Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How Did We Let Ourselves Get Here?

Last night after the kids finally stayed down for good Z and I got nice and drunk, and splurged on mozzarella sticks and wings from our local pizza place. Because of the journal I've been reminiscing about the life we used to have in New York and kind of mourning it afresh. Parenting an unruly toddler while hung over sucks (completely my own fault, I know), but you know what? I had fun last night. A whole lot of fun. It's ok to miss the kind of fun we used to have, but it's important to remember life now isn't less fun, just different.

I'm trying to focus on the fun stuff.

It helps me keep my mind off how embarrassingly awful yesterday afternoon and early evening were. No one in our house behaved properly. Ok, to be fair C was fine. But T yelled, I yelled, Z yelled. The kind of yelling that the neighbors could hear. I know because we heard T loud and clear as we were taking out the garbage. Yes, suddenly we are those people. I sort of don't want to show my face on our block ever again. I've been chronicling the deterioration of T's behavior for months. There will be weeks where he does better, but the overall trend is jerk-ville. We've been counting to 3 and then giving him a time out since he was less than a year old. Back then the time out was just holding him in place for 10 seconds. For a long time it was putting him in the exersaucer for a minute or two. But a few months ago we started sending him to his room or the steps and he wouldn't stay put. Which has emboldened him to misbehave in other ways. Managing his bad behavior would be a hell of a lot easier if we weren't also caring for a baby who has become mobile himself.

We've gone from being the parents who calmly and consistently deal with bad behavior to the ones who just lose their shit, and yell all over the place. T is rewarded by seeing us so worked up-getting a rise out of us is what he wants. We aren't following through properly when he behaves badly because it is hard to make sure a kid stays in time out when you are also trying to make dinner while watching an 11 month old who is crawling into the dishwasher.

I'm not trying to justify my own bad behavior. I'm not helping things by throwing temper tantrums right along side T. Dealing with an almost 3 year old and and almost 1 year old is the hardest parenting has been so far. You kind of get lulled into thinking you are rocking this multi-kid parenting gig when the second baby is new. Except for nursing and changing diapers that baby requires very little. You certainly don't have to negotiate every fucking little thing. It's the negotiating that wears you out. For ages T was an awesome sleeper with a predictable 20 minute bedtime routine. And over the course of a year in which he learned to whine and beg and manipulate we've realized that bedtime takes over an hour and we have no idea how we've let things get so bad.

When Z got home yesterday it was a breaking point for all of us. Our current situation is completely unsustainable. T is an asshole and we are enabling him. So we have a new plan. No more yelling. No more negotiating. We calmly tell him to stop his behavior or he will go to time out for a specific amount of time. Like if it is close to lunch until lunch. Or until Mommy cleans the kitchen. Or until Mommy turns the a/c on and gets C up from his nap. The length of time isn't huge-5 or 10 minutes. But we get a break and time to regroup. He sees there are serious repercussions for his behavior and we don't try to talk things to death and reason with someone who isn't emotionally mature enough to participate. I think the next few days are going to be incredibly hard on all of us. But after a week or so I hope to see a change in his behavior. If not we will try something else.

Part of what is making this approach possible is the fact that the lock on his door is turned around. I know, I know. We lock the kid in his room, we must be monsters. We turned the lock around last fall. The transition to his big boy bed was pretty damn smooth. But after a month or so he figured he could get out of his room. So we nipped that in the bud. And then, over the course of several months, we started leaving it unlocked at night. He handles it pretty well. Most of the time he doesn't open the door, or if he does we tell him if he does it again the door is getting locked. And if we do lock it we just unlock it on the way up to bed for the night. But during this period we are showing him we mean business with the locked door. He isn't going to get us to change our minds about giving time outs no matter how impressive his tantrums are.

We have been bullied by his tantrums and threats of tantrums during C's naps and bedtime. The last thing we want is for the baby's sleep to be interrupted. But for the next few days we need to let that go. T is tantruming it up in his room as I write this. And C is taking a nap. At least I hope he is, he might wake at any second. T wants me to bring a specific shirt up to his room for naptime. He's using it as a stalling technique. I told him no. His freak out is so impressive that I am dying to get him the shirt to shut him up. But 1-2-3 Magic (it's a great book) is right, if I get the shirt for him I'm teaching him his tantrums will be rewarded.

So yes, we are in the middle of a rough patch. Ultimately I think we are going to be grateful that we had the boys so close together. But right now they both require a massive amount of hands on time. It is frustrating to know that we never would have let T's behavior get so out of control if he was the only kid we had to worry about. But that isn't really the answer either-letting him be the sole center of our universe. We are teaching him that there are other people in this world who have needs that are just as valid as his own.

Who knows, maybe this won't work. But Z and I are committed to finding something that does. I know we will figure this out. We need to not just for our sanity, but because we want to teach him to be a decent person. Damn, this motherhood gig is hard. If possible go hug your parents, people. They deserve it.

 A lot of our day is spent having fun. Here he is dancing with his shadow while we were watching a digger tear up the lawn across the street because of a sewage problem. 

This has been out front several times over the last few days. The joke never gets old.

He majorly digs finger painting.

Playing and singing with his Daddy who just finished making those ukes.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

This weekend was a rough one at Chez Cordano-Leonard. Seems like a good time to post the "Being a Toddler Sucks" thing I started on March 27th of this year and never finished. Four months later we are struggling with the same shit.


Last Friday T, C, and I hosted the playgroup we are part of at our house.

(Can I start with another tangent? I resisted playgroups for a long time. I didn't want to make friends based solely on the fact that the people were parents because I didn't want my identity to be that tied to being a mom. And then I grew the hell up and realized that I didn't have to be best friends with every mom I meet, and that when you make friends there is usually a commonality so who gives a fuck if that commonality is parenthood? I know many wonderful people who don't have kids and who also managed to grow up, but clearly I was unable to be one of them. Mothering has been a kick in the pants for me, I'm still a self absorbed jerk, but I'm less of one now that I have kids. Kind of shameful, but at least the growing up is happening, you know, in my mid 30s. So yes, I love the playgroup.)

One of the moms has a son who just turned one. She heard me "counting" at T as a disciplinary technique and she asked when I started that. We had a conversation about it and she noted that it really has worked for T and that he does a great job listening. I said something like, "Well, he has a really long way to go."

A few minutes later I realized how incredibly unfair that was to him, so I found my way back to her and thanked her for complimenting his behavior and said I agreed that he was doing well. My expectations for him are high. And my reaction was colored by a really rough week. T's teacher told me that kids often experience a major backslide in behavior when a sibling gets very sick, so he's coming by his behavior honestly. But his father and I have been ready to wring his adorable little neck.

There is a lot going on in T's world right now that is awesome. He is lucky enough to go to an amazing preschool, he has a father who absolutely revels in spending time with him, his grandparents who he adores are here for a visit, and now that his brother and he go down for naps around the same time and there is only one of me he gets to watch a video in the early afternoon while I nurse C to sleep upstairs. Life is damn good for this kid. At least that is what I'm constantly telling myself. I also tell myself that I would love to trade places with him. I'd love to spend all day playing, to have everyone else cater to my sleep schedule, to have all my meals prepared, to get snacks whenever the hell I want them, to have someone there to kiss my boo-boos when I fall down, to nap every day.

But the truth is being a toddler sucks. He is desperately trying to figure out his place in this world and our family. He wants to know what he can get away with, it is his job to push boundaries. Suddenly he is shouting "No!" in an incredibly disrespectful way at us and at our friends. A few months ago he started telling us he didn't want stuff. Like his book before bed or his drink of water or even his dessert. And the second we say, "OK, no dessert." He shouts, "I WANT DESSERT!" What he wants is to see how long he can get away with jerking us around or how long he can drag out the bedtime routine. We've been proactive. We've explained to him that if he says "No!" to something we'll give him to the count of three to change his mind, but then we are going with what he said. He's getting it, not all the time, but he is getting that we will not spend our entire day indulging his every whim.

The "Whys?" have started as well. "Why can't I have a bath now?" "Why can't I say 'No!' to you?" "Why can't I have a chip?" Sometimes I completely fail. I tell him, "Because I said so!" But a lot of the time I answer the questions as well as I can. Sometimes he is stalling with the questions, but he is also actually trying to figure stuff out. It sucks for him that I get to say, "No!" all day long and he can't say it back to me. It sucks that I'm in charge and he has to listen to me, even if I explain that it is my job to tell him "No!" so he can learn how to be a responsible and kind person.

Some days I feel bad for him, some days I wallow and feel bad for myself for being stuck with him, and some days I do manage to feel grateful. He is hilarious and cuddly and holy shit, the other day I was trying to nurse C before his nap while T was supposed to be watching a video downstairs. Suddenly I saw him wander by C's bedroom door, naked from the waist down. The moment he came into my sightline a little nugget of poo fell from his bottom. That stuff is the comedy gold and it helps get me through the rough days.

I love my frustrating, frustrated, joyful, confused, pissed off, amazing little boy.

And now it's time for a quick "No Shampoo" update. 
Front view.

I've been shampoo free for more than 8 months. This summer has been pretty frustrating. Part of the reason is I'm still shedding so much that I'll be completely bald come fall. My initial postpartum shedding started when C was about 3-4 months and continued for several more months, but slowed down at the beginning of the year. Around that time I started taking the low hormone birth control pill. I now remember that when I was 16 and started the pill I had terrible shedding. In March I started losing hair again, and it hasn't slowed. It has been pretty awful.

**Update** The shedding has nothing to do with how I wash my hair. Sorry for any confusion. 

Side view.
But there have also been issues with the cleaning process. Initially I used 1 T of baking soda. I've now cut that in half because it was so drying on my scalp it started giving me dandruff. Not cool. I've also had to wash with baking soda/apple cider vinegar every other day or so (down from every four days) because my hair is getting dirty and greasy in the heat. I'm still sticking with it because I know I was unhappy with conventional shampoo when I was using it and I really don't want to go back. On pinterest a friend pinned a link to this technique, and I might give it a try. If I do I'll let you guys know how it works. 

Back view.

These pictures aren't filtered in any way. Just no flash in our 3rd floor bathroom. They would have been better if I'd gone downstairs to grab my comb. But the uncombed look is definitely more honest, and that my friends, is what this blog is all about. So it's still pretty darn shiny, which is nice. Just ignore the fact that I need a trim, and that I'm, you know, balding. Anyway, I'd still recommend the technique. Be aware that you need to pay attention and constantly tinker with the amounts. If anyone has specific questions I'd be happy to answer away.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Journal

In fifth grade I was given a small, pink, hard backed diary with a lock on the side. I promised myself I'd write every single day and promptly forgot to do it. Well, not forgot. I let myself get in the way, I didn't think anything that happened in my life was exciting enough to record. The funny thing is I was bullied terribly that year, there was plenty to write about. But even as a girl I was too scared to do it. Writing struck me as something sacred. I was already a voracious reader, my sister had to bribe me to play with her. I'd rather spend all day every day curled up in a nest I made in my closet with a book. Over the years I've come to believe I am an excellent consumer of words, I still lose myself in books the same way I did as a child. They are magic to me, a way to lead different lives and be different people. Sometimes I feel more alive when I am reading than I do in reality. But along the way I convinced myself that I was no producer of words even though I wanted to be. 

As I grew up I would occasionally take pen to paper when life got too overwhelming. But what I wrote was so raw and humiliating and honest that the thought of anyone reading it filled me with enough shame that I would destroy the words soon after they were written. I remember burning pages on the floor of my dorm room freshman year at Sarah Lawrence, almost setting the house on fire. Ah, to be 18 and a complete idiot. 

Around that time I had a discussion with a journal writer. I explained that I felt like reading someone else's diary was a terrible invasion of privacy, even posthumously, even if the work was published. I asked this person if when he wrote he thought that the words would someday be read by others. After some consideration he answered "Yes". My breathtakingly know-it-all mind felt like he was doing it wrong. Diaries were private, if you wanted people to read your words you should be writing a story or poetry or nonfiction. How could you be perfectly honest if you were writing for an audience instead of writing for the truth? If you managed to lay your soul bare you would never want anyone to read it. Again, to be 18 and a complete fucking idiot. I wasn't brave enough to write, obviously it was cowardly to condem anyone who had the balls to do it. And the idea that writing for an audience and writing for truth were mutually exclusive was simply idiotic.

The first winter of Z and my relationship was during my final year at college. We met the previous summer, and 7 months later were still in the throes of that heady new love. His mom had given him a blank book that had sat empty on his bookshelf and one night in a fit of romanticism we decided we should write down what happened in our lives once a week so we wouldn't forget. The idea seized my imagination and for once I got out of my own way. I recorded our time together from January 13th to May 9th of 2009. The book has been on my mind, so yesterday I tracked it down in our attic room. Over the 13 plus years since it was written I've casually looked at it for a laugh every now and again, although it's probably been more than half a decade since the last time I'd opened it. 

The leather bound blank book in question.

I'm reading through it now, and it is kind of a mind fuck. I'm more convinced than ever that my own journal keeping is a private matter. Although it is far from explicit, I super duper don't want my kids or grandkids reading about my sex life. But I'm surprisingly grateful to have the experience of reading about who we used to be. I expected to be a bit embarrassed (and was) at how young and oblivious we were, which isn't quite fair to us. We were young, so of course we acted that way. But I was surprised and humbled (and I really hate that word-I find people use it when they are not actually humble at all, but in this case I can't come up with another word that explains exactly how I feel) that we were struggling with many of the same issues we face today. I feel so much sympathy for the young versions of us who have no idea how close we would come to losing our marriage, or what it would do to us to experience a miscarriage, or what completely different people we would become. We stayed out till the middle of the night and slept in till noon. We were young, and it was sort of fabulous. We were completely wrapped up in each other, still getting to know everything about our histories, so hungry to establish  intimacy. We have been family to each other for so long I can no longer imagine a time when that intimacy, which now feels like a necessary part of who I am as a person, did not effortlessly exist.

I'm also proud of us for doing hard work and discussing our problems so early in our relationship. I'd just come out of an awful situation in which the person I was with and I treated each other like garbage. Z and I made an intentional effort to treat each other with care from day one. We often failed. We weren't fair to ourselves or each other. But we tried. I also feel sad for the girl who assumed that her needs weren't quite valid and who tried to adjust them to fit those of the boy she loved. How young was I when I established that I was probably the one who was wrong in any given situation? The anxiety hadn't taken hold in a way that overrode everything in our lives yet. It was there, but I beat it regularly. I lived life. I really don't remember a time when it didn't control me, so knowing it wasn't always in charge is very comforting.

Last night I told Z reading the journal now was the reason I'd written it in the first place. We are far enough away from it to appreciate it and learn from it. He said we should do it again so we could read about the nuances of our life as young parents 14 years from now. I think he's right. I think you guys should do it, too. When I was writing back in '99 I felt like the future me was so far away, that it would take forever for 14 years to pass. And in some ways it did take forever, but it also took no time at all.

Z clipped a Polaroid of me modeling the dress I got to wear to my college graduation into the book. I'd completely forgotten about this picture.

He took two Polaroids that day, and put the second one in a box lid and propped it up in his kitchen. It's been on display in every kitchen we've lived in ever since, and now is covered in years of kitchen grime and grease.

This is where I write. 
I'm going to start making more bold statements like that from now on. Because I want to write, damn it. I've wanted to for years. And I'm not going to let my fear get in the way. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ice Cream

There was an elderly man at the closest scale to the bulk salad bins. Usually I would walk to another scale, but I had both boys with me and maneuvering all three of us around the produce section is not a lot of fun. We'd gotten to the store late and it was almost lunchtime so I was feeling particularly impatient. At our grocery store you are encouraged to put scale labels on the produce to speed check out. I skip it with some things (the first PLU any cashier learns is bananas), but the organic bulk field greens always get a label. I waited to the side of him repeating "94824" over and over in my head-I didn't want to forget the code.

The man took his time. He looked up and noticed me as he was finally picking up his bananas and said hello. I said "Hi there!" in return as I continued to mutter "94824", always sure to be polite to the old folks because that's how my mom raised me. He gently placed the bananas back on the scale and acute annoyance washed over me. I wasn't getting away from him quickly. In his slightly accented voice he told me how happy he was that the price of bananas was still low-all of the other food had gotten so expensive, but bananas were still cheap! I murmured my agreement and hoped he'd pick up his bananas and go.

He noticed the boys. T was sitting in the front of the cart and C was strapped to my chest in our Ergo. It's the easiest way to get through the store with both of them-while it's kind of a drag to be chained to the cart, T can't dart off if he sees something shiny. He told me how cute they are and I sincerely thanked him. Any mom will tell you it doesn't matter what kind of hurry you are in, when someone compliments your kids you stop, listen, and savor it. He reached over and touched C's arm, "I'm from the Old Country. We were taught that the first time you see a baby strapped to his mother you give him a dollar. It's the way I was raised, it's the right thing to do." I started to feel alarmed and told him that was so nice, but he didn't have to do that. He told me again it was the right thing to do, and he reached for his wallet. I started to feel panicky. I did not want this old man to give us money. He was a stranger. It felt totally awkward. And absurd. 

He told me he wanted to give the baby $5. There were three bills the wallet he pulled out, a $20, a $10, and a $1. I prayed I would either be swallowed up by the ground or he'd hand us the $1. He put the $10 into my hand. The crazy part of me worried that if anyone was watching this interaction they'd think the low class tattooed lady was pan handling in the produce section of Wegmans, taking advantage of the old folks. I know that thought was nuts, no one was paying us any attention. The not crazy part of me felt like a complete ass for being annoyed two minutes before that this kind man wanted to talk, he wanted some simple human interaction, to feel a connection with my boys. He told me about the 3 boys he used to carry on his chest and what colleges they were currently attending (Le Moyne, one I'm embarrassed I can't remember, and MIT). He wanted to reach out and be a small part of my boy's lives. That sense of wonder at his gift and his caring started to win out over my discomfort and embarrassment. I tried to give him back the money, but he wouldn't take it. He told me to buy the boys some ice cream. I knew if I continued to press the issue I would make both of us even more uncomfortable. So I extended my hand and gave his a firm shake and thanked him again as simply and sincerely as I could.

For the rest of the trip I walked around in a sort of daze thinking about all the little moments of kindness that exist in this world and feeling so lucky to be on the receiving end of one of them. The $10 that sat in the front pocket of the Ergo completely captured my imagination. What should I do with it? There was a teenage mother shopping with her own mom. They were walking side by side and taking up the whole aisle and created all sorts of inconvenient and rather rude traffic jams. I got stuck right behind them in the condiment aisle. But for once I didn't let myself get filled with rage over such an inconsequential thing. I even toyed with the idea of passing the $10 on to her. But I was conflicted about giving away money for the boys-if the dude wanted them to have it would it be rude for me to spend it differently?

When I got to my car I pulled out my phone and quickly put the story on my FB status, asking my friends what I should do. They said to do what the guy wanted-which deep down I knew that was the right thing. After dinner Z and I decided there was no time like the present, C's bedtime could be a little late for once and we drove over to Gannon's. Z suggested putting the change from the boy's ice cream in the tip jar. The place is staffed by teenagers and the jars say "College Fund" and have the names of all the schools the kids are either attending or want to attend written on them. It felt like a perfect way to respect the gentleman's wishes and do a little something nice for others.

The only hitch was that T won't eat ice cream. I know, I know, it kills me, too. We talked about how awesome ice cream was over dinner and T told us he liked really dark brown ice cream, which was a crazy load of crap, but we ran with it. When we got to the counter we asked for a sample of chocolate. To our surprise he tentatively licked the spoon...and...our stranger-kindness-miracle held! He said he liked it! We got him a kid sized cone, and got some soft serve in a cup for C. Yes, C is a little young for a cow milk based treat, but he's done great with yogurt and cheese and hell, it's what the guy wanted. Sometimes you give your baby age inappropriate special treats. Or at least that is what I told myself. Z and I got ice cream, too. When it came time to settle up I asked the young girl if I could pay for the kids and adults ice cream separately. She was very accommodating. She handed me back almost $6 in change from the boy's treats. I told her that an old guy at the grocery store really liked my boys today and gave me the $10 to get them ice cream and that we decided to give the rest to the "college fund". Her eyes got really big and she asked if I was sure. I said I was. I realize it's not like this was some huge gift to the kids working. It wasn't even really my money. But you know what? It felt really nice to do something surprising and decent. I sort of understood why the guy did it in the first place.

The boys yummed up the ice cream. C is teething right now and I think the cold did wonders for his gums. T got to make a huge mess. I don't know about Z, but I enjoyed the hell out of mine as well-for the record a kid's sundae...soft serve choc/vanilla twist with peanut butter sauce and extra whipped cream. It was perfection.

 Getting into the swing of things.

And here's the kid in the Ergo who caught the attention of the kind old man. 

Z finished before anyone else. 

 I think he liked it.

His beautiful blue eyes slay me. 

Does this look like someone who doesn't like ice cream?

Thank you, sir, where ever you are. Thank you for giving our family a lovely night out. We thought of you as we ate our ice cream. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work on being gracious even when I'm uncomfortable (Also thank you, Michelle, for making that point). Thank you for reminding me that there are plenty of kind hearted people who just want to make a connection in this world. I'm glad I waited for the scale you were using. You taught me a lot yesterday. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Anxiety: A Pain In the Ass-Frustrating-Bore

Yesterday I was sure I was dying for no less than three reasons, none of which actually made a hell of a lot of sense. I had severe stomach cramps, which I linked to the cantaloupe I'd eaten because wasn't there a listeria outbreak traced to cantaloupe last summer? And didn't a lot of people die? My mind then skittered over to the bug bites in the crook of my arm. They happened the night before and one of them developed a little white puss filled center during the day. I googled away, was certain it was a poisonous spider, bed bugs, and fleas at different times. My arm felt numb, my heart raced, my breathing was shallow depending on what symtoms I was reading about. Then T brought a stuffed elephant into the back yard where C and I were playing. My mom had purchased toy years ago for a coworker's infant. Shortly after she sent it to me my friend suddenly left the company and then experienced a devastating personal tragedy that just seems gross and exploitative to write about in any more detail. The elephant became cursed to me, but I couldn't bring myself to get rid of it either. It moved from Brooklyn, to Providence, to Syracuse and I have no idea how T got his hands on it. Bile rose in my throat watching him play with it, I was seized with terror that he would be raised without a mother. And while my mind was ping ponging from one imagined crisis to the next I felt myself grow fatter and fatter and fatter.

I hate writing about this. I hate feeling it even more.

Since we've gotten back from vacation I've been pretty damn swell. There was one hiccup over the week of the 4th of July. Our friend Kevin and his amazing and lovely girlfriend were visiting and I had an "anxiety episode" surrounding going out for ice cream of all things. Not sure why it happened, although Kev is so close to us-introduced us, best man at wedding, lived with us for a time, seen us through some great times and terrible times-that I can be my most raw in front of him. I know if I freak out he'll still love me. But other than that uncomfortable evening (in which I rallied and we got the ice cream-which was magically delicious) I've been great. Over the last month I've taken 4 chill pills. Six months ago I was averaging 3 a week.  Slipping back into the anxiety after so long feels both familiar and foreign, which makes no sense. But then trying to make sense out of mental illness is a fucking joke.

The backsliding is going to happen. It just sucks. Feeling fat and ugly and useless sucks. Suddenly little things that I usually wouldn't let get to me have wormed their way into my brain. I'll obsess about an unflattering picture posted on facebook. I'll convince myself I'm the object of scorn and pity to everyone who knows me. My psyche is so fragile it can be bruised if someone looks at me wrong.

I want to just give up and give in. Cry all day and stuff my face with pie and cookies and expensive frozen coffee drinks I can't afford. Forget about writing on Mondays and Wednesdays, forget about coming up with a plan to go back to school. Disengage from life because it hurts too much to take part.

You see, my marriage really is not perfect. Twice over the last week Z has hurt me deeply. Both times were accidents. One time he was actually trying to be proactive and not hurt me, and it backfired. I know I'm a huge over-sharer, but I'm not going to go into detail about either situation-it isn't fair to him. Dude cannot be expected to be perfect. And it's not like I don't fuck up frequently. We are going to hurt each other, it's unavoidable. When I hurt him he doesn't spiral into unwellness and dispair. How unfair is it that he has to contend with the specter of an extended anxiety meltdown whenever he fucks up? He should not be punished for an unlimited period of time, thankfully he knows I'm not doing it on purpose. It's yet another reason to feel ashamed of myself. To question why he would want to be with someone who is so much fucking work.

Six or seven years ago I would have pulled away from life completely. Wouldn't leave the house, wouldn't talk to Z, wouldn't take phone calls from my family. That impulse is still there, but I am fighting it. I'm forcing myself to write. I'm having the hard conversations with Z. I'm mothering my sons. I'm doing laundry and making dinner. I will not let myself check out of this family. Even if I know things might get bad enough in my crazy brain that another breakdown is unavoidable I'm still going to try and beat it. Anxiety is a severe over-sensitivity to life. It does hurt too much to take part sometimes for those of us who suffer from it. But that over-sensitivity also makes the good stuff feel so incredible. I'm fighting for the good stuff.

Here's the good stuff.

Post s'more grown up good stuff.

The best stuff. 
I looked out the door and saw this yesterday. Turns out they were hiding from monsters. 

I don't want to miss any of this. I don't want my anxiety to trick me into thinking my life isn't wonderful. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Charming Son

A few weeks ago I heard Z say to T, "You have to tell Mommy what you just told me!". T was standing in the middle of the kitchen naked with his underwear in a lump at his feet when I walked over to them. "MOMMY!" he shouted. "I went to the bathroom! And I didn't pee on my hands! I get a square cookie!"

I totally lost my shit. "You didn't pee on your hands? THAT IS AMAZING! I can't wait to give you a cookie after you eat lunch!" It was the highlight of my morning. But the I started thinking about it and I wondered how we fucking got to that point. How was I celebrating the fact my kid did not wipe pee all over himself? Had pee wiping really become normal expected behavior in our lives? Um, yes. Yes it had.

Let me back up a bit. By the time the morning in question happened T hadn't had a treat in about 3 weeks. Because one day he just started rubbing both hands all over his junk after he peed, so that last little bit of urine was spread all over the place. At first I freaked out. But as we established on the comment thread on FB from this post that is a really lousy response (thanks again for your help, friends). So I managed to remain calm and inform him he didn't get dessert. Every single time he peed. Dude loves his treats, but evidently he loved wiping pee all over himself much more. Until one day he was ready to stop, and since that morning he hasn't done it again. He's decided he likes to take a square or two of toilet paper and dab himself dry, which is a little weird, but whatever. It's harmless.

I'm out of my league here folks. I don't understand how to effectively parent an almost three year old. And frankly, I don't enjoy doing it. The ability to reason with him does not exist. He just does whatever he wants to do and it drives us crazy. We discipline him over and over but the bad behavior remains until he arbitrarily decides to cut it out. Z and I feel so completely helpless. After we returned from our trip down south Z and I had a therapy session. We hadn't been in over a month and our guy asked how we were doing as we sat down. I said, "My son is a dick." He looked over at Z, who tends to be the less dramatic of the two of us and was clearly expecting to hear that I was exaggerating. Z very calmly said, "He is a total dick." Our shrink laughed nervously.

Bratty kids drive me nuts. They turn into bratty teens and bratty adults. I swore I'd never ever have a brat for a child. What's the old saying? The best way to make god laugh is to tell her your plans? T is a total brat. And it makes me feel like a failure. I'm not sure if this is nature or nurture, but it drives me so crazy. And a crazy me is not a helpful me. When we were visiting my parents my wonderful cousin and his family were there as well. He and his wife have two little girls and T terrorized them. My cousin and his wife were pretty relaxed about his shitty behavior, but I really let it get to me. Which he recognized so he kept it up. I really hate myself for making a moderately crappy situation much worse. But I couldn't bear that he was being mean, so I just couldn't leave well enough alone. If addressing the bad behavior makes it worse what the hell am I supposed to do?

He is rude and willful and cruel. He's experimenting with telling people he doesn't like or love them. He is physically aggressive with his brother. The bottom line is I'm embarrassed and frankly hurt by his awful behavior. Nothing seems to get through to him. We speak calmly and he ignores us. We yell and he laughs at us. We do time out and he doesn't give a shit. We take stuff away and he cries, but doesn't adjust his behavior. He's frustrated at us and we are frustrated at him.

Part of the reason that I've been writing about Z so much is it is easier to blog about the stuff in my life that is actually going pretty well. I started writing this post the morning that T didn't pee on his hand, but just couldn't bring myself to finish. One of the many unfinished posts I'm working on is from months ago, I revisit it ever few weeks. It's about how hard it is to be a toddler. Because even though I'm angry and venting here I understand he's also having a difficult time. Figuring out your place in this world in an enormous undertaking. And he is sweet and fun as well as being a pain in the ass. During C's nap time T constantly asks when he is going to get up. Of course when C is around he does things like cover him in a blanket and squeeze him. That was a fun moment. But he also gently touches him or pops C's pacifier back in his mouth or gives him a toy. He gets in bed with us in the morning and cuddles. He begs us to play with him, he really wants to interact with us and I know the day is coming when he won't want to do that.

I know he won't be a toddler forever (thank fucking god), I know that the only constant is change. This is just a particularly unpleasant stage. I need to not capitulate to his unacceptable behavior. We let him get away with being a brat now and he'll just keep on being a brat. And though god might be doubled up laughing right now I proclaim I will not have a bratty school aged kid!

OK, he's a dick, but he's also pretty adorable.

I mean, look at his sweet and fierce concentration while reading at the library.

 And his wacky humidity curls.

And his very first temporary tattoo, which he simultaneously wanted and didn't want.

His astronaut brother ain't bad either.

Listen, please don't get me wrong, I love my kid. I also like my kid. Many days he does really well in the behavior department. And when we are around other little people who aren't being perfect angels it really doesn't bug me. Hell, it's easier when the kid your son is playing with is the one misbehaving. When it isn't your responsibility bad behavior is much less stressful. I'm not saying it shouldn't be addressed, it should, but it also isn't the end of the world. T is a lot of fun and is a good kid much of the time. But I won't sugar coat what goes on in our lives after trying to be honest while writing here. He's being a jerk. A lot. And while letting it get under my skin is a major disservice to him, it is still my responsibility to guide him toward better behavior. I seriously need to figure how the fuck to do that. 

Monday, July 16, 2012


I'm jealous of Z. Like really really jealous.

We've got a new deal going on with scheduling. He's teaching all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays so on Mondays and Wednesdays he's with the boys in the morning and I'm with them in the afternoon to give each of us time to do our own thing. I want my own thing to be writing. I'd like to write here more often, but I'd also like to give fiction the old college try.

I've wanted to try my hand at writing stories for several years. I think about it all the time, have half a dozen plot lines in my head, compose paragraphs as I shower, and get none of it on paper. On the first day of our new arrangement I packed up my laptop and headed to a coffee shop around the corner from our house. I ordered my drink and settled in. I actually managed to open up Word and start writing. Then the stomach cramps started. After about 15 minutes it became clear to me that the dude forgot to make my coffee. I sheepishly headed back up to the counter and he looked up and didn't recognize me at all, even though there were only two other people in the shop. I gently reminded him that I'd purchased an iced mocha and I watched as he slowly remembered the previous interaction. A few minutes later he brought my drink over along with what I like to think of as a guilt cookie and profuse verbal apologies. I told him it wasn't a big deal, I was planning on staying for a long time so it didn't matter when my coffee arrived. Which basically guaranteed I'd be leaving in the next 5 minutes. Sure enough I had to run to the bathroom moments later. And ask for a to-go cup for the rest of my drink right after that.

The coffee guy asked why I was leaving and I lied straight to his face. Told him I was having a child care situation. Thought that was kinder than the truth-that I was having an anxiety attack with a side of IBS flare-up. Of course he left the shop at the same time and started walking towards my house. I broke out in a full body sweat. He and Z know each other casually and if he walked by our place and Z was out front it would be clear I lied to him. Thankfully he got into a car about a block away from home, not before kindly offering me a ride. I declined, told him I was right around the corner. I felt like such an ass. Back at home I sequestered myself for the rest of my time in the 3rd floor and got maybe a page written over the course of several hours. Then on Wednesday I used the morning to write a blog post and wrestled with an upset stomach the whole time.

So what does the rambling story about not writing much, IBS, and being forgotten by a coffee guy in a near empty shop have to do with being jealous of Z? Everything. When Z wants to do something he fucking does it. He was miserable in NYC, so he got it together to apply to grad school, got into one of the top art schools in the country, and the experience changed his life for the better. I am hella proud of him. He missed playing music with people, so he set up Syrauke which became a thriving gathering and led to an artist-in-residency and the gig with the modern dance company. He embraces life and opportunity after opportunity comes his way, not because of luck, but because of his hard work. He not only embraces life, but he loves people. By getting involved in so much he meets tons of folks. Everywhere we go he seems to run into acquaintances. Part of that is because he's such a character. People remember him because of the way he dresses and because he throws himself into any social interaction.

Back when we lived in NYC the same thing would happen so often it felt like an incredibly trying joke to me. I'd see someone I'd previously met and greet them. They'd have no idea who I was. I'd tell them I was Zeke's wife. There faces would light up, "Zeke! How the hell is he?" or "He's such a great guy!" I felt totally invisible. Which was and is by design. I'm awkward in public, uncomfortable in my own skin. I clearly value myself so little, why would a stranger bother with me? It became a very vicious circle. Z is fun and flirty, I'm a stick in the mud. For years I've pretended that I don't want attention from others while watching Z sort of blossom under all the attention he receives. My honestly uncomfortable admission for the day is I want to be part of the action as well.

And finally the writing thing. I'm trying to put myself out there on the page, or more accurately on the computer screen. It kills me to acknowledge the years I've wasted. I don't think I wasted them because I'm lazy. I'm not afraid to work. It's the paralyzing anxiety. I'm scared I'll suck, or make a fool out of myself, and the fear is so humungous it has made taking a chance on anything impossible. Mental illness has been the most powerful force in my life for so long. It's not like Z doesn't have those fears as well. But he just does his thing anyway. He is an amazing person, an amazing example for me. I really do look up to him. When I'm not eaten alive with envy.

After all this time I'm finally trying to be a part of life again. And it feels so hard that my throat is closing up just writing about it. But my suffocating fear of failure is preventing me from living. For years the safety that the fear provided won, it was worth it to miss out if I didn't have to risk being hurt. But that isn't good enough anymore. The trade off is too costly. When Z looks in the mirror he sees someone he likes. He might as well be saying, "Hello you handsome devil!" When I look in the mirror I see every single flaw magnified a hundred times, the ones on the outside and the ones on the inside. I've come to realize my way is much more self indulgent than his way. Yes, I'll have a hard time, the anxiety will get worse in certain moments. But I vow to put myself out there. Maybe I'll even try some flirting. Hell, maybe someone can have a crush on me for a change.

Have I written about the paper hats here? Or is it just a facebook thing? Z made one several years ago and wanted to wear it everywhere. I wanted to kill him. It's become his summer hat of choice for doing work around the house and he no longer threatens to wear it to restaurants. He made me one a couple of months ago and I occasionally put it on to humor him. His is the original. Can't believe it hasn't fallen apart.
We went to Chittenango Falls this weekend. T's favorite part was wading.
My favorite part was the cairn Z made for me. There are a bunch in our backyard, he makes them whenever he see good rocks and then he always says, "A Cairn for my Karen" which is pretty damn sweet.
Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker having a lightsaber duel in our backyard.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Harmless Crush

A woman we know has a crush on Z. This isn't a new situation. Z is a pretty magnetic guy. I'm not saying that every woman out there is drawn to him. But a certain segment of the population finds it simple to fall a little in love with an earnest, creative, hardworking guy who is pretty easy on the eyes. Added to that is the fact that Z is a tremendous flirt. When I was discussing this situation in therapy I told our guy that Z would happily flirt with a rock sitting on the ground. Z looked at him and said, "Well, rocks can be pretty cute." I'm actually rather jealous of his ability to flirt. He makes it look so fun, but I feel like such a fraud doing it that I tend to abstain. No one likes an awkward flirter.

And this whole crush thing isn't just in my head. Z agrees. A mutual friend who has spent time around all of us agrees. I was telling another friend about it and the phrase "a little crazy" came up to explain her. Believe me, as a super duper crazy person I didn't mean in pejoratively. My friend's eyes got big and she said, "But Karen! "Crazy" is his type!" I almost died laughing. Crazy is, in fact, his type. Although he has insisted that he's gotten his fill with me and if he ever finds himself single in the future he will only pursue sane women. I don't believe him for a second. 

Honestly, I'm not thrilled about the crush. I'm as jealous as the next gal, it brings out incredibly possessive feelings in me. In the past a situation like this would send me into a tailspin of anxiety and self loathing. When I was unwell I hated myself so much that when other women expressed intrest in Z I was sure he'd rather be with them. Over the years he's caught the eye of numerous ladies. And sometimes he's clearly dug on those ladies a bit himself. Which makes him human. We've been together for more than 14 years now. My head has been turned by other guys countless times. I love men. Love looking at them, thinking about them, hanging out with them. I've been boy crazy since I was old enough to figure out that boys and girls are different. 

I also trust Z and he trusts me. Over the years we've figured out the way to deal with the fact that we aren't the only two people in the world is to talk about it. I think it would be pretty hard to actually have an affair with someone I've discussed with my husband. We both know what attracts the other person and are forever pointing out  people we think the other will enjoy. Fidelity is hard. Deciding that you are going to be with one person for the rest of your life is intense. Finding a coping mechanism to deal with that reality is necessary. We are both pretty traditional when it comes to our relationship, there is nothing about the polyamorous lifestyle that appeals to us. The security and intimacy we share is more than worth the trade off of not getting to fuck other people. And cheating would be a deal breaker. Not to say we both haven't had emotional affairs when the going got tough, or even when the going wasn't so tough. But we agree that what we do with those feelings is what matters. 

We didn't get to the good place we are at now without a lot of heartache. During the breakdown I was sure that he regretted his decision to be with me. Every woman that crushed on him seemed able to give him so much more than I ever could. I felt like the right thing to do would be to let him go and be happy. I knew in my bones that someone as pathetic as me would never really be good for him. At the same time I was desperate to hold on to him. I punished him over and over for nothing at all, raging and blaming him for what was out of his control. When I recognized what was going on this time I started to have those feelings. I compared myself to her and found myself lacking. She is thinner, she is talented, she is driven. And I told myself I was worthless. But as the panic started to rise I somehow managed to curb it. I am not worthless, Z loves me, he hasn't done anything wrong, nor have I, nor has the woman who is a little in love with him. We feel what we feel. No one has acted inappropriately in this situation. She isn't going to jump his bones. He isn't going to leave his family. I'm not going to let my illness convince me I'm useless or let it tourment him by begging for proof he wants to be with me again and again. And hell, it is a little cool that someone is into my man. 

***Disclaimer: This isn't about you. I promise. The person in question does not know I blog. Details were changed to protect the innocent. If you do have a crush on Z it's no problem. Believe me, I get it. 

One more unrelated thing: I forgot to mention that when I was getting the tattoo a few weeks ago Temptation by New Order came over the sound system while the needle was running. When you get tattooed there is a definite adrenaline surge. To have my favorite song in the history of the universe come on in the moment that I was getting a tattoo in honor of my sons was an incredible rush. By far my favorite tattoo memory.

I mean, who wouldn't be a little in love with this guy?

This nutball insisted on the hat even though it was a 90 degree day. 

He told me he was making a "T".

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Z and Me

As part of this whole saying-yes-to-life thing I agreed to go to a dinner at a friend of Z's house a few Fridays ago. And I told him to volunteer us for dessert duty. The next morning I asked him what he wanted me to make.

Z, "Nothing complicated."

Me, "Actually, baking does relax me."

Z, "That is completely untrue. This is you when you aren't baking" And he stood there completely still with a blank look on his face. "This is you when you are baking." He scrunched up his face. In a scary voice he said, "Don't. Talk. To. Me. Leave me alone. I am very tense." Suddenly he spun around and walked away. "I've got to poop."

He was totally right. If I'm anxious I do freak when baking. But forget about all that. His silly little story cracked me up for days. I get that you might not agree it's funny, but he wasn't trying to make you laugh. He knows his audience, exactly what to say to appeal to me. And I adore it.

For the record, I did make a pie without freaking out. I even made the cookies that were used to make the crust. Probably to prove to him I could do it without losing my shit. 

During our trip to DC one of my friends made an offhanded comment about Z and I having a passionate marriage. Or at least it seeming like that from what I post on FB. I was really shocked that passion was what she got from my posts which are usually designed to amuse. And I was worried that I was somehow fake-portraying a perfect relationship-what a very dear friend refers to as acting like the "smug marrieds".

Z and I have a far from perfect marriage. We drive each other nuts daily. I'm a hideous nag, he could be a hell of a lot more careful about basically everything. But we also sincerely like each other. And I think that makes all the difference for me. When we almost split up around 7 years ago we didn't like each other at all. It was a huge uphill battle to get back to get our friendship back. I actually like him a hell of a lot more now than I did the day we were married.

It is so easy to take the daily stuff in our lives for granted. I do it with him, our kids, our wonderful life constantly. But somehow the almost-end of our marriage and the slow climb back to a functioning relationship-you know what? Strike that. The transition to a functioning relationship for the first time in our mutual history had a big enough impact on me that I still revel in how much we enjoy each other. Don't know if it's passion (I mean, can passion include so many poop jokes?) but I'll take it. Even with the irritating day to day stuff, even with the bigger stuff that we go to therapy to deal with. The intimacy and enjoyment I have with him is one of the best parts of my life.

I don't believe in soul mates. I think I could be just as happy with thousands of people out there. Differently happy, but happy all the same. I also don't take forever for granted. In fact, I live in constant fear that we'll get lazy about being together, or one of us will change, or some huge life altering event will happen and we won't be able to get past it and our relationship will end. Marriage is the hardest thing I've ever done. And I'm including pushing two babies out of my vagina in that statement. A lifetime is very short, but the day to day stuff does feel like it goes on forever. Just because Z and I are happy now doesn't mean we will be in 10 years. It's a terrifying thought, but it keeps me honest. Yes, our marriage is the hardest thing I've ever done--it's also the best. I hope I choose our particular kind of fucked up happiness for the rest of my life.

I even love him when his ass is covered in sawdust.

And when he is doing crazy stuff like cutting dovetails for the sandbox he made for T.

But it's effortless to love him when I watch him being a dad.