Syracusens

Since the New Year our life has been charged with excitement and worry. Z has been in the long process of interviewing for a tenure track position at SU. Long story short: he got the job. The tenure process takes six years. We feel pretty committed to Syracuse now. We want this city to be our long term home.

My anxiety has spiked once again. Dealing with the stress and unknown is not something I do with grace. In the back of my mind I also knew Z’s Japan trip was looming. He is teaching a class there for four weeks this spring. He leaves on Sunday. The anticipatory nature of my anxiety disorder has been rearing her ugly head.

In the last few weeks I have ballooned into a round and swollen version of myself. At least that is what I see every time I glance in a mirror. I’ve pretty much stopped looking. The voice is back that tells me I am disgusting and worthless and an object of pity. I’m scared of getting through the next month. I’m scared I am not a good enough mom to be alone with the boys for so long.

My parents are coming for the first week. They spoil my whole family rotten. My friends have assured me they will be here for support. Still, I am turning in on myself and pulling away.

Crazy folks need a crazy friend. Someone who gets living with chronic mental illness. Someone who understands in their bones when you share that you are struggling. My crazy friend moved at the end of last year. I miss him so much that I haven’t let myself process his absence.

The four women who are my closest friends are a lifeline to me. But none of them have been chronically mentally ill. Last week I put on my big girl pants and emailed them to tell them I’m having a hard time. When we are all together and I say that I’m ok….well, I’m really not ok. Just sending the note removed a weight from my chest. These women have my back.

Z is in New York until tomorrow afternoon for an end of the school year event. Our gang tends to do a potluck dinner on Wednesday nights. I hosted this week. We sat in my backyard and my friend told me they all wanted to get me a Mother’s Day present. I got red in the face and apprehensive. We are all moms. Why would they get me something?

My friend explained that she knew I was anxious about the state of my house with my parents coming. We are slobs, Z and I. Terrible terrible slobs. On Saturday my friends want to arrange a cleaning service to get the house in order. I worked really hard not to cry. It was too much. I didn’t want to impose, didn’t want to accept such a huge gift. A few minutes passed and the conversation moved on. Eventually I turned back to her. “I would love to have the house cleaned.” It was hard to say and I was choking on the guilt. But I accepted their kindness.

The anxiety is never going to go away. But it is not preventing me from being loved and cared for. It isn’t preventing me from loving others back.

Syracuse is our home. We are happy. Now. Today.

I have never trusted happiness. It can be snatched away for a million reasons. Acknowledging it means tempting fate. Yes, tragedy and sorrow can hit our life at anytime. I’ve suddenly realized that isn’t a reason to shy away from happiness, rather it is a compelling reason to enjoy the happiness while it is here.

Am I scared shitless about Z’s Japan trip? Yup. Is my anxiety worse than it has been in a long time? Yessir. Do I despise myself right now? I do.

All of that did not stop me from enjoying the triple date we went on last Friday. Six of us piled into our friends’ minivan. We were a cliche of “Parents’ Big Night Out!” and I loved every second. The bad stuff didn’t stop me from enjoying Z’s birthday part on Sunday night. We had more than 30 people over for the first backyard barbecue of the season.

Good shit is happening here. Z and I are happy. The boys are happy. We have friends that we would do anything for. And it turns out they would do anything for us as well.

lots of boys at the zoo

Taking a bunch of boys to the zoo.

the mighty salt city

Z’s early 42nd birthday present by awesome local artist Cayetano.

zeke 42

Singing Happy Birthday to Z. When I lit the candles I accidentally blew them out along with the match the first time.

handsome man

Painting banners for the annual Carnival at T’s school.

Advertisements

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.

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!

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.

——————————————–

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

Drop Off

“So remember, I’m not going help…”

He cut me off. “I know, I know, Mom. I am going to put my stuff in my cubby myself. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy!”

Easy-peasy lemon squeezy is something his most excellent kindergarten teacher says.

T has changed so much in the short time he has been in kindergarten. He is growing into his own person. It is messy and exciting and wonderful and sort of heartbreaking. I looked over at him this morning while I was strapping his brother into the car seat. His hair was swept up under his winter hat which was framing his face. I saw the baby, the hilarious and bald baby, that he used to be. Man, I miss that baby. I looked at his face and start to laugh. He looked back at me and laughed himself.

“What?”

I smiled. And sighed. And suddenly was blinking back tears. “Nothing. I love you.”

We looked at each other and started laughing again.

I’m pretty much the definition of over-sharer. I know, understatement of the year. But many of the moments involving T that crack me up, or teach me something, or drive me up the wall are starting to seem like his stories. He should get to choose to share them or not. He isn’t going to disappear from the blog altogether, but I’m going to do something very hard for me and try to have some actual discretion when it comes to him.

At the beginning of November I told T we would work towards me dropping him off at school in the morning rather than coming in with him to get him settled. His teacher said he was ready. He panicked.

We decided we would take the month to slowly get used to the big step and have him ready by December. December came and I was no closer to dropping him off. Even though it meant C was late to school every day. Even though T’s teacher said he was ready. Even though I knew deep down that T was ready. Because it turns out I was not ready. I like walking him into the building and having the opportunity to check in with his teacher. I like feeling involved with his school life. I don’t want to let my boy go. When I think of dropping him off outside…it is another 10 minutes of his day that I’ve lost. I feel left behind.

I feel left behind. And when I realized that it became very clear that it was time to make the drop off happen. I can’t keep him close because it hurts me too much to let him go. It would be a different story if he needed me for a while longer, but he doesn’t. I’m holding him back. My job is to let him go. It is the best job I’ll ever have. And the hardest. I cannot tie my happiness to him. It isn’t fair to either of us.

It might seem early to start worrying about letting him go, but if I don’t start now it will be impossible when he is grown. If the idea of letting the kid walk to the door of his school, without crossing a street, with me watching him the whole time is tearing my heart out how is going to feel when he is ready to go to college? I need to get used to him growing up and away and into himself. Because it will happen in a million tiny steps between now and when he is a man.

So we started the work on Tuesday. I told him he needed to get his stuff settled without me, but I’d stand nearby. It didn’t work. He told me he couldn’t do it and begged for help. We talked more about it Tuesday night. He did better on Wednesday. I thought we would struggle for a few more weeks, but this morning he was all “easy-peasy lemon squeezy”!

He didn’t struggle this morning. I did.

skinny jeans

I mean, look at him! He is an honest to god kid!

floris hoodie

Hamming it up in a hoodie I wore to kindergarten at Floris Elementary a million years ago.

inside the lego table

Brothers in the lego table. Not allowed anymore. Because it is now falling apart, probably because the boys were sitting it in….

Better Parenting Through….Running?

“I’m not talking to you until Christmas!” T whined.

“Fantastic!” I snapped back.

“Mooooooooom. Why can’t I bring three lego guys to school?”

“Nope. Nope. You said you weren’t talking to me. Why are you still talking?” I turned up Morning Edition to drown him out.

Not my finest moment. Not his finest moment either.

Most days are made up of way too many not-my-finest-moments. Every morning I promise myself I will try to be a better mother to the boys. It is hard to focus on the moments beyond the mistakes.

On Sunday I shared a magical morning with T. The boys watched as I ran my second 5K. Last year, three months after I started jogging, I ran the same race with disastrous results. This year I’m two weeks out from my first half marathon. I’ve followed a 16 week training program and have worked hard to be prepared for race day. Running the 5K again was a lark. While I am extremely slow, I’ve been running so many miles that 3.12, a distance I’d only achieved once or twice before last year’s race, didn’t make me blink.

I ran the whole thing with a goofy grin on my face. As the leaders looped back around before I’d even reached the one mile mark I clapped my hands and whooped for them. I wasn’t concerned about my snail’s pace at the back of the pack. My boys were at the finish line to give me hugs and kisses.

A couple of minutes later the four of us made our way back to the starting line for the 3K community fun run. My husband walked it with C and some friends. T wanted to run.

It was up to him how much we ran or how much we walked. He started strong, darting through the crowds. I laughed as my much less nimble body chased after his. Just a few minutes in he looked at me, “Mom….Mom, my legs hurt.” “I know, baby. But I believe in you! Keep going!”

His pace was all over the place, but most of the time he ran. About halfway through there was a water station and I asked if he wanted do grab some. He shook his head and told me he didn’t want to stop. The effort was on his face, this race was hard for him but he wasn’t giving up.

Near the end he struggled, “I think I’m going to die!” he gasped. “It feels that way, doesn’t it? But I don’t think you are going to die today.”

He was exhausted and proud when we crossed the finish line. We made our way to the sideline to wait for Z and C. I could not get the grin off of my face.

T walked a little bit during the race, probably less than half a K. He is 5 years old and he really surprised me. Not just because he ran farther than I thought he could, but because watching him muscle his way through the distance was just like watching myself.

How many times have my legs hurt since I started running on a whim last July? How many time have I seriously thought I was going to die if I kept going? How many times have I skipped a water break because I knew if I stopped I’d never start again?

Today I am strong and confident. I don’t care that I’m slow, I am very steady.  I am a positive example for my sons. T can see my confidence. He wants to be like me. My running has the potential to inspire him and his brother to be active. He sees me setting goals that feel impossible and then he watches as I work to achieve them. He thinks running is cool. Because I run.

I have an anxiety disorder and self image problems. I don’t wear the confidence with ease quite yet. That doesn’t matter. It is getting stronger as I get stronger.

Did T tell me he didn’t want to talk to me until Christmas less than 24 hours later? He did. Was my response an immature and bad example? Yup. Every moment isn’t going to be one of parenting excellence. I’m still proud of the two of us for trying hard things. And for doing them together.

boys ready to race

C and T ready to race!

t and k post race

After the 3K.

t and k post 5k

Photo credit: Kevin Rivoil

T and I made the paper!

Moments of Engagement

When I find out a couple is splitting up I panic. Being married is like being in a club. Marriage can be awesome, but it is also constant work and sometimes it really sucks. When someone else’s marriage ends, even if that person is a stranger or a celebrity it is frightening. If that person can’t make it, how will Z and I? Marriage is the hardest and the best thing I’ve ever done. But there is strength in numbers. Because the knowledge that it could suddenly go south looms large.

When someone loses their battle with mental illness it feels the same way. When a talented, beloved, financially secure, success loses his battle with mental illness it is debilitating. A week and a half later and he is still in my thoughts for much of the day.The pain that his wife and children and close friends are in is so overwhelming it nauseates me. I mourn him. He was a  stranger, but I also welcomed into my home regularly through the television. He never knew me. I mistakenly thought I knew him.

I didn’t know him, but I know his disease intimately. I understand the hopelessness that led to his decision. The fog so dense it physically weighs you down, the agony of moving through another day, the feeling of utter uselessness, knowing with clarity that your loved ones would be infinitely better off without you as a weight around their neck.

The chance for another episode of severe depression is greater for me compared to the general population because of my history. I look at my sons, my reasons for working so hard to be well, and I know if I became depressed again there wouldn’t be a damn thing I could do to prevent it. Manage it, yes. I am lucky enough to have a deep support system. But I cannot control my mental illness. I cannot will it away with sheer force or moxie or by pulling myself up by those bootstraps. More than 20 years with an anxiety disorder has taught me that much.

I am not depressed right now, but this news has settled over me like a heavy blanket, making it harder to take a deep breath, or engage in the word that feels fuzzy and just out of my reach. My constant companion, my anxiety has been more present. I worry. I worry about him, about where he is now, about if our souls go on, about what, if anything, comes after life. I worry about me, about my friends who suffer from mental illness, about my family who puts up with so much to help guide me through this life, about my still innocent sons who don’t understand mental illness, who shouldn’t have to understand it for a long time, but who will become very familiar with because of me. I feel guilt for the burden I am.

There have been moments of engagement over the last week and a half. I am holding on tightly to them. They aren’t always what I expect will snap me out of the darkness I feel.

Saturday morning I was dressing when C started screaming and crying downstairs. I knew he was probably ok, but the small part of me that imagined blood and destruction won out. I pelted down the stairs naked from the waist down and as I ran past the front door with the windows along its side I felt pretty damn sure no one would be ringing the bell at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. C was fine. Pissed at his brother, but fine. As I walked away from the boys the doorbell rang. The utter absurdity of the situation shook me out of my stupor.

The adrenaline rush of being stung by a bee just as I was finishing a particularly good run strangely made me feel joy.

The panic surrounding C when he pooped in his underwear while we were at friends’ for a cook out frustrated the hell out of me, but engaged me fully.

Reading the first chapter of the first Harry Potter book to T and watching his delight as he used his imagination to see what I was reading filled me with pure happiness.

My sweet, wonderful, hard working, speech delayed C looked up at me this morning as he said, “You go run?” His talking is enough to help me shake off the cloud of unease, but his recognition that running is part of who I am (after a life on non-exercise) made me proud.

So I hold on to those moments. I will mourn an extraordinary life lost as long as I need to. My lack of faith in religion will not stop me from hypocritically praying that the depression will never reoccur in my life. I get up every morning for my boys. I dress them and feed them and sometime even manage to take them to the zoo. They need me. And they motivate me to fight against the anxiety and the threat of depression. By needing me they have given me a priceless gift. The reason to live my life instead of hiding from it.

leonard men beach 2012

These three guys. I want to be my best for each one of them.

ice cream mess

A moment of delight from several weeks ago. He even managed to get ice cream in his eye. What a nut.

t jumps off diving board

One of the best moments of our vacation. It was so hard for my guy, who is anxious himself, to screw up the courage to jump.