or the bleeding and pain to get so bad that it necessitated a trip to the ER.  My husband called and I told him not to bother rushing home after his morning lecture was done.  He agreed to come home around lunch time.  I texted my sister who was the only other person who knew about the pregnancy and we talked for a bit. Mostly I spent the morning on the sofa watching cartoons and stroking my daughter’s hair, wondering about the uncertainty and fragility and beauty of life.  I felt so blessed to have a healthy child and at the same time my heart was breaking for the new life I was just starting to love.  I tried not to cry too much or say too much to my daughter other than “mommy is sick”, because I didn’t want her to worry.  By the time my husband came home from work the pain was increasing and the simple acts of taking a shower and getting dressed were exhausting. I felt sorry for myself for a second and then thought – no, it should hurt, death should be painful. For awhile I tired to embrace the pain as a connection with whatever was going on inside my body.  I thought about being pro-Choice, something I had never questioned before, and the strange juxtaposition of my grief and my conviction in the absolute moral rightness of reproductive freedoms and rights.

 

I went to the hospital alone so my husband could take our daughter to swimming lessons. I had him drive me though because the cramping was so bad I didn’t know if I could focus on the road.  I waited for an hour for the ultrasound and then a young tech took me back and showed me a baby – a living baby with a heart beat.  The positioning was bad she said and the heart beat low but there it was, life. Suddenly a seed of doubt grew in my mind.  I went up to my doctor’s office and the nurse and an older physician told me “Everything looks good.  The heart is beating so that was a good scan.  Come back for your regularly scheduled appointment next week.”  I had so many questions but all my worries were met with a simple statement over and over again – the baby was alive.  I was instructed to go home and continue with life as usual, come back if you start gushing blood was the only instruction given.  My family went out to dinner that night because no one had energy to cook.  My pain was so severe that I had to sit in the booth rocking back and forth like I had some kind of serious neurochemical imbalance.  I went to the bathroom every five minutes both as an excuse to move around and to stay relatively clean.

 

Over the next three days the cramping continued and every day things like going to the grocery store or driving my daughter to preschool were incredibly draining.  I had to call my best friend and tell her I wouldn’t be to drive down for her baby shower on Sunday because even 10 minutes with a seat belt pressing on my abdomen felt like torture.

Suddenly on Thursday I started to feel better and we spent a nice weekend away at a church retreat that left me feeling spiritually and emotionally full.  The following Wednesday I went to my doctor’s appointment.  I expected a long conversation about symptoms and another ultrasound and received neither.  I was treated like any other patient coming in for the first exam.  Halfway through the appointment I realized that the doctor didn’t remember me from last week and I had to be the one to say “Umm we actually met a week ago, I’m the patient who came in with bleeding.”  Needless to say, this is an awkward conversation starter especially when you are naked and about to receive an internal exam.  She felt badly about not recognizing me and I could tell when we got back to her office she was fumbling to pull up a note or any record she had made of the hallway conversation we had a week prior.  From her face it appeared like she had probably failed to document the encounter.  As I usually do in these types of situations, I downplayed my own feelings in an effort to make her feel less awkward.

 

The conversation moved forward and again she was very nonchalant about all the symptoms. What about the low heart rate? – the baby was alive on the scan so everything should be fine. What about the cramping and tissue I passed? – bleeding and cramping can be normal first trimester experiences, since the bleeding has stopped everything should be fine. What about the poor positioning? I finally found a topic that got a response other than  “it’s normal” and she agreed to a repeat ultrasound in a few days.  Throughout the appointment I was told the same thing, congratulations, everything looks good, you are due in mid-May.

 

Friday I returned for the ultrasound alone again.  I waited for a while and as before when it was my turn a very young, petite ultrasound tech escorted me back to a room.  She asked me if I wanted to insert the vaginal probe myself and I declined.  Then she asked if she had it in the right place.  This was slightly concerning to me because seeing as how she was a trained technician and also a woman I figured the location of my vagina should be relatively obvious, but the exam moved on.  She was very quiet except to remark on how much trouble she was having visualizing my ovaries and then finally she found them and the exam was over.

 

“Well, I didn’t see any sign of that gestational sac that we found last week.  So it appears you have passed the pregnancy.  That is why your bleeding has stopped. It was probably for the best because the positioning was so poor.”  These are the first words she says to me after taking off her gloves. I am still naked from the waist down and haven’t even had a chance to go to the bathroom to wipe off the lubricant from the probe.  I am in shock.

 

“I need to go review the images with my supervisor.  Stay here just in case they decide they want to get a clearer picture of your right ovary. It looked fine last time but just in case.”

 

Then she left the room and I grabbed my phone to text my husband.  He called and asked me if I wanted him to come to the hospital or go be with our daughter – it’s almost time for her preschool to be over and the plan had been to meet there where his aunt is picking her up since I was likely going to run late. I don’t know what to say but it will take him at least 15-20 minutes to get here so I tell him to go to the preschool and I’ll meet him there.  The tech returns and starts in again.

 

“I called your doctor’s office and the physician you saw wasn’t there but another doctor from the practice said to tell you to cancel your next appointment and reschedule for next week.  And if the bleeding starts up again and is heavy you should come in immediately.”

 

“Ok.”  My mind is reeling from the cognitive dissonance. Another doctor had said everything looked ok two days ago.  This tech couldn’t find my ovaries, maybe she was just incompetent.  I didn’t say that, but the thought kept looping as we talked.  “I would like to talk to a doctor.” I finally manage to say.  She pushes back against the idea for a minute and then agrees to bring someone in.  She suggests I might be more comfortable if I get dressed.  I do and she returns with a radiologist who really lives up to expectations by being unable to make eye contact as he rotely says “I have reviewed the scans. The previously visualized pregancy is not there.  Any symptoms you are still experiencing are a result of the fact that it may take several days or weeks for your hormone levels to stabilize.  Any questions?”  I take a steadying breath. “No.” I say softly and he is gone in an instant.  The technician hovers explaining that she still has charting to do but I should feel free to ignore her and stay as long as I want.  I stand in a corner crying for a minute before I work up the composure to walk past her and down the hall to the nearest bathroom.  Once inside the real tears come.  Ugly, painful, face contorting, silent sobs.  But it’s a public bathroom and so after a minute I swallow my emotions and finally exit the ultrasound suite with the grief that my baby had died and also that I had not noticed the exact moment when it happened. I had flushed the tiny body down the drain and returned to my daily life.

 

It’s been six weeks since that day.  And the grief continues to come and go.  I know that there will be a time when I won’t think about it anymore.  But for now it’s still very raw.  It’s there when I feel envy and sadness infiltrating my joy over one friend’s new baby and another’s pregnancy.  It’s there every time I see a mother with an infant or siblings playing together and my heart aches. It’s there when my daughter interrupts evening prayers to say spontaneously, with no coaching or awareness of any of this “Dear God, please send us a new baby for our family.”  It’s there when people say “maybe it was for the best” or instruct me in the proper ways to manage my grief – cry more, cry less, wallow, move forward.  It is there aa I continue to get bills from the hospital for the “care” I received. It was there when my Facebook feed was saturated with posts on National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day  and I realized that I wasn’t quite ready yet. And I felt ashamed of my reticence.  And it was there last night as I cried into my pillow and told my husband that I was still sad.  “I know you are.” He said as he wrapped his arms around me.  “I’m still sad too.”

Living the imperfect life

Here I sit on yet another Sunday morning, watching cartoons with my daughter. Coffee is brewed, my daughter has already had three snacks, we’re on our second episode of Caillou while my husband gets some much deserved rest upstairs and I realized, this is as good a time as any to start to re-evaluate my goals. The year is almost a third of the way over and I have been pretty successful with some of my resolutions (I’m just about done with my 5kto10k training program) but others I have already almost completely abandoned. This year I have been trying hard to at least remember my resolutions, the things I wanted to accomplish and change. I have reminders on my phone that I look at multiple times a day. I have downloaded some supportive apps to help with my progress but still I have struggled a lot, even with the things that I really love like writing my novel. I could wax on about this for a long time but since my toddler’s patience will probably only last for another few minutes I’m going to skip my musings and jump right to what I have learned about myself and specifically the things that seem to hold me back or help me to jump forward.

PERFECT IS THE ENEMY. There are so many times that I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of a task that is in front of me, either because I feel that I lack the skills to do it perfectly or the time. I don’t really think of myself as a perfectionist but I have found that the label really does apply despite my aversion to it. Most of the time, if I think I might mess up or not finish something or just be less than the best at it I hesitate to even attempt the task at hand. This is really silly because of course in reality I am almost assuredly never perfect and neither is anyone else. The idea that there is a right and wrong way to do things is a major motivation killer in my house and I have found that I really need to just get over it and embrace the philosophy of “good enough”.

ORGANIZED TRUMPS VAGUE. This is true for almost every aspect of my life – if I really want something to get done I need to be methodical and organized about it. That means having a plan for the day, the week, the month, etc. This also means setting small daily goals rather than just having large plans for the week or month. For tasks that I particularly dislike (like cleaning) I realistically need to be organized hour by hour so that I actually get up and do it because otherwise I will procrastinate forever. I am not sure if this need for organization is a symptom of my being anal or a lasting effect of being a mom and losing a chunk of my working memory permanently but regardless, for me it’s the only path to success.

IT’S ABOUT PROCESS NOT PRODUCT. This is also hard for me but one thing I have had to really embrace in the last few years is the reality that I am not ultimately in control of the outcomes of most of my endeavors. The unexpected always comes up, for good or bad. So focusing on the outcome, defining success as a certain end product, only leads to me feeling ineffectual and depressed. But instead of feeling angry or sad or frustrated about this lack of control I have decided to just accept it as part of life. I am trying to embrace more ideas of mindfulness in my daily routine and part of that is just living in today. Focusing on my actions in this very moment and letting that define how I feel about my progress towards my goals. I may never be as thin or rich or “successful” as I would hope to be, but I can work on doing little things every day to support my goals and live a life of meaning right now. Ultimately, I know that if I just keep moving I will wind up in the right place (wherever that is) at the end.

So as part of embracing these ideas I am going to also try to be better about updating this blog. I hope that you guys continue to read it but if you don’t I hope that the simple act of writing helps me to gain clarity and keep moving forward.

Ten tips for a successful marriage.

I don’t know about the rest of the world but at this point I have had just about enough winter to last until next November.  We spent the weekend snowed in here and while my husband initially laughed at my desire to stock up on groceries and plan to have no plans, he acquiesced around Saturday morning that the roads really were bad and it was best for us to stay put.  Despite it being very cold and snowy and being housebound with a toddler I had a lovely two days with my family, and the main reason was because we were all together.  Since my husband works A LOT, having time together feels like quite a luxury and I enjoyed every moment of our family time and couple time.

By the time Monday morning rolled around I realized that I am incredibly blessed.  I know not everyone is so lucky to have a partner in their life, someone to rely upon, someone to confide in, someone to love.  And so I wanted to write a quick note of appreciation to my husband for being amazing.  He does the chores I hate.  He cooks me dinner when he can.  He does bath time.  He tells me every day that I am beautiful and that he loves me.  I couldn’t imagine my life without him and I know that I am a better person for having him around.  That being said, “perfect” relationships don’t grow on trees.  So while I have been reflecting on my incredible luck I have also been thinking about all the ways in which we work on making it work every day.  So here are some tips from me on relationships.  I don’t claim to be an expert but I do have a degree in Psychology and am currently in possession of an amazing marriage. So, for whatever that is worth, here goes.

1.  DON’T KEEP SCORE.

Somewhere in our young lives many of us were raised to believe in the idea that relationships should be even, that there should be an equitable division of labor.  Well, I have a newsflash that may sound both obvious and shocking at the same time.  Life is not fair AND we should stop trying to make it that way.  Things are not going to be even.  You will not be equal in everything in your relationship and that is ok.  Sometimes one person will do more things in the house, or will spend more time with the kids, or will be the one who usually picks the restaurant for date night.  Now this may sound like I am advocating for a 1950s style marriage, but that is not at all what I mean here.  What I am saying is that it ultimately doesn’t matter if you have “a traditional” marriage or a more “modern” marriage.  What matters is that both parties are happy with the roles they are playing in the family. If you look at any relationship you are likely to find one partner who is a bit more dominant, one who is more flexible, and one who is more domestic.  Being happy and having a good marriage does not mean that you divide the chores up evenly and you alternate who chooses the movies every Saturday night.  The goal should not be to have a relationship that is perfectly balanced, the goal is to find a balance that works for both of you.  One that is manageable and leaves both people feeling satisfied.  Don’t expect things to be even and don’t complain when they aren’t.  If something doesn’t work for you then address why that is and move on.

2.  BE GRACIOUS WITH EACH OTHER.

In being gracious what I really mean is applying a combination of the serenity prayer and the golden rule to your relationship.  In any relationship there are problems, things that could be better.  The trick is to identify what “problems”  are important and which ones are not really that big of a deal. Early on in my marriage I found myself feeling really frustrated all the time and thinking that my husband didn’t listen to me and that he did not care about my opinions or was selfish.  Because he would continue to do things that I didn’t like even after I told him that I wanted him to change his behavior.  They were little things (keeping his shoes on in the house and getting the floor dirty, leaving dirty dishes on the counter instead of putting them in the dishwasher) but in my mind I had made them into a symbol of how much he loved me.  If he really cared, I would think, he would remember to do this, he would change.  But then after a few months I took a step back and realized I was the one being ridiculous.  Because seriously, was I going to throw my marriage away over dirty dishes?  Of course not, but continuing to harbor resentment over it would have surely poisoned our relationship over time.  When I saw this was happening I had an epiphany that went something like this:  We are all annoying and flawed.  We all make mistakes. Sure I can make a list of things that I would like to change about my husband but I am sure there are things that I do that bug him too.  Truly loving someone means accepting their imperfections.  So unless I am willing to listen to all of the many ways in which I could be more considerate every day, what is the point in badgering my husband over dirty dishes.  I’m not talking about major problems like domestic violence or infidelity or addictions or other very real issues that can destroy relationships, but the little every day things that get under your skin.  You need to let it go, save the energy for the big things.  And treat each other with love and kindness because we all make mistakes and we all fail sometimes.

3. TURN UP THE HEAT.

Your spouse/partner is not just your best friend, your roommate, or your co-parent.  While the intensity of sexual attraction may start to fade over time that doesn’t mean that marriages should become asexual.  No one should aspire to become that joke of a married couple who only has sex on their anniversary.  Studies show that couples that have sex at least once a week are happier and more connected.  I know it can be hard sometimes, you work long hours, you have kids, financial stress, we all have many reasons why we may feel too tired to be intimate.  There may be times when you feel like you are just going through the motions, but that’s ok.  Touch each other. Kiss. Be physically intimate. Sex should not be an afterthought, it needs to be a regular part of your life.  Not every time is going to be amazingly passionate, but taking the time to reconnect physically on a regular basis will keep your relationship going and lay the groundwork necessary for those truly earthshaking/head board breaking encounters too.

4. SPEND TIME TOGETHER.

Do things.  Go to a museum or for a walk or to a concert or a sporting event.  Talk about movies and music and politics and religion.  Explore the world and explore each other.  In this world of smart phones and wifi we can all fall into the trap of spending more time in our virtual or digital life than engaging in our real life.  Don’t let your time together devolve into just sharing the same space, make sure that you are really present and you are experiencing the world together.  And maybe try something new every once in awhile.  Couples who make a habit out of doing something new together tend to be happier than those whose lives are more predictable.

5. SPEND TIME APART.

This one is hard for me at times, but it is really important to have your own individual lives in addition to your family life.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder as the saying goes.  While I don’t advocate amping up your alone time too much, I think it is important to have your own stuff. A few hobbies, some separate friends, your work, whatever.  The important thing is to go out and do your own thing and then come back and share your experience with your partner.  Having some time apart or some things that are just yours keeps an element of mystery going in the relationship and allows you to not get too sick of each other.  We all need space every once in awhile.  And it gives you something real to talk about, other than just the normal rehashing of your daily routine.

6. BE HONEST.

This is a big one for me.  I believe that there is very little that is more important in a relationship than honesty.  Any aspect of your life that you do not feel comfortable sharing with your spouse or partner is a potential time bomb that will tear the fabric of your relationship apart.  Now I’m not saying you have to share every minute detail of your daily existence, but if there is something that you are purposefully keeping from your significant other that is a big problem.  Without trust you can never have a truly wonderful relationship.

7. OWN YOUR ISSUES.

Just because you are feeling insecure about your job, your weight, your parenting, what-have-you, please don’t assume that your partner is judging you.  In my experience I judge myself way more harshly than anyone else and when I am feeling insecure I am also much more prone to imagining that my husband is thinking negative thoughts about me.  If you think someone is upset or disinterested or whatever, the right way to handle it in a relationship is to ask them about it, politely and calmly.  No one is a mind-reader here so assuming that you know what your partner is thinking is going to lead you down a path of misunderstandings and hurt feelings.  Your mind is only capable of truly knowing your own thoughts, and that is if you are lucky.  When things are unsaid or murky, the best thing to do is try and gain actual clarity or live with the uncertainty and move on.

8. DON’T FORGET THE LITTLE THINGS.

Little every day acts of kindness matter so much in a relationship.  Kiss each other goodbye.  Send ‘I love you’ texts during the day.  Make each others’ favorite meal.  Buy the kind of juice that he/she likes.  Do that chore that your partner hates for them.  And say please and thank you.  In my opinion it is impossible to say ‘I love you’ or ‘Thank you’ enough in a relationship.  Give love and gratitude out and 9 times out of 10 you will get it back.

9.  ACCEPT THAT THERE WILL BE BAD TIMES.

Life is full of ups and downs and so are relationships.  It is inevitable that you will hurt each others’ feelings.  You will argue about things. And there will be weeks or months when you are upset or just feel like the spark is dwindling.  It’s ok.  One bad day does not mean that your relationship is terrible.  We all have times when we are struggling and the important thing is that you try to meet adversity as a team.  Sometimes you may disagree and sometimes you will lose your battles.  But being there in the good and the bad is what it is all about.  Ride it out and so long as you remember to keep treating each other with grace and kindness and try to see your partner as a helper rather than an enemy you will likely emerge stronger and more in love when you get to the next period of peace.

10.  BELIEVE IN EACH OTHER.

We are all growing and evolving and trying to be better or get somewhere new.  If you are going to survive the journey together as a couple you need to believe in one another and support each others’ dreams and goals.  The right partner will challenge you to be the best version of yourself and not try to sculpt you into a mediocre version of someone else. The right partner should lift you up and try to make things easier.  The right partner will celebrate your successes and rally around you during times of failure.  If you can do this for each other your relationship will be able to weather almost any storm.

Lessons my mother taught me

Like many people, I made some New Year’s resolutions, four to be exact.  I resolved that this year I would  bolster my fitness by completing a 5Kto10K training program,  improve my health by drinking 3 green smoothies/week, and improve upon myself globally by committing to stop biting my nails and trying to read 50 books.  Well, we aren’t even out of January yet and I am already having trouble with my resolutions.  In fact the first week back from vacation I had to really drag myself to the gym, I had zero desire to move at all, let alone run.  As I was driving there I started to negotiate with myself – maybe I would just sit in the sauna for awhile, or I could use the bikes instead of the treadmill.  No!  I argued on – beauty is pain.

The thought flew out into my inner dialogue before I could censor it and then I winced.  Beauty is pain.  This is something I have said to myself so many times that I could not begin to count it.  And suddenly in my car, thinking about my toddler at home and the many legitimate reasons I had for wanting to run that day the words echoed in my mind.  And I thought about how incredibly messed up that idea is.  Because when you think about it, there is very little about beauty that should in any way be related to pain.

Yes, yes of course you can argue that the root of a saying like “beauty is pain” is that you need to work hard and sometimes suffer for things that are worthwhile.  That is an idea that I am wholeheartedly in agreement about.  Most things in life that are worth having come with some kind of struggle and “pain” behind them.  BUT  thinking back to my own childhood I knew that this phrase was used as a way of insidiously teaching me things about myself and my place in the world.  Beauty is pain – it was said when I complained about hair brushing being too painful (translation: I do these things for your own good so you should stop complaining about it).  Beauty is pain – it was said when I didn’t want to sleep on curlers the night before school pictures (translation: your natural state is not good enough,we need to improve upon it).  Beauty is pain- it was said when shoes pinched my toes or clothes were restrictive or when I was cold in the winter going to church in a skirt and tights instead of pants (translation:  Nothing is more important than the image you present to the world, especially not your own comfort level).

I thought about all the things I wanted to teach my daughter.  How to be strong, to have patience,  to be gracious, to be confident in herself, to be kind, and a million other things. But the idea that beauty and pain are linked is certainly not one of them.  However, if I am completely honest about my own motivation for working out and eating better, my daughter definitely comes into play.  I do it for myself, because I want to be healthier and to look better.  But I also do it because I want my daughter to grow up in a family that values nutrition and health, I want her to be healthy, I want to be a healthy role model for her.  And sometimes in the darkest, secret corners of my thoughts I know I do it because I want her to be thin.  And beautiful.  And I hate this about myself.

I have debated writing about this topic for a week now and then I saw this blog online and felt like it was time, both time to write in general and time to unload a bit about this topic.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/opinion/sunday/google-tell-me-is-my-son-a-genius.html

For those who don’t want to read the blog or can’t access it the author of the piece analyzed search terms and found that people are much more likely to google things like “is my son gifted” and “is my daughter fat” rather than the opposite even though in reality girls are much more likely to be gifted and boys more likely to be overweight.  I have been thinking about this today and I have come to begrugdingly realize that I have a mixed reaction to these findings.

First I find myself feeling sad that this would be true – if it is true – that parents are more interested in their sons’ intelligence and in their daughters’ appearance.  Second, I find myself skeptical that you can really know this from search engines – do our questions online really fully mirror our thoughts?  Third, I know that my own thoughts and questions about my daughter are far more complicated than just is she smart vs. is she thin.

I will admit that I do wonder more about my daughter’s growth than her intelligence.  She is very very tall for her age and I have often wondered when that will change, if it will, or if she will wind up 6′ tall, which would place her far far taller than any other female in my family.  As far as intelligence, well I don’t know if I have really ever googled whether my daughter is gifted because I know she is smart.  People tell me all the time that she is very smart. And not to be overly boastful, but the reality is that her dad and I are both far above average in our intelligence and so I was never that worried that our child would be any different. Whether she is above average or a genius will become apparent in time, I guess, but it’s not something I lose sleep about.  She is herself. She loves to learn and I know if I get out of her way she will continue to develop at her own pace.

Weight and beauty are another issue. Every adult in my family (except for me) is obese. While I have never had the problems that my sister, mother, father, aunts, etc. have  I have struggled with my weight since puberty.  At the age of 13 I blossomed from a tall and very thin child into a woman with an hourglass figure.  I that my husband loves my curves and many would kill to have my body type, but  it means that my natural setpoint is at the very high end of what would be considered healthy for my height.  And I love food.  And I was never encouraged to do anything even remotely athletic as a child.  So I am constantly terrified of being fat.  And feel like I am fighting an uphill battle against my metabolism.

I will admit that I worry about my daughter’s weight just as I take pride her being cute – in the fact that her dimples make people stop and smile and comment on her on a daily basis.  Pretty people have an easier life. They are viewed more positively across the board.  And really, what mother doesn’t think her child is beautiful.  Some of the same thoughts come into play about weight. Whether we like it or not, society judges fat people harshly and women I think get judged more negatively than men.  And I want my baby girl to have a wonderful life.  I want her to be loved, popular, successful and happy.

 

Being a parent is this crazy rollercoaster of control  On the one hand my daughter’s independent and wild spirit are a daily example of how I am very much not in control of everything in this world.  But yet there is a part of me that has whispered (and sometimes shouted) since the first time I ever saw her face YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE.  You are responsible for this person. If she is hurt – you are responsible.  If she is sick – you are responsible.  If she grows up to be a jerk – you are responsible.  And ever since I was pregnant there was a big part of me that said if she grows up to be overweight – you are responsible.

But more than I want my daughter to be healthy and happy and “thin”, which in our society these days really means a healthy BMI, more than any of that I don’t want her to have my issues. I don’t want her to spend her 20s counting the calories in everything she eats.  I don’t want her to have a brush with bulimia.  I don’t want her to look in the mirror and hate her body.  And I think what terrifies me more than anything is that I don’t know if I know how to raise a girl in America who loves her body.  Who is confident in her inner and outer beauty, but knows that she is so much more than her appearance.  And I am doubly terrified to know that even if I did figure out how to do it, someone else in this world would probably mess her up anyway, that the messages would seep in somehow regardless.  That she will learn to value herself based on whether others think she is beautiful.  That she will doubt her own glorious radiance.  That she will someday think she is not enough.    Thinking about all of this terrifies me sometimes but for now I know she is the embodiment of beauty and energy and light and love.  And I know that if nothing else I will find a way to teach her that even though we do need to brush her hair every day, beauty does NOT mean pain and being pretty is NOT more important than being comfortable in her own skin and having fun.

Faith and Consequences

Well it would seem inevitable that after writing a post about being happy and needing to trust in my own values I would have one of those days. You know the kind.  The ones where it seems like everything you do is wrong and everything you touch turns to shit.  One of those days where you use profanity on a blog where you talk about your kid.  Ugh.

Everything started out fine this morning.  For the first time in a long time when the alarm clock went off I awoke feeling sleepy but o.k.  Nary an ache or pain, which is unusual.  For the last few weeks I have been waking up feeling like I must have slept crooked.  Some mornings I doubted whether I would even be able to move my aching neck, the pain was so strong.  Stress. It’s omnipresent this time of year.  And financial uncertainty coupled with this first real possibility for full-time employment I’ve had in almost eight months has been wearing on me.  Plus I broke my toe the week after Thanksgiving which has meant that I have been unable to run since then.  This is not good.  Exercise is what keeps me sane.  It lends a feeling of control to an uncontrollable world.  It provides an avenue for burning off my anger and anxiety wrapped up in a convenient package that also includes a private shower (something of a luxury when you have a toddler).  But today, finally, I woke up feeling tired but free from pain.

Then my husband was in a grumpy mood because he has had to work all weekend with little support staff (everyone else is getting holiday leave time).  My daughter seemed sweet enough and calm enough at first but then quickly showed her true colors around 7:45 when she screamed, chin quivering and eyes overflowing with tears, after I suggested that perhaps she should eat her bagel, the one she had asked for and seemed excited about, before trying to eat all of my cereal.  I even offered to save some of my cereal for her or to pour her a bowl after she had eaten her own breakfast. She cried and whined and then proceeded to play with her food for the next 45 minutes, pushing all my buttons.  I decided she was tired and took her upstairs to lay down and rest, even allowed her to snuggle with me in “the big bed”, but she did not sleep.  She also continued to be immune to my suggestions, advice, or stern parental warnings for the entirety of the morning.  We finally made it out the door to church after three time outs and a decision to cancel our afternoon date to have lunch with her great-grandmother and cousin.  Early nap time was going to be a necessity, I decided.

Collecting her from the car after finding a parking place at church my daughter wrapped her arms around my neck and said. “Momma, I miss my Daddy.” My heart broke in that moment.  I know that she is having such a rough time these last few days because of this fact.  She misses her Daddy.  So do I.  Say what you will about the state of healthcare in this country but doctors work hard.  They work early mornings and long nights. They take phone calls at 2 a.m.  They work weekends.  They miss birthdays and anniversaries and holidays because people get sick every day.  And if you calculated his hourly wage my husband is probably making a net income of about $15/hr right now (because technically he’s still in training, even though he’s had his M.D. for almost five years).  That’s if you don’t count the time he spends working at home.  It’s stressful, for everyone.

So I drop my daughter off in the church nursery and head upstairs where I am predictably late for service.  I try to find peace and quiet in the prayers and music but I am distracted.  My thoughts lingering on my daughter.  Am I doing the right thing?  Was I too hard on her this morning?  Should I be giving more hugs and kisses and ignoring her outright defiance because she is only two and she misses her daddy?  The sermon starts and I am finally able to focus.  The priest quotes a famous theologian, a comment on Joseph’s discussion to wed Mary and raise Jesus rather than casting her off. “Doing what is difficult every day and acting like it is an easy thing.  That is faith.”

Faith.  It is in the air these days.  Part of the Christmas spirit is a desire to reawaken our faith.  Faith in God.  Faith in Santa Claus.  Faith in miracles.  Faith in each other.  The two biggest decisions I have ever made, to get married and to be a mom, have both been tremendous leaps of faith.  You can never know if it will be right.  The fruits of your labor will only be obvious later, maybe not even until the end.  Faith.  It’s beautiful and hard.  But sometimes when you leap, you wind up somewhere more miraculous than you could have ever imagined.

Things haven’t improved since my ponderings on faith at 11:25 this morning.  My toddler was of course a perfect angel in church with others and then proceeded to run away from me and out into traffic when I came to get her.  She has been lovely and horrible all day.  She wraps her arms around my neck and snuggles and then blatantly does what I tell her not to do, with a twinkle in her eye and a giggle.  She is two. She is full of life.  She misses her Daddy.

We are currently 2.5 hours into nap time and I am not sure if she has slept at all yet.  The last time I went up was about 45 minutes ago.  I know there is something in her spirit today that needs to defy.  That needs to say, I hear you momma but I am going to do something else.  She is testing me – she wants to make sure that even at her worst she will be loved.  I am exhausted and the house is a disaster and nothing has worked out the way I imagined it would today.  But that’s alright.  I have faith that things will be better tomorrow.  That Christmas will come in a few days and we can have fun even if the dusting never happens, even though my husband will be working Christmas day on the first year that my daughter really knows what is happening. Faith and love will see me through.

I want to close with a Hymn that brought tears to my eyes this morning.  You’ve probably heard it before, a lot.  But the message of faith and love touched me so deeply today such that I found myself a little embarrassingly sniffle-y.

In the bleak midwinter frosty wind made moan

earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

in the bleak midwinter long ago.

 

Our God heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain,

heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there.

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air.

But his mother only, in her maiden bliss,

worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

 

What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.

If I were a wise man I would play my part.

But what I can, I give him, give my heart.

Living a life of meaning

Here I sit watching The Polar Express with my daughter, cuddled up on the sofa having bid goodbye to my husband who is off to the hospital.  Today is Saturday so there is nothing particularly strange about the idea of watching a movie in your pajamas, but truthfully this is the way most of my mornings begin.  Huddled up with my daughter, watching cartoons for a little bit and then trying to wrestle a squirming ball of toddler energy into some clothing and tame the snarls and twists of her hair.  Even in sleep she must be in constant motion because every day she wakes up with her fine hair twirled and spun in circles, a visual indication of the wildness of her spirit. Looking at the beauty and simplicity of my child, and contemplating my third cup of coffee for the day I am struck by the unpredictability of life.

 

When I decided to become a mother, being a stay-at-home-mom (or SAHM for those of us who read way too many parenting blogs), was never what I imagined.  My own mother worked for most of my childhood and having an identity separate from my family was always something I thought would be very important for myself. But here I am, essentially unemployed and primarily responsible for the cooking, cleaning, budgeting, errand-running and child-rearing.  This is not to say that my husband does not participate in all of these things, he does, he is very involved in the parenting decisions and often offers to take some household tasks off my plate. I say “right now” and “essentially unemployed” because my career is in a state of flux right now and I feel entirely uncertain as to what direction it might take.  I have a job interview set up for January for a tenure-track faculty position and I am currently working part-time but mommy is my primary job right now.

 

After giving birth I wondered briefly if I might feel ambivalent about returning to work, but it never seemed like a real choice.  I had to do full year internship in order to finish my doctoral degree and I certainly was not going to give up on my Ph. D. so close to the finish line.  I defended my thesis when my daughter was 8 weeks old and that was the first time I left her with someone other than a family member.  I started a full-time position four weeks later.  Truthfully, by that point in time I could not wait for my internship to start. I felt like I was on autopilot for most of the first six months of her life, sleep deprivation does not become me, but I loved my job and I really really needed to get out of the house and spend time with people who could talk and were capable of having needs that did not always infringe upon my own. 

 

I absolutely adore my daughter, I would walk through fire for her, but the early days were rough for me.  I think that part of the reason they were so hard is because I have a lot of trouble doing things halfway when my emotions are involved.  Moderation does not come easily to me with things that I love and so disengaging from her was pretty hard.  I wanted to give her everything, fill her world with light and make sure that all her needs were met.  I wanted her to be blissfully happy and know that she was fiercely loved.  I think ultimately I did accomplish these things, despite my moments of doubt I know that I am a good mother.  My kid has never wanted for anything, even though she does not always get what she wants, and she is pretty secure in her position as the center of my universe. I am sure in her mind she is the center of everything, she is a toddler after all and is at her heart pretty selfish, even as she desperately wants to please the adults in her world.  

 

In addition to being a perfectionist, the other thing that made the early days hard was the fact that my husband and daughter are extreme extroverts and I am an introvert.  I require a lot of “me time” to feel like a normal person, socializing is exhausting, unless it is with people I truly adore, and most of the time I would rather be alone with my thoughts.  My baby girl was not interested in quiet, she was also not interested in being still or in sleeping alone.  She was and is a generally happy person but she talks from the moment she opens her eyes until she finally gives in to sleep.  And she wants me to talk to her and sing to her constantly.  And she never sits still – there is always a part of her in motion.  So as a baby that meant I had to be constantly in motion, rocking, bouncing, swaying her and singing a never-ending stream of nursery rhymes and lullabies. 

 

Her exuberance is something that occasionally wears me out but it is also what I love most about her.  Her laugh is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard and her smile is indescribably pure and magical.  She is a good kid, sweet and tender even in her wild moments and sometimes frighteningly intelligent.  But sleep is not something that comes easily to her.  My husband has tried explaining to me that for the two of them sleep is a battle but I just cannot relate.   Finally sometime around her 2nd birthday we were able to settle into a night time pattern that allowed her to fall asleep on her own in her crib without me leaning over the side and rubbing her back or singing or holding her hand until she had passed out.  But naptime is still a struggle – not every day but more days than not. It is what we fight about most, it is when I am apt to lose my cool and do things that I later regret.

 

If I am being truly honest, do you know what is the one factor that has most stood in the way of my own happiness and peace?  It isn’t sleep deprivation, it isn’t my daughter’s indefatigable spirit, it isn’t unemployment, or money problems, or a lack of quiet time, it is my own mind.I am my own worst enemy.  The sentiment is trite, a cliché, but sometimes those things that are most oft said still bear repeating.  I am constantly getting in my own way and it needs to stop.  I beat myself up for not doing enough, doing the wrong things, not living up to my own standards, or not living up to what I imagine to be the standards of those around me.  Every day there comes a moment when I open the door to self-hatred and loathing.  And then I self-sabotage.  I try to regulate my emotions with food.  I spend naptime watching mindless TV programs on E!, the CW, or ABC Family instead of writing.  I don’t apply for jobs that I might like because I am embarrassed to ask people to write me letters of recommendation – embarrassed that former professors and mentors and supervisors might know that I am unemployed, caught up in my fears of their judgment of my life.  And at the heart of all of these things is self-doubt.  I doubt whether I am good enough, whether I could ever succeed, afraid of the pain that might come from giving it your all and still falling short.  Fear and uncertainty creep into my heart and so I shoot myself in the foot because opting out of the system seems safer than failing.  But of course the only way to get what you want out of life is to reach for it, those who do not compete will never win.  It is so easy for me to give this advice to others, to believe in my loved-ones and tell them they have nothing to lose, believing in myself is harder.

 

Maria Kang got a lot of people in a tizzy when she posted this picture.

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Now this photo activates all kinds of emotions in me, one of which is rage.  I do feel, as many other women have stated, that part of the message being portrayed here is that being beautiful and model-thin should be a woman’s number one priority and that irks me to say the least.  I also feel there is a bit of gloating and judgment behind Ms. Kang’s message, which was purportedly meant to inspire and motivate other women.  But I also think the idea of examining our excuses is an important one.  What is my excuse for not meeting my goals?

 

Last year I had a conversation with my sister where we were discussing how difficult it is to truly change your behavior. To disengage from unhealthy patterns and forge ahead on a new path.  At one point she said something to the extent of “I know what I have to do.  I need to make it a real priority.  When something is truly important to you, you just do it, you find a way to make it happen no matter what.”  I believe there is tremendous truth to this statement.  And I think instead of focusing on the myriad ways in which I have failed to live up to my own expectations it would be better for me to shift my inner dialogue to an examination of my own values.

 

What is truly important to ME? Not to society or to my parents or to my role models but what really matters to me??  Because when you can identify your values and act in accordance with them the doubts and fears start to become silenced.  A life of meaning brings it’s own rewards.  And lest you think that I am in a state of depression or paralytic anxiety I will close by saying that I think somehow I have stumbled into that meaningful life by surprise.  Despite my best efforts to put myself down, to focus on the ways in which I am falling short, I find that more days than not I am blissfully happy.  My daughter feeds me Cheerios with her chubby fingers and rests her head against my chest and my soul is filled with a peace that grips me and brings tears of joy to my eyes. 

 

We could use more money. I worry that my mind will lose it’s edge if I don’t find ways to keep learning and growing intellectually.  I could be thinner.  I often feel like I should be giving back more to my community and using my degree to help others.  I worry that I will be lonely and friendless if I do not get out around adults more often.  But I am HAPPY.  My life is quiet and slow and I have been blessed with the gift of time.  Time to write.  Time to exercise in the middle of the week.  Time to sit and read with my daughter, to sing her songs and cradle her in my arms while she still wants me.  I am lucky.  I am spoiled.  I am happy.  And if I can just stay out of my way and live, I think the happiness might decide to settle in and stay awhile.

Introductions

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As my daughter would say “Hi! Hi! Hi!”  This is the beginning – of what?,  I suppose time will tell.  If you’re reading this you probably want to know about me, or maybe you don’t, maybe you don’t care who I am you are just hoping for something interesting to  break up a monotonous morning. Well I hope that whoever you are you find some of what you want here.

 Me.  I am many things, a mother, an academic (of sorts, maybe), a writer, an avid lover of all books, a psychologist, a Christian (please don’t run for the hills, I promise not to bite), a wife, a sister, a daughter, a Democrat, a musician at times, a Gemini, enough? Yes, I think so too.  I suppose I should pick some of those and expand upon them a bit.

MOTHER.  This is the title that I guess defines me more than anything these days.  I consider myself new to this motherhood thing.  My daughter is 2.5 and while being a mom was something that I had always seen for myself, I will admit that I was in no way prepared for the sheer force, the gravity, of her being and what her life would do to mine.  I know I will talk on this more in detail but for now let me say that being a mom is the most important, terrifying, frustrating, beautiful, wonderful, meaningful, and about a million other big things to ever happen to me.  I cannot imagine anything bigger than the impact that this little girl has had on my world.  She is at the core of my every action and thought and while at times it feels like she is a black hole, sucking me into her vastness and swallowing me completely, she is also a mirror, reflecting all the light and truth in the world, illuminating all that matters and destroying all that is irrelevant.

ACADEMIC.  I was raised in a family that valued learning above almost all else.  My credentials: I graduated near the top of my public school in a comfortable suburban community in Central NY.  I attended one of the best (according to the “experts” at US News & World Reports) liberal arts colleges in America where I graduated Magna cum Laude with a B.A. in Psychology.  I went to one of the top Psychology Departments in the country and obtained a Ph. D. in 2012.  I have published in peer-reviewed journals, I have reviewed papers for said publications, I have given presentations at international conferences.  In short, I have been on the inside of academia as a student.  I was practically bred and trained from day one to be an academic, to think and question, to teach, to learn.  These are all things that I value immensely but ultimately I have found that it’s a world that may not be best for me.  Whether I will remain an academic is something I am currently trying to figure out. One of the toughest lessons I think I have been gleaning as an adult is that just because you are good at something doesn’t mean that it is what you should do.  I am good at thinking about things.  What I’m not good at is valuing ideas above relationships.  More on that for another post.  Like motherhood my thoughts on academia will probably occupy some significant blog space.

 WRITER.  This is a title I am currently trying on for size.  In a way I have been a writer for most of my life. As a young child I was constantly making up stories about things that interested me: princesses, super heros, my stuffed animals, you get the idea.  I wrote books, in school and on my own, and sometimes poetry or songs but never things for anyone else to read.  Not really.  I always had the idea of being an author in the back of my head but somehow it seemed ridiculous.  The idea of making a living through your writing, it just seemed more fantastic even to a little girl with a vivid imagination.  I guess I didn’t know anyone who did that, and I never have, personally.  My parents were very against “artistic” professions and I have always been an introvert, not very good at self-promotion or grabbing the spotlight.  Now it’s something I am thinking of more and more – writing.  I love to get lost in words.  I have started writing a novel – nothing significant, I have no illusions of a Pulitzer or Nobel or any metallic ornaments gracing the covers of anything I pen.  I have always been captivated by relationships, by fairy tales, by love.  That is in a way what I am writing in my fiction.  My greatest hope one day is that people might read it and find pleasure in the story, that would be more than enough.

Alright I think that is enough of a beginning.  I plan to post here every day if I can.  Ideas, rants, things of meaning to me.  I hope that others may find them meaningful, enjoyable, thought-provoking. If not, well there is something wonderfully cathartic about writing and I hope to at least clear some space in my head.