Suck City

When does life stop feeling like high school?

Kindergarten drop off and pick up are quickly becoming my least favorite times of the day. T has been doing much better. We have the timing down to a science. So what is the problem? Standing in a group of adults. Some who I know casually, some who I should know but don’t, some who were at T’s preschool. My tongue swells and fills my mouth. My limbs get heavy and clumsy. I can’t make eye contact with anyone. I’m 15 years old and I just want to disappear. Why do the skinny, blond, beautiful Moms look so skinny and blond and beautiful? Why do I want to look skinny and blond and beautiful? My friend arrives and my blood pressure lowers. She is also skinny and blond and beautiful, but I forgive her for those transgressions because she is a swell human.

I feel 15 years old. Except I’m 37. Really, why do I want to look skinny and blond and beautiful?

The reality is I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m healthy. This year I can’t wait to get my cholesterol checked because I’m consistently running 20+ miles per week. I feel more at ease in my body than I ever had before. I should feel terrific. Yesterday I had to go buy new jeans because my daily ones are too big. From the parking lot of Old Navy I sent a gleeful text to a friend who would get my joy and not judge me for being superficial. So why do I see an ogre when I look at myself?

The bitch is back. And she is quite chatty these days.

She perches on my shoulder after my shower and whispers a litany of complaints as we peer into the mirror, her voice laced with disgust. The forehead wrinkles, the upper arm flab, the stretch marks surrounding my belly button, the lank and thinning hair (I do love my IUD, but like the pill it has made me shed hair in a frightening way. Should even out soon, but damn. Makes me feel like shit now.), the tree trunk legs, the sagging breasts, the masculine face, the blackheads around my nose, the developing jowls, the moles and beauty marks and freckles that are everywhere.

I dress and leave the bathroom ashamed and embarrassed.

Every social interaction is scrutinized. I want to seek out everyone I have spoken to during any given day so I can apologize. For my nervous chatter, for not enquiring about their lives, for being rude and self involved.

I have school work to do. A plumber to call. Dentist appointments to make. Grocery shopping. Cleaning. A training program to complete. That half marathon is a month from today. I have to drop off the boys and pick them up and make sure they are settled in school and happy. I have to make lunches and make dinners.

But the anxiety, that stupid bitch, is a 200 pound weight sitting on my chest. She replays everything I’ve fucked up that day in a loop. I can’t get away from her cruelty. I can’t get away from myself. I can’t help but wonder why my friends are my friends. I believe with all my heart that anyone who comes in contact with me pities me. I can’t stop obsessing about how physically repulsive I am. I can’t escape the shame of wishing I was beautiful. Me! A feminist who values brains and tells her sons what people look like on the outside doesn’t matter! I want to be skinny and blond and beautiful.

I’ve written this post again and again in the four and a half years I’ve blogged. I’ve written that I’m bored with this post. I’m bored with all of it. The anxiety. The fixation on how I look. The distress in social situations.

My anxiety disorder is cyclical. Right now is a hard time. In a few weeks or months the bitch will quiet and I will get some peace. Until she comes back.

These days the anxiety hurts as much as it always did. But the agoraphobia isn’t winning. Preschool and kindergarten drop off ensure I get out of the house twice a day. Swim lessons are Tuesday, soccer Saturday morning. And there are four runs a week. Because that half marathon is looming large. We go to dinners at our friends’ homes. We have friends over for cook outs. The damn school work will somehow get done. Life is bursting with activity and while the anxiety might cripple my self esteem and well-being it is not crippling my ability to function anymore.

I am doing a better job of living, really living with mental illness than I ever have before. Because the boys need me and Z loves me and because I want better for myself. Even on days I feel like I don’t deserve it.

House is still a mess, though. If I’m going to be honest, it is pretty much a mess when the bitch takes a vacation as well….

typical tuesday

A typical Tuesday night at our house. Friends just kept walking by so we called them back for a quick hang out and drink. Even with the bitch whispering sweet nothings in my ear, I know I’m lucky to have this support system.

kitty hoynes

Z was traveling for most of the week. C was so happy to see him again.

soccer

This kid. Soccer player. He was awesome, even in the rain and cold.

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Zoo at the Zoo

Couple of weeks ago I was taking one of those time wasting “what are you?” quizzes that have been all over facebook recently. A handful of questions and it tells you what color you are. Z was reading over my shoulder. As the curser hovered across the choices he’d say, “Oh come on. Obviously you’d nap if you got a free day to yourself!” or “Go to a party or spend a night alone? Please. Alone every time.” My biggest concern was that I’d get orange (for newer readers I have an orange-phobia), but nope. I got black. The description was something like “you are in a bad place, but it is temporary”. It’s a stupid online test that clearly has a problem with introverts. It isn’t real in any way. But it made me feel pretty awful.

Life has gotten better this spring. The seasonal affective disorder that colors the first months of the year has lifted. I’m on new meds that (fingers and toes crossed) seem to actually be working. School is over and I met my deadlines. I’ve been managing my anxiety through expectations-the trip to New York and the UN was hard. I knew it was going to be hard going in and was ready for it.

When we pulled into the Zoo parking lot this morning there they were. Six full sized school buses with a river of children pouring out of them. The parking lot was crowded with their parent’s cars. As we wound through the congested pathway towards the entrance my heart climbed out of my chest and into my throat. By the time we got to the octopus display my throat was squeezing shut, doing its best to crush my heart. My pulse raced, I was lightheaded, my eyes burned and filled with tears.

Our zoo is usually empty when it opens. I assumed it would be today. The crowds caught me off guard and triggered the first full on panic attack I’ve had in ages.

The funny thing is I’d been doing so well lately that the stupid voice in my head has piped up with her opinion. She seems to think there has never really been anything wrong with me. My mental illness is an excuse in my head to be lazy. I don’t really have trouble leaving the house or dealing with large groups. It’s a lie I tell to get out of stuff. Because I’m a terrible person.

This morning I was reminded that I really cannot handle crowds, especially when I’m not expecting them. Of course the voice just changed her tactics. She told me it was pathetic that I couldn’t deal with a couple of buses worth of kids. I kind of agree with her.

When C started crying in front of the octopus tank I was ready to grab the boys and get the hell out of there. Instead we stayed for more than an hour. I’m not saying I will win any mom of the year awards for that hour. I was short with the boys. The damn tingling in my arm that accompanies the lightheadedness never went away. I fought tears until we were safely back in the car. But the boys did get to run around a bit. And I didn’t give in to this stupid disorder.

t in k hat

He pulled the hat right off my head. Yup, it’s still chilly here in Syracuse.

cadbury creme egg

This beautiful kid can destroy a Cadbury Creme Egg.

Flu

Tuesday morning I went to the doctor’s hoping I had caught strep from the boys. Why was I hoping for strep? It is treatable. I’d be back on my feet pretty quickly. Nope, not strep. Not an ear infection. Not the common cod. She told me I had the flu and that I needed to go to bed for the week. She offered to write me a note for work. I laughed before I started crying. “I’m a stay at home Mom! Sick days aren’t part of the benefit package!”

“Oh, so you won’t need a note.” She was missing the point.

“I cannot stay in bed for a week.”

“You’ll just have to let them watch a lot of movies. How old are they?”

“Four and a half and two and a half.”

“Oh…..well…….good luck.”

Before you go feeling too sorry for me you should know that Z went into full-on Super Dad mode, getting the boys from school, putting C down for nap, all that jazz. We started to line up sitters for the rest of the week. And then my Parents called. Mom would arrive at 10:15pm that night.

I might have the flu, but I’m beyond lucky.

Yesterday I felt so much better. If I stayed still. The minute I started moving around the coughing that makes my lungs feel bruised and my head ache started. The fever and chills seemed more pronounced. The soreness that enveloped my skin returned. But my Mommy was here. Taking care of the boys, making dinner, checking on me.

The truth is I thought I’d wake up this morning feeling better still. How long could I really feel extremely bad? I was probably overreacting to this whole thing, after all overreacting is what I do best. Mom probably didn’t need to rush up here after all.

I feel awful.

Clearly the high of knowing I get to rest for several days has dissipated. I am not going to magically be better tomorrow. The flu sucks. Having C sidle up to me and tug on my blanket while saying, ” Mama! Cuddle me! Please!” sucks balls big time. Z sleeping on the sofa sucks and makes me feel lonely. I don’t want him to get this. And I’m glad that my wheezing and snoring and hacking is not keeping him awake. But I hate reaching out with my leg in the middle of the night only to connect with nothing rather than the reassuring bulk of my husband.

And yes. I did get the flu shoot. We all did.

And yes. I still think it was the right choice. Am I pissed I got the flu anyway? Sure. It impacts the whole family negatively and frankly it feels terrible. But I am not shocked. (Ok, I am feeling too shitty to verify at the moment, so this is from memory and I might get some stuff wrong-let me know in the comments and I apologize in advance for bad info) The flu vaccine varies in efficacy from year to year. This year’s shot was a pretty good match to the strains out there right now-think it was about 70%. Which means there is a 30% chance the recipient of the shot will catch the flu. Decent odds, but not fantastic.

Why am I not angry the vaccine didn’t protect me?

Who says it didn’t protect me? Who knows how many time I or a member of my family has been exposed to the flu this season and didn’t get sick? Also, having the vaccine might protect my family even though I am contagious. It might shorten the duration of the virus for me.

I’m sick. I’m pissed. I’m exhausted and need to wrap this thing up so I can rest. But the flu has not changed my mind about vaccinations. Z and I got educated before we got vaccinated. We understood the risks and benefits. I believe we made the right choice for our family.

someone found his halloween costume

T found his Halloween costume the other day. He’s been wearing it a lot.

love his sweet face

This kid’s sweet face melts me. So hard not to cuddle with him. Not touching my family is definitely the worst part of being contagious.

flu no filter

This is what the flu looks like. Scary. I know.

The One That Got Away

New York doesn’t have a heart. She will forget you the minute you leave her. Turns out you loved her more than she ever loved you. She immediately traded you in for a younger model, one without a family. Or a model who has made it financially in a way you never will. Or a model who is just more fucking tenacious than you are, a model who won’t give up and leave just because living with her is hard.

I have had two great loves in my life. Z and New York. For years I was married to both of them, but Z grew to despise the third wheel in our marriage. Hell, he and I grew to despise each other as well. My love for the city was the only constant in our lives. It would have made sense to give up on our marriage. It was a shambles. But somehow we decided to choose each other. Which meant there was no longer room for the city. I passionately loved her, but she wasn’t good for me anymore.

We moved away 8 years ago. My husband has a heart. He loves me back. He doesn’t seem interested in trading me in for a younger model. I made the right choice.

That doesn’t mean I don’t mourn my other love. Or wonder what might have been.

I was in New York for a few days to attend a conference at the UN. Thursday night I splurged on a cab to Brooklyn. The drive down Atlantic Avenue felt like a slap in the face. For every veterinary clinic sign that greeted me like an old friend there was a new clothing store, or real estate office, or yoga place that I didn’t recognize. Hank’s Saloon was still there, placating me a little. But then the behemoth that is the Barclays Center loomed over the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic, completely disorienting me.  This was no longer my city. I am not a New Yorker anymore.

If we had stayed the changes would have felt organic, unnoticeable. On the way back to Brooklyn yesterday afternoon I stopped at Nha Trang, a Vietnamese hole in the wall in Chinatown. Z took me there for the first time in the summer of 1998. You want cheap, fast, delicious food? It’s your place. The wait staff was mainly the same as it was 16 summers ago, and 12 summers ago, and 8 summers ago.  I felt a goofy grin take over my face when the elder statesman of the waiters came to take my order. But the grin faltered when I realized one side of his face was a little slack. He must have had a stroke. He didn’t remember me, but he was delighted that I knew how to eat the spring rolls properly, wrapped in half of a lettuce leaf with a cucumber slice and a mint leaf tucked inside. He might have been the one that showed me and Z how do to it back in the 90s. I wanted to hug him when I left. Of course I ignored that impulse and swallowed back tears as I hustled to the subway.

Me heart was pulled in new directions. As I road the 5 train downtown I didn’t try to catch or avoid the eye of the cute guy in the same car. Anyone who has lived in the city knows exactly what I’m talking about. I swear the subway system runs on hormones and the flirtations of strangers. But the cute guy didn’t hold my attention. The three year old boy seated next to me did. He absentmindedly leaned into me and hooked his little leg around my own. His small but solid bulk comforted me. When the train pulled into Union Square I didn’t want to get off. I could have sat next to him for hours.

I missed my boys. The piercing pain of being away from them took my breath away. Don’t I always beg for a break? Isn’t getting away for a few days good for me and them? Of course, but Z and I were away for 5 days in January. I guess I need time off less frequently than I assumed.

I missed my boys, all three of them. But something magical happens to me in the city. My anxiety might have been in the stratosphere leading up to the trip, but once I stepped into the city I relaxed. There is nowhere in the world where I feel more at ease. Since the first time I visited the city as a high-schooler it felt like the center of the world and exactly where I wanted to be. If we moved back she would be mine again in a matter of months. And part of me is hers, part of me will always be hers.

nha trang

The place setting hasn’t changed at Nha Trang since I’ve been going there.

gwb

Amtraking it home. Riding under the GWB.

Hudson

An icy Hudson River.

A big thank you to my dear friends A and M for opening their home to me. Do you know what was even better than being in New York? Having a night to laugh with A. I miss the hell out of her. But she is the kind of friend that is simply too good to let slip away. I’ll be calling her for advice decades from now. M ain’t so bad himself.

Confession

You know how my whole schtick is to be as honest as possible no matter what? I haven’t been honest. With you, with myself.

Let’s back up a bit. Winter sucks for my anxiety disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) gets sprinkled on top of my regular sundae of crazy. The fact that Syracuse has more overcast days annually than Seattle does not help.

This past week has been particularly unpleasant. I got a pretty brutal cold. Which led to not jogging for 4 days, the longest break I’ve taken since the jogging odyssey began last July. Z and I had a fight so ugly it necessitated an extra couples therapy appointment.

[Yes. Z and I fight. Our relationship is not perfect, nowhere near. We hurt each other, we disappoint each other. We calm down and try to figure out how to do better.]

I put my foot in my mouth epicly. C fell down and gave himself a bloody nose. T and C had an altercation so violent C’s nose was left bloody again. A manageable and forecasted snow storm hit us, but Syracuse has decided not to keep up with plowing this year so the boys unnecessarily missed a day of school because I couldn’t get my car off of our street. C fell out of bed AND HIT HIS NOSE AGAIN!

When a whole bunch of not great stuff happens, especially at the times my crazy is more…present the self loathing starts to take over. I feel worthless and useless, unfit as a mother and wife. I feel fat and ugly. I’m sure I disgust those around me, I certainly disgust myself. It is hard not to cry, hard to get out of bed, hard not to listen to the bitch who whispers, “I hate you, I hate you” on a nonstop loop in my head.

So the thing I haven’t been honest about has been festering in my mind. It has become the thing I think about constantly, turning it over and over in my head reminds me how weak and useless and stupid I actually am.

Just over a year ago I had a bad pap smear. It was scary, but I followed directions and had a colposcopy. That pretty much sucked. And it turned out I have HPV. The cool thing is the virus can clear itself so six months later when I had another pap I didn’t have HPV anymore.

In early December I got a call from my gynecologist reminding me about my annual visit that week. I panicked. And told the nice woman who called that I had a scheduling conflict, but I’d call back the following week.

I never called back.

Things aren’t going so well with me. I cannot deal with HPV coming back. Or another colposcopy. Or the thought of cervical cancer. I know I’m being stupid. I know I’m being irresponsible. But I can’t seem to force myself to make the phone call. I am really scared.

This week I came clean to Z. And now I’m coming clean to you. I mean, if you’ve been stupid about something you are scared of I get it. But I think you are strong enough to face it. You just need a little encouragement. I need a little encouragement as well. Monday is my day, I can feel it. I will call the doc on Monday. Pap smear, here I come.

my valentine

T made me a Valentine. It isn’t all bad around here.

sleepy boy C

This poor kid’s nose has been through the wringer this week.

Syracuse winter

Normal Syracuse morning.

Kids Being Kids Part 2

The afternoon following T’s haircut I posted this on facebook: Quote of the day from T, “Um…I forgot to tell ya. I’m not a fan of short hair.” Oh dear. I told him he can grow it back if he wants….

After a bit of digging it became clear that he wasn’t a fan of short hair because someone told him his hair looked ugly.

Listen, it would be easy for me to be mad and defensive that T’s feelings were bruised. I love my kids so fiercely that anytime they are hurt I see red, it is a biological response.

I let myself have that pang of anger. And then I let it go.

Because as we were having our conversation I could imagine another family in that very moment having a similar discussion about something T said that hurt one of his classmates feelings. And I bet that those parents were seeing red and thinking all sorts of terrible things about my boy.

Kids are mean. Because they are trying to figure out what they can get away with. Because the concept of “social niceties” are way beyond their comprehension. Because they didn’t get enough sleep the night before or they are adjusting to a new sibling or they are having a growth spurt.

I’m more interested in talking to T about how he felt when his feelings were hurt than worrying about the other kid. I want him to remember how he felt the next time he decides to say something mean to anyone else. And people are going to be mean to him for the rest of his life. The sooner he develops some tools to deal with it the better.

We talked about how the person that said his hair was ugly might not have even meant it. S/he might have been having a bad day, or s/he might have been confused that T looked so different, or s/he might have not liked that T was getting a bunch of attention. We talked about how we need to feel bad for someone who is being mean because they are often unhappy themselves. We talked about how important it is not to be mean to people. And by “we talked” I mean I talked at him. Remember, dude is 4. We will probably have the same conversation a million times before it even begins to sink in.

T and this kid seem to bring out the worst in each other. I’ve watched them interact and been shaken by T’s behavior. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to Z that at least they won’t be going to kindergarten together. Z pointed out that there will always be that kid in T’s class. Even if it isn’t the same kid. Hell, T will be the that kid for someone else’s family. Zeke was right.

And I was really ashamed of myself for wanting the easy way out.

Shouldn’t we face dealing with the realities of how kids treat each other (and again, T is culpable. His behavior in this relationship has been unacceptable at times) rather than hoping the problem will go away when the kids don’t spend time together anymore?

Smart parent friends: how have you handled this with your kids? Seems like I am lucky enough to know a ton of people with compassionate and loving children. How did you parents do it? You guys are my fucking heros, by the way.

short haired boys

All my boys watching a movie.

big kid legos

Does he look older with the short hair? Or does he look younger? I can’t seem to make up my mind.

hotel view

The view from our hotel patio last week. Man, do I miss being warm.

Kids Being Kids Part 1

Walking the tightrope between respecting my sons’ privacy, writing honestly about issues I’m grappling with, and respecting the privacy of friends and acquaintances is becoming more difficult.

The readership of this blog is tiny, not even a blip in the blogosphere. But over the last year or so I’ve connected with more local people on social media. It would be wrong to assume those people are now reading here, but it stands to reason they have at least seen a link to a post float by their feed on facebook.

If I want to write about an issue concerning a friend I ask. If the friend isn’t comfortable with it I don’t do it.

I am friends with some of the teachers and other parents at the boys’ school on facebook. So I’ve been going back and forth about writing about a particular issue all day. Here’s where I’m at: I am not friends with the parents of the kid in this story, but if his/her parents were to come across the post and were able to identify their kid I feel confident that I’m not writing anything hurtful or unkind. That said, I am nonspecific enough that I’m pretty sure the parents wouldn’t identify the kid in the first place.

The issue I want to discuss isn’t really about T and his classmate. It is about how we react when our kids face hard things. It is about recognizing that no child is an angel all the time, just as no kid is “bad” all the time. It is about coming to terms with the fact that your kid is going to be the one doing the hurting at times.

I’m trying to face that ugly fact. T (and C when he is gets a bit more language) will be (um, probably currently is) hurtful to other children. The sooner I accept that the sooner I can take steps to guide him towards being a kinder human.

Sweet Mary, raising another human being is hard.

Part 2 will be coming along tomorrow.

twins in tub

Today I asked T who was in this photo. “Two Charlies.” he said. I pointed to him and said, “No, who is this guy?” He pointed to C, “That is Charlie 1.” And he pointed to himself, “And that is Charlie 2.” I’m going to start calling him Charlie 2. It really is crazy how much they look alike now.

cute kid

This kid has plenty of personality not matter how long his hair is.