Happy and Trying to Stay That Way

Out of the blue I keep being struck by the fact that I am happy right now. I love my life. I love our home. I love our little family. I love the smoker Z got for his birthday, we are on a pork shoulder smoking jag right now. I even love that we are in the middle of a little home reno project to make room for New Guy.  If any of you ever have to visit Syracuse make sure it is in the summer. This place is off the hook amazing. The highs vary from 80s to 70s, there is usually at least a thunderstorm a day, the nights are in the 60s, all that rain means it is as green and lush as a jungle. And most of the students are gone. It’s heaven on earth.

Everything feels better here in the summer. I don’t even mind how overcast it is because all the green makes up for the darkness, and the weather changes so fast there are usually a couple of minutes of sun a day, which is an improvement over the never ending darkness of wintertime. We have people over on the weekends. I love to cook even though I keep telling Z I’m getting too big and I’m ready to slow down in the kitchen I send him to the farmer’s market with lists for local fruits and veggies with all sorts of recipes in mind. I keep thinking things like I won’t get a chance to do a strawberry pie with local strawberries till next year if I don’t make one now. And I’ll tell you what, that pie was worth the body aches I had on Sunday night as I tried to ease myself into bed.

In the past, when my anxiety and agoraphobia have been severe I’ve sat on the sofa in a semi-catatonic state for hours at a time, remote nearby and computer on my lap. I didn’t make dinner, I didn’t clean up, I did manage to meet T’s basic needs but not much beyond that. I felt like a weight was pressing down on me, physically preventing me from getting up and taking part in life.  I haven’t felt that way in several months, it feels so removed from my life right now that I can’t believe it was me.

One of the insidious ways my anxiety works is to plant little thoughts in my head and no matter how hard I try to dismiss them they come back over and over. I am happy most of the time right now. And I’m grateful for that. Back during the great breakdown of the mid aughts I couldn’t enjoy happiness at all because I was sure it was fleeting. As I’ve gotten better I’ve been able to enjoy the happiness while it lasts and swallow the terror of what will happen when it inevitably passes. But even though I’m loving life right now I also can’t shake the dread that has accompanied this pregnancy. I’m still scared something catastrophic will go wrong. The change is I’ve also started to believe everything is going to be OK and I will deliver a healthy baby boy on or around August 28th. So when the fear hits it feels especially shocking. I will be living my current happy life, making plans for this baby I want so much, and the certainty that I will deliver him stillborn, or go into labor two months early, or that he will be born but will have a significant health problem (though our genetic testing looked terrific), or any other of a million terrible scenarios will happen take hold of me and won’t let go. My nightmares  are never ending. I wake up because I need to pee and when I fall back to sleep I’m back in the same awful dream and unable to get away.

Anxiety is smart, much smarter than I’ll ever be. Maybe this is its way of letting me know who is always in charge. Now that I’ve gotten past its threat of future unhappiness when I’m feeling good maybe it is just shape shifting into the worst fear I currently have. My feelings of inadequacy and failure surrounding the miscarriage last fall and my fear I lack the ability to carry another healthy baby to term certainly are ripe for the picking. Maybe I just need to figure out how to fight this particular demon. The discouraging thing is it feels like no matter how many times I learn to manage the current situation my anxiety will come up with a new one that I am completely unprepared to battle. It knows my deepest fears and exploits them with frightening efficiency.

It is weird to feel so happy and so fearful at the same time. But I do feel stronger now. When I was seriously unwell I didn’t believe in Z’s commitment to me. I believe it now. I didn’t have the responsibility of a little boy who is counting on me. It is so much easier to fight for myself now that I recognize there is so much to fight for. Yes, the unrelenting anxiety is overwhelming. Part of me just wants to give up. But the mom and wife part of me is stronger. And that rocks.

It’s probably because I’m his mom, but his sweet little face totally undoes me. 
 Visiting Z at work. Is there anything cuter than a toddler in a Hawaiian Shirt? Thanks EF for the hand-me-downs! 

 He was so excited to discover the clamps hanging exactly like they do under Z’s workbench at home. 
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In Which I am Uncomfortably Honest About Being a Crap Mom Sometimes

A few weeks ago we had a couple families over for BBQ. During dinner T wouldn’t stay in his seat and kept sneaking hush puppies off of other people’s plate. The worst part was he’d take a bite and then put it back on the plate. I was grossed out and pissed and I told him off. With feeling. Someone told me to calm down, he was just acting like a toddler and I replied, “But I want him to be perfect now!” It was a joke, but there was an uncomfortable amount of truth to it. You see, I do not practice what I preach. My last post was more of a reminder to myself rather than a declaration of great parenting from my high horse.

I parent the way I live the rest of my life, wound up tight as hell. There is nothing laid back or relaxed or patient about me. T is in for a tough road. Luckily both Z and I are big fans of therapy, so we’ll get him help when he starts to resent the shit out of me. And who knows, maybe I’ll magically relax one day. But I’m not holding my breath.

One night when we were at my folk’s T threw his dinner plate over his shoulder. Food went everywhere. It was highly unusual behavior for him and we sat there in stunned silence for a moment before I started reading him the riot act. My dad and sister were telling me to relax. Dad even said, “He didn’t do it on purpose, it was an accident!” Which was ludicrous. It was a lot of things, age appropriate being one of them. but it certainly was no accident. The thing that totally brought us back to reality was G throwing his plastic fork at my dad a moment later. All the tension dissipated and we couldn’t help it, we laughed our asses off. Which is basically the worst thing you can do when a kid acts out, but it was just too perfect and we couldn’t get ahold of ourselves. My sister turned to my dad and said, “Don’t worry, it was an accident!”

After thinking about those instances (and a million more) I’ve realized I don’t mind that I’m super strict with him. But I do mind my lack of patience. I mind that his perfectly normal misbehavior gets under my skin so deep. It is not fair to him. I don’t recall thinking of my sister as having an enormous amount of patience in general before she became a mom. Don’t get me wrong, she is a swell gal, you’d be lucky to know her and she has many virtues (Were you guys forced to watch that “classic” Nicholas and Alexandra in high school? Her impression of young hemophiliac Alexei is Oscar worthy). But as I watch her parent I am blown away by her patience with G. And frankly, jealous.

If there wasn’t frustration and anger behind them my high expectations wouldn’t be so loaded for him or for me. Don’t worry, I’m not crazy with anger at him all the time. I don’t spend my days yelling at him. I don’t think there is an eminent need to call child protective services. It’s just that I’d feel better about the fact that that I’m a total hard ass with really strong ideas on how my kid should be raised and should behave if I had some patience about the whole endeavor. Don’t get me wrong, I think the consistency Z and I provide him is doing him good. But the other day out of the blue he said to me, “Thomas bad boy!” and it absolutely broke my heart.  As soon as Z came home from work I told him we had to be incredibly careful and not tell T that he was bad, but what he was specifically was doing was bad. Z agreed but said he didn’t remember ever telling T he was bad. I’m sure it was me. The scary thing is I don’t remember doing it either. I’ve been telling him he’s a good boy over and over again ever since.

Sometimes the responsibility of helping to raise another human being completely overwhelms me. I’m sure I’ve caused lots of damage already and we aren’t even two years into this process. The fact that I love him with all my heart does not affect the mistakes I’ve made and will make. I want to do right by him so badly, but “want to” doesn’t matter. I mess up every single day. The thing that my love for him does provide is the will to keep trying. Usually I give up on impossible situations, but I could never give up on him.

Last fall I found these awesome shorts on clearance for about $1.99. The little preppy print on them isn’t sailboats or dogs, it’s little lightning bolts. Yup, he’s my little Harry Potter.
So I might be a crap mom, but he’s an amazing little guy who already knows most of his alphabet.

How to Raise the Most Perfect Child Ever

Before I actually became a parent I thought the whole nature vs. nurture thing was split 50/50. Being a parent has taught me I was a complete idiot. Both before and after procreating. Your kid is who your kid is. End of lesson. You can tweak little things, but for the most part you aren’t doing a shit load of molding. Don’t get me wrong, I still try. But if my efforts are rewarded it’s because T has wanted to cooperate, not because I’ve successfully coerced him.

My sister’s son is 6 weeks younger than T. Back when the pair of them were brand new my nephew Gabe was the best behaved baby I’d ever seen. Granted that was 20 months before his little brother was born, and that guy has snatched the title of Best Baby in the History of the Universe right out from under Gabe, but that’s a story for another day. I was mortified by how much T cried compared to G. I was constantly apologizing to the family when we were together that my kid was such a pain in the ass. Dude did cry a lot, especially during the 8ish to midnight witching hours, but he wasn’t a particularly fussy baby. Unless you put him in an head to head comparison with his cousin. Which no one was doing. Except for me. Again being stupid. Comparing two kids is always a terrible idea.

As a treat during that first Christmas vacation after the boys were born my sister and her husband volunteered to watch T so Z and I could have a hot date. Very very kind of them. We weren’t even gone for an hour because I managed to have a big fat anxiety attack at the restaurant and we had to have them pack our stuff to go as soon as it arrived. Going on a date with me is super fun and super sexy. But while we were gone T started his crying nonsense. My brother-in-law had this magic hold he did on G to get him to stop crying. He confidently told my sister he’d take T and calm him right down. He carried him into another room and returned 25 minutes later, T crying just as hard. He was incredibly frustrated and told my sister, “He just won’t stop crying! No matter what I do!” I love this story so much because I have been exactly like my brother-in-law in that moment more times than I can count. I believe every single parent in the world has. At first we all think if we can just get our hands on another person’s kid we’ll be able to solve any problem they are having.

Fast forward a year and a bit. T has developed into a pretty quiet and naturally well behaved kid. His language and fine motor skills are off the hook for his age, but his gross motor skills leave quite a bit to be desired. Dude will sometimes fall down out of the blue when he is just standing there. G’s gross motor skills are bizarrely fantastic. His dad is an avid soccer fan. And G has been dribbling a soccer ball since he was little more than one. Seriously. And he can now drop kick the ball. Kid is just creeping up to 21 months old and he can Drop. Kick. A. Soccer. Ball. I would not have believed it if I hadn’t had the ball sail over my own head. He is being raised bilingual and his speech has been slower in coming when compared with T (again, bad idea to compare to kids), but his comprehension in two languages is fantastic.

Gabe is one of the most willful and wild little people I’ve ever come across. He is a lot of work but sweet as hell. You know how there are some kids who are wild and you sort of feel like they are purposely being little dicks? No? It’s just me? Well, you never feel that way about Gabe. He is somehow incredibly lovable. The bottom line is we all now know better than to compare the two boys. T had turned into an easy toddler, G was definitely an easy baby. Who the hell knows what they will be like as kids, teenagers, adults? And who the fuck cares who is easier at any given point in time? They are two completely different people. I happen to think they are two pretty fantastic kids, totally normal and yet totally extraordinary and we are lucky to have them in our lives.

If my brother-in-law wanted to teach T how to drop kick a ball it doesn’t matter how much time he’d put in, developmentally T isn’t there yet. It simply wouldn’t happen. If I wanted to teach G to say his ABCs I’d be in for a lot of frustration. He is clearly going to be ready soon, but he isn’t quite there today. And all that is cool. So you concentrate on the stuff they are great at and you lay off the stuff they aren’t ready for. And you try and learn to be satisfied with the kid that you’ve got. And you work on making the small differences you are able to make. At this point I feel like I can take credit for the fact that T says please and thank you without being prompted about 30% of the time. But that’s about it. He’s met me at least halfway on everything else.

I don’t mean to suggest we should all just give up and let our kids be exactly who they are without structure. Damned if I’m not going to instill some sort of manners and respect in my guy. I just think we should all be a bit easier on ourselves (and our kids) and recognize they come already programmed in the personality and ability department and we should go ahead and respect that. And we should remember that when our kids are going through rough patches it isn’t due to poor parenting. Just like when they are going through easy patches it isn’t because we are some miraculous rock star baby whisperer parents.

So yes, the secret to raising the most perfect child ever…give birth to the most perfect child ever. You’ll be all set. Otherwise you are totally screwed.

For those keeping score I did fine on the 3 hour glucose screening and do not have gestational diabetes. The nurse strongly suggested I keep on keeping on with the modifications to my diet. Rats. So carrot sticks are in and potato chips are out. Sniffle.

My folks are really digging the grandparent thing. 

G trying to get T’s attention for picture taking. My sister’s sister-in-law was at my folk’s place for the tail end of our visit, so this and the remaining pictures were taken by the lovely Mariel Luza Kellemberger. 

G loving the swing. 

T insisted on using the big kid swing. And proceeded to fall out a number of times. No broken bones, so we’re cool. I love this picture so very much. Thanks Mariel! 

They really had a blast together. 

More Explaining About the Crazy

When you are about 28 weeks pregnant you have to drink this gross sugar drink and get your blood drawn exactly an hour later for a gestational diabetes test. I did my drink 2 Mondays ago. Z was already in the waiting room when I arrived.  So he saw the receptionist hand me the bottle filled with a violently orange liquid. I said to him, “This guarantees I’ll fail the test.”

The next day we hopped on a plane, waited for almost 2 hours on the tarmac, still made our connection, hopped on another plane and arrived in Atlanta to go to my parent’s place for a few weeks. When we got on the ground in GA there was a message waiting from my OB’s office. I immediately called and learned I’d failed the test. It would be a ridiculous understatement to say I did not handle the news well. At the beginning of the 90 minute drive to my folk’s place Z and my mom just let me sob hysterically in the back seat of the car. The next morning I posted a typically over-dramatic status update on FB and my kind girlfriends managed to calm me quite a bit by letting me know they too had failed the first test and passed the second, or they knew someone with gestational diabetes and it was no big deal. Mom hid the tastykakes she bought for me in the freezer, she and I headed to the grocery store and picked out lots of carb and sugar free food (harder than it sounds), and next Wednesday I go in for the three hour test. So no big deal. Right?

My dad and I got to talking about it. I’ve mentioned before that he is one of the smartest guys I know. He also is a happy person. Like almost all the time. He has struggled to understand my crazy person problems, but naturally it has been hard for him. That said, he’s also provided some fantastic insight into my specific bag of crazy. He was concerned when I became a SAHM because I was at my best when I was working at Whole Foods. A schedule imposed by any authority figure seems to be one I can stick to, when my bosses said I needed to be at work, damn it, I showed up. Somehow that translated into showing up to social events and the agoraphobic tendencies receded. It was a very good time for me.

So it was with love and a spirit of helpfulness when he told me that one of my problems was I acted like little issues were literally the end of the world. And he was totally right. I am a Grade A drama queen. Everything is life or death to me. But what I tried to explain to him is I don’t currently have a hell of a lot of control over it. The absurdly disproportionate reactions to small events are my anxiety disorder clawing its way to the surface. Some weeks or months or years I have a better handle on the crazy than others, but this is not one of those times. The miscarriage sent me off into a tailspin of crazy that only intensified when I got pregnant again and spent every moment of every day waiting to lose the baby. Things are feeling a bit better now that I’m in the 3rd trimester and summer is finally making its way to Syracuse, but traveling is a major trigger for me, and traveling while heavily pregnant and then getting news that there might be an issue with said pregnancy is enough to send me into super fancy crazy person mode.

I’ve calmed down a bit about the maybe gestational diabetes. But in the week and a half we have been here I’ve managed to work myself up over a short trip to Charleston to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th (an event I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, and one that went off beautifully), I’ve had my first panic attack in several weeks, and I’m currently sure that something is going to go catastrophically wrong with my pregnancy before we get back to Syracuse on Tuesday. One of my picadillos is I need to perform tasks in the exact same order every day to prevent bad things from happening. I’ve messed up the order of several tasks today and I’m quite sure something terrible is going to happen before the end of the day. And this list is only going to get longer the closer we get to traveling home.

As I typed that paragraph I totally recognized that I’m being completely crazy.  But here’s the thing, anxiety is way stronger than intellect. Or at least it is in my case. I am working on this stuff in therapy, someday I hope it gets better, but at this point the very best I can do is recognize what is happening. A couple of years ago I couldn’t even do that. As I try to explain it here I’m saying to myself, “You know exactly what is going on! Just pull yourself together and be uncrazy!” I’m sure that a lot of people who don’t struggle with this specific problem are thinking the same thing. These are the times I have to give myself pep talks about mental illness being real. I have to tell myself I’m not being lazy or doing it on purpose.

I wasn’t able to give myself the pep talks during the worst of my breakdown. Instead I believed with all of my hear that I was a lazy, worthless, unloveable shit. Ahh, the wonders of a borderline personality disorder. Let me tell you something folks, no one is harder on someone suffering from acute mental illness than that person themselves.  I promise. When a sick person is able to admit they aren’t doing it to themselves on purpose, even if they don’t believe it all the time, they are turning a major corner. There are times when I get frustrated with my lack of progress and regress a bit. But I have Z, I have my shrink, when I’m not pregnant I’ve got my chill pills, and I have T. They all help pull me out of it. I know the New Guy will be on my side as well.

It’s not all storm-clouds and poopie diapers. I am having a fantastic time down here. We’ve had visits from my parent-in-laws, my sister-in-law’s family, my sister and her crew are here now, her sister-in-law and her husband are also visiting and before we go we will get to see her best friend. T has gotten tons of time with his cousins on both sides and it having the time of his life. We are so lucky that my folks wanted their retirement home to serve as a gathering place for extended family and friends and even more lucky that they were able to make that dream a reality.

Please indulge me while I go a little photo nuts…

Our first day in the pool.
First batch of cousins in the bath. 

Gram and her monster red velvet cake. 

Saying goodbye, check out her rockin’ mardi gras beads! 

T just wants to hold and love on his baby cousins. Hope this bodes well for when our New Guy arrives. Samuel is 5 weeks old and the best baby I’ve ever met. Dude does not cry.

The boys playing soccer. Sort of. Yes, my sister gave birth 5 weeks ago. Yes, she looks that awesome in person. I know, I don’t understand either.  

Friends. 

T has been so brave about going down the huge slide at the pool at the end of my parent’s street.

One of the Many Reasons I Love Z

Clearly everyone hates to clean the litter box. Z and I bring a truly unfortunate amount of stubbornness to our hatred and our cat’s box would go long periods of time with no emptying.  For the bulk of our cat owning time together I blinked first.  Because I hated it even more when the cats took a shit outside the box in protest of the disgusting mess inside, so I became the litter box cleaner.  I did not accept this job with grace, rather I bitched to him about it as much as humanly possible.

For me the single best thing about pregnancy is not cleaning the litter box. I do love being a mom. I do want my son to be born healthy more than I’ve every wanted anything. But pregnancy and I are not friends. I basically feel like complete shit for 9 months. I remember right after T was born feeling so amazingly free in my body.  Having him on the outside was a million times better than having him on the inside.

Back to the litter box.  Can I say again how much I love not cleaning it?  How much I love telling Z it is full and needs to be emptied (yes, yes, I’m a vindictive bitch).  Can I tell you how much he loves it when I’m not pregnant anymore? How much he loves it when we can go back to our passive agressive stand offs which inevitably end with me caving (because he is kind of a turd, too)?

But here is the thing. After my miscarriage he continued to clean the litter box for a really long time. Everything made me cry then and the litter box was no different.  I remember telling him I was going to change it and as I walked away I started to cry. He grabbed me and held me and told me he didn’t want me to, that he was happy to do it. I told him that I knew I was being stupid and it really wasn’t a problem. I’d probably be crying no matter what.  But he did it anyway.  And he continued to do it without asking.

Z and I are not perfect to each other.  I mean, we aren’t back in couples therapy for kicks or anything. We need help as much as any other couple out there trying to make it long term.  But he is exactly who I want to be with. He’s someone who can let go of a nearly decade long stupid litter box feud in an instant when I’m actually hurting.  I really love him for that.

A couple of years ago the awesome guy who does my tattoos told me all he was looking for was a girl he could fart in front of.  It made my little crush on him get even bigger.  Because yes.  I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but I need to be exactly who I am in front of the person I’m with.  And I need that person to accept me, gross stuff and all. There is no mystery in Z and my relationship.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I know him, he knows me.  And we still love each other. Yes, we drive each other crazy. Yes, we gross each other out.  But we not only love each other, we like each other. That makes fighting for our imperfect relationship worth it on the days when we would love to just bail.

It got really hot here last week. Is there anything cuter than a nearly naked baby eating dinner? 

Today’s post lunch yoga. 

He started doing this on his own. I have no idea why.