Category Archives: Something to think about

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. 🙂

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.

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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.

There Is No Other Choice but to Dive into the Fire

It’s been a long time. I have so many posts to write. They roll around in my head like balls on the pool table, rarely meeting a pocket, careening around in a chaotic dance. My best friend (who is a writer) and I joke that writer’s block is not a problem we have. At this phase of life, with a thousand demands on our time from work and family, there’s barely a second to spare for purely personal writing.

But I gave myself permission this year not to meet my internal expectations. It’s working, but I miss the blog. And I miss you, my tribe.

During this quiet time I’ve been writing for clients and working on articles, and I’m going to start sharing some smaller blog-like posts and photos on the Momsicle Facebook page, much like after the Fairy Pig was born.

But part of the reason I’ve been absent is because after the election I’ve been consumed by thinking about and advocating for reproductive justice. I haven’t given myself permission to be real about that on the blog, and it’s effectively silenced everything. Any of you creative souls will know that self-silencing–not letting yourself be whole and real–creates a large internal disturbance that will not be contained for long.

So here I am. There’s still so much to write about the complexities of raising children behind the veneer of social media, and I don’t want that to go away. But I think that reproductive rights and equity has to become part of Momsicle, because even while I was pregnant with the Fairy Pig, my need to advocate for women got knit into the fabric of my makeup in a way that leaves it impossible for me to let it go.

And if you would like to join the conversation, I would love to have you. I would love to hear your stories. I would love to engage with you in thoughtful discussion. I would love to avoid towing the party line, and I am not interested in you towing the party line either—for whichever side you may be on. If you’re still game, and you haven’t signed up to get posts via email, I encourage you to do so (it’s on the top right in widescreen).

Here’s to 2017… in April. Expectations… I’m still lowering them.

Why I’m Lowering Expectations for Myself in 2017

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I did put on ski goggles for a night walk this year, so maybe this post is more about “creatively reworking” my action items. Photo courtesy of BC.

You know what? I did it. That thing where you meet the new year with renewed hope and a few semi-ambitious expectations. Okay, they were ambitious—and fueled by reading inspirational Medium posts laced with grit.

Medium is where the socially conscious, go-getters share their stuff:

The twentysomething software engineer who’s going to break through the barriers of low self-esteem, build her following to more than the thousands it already is, and master advanced pole-dancing moves.

The best-selling Amazon writer who decluttered his life, minimized social media, and quadrupled his writing output. He said it helped to move to Colombia, where persistent advertising wasn’t such a distraction.

Then there’s the dad of four who’s getting his Ph.D. in organizational psychology and promising to be more open about his writing process—sharing the tips for how one of his more recent posts got 150,000 views.

It’s all very “Hey friend with lots of potential, let me help you along your road to awesomeness.” It feels attainable.

I have my own friends who are getting after it, digging down deep into the creative waters and weaving a web of connections, inspiration, and collaboration that are amazing.

I’m jealous.

But I’m also exhausted.

It’s hard to see whether my imposter syndrome is holding me back, or the full-contact fatigue that hits at 7 p.m.

I thought I could start the race with the rest of you. I was there in my race attire at the starting line, and I kept up the pace for the first 50 meters. But I went anaerobic real fast and now my body is wasted.

So I’m rearranging the priorities and lowering the expectations.

First, I’m taking off the “nothing will stop me” glasses and looking realistically at the picture in front of me. I have three young kids. My oldest is intense and this Friday when I’d like to finish some freelance work and write an article pitch, my husband and I will be seeing a parenting coach to get new strategies.

I’m looking at the tattered patchwork of school days we’ve had over the past two months, and wondering if routine is simply a memory. But I can shovel twelve inches of snow off the driveway and throw chains on the car by myself in a jiffy and then drive to the pediatrician.

After weeks of haphazard childcare due to slow and slush and pressing freelance deadlines, I’m spent, but I can cook three family-sized meals at once, in case we can’t leave the house for days.

I did sign up for a political organizing class that seems really interesting, and I’ve done the reading and most of the homework, but I missed the first class, and I’m about to miss the second because K-Pants has the flu (the real-deal one where the pediatrician comes back into the room wearing a mask). I had babysitting set up for my class since my husband will be out of town, but what babysitter is going to come to a flu-infected house? Maybe it’s a gift. I’ll wait on the class.

My creative brain aches to write and keep working, sharing and collaborating and putting my pitches out there to be rejected and reworked until they are polished and accepted.

But I’d also really like to focus on sleep. I want to get in bed early after a hot bath. I want to lower my cortisol levels. I want to have restful dreams that give me enough energy to take Boy Woww to the naturopath about those persistent fungal infections. Plus I’m going to have to lug the whole crew to his 12-week “burst” of speech pathology appointments.

It’s not like I’ve got him in reading tutoring and Suzuki violin and mini-soccer. I want my kid to have fungus-free skin and say his Rs properly.

That’s it. I don’t even have a well-worked conclusion. I’ve gotta go wake up my kids to give them inordinately expensive Tamiflu, siphon-off some for myself, and then take the bath I wished I’d drawn an hour ago.

How I Became an Art Thief. Victim: PDX Artist Anya Roberts-Toney

Art thievery is not something I figured I would stoop to in my mid-thirties. But I have three kids, so there’s not much that’s below me at this point.

This is PDX artist Anya Roberts-Toney.

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She paints.

We both moved to Portland from New York City almost six years ago, and we’ve been trying to get together for tea for a few years. I’ve used that time to unsuccessfully track down The Scream.

This is what an art thief looks like.

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White gloves, disguise shades, willing accomplice. This is a pre-heist art-world stakeout at the 2016 Disjecta Auction.

This is Anya’s art studio. It’s in the middle of getting put together. Anya recently packed up her old studio and moved it to her new home (mortgage! fixing things! way to go Anya and Jonathan!).

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Your first mistake was inviting me into your home.

This is the kind of temporal chaos that art thieves thrive on.

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Never unpack, Anya. It’s better for me that way.

This little beauty is what Anya’s working on now.

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I love the texture, and the feminist play, but I had my eye on her old stuff.

When I first saw Anya’s two paintings of twin girls over five years ago, I coveted them.

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The paint is more vibrant in real life. Sorry girls.

They’re whimsical but not simplistic. There’s a lot of depth in the fairy-tale–like scenes, and a lot of emotional grey—the in-between zones—even though the colors are vibrant.

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Also, the camera adds ten pounds.

I wanted them. So I stole them. Now they’re “on loan” in my home office.

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Tip: Let the artist think you’re playing a fun game of seeing how many painting you can fit in your car without anything breaking.

You know how things often make the most sense in retrospect? Now that the paintings are here, I’m thinking I built up this office over the past few months just so the girls would feel at home. I have my yellow desk made by our friend Aaron out of our house’s original front door, a beautiful deep-blue velvet chair, and now Anya’s twins.

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I’m really happy in this space. This guy, too.

Find more of Anya’s work here.

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It has come to my attention that Anya and Jonathan just got engaged! Congrats, guys! {millions of heart emojis} As a wedding present, I will not be giving you back these paintings. I mean, they’re on loan, and you can’t give someone something that’s borrowed.