Dear America, Don’t Even Bother to Try-Love, the Internet

***Disclaimer: This post does not address the flaws in the Invisible Children’s approach to capturing Kony, nor does it touch on the problems in Africa. Those problems are overwhelming and important and deserve to be discussed, but they aren’t what I’m writing about today. Rather, this is about the American reaction to the video. So yes, yes, this is about ‘first world problems’–a phrase I despise. We live in the first world and therefore address the problems within it. Should we not do that? Should we only contemplate third world problems? Ones we are under qualified to understand? Because tackling third world problems really hadn’t gone so well for Invisible Children. What is so wrong with considering the problems we face? Whew, a tangent before I even begin…

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In the wake of the KONY 2012 controversy I’ve been thinking a lot about the flack we get for trying. The hateful response to the video and movement has really taken my breath away. If I were the guy who made it I’d have a public breakdown as well. Hell, a few years ago I had a pretty awesome breakdown without being eviscerated by the internet. 


And it isn’t just the KONY folks, it’s fucking anyone who tries anything. I’ve been coveting a pair of sparkly TOMS. I think they’re adorable and I dig that they give a pair away for every pair sold. I’ve had conversations with no less than 5 friends who find TOMS mission worthy of an eye roll. Everything from “How pretentious is it that they PLACE the shoe on the foot of kids?” to “Do these kids really need shoes? What about food?” to “Why aren’t they helping American kids?” Well, TOMS chose a mission. They didn’t decide to feed kids, they decided to put shoes on their feet. And I think that is fucking awesome. It is a hell of a lot more than I’m doing, and more than any of my friends are doing either.


It’s like if anyone tries to do anything positive the only thing other people see is the mistakes-and how they personally would do the positive thing so much better. Well, if that is true why is no one getting off their asses? I was reading a stream of replies to a KONY article by activists, actual fellow activist, people who do the same damn thing for a living, and the contempt, vitriol, and venom was so over the top and devoid of any self-awareness. The only conclusion I could reach was those commenters were being eaten alive by jealousy at the success of the KONY campaign. And the joy and relief they felt as the campaign and the organizers came under scrutiny and things started to fall apart, the schadenfreude was sickening to me. Call me naive, but I’d expect people who dedicate their lives to helping others to have a shred of compassion. 


What is wrong with us? Have we become so small? So petty? I’m not saying the KONY folks had it right. I don’t know enough about the wars in Uganda to have an intelligent opinion. But my take away from the video was the group’s first priority was raising awareness. And from that lens the movement has been a huge success. 


The KONY thing had me thinking about the impulse we seem to have to tear down anything that goes well. The other day I was telling Z that before we began I really was freaking out about potty training T. Z’s mom helped potty train her eldest granddaughter and I had a fantasy about her coming up to help do it with T. I just didn’t think I could do it myself, I thought I’d pressure him too much or not enough or somehow find a way to fuck it up. But it’s been a few weeks and it’s been going really well. It is by no means perfect, there are accidents and frustrations. But I’m doing it. I’m actually doing it. I’m potty training this kid. And it feels good. He suggested I write about it and I told him that would be way too braggy. 


Now, you, my kind and tiny readership, would not be mean to me about being braggy. I know you all personally for the most part. We’re actually friends. And let me take a sec to thank you again for indulging me by reading this. I really do appreciate it. But if a blogger with a large readership were to write about successful potty training there would be comments about how it isn’t that hard, there’s no reason to be self-satisfied, and don’t forget there is a bunch of stuff that the writer is getting wrong in the parenting department. The comments in the well read blogs seem so focused on taking anyone with some success down a notch. 


It is so much easier for me to write about my fuck ups than my triumphs. Yes, the anxiety disorder has something to do with it. But there is a larger cultural shunning of celebrating success. If we don’t feel comfortable talking about what we do right how are we going to encourage our kids to feel good about themselves? 


I’ve already had T parrot some alarming things to me. He says, “I’m so sorry, Mommy” about things he doesn’t need to be sorry for. He gets that (‘so’ included) from me. I’ll apologize to you for the sky being blue if you give me the chance. I don’t want him to grow up apologizing for existing. When someone leaves the house he’s started to say, “Be safe!” Another thing I compulsively say. Am I instilling fear in a two year old? I don’t want him to learn my neuroses. This includes not be able to celebrate his successes. Encouraging him is a big part of it, but I also need to learn to embrace my own accomplishments. Which should be easier because thankfully my accomplishments are not big enough for the internet to notice.


So yeah, potty training is going well. I’m proud of myself. Also, we should be nicer to each other. Not less constructively critical, mind you. We can and should disagree, but let’s be fucking civil. And kind. The end. 

OK, that was a little heavy. So how about some levity…Isn’t he a little young to give me the stink eye?
 He’s still anti-clothing. I got his underwear and pants on him this morning, but when I tried to get the shirt on he freaked and wept until I let him take the pants off. Not 20 minutes later he said, “Mommy! I’m cold!” Me, “Dude, if you’d wear some clothing you wouldn’t be cold.” Yeah, he didn’t wear a stitch of clothing all day.
 Last weekend we made the switch to iPhones. I’ve fallen deeply in love with Instagram. 

Because you can take pictures like this, which are adorable to begin with.


And make them into this. Is it creepy that I’m basically photoshopping my kid?
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The Crazy Came to the ER, Too

For the most part the crazy has receded a bit compared to the fall. It ebbs and flows, you sort of get used to that and are grateful for the less crazy times or are hopeful that the more crazy times won’t last long. Don’t get me wrong, back in the throes of the fancy breakdown I was nowhere near that philosophical about the whole thing. And then when I was finally pretty well again I remember walking home from visiting Z at RISD. I stopped dead in my tracks and realized I couldn’t remember exactly how it felt during the worst of things. And it terrified me. If I couldn’t remember it how could I avoid it in the future? But you learn to look for the signs of things not going so hot. You get back into therapy when you need it, you make your peace with the fact that things might get bad again and there won’t be a damn thing you can do. Because as long as you’re doing the work of trying to stay well you have a better chance of catching it on the long slide down. Because there is a level of this whole thing that is beyond your control and if you focus that lack of control you’re sunk. I could do all the hard work and have another breakdown tomorrow. That’s life with mental illness.

The crazy didn’t hang around too much at the ER, but it was there a bit. The good part is I saw it for what it was. So that is progress. A couple of weeks ago I had an anxiety…moment over C’s sleep, or lack thereof. One evening I became convinced I was causing the sleep problems through my lifestyle choices and breastfeeding. This makes no sense, but bear with me. I have a friend who knows more about breastfeeding than anyone else I know, so I shot her an email. In the email I noted the last time I’d emailed her for advice about breastfeeding was when I was pregnant with the twins I miscarried. And that I was sure something terrible was going to happen in the next few weeks because of that. I included that cheerful line of reasoning because I was pretty far gone on the crazy scale. It was a bad night. But as I sat in the ER with C I thought, “I was right. This is my fault. I did this.” After Z arrived and I told him what I was thinking he wouldn’t even have the discusion. Which was for the best.

Look. I know that sending an email did not cause C’s fontanelle to retain fluid. More specifically, I know that reaching out for help, something that makes me break out in hives, did not cause his illness. It’s not just crazy, it’s superstitious, and absurd. And it’s the same damn tiny little voice that tells me I’m stupid, physically repulsive, worthless. The fact I know that is major progress.

The second piece of crazy unfolded a few days later at our couples therapy session. I had a individual therapy session scheduled for the morning after our hospital visit. I hate canceling appointments, really hate it, especially when I’m giving less than 24 hours notice. But I had to take C to the pediatrician’s office, and obviously that was more important. The receptionist was incredibly understanding. My therapist called the next day to make sure I was ok. It’s a small office, so clearly the story got around. Our therapist actually gave me a hug when he saw me. We spent most of the session talking about what happened. Near the end I told our guy that when stuff like this happens I always think that people are going to assume I’m making it up. You know, to have an excuse when I’m canceling an appointment. To have a woe-is-me story. So I can give in to my anxiety disorder.

I account for every chill pill I take to my therapist because I believe she secretly thinks I’m an addict. I over explain every schedule change because I’m sure people will think I’m bullshitting them. And that’s it-the over explaining. It makes me sound guilty no matter what the truth is. Because I feel guilty almost every second of every day. I feel like a gigantic fuck up, like people look at me and see the kind of person that would make up a medical emergency to have an excuse to get out of an appointment.

I’m getting kind of raw with the crazy in this post. I know it can’t be fun to read, but maybe it will help someone out there understand mental illness is real. An anxiety disorder creates so many twisted layers, the second guessing is so intense reality just sort of slips away. It’s ugly. But seriously, being aware of it means I’m in much better shape than I have been.

After all my agita over potty training he’s doing great. The only thing is he’s turned into a nudist.  

Don’t worry, we’ve got a paper bag under his ass as he snacks on those animal crackers. 

And this will be the face he makes 18 years from now when he’s in college and stoned off his gourd. “Holy shit, these animal crackers are the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth!”  
We convinced him to wear a shirt and socks today, but he couldn’t get on board with the pants.

Vocabulary and Other Lessons at the ER

C woke with a fever Tuesday morning. He’d had an ear infection the week before and was still on antibiotics, so I made an appointment at the doc’s and when we were loading him into the car seat I noticed his soft spot was swollen. Turns out that soft spot is called the fontanelle, we’ve heard that word so many times in the last few days I’ll always remember it. And the swelling that Z and I thought was a mere curiosity was actually a great big hairy deal that sent us to the Pediatric ER here in town. My sweet C got an IV, he had a CT scan, and he had a spinal tap. The bottom line is he seems to be fine. He doesn’t have meningitis or anything funky in his brain, anyway. They think the ear infection or a mystery virus somehow caused the fluid retention.

This was our first visit to the ER for either of the boys. And it was every bit as awful as I’d imagined it would be. We couldn’t arrange child care for T for a couple of hours, so Z dropped us at the hospital. My weeping got a bit hysterical as they inserted the IV. Unsurprisingly, finding a vein is difficult in a wee babe. It only took two tries, but the look on his face as it was happening was so painful I was gasping and doubled over. Afterwards I told the nurses it would get better after Z arrived, he was much more stoic than I could ever be. The resident suggested it would be a bad idea for me to be in the room during the spinal tap. Z got there before that procedure and agreed that I shouldn’t be in the room. He stayed and held C’s hand. I felt like such a coward for leaving.

I would have taken C’s place as the patient if I could have. Don’t get me wrong, I was serious when I said I was a coward. But it turns out that there is something worse than physical pain. I’d rather have gotten the spinal tap because it would have hurt me less than watching C go through it. What a shitty lesson to learn. Both the something-worse-than-physical-pain part and the how-very-much-I’m-motivated-by-selfishness part. It makes me so ashamed.

But I also learned something wonderful about who my sweet son is. I’d rather have come upon the knowledge in a less painful way, both for him and me, but I’m still grateful for it. He’s only 6 months old, we are learning who he is every day, although you can learn a lot about a baby in half a year. He is so good natured that I can’t believe my anxiety ridden, pessimistic body created him. Even when he is in pain he smiles at us, he lets his brother abuse him without complaint, he is an all around good sport. When the nurse was struggling with the IV to get blood to flow so she could draw her samples he did something that blew my mind. He’d been screaming and crying, but it slowed to a keening and his eyes slipped out of focus, his lids heavy. The nurse looked at him in surprise. “Oh my gosh, he’s self soothing.” I was stunned as well. And proud and even a little envious, although I don’t begrudge his ability to cope one single bit. I am amazed by him. When I came into the room after the spinal tap the same nurse told me he did it again during that procedure. He already knows how to help take care of himself. How can a baby be so wise? How can I ensure that we nurture and develop that part of himself? 

I took this picture to send to my parents after the IV was inserted. He was telling me and them that he’s OK. 

He was exhausted after the spinal tap. 

He still is a pretty sick little boy. The night we got home from the hospital his fever spiked to 104.1. He’s been up for hours in the middle of the night for the last few days. And he’s had diarrhea for 8 days. If I were him I’d be a fucking train wreck. But it’s no effort to get a grin out of him. I hope he teaches me how to enjoy life the way that he does. I can’t imagine loving him more, and yet every morning I wake up to find I somehow do.