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.

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.

Mama Date

Jaybird and I need a date. Much of our time together lately is with the baby, which means I’m often distracted or having to nurse or needing J to stop pulling on his brother’s face. Other times he’s mainly attended to by others: my wife or my brother- and mother-in-law, both of whom live with us, as you may recall. End result, he and I don’t get much quality time. We used to go on adventures together, taking city buses to the downtown library or just goofing off in the grocery store, and I miss it. Also, I want to put some good stuff in the bank with him. He’s been testing and I can get snippy, especially in the evening. He blithely chooses both Uno and – a bit more painful for me – my brother in law over me. I get it. BIL is way more fun, and Uno is Mommy, his lifelong love. Both of them have more energy for him lately, but they’re also just on Jaybird-duty more. Anyway. I try to get in on bedtime stories, which is cozy and sweet even though he initially doesn’t want me to do it over Uno.

I guess I’m a lot more matter-of-fact about his preferences now, especially since I know that love and favoritism aren’t the same. We love each other madly. But he does have a favorite parent. It’s okay. He’s little, and it’s not uncommon even in hetero families (Google confirms). Still, it can sting. I know the best antidote is time together. We need play time, special time. If I let myself get hurt about his preferences, then I’m putting the burden of affirmation on him, a four year old… So I’m thinking a lot about being proactive. I’m going to fend off the ouch I feel when he says he wants someone else.

Typing on my phone, and must go now to pick him up. Perhaps we’ll go for burgers even though I do have Starling, who needs a nap. Or hmmm…ice cream later? A little bribe is ok, right? Er, not to be all Disneyland Dad about it.

Oh this parenting thing. Heart on the line, much of the time.

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.

Whose Baby?

Tonight, Jaybird said to me: “when I was little, I was your baby, Mama.” Pause. “Actually, I was Mommy’s baby.” He was matter of fact. I acted nonchalant but I’m still so sensitive to those things. I feel like I have NGP antenna, alert to every nuance in his interactions with Uno and I. I explained that it was otherwise but felt at a loss for words, or rather for keeping his interest.

A bit later we were knocking around on his bed, him in his striped footie pajamas. He was busy selecting books for bedtime, inspecting his superhero stickers and climbing on us. I recounted what he’d said for Uno. She responded with this sweetly amazing series of questions. “Do you know who held you every day? Who slept with you every night? Who went to every doctor’s appointment with you? Who fed you?” Etc. Most answers were, of course, “Mommy and Mama!” Simple but compelling and moving. Reminded me, too.Indeed I have mothered that boy every day of his life, and that is a powerful thing.

Sometimes it can feel like Starling is “my” baby and Jaybird, hers — only in a practical sense — and he must be feeling that too. Not that it seems to bother him, per se. It worries me, sometimes, though. I don’t know. It’s just a kind of mother guilt, I suppose, strongest when I feel like I can’t pay him enough attention. The tectonic plates in our family have shifted and I’m still figuring out what it all means. I used to think of myself as a certain kind of parent in relation to Uno and that is different now, yet our personalities are obviously unchanged. So she’s still more of a worrier, I’m still more adventuresome, that kind of thing. It’s just that we’re both the “comfort” moms now, but for different kiddos. I think that’s what makes it feel like we each have our own kid to tend to. I know that will change, though, as Starling gets bigger and needs to nurse less. After all, I have done – and still do – lots of Jaybird-comforting (more, or mostly, when Uno is not around, though every once in a while he surprises me by requesting me when he’s mad / sad.)

More on this later! I have to pay the water bill and then sleep while Starling is still snoozing. After 3 a.m. or so, his (our) sleep gets dicey.

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.