Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Less Than Perfect


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. 

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.    

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Little Bit Little: Happy Birthday Ila

Although Ila is big, as she likes to tell random strangers in the parking lot, she informed me she is still “a little bit little.”  She seems quite a bit big right now.  It’s wild to think that a year ago she was just turning two.  She was still sort of a baby – speaking in little phrases, nursing, newly potty trained, still wanting help do many things.  Now, she is almost a preschooler, wanting to do everything on her own…except, say, picking up her toys.  These early years really pack in a lot of changes. 

Ila in her first month.
Even crazier than all of this, is the fact that before three years ago, she didn’t really exist.  Now that I have some baby comparisons, I must say that Ila was a generally sweet, calm baby.  She has always been kind of a serious child, watching everything very closely.  The cool thing about this is she is very perceptive and understands so much going on around her.  The down side is that she is very perceptive and understands so much going on around her.  We can’t have any conversations not meant for little ears around her at all, not even a stray comment.  She also has an uncanny ability to understand us when we try to spell something out. 

She also, now, doesn’t want to do much when we ask; she usually tells us she is “not ready” for her hair to be brushed or to put on sun screen or to eat or to get her shoes.  Lately, we ask her how many minutes until she is ready (the answer is always 5 minutes; good thing that’s the upper limit to her concept of time right now).  Then, no matter the answer, we set a timer for about two minutes.  Fortunately, the passage of time is still pretty abstract.  This gives her time to adjust to the idea that we are doing whatever it is.  Mostly it works.  Sometimes she will never be “ready” for whatever we are suggesting.  We try to not get into situations where it becomes an out and out battle of the wills because, and this certainly wasn’t happening a year ago, we end up with a screaming fit. Wooo.  Three is quite an age.  Somebody recently commented that she felt the “terrible three’s” were more accurate than the “terrible twos.”  I must say that Ila certainly has a more decided opinion about the way things should happen now.  This is both exciting and, in the case of a screaming fit, quite challenging. 

Fortunately, screaming fits are not the norm.  Mostly, she is a lovely, snuggly little goose.  I can’t quite remember our house without her plane trips to the beach (a line of little chairs in her room is the plane, the beach is the rug) or her work as our in-house doctor (she always measures your stomach with a little paper measuring tape she got from my obstetrician, even if you are complaining of a head ache and cough) or her discussion of her many babies, several of which are usually still “in her tummy,” or without all these little bags filled with sundry, unsorted stuff tucked in every corner of the house.  This is, perhaps, her favorite activity: putting crap into bags.  Puzzle pieces, books, papers, random articles of clothing all together in a bag.  It doesn’t matter what it is, she’ll bag it. 

Three years ago this week, she was born.  She came out howling (and kept at it for a good 45 minutes) but settled into a calm, watchful little baby girl.  She is so funny and thoughtful and just her own little her.  I can’t wait to see what this year brings.