Ugly Imagination, Ugly Reality

Yesterday was another rough one in anxiety land. I texted Z to let him know I forgot to buy a key ingredient for dinner, so how about take out instead? He reasonably suggested just buying the ingredient on his way home. I told him I was also anxious, which was code for I don’t think dinner is going to happen. He told me he’d help. Sometimes when he presses me it backfires and I shut down, but it worked yesterday.

He came in the door with the dried mushrooms I needed and said, “I’ve invited some people over, that’s ok, right?” He couldn’t even get to the end of the sentence without giggling like a schoolgirl. I told him not to waste my time teasing me if he couldn’t even do it with a straight face. He was appropriately disapointed with his performance. We got started making dinner and he began to tell me about his day.

He’s super excited about this elective he’s teaching this semester. The class is working with a local business to design products that might go into production through a small business that is being started through grants and with the help of a local nonprofit which will provide job training and employ jobless people from a very economically depressed neighborhood in Syracuse. I’m going to be very braggy right now, but Z was part of the team that came up with the small business idea. I’m really proud of him. All the players involved were at the first class yesterday and he was telling me about how it went.

Mid thought I interrupted him and asked him to check on C who was in the other room to make sure he wasn’t choking. He was very cool about me raining on his parade and humored me. A couple of seconds later he was back to tell me everything was fine. I told him I was very worried about C, very worried about him choking. Z asked if I’d taken a pill. I had. Then I took a breath and told him that I found out some terrible news. A family friend has a friend with two kids our boy’s ages. This week the youngest one choked. And he died. He died.

Z held me as we thought about and then tried not to think about the absolute worst thing that could ever happen in our lives. “Is this why you kept asking me to make sure C wasn’t choking when we were driving home from down south?” he asked me. “No. This happened a couple of days ago.” I said, “I’ve been scared of choking since the beginning. It gets worse when I’m not well and I’ve been thinking about it nonstop lately.” He asked why I’d never said anything to him.

I don’t know what the answer to that is. Mostly I think of myself as an open book, hell the shit I blog about here? I’m the queen of over sharing. But I also live in my head a lot and I forget to keep Z up to speed. On my birthday I wrote a little about the horrific shooting in Connecticut. After Z read it he said my behavior of the prior few days made sense. He said “You’ve been thinking about this a lot, huh?” I thought he knew. He asked how he was supposed to know if I didn’t tell him. This probably doesn’t make sense, but I don’t know I’m not telling him stuff. I assume he knows everything that goes on in my brain. Which is supremely unhelpful, especially because my brain doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense much of the time. So the things I expect him to figure out are not at all intuitive.

The mother of the child who choked lives hundreds of miles away. We do not know each other, she will never come across this post. But she has been in my thoughts for days. I don’t pray to a god, but I pray for her and her family. And I wish there was something I could do to alleviate her suffering somehow. The awful truth is there is nothing that will make her life make sense ever again. The world is simply that fragile for all of us, there is no pattern, we just try and blunder our way through with our fingers crossed that random horrors won’t find us. I feel hopeless for her, for all of us. The risk we take by engaging in life is paralyzing some days. My anxiety tells me the smartest thing to do would be to wrap my boys in cotton and never let them out of my sight.

Pain in our lives is unavoidable. Anxiety disorders are a coping mechanism-some of us have messed up brain wiring and the resulting anxiety disorder is actually our subconscious trying to keep us safe. It tells us if we take zero risks we will avoid all pain. The sentiment is from a good place, but what a crock of shit. We can’t avoid it, the pain is coming for us. But if we choose to live life we can have joy and beauty and love as well as hurt. That is what the anxiety accidentally takes away.

The mother of that child will always be in my thoughts now. For my boys, my husband, for her I hope to fight to choose joy and beauty and love as I navigate the hurt and hold my breath hoping I’ll never experience what she has.

I almost didn’t include a picture today. I’m writing about a terrible loss and here is my adorable kid? Actually, I was on the fence about posting this at all. I do not want to exploit this woman’s pain in any way. And I hope it doesn’t read as such. But ultimately I think this will cause the woman no additional pain, she will never know. And it is real, it happens, it bears thinking about. 
And the picture makes me happy, I hope it makes you happy, too. A little happy after this post is a good thing. 
I took his pacifier away at the store because he threw it at the sweet gal checking us out. He figured out a workaround on the drive home. 
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Birthday Post

It feels obscene to blithely continue a Mommy blog without acknowledging the events of last Friday. It feels obscene to write about what happened last Friday.

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We’ve been traveling since Saturday. We are celebrating a milestone birthday of my Mother-in-law’s in a lovely home in the mountains of North Carolina. The first travel day included more than 10 hours in the car for our family, the second more than 8. C is at the tail end of being sick. We are all fried and the boys aren’t sleeping. Z and I have been up multiple hours a night since the travel began. Last night we didn’t sleep from 3am till after 5am. We are lucky to be surrounded by family, lucky to have two healthy boys. And yet we are beyond exhausted.

I have been avoiding thinking about what happened on Friday. It is small and selfish, but the pain those families are experiencing is so profound that I simply cannot handle recognizing it. A month ago today I wrote this post. When my mind wanders to those parents in Connecticut it is what I think about. They had the same worries for their children. The worst thing I could possibly contemplate a month ago was the boys growing up without a parent. I simply could not or cannot think about the flip side. Those parents had the privilege of worrying about their children growing up without a parent stolen from them. Because it is a fucking privilege.

There is something cruel about watching your children grow up. You want to keep them babies forever. But the alternative to not growing up? It is literally the worst thing that could ever happen to you.

So that is what I’m thinking about today, which happens to be my 36th birthday. Yes, I’m rudely having my own birthday in the middle of the celebration for my Mother-in-law. I’m thinking about how lucky I am to worry about my sons. I am thinking about how I need to do better, to be better. We are tired and cranky. We were up for two hours in the middle of the night and I was a total bitch to the person who loves me most when he did not remember it was my birthday in the morning. Who the fuck do I think I am? Is that how a 36 year old acts? Is that the example I want to set for my children? For my 36th year I want to do better, I want to be better. I want to appreciate my family and be kinder and more patient. I want to realize that I am lucky to be up in the middle of the night with my boys. Life with two small ones is difficult. But the alternative is too painful to consider.

No pictures today. Those parents in Connecticut cannot post new pictures of their perfect children. It is a meaningless gesture, but for one day I will not post pictures of my perfect boys here.

And one more thing-the conversation about gun control does not in anyway dishonor the dead. There doesn’t need to be some indeterminate passage of time before it is appropriate to discuss the issue. In fact, I’d argue the best way to honor the memories of those who died is to fight this fight. Does the Bill of Rights grant the right to bear arms? Yes. When it was written black people counted as 3/5th of a human being and women couldn’t vote. I’m glad those things have changed and I’m sure that every person reading here is as well. The constitution has held up for so many years because of its flexibility. Because the founding fathers understood that a country is a living and evolving thing. I do not know what the answer is. But it involves massively restricting access to guns. That is what we can to for those who lost their lives, we can work to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That work involves less guns, not more.

A Little Heavy For a Sunday Evening…

The other night I was nursing C before bedtime and as I held him close in the dark, rocking in the chair my mother used when I was an infant, I grabbed his wee hand and happened to glance down at it. I saw my hand in miniature, right down to the crooked pinky. And I started to quietly weep.

Motherhood has changed me faster and more profoundly than anything else. During the fall after T was born the mortality of everyone close to me suddenly became real for the first time in my life. Which is ridiculous. Everyone dies, this is not some big shocker. Before I held my sons in my arms I didn’t really believe in my own death. Or Z’s. Or my parents’. I still can’t bring myself to contemplate my boys’ mortality even though I know they can’t live forever either.

My hopes for my sons-health, happiness, prosperity, love-are mundane, but they feel precarious. What if I die and they are raised without a mother? What if they don’t get to grow up knowing the wonderful people that are their grandparents? So many terrible things can happen in this world, and I know some of those things will happen to them. I know I won’t be able to protect them.

One evening before I became a Mom a couple we know told us that they realized if there was a house fire and they could only save one person they’d save their daughter over each other. It seemed terrible to me. I couldn’t understand how the love of any family member would outrank another. I decided it was monstrous to make that choice.

As I was rocking C the other night and weeping and considering his hand which was my hand I remembered that evening and I realized how wrong I was. It wasn’t monstrous at all. If a fire happened I would choose the boys over us without hesitation. Which isn’t actually choosing them over us at all. Because they are us. By choosing them I would be choosing all of us.

I’m grateful motherhood has changed me. Don’t get me wrong, there is still so much more that could be improved when it comes to who I am. I hope I can continue to realize it when I am mistaken and I hope I can admit it to myself and others. And strangely I’m glad that the specter of death is real to me now. It makes me appreciate the time I have with my family. It reminds me to get my ass in gear and live life.

This parenthood trip is a mindfuck.

 T at about 10 days old. Already changing the hell out of me. 
C at about 10 days old. Doing the same damn thing to his Mom.
Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith

More than three years later the boys are still working their changing me magic.  

The bathroom reno will hopefully be wrapped up tomorrow. We went with a cheery blue for the walls. 

Thank You, Facebook

Without reservation I am a lover of facebook. This is not a new topic for me. I roll my eyes at those who deride it, call it stupid and a waste of time. If you don’t like it why are you a part of it? Yes, you can get into sticky situations. But those same petty fights happen in real life as well. I love it because it makes me feel close to people who are all over the country, all over the world actually. And for the gift it has given me-renewing friendships that drifted apart because I moved 9 times before college. I’m “friends” with the sisters who lived next door to us in New Jersey in the 70s- I love seeing pictures of their kids. And the sisters who lived down the street the second time we lived in Fairfax county; they are hilarious and I’d love to buy them a beer at some point. One of the few people who was nice to me during the year I was bullied in Chicago. An Aussie, who was my closest friend when we both lived in Wellington, NZ in the late 80s. My now real life friend who was only an acquaintance back in high school and who is becoming a big deal blogger. We saw her over the holidays last year (Z loves her, of course) and will see her again this year. A laundry list of Drama kids from Robinson Secondary. Go Rams.

Since I joined the site in January of 2008 I’ve gotten to see a bunch of these people in real life-one of them just this week. The grad student that I full on worshiped in college has become one of my closest friends. And I’ll tell you what, friendship with a real, live, interesting person is a hell of a lot more fulfilling than worshiping from afar. She and her mother joined us for Thanksgiving last year, there have been a number of trips back and forth to each other’s home-we have introduced her to some of our friends and family and she keeps up with them on facebook. Because full circle, baby. Her long distance sweetheart spent a night at our home this summer. Without facebook that awesome California surfer dude would never have crossed paths with me, and you know what? My life is better because he is in it.

There are sort of “aspirational” friends as well-I get to be “friends” with the cookbook author and blogger who is a real life friend of a friend. And the hilarious girl whose blog I followed for years after meeting her at a party. She is fearless and confident and says exactly what is on her mind. She sort of fascinates me and scares the shit out of me at the same time. She’s also an accidental polygamist. How punk rock is that? There are the friends on FB first who I eventually meet-Kev’s lovely girlfriend who spent the 4th of July at our home after a brief meeting in VA earlier in the summer. We felt we knew before we met her because of the computer box.

My sister’s best friend from middle school and I got back in touch a couple of years ago. The world is such a small place it turns out she is also friends with a woman who was in our amazing circle of friends back in Brooklyn. They both live in Iowa city now. She and I have been friendly online-we had a kid around the same time and it seems like we are going through similar struggles.

On Thursday night her younger brother was murdered in what appears to be a robbery gone wrong. She posted the news yesterday. My family was immediately on the phone with each other-speechless, yet wanting to reach out and be together. This isn’t the first tragedy I’ve learned about on FB, and each time it makes me stop and think about the function social networking plays in our lives.

I’m grateful to be back in touch with this woman. As hard as this news was to hear I’m grateful I received it. I cannot comprehend the pain her family is experiencing. I can’t bear to even consider contemplating a world without my sons-outliving a child is the cruelest thing I can imagine,  or my sister, my partner in crime, the reason I had kids two years apart-because my hope for my boys is a true friendship with each other as deep as the one I’ve been lucky enough to experience with her.

We feel helpless, we want to do something, anything to ease the pain our friend and her family are feeling. And this hurt is so huge, so completely life changing, that we feel there is nothing we can do that will take even a piece of it away. But. Those of us that know her have been sending our love to her and her family. I may not belong to an organized religion, but I think that love can be felt across great distances. I think that love matters. I didn’t really know her brother, he was much younger than me, but I can listen to my sister reminisce about him. I can still send love to him. This online community is real. We are there to support each other. Our friend has encouraged people who knew him to post memories on his FB wall. She has reached out to her friends in her own grief and received beautiful, heartfelt advice on how to navigate the pain. We feel helpless, but FB is giving something tangible to her family, it is confirming that her brother made a difference in this world and that he will be remembered by many.

L, we love you. We ache for you. We wish there was something, anything we could do to help. It hurts that we can’t. But we are here. And we aren’t going anywhere.

I am so grateful for these boys. Hugging them extra hard today.

Tackling A Hard Topic and Happy Birthday T!

Last week a friend who lives around the corner emailed to let us know her family’s dog quite suddenly became gravely ill and was being euthanized that evening. T knows the dog pretty well and my friend kindly thought it would be good to let us know so we could explain to him what was happening.

I had no idea what to say to him. What is the “right” thing? What can his three year old brain process? What do I want to teach him about death? What the hell do I believe about death myself? Or religion, because the two are so intertwined?

Z and I both happen to be baptized Presbyterian, but neither of us have actively practiced religion from about the age of 9 or so on. We feel culturally Christian, and we dig the secular traditions surrounding the celebration of Christmas and Easter. We don’t personally believe that Jesus was the son of God, but we think he was an awesome dude. I mean, let’s be real. He was a loving, long haired, dirty, communist hippie which totally makes him our kind of guy.

I also don’t think I’m a straight up atheist. The idea that there is nothing out there might be logical, but I’m a feelings gal and no matter what my brain says my heart thinks there is something more. I believe we have souls and I don’t think those souls die when we do. I can’t imagine telling my children that if I die while they are young that I won’t still exist on some level to love them and watch over them somehow. My love for them is so strong I do believe it will survive my death. If that is delusional, so be it. It helps me sleep at night. Because as soon as you become a parent mortality becomes stunningly real, your love for your child is so staggering and terrifying you are instantly stripped of the invincibility of your youth.

I guess I’d label myself agnostic. I believe in something, I just don’t know what. Not the paternalistic God of our society, not necessarily a god at all. Just…something, something more.

Organized religion is problematic for me. So much hate is justified by invoking God’s name. So many of the tenets of religious texts are cherry picked to support whatever prejudices a person has developed, while others are discarded because they are inconvenient. So much war has been waged in the name of God, so much hate. I understand there are compelling reasons to belong to a religious organization-the community, a value system that lines up with your own. But for the most part it isn’t for me. Nor is atheism. I’m glad that atheists are feeling more comfortable about speaking out. But a lot of their rhetoric is as dogmatic as that of evangelists and zelots, the whole if-you-had-any-brains-at-all-you’d-believe-exactly-what-I-do jazz. The mean spirited dismissal of people of faith completely turns me off. I guess besides being agnostic I think people should have the freedom to believe whatever helps get them through this life and the courtesy not to be bullied for their beliefs. I also think they shouldn’t use their beliefs to bully others. And that in our multicultural society government and religion should have nothing to do with each other, I firmly believe that the founding fathers would completely agree with me with that one. Ok, climbing off my soapbox now.

So how to approach this charged topic with T? I told him that his doggy friend got very sick and died. I said that means she won’t live around the corner from our house anymore, she is gone and we won’t get to see her again. The place that she went is doggy heaven, and doggy heaven is awesome. She gets to run around and have tons of fun and be not sick at all and she gets to look down and see what we are all doing back here on earth. I said that we will all miss her very much and it was ok to feel sad about not getting to see her again. It’s ok to be sad for a really long time.

Little man is three. In fact, today is his birthday. We think he is wonderful and brilliant and perfect just like every parent is supposed to. But I’m not sure how much of my little speech he understood. It’s the beginning of a conversation that will go on for years. I’m so sorry about the illness and death of our friend’s much loved dog, but I appreciate the reminder to think about how to frame this discussion for our kids. I want to approach this subject thoughtfully for them. I’ve come to the conclusion that I will tell them what I believe, but I will explain that I want them to believe whatever feels right in their hearts and minds. I honestly don’t care if my kids are christian, or atheist, or jewish, or muslim, or buddhist. It’s much more important to me that they are kind, ethical, giving humans who treat others with care. I’m a big fan of the golden rule, and that is how I hope to teach them to live.

One of my favorite people in the world is a person of faith. I got to see him during our big trip down south and we had the opportunity to get to talk for a couple of hours. Religion came up and I said to him that it seemed to me that even though he was religious and I emphatically was not that our values and approaches to child rearing were remarkably similar. And that feels like an important thing to remember.

***Sincere Disclaimer***
If you are religious, if you are atheist, if you aren’t sure what you are, I hope I haven’t offended you. Just because we don’t believe the same stuff doesn’t mean I don’t respect you or like you or in a lot of cases love you or your beliefs.

Now how about some birthday pictures? We had a small party for him yesterday afternoon and it was so much fun! Today is his actual birthday. He got presents, we are smoking pork, and this afternoon we are getting some visitors that he adores. He is one lucky duck.

Some fondant R2D2s for the cupcakes.

I just couldn’t get behind using all that black food dye. Makes the icing bitter and dyes your poop black. So I left the Brown Sugar Buttercream as is. A friend dubbed it “Albino Darth”. 

He blew out all the candles! 

Darth Vader Piñata!

Light saber battle! 

His Grandmom and Granddad got him this amazing road grader. It is by far his favorite present.