Category: Reflection

Christmas with my Pagan Family

It’s the gray end of a gray day, and I’ve been meaning to post something here. My mind is bouncing between Christmas and job, job and Christmas.

I have an interview tomorrow at a different company. The position here is taking longer to firm up than I’d anticipated, and this other possibility fell into my lap via a friend connection. It’s also in content marketing. I’d rather stay here, where I’m increasingly comfortable, but I’m annoyed by the wait for the contract to turn into a permanent role.

The good news is that I am slowly but surely coming to the realization that, for once in my life, my skill set is in demand. I do feel a sad distance between my present self and my past, more artsy self. I miss teaching, academia, being around other writers, and so on.

(The compensation, though.)

I’m finding it hard to get into the seasonal spirit. I usually love this time of year. The stress, though, is seeping in. Uno’s job is really busy right now, and she has a huge event coming up of which she is in charge. We have to get presents. Lots of family to juggle. Christmas cards – why are Christmas cards always such a calculus problem? We’re preparing to travel with the boys (!) the week after Xmas, and the whole trip is making me hyperventilate. Sort of. It’s to see the in-laws, and their rambunctious dogs, in their non-babyproofed house.

In the meantime, we are plotting some holiday cheer for the boys. Hoping to take Jaybird to a mini-Nutcracker performance, and maybe to some caroling. It’s hard to find activities that work for both a kindergartener and an unruly 17 month-old, I must say. Speaking of that, I’m not sure about the toddler + Christmas tree combination. Starling is on a climbing, grabbing, and running spree.

Jaybird is very excited this year, and that is a heartwarming antidote. Uno’s family was big into the Santa thing, and we are going with the facade. It’s weird for me, a bit, as my family didn’t put much effort into the whole shebang. We had tighter resources, and my mom has never been very sentimental. But I do like the pure delight that flashes on Jaybird’s face when we talk about Santa, Christmas, and so on. There are certain traditions I hold dear, like watching the 1981 animated film “The Snowman,” baking, and having an Advent calendar.

It’s odd, isn’t it, when you don’t have a religious tradition for the kids, and yet you’re doing up this Christian holiday? (With pagan roots, of course. I would love to make a family solstice tradition, but not really, because I don’t think I’d be able to take it seriously.) I was raised Catholic, and the Christmas season had a lot of ritual around it. I miss that. We had the Advent wreath with the tall candles, and each Sunday of Advent was important in a different way. Mom would turn off the lights and we’d sing and pray. Now – well, I feel false when I participate in things like that, but I would go to Mass just for the sensory experience. Maybe.

At any rate, I hope that we can instill a non-commercial sense of joy and reverence around the holiday. I wonder what that will look like, and how we’ll achieve it. This year, it’s more about presents and Santa. And cookies.

 

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Five Years of Huge Changes and I’m Ready for a Nap

I started this blog a little over five years ago. Five. years. ago. I was 29, which seems almost quaint. Being in one’s twenties! I’ve acquired a few gray hairs and a few more pounds. Jaybird has gone from peanut to … kindergarten-attending peanut. There are other obvious changes, like oh, you know, an additional child. I’m struck by just how far we’ve come. I don’t mean to say that we’ve somehow progressed in a linear fashion. Life has turned inside-out for Uno and I, and then gone sideways a few times. We’re so ready for a period of calm. For stability. Heck, I’ll take boring.

Did you know that if you put a number in a title, more people will click on it? The Top 5 Things You Don’t Know About Life. 10 Reasons to Eat Cookies. The 12 Types of Toddler Tantrums. People love numbered lists. So, in five years …

Six: places we’ve lived.

Five: how many times we’ve packed and unpacked all of our belongings.

Two: babies. That would be two fertility clinics, two pregnancies, two births. I won’t count the IUIs.

Three: jobs for Uno.

Five: jobs for me.

Two: extended family members who’ve joined our household (MIL and BIL.)

One: grandmother with dementia whose affairs need a lot of handling. This falls on Uno.

One: mother with mental health problems who needed a lot of handling. That’d be on me.

Four: schools that Jaybird has attended.

Four: Brandi Carlile shows. Lol. Yes.

With the exception of the last point, just looking at the list exhausts me. Garage apartment. My parents’ place. Rental house in depressed naval town. Shitty rental house in cool ‘hood. Better rental house in quieter ‘hood. Current house in similar locale. Six! That’s six homes in five years. When we bought this house – which happened by some miracle, I swear, given the current market in this city – we said flatly, “we’re never moving again.” And I mean it. Boy, do I mean it. When we hit the two year mark in this house, it’ll be the longest stretch I’ve lived anywhere since childhood.

And the job stuff. This is on my mind because I think I have finally found a professional home. My contract is looking good to convert to FTE. No guarantees, but it’s promising. I will be a product marketing specialist with a focus on sales enablement, people.

Oof, how my undergrad self would have balked at that. My twenties self too, probably. Yet – it’s enough. It’s enough. Indeed, I am grateful. I understand that it’s cushy. There is free parking! And coffee, snacks, and office supplies. A view of the water. A smart (woman) boss. Global colleagues. I can set my own schedule, pretty much.

I have bounced around between adjuncting, being a teaching artist, freelancing, and working in corporate marketing. I’m so ready to be done with the uncertainty. At this point, I am okay with compromise. My job doesn’t need to be deeply fulfilling; it just needs to be stable, not awful, and provide enough income such that I’m not constantly in a mild panic about money. I don’t want to go from gig to gig, and I don’t want to be a starving artist. I’ve said goodbye to any ideas about working in academia, because the compensation is terrible and the work-life balance is too, and I never did feel appreciated by anyone but my students. (Who I miss. I do.)

All I want is stability. I welcome predictability, routine, and an attendant sense of peace.

Some part of me feels guilty for all of the changes that Jaybird has undergone, in particular. Yet, he’s a happy kid, so I hope that having the consistency of his moms has been enough. His household is busy, multigenerational, and his moms are juggling various commitments and ambitions, but at least it’s all interesting, right? With Starling, it’s different – he’s only going to have lived in one house, for instance – but I do think about how distracted I can be when I’m with him. Feeling pulled in different directions, having trouble quieting my busy brain.

I wonder, sometimes, how much of this we’ve invited into our lives. Uno and I are strivers, I suppose. The grass is always greener, and we’re interested in figuring out just how to get in on that action. My mom calls us “the implementers” and it’s apropos. So, it’s a good thing — though I worry about the difficulty we have in standing still. Fortunately, we’ve settled into our neighborhood, into Jaybird’s school, and, probably, into our jobs. This all in the last year. I think – dare I say it? – I think that we can calm down. Take a breath. Sit on the couch for a minute and have a glass of wine.

Yes, please, to that last one.

I’m pretty sure that all this stability will do two things for me. Okay, maybe three. 1) Make me a more grounded, present mother, 2) help me get more of my own writing done, and 3) take care of myself better. Exercise, dates with my wife, and so on.

THAT SOUNDS LIKE NIRVANA OMG

And, with that, I had better go. I really do need a nap, because Starling is up aaaalllll night long lately, for some reason known only to him and the Universe, but instead I’m going to take advantage of the free coffee.

Mama Day

Today was a Mama Day. Not a Professor Day, or a Writer Day, or a Wife Day, or a Daughter Day. It was a day full of my kiddos, and I am feeling it in a mostly pleasant, worn out-but-satisfied way. It’s good to remember that I don’t have to do ALL THE THINGS all the time – that I can focus on one aspect of my life and self and that can be plenty. I meant to grade papers. I meant to plan my upcoming workshop. I meant to do laundry. Welp, no. Instead I nursed Starling off and on all morning, between eating breakfast in small increments and doing minor, minor housework. I tickled him and squeezed his chubby limbs. I took both boys all the way to meet Uno for lunch. And then we went to the park and played for two hours. Jaybird got muddy and desperately tried to join in a game of freeze tag with Big Kids. It was heartbreakingly adorable. Amidst this, there were diaper changes, potty accidents (Jaybird…regression…), games of chase, and naps (Starling…in the carrier…). I managed to make dinner and roast the pumpkin seeds that Uno removed from the jack o’lantern she and Jaybird carved. I’m exhausted. But a good day.

Jaybird and I had so much fun. He was easy and companionable, chattering at me from the backseat and inviting me to play in his room. This is all it takes: me relaxing into the day, letting it flow, not worrying about my to-do list. Paying attention to him. No screen time, too. (He’s easier on days without it.) Starling, meanwhile, is pretty darn content as long as he can nurse when he wants to. Do not withhold the milk! That is the cardinal rule with him. Well, that and he needs to sleep enough. Kid is a cat napper extraordinaire – doesn’t stay with it, or in it, very long at any one time. Nonetheless, he’s easy. He’s asleep right now, having crashed hard at 6:30 p.m. A pretty good bedtime, I’d say.

Tomorrow I teach, and it’s a whole different self, but today: Mama. Even five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine this kind of day, how tiring but fulfilling it can be, alternately mundane and joyful. It’s funny to try and think back to that person, before Mama-hood. She seems so far away. She is, I suppose. She is.

They Say It’s Your Birthday

In a few short hours I will be 33. I’ve always liked the way that birthdays give occasion for reflection, for wondering, for indulging. I love gathering up friends and family, dessert and wine and conversation. I love how much that Jaybird adores all things birthday. And yet, I’m feeling a little sad tonight. Mostly about my mom. I’m a little bruised, perhaps, and also just tired: tired from nights of interrupted sleep, from being pulled in different directions. I don’t like myself under stress, how I snap, how I wall myself off. I’m so lucky that I have a patient family. Seriously. Uno and Jaybird just came in here to give me a goodnight sandwich hug after I felt overwhelmed trying to help with the bedtime routine.

My mom is being transferred to a big psych hospital tomorrow. She’s made some improvements, but she is still having delusions, and she still isn’t recovered. Talking to her is unsettling, because she seems like herself in moments, and then she says crazy and paranoid things. Needless to say, I’m sure we won’t have the birthday phone call. We always have a birthday call. She always sends a card and we talk about how I was born at 3:42 a.m. It’s really hitting me, or I should say, the fact of my birthday is driving home the fact of her absence. I just can’t even. What the hell? Where did she go? What is even happening? Her doctor says that it’s severe bipolar depression with psychotic features and it’s treatable and being treated. So, okay. But you guys. What. the. what. I miss her so much. I wonder, though, if what I miss is her semi-manic self, her “up” states, when she’s funny and a whirlwind of activity. Maybe I’ve only known a mentally ill person, and maybe this will be a new path for us into health and greater authenticity. Let’s hope so. Secretly, though, I’m so afraid that she’s not coming back. I feel like she’s lost to me forever.

This whole situation has me somewhat incoherent, and I’m not usually a words-fail-me kind of person. It seems like a cosmic joke, in a way. I keep circling it, confused. Why is this happening? Why does my family seem so prone to tragedy? And I have no answers.

So, on the eve of my 33rd birthday, I want to remind myself of all the good things. I need to. In no particular order…

I am grateful for my baby’s big cheeks and big eyes and big smile. For Jaybird’s delighted laughter. For the way Uno and I both gush over our kids. Jaybird surprised us by knowing the sound that every word starts with – e.g. “M-m-m-mama” or “b-b-blueberry” – we kept testing him and he knew EVERY word we threw at him! – and it was so fun to share our excitement about it. I’m grateful for the treats I will indulge in tomorrow from the local bakery. For the cool taste of the fall air. For my sister, to whom I’m turning as mom’s condition worsens, realizing that we need to be able to need each other, to be vulnerable with each other. For my cousin and her plucky support. For red wine. For my awesome new water bottle that NEVER leaks so I can throw it in my messy teaching bag and rest assured the books will stay dry. For books, always. For old friends and new friends. For my friends’ kids, whose growth marks the passage of time like nothing else does. For teaching. For discussions like the one I had today with my students about gender in advertising. For teaching a creative writing workshop in a couple of weeks; I’ve already got more than I need for enrollment, woot. For my own writing. For my writing group, who encourage me from afar. For the new story I’m working on. For the rain. For Jaybird’s preschool. For the way my big boy gets to explore the woods every week, thanks to the preschool. For nursing Starling. For Starling’s perfectly round little pumpkin head. For my Uno. For coffee – I’m back to caffeine, what can I say? – and for cream. For Scandinavian crime shows. For little boy sweaters. For my house, which I can’t believe I OWN, and which has so much space for us all. For everything and so much more.

33 is a rich time. Not uncomplicated, but rich all the same.

I leave you with this: Uno asked Jaybird what he thought I’d want for my birthday. “Knights!” He said. “No,” she said, “think about what MAMA wants for her birthday. What does Mama like the most?” He was undeterred. “Knights! She really likes knights!” Uno tried again. “Are you sure?” He thought about it. “Animals!” He exclaimed after a second. Another pause. “Lions! Mama wants lions.”

Here’s to lots of knights and lions tomorrow.

Strange and stranger

Last night, my mom left her house and went missing. She’s been found, thank god, but she’s not well.

This is my mom space, not really my daughter space, but I’m tangled up about the latter and it’ll be good to write. My mom has continued her slide into deep depression, and has been staying with us off and on, so I’ve been up close and personal with it. She has a good psychiatrist and a great therapist, and is on meds, but they clearly aren’t working well enough. She’s been having delusions about being evil, deserving of punishment, needing to be homeless, that her family doesn’t want her around (despite evidence to the contrary). It’s been so, so hard. She wandered off last night because she’s convinced she has to be homeless.

In the last few weeks she has told me she has a “cold, dark heart” and that she doesn’t love me. Well, that she’s somehow incapable of love. I know it’s the illness talking but it doesn’t make it less painful. I mean. Yeah. There are times when it feels like black comedy, like I’m living in a Woody Allen film. When she says she can’t do anything but wander around my house, says she’s a “mean baby,” says she is becoming an invalid who will “shrivel away for 50 years.” When she showed up in my room one morning asking that I drop her off on a street corner to be homeless, and I said something like “are you insane?” When she started shaking all over in Costco and said it was toxicity from her meds and I just tried to act like she wasn’t being bizarre. “Here Mom. Push the cart for me. Should we get peanut butter?”

I don’t even know. It’s like the universe is having a field day with my family. But we’re ok. I’m good at being strong, I suppose, though I weary of it. I clearly need to line up a therapist of my own. I start teaching on Monday. Might be a nice distraction, actually.

My mom is currently in an in-patient unit; we’re hoping to see her get stabilized ASAP. The recovery is a long road, though, in many ways. So much to sort out. This weekend I’m trying not to get involved. I’m taking care of myself, and of Starling. Uno and Jaybird are out of town for a few days and the house is so quiet. I splurged on the new Tana French book and am reading in bed between nursing sessions. I have to carve out space for myself or I will get so cranky and stressed that I’ll start yelling at everyone.

This little baby is powerfully sweet amidst it all. He’s an eater, weighs 13 lbs already!, hit the 93rd percentile for height. I could just devour him, I swear. My boys are the best.

And as for my mother, what to say? I’m sad and mad and sad again. The kind of sadness that has tired edges, that doesn’t bear repeating after a while. That is too worn out, usually, for tears. Or too jaded, or too pragmatic. If I really look straight at it, I get choked up on the unfairness, and I can’t stay there for long. She has struggled a long time but has been a good mother, too; she has had more than her fair share of trauma; she has to fight but I can’t teach her how. Nothing is black and white.

Trusting

Today I am 38 weeks and 5 days pregnant. It’s such a physical reality that it’s hard to believe it’ll soon be a distant memory. The midwife stripped my membranes yesterday and I’ve had some action since: discomfort, pressure, contractions. I’m at work today, so nothing that has slowed me down completely, but I am wondering. I’m waddling down the hallways, going to meetings, sipping my coffee, listening to the trains going by on the waterfront, writing copy and all the while some part of me is thinking: “what if my water breaks right now? Is that a contraction? My feet are so swollen. I want a snack.”

I’m struck by how much this process belongs to forces beyond me. “Surrender” seems to a big theme in birth literature and I can see why. Only Starling knows when he’s coming. I suppose that’s been true all along, even/especially while trying to conceive, though at the time it was harder to let go of the illusion of control.

Whether or not he comes this weekend, I’m not coming back to work on Monday. It was supposed to be my last week, but the rest of my life is more important. I really want more time with Jaybird, too. He woke up three times last night and finally ended up in our bed around 5:30. I heard the door open, cracked an eye and saw his grinning face: “Mama! It’s morning time!” I pulled him up into bed with a mumbled, “it’s snuggle time.” He wrapped his arms around me and immediately went back to sleep. He just needs that, needs us, needs the affection and the attention. I’ve been worrying about how Starling’s arrival will affect our relationship. I know that I’ll be wrapped up in the haze of newborn-land, nursing nonstop and sleeping when I can get it, while Jaybird will be his usual high-octane self. Uno’s parents are coming to spend the week with us/him after Starling comes, which I’m grateful for, though some wee part of me is jealous. I’m also jealous of his bond with Uno’s brother, who lives with us, because they have such wild fun together. “Uncle __ is my BEST FRIEND,” he announced recently. I used to be the “fun mama” but pregnancy and full-time work has sucked some of that away.

I’ve heard from a lot of couples that once baby #2 arrives, the non-birthing parent spends a lot more time with the oldest kiddo. It makes sense, of course. I just have to trust that my bond with my son is so tight, it doesn’t matter if we have less time together for a while. Trust, trust, trust. For our last birth class we wrote these affirmations and my top one was: “I trust myself and my body.” A friend of ours has passed along a related piece of wisdom I often return to: “Trust your future self.”

So, yeah. We’re on the cusp of a huge transition. Our family dynamics will shift, inevitably. I am along for the ride but I’m not driving. Uno and I like to talk about being “on the chicken bus,” from our days traveling in Central America. You’d be crammed into an old American school bus packed well beyond capacity, hurtling down a green mountain road with no guardrails, and there was nothing you could do but hold on, watch the view and wait.

 

Taking Care (Of)

I find myself thinking a lot about this powerful Mary Oliver poem lately, especially the ending:

“determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.”

Here I am at the end of my pregnancy and family chaos is erupting. We’re managing it and I’m grateful it’s not our immediate family. The three (four) of us are just fine and I hold onto that.

Uno’s grandma, who has dementia, recently suffered a fall after wandering out of her assisted living facility. Result? She can’t stay there any longer, and has been at our house. Thankfully, Uno’s quick detective skills located a place for her at a nearby adult family home that we feel good about. The transition is still hard. It’s destabilizing for her and requires a lot of footwork. Compassion abounds. But it’s hard.

And then my mom. She has struggled with periods of depression for a long time, and it’s gotten worse in recent years. Right now she’s having a pretty bad episode. It’s hard, it’s triggering, and while I am also very compassionate, I feel pretty frustrated with her. She went off meds that seemed to be helping, crashed, and is now waffling about going back on anything. She has a history of ditching providers she doesn’t like. I can’t force her to get better, and I know that, and I think I need to stop answering her calls. But that’s hard, too. We’re close. Lately she’s so maddening on the phone: foggy, indecisive, defensive, childlike, alternately snippy and melodramatic. I’m trying to remind myself: it’s the illness, not the person.

When my mom is doing well, she’s so great. She’s a fun, engaged grandma, she helps out a lot, she’s a good listener, she’s a loving hostess, she’s lively and witty. When she’s doing poorly, all of that seems to vanish. I can’t rely on her. I can’t talk to her about anything and she can’t be present. I miss her, the real her. I miss her something fierce.

So here I am, 8 months pregnant, and my mother is completely unavailable to me. I don’t even know if she’ll come over to meet the baby when he’s born. The timing SUCKS. She was going to be at the birth, but not now, obviously. I did line up my wonderful, funny aunt to be there instead, and I’m grateful for the extended family and friend network that we have.

There is so much mental illness in my family. To be fair, extenuating circumstances have played a role. I put my hand on my belly and think: “please, please, don’t inherit any of that.” That’s probably my greatest fear as a parent.

I’m tired of being the strong one. I went to my youngest brother’s high school graduation this weekend – my mom didn’t and then felt so guilty about it – and afterwards we had a picnic with family including Mom. She and my sister got into it. As we were about to leave, my sister came, sat in my lap and sobbed into my shoulder. Meanwhile I was telling Jaybird, who was strapped in his carseat, “it’s okay honey. Auntie just feels sad and needs a hug.” It’s almost comical, you know? All of this emotion swirling around me, and I’m just there, being strong. Or whatever. I feel numb. I need to take care of myself. I want to withdraw, to focus only on my sons and my wife. I did finally wash the newborn clothes and swaddlers and it was lovely and helped me focus on how it will feel to caress that tiny head, to diaper that itty-bitty bum.

In good news, my oral meds are really helping with my blood sugar numbers, so much so that I’ve been able to lighten up some on the dietary restrictions. I’m still careful and protein-focused, but I can indulge in fruit or ice cream a bit and not worry. Also, Starling is hale and hearty. His heartbeat is strong and his movements are confident. He’s head down. I leaked a little colostrum recently – weird! My body seems to know what to do. I am holding onto that idea in preparation for birth.

Time to take a walk, time for rest, time for good food and friends, time to turn off the phone…