Thursday, August 28, 2008

Time Out Wonderland

The other day I got a very long, apparently thoughtful comment from an anonymous stranger, self-reportedly a fellow psychologist, concerned about my mental health. Because my first instinct is to generally give people the benefit of the doubt, at least until evidence points me otherwise, I worked very hard at being non-defensive (because: I'm a psychologist, people; we're not the type to believe there is any shame in experiencing emotional struggles. Everyone does, at one point or another during life.) and in considering this comment nothing but empathic and well-intentioned. The commenter even expressed, more than once, kind sentiments regarding my value as a person and her hopes that the stresses in my life settle down soon. Clearly, her writing was supportive and helpful.

Only I'm not so sure.

Is it truly supportive and helpful to, on the basis of ten months of blog posts (I began writing for MotherVerse in October, 2007, when the reader said she first discovered me), diagnose someone you don't know and have never met with four years of untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Is it kind and empathic to inform me that I do not like being a mom ("and that's OK!"), that I've probably never liked being a mom ("the problem was exacerbated further since the birth of your second daughter") and that my toddler misbehaves because she knows I don't want to spend time with her? Really? That's what you'd say to a stay-at-home mom client in the early years of baby parenting? Really?

Huh. 'Cause I was thinking more along the lines of recognizing that hating nonstop toddler screaming is a normal reaction, not a DSM-IV diagnosis. That having a tough summer due to UNBELIEVABLY TERRIBLE TWOS and a ridiculously stressful and unexpected series of events at one's unfortunate volunteer job does not mean one has been miserable since having one's first baby four years ago and that one truly wishes to be a career woman rather than a SAHM. (Read the archives a little more deeply. Find a copy of the Summer issue of MotherWords, and read my published essay entitled, "Confessions of a Contented Mom," written approximately one year ago.) That disliking nightly hour-long screaming fits at bedtime and daily screaming fits at naptime does not mean one does not like being a mom. I was thinking more along the lines of this kind of knowledgable, empathic reaction. Or of this blog comment (scroll down), the one by kind and astute Squab.

I have a problem with assuming that the solution to a challenging toddler stage is medicating the mama. Don't get me wrong; I totally respect the need for psychotropic medications as appropriate. I've been on them, during my long-past disaffected youth; most everyone I know has, too, at one point or another. I advise my clients on them. But I personally know that I don't need a prescription for Prozac; I need a baby who moves on from the nonstop tantrums, the sleep rebellion, the CONSTANT SCREAMING. I also need my free time back; in the past five weeks, most of my precious down-time--the hours I used to fill with self-nourishing activities such as reading, writing, running, and indulgent cable TV--has been suddenly and unavoidably eaten up by unexpected needs at a volunteer job I didn't know would turn into a giant time-drain.

All of this armchair-diagnosing, this "mama is depressed because she's oppressed and thwarted in her true desires to experience career adulation," this "mama is miserable and her children can tell she doesn't like them and that's why they cry at night," this "you need therapy or medication" business, has a strangely anti-woman air about it. I'm not really feeling the love and support; I'm actually feeling some crazy-off-the-wall criticism. (The idea that I have ANY DESIRE WHATSOEVER to resume my career--at present, anyway--is so incredibly inaccurate as to trigger a chuckle from anyone who truly knows me. As is the idea that my sixty-something, partially disabled, raising-three-grandchildren parents are in any position to help me more with my children.)

I completely, 100% realize that I ask for this kind of thing when I author a personal blog, so I take responsibility for that. My blog IS my therapy, like it or not (you're totally welcome to not like it; I don't care one bit if you read here or not). It's annoying, negative, and complaint-filled at times; for the past 6-8 months, perhaps most of the time. But that's how I write myself better; that's how I move on and fill the rest of my hours with sunny walks, art projects, sidewalk chalk. It's not an ideal set-up; it's not an ideal life. I'll be the first to admit that this summer has been HELLA CHALLENGING for me. But honestly: being sad about zero free time, screaming babes, and a tight budget is pretty normal. And if I were in session with a harried, exhausted, young mom, THAT'S what I'd say.

I'd also say that we should ALL feel sad about world events over which we "have no control." THAT'S not clinical depression; that's a discouraged Democrat, waiting for Obama salvation.

I've been considering, off and on recently, closing down Mama in Wonderland. This recent comment makes me feel even more that I should. I don't mind my babes growing older and reading that their nonstop screaming drove me to fantasize about a playdate with myself and a bottle of wine; I hope they do read that, and know, when they themselves are new, overwhelmed mamas, that they're not the only ones to feel that way. What I don't want them to read is that their mama dislikes being their mama, that she doesn't want to be around them, that as babies they knew this and cried. It might be time to shut the doors.

No matter what I decide, I will continue to receive notice of comments via my e-mail, so I will know if any readers leave a message here for me. Please do, if you'd like. I have made so many wonderful, genuinely supportive friends via this blog---friends who have been my saving grace during these baby years. I will always, always be grateful for that, and continue to read their blogs. THANK YOU. You know who you are.


[Edited to add: a million thanks to good friend Donna, who actually called me from Hawaii this afternoon to express her support after reading this post. Once again proving that true friends--real-life or virtual--don't roll their eyes and think, "GOD. More complaints?!" when they hear about one's struggles, but instead say, "Been there, sister; you're doing fine. Hang in."]

I Made It Through the Rain

I got a good laugh earlier today, when I discovered that my alarmingly low readership of late, calculated by Google Analytics, was an error caused by accidentally being logged in under my husband's blog name (sorry, honey). Turns out my reader numbers are exactly the same as always, even increasing incrementally as usual, despite my summer o' negativity. Please, I beg you, Anonymous Reader Psychologist (and anyone else who feels the same), do not read this site if it is so painful for you. I do not want to knowingly be responsible for introducing further pain into this world. I do, however, have a few gentle thoughts about your recent comment, which I will write up in the near future. I just have not had time yet, as yesterday I spent the entire day (literally) on the phone doing preschool volunteer work, after which I left the house for an out-of-town, all-evening appointment. Luckily I had lots of time to muse on such issues as mamahood, feminism, SAHM-hood specifically, the existence (or not) of a higher power, and all the blessings of life during my long drive home at 9 p.m., during which a freak heavy thunderstorm literally threatened to run me (and everyone else out driving on the dark and curvy highway) off the road, in the worst driving conditions I have ever experienced, even considering a childhood in the far northern plains where blizzards and white-out conditions are as common as sliced bread.

I made it home 40 minutes late, hugged my husband, alternately admired and mourned my new haircut, cursed ever agreeing to be a volunteer, and went to sleep conflicted about my low blog-reader numbers (not really! just kidding about that last part! truly!). Then I woke up and found out it's my spouse whose blog is so shamefully neglected by the broad masses. Whew!

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Last night I got my very long hair cut all the way up to my shoulders. WOW, it feels short. I'm not sure I don't regret it just a little bit.

But don't worry--I'm not clinically depressed about it or anything.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I've Had It

I'm sad about this summer. During these last few golden sunny months, people I know have been diagnosed with cancer; have been burglarized and horribly sick; have faced unexpected surgery. China spent $220 million on a building to be used for 14 days of sports competition, in a world where babies die every day in poverty. Gas and grocery prices have increased astronomically. The health care crisis in this country continues to spiral out of control, spelling doom for my children's generation (truly, even for my own). My husband's second job will contractually end in December, and I can't see how we'll manage without that little extra income. I've lost a little bit of my faith in humankind, that people will do the right thing, through some particularly disappointing events at my preschool volunteer job. My nieces and nephew are poor, minority children with no father and with multiple medical and mental-health conditions. Economic disparity is everywhere I look; people buy brand-new McMansions that could house three families, not one, and waste water and fuel to maintain them, at a time when our world doesn't have water and fuel to waste. It's all a bit too depressing for me.

My readership and comments are way down, but I need you right now, Internets. Please tell me, quick: what makes YOU feel happy right now? what reminds you of the good in people? what rocks your world these days? I'm serious: tell me. I need to know.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Vacation Fade

I never did get to that relaxing on the patio thing I was talking about yesterday, because I got caught up in cooking and laundry and returning phone calls. Then I was up until after 11 last night doing the nursery school work I didn't get done earlier (no, not because I was sipping a Diet Coke on the patio, either, but because my girls were up until all hours and Genevieve has resumed her bedtime screaming fits, and, you know, there's so much hair-pulling-out and eye-rolling and heavy sighing to be done when all that gets going; who has time to get work done?). Overnight, Genevieve also resumed her several-times-a-night waking and crying pattern, which jolted me right back into my usual routine of getting no sleep. And then this morning she woke up at 6:30, Julia woke up at 7, Christopher deemed himself sick, and yet we all had to drive him to work. Right now Genevieve is refusing to nap, even though she is dead tired from a morning playground playdate, and is instead screaming in her crib.

I'm JUST A LITTLE TIRED. (Poor Julia: Mama's tired again already!)

It's tough, coming home from "vacation."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Photos to Melt Your Heart (And If They Don't, You're Dead Inside)

We arrived home from our summer trip yesterday around 4:30 in the afternoon. After the girls totally crashed out by 7:25 p.m., I stayed up way too late unpacking, doing laundry, cleaning up after the cat, making a grocery list for today, writing thank-you notes for Genevieve's birthday gifts, updating the girls' baby books/toddler journals, and catching up on my personal grooming. You know, actually BATHING and WASHING MY HAIR and re-doing my chipped toenail polish. Because strangely enough, I didn't seem to have time for good grooming while we were gone. You'd think I would have, but I didn't. I was up until after 11:30 last night waiting for my toenails to dry. Although we'd hoped Genevieve would continue her at-grandma-and-grandpa's-house trend of sleeping through the entire night and also not waking up until after 7 a.m., it was not to be, and the morning commenced with several toddler tantrums.

All of which is why, rather than following through on my original plan to get some preschool-volunteer work done during the girls' naptime today, or possibly--do I even remember how?--EXERCISING, I'm thinking something more like drinking a Diet Coke out on the patio in the sublime late-summer sunshine, reading a library book. While eating chocolate. And ignoring my to-do list.

Oh, and showing you this:

(Formal portraits of the girls, taken during our trip north;
Julia 4 years old, Genevieve 2 years.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Zoo Photos, and the Date Night Report

In front of the fancy old-school carousel at the Red River Zoo

Riding the carousel

In front of a sculpture of a bison, painted to look like a tiger. It's hard to explain.

Visiting the camels, with their depressing view of the interstate. Poor Virgil and Cecil!

The week at the grandparents' is drawing to a close, and we'll have some great memories when we drive away tomorrow. Yesterday we hit the small local zoo, which despite the sad photo above of the camels overlooking the freeway, was actually quite lovely and fun.

In the late afternoon, Christopher and I embarked on our grand date-night adventure, which turned out to be completely trauma-less for the girls, who didn't really care that we were leaving (OK, Genevieve whimpered a bit, but reportedly recovered within minutes of our goodbyes). Julia was focused only on what she assumed would be a night of extravagant fun with her grandma. Rumor had it that pizza, Jell-O, and Winnie-the-Pooh videos would be involved. Maybe some messy arts and crafts and Play-Doh projects. Possibly the chance to walk the puppy. Waffles for breakfast, and some kind of sweet treat for morning snack. You can see how all of that might outweigh any hesitancy about Mama and Daddy leaving the premises.

Word had it that in our absence, the girls fell asleep at bedtime earlier than they have all week, slept later in the morning than they normally do, and were little angels the whole time. Julia acted as interpreter for Genevieve, as we knew she would, translating to my mom when Genevieve unintelligibly asked for her blankie ("Ung!"), her PJ Bear ("Dubba-ya!"), her yellow gingham sheet ("Dewwo!"), and her lullaby ("Bye baby!"). Thank goodness for older siblings.

As for Christopher and me, we squeezed in dinner out, a movie, a late dessert, sleeping "late" (8:15 a.m. is late to us), and a couple iced coffees in the morning before returning to the house in mid-morning. My parents greeted us with surprise, reminding us that the hotel check-out wasn't until 11, so they didn't expect us home until noon or so, prompting me to think to myself that had I known that no one cared if we came back in the morning or the afternoon, I would certainly have stayed away until the last possible minute. The upside of waiting more than four years for your first night away from your babies is that by the time you finally have one, you're so desperate for a break from parenting that it doesn't really bother you to be gone from them. You're just focused on the INCREDIBLE FREEDOM. THE INCREDIBLE, INCREDIBLE FREEDOM.

Oh, for grandparents who lived nearby and could host overnight visits--or even just evening dates!--more often than once every four years. For now, though, thanks Mom and Dad. We are more grateful than you know!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sad But True Conversation

On a nearly daily basis, Julia asks me, "Mama, why are you always so TIRED?" This is usually after she's gotten up from her fairly brief nap, during which I have forsaken a catnap of my own for laundry, cooking, phone calls, housecleaning, and the lure of the laptop. At that time of day, we do something quiet while waiting for Genevieve to wake up. For me, that generally means "yawn repeatedly while attempting to read storybooks through half-closed eyelids." It's not pleasant.

It's true that I have always--my whole life--needed more sleep than many people I know. Since becoming a parent, I've probably gotten about half the solid sleep I truly need, when you factor in all the night-nursings and the overnight crying and the pre-dawn wake-ups and the babies who rarely napped well and thus didn't allow me enough time to get other necessary things done. I've been chronically exhausted for 4+ years, which thankfully isn't unique by any means, because knowing that other people recall entire decades of their parenting lives as ones defined by sleep deprivation is comforting, in its own sad way. But I don't think it's much comfort to my super-perceptive, ultra-sensitive older daughter.

Earlier today I was talking to Julia about tonight, when her daddy and I are going to go away for dinner and overnight, and her grandma and grandpa [although, let's just be truthful here: really just grandma] will be babysitting her and Genevieve. And how this is because Mama and Daddy need some good rest and some time away from taking care of little girls.

Julia was excited about the whole adventure: Nonna giving her dinner? Nonna doing bath? Nonna putting her to bed and making her breakfast in the morning? Nonna with fun things to do, and maybe even treats?!

Then she gasped, clapped her hands, and leaned toward me, wide-eyed and grinning, and said breathlessly, "Mama! And then tomorrow, you WON'T BE TIRED!"

She was truly excited, too. Like winning the most pathetic preschooler lottery ever.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dispatches From Up North

Genevieve's birthday party, Sunday

Julia on the train ride at the children's museum, Monday

Just to let you know I'm still alive, a few impressionistic notes about the goings-on during our visit up north this week to visit grandparents and cousins:

* It's a long, long, long drive from southern-Minnesota-college-town to northern-Minnesota-college town. Particularly when the kiddos think napping in the car is for wimps, but that complaining about being in the car that long is for, well, two- and four-year-olds who don't nap. That said, they did quite well, all things considered.

* Genevieve burst into tears at her birthday party, when the whole house began singing "Happy Birthday" to her. A fat slice of birthday cake dried her tears pretty quickly.

* It's hot up here--really hot--but even so, I've been able (twice!) to run a full 1-1/3 miles longer than I typically cover during my regular runs at home. That is because it is totally flat here. Flat = easy.

* My babes are loving their grandma's cooking. Butter = good. We all may return home a few pounds heavier, but our stomachs are happy.

* Never underestimate the power of a plastic bin full of unfamiliar kiddie puzzles, stashed at Nonna's house for visiting children, for placating a furious toddler. New toys = bliss.

* In one day: downtown coffee shop, library storytime, neighborhood walk, giant playground, visit to family friend's house, walk to park, climbing/sliding/digging/swinging at second playground, walk back to friend's house. End result? Dirty, tired, happy kids.

* Tomorrow we visit the Red River Zoo. Panda babies!

* Just when I--and everyone who knows me--thought I might lose my mind if I didn't get a break from full-time mamahood, my parents surprised Christopher and me with a belated anniversary present of a hotel reservation, a gift card to a local restaurant, and their babysitting services for one ENTIRE NIGHT. Tomorrow we will spend our first night ever away from the girls. It goes without saying: BEST. PRESENT. EVER.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Heading North

Everyone knows that, when you're a parent (especially a mom, and especially ESPECIALLY a stay-at-home-mom) of very young children, there's no such thing as a family vacation; there is only a "trip," which involves doing all the work you normally do on a daily basis, only in different surroundings and with children who probably won't sleep while you're there. If one more person tells me to go and "enjoy [my] vacation!" or "have a relaxing trip!" or "have a nice break!", I will personally kidnap that person, take him or her along with me up north tomorrow, and force him or her to take over all my childcare-and-family-management duties for the next week while I go to the movies, sip iced coffee on cafe patios, and read novels.

That said, I am glad that my family's summer trip to visit the relatives is back on, after a marathon week of last-minute job-hire wrangling and nonstop chaos control--if only because my girls deserve to see their grandparents for more than a day and a half at a time every few months, and because my spouse and I deserve at least one evening of (free) babysitting every two to four years.

Sometimes the bare facts of my extended-family-less life depress me to no end.

It's been a tough, stressful summer, which makes me really sad because I had high hopes for it--these glorious months of being able to go outdoors every single day, no boots and snowpants, no cheek-chapping windchill. We have had fun, of course, and I'm grateful for every park-and-friend-filled morning, every day we colored with sidewalk chalk and took stroller walks for 90 sunny minutes at a time. But the many challenges and tantrums and isolated daytime moments of no help and no company have taken their toll, and now all I really want is to not be the mom for awhile. Put my feet up and let the babies run wild while someone else worries about it. Get away for an entire afternoon. You know.

I'm heading north. Pray for me that the babes sleep while we're there. And that our pediatrician was right when she said this morning, "Genevieve will start learning to listen to you soon. Little by little you'll be able to reason with her a bit more; she'll communicate better and won't feel the need to scream bloody murder about every little happening in her world. And it will get easier."

Maybe there IS hope. Tonight at bedtime, after all, Genevieve came back in the room after refusing to kiss and hug me goodnight, in order to stand in the doorway with a smile on her face and say, "Duh woo. Dood dight, Mama." (Love you. Goodnight, Mama.)

So maybe I'll survive after all--up north, down south, wherever we happen to be with our tired minds and our full hearts. Right?

The Truth About Turning Two

(Photo credit: Snarky Squab)

Happy birthday to Genevieve Rose, who turns two today and thus formally enters the stage she has already embraced for a good six months or more: that of showing the world just who's boss. And guess what? It's not the world. In case you were wondering. So just shut it, get me a fourth piece of bread and butter, and forget any notions you may have about dressing, changing, bathing, grooming, or kissing me.

Two years ago I went into labor with Genevieve at five p.m., but decided to wait eight hours before taking it seriously and facing the fact that my "scheduled" C-section (medically required, not elective, by the way) was not actually going to be scheduled. It all worked out fine, because I seem to grow babies who prefer to take days and days to be born; after eight hours of labor I was only dilated to one centimeter. Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, been through all that before. In the end Genevieve was pulled into this world by an OB surgeon at 3:27 a.m., while I FREAKED THE HELL OUT because even though I needed a C-section, the whole idea had always terrified me and the knowledge that my abdomen was being sliced open right then and there as I lay numb but awake in a glaringly bright operating room panicked me to no end.

Genevieve was worth the freaking out, and it probably goes without saying that she's worth the helpless frustration of spring and summer 2008, as she's rocketed through her tantrums like she's working her way down a toddler to-do list. Tantrum over diaper change. Check. Tantrum over getting teeth brushed. Check. Tantrum over getting dressed. Check. Tantrum over not being allowed to throw my bowl of cereal on the floor. Check. Random inexplicable tantrum. Check, check, check.

How can one baby be so maddening and so adorable at the same time (though not, as I've clarified previously, at the same moment)? Because we ADORE this baby; she brings all sorts of life and hilarity and personality to this house that we didn't have before. And yet: PUTTING HER MAMA THROUGH THE WRINGER EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Oh, and I've said it before: two-year-olds are still babies. Oh yes. They are.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Today is my anniversary. What am I doing? Racing around getting ready to drag my girls to the school with me this morning while I co-conduct a job interview. Yikes!

Happy 13th anniversary, honey! It's been a long, crazy road from St. Paul to Chicago and back (and beyond), but if we can just get up north this weekend and survive the road trip and the non-sleeping, I think we can get a certain grandma to babysit for a belated anniversary date. Just maybe.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rare Sighting

A rare sighting last weekend: Genevieve voluntarily allowing me to touch her. It lasted about ten seconds. (An equally rare sighting: MAMA IS ACTUALLY SMILING. I know!)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Not Funny at ALL.

Remember how I said yes to a volunteer job that I believed would involve a few hours a month of, say, typing meeting agendas and providing cookies for Family Fun Night, and then it suddenly turned into me being the person in charge of making sure the entire school stayed operational, with three weeks left until the start of the year? And how I then had a heart attack and died? Except I didn't really, but I almost wished that I would? Because that would be less stressful?

Some people have suggested I put things into perspective ("it's just preschool!"), refuse to stress about it, and let things work themselves out as they will. Those people probably don't quite understand what a co-op preschool really is--that it's the parents who operate the school, and if my fellow Board members and I don't solve this current problem, no one else will, and the school would literally have to eventually close down--but that's another topic. I've been thinking a lot lately about why this unexpected monstrosity of a volunteer job and its own brand of drama has been so incredibly stressful for me (other than the fact that--hello!--um, any normal person would be stressed).

The main reason is that I come to this current challenge from the most depleted and stressed parenting state I have ever experienced, and these days I therefore don't have the emotional or physical energy to tackle any challenge larger than an all-you-can-eat sundae bar. My experience parenting Genevieve these past six to eight months has largely been one of exhausted frustration, from all the tantrums and the screaming and the fussing and the nonstop defiance about every little thing. And the screaming; have I mentioned the screaming? (I present as evidence: today, after six weekend hours with Genevieve, Christopher put her down for nap, wiped his brow, rolled his eyes, and said to me, "I seriously do not know how you put up with it all day long. She is a FORCE OF NATURE. And NOT THE GOOD KIND. My God, the screaming!" My response: "All day, every day, buddy.")

It's kind of funny, because that state of rage and frustration that I experience on a daily basis, parenting Genevieve and her nonstop tantrums, is actually a reflection of exactly what Genevieve is experiencing herself, causing those very tantrums. Right? Funny, no? Only I don't mean funny in a ha-ha kind of way. I mean funny more like the middle of labor when you think to yourself, amidst the most searing pain you've ever known, Huh, funny how NONE of the tips they taught us in childbirth class for coping with the pain is helping even one iota! Clearly, despite all I've been told, I'm actually going to die right now, doing my special breathing and visualizing an ocean beach!

In other words, NOT FUNNY AT ALL.

I can dimly imagine how, were I not spending all day every day willing myself not to pull out my own hair and resisting the urge to run out the front door and down the street to escape the screaming, a development like this volunteer job from hell might seem, oh, shocking and challenging but manageable, rather than the kind of thing that might drive me to prescription pharmaceuticals and a major cocktail habit.

Because YOU try taking on anything larger than back-to-back episodes of What Not to Wear after five straight nine-hour days of nonstop toddler screaming.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Gorgeous. I Will Now Cry.

I can't watch this final ensemble routine from part 1 of the "So You Think You Can Dance" finale Wednesday night without tearing up.

Believe me: I hate reality TV, I have zero interest in "Dancing With the Stars" or "American Idol"; but I'm addicted to SYTYCD despite the fact that in the three seasons I have watched it, I have never successfully seen an entire episode uninterrupted, what with the babies and the nursings and the diapers and the stories and the lullabies and the crying and the endless bedtime calling. It's over now for this year (sob!), so if you're unfamiliar, you're out of luck until next summer (hint for the future: skip the horrifically painful audition broadcasts and wait until the real dancing begins with the top 20).

In the meantime, check out the modern number below, choreographed by the amazing Mia Michaels, and just SEE if you aren't in tears by the end. Or, wait--is that just me? Seeing as how I'm a vibrating ball of stress these days? That might be it. Or maybe it comes from watching the whole season and seeing these dancers--they're really just young kids--persevere and come this far; two of the dancers here are street dancers with zero formal training, and one of those comes from a family too poor to send him to dance classes when he was little (he went on to win the entire competition on Thursday night, including a grand prize of $250,000; talk about heartwarming). It's breathtaking to watch them perform such mind-bogglingly difficult choreography here like their whole hearts are in it--and all the cheering in the background, as if the audience just can't contain itself! so emotional!--to some of the most gorgeous string music I've ever heard.

OK, I'm also just a vibrating ball of stress these days; pretty much anything could make me cry this summer. Anyway!

One note: the quality isn't the greatest in these YouTube videos. It's so much more powerful in high-def on a larger screen. But it's still out of this world. Click below.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

It Takes a Village

This is the truth: a couple hours ago I typed that post title up there and then got busy cooking dinner and tending to children and checking the mail, and as I absently flipped through my new issue of Wondertime magazine, I happened to see an essay by writer Brett Paesel, in part about how tough it is to raise kids when you don't have that infamous "village" of family and neighbors nearby to help occasionally, and the sentence that jumped off the page at me just happened to read, "My village is a mom friend who lives 45 minutes away and is allergic to my cat."

I love Brett Paesel. She's my people.

I've been thinking a lot this summer about this whole idea of the village. I don't have a village. I have friends, sure. I have people who theoretically wish me well. But I really don't have anyone nearby who is reliably free enough--or related to me enough--to help me out with my girls on short notice if I'm at the absolute end of my rope or if I need to go to the dentist or shop for a mattress. I wrote a whole essay about it once, and got it published, and reading it now makes me feel nothing but sick and tired.

Awhile back I agreed to volunteer as the president of the board at Julia's nursery school for the upcoming school year, having been assured it would involve a minimal investment of time and a totally manageable group of activities. I hesitated and hemmed and hawed and pointed out that I didn't have it in me--that my household didn't have it in us--to take on anything overly time-consuming or overwhelming, that my husband had recently committed to a long-term second job and I wasn't free for multiple evening obligations. But in the end I took it on, because everyone said, It's FINE, it's NO BIG DEAL, it's REALLY NOTHING MUCH. Are you sensing the extreme foreshadowing here?

A week and a half ago the director of Julia's nursery school unexpectedly submitted her resignation. With one month until the beginning of a new school year. The board is the entity responsible for finding, hiring, and installing a new director. The president is the head of the board. Why no, actually, I don't have a human resources background! Funny you should ask! I know; you'd think I might need one now, wouldn't you? And yet: do not have one.

And that's all I'm going to say about that little situation. But what I will say is this: when you don't have a village, even normal daily life with a difficult toddler and an ultra-sensitive preschooler will burn you out completely, and then when something unexpected arises you will find the wheels rapidly falling off the bus of your own personal well-being.

Do you have a village? Do you know how lucky you are?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A Few Things You Should Know

My new bed is working out just dandily. I mean, I'm in complete and total love with it. The second we exchanged the first mattress for the firmer model, heavenly choirs sang and my life fell into balance. Actually, none of that happened, but it sure is comfortable. I still have insomnia, but only, like, one-third of the time instead of all of the time. I sleep way, way better on this bed than on our tiny double with the cheapie mattress. And the enormous size is FANTASTIC. It's worth every penny. There's just something about climbing up and into a bed the size of a yacht that makes a tired mama smile and go, Ahhhhh. Which doesn't happen a whole lot of the time otherwise. Plus Julia loves to crawl up in there with me, lounge, and read magazines, which is adorable. Oh, and also? I flipped over the reversible comforter and discovered that I love the spring-green/white/blue plaid even better than I loved the tiny blue seersucker stripe on the other side. It's so summery and fresh. It makes me happy every time I walk past the bedroom door.


Julia has not worn anything but a skirt or a dress since the last day of school. She picks her own clothes out each night after her bath, and only the girliest ensembles (read: skirt or dress) make the cut. She generally adds her hand-strung plastic bead necklace and bracelet from the jewelry kit she got from our lovely friends for her birthday, even though they are sticky with multiple layers of sunscreen and bug spray, and lately she adds a purple elastic bow-trimmed headband that really belongs to Genevieve, pushed and prodded into and over her hair in her own haphazard manner such that she resembles a 1920s flapper girl. Need I add that matching her clothes and accessories to one another is not high on her priority list? If you try to say something like, "Honey, we're going on a new playdate today, why don't you pick a pink or white shirt to go with that pink-flowered skirt rather than the bright red shirt?", she will counter with, "NO, because the red shirt has PUFFY SLEEVES, therefore it is FANCIER." OK, she doesn't say "therefore." But she's thinking it.


Julia is taking one-on-one swim lessons this week, a half hour each morning in the heated backyard pool of some enterprising lifeguard-certified teenagers in our neighborhood. (We live in a rich neighborhood. We are not rich. Everyone else is.) The instructor is great; Julia's in love with her because she's a teenager who wears nail polish. It's a good thing, too, because Julia is NOT in love with water. Or swimming. This is the kind of conversation you might overhear while watching the swim lesson:

Instructor: OK, how about this time we jump off the edge and go down far enough to get your HEAD wet!
Julia (looking scared to death): No thank you.
Instructor: Do you want to do one more time just up to your shoulders, and then one time with your whole head?
Julia: The shoulders is fun.
Instructor: OK, we'll do up to your shoulders again, and THEN your whole head! You can do it!
Julia: I think just the shoulders is best.

The poignant part is how her arguing has a sad little tone of terror to it. Like she's working really, really hard to think of something--anything!--to say that will convince the teacher that dunking her head isn't a good idea.


Genevieve has stopped her hour-long screaming fits at every naptime and bedtime. There, I said it. The universe is now busy orchestrating the reintroduction of hour-long screaming fits at naptime and bedtime. But I thought you should know.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


A funny thing happened to me late yesterday afternoon. When I went to get the mail, I noticed a large manilla envelope addressed to me, with a return address I didn't recognize. Inside the envelope was the current issue of Motherwords, a glossy parenting magazine based in New England, a writer's contract for me to sign, and a little check. It took me a moment to realize that the contract paperwork was bookmarking a magazine page with my byline on it. Only then did I call up the vaguest recollection of submitting a piece of writing to this new magazine over a year ago. I had forgotten all about it.

Hilariously, my essay is titled "Confessions of a Contented Mom." (Because don't I seem so contented these days?) It was written a year and a half or so ago, though, remember---when I apparently was a lot more contented than I am now, ha! No, really, the topic of the essay is how I have no desire to return to (outside the home, paid) work, and even though lately my stay-at-home-mom job has been more stressful and less joyful than it was, say, before Genevieve learned how to throw a righteous tantrum and before she began screaming for an hour at bedtime every night, my preference for being a stay-at-home-mom rather than an office-job-mom is unchanged. I still feel that way, even though I'm a beleaguered, depleted, stress-case mom right now.

Unfortunately, Motherwords doesn't have an online version of each issue, so I can't link to the essay itself. But here's the Motherwords site if you're interested in what they're about, anyway.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday Update

I considered being a good little grown-up today and posting a Gratitude Friday essay, enthusiastically adjusting my attitude to Positive and cheerfully noting all the reasons why my life is full of blessings. (Which, OBVIOUSLY, it is. So let's move on.) Then I realized, like it or not, that's just not me. If I started spouting all sorts of treacle about how I'm THRILLED to devote my summer evenings to long, hot, volunteer-job meetings and I DON'T MIND AT ALL that my family's summer trip is in question, even though the visit to the grandparents' was planned in part for the purpose of celebrating Genevieve's birthday, you'd be smart to wonder if I'd been abducted by aliens and had some sort of insanity chip implanted in my brain.

I'm not thrilled. I mind a whole lot.

This week, my girls have watched too much TV. (Please don't try to argue with me. It is too much. I don't approve of it. I just don't have the energy to do anything else with them.) I have served my family too many convenience-food dinners. (I believe in home-cooked meals. I just do. But--guess what? Home-cooked meals require time, energy, and advance planning.) I have slept too little and haven't exercised at all. I have ingested far too much coffee, chocolate, and ice cream, because I continue to hold out false hope that those things will make me feel better--less tired, more cheery and energetic, capable of maintaining a positive attitude. It's been really, really hot and humid, so we have mostly stayed inside. The girls' naps have been short or nonexistent. This has meant that my own down-time has been short or nonexistent as well. It hasn't been a very fun week.

There you have it. Sorry for the lack of gratitude. It doesn't exist for me right now. I hope everyone out there has a good weekend and I'll talk to you all later.