Archive for the ‘The Serious’ Category
There’s a children’s song I used to sing when I worked at a summer camp about a bear hunt. At several points in the hunt you reach an obstacle and when you get to it, you chant, “Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Gotta go through it.” and then you tread through whatever imaginary peril lies ahead. It’s always great fun for the kids to chant along as a little echo and to victoriously traverse the pretend obstacle. The song is in my head lately and the bear I’m hunting is every bit as imaginary as the one my campers hunted all those summers.
Things have gotten easier in the past week. Life has returned to a beautiful version of normal. Eli hasn’t vomited in almost a week. He has been off all pain medicine for several days and is doing really, really well. And much of the time, I have been doing well also. But it’s been fake.
I’ve been trying to squirm away from the anxiety that’s regrowing. I’ve been trying to go over and under it. Finding ways to pretend like it’s not an issue, shoving it aside constantly. Never going through it. Going through means facing it, means saying words out loud that seem to flow easily from my fingers, a story that I can tell here with little trouble, but which can only be told aloud with tears. And a racing heart. And nausea. And I think I’ve assumed that if I can just tuck away this anxiety, if I can just go around it, that eventually it will go away.
Last night, shortly after going to bed, Eli fell backwards off the floor bed (another post coming soon). He was literally 6 inches from the floor, which was a nice padded carpet. But I saw it on the monitor and heard the thunk from downstairs. He cried immediately and I ran, climbing stairs 2 at a time, to get him. He was fine within seconds of me cuddling him, but I was not.
I felt sick. And shaky and horrible. That sound, the one from the hotel room, I heard it all over again. I saw the whole thing happen again. The images I had managed to put out of my head all came rushing back. I thought I would be sick as the fear I had been going over and under suddenly overtook me.
The anxiety is coming out in other ways too. Eli has decided that he would like to exclusively sleep on his stomach, which I know is fine at this age, but the first night in the new bed, I was awake for 2.5 hours, watching him breathe. I went in his room and checked on him 7 times when I thought I couldn’t see his back rise and fall anymore. It’s a miracle that he didn’t wake up. And then this morning when I woke up and it was 7:30 and Eli was still asleep, on his tummy in the same position he was in when I woke up at 4:30, I ran, literally ran, into his room, assuming I’d find my child lifeless. Instead I found him pretty confused and groggy with some fairly excellent bed head.
I feel so frustrated and sad, all at once. I worked through so much of this in therapy. I was happy again. I was relaxed and easygoing and confident. I was enjoying the hell out of motherhood. And now I feel it’s falling apart. Whenever I get too happy or start to feel normal again, I hear this screaming chorus of what ifs crescendo in the background. My blood pressure rises, my pulse quickens, my stomach clenches.
I think that Eli’s accident reminded me that though the risk of something happening to my child is low, it’s not nothing. He got injured in a way that a tiny percentage of kids get injured. We defied odds in the worst way, and I think I’m newly afraid and newly aware that we could do that again, at any moment. Newly aware that bad things don’t just happen to other people.
As much as I’ve tried to shove the fear aside and wait for it to subside, I’m realizing more and more each day that it’s not working. That if anything, it’s growing and accelerating. It’s infiltrating the happy moments like weeds in a garden, and I can’t let that happen again. I have to do something because I don’t want to feel this way again.
All this is to say I have a therapy appointment on Wednesday that I am both looking forward to in a huge way and am also dreading more than almost anything.
Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Gotta go through it.
I had not planned to write anything more about Dawn, who passed away yesterday. I do not want to eulogize someone I met in person only once, but the heaviness in my heart has led me here, and so I’m writing.
I read Dawn’s husband’s words this evening and this particular part stuck out to me:
Dawn lived to soothe everyone around her. If you needed to be picked up, she’d find a way to pick you up. If you needed someone to sit in the dumps with you, she’d climb down by your side until you were ready to come back up. Her joy came in the joy of others, and if she had to manufacture that joy, well, that was just fine by her.
This is exactly how I will remember Dawn. She left over 80 comments on this blog, to me, lifting me up, sitting in the dumps with me. Being what I needed, when I needed it. She was a friend, a lovely human being who seemed to derive joy from being a friend. How many people can you say that about? Not many, not enough.
Dawn leaves behind 2 sons and a husband, and a hole in our hearts where our friend was. So many people have expressed heartache over Dawn’s passing, and I think that is a tremendous testament to who she was, what she meant to all of us. In a way, I think we feel like a little bit of Dawn belonged to us too, because of how she cared for us in our times of need. And now that she’s gone we feel an almost tangible loss, a silence where one of our cheerleaders once was.
I can only speak for myself, but I wish I had realized sooner that her time was winding down. I wish I could’ve written something to her, been a better cheerleader for her, and let her know how very much I appreciated her in my life. How much I appreciated having her in my corner all the time. And how sorry I am that this had to happen to her.
Instead, I’ve made 2 vows to myself:
First, I will check my skin. I will wear sunscreen whenever I’m outdoors, I will reschedule that dermatology follow up I cancelled and I will make an appointment for my fair-skinned husband as well. I will be diligent and outspoken about sun safety because of Dawn, so that her death isn’t for nothing, so that it may save other lives.
Second, I will be a better friend. Dawn was there for everyone, cared about everyone. I don’t know that I’ll ever live up to the example she set, but I can do better, I can love more, care more and tell my friends more often how important they are to me. I can lift up others when they need it. It’s what Dawn would do, and since she’s no longer with us there is a void to be filled, and perhaps we can fill it with love, in memory of Dawn.
(I realize that this is a very aptly named post considering that it’s April Fool’s Day, but none of this is foolish.)
I’m finding the anxiety has been waxing and waning a lot this past week. There will be hours, almost whole days even, where I’m humming along just fine and then I get completely demolished by fear. There isn’t a rhyme or reason most of the time, as far as I can tell. It just hits me sometimes. Feelings, images, sounds, all a mess in my mind.
I remember other mothers saying that their kids fell off the changing table and off the bed and I smugly thought to myself that I would never let that happen to my child. Don’t these mothers know how to be careful? And now here I am, the judger became the judged. I’m in a state of disbelief. I can’t believe I let this happen. I can’t believe that it ended up as seriously as it did. I can’t believe that it took one second for everything to change like this. It’s terrifying.
Disbelief is an feeling filling other parts of my life lately as well.
My friend Dawn, who I’ve followed on twitter for as long as I can recall, who has been one of the greatest cheerleaders to everyone she knows, is nearing the end of her fight with Melanoma. I find myself completely gobsmacked by it. It’s not my tragedy and I do not want to monopolize her family’s grief in any way, I just keep being surprised that it’s happening. It makes my breath catch at the unfairness of it all. I think I had convinced myself that dying from cancer was something that old, sick people do. Not young mothers with young kids. Not healthy people. And I think Dawn did such a good job of putting on the strongest, bravest front that we didn’t even know how bad things were until they were too bad to tell her we loved her and how sorry we were.
I’m in disbelief at the fragility of life.
My uncle, who I wrote about a few weeks ago, lost his mother in early March. And Friday he lost his father. It’s just, it all happens so quickly. We are here and then we’re not.
It just seems like the certainty I had been comforted by is being pulled away. And maybe that’s for the best. Maybe I shouldn’t be as assured and comfortable. Maybe I need to live in a world where I can see that one tiny thread can unravel everything. That nothing is permanent.
I’m in disbelief because it seems that the things I’ve known, that I’ve held onto and been comforted by, are shifting so quickly. They are revealing new truths I didn’t see before, didn’t want to see. And it’s hard to be in this place of change. I’m scared because everything feels different now. Everything feels bigger and faster and less predictable.
I’m just hanging on for dear life.
Mike, Dawn’s incredible husband, has asked that those interested and able make donations to the Melanoma Research Foundation.
The last time I wrote about my postpartum anxiety was several months ago. I was in the process of finding and getting help and was still trudging, knee deep, in fear each and every day. I started weekly counseling in October? November? I don’t really remember, sometime in there, with a doctoral student at our hospital’s behavioral medical center.
It was clear from the first day that a huge part of my anxiety was about control. I could not control what happened to my child, so I was anxious. I couldn’t control his breathing or his airway clearance at night. I couldn’t control what happened at daycare and as such, those were my 2 biggest anxiety sources. I would stay awake at night thinking about what I would say if I had to tell everyone that my child had died. I would imagine car accidents whenever I closed my eyes, imagine finding him not breathing when I walked into a room. My imagination was constantly coming up with new horrors. It was exhausting.
Since starting therapy, some of this is better. I’m getting better at thought stopping- where I literally tell myself to stop once I realize I’m going to one of those ugly scenarios, though admittedly, I often don’t realize it until I’m already deep into it. I’m getting better at identifying the times I’m most anxious (work days, car rides) so I can equip myself and occupy my mind. It’s still a struggle, but a lot of it is better. I worry less about the baby. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m dealing with my feelings or simply because he feels so much more sturdy these days, less helpless, but either way, I spend fewer hours imagining him being hurt or killed. This is a good thing, even if it sounds so cold and crass to write. I hate admitting this stuff out loud because it comes across so matter of fact- I imagine my child dying- but the reality of it is that it is wrought with emotion, not matter of fact at all.
As my worries about Eli have gotten smaller, other ones have taken their place. My new paralyzing fear is that something will happen to me. That I won’t get to see this amazing child grow up, that I will miss out on other kids, on grandkids, on nieces and nephews. It’s terrifying. It’s exhausting. It’s heartbreaking.
Whereas my prior anxiety was more background noise than anything else, these new fears are not subtle, not in the background. They are out and out panic attacks. Last week while running Eli’s bath I broke out in a cold sweat thinking of all the things I should make sure my husband knows in case I die. I thought about how I need to tell him to sometimes call Elijah Eli because I love that nickname and I want him to know that’s an option for what to be called (my husband primarily calls him Elijah). I realize how silly that sounds, how non-urgent it should be, but even writing this makes me feel panicked. Like if something happens you’ll read this and think about how tragic it is that I worried about dying and how much more tragic it is that I was right.
It feels both scary and kind of meta, I won’t lie.
I find it much harder to thought stop these new fears because they come on so fast. I’m drowning in them before I realize that I’ve even begun thinking about them. I get much more worked up, crying even, when these anxieties swell because I find the idea of it so heartbreaking. The idea of missing out on these wonderful things literally takes my breath away sometimes.
I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m not ready for medication yet for a couple of reasons. The fast acting stuff is great, but I’m not wild about using it while pumping for Eli. The maintenance stuff always makes me sicker than a dog for the first few weeks and I just don’t have the time for that. And since I’m still functioning, I don’t want to go that direction just yet. I’m still doing therapy and it is helping, but I’ve come to a point where I’m realizing that I’m probably always going to have anxiety like this. I’ve struggled with other anxieties for years, but somehow I thought this set would be short lived. That once I got over the initial hump, it would sort of disappear. I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case.
At this point, I just hope for management. I hope to learn to let go of some of the control issues (ask me how I feel about germs and you’ll quickly understand how poorly that is going) and get out of my own head. I want to spend more time thinking about what I’ll do tomorrow than worrying about if I’ll get one. I want to not have to stop thoughts all day long and instead entertain happy daydreams. But I know this won’t come quickly or easily and though I am tired now, I understand that the hard work will be worth it, even if not immediately. I don’t expect to live anxiety free, but I want to live in spite of it.
If you’re here to help Peter and Megan, click here for more information
I’m pretty bad at resolutions. To be completely honest, I don’t even want to go back and see if I wrote any last year. My guess is I did and that I didn’t succeed at them, much like the ones for the past several years. So I’m trying something a little different. I guess you could call this a resolution if you’re hard pressed for a descriptor, but I think it’s more a change in the way I think.
When Eli was sick right after Thanksgiving (not to be confused with the time after that or the time after that, this month can die in a fire), I toiled each night with what to do with his sleeping arrangements. We had successfully moved him to his own room and got him sleeping in his crib and while it wasn’t without its problems, it was by and large, a success. Until he got sick. Then he was up 4 and 5 times a night and it took longer to soothe him and sometimes I just couldn’t get him back down. And for hours at night I would fight with myself over what I should do.
On the one hand, he was sick and he was struggling to sleep in his crib because of all the congestion. On the other hand, I didn’t want to set us back on the crib sleeping, because somewhere along the line, I got it in my head that he really should sleeping in a crib. I somehow go to the point where I believed that if he wasn’t sleeping flat in a crib, we were doing it wrong, that he was doing it wrong, that we were destined for long term sleep failure.
We both lost so much sleep that week due to my stubbornness and refusal to listen to my son as he told me over and over that sleeping flat was not what he needed. It wasn’t until the ear infection that caused hysterical screaming while laying flat that I got his message. He needed to go back to his Rock N Play until he was well. And when he got better, he slept in his crib again.
I’ve been fighting a similar battle with his eating. I am pushing vegetables because I’ve been told that he should be eating more of them and if he doesn’t get used to them now he won’t ever. I’ve been pushing him to drink more because his weight gain has slowed to a screeching halt and he should be drinking at least 8 ounces more milk a day than he is right now. But he’s telling me, over and over, that he doesn’t want to eat more. That vegetables are not his thing right now. But I fight anyway, I fight because I think I should.
And I’m just tired. I’m tired of fighting with my child over what a textbook says he should be doing. I’m tired of spending so much time worrying about what is normal. And so this is my resolution of sorts.
I’m done with should.
My child is sleeping in his own room, sometimes in a crib, sometimes in a cozy little bunny bed. He’s eating what he wants, in quantities he wants, and he will gain weight. I’m not going to force him in a crib because that’s what someone said I should do. I’m not going to force feed him when he’s not hungry because he should be gaining more weight.
I’m done fighting battles, both internally and with my child, that don’t need to be fought. There’s no sleeping Olympics. There’s no trophy for the baby who sleeps in a crib the longest, or the easiest. Or who eats the most vegetables without dramatically gagging. And if there are, I don’t care about them. I’d rather spend time enjoying my child, I’d rather spend time nurturing him, providing him the sustenance and support he needs, that he is telling me he craves, instead of forcing some sense of normal, forcing upon him all those shoulds that I read somewhere.
There are many things I want in this new year (pre-pregnancy body! a million dollars! a vacation!), but none of them so much as I want peace. I want to be happy and carefree. I want my child to be happy and content instead of contentious. And the only way to achieve that is to make a change in the way I think and the way I act. To consider what is truly necessary instead of what I think should be happening. To consider what works for us, even if it works for no one else, because right now, we are all that matters.
My hope is that with this shift in thinking, we will all be happier. That with fewer shoulds we will be less stressed and less pressured. That we will enjoy ourselves and the tremendous blessings we have been handed this past year instead of thinking about what happens down the road if we make one “wrong” decision.
So I’m making 2013 the year of picking my battles, the year of no shoulds. I am choosing peace. And I’m pretty excited about it.
My sister has been friends with Megan for as long as I can recall. I guess it was probably only when they started high school, but that was “only” 18 years ago, by which I mean, they have been friends for a long time. And during a time when plenty of my sister’s friends were not terribly nice to her annoying little sister, Megan was always kind to me, always made me feel like she was my friend too. And these days, she is.
2012 has not been a kind year to Megan. She is married to a man named Peter. A man she made go to the doctor in March for some odd symptoms that she thought would be diagnosed as a hefty case of not taking good enough care of himself. And instead, they found out that Peter has a brain tumor. A dangerous, deadly, malignant brain tumor.
Through surgery, chemo and radiation, Peter attempted to work as much as possible, because he loved his job as the President of the Chamber of Commerce of Mesa, Arizona. And the people there supported him as he did the best he could. He was unable to work full time, but he worked enough to keep his job and his insurance.
This week, via email, Peter was fired from his job.
From a job he loved.
From a job that provided him insurance.
Effective January 1, Peter, who is being actively treated for terminal brain cancer, is without insurance. Because his work has fewer than 20 employees, there’s no COBRA. Because Arizona is run by
the worst woman in politics people who don’t like Obamacare, there’s no state high risk pool that he can fall into to get coverage. When I asked Megan today she said that the best case scenario is that he will be without insurance for a month.
His doctors are doing what they can to help, but there is a very real possibility that Peter will need very expensive medical care next month. And the month after that. And so on. He can’t go to the federal high risk pool until he’s been without insurance for a time, and if they do find insurance comparable to COBRA, it will be astronomically expensive, especially considering that Peter no longer has an income.
To be perfectly honest and not at all eloquent, I’m completely outraged at this situation. I’m angry at his work for not trying harder to let him continue working, for doing this right before Christmas. I’m angry at the year Megan and Peter (and Peter’s 2 children) have had to endure and for the future they face. There are so many things here that are totally and completely unfair and I am angry for my friend and her husband.
I can’t fix it, even though I desperately want to, so I’m asking you to help me. I completely understand that it is the costliest time of the year in an economy that sucks, to put it mildly. But I also know that this is the season of giving. It’s the time of year when we wrap up boxes with shiny ribbon and pile presents high and I’m hoping that you can give one more gift this year. I’m asking you to give a gift to Peter and Megan- a gift of assurance that they won’t be devastated by their bills, that they can make sure Peter gets adequate healthcare as they figure out their next steps.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single dollar helps. If you can spare anything, be it money or prayers or even just good thoughts, the Sterlings can use it. All money goes directly to Peter’s medical care, and donations can be sent via real mail (they’re looking into PayPal now) to:
Peter Sterling Donation Account
(payable to Megan Sterling)
Gateway Commercial Bank
6860 E Warner Rd, Mesa, AZ 85212
If you would prefer to send it electronically, you are welcome to paypal me the money (email@example.com) and I’ll get it to Megan (we can work out a receipt method so you know your money is getting there, I just need a little while to figure out how). And just to be crystal clear that I’m not doing any of this for my own benefit or attention, all the money I make this month and next month from ads on my blog will go directly to Megan and Peter, so retweet and share the link as much as your heart desires, it will only benefit the Sterlings. My only goal here is to help my friend and her husband through (what is hopefully) the toughest time in their lives.
Happy Holidays to all of you. Thank you for helping my friends.
You’ll have to forgive me tonight. In light of the events of this week, it just doesn’t feel right for me to sit here and pour out the silly, stupid thoughts in my head here. Not when so much was lost. So instead, I’m pouring out some serious ones about the tragedy that occurred. I’m writing this for me more than anything else, because like most of you, I’m still sorting out everything that happened.
On Friday, 20 children and 6 adults were killed. In an elementary school. Among the dead are the principal, the school psychologist, several teachers and 20 six and seven year olds. A friend of mine, Victoria, lost a nephew in the shooting, and 25 other families lost loved ones. How it is possible for the world to contain the grief that has come from this event is completely beyond my comprehension.
I know no one who was involved. I live 3000 miles away. And I’ve struggled with my thoughts, with what, if anything to write here because I don’t want to make this tragedy about me. It’s not about me. But it has impacted my life. I cannot sit here and tell you that I am the same as I was on Thursday.
I know that even if this had happened years ago, before I was a parent, that it would have wrecked my heart. Unquestionably. I don’t think any American is untouched by what happened and to anyone who says that you can’t appreciate how awful this is until you’re a parent, I’d challenge that even as a parent, most of us cannot fathom how awful this truly is. But that said, being a parent now, it just feels different than any other tragedy has. I am heartbroken. Truly, just as I would’ve been before Eli. But now I am also scared.
As my son napped peacefully on Friday, I watched news coverage of children marching from their classrooms with their eyes shut. I watched images of parents whose faces were carved with grief, who were so ravaged by the devastation that there was no possibility they could put up a strong facade. And without even thinking, I put myself in their place. I imagined my son in 5 years, a kindergartener. I imagined getting the phone call that there was a shooting at my child’s school. The phone call that my child’s life was in danger.
And what I imagined scared me to my very core. I tried to shove it out of my mind. I tried to think about other things. And I realized that how I felt imagining my child in such a situation, that crushing devastation that brought tears and heaving sobs, was barely even a fraction of what these parents are feeling. If even that.
I am scared by what I felt, by what happened on Friday. I’m scared at the realization that there is truly no safe place in this world any longer. That someone could come into an elementary school with multiple guns and kill 20 children. Children. Not enemies. Not drug dealers. Not an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. Children. There is simply no order in this world when our children are not even safe in their elementary schools. There is no sanity in this planet when a 20 year old can walk into a school and kill a classroom full of children.
Also among those slain on Friday were teachers and the principal of the school. I didn’t hear about it until Saturday and when I did, it floored me all over again. My dad and step-mom are both elementary school principals, and my mom is a former elementary school teacher who now works at the superintendent’s office. When I saw my dad today, I just wanted to squeeze him. I wanted to tell him to be careful, to hide if it happened at his school, because he’s my dad, and I cannot bare to imagine anything happening to him. But I knew that even if I made such a blatantly selfish request that he would never honor it. That he, my step-mom and my mom all would protect their students just as those brave teachers in Newtown did, because teachers are a unique breed of people. Selfless. Loving. Everything you want your children to be around.
What I have taken the most out of this horrific tragedy is the fragility of life. It sounds so corny and contrived to say that we’re never guaranteed tomorrow, but as many times as it has been said, I’ve never really believed it. I never considered that my child’s life, my husband’s life, my parents lives, my own life, could truly be in danger, because we lead such “safe” lives. We don’t live in scary places, we don’t work with high risk populations. But this has made me realize that the fragility of life isn’t about location or association with a certain group of people. Terrible things happen every day. Safe places are only safe until they are not.
So corny though it may be, I am counting my blessings. I am being grateful for what I have, right now, in this moment, because I am more aware now than ever, that I may not have those things indefinitely. I am so blessed to have them and if I do not celebrate them now, I will someday regret that.
My thoughts and prayers go out to all those whose lives have been forever changed by this. Who have lost loved ones. Whose children have lost the innocence that they should’ve been able to hang on to for many more years than they have been allowed. I hope that you are all able to find comfort and order in this world again, if not now, then some day down the road. That you are able to someday breathe in and out and not feel the weight of this on your hearts, that your children may again be carefree.
And if that day does not come soon, as I imagine it won’t, that you have people to lean on. To help you remember to breathe. To help you mend your wounds and heal your hearts. To hold your hand. To wipe your tears. To help you laugh again. That you may know that you are not alone and that a nation, if not a world, grieves with you.
To those lost, may you rest in peace. And may your families someday find peace of their own.
If you want to help Victoria’s family, a trust has been set up here that you can donate to.
A few weeks ago, I was going through a bit of a self-constructed personal nightmare and I asked a friend for advice. She very thoughtfully explained to me that she had realized somewhere along the line that I was struggling as a parent. And I really do mean that this was a thoughtful conversation, not a criticism, not an insult, so please don’t think poorly of her. But my very first instinct was to tell her she was wrong. That motherhood was easy, that it was going great, that it was everything I imagined it would be.
But the thing is, she wasn’t wrong. I just wanted her to be.
Before I had Eli, I was told regularly by family and some friends that I would be a great mother. I believed them and went into parenting with confidence because of my experiences with other kids, as a teacher and the like. I smugly expected that parenting would be easy for me, which if anything has made the reality harder to handle.
Loving my son has come easy. I love him fiercely, more than I have ever loved anything else in the world. I maintain that he is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life and anything else I write here does not erase or diminish any of that.
The struggles started on day one. I know everyone is tired of hearing about breastfeeding and I’m not going to stay on this for long, but that was the first wake up call. I just remember being shocked because I had just assumed it would work, and it failed so very miserably. I was struggling because I could not do something that was supposed to be the most natural thing in the world. I failed the very first mothering test.
From there it was dealing with his reflux, trying to figure out what was best for him and for us and what the science said. Then it was sleep. Then naps. Going back to work presented new feelings of inadequacy, even though I had always planned to work part time.
The other night, I bought and served Eli jarred food for the first time and as I stood in the store looking at which variety of plums I wanted to give him, I felt like a failure. Logically I knew that it was perfectly fine and that it would be just fine for him, but inside, I felt like I had failed my child again. Like I wasn’t a good mother because I couldn’t cook all his food, because I had to buy pureed fruits (it didn’t help that I was buying them because I way oversteamed the plums I bought the night before and didn’t have time to do more since I had worked that day).
And now that he’s sick, like legitimately sick (bronchiolitis), for the first time I feel even more helpless. I can’t make him happy right now, I can’t make him feel better, sleep better or do anything else besides whine and cough. He is miserable and I am basically useless to help. It’s awful. I actually called my own mother today and asked her to come down here since my husband is going out of town from tomorrow until Tuesday.
Throughout these past 6 months, I have felt disappointed. Not in my child, never in my child, but in myself. The expectation I had that this would be easy was shattered almost every day in a different way. It turns out that my previous experiences had not prepared me for parenting and even though I have a very laid back baby, it was/is still difficult. And this was so hard to handle because I think at some point, I started to believe that if parenting wasn’t easy, then I wasn’t good at it. That if I was struggling and if I needed help, that meant that I wasn’t really cut out for this, that I wasn’t the best mother for my child.
It’s taken me a while to realize that those two things are not the same. Parenting is hard. Raising a child is hard in every possible way, even if you’re good at it. I don’t think enough mothers say that out loud. I certainly didn’t know it before becoming one. It is amazingly rewarding and I wouldn’t go back and undo our decision to have a child for anything in the world, but I would go back and tell myself to not expect it to be simple. To expect there to be bumps in the road, in fact, I would warn myself that somedays there aren’t any flat parts at all.
And I would tell myself that that’s okay. That it doesn’t have to be easy. That you don’t have to pretend like it is, there’s no street cred to lose here. I would tell myself that it is okay to ask for help, that it’s not a sign of weakness, and that taking that help when it is offered is more a sign of strength than anything else because acknowledging your limitations is one of the toughest skills to master.
I struggle daily with my abilities as a parent, with feeling successful and like I’m doing right by my baby, but I am gradually getting better at realizing that ease of parenting doesn’t mean successful parenting. That some of the biggest successes have been the most difficult experiences. And that if my child is well, if he is happy, then I have succeeded as a mother.
And my biggest parenting goal is that from now on, that is the only score I’m going to try to keep.
As Thanksgiving is only an hour away, tonight seemed like a good night to reflect on some of the things that I am thankful for this year. I don’t have to think terribly hard to come up with a list, and that itself is something I am thankful for. Our blessings have been many and we are so very grateful for each of them.
This year, like all others, I am thankful for family. My family grew this year, we started as just a couple and now it feels like a real family. We are our own entity, we’re no longer identified as someone else’s kids or someone else’s sibling, we’re now us, a family of our own. I am thankful for my husband for helping me create and raise this beautiful boy of ours. Everyday I get to watch him be a parent is better than the last. I’m thankful for our son, who has made my heart grow about 100 sizes since coming into our lives. I feel like the best version of myself because of him.
I’m thankful for my parents, who have not just been unbelievably supportive of my husband and me, but have showered my son with endless love, with material and non-material gifts. They are the greatest grandparents and adore my son almost as much as I do and he is so lucky to get to grow up with such wonderful role models and such abundant love.
I’m thankful for my older sister, who also happens to be my best friend. We have both begun a brand new adventure in parenting, and being able to share in these experiences with her is nothing short of awesome. I’m also thankful for my younger sister, who has always maintained that she never, ever, ever wants kids, but is also just the most adorably loving aunt you could ever imagine.
I’m thankful for my friends, both in real life and online. I could not have survived the first 6 months as a parent without the incredible support system I have here and outside the computer. I’m thankful for the bags and bags of hand-me-downs that my son has received from friends like Allison, Tena and Jen, among others. I’m thankful for friends who send extra diapers and all the adorable monkey clothes because they know how obsessed I am with monkeys.
Over the past 6 months I’ve learned that parenting truly does take a village and I am so thankful for all of you for being a part of our village. I am a better parent and person for having all of you in my life.
I remember when we moved from my childhood home into a new one when I was in high school. We went from an old school electric stove that I felt comfortable operating and cooking simple things like macaroni and cheese, to using burners that had actual fire coming out of them. And despite being a sophomore in high school, I was still totally freaked out.
Over time I got more comfortable, though I am still a total weenie when the burners don’t immediately light and they click for too long. I can just see myself blowing the house up.
So I was sort of torn when we moved into our current apartment and I discovered the electric stove. It feels so much safer, no gas leaks, no open flames, but it cooks like crap. And it turns out, it’s really not much safer after all because I very nearly set our apartment on fire with it.
So, the cat food usually lives in the oven because that’s the only place the cats haven’t figured out how to get into to eat it, but I moved it out onto the counter near the oven last week for reasons that are largely unimportant in life, but the consequence of which is critical to the story. I never gave it a second thought.
For the past several months, I have been exclusively pumping, (which is another post for another time because I don’t have enough energy to go through all the feelings associated with that situation here in the detail I someday want to,) and that means I wake up for at least an hour in the middle of the night, every night. I tend to be very lazy with cleaning up in the middle of the night and hence there are paper towels everywhere. Even on the stove, which was not concerning to me because paper towels are not likely to combust without a heat source and obviously I would move them before turning on the burners.
Only, apparently that’s not true.
One night last week, we had gotten home from eating dinner and I had realized the cats were out of food. I was going to go feed them, but got distracted and initiated the baby’s bedtime routine upstairs instead. Finally, after Eli was bathed and pajamaed, I went downstairs to prepare his bottle while my husband finished reading him a story. I fed the cats quickly, replaced their food and got comfortable on the couch to feed the baby.
Moments after I started feeding the baby, the air conditioner kicked on and I noticed that it smelled faintly of burning. This isn’t terribly unusual because our air system is connected to our neighbors, so we often smell their dinner and their burnt mistakes. The smell persisted and I casually asked my husband to check the kitchen the next time he got up. Several minutes later, he called my name and I could see he was holding a paper towel that was on fire. The burning smell was in fact coming from our kitchen.
It seems that when I replaced the cat food, I had inadvertently turned the electric burner on high. In doing so I had ignited the paper towel I had recklessly placed on the stove. We had a small fire in our kitchen.
Immediately I realized how bad this could’ve been. If I had fed the cats as I had planned, we would’ve been upstairs when the paper towel caught fire. We wouldn’t have smelled it in the early stages and since our smoke detector is upstairs, there’s no way to know how bad things would’ve gotten before we even found out. Would the fire have spread? Would it have gotten to the stairs? All questions I’ll somewhat thankfully never know the answer to.
I have images of being trapped upstairs as our apartment burns. I have images of trying to climb out of the nursery window with a baby. Of my family being injured or worse, all because of my carelessness. Because I was too lazy to toss those paper towels into the trash can located 4 feet away. Because I didn’t check that the burner was off.
The responsibility that has come with becoming a mother feels tremendous some days and reflecting back on what could’ve been is overwhelmingly terrifying. We have so much more to lose now.
Given what could’ve happened, I feel beyond grateful that things turned out the way they did. I realize that we are so incredibly lucky and I’m more able than ever to appreciate all that we have and why I have to work as hard as I can to keep it all safe.