spent

I’m not a single parent and I don’t play one on TV. But… butbutbut… this last 3 weeks I have been ‘solo-parenting’ while the man has been away laying the foundation for his bliss and let me just tell you… hard stuff. Seriously. I feel like I’ve been in boot camp. And I don’t like it.

The first week he was gone was relatively easy breezy, I was feeling all blissed out that he was following his bliss and the Universe was throwing down big “Bliss: this way” signs for me too. Bliss bliss bliss.

The second week, the big kids landed back home for what can only be described as a hell week.  I should have invited a gaggle of teenagers over to watch what went down because that was some surefire birth control right there.  While they’re normally an intense pair, Hopper (5 almost 6y) was off the charts. She was having some extreme separation anxiety from the ex and while I love her to pieces (PIECES) I wanted to sell her on eBay, or leave her on the church steps, or something.  Her first night home it took her 5 (yes, that’s the number FIVE) hours to go to sleep from when we started bedtime routines. I. Wanted. To. Die. And I wasn’t altogether nice the whole time. Poor Pip (10y) didn’t know what to do with her and he tried to help me but at 10pm he was like ‘yo mama, can I go to bed please?’. I really didn’t want him to go. Seriously. I needed the extra body around because Hopper wouldn’t let me leave her room. These are some of the favored phrases of the night: “You can’t leave, I’ll be ALONE!” (we were all still upstairs, my door is two feet from her door, we share a wall), “I want/need/miss mommy” (mommy is the othermother, I’m mama), “I don’t want to be here” (and there’s the stake into my heart). I didn’t take it personally (she says, gripping the edges of reality, knuckles white). But the cloying, the whining, the drama, the sobbing (with no tears) if I left the room for more than a fraction of a second. Oy!

I’m still trying to wrangle my guilt about the situation. I wasn’t nearly as nurturing as I wanted to be. We were all so tired and so spent by the end of it. And it was only the first night.

The second night started out just as bad, but I really just gave up without a fight and let her fall asleep watching a movie (and after taking a melatonin). She fights the melatonin though – girl has got some skills. Two hours after the melatonin and one hour into the movie she’d been sleeping for about 30 minutes. I tried to take her upstairs. That would be a fail; had to carry her 40lb half-asleep self back down the stairs and wait until the movie was over.

The third night it started at 4:45, long before bedtime, but after a Karate practice that the othermother attended (had to get that photo of her getting her new belt, apparently I can’t be trusted to take pictures). As soon as we got in the car, cue audio track from previous nights “I miss/need/want to be with mommy”. Now, at this point in the game, I’d asked her in as many ways as I could think (and I used to interview kids as part of my job, so mama’s got her own skills in this area) why she doesn’t want to be here… why does she want so desperately to be with the othermother? She had nothing for me.

Finally, what can only be described as God himself coming down and sticking this little idea in my head, I suggested that she write mommy a note to tell her that she misses here. We got her a notebook, pencil and large envelope and away she went. I’m not quite sure why, but it totally worked. (Cue parting of the heavens, streaming sunlight, choral ensemble hitting high note). The next day she says to me “I don’t feel sad about missing mommy anymore”. Cha-ching.

And just in time because I seriously thought I was going to lose my mind. I kept calling the man and venting and there was just not a single thing he could do but remind me that she’s only five and for some reason her little heart was feeling broken. Totally easy to do when you’re a 10 hr car ride away.

I hadn’t quite recovered from that when we made plans to stay at my mom’s for the weekend. The goal (which was moderately successful) was to have distractions for the big kids (pool, swings, playhouse, Memere, Pepere and an assortment of other relatives) and an extra set of hands (or two) for the small one.

Friday morning, when I should have been packing for our weekend, I stumbled on this post on Overcoming Overwhelm. Very timely as I had been stretching myself way too thin and trying to wrap myself around some perfect solo-mama of three kids ideology. I nodded through her video and reminded myself that I needed to stop trying to be super-mama and just roll back to the basics.

Not 3 hours later I would be found scrambling around my house with a grouchy baby who was refusing a nap strapped to me in the Ergo, sweating, swearing, and trying to gather belongings and food for all of us. Because we’re allergic to everything (and the list keeps getting bigger for me by the day), I often bring a good portion of our food, or at least accoutrements as we can get by on your basic plain meat and veggies when we’re away from home. I was rushing because I told my mom we’d be there at a certain time. I was carrying the baby because the nap I expected him to take, he did not. I was exhausted because instead of pack in the morning, or nap with him in the morning, I screwed off and did nothing because I’m so mentally exhausted I’m really not prioritizing well at all.

The weekend was fine but I never really got a chance to recover. On top of solo-parenting 24/7 the baby decided to start dragging himself from one end of our very un-childproofed house to another (not exactly crawling, but same result).  If that all doesn’t knock you on your ass, I don’t know what would. I’m spent. Like a floppy deflated balloon. I think of trying to carve out the time to write, or even read for that matter, and I’m like… seriously? My mental capacity is on “E”. I went into the bathroom to get the baby’s potty and walked out with the drying rack. Really now.

Thankfully, the man is coming home tomorrow (oh sweet heavens THANK YOU). I’m pretty certain I could not do this for another day. Well, aside from tomorrow, not one more day. I love him, profoundly so, but he may not see me for two days other than to bring me the baby to eat because I intend to do some hardcore sleeping, maybe a walk or two on the beach even (who am I kidding, drive to the beach, walk to sand, sit for an hour listening to waves, drive home – we live a mile from the beach – yea, THAT tired).

My hope is to regain enough energy to devote some to figuring out how I got here, exactly, and how I can avoid this next time.

(photo credit)

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finding happy

one mile from my front door

I sit here in the livingroom, cool air running over my bare shoulders through the open window. The only noises I hear are the clicking of the water pump while it fills the washer full of cloth diapers, the whoosh of the occasional car that drives by and the breeze rustling the rhododendrons outside the front window. This is the first time in over a week the windows have been open during the daylight hours. Until today the heat and humidity has been utterly oppressive (so cliché, but really the most appropriate word for it). As soon as the temperature outside creeps over the temperature inside, I’ve been battening down the hatches to preserve every molecule of cooler air I can inside the house. (In case you haven’t figured it out, I don’t have AC). The weather gods say the rest of this week will be more of the three H’s so well known to New Englanders – hazy, hot and humid. This makes today’s weather truly a precious gift.

The start of this week was more rocky than I expected. The Man ventured off to place more paving stones on the path towards his dream while the older kids went to the ex’s for their week with her. This little nest feels quite empty with just the baby and I in it. The times in my life that I’ve been single I’ve really appreciated the solitude and what it has offered me. But this feels like someone pulled out the table cloth from underneath the dishes; a little exciting, a bit of awe, and fairly unnerving all at the same time.

One of the things I’ve been feeling this week that has surprised me may seem a little odd to some. Even though I feel pretty anxious about being alone in the house with just the baby, I feel a really strong sense of peace. And today as I sat here finishing my lunch of roasted chicken, garlic kale and potatoes, I felt deeply happy. This might not seem unusual to some people. You know the ones I’m talking about, they exude positivity even in the face of tragedy – so much so it almost seems false. Or at least it feels false to me; I’ve never quite been able to believe anyone can be that happy all the time.

For me to feel happiness, at this deep of a level, is very new. Most of my life has been woven with a thick vines of depression and anxiety. They peaked when Pip (the Eldest) was born; anxiety and depression dug deep, sinewy roots into the soil, refusing to be yanked out like the choking, invasive weeds they were. There were a couple things that finally allowed their grip on my mental health to be loosened and uprooted: ending my relationship with my ex and changing my relationship with food, namely corn. Both the ex and the corn got evicted from my life. The change in how I felt was remarkable. I told my therapist at the time that prior to removing corn from my diet, things had shifted a little, like turning the thin plastic rod on the blinds to let little bars of light into the room. But when I removed corn it was like ripping open the drapes and yanking hard on the pull cords to let the full, streaming sun in. Profound. Yet I still have never felt quite settled in myself, something was still missing and I often feel sadness over it’s absence.

If I were to outline my current circumstances, you might wonder how I’m not depressed. Financially things are a little more than tricky right now which is the ultimate stressor. The venture that the man is on is his first paid work since December, the first income we’ll have had since March. He’s guaranteed a week of work, we’re hoping for longer obviously. I’m nearly certain it will be.

Today I feel as though I’m tapping into some little inner place of knowing. It’s a place I’ve bumped into in the dark before, but today it’s looking me right in the face – here I am, you can’t ignore me anymore! I know that things are going to work out. The past few months have been fraught with worry for me; our lives propped up on rickety, rotten boards on a rocky shore, bracing myself for the ruinous crumbling at every strong wave that licks the algae covered stilts keeping us above water. Last week sometime a shift began to happen. The Man was asked to come to where he is now and he surmised he may be asked to extend his time away, perhaps going further away until the middle of August. When he cautiously broached the possibility to me and asked what direction I felt he should go, I found myself literally flinging my arms wide and saying with genuine enthusiasm “YES”.

If you knew me like I know me, you would know how significantly out of the ordinary this is. I like plans, I like predictability (that little Aspergerian apple I have does not fall far from the tree). For a long time, I’ve been a quiet passenger to where the Universe has directed my life and mostly this has worked out. The stagnant times where it was unclear where I was heading next were short and there was usually an inkling here and there of what would be coming up as I crested hills. Enough so I could trust that there was an order or reason that would be clear to me soon. Recently though, and perhaps exacerbated by the weight of a new baby in our family, the uncertainty was maddening to me and I, in turn, drove the Man crazy with my worrying. He kept assuring me that he was setting up scaffolding for our future, but what I couldn’t see scared me. I was afraid he was fashioning the Emporer’s New Life for us and when I crested the next hill, he would be the only one who believed in it enough to actually see it.

In the last week a slow cohesiveness has been happening not only for his dreams, but for my own. Instead of just waiting for the Universe to show me the way and trotting along behind it while it led me places, I decided to take hold of the reins a bit. I could never quite decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’ve tried on preschool teacher, receptionist, cashier, at home sewing business, doula, reiki teacher and social worker. I almost became a massage therapist but got pregnant and would be due in the middle of the schooling so that got tabled. I also considered midwifery school at one point. None those things felt, or feels, exactly right for me. So I am finally taking myself seriously as a writer. This is huge and it feels so incredibly right. Writing has always been a part of who I am, part of what makes and keeps me sane. The decision to try to make being a writer paid work: blinding flash of the obvious. Embracing this journey, working to make this happen, feels like exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. Exactly. I should be doing nothing different right now. Inhale. Exhale.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt this kind of clarity before. I’ve always felt like I was on my way somewhere (just never quite sure where) or coming from somewhere (and wondering if that was the right choice). I let little doubting voices that sound a lot like my father and grandfather make me believe that there was no way that you could make an actual living being a writer.  And yet in the last few weeks I’ve stumbled on women, mamas, who write write write like it’s their job, because it IS their job.

I can see the same thing happening for the Man and even though we are physically apart right now, I am so grateful to be sharing this shift with him. Good things are coming, big things are coming, soon, very very soon. I’m still scared, I’m still anxious, I still need to pay my bills, but at this moment, here in this place, the water is calm. The breeze that licked the ocean a mile away carries the salt to my nostrils and I breathe, deeply, and know this is exactly where I’m supposed to be, this is the reason for everything before it.

remodeling

Camp Invention

I started this blog as a way of finding my footing on some pretty shaky ground and getting back to feeling at peace with who I am (and in many ways rediscovering who that is). One of my goals is that feeling more peaceful and centered will allow me to be the parent I want to be.

The Man and I had a conversation the other night. Sundays always seem to be tricky at our house. Either the big kids are wrapping up their week, or the Man and I are wrapping up our ‘alone’ week and getting ready to transition the big kids back in. With the Eldest this is usually remarkably seamless, with the Youngest of the Eldest, not so much. But that’s a post (and a few therapy sessions) for another day.

Our conversation circled around to a place where I clarified my current perspective on parenting for him. Or more accurately, what I can and can’t do and still remain sane.

When the Eldest was a tot, and yet to be diagnosed with Aspergers, things were remarkably tricky. See, I used to teach preschool. If anyone can wrangle a group of 3 – 5 year olds and engage them in some age appropriate tomfoolery, I’m your gal. Or so I thought I was. But the Eldest being who he was, who he is, has regularly and from the moment of his birth challenged every preconceived notion I’ve had about just about anything. Someone I know said that when you become a parent it recarpets your brain. I think when you become a parent of a child on the spectrum, there is an entire demolition that takes place in your brain and the rebuilding process can take months, that’s if you can even get the contractors to show up.

To say I felt like a failure on a daily basis is an understatement. Often it was hourly. Sometimes he would scream for 20 minutes because it was time to get dressed or what we were dressing him in wasn’t in line with his current fashion sense. It wasn’t really that of course, it was sensory, it was us not marching in line with the little drummer neuron pathways in his brain. I’ll never forget the summer we put a t-shirt on him for the first time. He screamed and cried and tugged on his short little sleeves in the most valiant attempt to extend them down to his wrists. At the time I was alarmed, confused, knew in that little pit in the corner of my heart that something was not quite right here. And now when I look back, I see we were both confused, both alarmed; he at the sudden, abrupt and unexplainable shrinking of his shirtsleeves.

I’m not a person who takes failure lightly (perhaps another reason I stopped writing… but I digress). On top of the already intense post-partum depression, the mental beating I was giving myself because of my ‘failures’ was brutal. I had these incredible ideals about what we should be doing with him, what we should be feeding him, how we should be parenting him, what toys he should play with, what clothes he should wear. I had rules. So many rules. Some of them, it turns out, were the right thing for him. Those must have come from that mama bear place of knowing. The rest were born out of pure fear of failure with a heaping dose of anxiety mixed in.

I had friends, one of them who has since become rather infamous in the mommy blogger world, who lived (and is living) that dream I had. Everything is wood and wool and organic and so close to nature if they aren’t careful they’ll compost themselves by accident. Many of my friends homeschooled, something I desperately wanted to do, but financially was not even close to being an option. I was terrified of being found out as a fraud. I wasn’t really crunchy; I looked like I was, but when you took a bite out of me, I was kind of chewy and maybe even a little stale. I didn’t fit the mold and though I tried, according to the checklists I was certainly no ‘attachment parent’. But I kept trying dammit, white knuckled and the whole bit, I wanted to be the parent I thought I “should” be, not necessarily the parent I was or needed to be.

Right around the time he was diagnosed I had a falling out with one of my friends; one whom I held in extremely high esteem. I always told myself I wouldn’t put anyone on a pedestal, and maybe I didn’t exactly do that with her, but I really deeply cared what she thought. It was the separation from her then the subsequent separation from my ex that allowed me to release some of the shackles I’d locked myself in. I realized that in so many ways she was wrong and what was right for her family, was simply not right for mine. Coincidentally I also returned to work in a field where parents are abusive to their children and that was the final click, the final release.

What I was doing may not have been perfect in the unrealistic ideal I had set for myself, but on the parenting continuum, I was doing a phenomenal job. Sure I yelled and we didn’t eat 100% organic and I didn’t make all my kids clothes. And there were times when I was doing an even worse job, but made improvements, adjustments, moved forward. Given the circumstances, we were doing okay. There was plenty of room for things to be better because isn’t there always? Yet I wasn’t focusing so much on what I wasn’t doing anymore, I wasn’t so fixated on my failures.

This is what I said to the Man last night in the middle of a conversation where he was critiquing a parenting decision I made (an insidious one if you ask me, but a point he felt like belaboring nonetheless, over what would ultimately be that picture at the top). I am a good enough parent. I love my children, I connect with them, I listen to them, I feed them healthy, nourishing food, I try to have a nurturing emotional environment for them. I’m leaps and bounds ahead of my own parents in these departments (who did exactly the best they could given their circumstances). I’m not perfect. I’ll never be. But I’m real. And those bald spots you see, those are where I’ve rubbed up against what wasn’t working to squeeze my way towards what would work. That is all I can do. To try to do more, to try to attain elusive, perceived perfection will never happen and I will die trying. I’d rather live my imperfect life than stop living trying to attain a ‘perfect’ one.

Parenting is hard enough work. Constantly placing ourselves in a line up with other moms and comparing every last detail to our own parenting work does nothing to help us be better parents and better people. Owning our successes, our failures and being willing to work to change what isn’t working (and to know when it’s okay to just stay still) go a lot further. We can learn from other parents, other people’s experiences, but can’t ever make their’s fully our own because intrinsically, it’s not. We can only take the bits that fit into our puzzle, but can’t make ourselves crazy trying to fit a square pegs into round holes.

I was thinking about my dad the other day (I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, but that too is another post, and a host of therapy sessions, for another day). I realized that my greatest accomplishment and the thing that so vastly sets me apart from him as a parent is admitting when I’m wrong. We all make mistakes, we are all human. When I do the wrong thing, I admit that to myself AND to my children. Showing them my humanity will put them in touch with their own. It is perfect to be imperfect. It is okay to apologize to children. In fact, I’ve been waiting my whole life for my father to do just that. My children though, will never have to wait.

sunday

National Lemonade Stand Day, didn’t you know?  A sweet, dear friend of mine has two entrepreneurial girls (circa 8 and 6) who had a pretty amazing lemonade stand that we just had to go visit.  They live in a little beach town, just on the edge of the bustling, tourist filled down town area.  Prime real estate.  And they were offering accouterments such as strawberries, blueberries, mint and basil.  Delish.

The babies got to meet for the second time, though the first time that our babe was able to register that this other person his size was there.  She’s about 5 months older than ours and the size disparity was not as noticeable as I expected.   Girl babies are typically smaller in stature, right?  No matter, both are healthy, nursing wee nuggets and their difference in age will shrink to imperceptibility in a couple years anyway. It does cause me to pause and wonder exactly how gigantic our baby is, but since he continues to wear his normal baby clothes and we’ve yet to have a Hulk moment, we’ll just keep on keepin’ on.

The morning was stupendous with my two eldest able to hang out with her two eldest for the first time.  Things went smashingly well, though we weren’t really there long enough for anything to implode.  It was fascinating watching them first play with the other who was closest in age, then to switch playmates for other.  Seamless.  Kids are fantastic, I wish I was as easy for grown ups to get along.

Things deteriorated when we got home and the Eldest of the Eldest refused the offered nourishment and stomped off.  I initiated a battle of wills a short time later when there was a clear reason for him to spend some time in the bathroom and the rest of the afternoon went rapidly down hill from there.  In all it was not some of my finer parenting (which happens when he pushes those buttons for 20, 30, 40, 50 minutes in a row – I start to run out of ideas on how to deal), but when things had settled to a dull hum, I had a small “aha” moment.  He’d pulled himself together enough to function and the grown ups were making dinner.  He wandered into the kitchen and I found myself with patience, still.  And I thought, this moment here defines that I am in fact a decent parent.  The previous two hours had been a relentless sort of hell that lately seems to be happening all too often.  But in the end I still had genuine patience for him and my love for him was unwavering and he knew it.

All in a days work.

inception

I suppose today is as good a day as any for the first post here.  This blog, actually created many months ago, lay in wait for the perfect moment to start it’s journey.  And so today, here it is.

The two eldest are currently playing in the sunroom, the eldest of the eldest instructing the youngest of the eldest and attempting to get her to do whatever he chooses (perhaps school play, hard to tell).  He likes to be in control because he likes to be able to predict what will be next… such is often the way with Aspergerian types like him.  She is very Gumby like in her tolerance of him… usually.  Now for instance. Other times there is screaming, tattling and general exasperation.  I much prefer the current status of things, of course.

The baby, well, he’s asleep, splayed out in the co-sleeper next to our bed, his soft lips pressing into suckling motions every couple minutes, a reflex or attempt to self-soothe, I’ll never know.  He is a gift.  They all are.  But this baby, there is something about him.  Something placid, something peaceful, something uniquely unlike the other two.  Perhaps it was his entrance into the world, a riveting event culminated by an ultimately rapid exit into a tub of water in my dining room.  Or perhaps it’s me; 10 years of parenting smoothing the ragged edges of my anxieties.

It is the day to celebrate the mother.  The card store holiday that I roll my eyes at, but the eldest are excited about, so I enjoy it for them, because of them.  The man of the house is making a brunch treat for this mama; pesto roasted potatoes with Daiya cheese and a titch of chicken for some extra protein (this nursing mama needs all she can get).

Cards were doled out to me this morning. The EOE’s card is a creation from school, coupons created on the computer, his favorite piece of machinery in the world.  Whether I’ll ever be able to cash them in is another matter, but the sentiment fills my heart.  The YOE’s card was purchased yesterday, with my money, picked out for the picture on the front of a sweet baby.  Little did she know the text of the card was perfect; something about ‘remember what a stinker I can be’ and on the inside, ‘ but remember how cute I was as a baby’.  Yes sweet girl, I remember how cute you were then and now and for all your stinkerness, I love you the same.  Inside the card was the change from the $5 of mine she used to buy the card (this after a debate in the car yesterday about exactly whose money it was… she was certain she would be able to add it to her stash and put her that much closer to a toy she is wanting to buy.  The debate was comical, to say the least, and perfectly light hearted, and in the end she decided what to do with those dollars).

Only 10:30 am and the love is already flowing, the day is off to a peaceful start and the sun is shining.  I couldn’t ask for a more perfect morning, fake holiday or not.

This one here… he’s a drooler.