Sunday, July 28, 2013

Acceptance


One year ago, I found out that I was having twins.  I was in shock that day…actually, kind of horrified and scared, to be perfectly honest.  Even after I accepted that I was carrying two babies, was actually excited about it, it was so unreal.  Carrying twins – let alone higher order multiples – isn’t particularly fun.  I was extremely sick, yet I had to eat so much food; I had to visit the doctor every two weeks until the last trimester when I got to see her every week.  I had about a hundred ultrasounds.  Three visits to the labor and delivery emergency triage.  Two admissions for preterm labor with resulting unpleasant medication and hospital stays.  Fun.

My homage to matching outfits.  Probably the only time.
Now, it’s hard to remember having only one child.  The babies are only five months old, but the logistics of everyday life have so changed that I can’t really remember what it was like when all we had to juggle were the demands of our single little one.  Ila has been off from school this last month, and I’ve learned a lot.  Actually, I’ve learned one main thing a lot of times.  It is HARD having a three year old and two babies without any preschool or live-in nanny type support.  I think most people would put money on that being the case, but let me just say it again: it’s hard.  It’s hard to keep everyone entertained, to exercise and engage the three year old, to get everyone napping, eating, bathed.  (Baths have grown much scarcer, let me tell you.  For all of us.  Ila likes to tell me that I’m smelly.)  Then, there’s actually getting out of the house.  HA!  Four out of five days, Kiyomi and I will say, “Let’s go do something all together today.”  Then, two hours go by in the process of slowly getting ready to go…and it’s nap time or dinner time and we abandon the whole trip.  Basically, family walks are our main way of getting out with all five of us.  Otherwise, one of us takes Ila out to do something fun to keep her from getting totally stir crazy.  By the end of the summer after Ila turned one, I think we’d gone on five actual trips.  Airplane rides, long drives, boat rides, train rides.  We’d even been out of the country.  Twice.  Now, we can’t make it out of the neighborhood.  I am thankful these two babies are not extremely challenging…just the ordinary level of baby challenge is almost more than we can handle.

Wobbly babies.

Oh, also, the sleep sucks.  Have I mentioned that?  Since mid-June, night time is not the restful domain of sleep.  It’s a farcical satire of that tranquil state.  It’s become absurd.  A good night is when I wake up 5-8 times to nurse, and everybody goes back to sleep immediately.  Pippa starts squawking at 5ish still.  Kiyomi and she go into the other bedroom and sleep a little longer.  Forrest, my once good sleeping-in companion, now wakes and starts rolling around, gurgling and yipping at 6.  If I’m lucky, he’ll do that for an hour and ila will sleep through it.  If luck holds, I can fall back to sleep for half an hour to an hour.  That’s a good night.  A bad night involves one to three children being fully awake for a period of time, usually more than an hour, and crying or hollering or having a bathroom accident or a nightmare or some other fit of wailing and yallering.  This week, I’ve had three “good” nights and the rest have been a little post-apocalyptic.  (Incidentally, I was planning on taking a challenging course with a lab this fall.  HA HA.  I think I will have to postpone that and take an easier lecture.  Really, even that may be beyond me.)  Amazingly, though my total amount of sleep lies somewhere between a very rocky three hours to a moderately disturbed six hours, I generally feel okay during the day.  Still pretty much human…at least passably so.  Night and wake up time are when I feel like I’ve joined the undead.  Oh well, this is just for…what? Two more years or so?


Anyway, the days run together, and I find that I’ve barely taken note, explicit note, of new exciting things that I don’t want to forget.  The babies have, for the last few weeks, been rolling around a lot, from back to front especially.  Once on their stomachs, they are both pretty focused on pulling their little legs up under themselves and otherwise thrashing around.  Forrest is perhaps a little more persistent about this.  He also gets real pissed about it.  Maybe he really wants to be going places, maybe he’s just sick of holding his head up.  Who knows?  But they could both be little crawlers pretty soon here.  Then all hell will really have broken loose.  This week, Forrest has also become more adept at sitting up.  Over the last five days, he’s gone from ten seconds upright to several minutes…that is, if you spread his legs out to widen out his little base of support.  Pippa sometimes seems even better at it…then she’ll have a day where she doesn’t sit up for 2 seconds when I try.  However, they both love it.  They love watching the whole kooky performance that is our life from an upright posture.  They particularly love watching Ila.  She’s the only thing that has made them laugh out loud without being tickled.  It’s pretty adorable.  Ila is hilarious herself.  She’s so earnest and animated when she talks now.  She’s been talking a lot about her Dads.  Plural.  Apparently she has a few.  Sometimes they are small enough to fit in her pocket.  Other times they are big guys “who don’t clean much but fix a lot of things.”  It’s fascinating and also a little horrifying that some of the cultural messages about gender have really come through already.  We recently went up to Flagstaff (that was an exhausting but fun experience with the three children).  Ila got to hang with a cousin who is about five years older than her.  Ila was entranced.  This girl could do so many things – like pretty amazing tumbling (gymnastics), which Ila had to try in turn.



Perhaps it’s the sleep deprivation, but it feels surprising when I get one phone call or one email sent.  That’s the bizarre thing about having very small children, you are so busy but you don’t actually get much done.  I’d like to try to get even less done, actually.  I mean, sure, I’ll be taking a class this fall, but I will just have to do that in the little bits of time I’ve carved out with babysitting coverage.  When I’m with the kids, I would like to try to do less.  Just the basic amount of laundry and household stuff (which is shockingly a lot, sure) and the rest of the time just be with them.  It’s very easy for me to get swept up in trying to get an email written or an extra load of laundry done.  I like to be engaged with something other than just tiny people.  But, I feel very torn, very pulled in half when I am only partially attentive to all their tiny demands all day.  I mean, I’ve got to get some shit done each day for the house to run, but I need to spend some very conscious, very focused time with the children.  It’s sort of weirdly artificial, but I’ve started sort of setting a goal, like half an hour one-on-one time with each.  The others can be around, but at least half an hour where I am holding and talking to that child.  With Ila, we do story times before nap and sleep.  We have some snuggle time in the morning and after her nap.  With the babies, I try to spend that time with eye contact, holding, talking, singing.  It feels like so little, but it’s hard to do even that much.

Still, I also need to focus a little on other stuff.  Chores, phone calls, a run.  Otherwise I feel a little Charlotte-Perkins-Gilman-Yellow-Wallpaper crazy.  It’s funny because, on the one hand, little small tasks like these are important to distract my brain.  But, too many and I feel stressed, disembodied, like I am not located in the present enough. I recently heard this quote from Thomas Merton about the innate violence of trying to do too much, even for good.  It seems to me that acceptance and choosing to not do is really at the heart of living skillfully with grace and real peace.  It’s just not a skill that’s particularly emphasized or easy.  I mean, who wants to accept all the irritating shit that’s out of our control?  I’d rather rage, blame, resist, holler, and otherwise beat my fists against the wall.  What is that Virginia Woolf quote?  “Against you I fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!”  I’d like to do a little less of that high scale resistance, even if it is very poetic and even sometimes a little satisfying.



Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Less Than Perfect



Pippa

This morning as I began my laundry regimen, my eye caught sight of this little onesie on one of our drying racks.  It’s cute, with little animals on it.  I remembered for a moment, Ila in that particular outfit.  She was so fat and sweet in it.  Onesies, in general, are pretty adorable.  It’s funny, because once you’re out of infanthood, a body suit that snaps at the crotch just doesn’t seem particularly cute or practical.  Anyway, it just got me thinking about Ila’s cute fat baby thighs and arms poking out of her baby clothes…and how I have two cute, fat little babies now.  And how baby clothes are so precious and mini.  It was a real mushy-gushy mama moment.  But, really, babies are so lovely.  So cute and sweet and roly-poly and smiley.  The twins are cooing, gurgling, squealing, laughing, happily grabbing things.  They really focus on an object and pull their arms slowly – as if they were moving through pudding or are a barely rehabilitated stroke victim – toward the toy.  Then, they bring their toy toward their mouth while bringing their head toward the toy.  They look like little potato bugs, roly-polies.   

They are adorable…and a total pain in the ass.  Yeah, that was my next thought in all its maternal glory.  So much for warm fuzzies.  Look, if I could get a real night of sleep maybe I wouldn’t be Dr. Sweet Loving one moment and Mama Hyde the next.  I’m just saying, exhaustion isn’t good for the mood.  We had about 7, maybe 8 weeks of glorious night routines.  The vast majority of nights the babies were only waking up once each to nurse.  That’s just two times to wake up in a night.  Glory!  Hallelujah!  I could simply have them next to me and nurse them lying down.  Ila was really the most unpredictable with her occasional toddler nightmares or middle of the night bathroom needs or the agony of her 20 requirements before she can fall asleep.  But, even Ila, most nights was pretty cool. 

Forrest
Well, apparently they are a union, a united front, a voting block.  A little over a week ago, there was obviously a consensus that sleepy times were over.  The babies started waking up each at least 2 times a night.  Ila got a cold and consequently, had several middle of the night fits of sadness, discomfort and other loud, stormy emotions that, of course, woke up the babies.   Every morning for the last week, I have woken up amazed that I’m not dead.  Just done in by sheer fatigue.  But, then I remember, people don’t die of this.  Tiredness.  It’s makes life a little less livable, but it doesn’t kill you.  On the other hand, people do get sick more easily when not getting enough sleep. Then some of these folks probably do die from nasty secondary infections that their bodies can’t combat because they have two infants and a toddler staging a coup every night.  When it comes to babies, everyone, including myself, says the game is changing constantly.  Okay.  So I know this.  However, I clearly didn’t really believe it with whatever faculty allows you to believe in something deeply enough to act on it…because, well, because I was shocked and upset that the game changed.  I liked it so much more when they slept, you know, for more than a few hours at a time.  Here’s to the game changing again to something I like better.

It’s not fair because she’s three and sick right now, but I think I may be the most grrrrrr-ed about Ila’s current sleeping habits, which include a screaming fit most nights.  We were doing this preemptive bed time snack to prevent the “I’m hungry” dance after lights were out.  Well, it has been working pretty well, but now she realized she can say no to the snack and then ask for food later.  It took us a day or two to reformulate our strategy.  No snacks after lights out except a glass of milk.  And she has to wait in bed for us to bring it to her.  Is this too controlling?  Too making a mountain out of a molehill?  Is this a battle that I shouldn’t choose?  I feel like a seething, fiery demon, only capable of draconian, unevolved parenting when I am exhausted and dealing with her stall tactics at 9:30 or 10 PM.  So, we’ll try this. 

It’s amazing how these things that seem so small, so unimportant during the day become pivotal at night.  And, yes, I get it.  A need for attention, for contact, for focus from me is probably behind all this screaming and hollering she’s doing.  I am trying to give this to her too…but, and I would also like to believe this with that faculty that allows you to believe things and act on them, sometimes I just suck as a parent.   

Sometimes I do.  Sometimes I can’t be the perfect parent I can imagine and construct in my mind.  I know that I’m human, that I have faults, challenges, insecurities, fears.  But, I can imagine not having them.  I can imagine, in almost all situations, what the mature, kind, compassionate thing to do is.  Really, even in the middle of a rage, I know what I should do or so.  I just can’t.  I can’t always do it. Okay, to be fair, I don’t want to be mature sometimes.  Sometimes I want to be a whiny, selfish, grumpy, rigid, unforgiving, know it all, bossy, angry, grudge-y person.   The downside is that I can see all the errors I make pretty much while I’m making them.  Maybe we all can.  And, as a parent, the stakes are just so much higher.  It feels so much more unforgivable that I can’t whip myself into shape and be…perfect.  Or, and this is better I’m sure, just accept that I’m human and accept that I’m not perfect and model this warm, gushy glowing self-acceptance to my children.  One of the best things children can learn is how to make mistakes, to not be perfect.  Come to think of it, it’d be a lot better for me too.      

Monday, June 17, 2013

Morbid Compulsive Intrusive Thoughts in a Mild Case of Generalized Postpartum Anxiety Disorder



There is a special type of mental illness reserved for mothers with small infants.  Obviously, we have names and specific diagnoses for postpartum anxiety and depression disorders.  However, I think these may be on a spectrum.  For instance, I do not think that I have a full blown or diagnosable depression or anxiety disorder…but I certainly have a mild or perhaps moderate form of something diseased living in my brain.  

My concern stems mainly from the amount of time lately that I spend at 3 in the morning trying to convince myself that I a) am not necessarily destined to watch one of my children suffer a terrible childhood illness before dying or be the victim of a fatal freak accident (I certainly might have to but it’s not a sure thing) and b) that I do not have metastatic liver cancer, even though I’ve had 2 dreams and a gripping presentiment about it that were very, very real (this is incredibly compelling evidence in the wee hours of the morning) and will have to, therefore, say goodbye to my small, lovely little children before they are fully grown. 

Okay, maybe I’m not near the “normal” part of the anxiety and depression spectrum, maybe I am drifting out to sea a bit.  I remember for months after Ila was born having to talk myself down off the edge of the yawning abyss that is my fear of death.  Every night from 3-5 AM.  I couldn’t not think about the racing speed my life appears to be going at.  Nor could I stop thinking about the snuffed out candle of an ending we all face.  It’s not like I want to spend my nights this way.  (What do they call these ideas that come unbidden [with alarming frequency, I might add]?  Intrusive thoughts, I believe.  Yes, compulsive intrusive thoughts.  About death.  So, that’d be morbid compulsive intrusive thoughts?  Hmmm.  This is sounding worse and worse.)   

Well, whatever all this is, I am more prone to it after having babies.  Single, double; it doesn’t matter.  Something about having babies leaves my brain fried, strung out and overly anxious.  Probably it’s the lack of sleep.  Probably it’s some wild combination of hormones.  Probably it’s the fact that, while I love all my sweet young’uns dearly, they are quite demanding but not super exciting for the first months.  This leaves my brain free to get into all kinds of mischief – planning, worrying, imagining, wishing, hoping, organizing, detailing – while my hands are busy with infants.  Without my hands and time free, all these thoughts and plans and scenarios are crippled, sidelined, sequestered, caged, fermenting and festering in my brain.  This equals a certain amount of mental illness.   

I love the Anne Lamott quote from her journal of her son’s first year, “What I hope for the new year is that [my son] has a great ride and that I learn to stay a little bit more in the now.  I notice the other day that not only do I spend a lot of the time in the future with imaginary triumphs and catastrophes and boyfriends, or in the past with my memories, but I’m so crazy that sometimes I even go into the past and rehash things that turned out well yet might have turned out disastrously.”  I actually found myself doing this the other day, thinking about a moment when Ila was swimming that could have ended in drowning but didn’t.  Really it wasn’t anywhere near drowning, she was being watched by two adults…but not by me, and I just had a moment of concern or alarm while she was splashing around.   Still, later, I found myself thinking, what if I hadn’t asked these two people to watch her while I took a little dip myself?  What if they hadn’t been watching her?  What if she had actually had been struggling?  Then, my brain travels a little further afield and remembers that drowning accounts for a shocking number of child hood deaths – is it 25%?  Can it really be that high?  And, then further, on to a story my pediatrician told me about a child she knew that drowned at a party with about 40 adults around.  None of those people were actually watching this particular child, I suppose each thought others were.  Anyway, the child drowned there in the middle of a crowd of swimmers.  How can I know that this won’t happen to my child?! my brain screams.

Now, I am not a psychological expert, but I have begun to doubt the wisdom of our doctor telling me that story.  After she asked if we have a pool (no) and are aware that drowning is a common and very preventable way many children die (yes), she could have left it at that.  Why offer the gruesome details?  That story has haunted me now for about 2 and ½ years.  Is it doing more harm than good?  I am not sure, but it likes to sneak in and grip me when my defenses are down.  Or when I’m not thinking about how I am already probably dying of liver cancer and that sometimes dreams do portend real trouble.  I mean, outside of Shakespeare and Hollywood.  I could actually be dying and my subconscious is sending signals via dreams that something is wrong.  Never mind my deep and abiding love of empirical proof and scientific evidence.  This could happen.  I'm just saying, if idle hands do the devil’s work, then idle minds must get into even more trouble.