Report Card

A couple of weeks ago I trudged through the snow towards the kindergarten door at T’s school. A gaggle of middle school girls breezed by and I noticed one of them waving a small manila envelope. Goosebumps erupted from my scalp to my toes.

It was a report card envelope.

In the fall we had parent teacher conferences and the first report cards were distributed then. Seeing the envelope in that girl’s hand was a complete surprise, and I could not wait to hustle T home to see if he had one too. I wanted to peek into his bag as soon as we were back in the car, but I made myself wait, savoring the anticipation and excitement. By the time we got to the house I was lightheaded and giddy.

At the thought of looking at my kindergardener’s report card.

When I was growing up I was not a popular kid. I was not a beautiful kid. I was not an athletic kid. I was a smart kid. Everyone looks for an identity as we grow. Honestly, I would have loved to find mine as a popular kid or a beautiful girl, but smart is what I had. So I clung to it.

Over the years I’ve come to realize I am not anywhere as smart as I thought I was back then. But in childhood being grouped with the smart kids made me feel like I belonged. Excellent academic performance was not just expected, it was required. If we weren’t in the National Honor Society how would we get into a great college? My sister and I were good girls. We got into great colleges.

This is the baggage I hauled into the kitchen with me as I opened T’s report card. It was excellent. T is a bright kid. His preschool teacher called him her little thinker. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Most of the 3s he got in the fall had turned into 4s. At the parent teacher conference we were told they don’t give 4s in the fall because it doesn’t give the kids any room for improvement.

“They don’t give 4s in the fall, but T got one 4.” I bragged to my friend.

“Wow. What was it in?”

“Homework. I always make sure he hands it in early.”

“Oh, so YOU were actually the one who got a 4.” My friend is incredibly smart, way smarter than I am. She nailed it. My pleasure in that 4 could not have been a clearer red flag that I was being nuts when it came to T’s performance in kindergarten.

The second part of T’s report card was a series of standardized test results. Like in the fall, his scores were terrific. All but one. He was a few points below the expectation in one.

The room started to spin, my ears started ringing, the lightheadedness increased.

That one score invalidated every good thing I’d read. I panicked. Should I call Z? My parents? What were were going to do? What had I failed to teach T? When was the soonest I could get a parent teacher conference with his teacher? Should I email her right away or talk to Z first? What were we doing to do?

I gulped in some big, deep breaths. My mind cleared a bit.

What the hell was I doing?

T is five. He is in kindergarten. He is happy and learning and figuring out how to be a student. He is thriving. I am so proud of him.

Do I want him to see me losing it over one score out of many on his report card? Do I want to put that kind of pressure on him? On the flip side, do I want him to see me being thrilled over the good marks? Do I want him to think that my approval is tied to his academic performance? Is that fair to him? Is that the kind of Mom I want to be?

I called my parents and told them the whole story. They talked me off the ledge. Near the end of the conversation I told them I was still probably going to contact the teacher to come up with strategies around the lower score. Obviously I had not really internalized my big realizations about not pressuring my five year old. They gently helped me see that there was nothing to contact T’s teacher about. T was fine. I was obviously an insane helicopter mom, but T was fine.

That night I got an email from my dad with a link for a news story out of Staten Island. A mom allegedly threatened to bomb her daughter’s high school after learning that the girl failed a standardized test. My father, sarcasm oozing off of the computer screen, indicated her reaction was completely reasonable. I laughed so hard I cried. And then I cried for real.

T is not me. He is not a chance for me to relive and improve upon parts of my childhood. My son’s kindergarten report cards have no bearing on his academic future. Being a smart kid in kindergarten doesn’t mean he will always be a smart kid. Intelligence is not a measure of worth. This is a time for T to grown and learn and not be faced with pressure, especially additional pressure from his mother. My husband and I came up with a list of three things the boys need to do in order to make us proud: Be kind. Try hard. Treat girls the same way they treat boys. The three things are a mantra in our house. There is nothing about report cards or intelligence on that list.

I screwed up big time. Big time.

In the five short years I’ve become a mother a chasm has cracked open separating the kind of Mom I want to be from the kind of Mom I am. Five years doesn’t feel long enough for it to have become so deep and wide. Seems like I have much more work to do than T does.

airplane T

This kid’s report card doesn’t matter.

100 days of kindergarten

What matters is how much he loves kindergarten. The class made crowns celebrating completing 100 Days. At first he was crushed because he thought kindergarten was over and he didn’t want it to be. But he got into the celebration when he learned he has months left. His love of school is the only rubric we need right now.

T thrown in the snow

Playing in the snow after school.

Crisis of Confidence

My body rebelled as soon as my feet hit the treadmill. I spun around and darted down the stairs and back to the locker room to swallow some Imodium and rush to the toilet. A few minutes later I forced myself back up the stairs and onto the same machine. Less than half a mile in I felt like I was dying. At two miles I couldn’t bear it any longer and walked for the next quarter of a mile.

The Syracuse Half Marathon is just over a month away and I haven’t completed a long run over 8 miles since the half I did in October. Last week I ran 8 total. Today’s 4 was the first running I’ve done this week. And I walked a half a mile of that.

Today I realized I might not finish the race in March. I just might not have it in me. There are a million excuses why, the weather is freezing and snowy, I can’t hack treadmills, T is on winter break, we traveled to see family and brought the snow and cold temperatures with us more than 600 miles south. This is the point in the training when I am supposed to be doing more than 30 miles a week. My week so far: 4, really 3.5.

Tomorrow the windchill will be -30 and we will have several inches of fresh snow on our poorly plowed streets. We haven’t had temps above freezing since January 29th.

All of that sucks, but like I said it is also excuses. Running gives me something to hold onto, a semblance of control. If I can force my body to go ten miles without stopping I can force myself to muscle through the anxiety. Without it I am unmoored. The anxiety washes over me in waves. I call Z almost in tears from the YMCA, interrupting him while he is teaching, to tell him I don’t know how I’m going to get through the day until he gets home. I am jittery and have no patience for the kids as we make our way through airport security. I punish myself by denying myself rescue medicine for hours as the anxiety takes over and ruins the day for the whole family.

Nine more days until this evil month, the longest of the year and you cannot convince me otherwise, is over. It is exactly 0 degrees as I type this. On March 22nd I may not be able to run 13.1 miles, but it will certainly be warmer than it is today or tomorrow or the next day. If I don’t finish the race I will still be working my way back to the place where sweating through the miles proves that I can do hard things. If I can run for two hours without stopping I can face life outside the carefully constructed routine that comforts me and restricts Z and the boys.

photo (51)

Pissed.

last week snow

Last week.

 today snow

Today.

silhouette C

Beautiful C in the big bay window at my in-law’s house.

Teeth Brushing

T didn’t want the tooth fairy to take his teeth away because he is planning on bringing them with us when we visit his Granddad and Grandmom. Last time we were down there Granddad pulled out one of his microscopes and T was mesmerized as he looked at treasures found in the yard magnified many times over. In the cavity of one of his teeth blood is visible. T is giddy about getting a closer peek.

The teeth are in a round metal craft container with a glass lid. They live next to his bed and he looks at them often. Last week he brought the container into the bathroom and informed us he needed to brush the two teeth after he finished with the ones still in his head. Bedtime was rushed that night because Z was headed to a band practice, so we told him he could the next morning. Next morning we were running late for school. And so on and so on. Until last night when he finally got his chance.

I had been hurrying to get a small load of the boys’ laundry folded before we started the reading portion of our bedtime routine. T caught my eye as I began to bustle past the bathroom door, my arms filled with his clothes.

He stood with his floppy hair dangling in his eyes, his body both tiny and so unbelievably big not yet dry from the bath. His electric Transformer toothbrush buzzed away in his hand, the other hand gripping his tiny baby tooth firmly as he gently brushed away. He had a look of fierce concentration on his face.

I watched him at the door and the stress of dealing with two stir crazy boys on a snow day was forgotten. I was filled with a breathtaking feeling of tenderness. Five plus years into this parenting gig and I still get overwhelmed by how much I love these boys. Most days I’m frustrated and whiney and bitchy, but that is all bluster and noise.

I love them enough to put aside sarcasm and my impulse to make everything into a joke for a moment to be nakedly sincere. Since the day T was born my capacity to love has grown exponentially. In the moments when I feel the full weight of that love I can almost see it, it tethers the boys to me. There is a hole in my chest, exposing my internal organs. It makes me feel frighteningly vulnerable and invincible at the same time. My love for them makes me feel fully alive. And I am so grateful.

teeth

He added the little legos and calls them his jewels.

post haircut

Post haircut on a snowy day.

Running While Anxious

Before joining the masses at the start of the half marathon last October I took half of a benzo. To run 13.1 miles in a crowd of other people I had to take a controlled substance that works as a sedative. I also took 3 or 4 Imodium, can’t remember which.

I have an anxiety disorder and IBS. The benzos are prescribed to me by a medical professional and I use them responsibly. The way I pop Imodium like candy is probably worse for my body. But I’m not interesting in shitting myself. Again.

The benzo brought my anxiety to a manageable level and I was able to run the damn race. But it pisses me off that I needed it. After more than two decades I’m still angry that I have an anxiety disorder. Angry and really embarrassed. And then angry that I am embarrassed.

Nearly half way through another training program for a half marathon in March, and I am discouraged. It has been weeks since I’ve completed the distance assigned for a long run. The weather hasn’t been cooperating. I suck at the treadmill under regular circumstances, but I simply don’t have it in me to do 12 miles on one.

At some point along the way I have started to tie my emotional well being and self worth to running. If I don’t do what the running app on my phone tells me to do it means the anxiety is winning and that I suck ass. Running still provides me with many more positives than it does negatives. This fall it helped me function through some intense anxiety. It has made me feel easier in my body. My self confidence has improved a bit. I have more energy.

Like all good things in my life the anxiety tells me not to trust it. Slowly running has become an adversary. If I reach my running goals, well good for me. But if I fail that is a victory for the anxiety. When the anxiety is in control I want to give up. I want to fail to provide irrefutable evidence that I am worthless and pathetic.

Well fuck that noise. Fuck it.

I have this friend who is a fantastic person. She is funny and good company. She is smart and interesting and successful. She is the kind of person that others want to be more like. In conversation she casually mentioned that she has great self confidence. A couple of minutes later I really digested what she said. And I wanted to ask her how that works. I wanted to know what it is like to look in the mirror and think the person who is looking back at you rocks. I want that so badly. But the conversation had shifted, the moment had passed.

My anxiety tells me if I think anything good about myself I am vain and self absorbed. But my friend is not vain and self absorbed. That is not what confidence means no matter what that bitch anxiety has been whispering in my ear for more than 20 years.

Last week I signed up for the Empire State Marathon. On the eve of my 37th birthday I made a resolution to run a marathon before I turn 40. October 18th is the day I try to meet that goal. And if I don’t do it that day? I still have exactly one year and two months to make it happen.

Anxiety is not going to take running from me. I am fighting back.

frozen water

Only managed 8 of the 12 I was supposed to do yesterday. It was so cold my water started to freeze.

yaktrax

Wearing Yaktrax means avoiding the treadmill for another day.

running pasta

My sisters-in-law gave me running pasta for my birthday. It made dinner a lot of fun.

Kindergarten Drop Off Part II

“Mom. Mom. Mom. I don’t want to.”

“Ok. How about I bribe you?” My patience had already evaporated so I went straight for the truth as I dragged a brush through his hair, a complete waste of time performed every school morning to make me feel like a good mom. When he arrives at school the hair is a snarled mess no matter what it looks like as we walk out of the bathroom.

“What does bribe mean?”

“You do something I want and I’ll do something you want.”

“Can I have a Lego minifigure?”

“Are you kidding me? For walking into the school by yourself one time? No way. You can have a marshmallow after school. But! If you walk into the school by yourself for the rest of the week you can have a minifigure after school on Friday.”

“Deal.”

Every morning a police car hides out in a driveway across from T’s school. Every morning it nabs one of the many cars that ignore the stop signs that flip open from the sides of the buses as the kids stream out of the doors. For some reason last Tuesday the police car wasn’t in the driveway, but rather parked on the street. I pulled behind it, hopped out and unbuckled T. As I heaved him out he looked at me.

“I can’t do this.”

“Yup. You can.”

His hand in mine I looked both ways, hustled him across the street, gave him a quick kiss, and told him to walk into school. The car was still running with C inside. I darted back across the street and turned to look for T.

He was like a statue, standing in the middle of the driveway where I left him. The temperature hadn’t yet climbed above zero. He must have been shivering, but he stood like his feet were nailed to the ground.

“T! Go! Go into school!” I hollered across the road.

“No!”

“T! Go! You can do this!”

“I can’t!”

“I am watching you! I will watch you the whole way! We will not leave until I see you get into the building! Go! You’ve got this!”

He had not moved an inch. He was so tiny.

“I’m shy! I can’t because I’m shy!”

We were yelling across the road at each other as kids and their parents streamed by towards the school. The parents were kind enough to avert their eyes. I stood by the door of my car. My car that was illegally parked behind the police car. And I yelled at my kid to walk to school.

“Mom. I can’t! I really can’t! I’m too shy!”

I totally lost it. “IF I HAVE TO TURN OFF THIS CAR THERE IS NO LEGO MINIFIGURE ON FRIDAY! THERE IS NO MARSHMALLOW AFTER SCHOOL! YOU GOT THAT? NOW WALK TO SCHOOL! WALK! GO!”

My tiny son turned around and trudged slowly towards the building. I slid behind the wheel and my throat burned as I watched his snail paced trip to the side door, his little body bent over as his gaze never left his shoes. I felt like a monster. When he slipped inside the school I started to cry as the mess of a scene played over in my head. Him standing stock still in the bitter cold, me yelling, him yelling, the cop car, the parents and kids watching the whole ridiculous performance. Suddenly I was laughing as well as crying.

He earned the marshmallow. And the minifigure. He also lost two his two bottom teeth. It’s been a week full of developmental leaps.

This morning the cop car had already pulled over a stop sign runner by the time we arrived at school. I kissed T, grabbed his hand, and started to run him across the street.

He shook me off halfway to the sidewalk. “Mom. I’ve got this.” He trotted towards the school without a backwards glance. My throat burned again as I watched him.

Could I have handled the drop off last Tuesday better? Um, yes. In fact, it would be hard to come up with a scenario in which I handled it worse. But T needs a push to try new things. A week and a day later and he isn’t just comfortable with the drop off, he is blasé about it. A week and a day later and I’m the one struggling not to walk up to his teacher everyday at pickup to find out how he is doing and what I missed. A week and a day later and I’m laughing at the person I was before parenthood. The one who would say, “I’ll never be a helicopter mom!”

goodbye front teeth

Beautiful boy without some teeth.

laughing with dad

And suddenly he looks like a little kid again.

hogwarts journal

Until the next moment when he is back to being a big kid.

My dear friend D and his family took a vacation in Orlando. He sent me the awesome Hogwarts journal from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Thank you again, D. You really made my January!

Harry Potter and the Overwhelming Anxiety Disorder

Hey, wanna hear something I’ve been really ashamed about?

In the fall I bit off more than I could chew school-wise. My independent study project was to write an article including literature review and pilot study, ready for submission to academic journals. The three graduate courses I’ve taken have been fantastic, but I am not ready to conduct a literature review, do a pilot study, and craft an article ready for peer review.

Mid November I withdrew from the course. And felt like the biggest loser on the planet. When I fail the anxiety convinces me that I will never succeed at anything ever again. That I am lazy and pathetic and a burden to my family. That the faculty in the department I would like to eventually matriculate into will think I am a waste of time who doesn’t live up to commitments. That if I don’t eventually write about it I am trying to trick people into thinking I am much more together than is the case.

It was a bad fall for anxiety. Every fall is a bad fall for anxiety. But the way that I fell apart the week after Thanksgiving showed both me and Z that I’d been handling it really well. Funny how completely falling apart will do that.

I hated myself. I hate myself. I was sure all my friends hated me. When I was in public, especially at the crowded grocery store I felt everyone’s eyes on me, felt their pity and disgust. I cried. A lot. At bedtime I started rereading the Harry Potter Series. And more times than not a Harry Potter movie was playing on the TV in our house.

The uptick in Harry Potter activity is a dead giveaway that I am unwell. Over the last month while making dinner I’ve broken down in tears again and again. Z will hold me and stroke my hair and murmur, “Do you want to watch Harry Potter and cuddle after the boys are in bed?” And I will nod and cry even harder, relieved that he is there to take care of me and ashamed that I need the care at all.

The next three months are the worst for me each year. After the holidays winter in Syracuse drags on forever. Feeling this shitty right at the start is pretty terrifying. I’ve started avoiding mirrors. Convinced that I look like a man, and much older than my age. Questioning my staunch no makeup stance. Worrying that when people meet me they pity Z for being married to someone so plain. I’ve been unable to bite back disparaging comments about myself when among friends, clearly making them uncomfortable.

I want to disappear, but my body feels huge and ungainly. It takes up too much space wherever I am. My body swells, making my fingers clumsy, filling in my windpipe, cutting off the air to my lungs and making me feel lightheaded.

I know. You know. You know all this. I’ve told you before.

Why do I write the same blog post every few months? Because this is chronic mental illness. It’s not fun to read about. It is certainly a drag to have to read about over and over. But a lot of people live this way and are too ashamed to talk about it. That sucks most of all.

So in the words of Professor Quirrell, “TROLL in the dungeon! Thought you ought to know….”

the wand chooses the wizard

This fall we gave my nephew the first two HP books for his birthday. My sister is reading them to him, the series is new to both of them and my sister is enjoying as much as G is. For Christmas I made him a Gryffindor scarf and Z made him a wand.

harry potter legos

Sadly, HP legos haven’t been made for several years. Our friends got ahold of a box and give them to us. T and I had so much fun putting it together.

goodbye grandma and grandpa

My Mom texted me this the other day. She took it as my parents were pulling out of our drive after their Thanksgiving visit.

 

Anti-Anxiety Vignettes: #1

The past week plus can pretty much bite my ass. That bitch anxiety has moved back in to the house. Actually she has been around all fall, but I’ve been doing a pretty decent job of coping. Suddenly I wasn’t coping anymore.

It’s scary when the physical symptoms come roaring back. They feel new every fucking time. I’ve been doing my damnedest to act as normal as possible around everyone in my life. But I’ve noticed constant self-criticism escaping from my mouth before I can stop. It drives Z crazy when I say bad things about myself. He thinks I sound like I’m digging for compliments. I’m not. Really. I’m just informing everyone I know that I’m in on the secret. I know I suck, too.

It’s a fantastic way to make everyone feel uncomfortable.

So. Four migraines in a week. IBS….let’s just say it is very active. Like active enough to wake me with stomach cramps in the middle of the night. Pretty consistent low grade nausea. Two pregnancy tests taken even though I’m on the most effective birth control out there. Crying. So much crying. And pretending to be a normal person when I leave the house.

I’m exhausted. Z doesn’t know what to do. A call to my shrink will be placed today.

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C is a hustler. At three years old he uses his sweet and beautiful face to get what he wants. I know, I know, of course I think he is beautiful.

sweet faced c

But he really is. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

He’s a drama queen who knows how to work it.

cranky pants leonard

See? Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

More than a year of speech therapy has paid off tremendously. He is still working hard on enunciation, but he can express himself beautifully with words these days. It is pure pleasure to finally discover what has been going on in that mind of his. Mostly. Wasn’t so great when he told me he didn’t love me at nap time yesterday. But seriously? He did express his frustration verbally so it still felt like a tiny victory. Ok, a tiny hurtful victory, but a victory all the same.

When we drop T off at kindergarten C darts into the classroom and over to the teachers distributing breakfast. He often cons them out of a container of cereal. This morning it was Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I settled him back in his car seat for the quick drive to his school as he opened the little bowl and started chowing down.

Five minutes later I called hello to a fellow mom before bending down to unbuckle C. His lips had a thick coating of cinnamon and sugar, it was like he was wearing glitter lipstick. I burst out laughing. He smiled up at me. “My face is very cute!” he informed me.

It has been a shitty week. So the wave of joy almost knocked me on my ass. My eyes filled with tears for all the right reasons. It felt so good.

And his face is, in fact, so very cute.

It is not my boys’ job to save me. I cannot and will not depend on them to do it. But man, they keep doing it anyway. They bring joy and frustration and delight and rage into our lives on a roller coaster of emotion. Concentrating on them helps me get my head out of my ass. Having kids is obviously not necessary for happiness and a full life. But for me? It is the best thing I’ve done.

Our family made the front page of Syracuse.com last Thursday! C is in a sleigh that was used by Z’s grandmother who was born in 1908. We have used it every winter, it works like a dream. Photo by David Lassman