Friday, January 27, 2012

Go Read My Friend's Blog

Kelly was an acquaintance  in high school, and I was rather terrified of her. She was all sorts of confident and sexy and all the guys wanted to get in her pants, but the amazing thing is they also wanted to be friends with her. She was by far the coolest member of the drama crowd, which I know isn't saying much, but she'd be cool no matter who she hung out with. It was like she almost legitimized the band of freaks that we were to the rest of the school. So fast forward a decade and a half and she and I become friends on facebook. And we somehow morph into actual friends. Z, T, C, and I visited her and her family a few weeks ago at her home in NC. First time I'd seen her in 17 years. The internet is weird.

Anyway, her blog is awesome. It is incredibly honest about the hard stuff and honesty is like crack to me. She had a baby last week and today she posted about the hormonal nuttiness that happens when you are very recently postpartum. She wrapped it up with a photo of her belly one week after giving birth. And it made me think of this post  that I wrote 30 days before C was born. I included pictures of myself in all my huge glory and promised to post pictures in the same dress a few weeks after C arrived to show how a flabby postpartum belly looks.

I've felt guilty about not putting on the dress and taking pictures ever since. But the reason I didn't do it wasn't that I didn't want to show my gross postpartum self. As someone who struggles with positive self image, any opportunity to rake myself over the coals in a public forum is welcome. Instead I felt guilty because I was one of the ladies who ended up losing weight quickly. And I felt like posting pictures would have been bragging. Look at me! Yes, I'm technically still overweight, but I weigh less than a did when I got pregnant! How gross. It wasn't just the bragging aspect of things that kept me from posting the picture. The rapid weight loss was a direct result of the hemorrhage that occurred six hours after C was born. It was another example of my body failing me. With T there was the preeclampsia and retained placenta. With the miscarriage there was THE MISCARRIAGE, and the D&C because it was an incomplete miscarriage, and then the never ending saga of passing all the "products of conception". With C there was the hemorrhage.

It was hands down one of the scariest moments of my life. A few weeks after it happened Z told me it was one of the scariest moments of his life, too. He said that blood was actually gushing out of me, he said it was like a bad horror movie because if you saw that much blood on the screen it would look fake and ridiculous. And the next several weeks were scary as well. I was so incredibly weak. My postpartum emotions were tied up in the fact that I was physically unable to care for my newborn and toddler. I was so lucky to have my parents there and desperately clung to them and their help.

Kelly was able to have the birth experience that she wanted, unmedicated at a birthing center. I am so proud of her for achieving her goal. But I'm jealous, too. Not so much of the unmedicated part, I'm a total epidural gal. And I'm not interested in the holier-than-thou battle of epidural vs. natural (though I chafe at the term natural-it indicates there is something not natural about giving birth any other way). Like in most things I think there is a choice to be made and just because my choice was epidural doesn't mean I look down on those who made other choices. I admire the hell out of the unmedicated ladies and the c-section ladies. All roads to birthing a baby are tough. Hell, sometime circumstances dictate the situation no matter what choice you make. We should be supporting each other rather than judging those who have different ideas than our own. And honestly, C's actual birth couldn't have gone any better. I still get the warm fuzzies when I think about pushing him into this world.

What I'm jealous of is that her body didn't betray her. She didn't hold on to a piece of her placenta, she didn't gush blood while doctors took turns reaching into her uterus to pull out blood clots, her body behaved itself. When I think of my body's weakness I feel shame and guilt and fear. I think about those first few weeks of C's life when all I could do was lay in bed. I think about the middle of the night calls to the doctor's office when I was convinced I was going to hemorrhage again and needed to be talked off the ledge. I think about wanting another child and being scared my body can't handle it. I was too ashamed to post a picture of who I was at that time, I might have had a relatively flat stomach, but I felt like a colossal failure.

The picture Kelly posted is beautiful. She looks strong and happy. This is the woman who left the birth center hours after having her daughter and walked into her home while carrying that baby. She is a total rock star. I may be jealous of her, but I don't begrudge her the success of her experience one bit.

Sometimes your kids are sitting on the sofa and looking totally adorable and you want to share that adorableness with the world and this is what you get instead. 

Check out this kid's lashes. I've always had the shortest thinest lashes ever, it amazes me that my boys have such thick beautiful ones. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

What Scares the Marrieds

Do you want to know a secret about married people? Or at least this married person?  I am terrified when couples split up. Terrified. Crazy, panicked, Terrified. Separations have been on my mind a lot this week because of this and this.  It is scary enough when people split who aren't doing well, but when it's folks who seem to have figured it out, even if you don't know those folks in real life, it is actually devastating. Why? Because, at least in my experience, marriage is the hardest thing in the entire world. It is harder than pushing two babies out of your vagina, it is harder than struggling with mental illness, it is harder than the hardest job you have ever had. And it is constant work. So when people bow out of the marriage game you start to wonder if anything is really forever. If anyone actually makes it. If even though things are going really well right now, it all might just explode in your face next year. Except it isn't about just the two of you anymore, there are two kids who will have to deal with the repercussions. There is strength in numbers, when couples split my selfish, asshole, knee-jerk reaction is "could this happen to me?"

Do. Not. Get. Me. Wrong. I adore marriage. I love my marriage in particular. I am better when part of a team, I have no intrest in not being married. And I only want to be married to Z. He is my rock, he is my roll, he cracks me up and I find him wildly attractive. He also drives me bat shit crazy every single day. Back when our marriage almost fell apart we made a commitment to do the fucking work to save it. That doesn't mean we worked for a while till we were back on track and then all was peachy-keen. We decided to do really hard, really tiresome, really bang-your-head-against-the-wall work forever. We stopped chasing perfect, there is no such thing. Just like in any endeavor we nutty humans undertake we know there will be shitty times. We will hurt each other (though we try not to), but what matters is we will try to be better to each other next time. We accept we are flawed and the marriage is flawed. The key is we are on the same page with our decisions. One member of the team can't make the whole thing work, and the choice to stay in it needs to be made again every single day. We are in a better place in our marriage than we have ever been, yet we still go to couples therapy every other week. So yes, we do the work, but there is no guarantee that both of us will keep our end of the bargin. We might do the work for years and years and still blow it. It is crazy blind faith that we both try every day. I guess it is like religion. Because I'm not sure I believe in God I guess it is the only religion I believe in. But even believers have doubts.

Z feels like we had our crisis, we both decided we are all the way in, and we don't have much to worry about. If you haven't noticed I live in constant fear of everything. I think if I'm not worried about my marriage every minute, if I take my eyes off of it for a second, I'll lose everything. And there. Exactly there it is. The terror comes from the fear of losing everything. Marriage is the hardest thing I've ever done, but it is also the best. To be able to let every single wall you built to protect yourself down, to lay yourself so bear that you've even shed your skin, and to have someone say, "Yup. It is pretty freaky in there, you are twelve kinds of looney tunes, but whatever. I love you anyway. I accept you. I will spend my life with you. I AM ON YOUR SIDE." The idea of losing that is the most frightening thing in the world.  Seriously. It is honestly as scary as the thought of losing one of the boys. Z knows me better than anyone in this huge crazy world, he knows things no one else knows, my absolute deepest and darkest shames, and I'll be damned, he still loves me. How fucking crazy and wonderful is that? It is the most precious gift I will ever receive. I can't bear the thought of losing it.

And dude is not perfect, but I'll tell you what. I love every imperfect inch of him. Ok, if he stopped crunching chips so loudly I'd be super cool with it. But I see him. I see who he really is and I accept him. I want him to keep growing, keep becoming a better man, and I believe he will. I make the choice to take him, noisy chewing and all. Until death do us part. I hope, I pray, I believe.

So here's T back when he was C's age. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith

He's in a cradle that has been in Z's family for generations. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith

Here's C in the same outfit. 

He's super yum. 

I can't seem to stop posting pictures of his cuteness.  

C getting ready to take a dip in the tub. Does he look like T in the first picture, or what?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Hardest Part

Yesterday afternoon we met up with some friends to take the boys sledding. We were late, of course. And when we got to the hill we discovered T didn't have his gloves on. After a few minutes in the cold poor C's little eyes were watering and he'd make this confused sucking noise when the wind stirred up, looking at me with eyes that were asking what the hell was going on. T took one ride down the hill with Z and held out his red little hands, "Mommy! My. Hands. Are. Cold." Thankfully, I found a spare pair of mine in the pockets of my jacket so we didn't have to go home. And I held C tighter to try and shield him from the wind. As I stood there holding my baby and watching my son and husband chug down the hill on the old sled Z found at the flea market the most obvious thought in the world hit me-Holy shit. We are a family of four.

We went from couple to two kids really fast. We are still incredibly green when it comes to the whole parenting thing-see forgetting gloves for our toddler to go sledding. I mean, come on. We were still getting used to being parents of one when we got all crazy and went and had another kid two years, two weeks, and three days later. All things considered, transitioning from coupledom to kids has been pretty painless. I thank the god I'm not sure I believe in for that luck every single day.

But so far the hardest part of this whole parenting business (and I realize I haven't had to deal with the real hard parts that can hypothetically happen-health issues, developmental issues, bullying, teen pregnancy, drugs, accidents) have been the times when T is such a complete and utter shit that in that exact moment in time I really can't stand him. That sounds incredibly harsh, but I think every parent has been there. Or rather, I hope it isn't just me, that I'm not some kind of patience-less monster. It is impossible to like the people in our lives 100% of the time. We certainly don't like ourselves 100% of the time. I never ever want to lose my cool and tell T that I don't like him in the moment. Because it would be horribly cruel and not actually true. The moment doesn't define the relationship. 

The difficulty isn't only the white hot rage directed at the little person you simultaneously love and want to kill. It's the crippling self doubt. The questions like "How can I be raising such a brat?" or "How can I have so little control over a toddler?" or "How can he be doing what I swore no kid of mine would do before I became a mom?" It's the shock that you find yourself reacting with such venom to situations that aren't actually a big deal. He isn't acting like you want him to, but the truth is you aren't either. 

Z had to run an errand after the boys went down for their naps yesterday. And I had to get the pot roast in the oven. It was a small roast for 2.5 people, but even so it needed a bunch of hours to get tender and the clock was ticking. T started shouting for me, so I went upstairs and sure enough he had pooped. I changed him and got him the water he asked for. He took a huge sip, looked me right in the eyes, and very deliberately spit the water all over himself and the bed. It just kept coming and coming. I couldn't believe he could hold that much in his mouth. I was speechless. And while I was trying to collect my wits he said, "Mommy, clean me up!" I told him not only was I not going to clean him up but he couldn't have more water. He chose to have wet clothing and bedding and he needed to live with it. And I left. This was not a popular choice. 

Since he transitioned to his big boy bed he hasn't had toys in his room. Nap and bedtime were playtime until we removed the temptation, but slowly we've been bringing stuff back in. As he cried I heard him start to play with the toys. There is a wooden box filled with train tracks and toy trains. He became hulk-like in his anger and managed to throw the box. I still don't understand how C slept through it. And I was so angry I couldn't even speak to T. I entered the bedroom, just like he knew I would. But I wouldn't engage, I just took out every single toy and left again. A couple of minutes later he was sound asleep on his bed. Yet I was so pissed I was shaking.

He was trying to get me mad in order to delay the nap. But let's be serious, he didn't understand I needed to get the roast in the oven. He didn't understand that the afternoon is the time I get a break from the two of them to do household stuff. He didn't understand that my anxiety has been pretty bad since we came home from the holidays. But my anger was so encompassing that I couldn't remember all that stuff. I could only seethe and wonder how a toddler could be such a spiteful ass. 

I'm the grown up. I shouldn't let him crawl under my skin. And most of the time he's a great kid. He deserves better. If I find this stage so hard what the hell is going to happen when the real difficulties hit? I hope that being honest with myself about my shortcomings will help me learn from them, I hope that over time I become the mom that he deserves. 

His awesome hair post-nap. 

Yup, he believes this is a smile. 

By this point all was forgiven. I cannot resist his adorableness.  

And I cracked up at his reaction to being told he needed to eat a bite of carrot before Daddy would give him any bread. Dude ate the carrot. 

Mr. C learning to play the guitar.  

He has turned into such a little smiler, but I can't seem to capture that with the camera. Evidently, playing with the strings a very serious business. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back at home

The other day my mom asked how we were settling back into life at home after a lengthy trip down south and I told her all was fine, but I was feeling like I really was missing C. Kind of a strange thing to say when you consider I'm a stay at home mom and he's my kid. But it's true.

Back in July I wrote about knowing C would not get the attention T got as a first born baby. He's gotten even less than I hoped, mostly because he is such an easy going kid. But also because Z and I are much more laid back ourselves, and because a toddler needs so much more than a newborn does.

[A couple of the more benign examples my "relaxed" mothering include being at a holiday party on campus where I was introduced to a colleague of my husband's. She asked where my baby was and I sort of waved my hand toward where the bulk of people were. She looked for a baby in that direction and didn't see one, so I confessed I really wasn't sure. My good friend had walked off with him about 20 minutes before, I knew he was in safe hands and I didn't give him another thought-I was too busy chasing T. The woman looked at me and said, "Wow. The baby really is a second kid, huh?" And then there was the time our babysitter and I miscommunicated and she gave C a bottle of formula that belonged to a friends baby that had been sitting in our fridge for about 2 weeks. I had no idea if mixed formula went bad, but C barely drank any of it, he seemed fine. I sort of took a deep breath and let it go. I'd have been on the phone with the doc's office immediately had that happened with T.]

No matter how relaxed I've gotten, or how many times the pediatrician tells me C isn't really missing out on anything because he has a fabulous older brother to learn from I still feel guilty. Forget guilty, I also feel incredibly sad in a very selfish way to miss out on that intense uninterrupted time T and I had to get to know each other. But for a short while, while we were with our families, I got a taste of it. T had cousins to play with, grandparents to fawn all over him, and a dad who would like nothing better than to spend all day playing. C and I were often left to our own devices, and it was pure bliss.

It's been a major adjustment to be home. Z is back at work this week, and T's school doesn't start until Monday. I've had a number of gross anxiety attacks in the last 5 days. We aren't back in a routine and I've really let myself wallow a bit. I'm overwhelmed because I've realized things aren't going to be like they were last fall. C was so little and so easy then. He was happy to be on his play gym or in his bouncy seat or in the Ergo or the car seat while T and I got on with the business of the day. Well, little man is four and a half months old now. He wants to be in the thick of the action and he lets us know it isn't cool to leave him hanging out by himself for long. This two kid thing doesn't seem quite so easy when both kids are clamoring for attention. I can't just let C chill while I put T down for a nap. For the first time in T's life I'm using a movie (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets-T can't get enough of Dobby) to entertain. After lunch I settle T on the sofa and start the movie so I can take C upstairs to nurse him without distraction and get him into his crib for a nap. Then I plead with T to be quite as we tiptoe upstairs to get him down for naptime. On top of juggling the kids and their needs, C isn't sleeping through the night anymore. He's been ending up in bed with Z and me where I nurse him whenever he starts to cry. I wasn't this tired when he was new. This fall was a gift, now is when it gets tricky. And stays tricky for a really long time.

My delicious baby boy. 

The fellas finishing HP after nap time. It's hard to make out, but the boys were holding hands. 

My current favorite picture, an outtake from the Leonard family photo shoot. I have no memory of this being taken, but what the hell are we doing? Why do I look like I'm doing some particularly awful acting after getting the direction to "enjoy the sunlight on your slightly upturned face with a dreamy smile"? Why does Z look like he is going to nibble my face off? I adore it. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith. 

And here's a nice one of the fam. Ellie's the best! Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Karen, Mighty Procrastination Queen

Do you remember the post about getting an SU ID card? So I could take a class? Classes start next week and I haven't even begun to look at the catalogue to find something to take. Do you remember the post about a new tattoo? We didn't stop in Baltimore on the way home. The gift certificate is lost and it expired at the end of December. I contacted the artist and he is cool with doing it this month, but I've still got to actually get my ass down there. And, um, find the damn certificate. It's been almost a month since I've posted last, I've begun a half dozen posts in my head and none of them have gotten further than a few sentences down on the computer. Procrastination is my art form, I don't think it would be bragging to call myself a master.

I can hear my old shrink in my head asking what the payoff is for my bad behavior. The list is long. Proof that I'm a lazy fuck is at the top. Yes, I've always thought the mental illness was a big fat excuse. I've always known I was worthless. The more I procrastinate the truer that is. Fear is a big one. Life is going pretty well right now. Trying something new could really rock the boat. Or I could discover I couldn't hack whatever I want to tackle. I'm better off not knowing I'd be a failure. Shouldering more responsibility might crush any productivity I've got going now right out of me. There are so many compelling reasons to keep procrastinating.

We got a new car at the end of March. It is standard transmission. The timing was perfect for me to learn how to drive it. Spring was arriving and the snow was melting. I'd have good weather to learn, be all set before snow started in the fall, and be able to help with the drive down south for the holidays with our families. I mean, I had nine fucking months to learn to drive the thing. The week before the trip Z told me I'd have to figure it out on the highway. He was only half joking. And I was seized with terror. That week I convinced myself that I would cause an accident and kill my children. Yes, I recognize that I have a ridiculous and over active imagination. Knowing it doesn't ease the dread. We got into the car on December 19th as I was having a crippling anxiety attack. Z told me to take a chill pill. I sat in the front seat and tried not to cry as we drove south. Midway through Pennsylvania I screwed up the courage to tell Z I couldn't drive. I couldn't put our boys at risk. I wasn't scared of driving on the highway, I was scared of stopping during a traffic jam and not being able to start. I was scared of sudden stops period. I was scared to navigate the roads off of the highway when we stopped for gas or food. I was scared to drive at night.

One of my favorite things about Z is that when I am in a flat out panic, when I really fall apart, he makes me feel loved. He always tells me he is on my side, and it is true. He promised I didn't have to drive. He promised we would stop at a hotel if he could no longer drive safely. He asked why I didn't just tell him all this sooner. And he told me that when we arrived at my folks we would take the car out every single day, because there was built in childcare, and there would be enough time for me to learn how to drive before we started the next leg of the trip.

It wasn't easy or pleasant, but Z is a teacher by trade. At the end of our visit I drove the 3 hours from my folks place to Greenville, SC to meet friends for lunch. And in the middle of the big drive home I drove another 3 hours to spell Z. Now this isn't some fabulous victory story. My driving ended for the day when I almost got the car stuck in mud off of a dirt road. Don't ask. Z just gently suggested I get out of the drivers seat and let him get the car back on the road. I was super impressed that we didn't need to call AAA. And even now the thought of driving that car makes my palms get all sweaty and my stomach cramp. Now that we are home I proposed the four of us take a car trip at least once a week with me driving, but we'll see if that actually happens.

A dear friend sent me an email out of the blue recently, telling me s/he wanted to be more like me because I was learning new things and facing my problems. I felt like such a fraud. I have two days to get my ass in gear and figure out how to register for a class. I need to figure out the tattoo thing before all that money we can't afford to lose disappears. I need to learn how to drive the damn car proficiently. I need to stop being scared to look at our bank account and address that we spend more than we earn. And all this stuff makes me want to curl up on the sofa and watch an NCIS marathon while pretending that the real world doesn't exist. How could anyone want to be more like me?

My fab sisters-in-law gave us the idea for the sign. It's pretty clear how I feel about getting behind the wheel, huh?

The Cordano sisters and kiddos during part one of the trip. 

The extended Leonard clan on New Years day. Photo by the ever amazing Ellie Leonardsmith.