Wednesday, August 29, 2012

T Saves the Day

Class starts in about 6 hours, just when my parent's plane is supposed to land in Syracuse. I need to be cleaning the kitchen and writing a grocery list. So naturally I've decided to blog. The last couple of days have been supremely unpleasant. While I pride myself on being self aware when it comes to the mental illness I've been blindsided by the staggering anxiety surrounding this silly class. Two days ago I was getting myself a coffee treat at a shop two blocks from my house with the boys. As the woman was making the glorious, frozen, whipped cream covered, completely unnecessary and ridiculously expensive concoction I started thinking I might come to the shop to do my homework at some point this semester. Instantly my bowels liquified.

I hustled those kids out of there fast and high tailed it home. Didn't even pause the 5 seconds so T could pick up his fishing pole (broken stick he found on the walk over) that he left outside the coffee shop. What a huge mistake. We got across the street before he realized we didn't grab it and he howled the rest of the way home, throwing himself on the ground twice. Which took a hell of a lot more time than stopping for the stick would have in the first place. I was covered in a cold sweat by the time we got back and then he refused to enter the house. It took almost half an hour to calm him down once we were inside.

A small victory is I've managed to get through the week so far without taking a chill pill. But I'm violently reminded why I hate rocking the boat. Any change, even good change, is so fucking overwhelming for me. The anxiety starts to convince me that I'm not stronge enough to take a stupid class. I think about other people who can try new things without completely falling apart and I'm eaten up with jealousy and self loathing. Then I think about how much easier it would be if I wasn't taking this class. How this week would be full of blissful sameness and safety if I didn't put myself out there. But that safety wouldn't really be blissful. It would be suffocating. Both choices actually have negative and positive repercussions. Choosing to live life has more of both, I made the right choice.

Yesterday I went back to the coffee shop for another drink I can't afford. T didn't want to do, I had to force him. It had been a rough day for him and me. He hit his brother for no reason multiple times, he wouldn't listen to me, I was done with him. He was freaking out while I was on the phone with my sister-in-law and I didn't have the emotional fortitude to redirect or engage him or do any other positive parenting and I didn't even give a shit that I was being a bad mom for an audience. I'd been trying all morning and I was done. After the call I told him we were getting Mommy a coffee drink. He whined and said he wasn't going. I told him he could either come or we'd stay at home and he would have a nap in his room. He put his shoes on.

On the way down the driveway he asked if I remembered him crying the day before because we didn't get the fishing pole. I told him I did remember and that I was very sorry for not stopping. Unprompted he told me he was sorry, too. We had a great walk to the shop, and damned if that broken stick wasn't still on the sidewalk in front of the shop. I let him take it inside after he promised to be careful and he fished for stuff while we waited for my drink to be made. He handed me imaginary napkins, fish, Baby C, birds and I pretended to put all the things away in my pockets. It was awesome. On the walk home he told me that he had so much fun at the coffee shop. It was time for his siesta when we got home. I put Sesame Street on for him while I put C down for his nap. A few minutes later I came down and hung out on the sofa with T. I ended up drifting off for a nap of my own. I'm not an attractive sleeper, I snore, I drool, I thrash around. My shirt rode up during my snooze exposing my stomach. When I woke up T reached over and touched my flabby and stretch mark covered skin. "Mommy, your belly is bootiful." Toddlers are hard, and my belly is anything but beautiful, but god damnit, sometimes the unconditional way that they love is more healing than anything I can possibly imagine.

Monday was Z's first day of classes. He has freshman for the first time at SU this semester, as well as sophomores and seniors. 

And here's my back to school picture from this morning.  

A huge branch came down in our yard yesterday. I guess the chainsaw I didn't want him to get does come in handy sometimes...

This is my favorite chainsaw.

Our sweet little house got a bit of a facelift this summer. Z remade the porch railing to match the latticework on the sides and the porch and front entrance got a fresh coat of paint. Now if we could only afford to get the asbestos shingles abated and restore the original clapboards that are underneath....

Sunday, August 26, 2012


The great part about signing up for a class less than a week before it starts is there is not tons of time to psyche myself out about it. Unfortunately my evil anxiety doesn't need tons of time. Almost immediately the high of actually doing something started to fade and that fucking little voice began whispering in my ear, and it has gone for the jugular. I won't get home from school until 9pm at the earliest. C's bedtime routine starts at 6:30ish and little man is in his crib somewhere between 7:15 and 7:30. I know it is crazy early, but he gets up at the ass crack of dawn even if he goes to bed much later. So it makes sense to keep the early bedtime at this point.

Class meets two days before C's first birthday. He only drinks breast milk, has never taken a bottle, and I haven't introduced any cow's milk yet. I nurse him before bed and I have every night of his life. That time is special for a couple reasons. I love holding him close, love looking at his beautiful face and marveling at how perfect he is. I also love having a few minutes to read on my Nook or just to think, a few minutes when no one gets to ask me to do anything. Even though I am with C it's like a mini-break from life. But it's better than being alone, it's special time with my littlest man. I am overwhelmed with guilt at the thought of not nursing him before bedtime.

The plan is for me to pump so Z can give him my milk in a sippy cup. And if C really freaks out, well, it'll be a pretty unpleasant couple of hours, but I can always nurse him when I get home. When we discussed the situation Z asked if I should just start weaning him. I jumped so far down his throat that I reached his intestines. It wasn't an unreasonable suggestion, the problem is I feel pretty damn defensive about my choices in the nursing department. I'm not ready to stop and he's not ready either. The World Health Organization recommends nursing until a child is 2 years and beyond. I point that out not to make people who can't or don't want to breastfeed feel bad, I firmly believe that everyone needs to make the choices that are right for their family. Rather, I feel self conscious about my decision to nurse beyond a year. I worry that people are going to think I'm some damaging breastfeeding kook. I worry that I'm being selfish about nursing because I get so much out of it. It makes me feel connected to him, at this point it's also so easy. Never dealing with bottles is a beautiful thing to someone who sucks at housework.

Listen, I'm terrified about this class. My anxiety is telling me it is going to punish me big time for rocking the boat. I know that it isn't the end of the world that I'm not there to put C to bed for 15 Wednesdays. In fact, I have the feeling it'll be harder for me than it is for him. But I can't stop thinking about it. I look at him and I feel like I will be betraying him on Wednesday night. I feel like a selfish ass for doing something for myself at the expense of his comfort.

Dude. These thoughts are mega unhelpful. And mega ridiculous. Do I think that it makes you a bad mother or person not to be there every single bedtime of your child's existence? Abso-fucking-lutely not. When I frame it that way it helps me remember that my anxiety is a lying asshole. C will be fine. I will be fine. C will be fine. I will be fine. If I say it enough times hopefully I'll start to believe it.

This sweet kid is a major hugger. It is impossible to resist his charms. 

We visited Daddy at work.

The lovely H reads to the captivated boys.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Did It!

Yesterday's post was a really great idea. I felt like I was obligated to go to campus and register for the class today. I was going to do it first thing, but C has been sick and I didn't want to mess with his nap. Then I was going to do it after nap time, but C slept extra long and the city had a tree removal company take down a huge tree across the street and another around the corner and T was riveted, some friends from down the street hung out and watched as well. I think little boys can smell construction vehicles from a mile away-they led their mom right to our house. After that excitement it was lunchtime. So I told myself after lunch we were going. Seriously, for real this time.

The parking garage closest to where we were headed was free because it was move in day for the students, a pretty good sign. Did I feel like a little bit of a fool walking into the University College building wearing a baby and holding hands with a toddler? Yup. Did I feel like a bigger fool when I approached the main desk and asked if that was where I could sign up for a class and the woman pointedly but kindly said, "You REGISTER for classes at that window."? Um, sure enough. Did I feel like the biggest fool of all time standing in front of the very young woman who registered me as I stuttered an excuse as to why I hadn't managed to fill out the form properly? Yes, yes I did. But whatever. I signed up. And it only took about five minutes.

T mostly kept it together and his reward for that Herculean feat was to pick something out from the pastry case at the Starbucks next door. I opened the door and realized it was a stupid idea to even go inside. I couldn't actually identify the end of the line. Did I mention it was move in day? But T would not be deterred by a long line, the repercussions of which (behaving himself for a very long time) he clearly did not understand. There were long haired, skinny, impossibly young girls in sorority t-shirts everywhere. They all looked exactly the same. We snaked our way to the end of the line and stood behind two of them. I had the startling realization that I was technically old enough to be their Mom. As that thought was rattling around my brain I heard one call out to a friend she obviously hadn't yet seen this school year. "How was Milan?" "Fabulous!" an unseen girl replied, "I miss Europe SO much, I HAVE to get back." My eyes rolled so hard I almost got whiplash.

And I realized a couple of things. It's easy for me to feel superior around the undergrads. Because if I don't feel superior I'll just feel like a very old hag. Also, I was those girls a short 15 years ago, so I'm just rolling my eyes at myself (ok, not exactly those girls-no sorority, no looking polished and blown out and manicured, but just as annoying in different ways). I got snarky because suddenly the class thing seemed real and scary. The act of signing up for the class made me feel like a bumbling fool, I haven't been in a college classroom since 1999. I'm going to be the oldest person in the room, including the teacher.

That's the other thing. I know the professor. He's actually the father of the boys who were hanging out with my boy as they watched the trees come down this morning and he happens to be one year my junior. So yes we're friends. The other day he dropped by with his sons and we were hanging out in the backyard shooting the shit. I asked what he was teaching this semester and he told me about a new class he was developing. It's called "Farm to Fork" and the first part of class is a traditional lecture about CNY food sources. Then the class moves into a teaching kitchen where a local chef will lead the students in creating a meal out of CSA baskets. How fucking awesome does that sound? Awesome enough to get me off my anxiety paralyzed ass and sign up for it!

So yes, I'm feeling stupidly proud of myself for doing something very easy. I'm also scared. Really scared. I shall be taking a metric ton of Imodium on Wednesday afternoon. Class runs from 3:45-8:45. I am fucking doing this thing.

Brothers cracking each other up. These two were my fabulous entourage at campus.

 He slays me with his adorableness and sweetness. I actually miss this kid while he is sleeping.

Action shot! He's got the balance bike thing. I'm super proud of him even if I can't convince him to wear clothing. 
Oh, and he was a rockstar at Starbucks, which was hard for him. It was a lot of standing still and not touching stuff. But he got his brownie, damn it. And he enjoyed the hell out of it. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And Hello Fall

This morning when I pulled into the parking lot at therapy there was a moving van straddling five parking spaces right where I always park. When my routine is messed up I become sure that something bad is going to happen, so while I was planning on talking about other stuff during my session it made sense to bring up how unexpected changes in my routines completely wreck me. It was embarrassing to tell my therapist that I thought something bad was going to happen while we were talking. I'm not sure what the bad thing was supposed to be, she rightly pointed out we didn't tend to have "bad" or "contentious" conversations.

And it wasn't a bad conversation. I explained that I resent my anxiety for demanding that I be a creature of habit, for requiring that I must always do the same thing in order to feel safe. But she reframed the situation. She said that my anxiety wasn't forcing me to do the same things, rather I was battling my anxiety by finding comfort in my patterns. She said the routines helped me get through the day and I should cut myself some slack when it came to them. I'm still on the fence about the discussion. Cutting myself slack always seems suspect-like taking the easy way out. But it was a lot of food for thought.

New things, transitions, the unexpected they are all hard for me. But the truth is there is so much to feel good about right now. Fall is my favorite season. As a kid I was excited about the start of a new year of school, which led to Halloween, which led to Thanksgiving, which led to my birthday, which led to Christmas. It's a couple of months that are filled with awesome. As an adult there is the added fantasticness of our wedding anniversary kicking things off on September 3rd. I'm happy for T, he wants to go back to school with every fiber of his being. I'm happy C will get more of my attention. I'm looking forward to apple picking at local orchards and the many Jewish Apple Cakes I'll make. My parents are visiting next week, our friends from Brooklyn might be coming up, our sisters-in-law are planning on coming on October, my folks will be back for Thanksgiving. That is a shitload of good stuff.

And tomorrow I'm going to drive down to campus and sign up for a class. Seriously. I'm going to do it. I swear. At least I'm desperately trying to talk myself into it. By writing it here I'm hoping there will be no way to back out. If I make it happen tomorrow I will definitely post about the class. It sounds unbelievably cool. If I do make it happen I will be unabashedly proud of myself.

We got T a balance bike! 

And a fireman bike helmet! 

Here he is demonstrating how little he needs a nap. 

Smooching my sweet and sick little man.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Goodbye Summer

Yesterday really felt like the mother of all Sundays, the way Sundays felt a million years ago when I was in high school. The day would start out as a weekend, but by noon the specter of another school week loomed large and suddenly it wasn't the weekend anymore at all, it was a school night. Z let me sleep in until 8am because I was up twice with Master C in the night. And we did have a lovely lazy morning. But yesterday was the last real day of summer, the last day before Z went back to work full time and dread settled in the pit of my stomach in the afternoon and is still sitting there now.

I know that it is small and selfish of me to resent the start of the school year. But it is more than just being sad that our magical family summer is over. I feel stuck. Classes begin next Monday and it looks like I won't register for one yet again. I'm telling myself I can't because Z is teaching so much this semester that his office hours are already limited to less than he likes. But mostly the anxiety is winning, and goddamn it I feel trapped.

How did this become my life? I was a good student, I got into an excellent college, and here I am in my mid 30s without a career. How did this happen? My 20s were lost to temping while I never quite successfully pursued acting jobs, then to mental illness. Yes, I eventually began working in bakeries and that did lead to the gig at Whole Foods which went really well. I loved working there, I was able to make a good living for me and Zeke while he was in grad school. But even if we didn't live several hundred miles from the closest store I don't think I would still be there. Retail work is taxing on family life, in store leadership there were no set hours. You had to work two opens, two mids, and a close. I was always tired because some days I needed to be at work by 7:30am while on others I was at the store until 11pm. I worked at least one weekend day. There was no traveling possible during Thanksgiving or Christmas. That lifestyle doesn't work for us now that we have small kids. We don't live near family, holiday travel is important, as is weekend time.

So now I'm a Mom with a capital M. And I think about Z getting to eat lunch, and take a shit, and have conversations with other adults without a three and one year old climbing all over him. I think about how fulfilling he finds his work. And I am eaten up with envy and guilt. I don't really begrudge him those things, I am proud that he is so happy at work. I want him to be successful. I just feel left behind.

I know finding a career is my responsibility and well within my means. But my anxiety whispers that I am useless, that no one wants to hire someone who is starting out at 35 years old, that I am a failure and pathetic, that all my friends are laughing at how little I've done with my life, that the mental illness took the best years, the formative years from me. But the only thing standing in my way is me.

The decision for me to stay home with the boys was not arbitrary. We love that they get to be with a parent all day. I feel lucky, we really can't afford this set up but we are managing anyway. I want to give this time to them. It's also really hard. I miss grown ups. I miss working and getting recognition for what I'm doing. No one gives you a raise or a pat on the back for cleaning up yet another poop diaper, or for successfully potty training a kid (ok-not buying diapers does equal a small raise), or for getting dinner on the table again. The boys themselves are the reward. But when one of them is going through a bratty stage it feels like you are the real failure for not raising him better. And the anxiety disorder makes me feel like this is the only thing open to me.

The set up Z and I developed as he was teaching a summer course over the last month and a half really worked for me. My Monday and Wednesday writing mornings helped me get through the rest of the week. It's not like the writing is leading to anything, or making us any money, but it has made me feel better to be producing something for me that has nothing to do with the boys. It's made me feel like more of my own person. I'm writing this as C naps and T watches the Muppet Show and I feel guilty as hell for not playing with him in order to indulge myself. Once T starts back to preschool I'll try to continue to write during C's morning naps, I know it is good for my mental state to work things out on the page and I don't want to fall out of the habit again.

So, yes. Back to real life. I need to figure out how to stop hiding from it.

My littlest Jedi. 

Practicing his lower case letters. 

Z and our friend C rehung a wind chime Z made from a fire extinguisher from a cluster of trees in our yard on Saturday. 

While I was wearing an apron in the kitchen while making lemon bars. Because we like to perpetuate stereotypical gender roles in our house. I kid, I kid. I swear I'm a Sarah Lawrence girl. 

Our friend C hanging out in our tree. I really love this one.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Last week I walked into the kitchen and saw C standing in the pantry playing with stuff he shouldn't have been touching. And Z was right there just staring at him. I was all ready to be snippy with Z for not pulling C away, but then I realized exactly why he was staring. C didn't look like a baby, for the first time we saw a card carrying toddler hanging out in front of us. The depth of my understanding of the word "bittersweet" is limitless now that I'm a Mom. Of course we've gone through this stage with T, but that doesn't make it less meaningful the second time around.

Our boys have completely different parents. Ok, that is not some weird disclosure about their paternity, biologically they have the same parents. Unless Z has an evil twin no one knows about, then all bets are off. But in my upbringing my parents were very focused on "fairness" and treating my sister and me in exactly the same way. They were vigilant in making sure neither of us felt favored. We had lots family friends who openly favored children. I remember one awkward dinner when a neighbor told us that one daughter was her favorite and the other was her husband's favorite IN FRONT OF THE GIRLS! Even as a kid I felt like that was cruel.

I respect what my parents were working to achieve by trying to parent my sister and me the same way, but Z and I don't want to choose that exact approach. I will be just as vigilant in making sure they don't think we favor one over the other, but they are individuals and I must approach them as such. Forget that they are individuals, I'm a different person when I deal with them. With each of T's milestones it feels like Z and I are pioneers who are building our homestead from nothing. When C reaches the same milestones it feels like Z and I are moving into an old house across town from where we currently live. Poor T is faced with parents who are inventing the wheel every time he grows up a bit. C's parents are pretty relaxed about just slapping a new paint of coat on the walls before settling in.

If I could continue my rather clumsy analogy, I don't think Z or I prefer homesteading to moving in to an existing house. They are completely different, but different is good. It's exciting and terrifying to create something from scratch. It is comforting and we feel relaxed being somewhere we've already been. Neither is better, we just need to acknowledge and respect the differences.

I don't write about C very often. One of my smart friends pointed out that I blog as a way to figure stuff out. C's personality is bizarrely easygoing. He is delighted by pretty much everything. He's an observer, he adores his brother and loves watching him do anything. And eventually he'll try and jump in. I've never been around a kid who is so giving with smiles. He's a cuddler who actually hugs back, and he's been doing that since he was quite a little baby. When you combine who he is with where we are as parents there is little angst accompanying his development.

It's hard right now, parenting two little ones so close in age when they both need a lot. But for our family it was the right choice to have the boys close together. Yes, I wish there was more of me to go around, but they'd get different parts of me if there were 10 years, or 1, or 5 between them. No matter how much time I wish I had to give each one (and can you ever really feel like you give your kid enough time?) I am able to love them both completely. They get different parts of me, but I love them both with my whole heart. My sister and I were born 2 years, 1 month, 3 days apart. When I was a kid dreaming of parenthood I'd say I wanted two girls with the same spread. I got two boys born 2 years, 2 weeks, and 4 days apart. So while the gender was wrong I pretty much nailed the spacing. B and I were unusually tight as kids. We moved so much (my high school was my 8th school) that we had to be friends. We even had the same group of friends in high school. And we ended up going through our pregnancies at the same time, which was an amazing gift. Who knows what will happen with my boys' relationship? I have lots of friends who don't have tight relationships with their siblings who are close in age, on the other hand Z has rich friendships with his sisters-one who is 4 years younger, the other who is 10 years his junior. At this stage my boys really dig each other,  I hope that love develops into deep and lasting friendship throughout their lives.

I am deeply in love with this picture because the look on his face is so completely out of character, yet so adorable.
Photo by breedemandweep.

Tiny hiney! 

Ah, there is my sunny little boy.

T's favorite birthday present. His Granddad knows the key to his heart! One of the millions of things I love about T is when he gets super ridiculously excited about something he becomes very solemn and still. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Good Day Despite the Stupid Anxeity

Writing to you from the middle of an anxiety attack, so doen't expect a lot of coherence today. I hate taking chill pills midday, if I need one I try to make it until the boys have gone to bed. But late this morning I realized I felt like I'd had an extra 5 cups of coffee. My hands were shaking as I got lunch together and my mind was racing all over the place. Mostly about how I was going to die sometime in the next week. Yes, I think I'm going to die. Could be a car accident. Could be an aneurysm. Could be a freak stroke. Could be a late stage cancer. You get the picture. The crazy train has pulled into the station and I have eagerly climbed aboard.

Yes. This is bad. But I do realize it is bad. I realize it is insane and dumb that I think I am going to die in the next week. Progress. And that is what I'm focusing on today.

We have a wonderful family of ladies visiting. And I don't give a flying fuck that they are seeing me in all my crazy glory. They totally get it. And amazingly they seem to love me for who I am.

We do quite a bit of entertaining here at Chez Cordano-Leonard. We love having people come from out of town. We love having local folks over. We try and find "our people" as we call them, you know, what Anne Shirley would call "kindred sprits". We decided to do a low key party for T this year. Including our boys there were 8 kids and 10 adults. It was the first year that T really understood his birthday and was excited about it. But he's still young enough for all the adults to sit around and get their buzz on. T's party was full of kids he loves and "our people". Z and I were thrilled by how much fun he had and by how good it felt to be surrounded by folks we really care about and want to be part of his life. Life is good and we are grateful.

We even managed to not overextend in the quest to make it a perfect party. I let myself be talked into using a cake pan shaped like Darth Vader even though it made the part of me who worked for a wedding cake design company weep. We were going to make a Death Star Piñata, but when I found a Vader one at Party City for under $15 I called Z and he said to buy it. And T loved the cake and the piñata with all his heart. We were going to make light sabers out of pool noodles, but I found blow up ones at Target for a pretty reasonable price and the kids had a great time wailing on each other with them.

So I'm having an anxiety attack today, a pretty ugly one. And yet my friends still love me. We have had so much good and love and fun this summer. We have a couple who we've clicked with over the last few years. They are over several times a week. They have their own keys and come and go as they please. We can talk to them about anything. They are the good stuff. Suddenly our lives feel very rich here in Syracuse. Maybe it's the late summer talking, but I love it here. I'm happy here. We have a good life. And we share that life with people who like us enough to put up with crazy anxiety attacks and a guy who insists on wearing a hat made from a paper bag.

Some days I think he might be as crazy as I am.

With that thought I'm going to try and sleep this puppy off. Hopefully when I wake I won't think I'm dying anymore. Our friends want to watch the boys tonight so we can have a hot date. Pretty damn cool, huh?

This boy can spot a pretty lady from a mile away, and he will fight hard to win her heart.

Kissing my, gulp, toddler.
Photo by breedemandweep.

Sweet and patient H teaching T to read. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tackling A Hard Topic and Happy Birthday T!

Last week a friend who lives around the corner emailed to let us know her family's dog quite suddenly became gravely ill and was being euthanized that evening. T knows the dog pretty well and my friend kindly thought it would be good to let us know so we could explain to him what was happening.

I had no idea what to say to him. What is the "right" thing? What can his three year old brain process? What do I want to teach him about death? What the hell do I believe about death myself? Or religion, because the two are so intertwined?

Z and I both happen to be baptized Presbyterian, but neither of us have actively practiced religion from about the age of 9 or so on. We feel culturally Christian, and we dig the secular traditions surrounding the celebration of Christmas and Easter. We don't personally believe that Jesus was the son of God, but we think he was an awesome dude. I mean, let's be real. He was a loving, long haired, dirty, communist hippie which totally makes him our kind of guy.

I also don't think I'm a straight up atheist. The idea that there is nothing out there might be logical, but I'm a feelings gal and no matter what my brain says my heart thinks there is something more. I believe we have souls and I don't think those souls die when we do. I can't imagine telling my children that if I die while they are young that I won't still exist on some level to love them and watch over them somehow. My love for them is so strong I do believe it will survive my death. If that is delusional, so be it. It helps me sleep at night. Because as soon as you become a parent mortality becomes stunningly real, your love for your child is so staggering and terrifying you are instantly stripped of the invincibility of your youth.

I guess I'd label myself agnostic. I believe in something, I just don't know what. Not the paternalistic God of our society, not necessarily a god at all. Just...something, something more.

Organized religion is problematic for me. So much hate is justified by invoking God's name. So many of the tenets of religious texts are cherry picked to support whatever prejudices a person has developed, while others are discarded because they are inconvenient. So much war has been waged in the name of God, so much hate. I understand there are compelling reasons to belong to a religious organization-the community, a value system that lines up with your own. But for the most part it isn't for me. Nor is atheism. I'm glad that atheists are feeling more comfortable about speaking out. But a lot of their rhetoric is as dogmatic as that of evangelists and zelots, the whole if-you-had-any-brains-at-all-you'd-believe-exactly-what-I-do jazz. The mean spirited dismissal of people of faith completely turns me off. I guess besides being agnostic I think people should have the freedom to believe whatever helps get them through this life and the courtesy not to be bullied for their beliefs. I also think they shouldn't use their beliefs to bully others. And that in our multicultural society government and religion should have nothing to do with each other, I firmly believe that the founding fathers would completely agree with me with that one. Ok, climbing off my soapbox now.

So how to approach this charged topic with T? I told him that his doggy friend got very sick and died. I said that means she won't live around the corner from our house anymore, she is gone and we won't get to see her again. The place that she went is doggy heaven, and doggy heaven is awesome. She gets to run around and have tons of fun and be not sick at all and she gets to look down and see what we are all doing back here on earth. I said that we will all miss her very much and it was ok to feel sad about not getting to see her again. It's ok to be sad for a really long time.

Little man is three. In fact, today is his birthday. We think he is wonderful and brilliant and perfect just like every parent is supposed to. But I'm not sure how much of my little speech he understood. It's the beginning of a conversation that will go on for years. I'm so sorry about the illness and death of our friend's much loved dog, but I appreciate the reminder to think about how to frame this discussion for our kids. I want to approach this subject thoughtfully for them. I've come to the conclusion that I will tell them what I believe, but I will explain that I want them to believe whatever feels right in their hearts and minds. I honestly don't care if my kids are christian, or atheist, or jewish, or muslim, or buddhist. It's much more important to me that they are kind, ethical, giving humans who treat others with care. I'm a big fan of the golden rule, and that is how I hope to teach them to live.

One of my favorite people in the world is a person of faith. I got to see him during our big trip down south and we had the opportunity to get to talk for a couple of hours. Religion came up and I said to him that it seemed to me that even though he was religious and I emphatically was not that our values and approaches to child rearing were remarkably similar. And that feels like an important thing to remember.

***Sincere Disclaimer***
If you are religious, if you are atheist, if you aren't sure what you are, I hope I haven't offended you. Just because we don't believe the same stuff doesn't mean I don't respect you or like you or in a lot of cases love you or your beliefs.

Now how about some birthday pictures? We had a small party for him yesterday afternoon and it was so much fun! Today is his actual birthday. He got presents, we are smoking pork, and this afternoon we are getting some visitors that he adores. He is one lucky duck.

Some fondant R2D2s for the cupcakes.

I just couldn't get behind using all that black food dye. Makes the icing bitter and dyes your poop black. So I left the Brown Sugar Buttercream as is. A friend dubbed it "Albino Darth". 

He blew out all the candles! 

Darth Vader Piñata!

Light saber battle! 

His Grandmom and Granddad got him this amazing road grader. It is by far his favorite present. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Guess What? More Anxiety!

After Z explained to me how to get to University College on campus I ran upstairs to change. Threw on my nicest pair of jeans and started tearing through the closet. Put on a real live bra for about the 4th time since C was born. Fought really hard with myself in order to not strip naked and get onto the scale for the third time in 24 hours. Successfully resisted and instead tried a fancy blousey thing from one of those special Target collections that still has the tags on about two years after I bought it. No, wrong. Ripped it off. A tight camisole suddenly seemed like a great idea to suck in the extra fat, so that went on top of the bra. Pawed through my short sleeve shirt drawer and found a cream knit top with sleeves almost to the elbow that I wore to interviews back in my Whole Foods days. I stood in the middle of the room and felt like an idiot. Racked my brain for something else to wear. Something that would make me feel comfortable and not look like a cow. As I was getting ready to whip the too dressy top off I heard Z climb the stairs. He looked at me and knew exactly what was going on. "Don't you dare take off that top. You look fine. You don't look fat." I started to argue and he cut me off. "Karen. Stop. Stop it. This isn't a job interview. Pelase come downstairs. You. Look. Fine" I burst into tears.

If you want to take classes part time at SU you need to go through University College. Weeks ago Z forwarded me an email about an informational session hosted by the college and suggested we go. I thanked him for thinking of me and said I'd totally be into it and he asked me to arrange child care. Would it surprise you to hear I didn't find a babysitter? Even after he reminded me at the beginning of the week and then again last night? I finally texted our sitter this morning, but of course she couldn't do it at the last minute. Z told me he'd watch the boys and I could go by myself. I tried to get out of it. He told me we would all go-he'd drive me there and occupy the boys while I went in. That shamed me enough to tell him I'd do it alone. 

He wasn't trying to shame me. He was trying to help. He undertands that attending a minor little information session is like climbing Mount Everest for me. It is humiliating to admit that. I despise and resent how pathetic anxiety makes me. But miraculously, he doesn't seem to. He just wants to help make things better. So I stopped crying, changed my shirt one last time, and went. Even though I hated myself and hated him and hated the world I went. Um, I was home about half an hour later with the information I needed in order to register for a class. I also had the business card of a carear counselor who told me to get in touch with any other questions. It couldn't have been easier. 

The blog entries that chronicle my mental illness are cyclical and dull. I'm doing poorly. I'm doing poorly. I'm doing poorly. Hey! I just realized there is a pattern and it's that I'm doing poorly! I want to change. I want to change. Things are getting better. Things are getting better. I really want to change and things are better! Things are better, but I'm kind of doing poorly as well. Things are better, but I'm kind of doing poorly as well. I'm doing poorly. You get the picture. Yawn. 

But. It is also some of the most honest and most uncomfortable stuff here. Do you have someone in your life who suffers from severe anxiety? This repetitive bullshit is what they are experiencing. It fucking blows. It takes years to figure out. And then sometimes you'll be having a classic anxiety reaction and it will feel like the first time, even after 20+ years of anxiety attacks you will have no clue what is going on-you'll think you are having a heart attack as your husband sadly shakes his head at the obviousness of your behavior. Or maybe that's just me. But eventually you get there, you remember that it has all happened before and it will happen again. 

It always gets worse when I'm trying to improve my situation. My anxiety doesn't hate me, it wants to help me. When it tells me I am useless and fat, when my IBS flares up, when the lightheadedness makes me feel physically unable to drive the car my anxiety is trying to save me from getting hurt out there in the big bad world. It is confirming my fears that I can't handle life by trying to keep me in my comfort zone. It wants to help, it is just really shitty at it. 

I am trying, people. I am trying and that means two chill pills in one week for the first time since May. It means a lot of tears, a lot of feelings of worthlessness, a lot of anxiety attacks. But I'm getting better at this, in the middle of the anxiety I'm still fucking doing shit. Yesterday I was so worked up I thought I was going to explode. I spent the whole day just trying to make it until I put C down so I could have a chill pill. I also took the kids to a playground, contributed to my local NPR station, made some kick ass red beans and rice with pickled pork, and bought a domain name for this blog (more on that later). OK, so there is still a nasty voice in my head who whispers that these "accomplishments" are paltry and laughable. But I'm trying to ignore her. And if I catch her I'm going to kick her ass. 

Oh and tonight? I'm going to get a drink with a girlfriend for the first time since we moved to Syracuse. So screw you, Anxiety disorder! 

My picky eater had his 3 year old well visit at the doc's yesterday. He told me he wanted to eat the lollipop, which shocked the hell out of me.  

His reaction to it did not shock me. Because it isn't a white refined carb. 

Second kid to wear this awesome onesie. Thanks again Aunts Ellie and Kelsey! 

Z knew I was having a hard time yesterday. And he needed to use his drill press. So he biked home in the middle of the day to hug me and do this. I happen to think he is rather sexy. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Crappy Weekend (Yes, I'm Cracking Myself Up)

Before we left for the grocery store at 11:45AM Saturday Z had taken T to the farmers market, to the local fire station, came home for a bit, taken T back out to Lowes, and built a stand for our new rain barrel he got the night before for attending a rain barrel class run by the city. In the afternoon he took a well deserved nap, primed and painted the stand, played with T in our kiddie pool, threw a coat of shellack on a door he is restoring for upstairs, and worked on one of his many cigar box instrument projects. On Sunday he installed the rain barrel, wrangled all of us over to the flea market to pick out more supplies for his cigar box and canjo instruments, finished a banjo (cigar box autographed by Pete Seeger), started a resonator banjo for a friend, set up the grill for me to light later, and headed to work from 1-5. It is completely exhausting just to watch him.

He also comforted me as I was having a pretty severe and lengthy anxiety attack. During the drive home from the grocery store I curtly informed him that I would need to take a chill pill after I got C down for his nap. Z, "You say that like you think I'm going to fight with you. Hell, I think you should take four!.....With a fifth of vodka!" He really is excellent at making me laugh. Although I hate vodka, so that part was just ridiculous.

When I am doing well emotionally I can't keep up with him. I like to nap and read and lounge on the sofa and watch movies even before my agoraphobic tendencies are taken into account. Despite my anxiety situation this weekend there was a major change, I didn't completely shut down. Yes, I bailed on the farmer's market. But I made it to the grocery store on a Saturday afternoon, which is hellish even if you don't suffer from an anxiety disorder. I even got it together enough to make dinner after trying to shake off my chill pill stupor. The anxiety still sucks, but at least I can roll my eyes about it while it is happening, which might not make the attack any less real, but it does make it a smidge less powerful.

Unfortunately the anxiety didn't lessen much on Sunday. Z was at work and I was playing with the boys out back when my gut seized. I barely had time to scoop C out of the baby swing and run to the bathroom, T nipping at my heals. In the never ending yet futile quest for even a sliver of privacy I locked the bathroom door with just C and me inside. Have you ever had extremely painful diarrhea while trying to make sure an 11 month old doesn't fall headfirst into the bathtub as an almost three year old pounds on the door begging to be let in? It reminded me of a horrible attack I had back when C was about a month old. I simply couldn't get off the toilet. So I nursed him while sitting on it. And actually felt proud of myself for multitasking.

This is my life. It is gross and embarrassing and ridiculous. I've had enough therapy to know what my body reacts like it does. As a young girl I convinced myself I was worthless. Not just worthless, but repulsive. IBS is the way my anxiety convinces me I am right. It is the most awful and embarrassing thing my body could come up with. It's my deepest darkest fear: I'm going to shit myself and everyone will see. It is a manifestation of complete lack of control. So I hide at home, paralyzed and frightened. My anxiety thinks it is protecting me from exposing myself to embarrassment by gifting me with the IBS--see! Now I have a valid excuse to never leave the house!

But I don't want to hide anymore. I want to take my changes on living life. Maybe not to the extremes that Z lives it, but I want to participate more. It's time to throw the tabs of imodium in my pocket and rock the grocery store on a Saturday afternoon. I need to be amused by the IBS. Because when I'm laughing at myself it takes my mind off my accelerated heart rate, light headedness, and nausea that are the other symptoms of my anxiety disorder. It keeps me in reality enough that I don't wildly assume I'm having a heart attack. It keeps the dispair and terror at bay, makes me feel a little bit less worthless. So I have terrible IBS. So I have a severe anxiety disorder. So the fuck what? I'm not useless because of it.

Hey, I took a practice GRE exam online this morning. How is that for not useless? Of course I couldn't figure out how to get my score. So, ok, I'm still a little bit of a mess. And for more confirmation that I'm a mess just check out my FB status update from this morning. Yes, I'm that dumb. But if I'm not going to let an anxiety disorder get in my way I'm sure as hell not going to let a little lack of common sense defeat me either!

The boys making the rain barrel stand. This is my current favorite picture. 

All done! He's even used it already!

Despite what it looks like here C loves this game.

T lets the swing hit him and fling him to the ground as C and I laugh and laugh.

Friday, August 3, 2012

For the New Parents Out There

When T turned us into parents on August 13th of 2009 it was life changing, exhilarating, terrifying. If I had to choose one word to describe the first few months with T it would be overwhelming. We were overwhelmed with love, but also with the enormity of being responsible for another life. Z had a four day business trip before T was 12 weeks old. I remember sitting on the sofa holding T and weeping on that last day, just waiting for Z to get home so I could get a break from the unrelenting demands of a newborn. Actually, all that Fall I spent a lot of time sitting on the same sofa and weeping because the intensity of the love I felt for T was almost suffocating.

On August 31st of 2011 C made us parents again. And it was simply exhilarating. After you've given yourself a bunch of gray hairs shepherding a baby through infancy the second time becomes old hat. Last Fall we knew how to keep a newborn alive and safe and loved. We kept saying to each other, "What was the big deal with T? Compared to dealing with a toddler this is easy! What was our problem?" I've thought a lot about our attitude almost a year ago. You know what? Parenting C wasn't easy, it was known, and it wasn't accompanied with never ending fear. That said, if Z took T on a trip last Fall for four days and I was left with C alone it would have felt like I was the one on vacation.  

Experienced moms can occasionally be a bit, um, insufferable. I know, I am one. When I was brand new at this mothering business I'd roll my eyes when moms would dismiss the stage I was dealing with. "You think this is hard? Wait until they are toddlers...or school aged...or teenagers...or when they are in college!" I try really hard not to say that stuff to other moms, not that I haven't caught myself doing it at times. Yes, moms who have been doing it longer are a wealth of information, but you can't understand the struggles of motherhood until you do it yourself, until you feel it in your bones. Each mom needs to go through the process and discover all its ins and outs for herself. I think that is one of the many reasons the pregnancy and newborn books can be so unhelpful. I'm a life long obsessive reader, but this is one area in which reading let me down, at least in the qualitative sense. Don't get me wrong, the info in those books is important. I had one that listed what was going on with the baby developmentally week by week and I loved reading it. The quantitative stuff-like if your newborn has a temp above 100.4 you need to take them to the hospital, that is valuable information. But your panic at being responsible for another human? Your exhaustion from being up all night with a baby? Reading about it doesn't make you understand it in your bones. 

I feel so grateful to T for making me a Mom. He's my Guinea pig and he is a rock star for weathering the emotional storms of a couple of novice parents. I also feel so fucking guilty. C has parents who pretty much know what they are doing. He hasn't had to absorb the angst of two people transforming into a mother and father. Oh, I feel guilty about other things when it comes to C, but he has parents who knew the drill on day one. T deserves a shit load of credit for prepping us. His gift of changing who we are in the most basic sense is the best gift I've ever been given.

When friends of mine have a baby I am thrilled for them and excited for the adventure they are embarking on, but my heart also aches for them. Because it is so fucking hard at first. The awesome outweighs the hard, but man, it's pretty damn close. The mechanics of dealing with one kid who is getting close to exiting toddlerhood and one kid who is getting close to entering toddlerhood are difficult and overwhelming and unrelenting in a new way. But if I really think about it nothing is like those first few months. So to the new parents out there, I salute you. I empathize with you. I admire you. You are doing the hardest of the hard stuff, and it is only going to get easier. Becoming a parent is amazing, personally I wouldn't change it for anything, but do not doubt that you are doing some of the most difficult work you will ever do in your life. You deserve a lot of credit. Don't be too hard on yourself when it wears you down. You will get through it. And if you choose to do it again your confidence will astound you. 

This was the second best gift I've ever been given. Z gave me a "blue canary in the outlet by the light switch who watches over you" on December 18th, 2008, my 32nd Birthday. In just under two weeks we'd find out I was pregnant with T. It hangs in our kitchen here in Syracuse as well. I love looking at it every day.

T calls this "riding the crane". I think Z calls it "having a sore arm". And you can see the bottom of my gift hanging on the wall. You can almost see the little copper strip on the bottom right corner that is stamped l-i-t-e. Z thought of everything.

And then there's this kid. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Too Much?

How much is too much to share on a blog?

Damned if I know. I did spend the day feeling moderately sick to my stomach about yesterday's post. I've been sure that my excellent Mom friends read about me losing my cool with disgust and locking my toddler in his room with horror. Someone rightly pointed out to me that I don't actually have to admit to my parenting failures publicly and write posts where I call my kid swear words. That someday he is going to be old enough to read this stuff and he'll have feelings about it.

I've done a shitload of thinking today. Some serious navel gazing. And here's what I've come up with:

It is effortless for me to write about my self loathing issues. I know it's not fun to read, but it is a major part of my struggles with mental illness and I own it. I've said a million times that the reason I'm doing this blog is to write about taboos, what we don't tend to talk about in polite company. We all go through hard stuff, isn't it helpful to address it rather than pretending in doesn't happen?

The parenting fuck ups are different. I take this motherhood gig seriously. It isn't about me, it is about providing a good upbringing for my sons. So it is much harder to be forthright about my mistakes. T is not being a dick in a vacuum. 1-2-3 Magic  explains that when you are yelling at your kid you are throwing a tantrum yourself. When I first read that I thought, "Oh, that isn't fair. What about when they are purposely pushing your buttons? Of course you are going to explode in frustration." But I sat with it for a while and reached the conclusion that the book was 100% right. Sometimes the truth is just really hard to swallow.

I try to be a thoughtful parent, but occasionally I lose sight of my goals and get lost wading through the muck of everyday life. But I don't believe I'm the only one. I mean, that would be too awful to live with. Even my excellent Mom friends must occasionally fuck up. But as long as we are aware that we are failing and we try to change for the better isn't it that what matters? And shouldn't we be talking about the awful stuff? Maybe sharing war stories so we don't feel so alone? Each kid is different and needs a unique approach, but talking amongst ourselves can only help with ideas, right?

Discussing my failings here feels right as long as I'm striving to do better even if it makes me feel vulnerable. Blogging has become a helpful outlet for me, but it is also terrifying to admit the truth. I feel like I'll get my "Thoughtful Parent" card revoked for confessing that I suck. I've been planning on writing about that damned turned lock since last fall. I just couldn't bring myself to do it because it felt even more loaded than the sleep training. I even started a post about it titled "And I'm Not Even Going To Apologize", but I didn't have the balls to finish. You see, we don't leave him there for extended periods, the room is child proofed, we needed him to stay in his room at bedtime, there is a training potty in there so he doesn't have accidents. Yes, I am justifying. The thing is, I don't feel bad about the choice Z and I have made. We simply don't have the emotional bandwidth to do timeouts with him. C can't just sit in a bouncy seat anymore (the guilt I feel about him doing just that for his first 5 months while I chased after T is another post entirely). I know what is right for each of my kids. We don't parent on autopilot, we consider what each boy needs. I don't believe T will be damaged in any way by our method of discipline. I just feel bad about how others will perceive it. It's a good exercise, sharing something that scares me. Reminds me not to judge other people's choices too hastily.

And about T reading this some day.....Right now he isn't yet three and he's going through so-typical-it-is-almost-boring developmental bumps in the road. At a certain point I need to respect his privacy, several blogs I follow stopped discussing their kids in detail when they turned 5 and that makes sense to me. They are developing into conscience-having beings at that point. They deserve to lead their childhood in private.

I'm going to screw up being a Mom. I'm also going to try and be brave enough to write about it in the hopes that another Mom might read it and feel less alone or even pass along some advice if she's been there and done that. I'm going to admit to tough parenting choices we've made. We thoughtfully let our kid cry it out. We thoughtfully didn't let our other kid cry it out. If our son throws a toy taxi at his dad and it hits me instead we are sending him to time out in his room. And if he won't stay in there we are locking that door. On the other hand, when I make a parenting choice I'm not happy with (losing my cool and yelling at the kid in frustration) I'm going to take a hard look at myself and try to change. And I'm probably going to write about it all of it.

Hey! I have an 11 month old baby! Did you know? Because I hardly ever write about him. The bigger struggles have been with his brother lately. This picture is from last night. He was tired and hungry because dinner was late. Yes, this is my baby being cranky. 

Here he is being his usual happy self. Kid loves rice and beans.

And his Daddy. 

This one is singing his heart out. 

Listen, even the crap days are filled with a lot of awesome. T mostly saves his worst behavior for home, which I understand is completely normal. Overall he is a delightful and bright little boy who climbs into bed with us every morning for cuddles. Today while on a walk with a friend he even said, "Excuse me!" before interrupting our conversation. I was very proud.

His favorite song.