Self-care & Mommyhood

You know those moms?  The ones who are wearing the cute outfits at Target.  The ones who have clearly had time to not only shower but also do their hair and put on make-up.  The ones who are so organized that they came with a list AND coupons.  Who remembered the reusable bags.  The ones whose children are sitting quietly in the cart eating an organic snack from a BPA-free, reusable container.

I find myself staring at those moms.  I try not to.  For one, my mom taught me it’s rude to stare.  For another, I’m a lesbian and I’m always a little worried those moms will think I’m hitting on them.  The truth is that I’m trying really hard to not corner them in the shampoo aisle and beg them to tell me their secrets.  HOW DO THEY DO IT???

After I had a breakdown over a year ago, I finally set up routines, boundaries, baby-sitters. I made time for exercising, meditating, breathing, reading, and doing whatever else recharged my batteries.  Little by little, though, as I began to seem “normal” again, as I went back to work, and basically resumed my pre-breakdown life, all of those things that helped me got pushed to the bottom of the to-do list.

Let’s face it: small children are not low-maintenance or accommodating.  Their needs are expressed loudly and often and I meet them as much as I can.  My type-A-ness does not allow me to do other than my best, while worrying that I suck, when I’m mommying or working.  So, when it is all of a sudden 8pm and I’ve just finished putting the kids to bed and I haven’t exercised, read, breathed, or even peed without an audience that day, I tend to give up.  I flop on the couch, watch the Property Brothers, and fall asleep.  Then I get up the next morning and do it all over again.  I’m aware that it was this very pattern (along with some truly lovely post-partum hormones) that caused me to have the breakdown in the first place, but I feel helpless to change it.  How do I do these self-care things when I need to wipe little tushes, avert doggie haircuts given by a 3 year old, or make sure that the 5 year old hasn’t lost her patience with her sister and tossed her out on the porch?

So, if you catch me staring at you at Target, I’m not hitting on you.  I promise.  Just tell me how you do it.  Point me in the direction of your stylist, or your full-time nanny, or your dealer.

Not as helpful as I might have hoped….

I had hoped that blogging would help me get through what I was dealing with, but it actually did not seem to be true.  This blog was a sort of failed experiment for me.  It turns out, spewing my illness via blog only made me feel worse.

Once I stepped away from this and really focused on what I knew I should be doing, i.e. exercising, meditating, practicing yoga, caring for myself and my family, and really making the hard choices about treatment, I started to improve.  Over the last four months, I have started running (If you knew me in real life, you’d be shocked.  My friends would likely include “sedentary” in their descriptions of me.), mastered standing on my head in yoga (which makes me feel like a bad-ass), firmed up our family plans to homeschool, enjoyed working part-time and having a balance, worked hard in therapy, and finally found an SSRI that seems to work for me.  I have stopped living in crisis mode, and instead can focus on the future.

Today, I feel happy and hopeful.  I don’t feel that way every day, but I’ve learned that today is what counts.

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me.

Deep Breaths

A little EMDR to focus on stopping the anger as it is starting. Some parenting strategies. An hour in therapy. A reminder to my wife that a month without a single break from my children may be pushing me over the edge in a season where I am already a little closer to said edge than usual. And yes, some deep breaths.

All of those things have helped rein in the crazy in my household, the one my children call “Mommy”. Not so remarkably, my children are responding better to the new strategies and the deep breaths. Also, because I’m trying so hard to hold back my temper and to respond to them appropriately, I don’t feel the bone-deep shame when I have an occasional over-the-top moment. I acknowledge that I apparently needed a few more deep breaths or something in that moment, and then I forgive myself as best I can and move on from that moment. The couple of times I’ve found myself yelling in the last 24 hours, I was able to pull it back, apologize for the way I was talking to them, and then stick with the point I was trying to make. This is key.

Before, I would find myself screaming, feel so ashamed of myself, apologize abjectly, and then give in to what they wanted in that moment to make them (and me) feel better. Now I can realize I shouldn’t be yelling, apologize briefly, but still let them know that whatever it is that they’re doing that pushed me to yell is inappropriate and that there will be a consequence if they don’t stop. Simple “If/then” statements have really helped halt the anger before it starts. For example, I may have already asked my 4 year old twice to pick the library books up off of the floor. Instead of immediately screaming at her for not listening and being generally lazy, I try saying “If you do not pick the books up off of the floor, then you will go to your room to think about listening to Mommy.” That way, the ball is in her court. I don’t need to harangue and get frustrated and blow my top. If she picks up the books, great! Praise! If she doesn’t, I simply pick her up and put her on the stairs so that she can go up to her room. This is also helpful because it avoids the conflict between us that can often make me explode. We’re not arguing back and forth over books and entitlement and taking care of our things. There’s a break for both of us and we both have a chance to calm down and be reasonable when we come back together.

So, thanks again to my wonderful therapist! I don’t know what I’d do without you!

Battling the rage

I should not be screaming at my kids. At least not unless they’re about to be hit by a car or do something else dangerous. I know this. Yet, I find myself screaming because they spilled the dog food all over the floor when they were supposed to be filling the bowls. Or because they are whining. Or because I’ve said “Clean up the toys” for the 606th time. There is no reason that such rage and language should be coming out of my mouth directed at my children. Yet, I hear it all too often.

Yesterday, I put forth all my effort to stay calm in the face of frustration. I did well, but they were abnormally well-behaved and easy yesterday. Today, we seem to be back to the regular December craziness and I’ve already screamed 3 times by 9am. I know I need to dig deeper and find buried layers of patience, but I’m struggling. “The fucking dog food does not belong on the floor!” is not how I want my kids to remember me. I’m really ashamed by it, actually.

So, since I seem to have my depression and anxiety mostly under control (knock on wood), that is the next area that I need to work on. I really love my children. They are the most important thing in the world to me. I want to be the kind of mom who can mostly maintain their (at least outward) cool. I can remember my mother screaming at me maybe twice in my whole life. Once when I went to play at a friend’s house down the street without telling her when I was 7 and once when I was being a teenager. There was yelling. I don’t expect to not yell; but, I want to not be always screaming at my kids.

At least I have something to talk about in therapy tomorrow.

Irrational fear

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that most of my fears are of the irrational variety. It’s better than what many people in this world face. They may fear the constant threat of war, violence, rape, etc. My problems are almost always of the first world variety. Today, my irrational fear comes from the fact that I stayed home while my wife took my children to swim class and gingerbread house decorating at the local YMCA. I am struggling with the idea that I will somehow be punished for staying home and resting while I’m sick rather than sucking it up and going with my kids. Never mind that I’ve taken care of sick kids all week by myself, or that I’ve now caught their illness, or that I was up all night coughing. I am convinced that I will be punished (by who? a vengeful god? I am a recovering Catholic, so it’s possible).

As my family was going out the door, I struggled to stay on the couch. I wanted to run after them and just go, too. I was afraid that if I let them go without me, they would somehow be killed and I’d be left alone. I am trying to beat back that fear. It’s not really working. I will be so relieved when my family comes home this evening and I can breathe.

The Plague has hit!

This week, in addition to the stress of my baby sister being in the hospital, where she deteriorates each night, the plague has hit our house. My youngest got sick on Sunday. Since then, both my oldest and I have caught her disgustingness. Snot everywhere. Hacking coughs. No sleep for days. Kids in parents’ bed. Elbows in eyes. Sneezes in mouths! Yuck!

I hate being sick. The house seems to fall apart when that happens. I’m on the couch with a box of tissues and nearly nonstop children’s TV to keep the kids quiet. The house is covered in discarded tissues, books, dirty clothes, clean laundry, toys. Name it, I could probably find it on the floor of my living room.

Medical science should focus on making moms invulnerable to germs. My children need a bath, they are still wearing their pajamas, they had a cheese stick for lunch, and they’ve watched an inordinate number of hours of television. Moms should definitely not be allowed to get sick.

Sister Stress

I am the oldest of four children, spread over 14 years. The third of us, my baby sister, is 10 years younger than I am, at 22. She was born with renal artery stenosis, which means that the renal artery was too narrow and her kidneys could not function. She spent much of her first year of life at a children’s hospital. Until she was a toddler, she was fed largely through a feeding tube snaking in her nose and down her esophagus. She also was hooked up to a dialysis machine every night. At 16 months old, she underwent a kidney transplant, using a kidney donated by my mother. After that, we had a brief respite from medical problems. Unfortunately, the dozens of daily pills that she has had to take since toddlerhood to avoid rejection of her new kidney have caused her poor body to be wracked with medical issues. She has weak bones, which has led to scoliosis and 2 major back surgeries to insert a great deal of titanium to support her spine. She’s had a few different kinds of thankfully early detected cancers. During her last back surgery, she also suffered a stroke and lost her sight, thankfully temporarily.

She went to the hospital yesterday with what is believed to be an infected gallbladder. Of course, with my sister, nothing is ever simple. No. You go to bed thinking she’s doing okay, and she always, always, always deteriorates overnight. Overnight when I was 9 months pregnant with my youngest, she went from feeling better after her back surgery to having a stroke by the time I woke up. Last night, apparently, she went from chatting with me at bedtime to pulmonary edema and not being able to breathe and oxygen by the time I woke up.

My baby sister is in a hospital a state away. I get frustratingly infrequent updates. I need to deal with everything at home for the family, which keeps me busy, but my sister will be always in my thoughts today while I am the daughter who makes sure shit gets covered. I will do what I need to do, but I’ll be fighting tears.

The Polar Express

Today, I went on the Polar Express. Well, a local version of the Polar Express. They read the book, sing Christmas carols, have a dance party, serve hot chocolate and cookies, and Santa visits each kid. In the days leading up to the train ride, I was riddled with anxiety. I hate crowds. Hate! It makes me itchy to just think about being in a crowd. But, we were gifted with tickets from one of my aunts and my cousin and the girls were so looking forward to it. So, I sucked it up and breathed through it and got on the freaking train.

It was hokey. Let’s be honest. It was a little boring. I also got a little queasy with the motion of the train. The crowd freaked me out a little. None of that mattered, though, when I saw the looks on my girls’ faces. My two year old was in awe of Santa Claus. My four year old sang along to every single song. They both danced like maniacs during the Christmas dance party.

It is sometimes very hard for me to make myself do things that aren’t in my comfort zone, especially those that involve crowded places or lots of people. From now on, though, I am going to remember tonight and the joy I got from watching my children enjoy this experience. I am going to try to pull myself together and put myself out there and go for it!

It’s one of THOSE days

Last night, I had trouble sleeping. I did not fall asleep until quite late for me. This morning, when my 2 year old bounced into my room, I could barely open my eyes. Thankfully, she consented to climb in and just chatter rather than making me get immediately out of bed. About 5 minutes later, my four year old started broadcasting her wakefulness by shouting, repeatedly, “Mommy! Mama! Mommy! Mama! I’m up!”.

To my four year old, the Christmas season is like her caffeine. As soon as she woke up, she needed to bound downstairs and find Alice, the Elf on the Shelf. I have a love/hate relationship with that freaking elf. Yes, it makes my children excited for Christmas and extends the joy of the season, blah, blah, blah. It also requires planning and execution (which I mainly leave up to my wife). It also means no cuddles in the morning from my warm, sleepy little girls. Up and at ’em! Alice is here! We’ve got to see what she’s gotten up to in the middle of the night!

So, today, I’m crabby. I’m tired, my children aren’t listening, and the day stretches ahead of us like a black hole. We have no plans today. None. Unless I come up with something fast, it will be me and two children stuck in this house all day. And today, teacher wife has a meeting after school, which means that she left before 7am and she won’t be back until around 5:30. That’s 11 hours of me and the girls and the dogs. I’m just not up for this shit today.

Therapy +

So, I recently switched from going to therapy every week to going every other week. This is mainly a function of not having a baby-sitter for every Thursday. So, now I go on Wednesdays, when my girls are in school. Only my wonderful therapist only had an every other week slot open on Wednesdays. So now that’s what I do. That seems like a lot of explanation for a simple concept.

Anyway, we’ve decided to now add in couples therapy to help us work through some of our communication issues. You wouldn’t think there would be communication issues when you’ve known someone intimately for half of your 33 years, but there it is. We also have some other issues to work on, and I (and my therapist) think it would be good to have an impartial person in the room so we don’t escalate into a screaming match every other time we try to discuss something important. All of this sounds good.

The current issue is: TIME! I have two preschoolers and now I’ll have to find an evening babysitter for them at least twice a month. That may not sound like a big deal, but we have never hired an outside-the-family babysitter before, except for the girls’ lovely preschool that they attend once each week. We rely on our parents, siblings, aunts, etc. to provide the occasional (read: biannual) night out.

I feel kind of torn. I want to address the issues in our relationship, yet it requires dealing with a hassle, being away from the girls, and learning to trust and confide in yet another therapist. I kind of wish that I could just cook a good dinner, put on my sexiest sweats, and solve the marital issues myself. Alas!