In the End, It Was Not the Summer of Postpartum Depression

I just finished cleaning the car from summer, taking out beach toys and swimsuits, dozens of granola bar wrappers and an air-dried Jack In The Box cheeseburger remnant. Now I’m prepping for muddy fields. I’m checking our umbrella count and fleece supplies. I’m washing the sand and caked-on peanut butter from picnic blankets.

One week ago we were here.

Oregon Coast Summer 2016. MomsicleBlog

I took this piece of sea glass from the ocean’s dance.

Sea glass on sand. MomsicleBlog

I’ve been rubbing it softly between my fingers, and it takes me right back to the cool air of the coast blowing in off the infinite sea.

I had been worried about summer. Summer could have been a fire lookout far out in the forest in need of repairs—timber beams creaking, a stair on every case rotted, nails coming loose from the freeze and thaw cycle of postpartum depression.

Instead we enacted my get-into-nature plan. We bolstered the lookout with steel and replaced the old nails and the softened steps. We had a nanny with us four days a week; we kept the car ready for the beach at a moment’s notice; we didn’t coordinate much, we just went.

And I made sure I was never alone at the top of the tower.

We headed out from base camp and toward water wherever we could find it within a two-hour radius.

In the Water Summer 2016. MomsicleBlog

We didn’t do a single camp.

Summer 2016. MomsicleBlog

I look at our checklist and feel proud.

Summer 2016 Checklist. MomsicleBlog

We captured summer and held it in our arms and rode on its back through the sand of what seemed like a thousand beaches.

Oregon Coast Summer 2016. MomsicleBlog

I want to draw our treasure map again and mark all its special spots. I want to go out with passion and purpose.

But it’s time to focus on fall and school and soccer. Autumn feels crisp and dead to me: Its smell makes me nauseous.

I have to change the way my senses respond—to look for how routine can ground and nourish us. Somewhere in me fall’s small ember burns. I have hope for early bedtimes and good books and hot baths and getting my body stretched out and my muscles strong. I have soccer practices to help run, I have freelance work that’s exciting and scary.

Summer wasn’t drowned by postpartum depression. It’s time to find oxygen to blow into fall.

Please Tell Us About Yourself

I recently applied for a grant. I never done that as an individual, and I have no idea whether I have a chance. A few years ago, I would have been more nervous, but these days I figure, What have I got to lose? Writing the application gave me the chance to bottle up a snapshot of right now.

The application started, “Please tell us about yourself….”  


From off my nightstand I pick up Rogue River Journal by John Daniel. I’m wearing a red cotton hat that, I say, wards off colds, and my mouth guard and some dental floss are nearby. I’m still steaming from a hot bath, and I’m frustrated that tonight—like most other nights—it’s an hour past when I wanted to be grasping at the hopeful threads of sleep. I’m beseeching John Daniel—a writer who takes my spasmodic pre-bed brain waves and presses them out with a steady, self-effacing hand—to soothe me and keep the maddening, mundane logistical dreams, that make me feel like I’ve lived all night, at bay.

Suddenly, my baby wakes up. From across the hall and one room over I hear her howling. Hers are the screams that were once sharpened on steel, and are now jagged and rusted on the edges as they rip my skin. She is one. Her nights are pierced by terrors regularly. I don’t know if they are nightmares or fitfulness, or if we’ll look back and simply say, “She’s always been a light sleeper.” But they are terrors to me. She throws a rock through night’s glass window. And as the shards hit the ground and break into smaller pieces, her cries remind me of how she took our timeline, dragged it back, and forced us to face her.

I am a writer.

It took a surprise third baby to etch it on my chest in calligraphic all-caps. In 2014, we had two full-contact boys—five and three at the time—who were beginning to show us their rational brains on a regular basis. “Let’s plan a road trip along the coast and up to Canada for next summer. Imagine the things we can do,” my husband and I said to each other. We were driving home from celebrating our anniversary—as a family—in Astoria, Oregon, a fishing town overshadowed by the churn of the miles-wide mouth of the Columbia River, the expanse of the Pacific, and the breathless industrial beauty of cargo ships in port.

A month later, in spite of an intrauterine contraceptive device with over 99% effectiveness, I was pregnant. Then we were told the pregnancy wasn’t viable and we needed to terminate. But this baby persevered. Her destiny is written in the stars, and she is here—a celestial guest, a reorganizer of plans. Instead of the road trip that was to culminate in Vancouver B.C. for the 2015 Women’s World Cup, where I would pitch and write articles about gender equity in women’s sports, we found ourselves in the throes of feedings and interrupted sleep. I could leave the house for three hours at most: she never took a bottle.

During the years before children, the years of thinking how something should go and then having it go that way, I pursued other things and shoehorned my writing into the handful of lives any millennial has had by age 35—an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a Teach for America position and a Masters in Education in Arizona, a year as founding academic dean of a charter school in Brooklyn, and a tenure as project manager for military families’ initiatives at Sesame Workshop in New York City.

When my oldest son—now seven—was one, my writing started to claw its way to the front of my show, shoving sleep and sanity and full-time work out of its way. I’m a storyteller, and I wrote stories and sent them to my friends, who encouraged me to share. My blog Momsicle: Something to Suck On is now six years old. It’s not crafts, or multilevel marketing, or a digital memory book for my family, or a place to promote Oreos and Disney. I don’t accept sponsorships. I feature amazing women doing amazing things—often non-parents. I dig deep into postpartum depression and the cruelties of raising a really intense child. Instead of featuring a first-birthday cake-smash, I highlighted a series of tragic and tender black-and-white photos in a post called “A Postpartum Depression Love Letter to My Feisty, Old-Soul Daughter on Her First Birthday.” Momsicle has a devoted tribe—parents and non-parents and parents of friends for whom children or life have not gone the way they’d planned. I write about death, depression, Christianity, and raising a boy who loves pink, a boy who lives in an imaginary world, and a girl who took our family like chess pieces and rearranged it all.

I’m interested in authenticity—the real things and raw things. And from this core have blossomed opportunities to write about other passions for bigger audiences: the third iteration of women’s professional soccer and its most passionate city, the gender inequity of ESPN, the radical love demanded by true Christianity, and an ongoing journey to replace the commercialism of Christmas with the gifts of time and tradition.

This god-baby took away my launching point, but she clarified for me that I can’t let my creative life lay fallow in sacrifice to story time and play dates. I have to write.


My friend Lauren (who is writing her memoir) sent me the grant application–it’s for writers and artists who have children, offered by a very cool organization called the Sustainable Arts Foundation. They grant awards twice a year.

“The name of our foundation is sometimes puzzling to folks. We’ve gotten our fair share of inquiries about art projects involving recycled materials. But the ‘sustainable’ in our title has to do with the importance of family and the passing of beliefs and ideals to one’s children. We created this foundation because we think it’s important for children to grow up with artists and writers as parents, to think that being creative is both a normal and necessary thing.”

They’re particularly looking for applicants of color.

“This holds doubly true among artists and writers of color. They have fewer role models, fewer works in the community and in museums, and fewer published books. Our hope is to promote extremely talented artists and writers of color so that they may serve as sustainable leaders both in their communities, but also — and just as importantly — in their own families.”

You should apply in 2017.

Summer Vacation, OR Let Me Give You the Impression I Don’t Yell at My Kids

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

I want these pictures of our family vacation in one place. My place. Where I can go and look when I need sun on my face.

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

And sweet summer in my soul.

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

We flew to North Carolina and rented a minivan and then pointed it toward our people.

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

Family people, and blogging people.

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

Soul sister people.

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

And we swam everywhere we could, which was nice because we used to be afraid of the water.

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

Not anymore.

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

We still have our bags of saltwater taffy and butterscotch.

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

We still have sand caked into our cellphone cases.

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

Miraculously, we’re still pretty relaxed.

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

I’m putting together this post to help take that feeling with me.

Southern Beauty Southern Humidity 2016. MomsicleBlog

Blog Birthday: We’re Turning 6!

I don’t usually celebrate the blog’s birthday unless it’s something remarkable. Six isn’t really remarkable, but there’s this photo that I forgot to put into A Postpartum Depression Love Letter to My Feisty, Old-Soul Daughter on Her First Birthday.

It's Time to Work. Thank You Fairy Pig. MomsicleBlog

She made me realize that in spite of the chance to be a full-time, stay-at-home parent for another five years, it is time for me write and work and create.

I’m nervous. But we’re already on our way. I’m doing freelance writing work that I love for Lonely Lane Farms and Vital Mamas. I have a project or two on the horizon for Sesame Workshop. I’m on the brink of starting an exciting collaboration with End Child Poverty CA. And I have a couple of articles for larger publications bouncing around in my head about the liberal church and maternal mental health.

It’s going to be a good year. Did I mention I’m nervous?

Thanks for sticking with me.

Happy 5th Birthday to the Guy with the Most Imaginary Friends

Boy Woww Turns 5. MomsicleBlogDo you remember Berry, Cherry, Pepper and his double-decker minivan, Pizza, Tootie Pig, and the bald-headed kids? Boy Woww is the ring leader of this rag-tag group of pretend friends.

Boy Woww Turns 5. MomsicleBlog

To them, he’s The Most Interesting Man in the World. And now this pajama-wearing, curly-headed dude is turning five.

Boy Woww Turns 5. MomsicleBlog

He still says, “MAHMMMM!” sometimes when I come into the room, like I’m a rockstar.

Boy Woww Turns 5. MomsicleBlog

He’s a fun little surrealist, who says that Pepper, when it’s your birthday, leaves your birthday number out in the world for you to find.

Boy Woww Turns 5. MomsicleBlog

Happy birthday, dude. Hope you find your “5.”

Boy Woww Turns 5. MomsicleBlog

The Minutia Behind Unstructured Summer Adventure Days

My friend Gretchen asked how exactly we make this get-to-the-beach-with-young-kids thing happen on a regular basis.

Beach With The Boys. MomsicleBlog

First, the backstory: I worry that K-Pants is going to be depressed or possibly is depressed. He says things like “I’m a terrible, stupid idiot,” or “I’m a terrible boy,” or that thing happened “because I’m so bad”—like when he can’t pick out sugar-cereal at the store, or a drawing doesn’t look just right.* And I keep reading everywhere that more nature equals less depression.

*I don’t want any advice about how to make this black-and-white thinking stop, but thank you for your very well-intentioned help I didn’t ask for. You might be thinking, “You say that, but I have to say something because the No Drama Discipline book changed everything for us.” I understand. I do the same thing to others. But I just don’t have the mental energy to take it in right now.

*

What sealed the deal on our no-camps, get-into-nature plan was that my friend Sara shared an article that suggested that the rise in depression in kids is partially due to the fact that they don’t have unstructured play time—time without an adult nearby who will intervene to make things fair or solve problems.** The argument went something like this: People feel depressed when they feel like they have no control over their lives, and modern kids always have an adult in control.

I don’t pay much attention to the newest research, but it happened that this study came into my life when I was feeling like my kid was going to be prone to some severe depression and anxiety, and that I didn’t want to add more appointments and activities to our life because the logistics of three kids was adding to my own postpartum depression.

Here we go talking about postpartum depression, again, and I am totally off track….

*What?!? You let this Sara chick share unsubstantiated research with you and you won’t let me transform your life with No Drama Discipline? You are totally right. I have double-standards, and Sara has privileges. I’m a mess.

*

….I’m stalling because it feels awkward to share strategy and tips. I try not to be a know-it-all on the blog. Momsicle’s tagline could be, I don’t know anything, but I’m still here.

Or Everything I’d planned went totally off-course.

Or Please don’t share your “expertise.”

{Segue here, or Segway, if you’d prefer a two-wheeled tour.}

Apocalypse Mobile. MomsicleBlog

In order to be ready for adventure, here’s what I keep in my car no matter the season (photo above):

  1. Plastic tub filled with extra clothes and shoes for me and the kids—some warm stuff like fleece jackets hats and scarves, and some lightweight stuff. I don’t check forecasts, so this is crucial.
  2. Plastic pull-out drawer filled with emergency supplies and snacks. This is the bin that gave our car the nickname, “the apocalypse mobile.” This bin may at any time include first aid, water bottles, twine, granola bars, extra tooth brushes, sunscreen, jerky, plastic forks and spoons, plastic bags large and small, extra cash. Who knows what we’ll run into?
  3. Giant sun umbrella. This was a $50 investment after we were at the beach with some cousins-of-cousins who owned the beach with a sun umbrella. Now I keep it with us all the time for sports events, fall-festival downpours, and the occasional snow picnic (below).
  4. Two picnic blankets—one that folds and zips up with a carry handle and is water-resistant, and one fleece one that also doubles as a kid-warmer.
  5. A pack of diapers and wipes.

Snow beach party. MomsicleBlog

Here’s what I prep the car with for summer:

  1. Swimsuits and beach towels and additional extra clothes, because we go through more changes of clothes when sand and water are involved.
  2. Beach toys. The usual stuff plus some old gardening equipment, yogurt containers, and a Neti pot. Weird stuff make good beach toys.
  3. A giant box of granola bars and extra water bottles. Making sure the gremlins are fed and watered at all times is critical—and let’s be real: I melt down from hanger just as much as they do. We like Nature Valley crunchy honey oat bars and whatever the cheapest box of Larabars is. I found the best prices this year from jet.com.
  4. Parks passes that allow us to have parking privileges for the season without stopping at a kiosk or waiting in a line.
  5. Sand sports games like koosh tennis and a giant soft Frisbee. These are new additions this year, and are mostly aspirational. I’m still trying to find the ideal sand-tennis partner.
  6. One or two fold-out camp chairs.

Here’s what I throw in the car the morning of:

  1. A squishable cooler with a bunch of cut-up fruit and protein (mango, blueberries, watermelon, sausage, pizza, chicken and rice, etc.).
  2. A bunch of water bottles (more than the number of people in the car).
  3. The biggest game-changer this year, with me being on my own with the baby and the boys (last year my husband had time off for paternity leave), is hiring a summer nanny to come with us each time we go. Below is Tris with the baby at Cape Lookout State Park. She took the Fairy Pig on a walk down the beach to get her to take a nap, but first she got excited about the rocks from Goonies. Without help, I would have been trying to figure out how to take the boys to the state-park bathroom while the baby screamed and crawled under the bathroom stalls and the boys freaked out about mosquitoes and I yelled, “GET OVER IT AND GO TO THE BATHROOM, NOWWWW!” No longer.

Here's Why We're Surviving. MomsicleBlog

Then we all get in the car.

I like to leave by 9 a.m., because every minute after 9 a.m. is like telling the entropy gods that we are easy bait they should destroy us. So I yell “GET IN THE CAR” a few times.

No He Doesn't Use This Seat. MomsicleBlog

I tell the boys they can have a granola bar when they’re buckled in. Boy Woww, the three-toed sloth, gets the phone for screen time until we start driving. Suddenly he’s very fast. I have no idea why K-Pants hasn’t figured out that this is wildly unfair, and I don’t care. Hopefully it will last.

We're There. MomsicleBlog

Here’s what happens when we get there:

  1. Everyone helps carry something (we do it all in one trip—that’s a must). [I just wanted to say “that’s a must,” because it sounds so blog-expert.]
  2. I get 15 minutes of set-up time when the kids can’t ask me questions or talk to me. I like to have the umbrella set up, the cooler under it, the picnic blankets out, and the bag with towels and clothes somewhere safe from getting splashed or sandy.

Then we chill out on the sand. The kids play and build stuff. They fight less at the beach. I shove food at them. When they do fight I tell them to figure it out—and it’s much easier for them to solve problems or get distracted at the beach than at home. I’m tired of solving their problems, and the beach is the place where they do it themselves, sort of.

Beach Problems. MomsicleBlog

Here’s what happens when we leave:

  1. An hour before we go I warn the boys, in the vain hope that they won’t melt down. But they always melt down when we leave. I don’t care anymore. Not caring has been a nice game-changer.
  2. I pack up our stuff while our nanny takes care of the baby and helps me if the baby isn’t too fussy. The boys don’t really have jobs at the end of the day. People look over and think, “Kids these days are so spoiled. Look at that mom! She’s picking up everything!” Once again, I don’t care. What do I have to prove? K-Pants and Boy Woww have been out in the sun all day without a rest or nap break and if you poke them just right they’ll turn into psychotic spawn of Satan. I would rather clean up and work on their entitlement issues another day.

Here’s what happens when we get home:

  1. The boys watch shows basically until bedtime. We stop to feed them leftovers. They do bedtime routine stuff. They melt down in blazing balls of fire.
  2. I unpack the cooler and refill it with clean cloth napkins, silverware, and plastic trash bags, so we’re ready.

It all sounds like a lot, I guess, but really all I need to do the day-of is pack the cooler and the water bottles. And I am so happy when we go to the water; and the boys are so happy; and the baby gets to explore instead of wandering the house looking for me like a forlorn puppy.

I will do anything to get to the beach.

And then all of the other days, when we’re not at the beach, I can look at the car and think “If we needed to have a beach party right now, we could.”

Beach Time. MomsicleBlog