But I Can Imagine Life Without Her

There’s this thing we do with unexpected blessings. We say, “Now, I bet you just can’t imagine life without her!”

But I can imagine life without her.

In that life I’m a more robust partner to my spouse. He doesn’t have to watch out to save me from despair. I don’t have to be relentlessly vigilant against the resentment that builds between partners as logistics take the place of deeper connections. In that life I can be left alone at home with the kids. Instead, we have a family rule that I can’t be left alone with the baby, or the baby and Boy Woww—the two youngest—because I’m likely to be lying on the floor catatonic when my husband returns, having tried to make dinner but instead been destroyed by whining, tugging at my clothing, screaming, and gnashing of teeth.

There’s a dark side to maternal mental health that we wash over with things like “But they just grow up so fast and in the blink of an eye they’re gone,” and, “Life just wouldn’t be the same without them.”

And we put things into extremes: either you’re a selfish mother who aborts a baby, or you are stalwart and your life is better for your gentleness and morality.

None of it is true.

Or maybe all of it is true. I’m increasingly holding two opposite beliefs and reckoning with the fact that both are true.

I would be the selfish mother to abort a fourth baby. It would destroy me, but I would do it to save myself, my marriage, and my family. Things I consider to be sacred. But at the same time, I chose life with this baby, and I wouldn’t wish her away even for a hillside full of horses and a kitchen overflowing with bacon and ginger.

I want her. She took my heart of stone and cracked it open. She was made in God’s image and her life is precious.

Being a mother defines who I am. I feel a deep sadness imagining a life with my spouse without children. But that doesn’t mean that motherhood hasn’t almost broken me.

We make hard decisions. We make mistakes. We try to survive. We have to stop pitting one group of women against another, when it’s all true. Given the right circumstances, we are always the other whom me judge.

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When Does Postpartum Depression End…

…and depression begin?

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That’s a great question I’ve been wondering and also getting asked.

In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you can back slowly away from the cliff and start living more like yourself again.

I really thought I had fall bagged. Summer played an endless set of danceable pop right up until the day school started.

None of the kids were in school or camps or daycare for the summer, so we plowed that money into getting nanny coverage for 40 hours a week. I worked two days a week, and planned adventures with the kids for the rest.

We went everywhere.

The Columbia River Gorge, Hood River, the Wilson River, the Zigzag River, the Kilchis River, Tillamook, Pacific City, Lincoln City, Depot Bay, Dufur, Grass Valley, Neskowin, Astoria, Rainier, Mt. Angel, Seattle, Lopez Island, Sauvie Island.

But the baby.

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She’s the reason we need nanny help. The boys are two years apart: 8 and 6. I like being out with them. They can do short hikes, they can camp, they love being outside. They can speak in sentences and ask for things they need. They can be near water without throwing themselves into the current, they can see roads and not run into traffic, they can be in port-o-potties and not touch everything.

But the baby.

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Toddlers are cute, and this toddler is off-the-charts.

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But cuteness doesn’t help me get a good night’s sleep in a tent, and cuteness does not give me 30 minutes to sit and enjoy the beauty of the place I’m in.

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So one day a week, or two, the baby and a nanny came along with us. And the Fairy Pig loved to be out, roaming farther afield than our neighborhood park.

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But the other days the boys and I had this corner of northwest Oregon all to ourselves.

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We may not have seen you over the summer. And that’s because when I’m out with the boys, I like it to be just us.

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It’s simpler. My brain can focus on the logistics of just three people.

I like it when it’s the three of us. I feel like a good parent.

When we were at the Tillamook Forest Center eating breakfast on their suspension bridge this summer, K-Pants said, “I think we’re the luckiest kids in the world.”

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Boy Woww said the same thing when he was jumping in the waves at Sunset Beach.

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Those are the moments I live for, when I feel like I’m giving them more than just manners; I’m showing them the beautiful things in the world and making them want more.

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I want more.

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For me, life is a series of explorations anchored by home.

I thought that summer had charged up my internal battery to at least 50%, plenty to make it through fall. And then we would tackle winter with skis and snowshoes.

But the first week of school the Columbia River Gorge was burning and the smoke created a beautiful, lung-burning haze that filtered the light into an ethereal thickness but left me with headaches and house-bound. (See photos by my friend Tamara here.)

A lot of Oregon burned this summer. In Portland, we didn’t pay much attention until our hair became flecked with ash and our most beloved hiking trails were mostly destroyed. By some kids with fireworks. But that’s their cross to carry now.

Then Boy Woww got strep throat, and we settled into the mundane non-routine of school and sickness and sports. We wait for the rain, and we wait for charred-out roads to reopen. And surely we’ll wait for them to reopen again, when downpours bring mudslides to unmoored hillsides.

That’s how I feel. Like I’m calculating if there are enough roots left to hold the hillside in place. The ground is sliding.

So is it depression or postpartum depression?

I figured postpartum depression ended at two, when, by all reports, your hormones and brain go back to the way they were before you were pregnant. This summer was a solid touchpoint for that.

It was glorious.

But here I am. And there I was, sitting in my therapist’s office, feeling the most fragile I have in recent memory.

She reminded me that before I got pregnant with the baby, I was evening out and excited about where our family was going and the freedom we were starting to feel from growing out of the baby and toddler phase. We talked about the fact that my hopelessness comes when I’m alone with the baby, or when I feel like the demands of parenting small people are going to steal the last of my adult mind.

My friend Anne stayed with us for a few weeks at the end of summer, and it was a joy. One reason was that Anne balanced everything. Team Rational Brain had a third team member to even out the score against Team We Don’t Like What You Made for Dinner.

If it were just me and my husband and the boys, I really believe I would be faring much, much better. You never know. But indicators point that direction.

It’s pasta night. Team We Don’t Like What You Made for Dinner complains about flecks of green things in the sauce and not liking the sausage. They bring in their star player, the Fairy Pig, and she throws the pasta on the floor, spills her water, and then climbs onto the table lunging for another plate. When Anne was here, we could bring in our star player and she would open a jar of olives and pour a glass of wine. I even think, in overtime, we could have won.

But the balance is off again. My brain is off again.

The smoke is gone and I’m starting to exercise more. I’m figuring out the routine of my new work schedule. I’m going to sleep earlier. I’m going to acupuncture. I’m taking Epsom salt baths. I’m starting antidepressants.

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We’re still calling it postpartum depression because my symptoms tend to clear up like rain clouds when the baby things fall away. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. It only matters that I can get well and stay well.

 

Pride

A beautiful Pride Month is waning. I didn’t think I’d get to do much this year, but two small things are sticking with me.

Nancy Podcast

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Have you heard it? “From WNYC Studios, this is Nancy…” I freakin’ love this podcast. It’s new. You should binge. The Orlando episode for Pride Month, “Everything Changed,” is particularly poignant and Tobin and Kathy talk with an Evangelical preacher in Orlando. Find it here.

Trans/Portraits

Trans/Portraits

I realized a couple of years ago that if one of my kids were gay, nothing in my world would really change. They would simply be gay. But if one of them were trans, I would have a tough time. I got really fixated on “What if my child changed names and I needed to call them a new name, different from the beloved one we gave them?” and “What if we looked back on childhood photos and they all felt tainted by things we did lovingly, but were all wrong-gendered, or wrongly interpreted, or just plain wrong?” I felt sad. And overhwhelmed.

Honestly, I don’t know many trans people as friends, and not hearing authentic stories and experiences pushes things into a place of ideology and speculation rather than authenticity and understanding. The roadmap I invented in my head was riddled with barbed wire.

So the library kindly intervened and I came upon Trans/Portraits by Jackson Wright Shultz as I was headed to the kids’ section with the boys. I love it. Snapshots of all kinds of gender nonconforming lives–different ages, races, genders, sexualities. I love hearing stories. And these stories are worth hearing.

Find it at your library or buy it at my local, independent bookseller, here. 🙂

The Pants Is 8

This guy turned 8 this month with characteristic passion and intensity.

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The waters are rough.

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But worth sailing.

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On his birthday he said to me,

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“For two years it was only me.”

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“Do you wish you were an only child?” I asked.

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“Of course no,” he said.

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And that made me happy. Summer awaits.

 

And We All Fall Down

 

I checked in with K-Pants recently, about the love thing. You might remember that last year he was feeling like there wasn’t enough love for him.

We’ve had a lot of discussions about what kinds of things feel like love, and how I can make sure to show him love in a way that soaks in. I like to be intentional and specific with K-Pants, because what seems like a few hungry hours without food to me, is scurvy to him.

With K-Pants I think, Maybe if I fill an underground well full of love, then when storms rip branches from the trees above, we’ll still have that cool, protected reservoir for our relationship to drink from.

So…

I volunteer in his classroom. I walk him to school. Sometimes I meet him for lunch. I take him on adventures—to ride horses and climb K-Pants-sized mountains—because that’s where I shine, and that’s where he shines.

And a few weeks ago I checked in with him. I said, “K-Pants. Remember the love problem? Where you weren’t feeling enough love. How is that now?” “Good,” he said. “What about me getting mad?” I asked. “You don’t get mad anymore,” he said.

That’s not true.

I get mad on a regular basis. Some days I yell. But thinking about it, I yell less frequently and less like a wild banshee.

But then right after this, I ruined it. I’m not sure exactly what made me crack. I think it was weeks of afternoon exhaustion. Parenting K-Pants after school is a tension-filled dance.

  • Me: How was school? Did you do any Pokémon trades on the bus?
  • K-Pants: (aggravated) Why are you asking me that?
  • Boy Woww: Did you get a new Aloha Pokémon?
  • K-Pants: I’m not telling you, and you can’t see it.
  • Me: I think you’re hungry. There are a bunch of snacks in the bag back there.
  • K-Pants: I’m not hungry. And I don’t like these snacks.
  • Boy Woww: I made an artwork at school.
  • K-Pants: That’s so weird. It’s so totally weird.
  • Me: Let’s ignore K-Pants. He’s grumpy.
  • Boy Woww: [crying]

Even if you’re patient, watching one member of the family try to destroy the rest by sucking out the joy and the kindness leaves you ragged and overwhelmed. And you start to think maybe this kid is malicious.

I know he doesn’t want to be, but his habits are powerful, and his habits are destroying us. Really our habits—our collective interactions—are destroying us.

Later that night I screamed at him. And he said, “I HATE YOU!” And I said, “I DON’T CARE IF YOU HATE ME. I CARE IF YOU ARE RESPECTFUL AND KIND.” And he went downstairs. And then he yelled up, “I’M HUNGRY!” And I yelled, “THEN MAKE SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF!” And then I made him help me unpack the groceries (because after school I had taken Boy Woww to speech therapy, then K-Pants to baseball, then did the grocery shopping during practice, then arrived back to cheer him on during the scrimmage, then had K-Pants ask me for a fancy baseball backpack like the other kids have [answer: no]).

Then we went home, where I yelled at him like a crazy banshee. It had been building up for weeks, cracking the seams of the pressure cooker.

Then Boy Woww, the middle child, came upstairs and said, “Mom, what can I do to help?” It made me feel even worse, because he’s living into his role as the quiet peacemaker. And K-Pants is living into his role as the difficult one. And together we’re in this entangled Groundhog’s Day mess.

All this to say that this is how, on a beautiful Mother’s Day afternoon, when blue sky seemed to be momentarily winning the battle with the rain clouds, I found myself sitting in the car outside our parent coach’s house as K-Pants met with her. He loves her. We’ve just started this process.

Soon she’s going to be coming to our house to observe. Before that my husband and I will talk with her via Skype a few times, and do the homework she assigns, and try out new strategies (or try to be consistent with strategies we’ve tried in the past).

I really like the fact that we’re working on this problem as a whole family, because it’s not just a K-Pants problem. Our whole family seizes and constricts in predictable and not always productive ways when K-Pants melts down.

We’re all exhausted from it, and we’re looking for a change. Wish us luck.

15 Minutes of Hedonism with the Little Surrealist

You know Stefon, from SNL, Bill Hader’s anemic and weirdly lovable club rat? He would come on to the set of Weekend Update to make suggestions for tourists visiting New York… “New York’s hottest club is Scampi, illegally parked behind the Statue of Liberty.”

This is what I had in mind when I was jotting down the rules for a series of new tag games Boy Woww has invented for outside time at preschool. I got to participate in “Butterfly Tag” when I visited for lunch one day.

And then that evening as we hid out from the rain in our car while K-Pants was at baseball practice, Boy Woww told me the rules for the rest. At the time we were just finishing playing hide-and-seek, which, in a four-door sedan was pretty amusing. “You’re too big to move around in here, so I’ll hide,” he said. He tried to hide under my legs on the driver’s side. “Stop laughing,” he said as he crawled all over me to decide whether the spot would work. He decided against it.

Boy Woww sedan hide-and-seek age 5

Sedan hide-and-seek, to be followed by the dictation of preschool tag

So here are the rules for preschool’s hottest new tag games:

Candy Tag

The tagger is the butterfly. If you get tagged, then you turn into a candy, and then if somebody touches you, you get freed.

Cookie Tag

If somebody tags you, you turn into a cookie. You fall down. The mouse eats you. Then you become the mouse.

Butterfly Tag

Everyone is a caterpillar. The tagger is a bird. If the tagger touches you, you get caught. If you’re touched one time, you turn into a cocoon. After 11 seconds, you turn into a butterfly.