Category: Updates

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.

 

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.

Recovery, Revival: Hello Again

It’s been a whole year since my last post. A year! I don’t believe it. I never intended to take such a long break, nor did I intend to let the blog die. I just … got caught up in other things.

2014 was hard. We bought a house, moved. We went from a family of three to a family of four. My mom had a complete breakdown and was hospitalized. I went back to teaching as an adjunct professor, with all of its attendant uncertainties. And money worries. I think tumultuous is the right adjective. Chaotic, maybe. Traumatic, maybe – not all of it, but the stuff with my mom, my difficult birth…

Then again, I hate saying “it was a hard year” because it gave us Starling. He’s such a light: a happy, chunky little guy who likes to be on the move. He has been an easy baby, really. Our boys had a good year, I think, I hope. Jaybird grew by leaps and bounds, turned the corner with potty training, learned to write his name, came to love Star Wars and gymnastics and puns. He’s spunky. Dramatic. Quick with a comeback. He’s in kindergarten, now! We worried about starting him in school because he’s still really short, and he has an August birthday, but we also knew he was ready. He needed the challenge. And it was the right decision. He’s thriving.

So much has happened. I would sometimes sit down to write here, and then feel overwhelmed about capturing all of it. Or any of it, perhaps. This has been my place to think about motherhood, and I have had a lot of occasion to do so, but it was hard to navigate or articulate. My mother’s illness, for one thing. She started decompensating – getting worse, and worse – towards the end of my pregnancy and through my birth and maternity leave. Just as my maternity leave was ending, she was institutionalized.

So, that really sucked.

I feel guilty that I was distracted by her illness during those precious early months with Starling. I wore him close to my body as I shuttled Mom to appointments and took her on walks in an attempt to rescue her from herself. At least he was always that – close to me, nestled against me or Uno.

Here we are, one year later. We’re on the other side. My new theme is self-care. I’m not very adept at it, but baby steps. I started therapy, finally, last fall, and I must say that it’s been amazing. I’m also gaining some traction and stability with career. Right now I’m working in a marketing job that pays well, which means I’m not constantly checking our accounts, and we can afford a nanny. Also, it’s easier than teaching. I’ve done more writing since I started there six months ago–my own writing, I mean. I published two essays, even! Uno’s job is more rewarding and easier, as time has passed and she’s been able to make the directorship her own. We have been working on mindfulness practices. Everybody is getting more sleep. Also, my mom was released last Christmas, and has steadily found the right balance of meds and providers. She’s back: her smile, her voice, herself.

Meanwhile, too, we have our brilliant little boys. Now, to be fair, there is a lot of shrieking. Things reach a fever-pitch on occasion, say at 8:15 in the morning when it’s time to get Jaybird out the door RIGHT NOW for school and he won’t eat and Starling only wants to be held and won’t stop screaming …

… but then, later, I get home from work, and they both run towards me as soon as I’m inside. Starling with his adorable, speedy waddle. I nurse him while Jaybird climbs on me, chattering on about Luke Skywalker. I squeeze them both over and over, relishing their laughter and their wild energy.

Yeah, they’re awesome. Two kids hasn’t been easy, necessarily, but Uno and I are pleased as punch that we went for it.

Well, there you have it. A recap of sorts! I plan to be back soon. (Office job). This has been a precious space, and still 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.

In The Thick of It

I’ve been missing in action around these parts, and want to remedy that, but here it is already time to pick up Jaybird from preschool. Oy vey. I will indulge in five minutes and be a little late. In no particular order:

-I’ve started teaching a few days a week. I’m at the helm of two sections of English 101. It’s familiar territory for me, and the students are the usual mix of delightful and frustrating. Already, I feel the rewards of the work, the connections made. So different than the corporate blah of the last year and a half. So that is wonderful. Not so wonderful is the 45 minute drive each way. I am trying to be on campus as little as possible, so I rush there, teach, rush home. A bit frantic. It’s mostly about nursing. I teach in the same classroom but only have ten minutes between courses, and by the time class #1 is done I need to pump. I shoo out the students, put a sign on the door, hide in a corner of the classroom and plug in. Totally awkward doesn’t even begin to cover it. Every time I pull up my shirt in that room, I’m convinced someone is going to come barging through the door. It doesn’t lock! That is, I can’t lock it manually. I have a student guard it, plus the sign…but still…

-Starling is home with my mother-in-law during those afternoons, and also with Uno for two of them. It’s working pretty well. I’m so grateful to not have to pay for childcare. That said my MIL is still learning his cues. He doesn’t sleep enough with her, she gives him a bottle just before I get home with a burning need to nurse. We just have to work out some kinks, I suppose.

-Starling is a chunk-a-monk of a happy guy. He’s so long! He’s outgrown many a onesie. He prefers to sleep while being held, just like his brother. He also nurses a lot in the night. I’m not sure about whether to “train” him (even a bit) or not. I’m jealous of friends with babies who sleep through the night already, but I don’t want to make him cry. He is twelve weeks, by the way. Twelve!

-We are still in divide-and-conquer mode with the kiddos, but Uno is getting more time with the baby now that I’m teaching, and I’m glad for that. Also, I have Jaybird two afternoons a week, and we have fun adventures to the park and such. It’s vital for us. We both need it, especially as I have to spend so much time nursing and baby-tending.

-Jaybird is so sassy! He loves to say things like “I know that,” or “You’re not the boss of me,” or “I already did that,” or what have you. He’s also snuggly and funny as ever. He’s super-short (6th percentile), not the greatest eater (some power struggles around food, sigh), and so curious and adventurous and bright-eyed. His farm / outdoor preschool remains awesome.

-My mom is still pretty sick and in-patient. It’s overwhelming, emotionally, so I avoid thinking about it most days. Heart breaker.

-We’ve had lots of visitors and our house is lively. It’s something I love for my kids. (Hello, Adela, we miss you…) I don’t love trying to keep the darn place clean and presentable.

-File under things I want to write about: the weird space between gestational and non-gestational parenthood. I have so much to say but my thoughts are scattered.

And now I had better run to scoop up my wiggly four year-old, who will no doubt be encrusted with mud.

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.

This Moment

Starling is asleep on me, his favorite position — that is, unless he’s nursing. My crazy mom is here for the week; I’m trying to stay sane as I help her navigate her Depression (capital D). We took a walk, had a muffin and tea, talked: it’s the little things. I keep telling her it’s about taking it one day at a time. Same for me. I want to enjoy this, though I’m tired and my nipples are always sore and Starling is fussy and I can’t get anything done and my mom is a mess and I have to fight with my insurance company and …

Oh, wait. Breathe. I do keep my sense of humor, as does Uno, our saving grace. Jaybird is easy, suddenly, turned a corner. Loves to wear fancy dresses and play in the dirt while wearing them.

I feel like I only have bits of myself to myself, but I want to cultivate even those small spaces. I won’t let myself be subsumed. Can’t. (Oh my MOTHER! Gah!!!)

Here’s this baby, sweaty and sweet, trusting his mama, getting bigger, unaware of trouble. He’s the best. He’s tiring. He’s a gift. He’s changing all the time…

Just a quick update. Whew.

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