Tag: Anxiety

22Feb

Fail/Pass

They’re sleeping in the next room… or at least the older one is, curled up neatly on her bunk bed where I left her, propriety intact. The younger one is still dancing around in her slipper socks, strewing books and toys across the floor and shouting “Da da da da da!” in blatant disregard for all known rules of naptime. Instinct tells me I should be stern with her, but I can’t help giggling. I adore those girls.

In just over a week, my oldest turns four—an impossible, terrifying, glittery-pink age that will suit her perfectly. I don’t know how this happened, and it occurred to me that the girls may be in dentures and Depends before I reconcile myself to their growing up. It’s like getting hit over the head with a final exam for which I’ve never studied: How can you raise your strong, vibrant preschoolers into strong, vibrant women? Present your answer in 14 years or less.

Uh, I have no idea. My own formative years were sponsored by the decade 1860 and the planet Mortificationus; no help there. I’ve worked with children from infancy through college age without ever unraveling the mystery of parenting, learning which colors and patterns work together to keep the kids out of therapy. I know an encyclopedia’s worth of Don’ts, but only two and maybe a half Do’s. This scares me.

The only two things I have going for me are that I love my daughters, as immensely and achingly as a mama can, and that they trust me. I doubt every molecule in my body from time to time, but they haven’t yet learned the logic of parent = human = fallible. And even though that feels like cheating, their good impression of me boosts my confidence until I begin to think I could actually nurture them without any disastrous side effects. And maybe it’s not cheating at all…

Because my daughters absolutely can trust me to stick with them through the best and worst times of their lives. They can trust me to give them honest answers on sticky topics and to encourage their independence. They can trust me to teach them about boys and bodies and creativity and forging a future. They can trust me to read family bedtime stories as long as I can force them to sit still they’ll let me. They can trust that their precious hearts, their technicolor personalities, and their treasure troves of dreams are held securely in their mommy’s love. And they can always trust that when I embarrass them beyond all hope of recovery, I’ll be able to embarrass them further still with a cautionary tale from my own childhood.

I may pass this exam after all.

28Jan

The Death of Chipper

My mental dialogue lately has been about as opposite from chipper as possible. (In fact, I completely despise the word “chipper” and would love nothing better than taking a sharp, rusty eraser to it. Case in point.) I’m partially proud of myself for not letting this negativity spill over onto my blog and partially guilty for not having the balls to write through the rough times. Either way, I’ve missed you, sweet Internet.

I seem to have come down with a raging case of Incurable Motherhead that has left me flat on the freshly-scrubbed bathroom floor wondering if I will survive the month. The choices do not look good from here: 1) Live in abject squalor, forego cooking, and largely ignore my family so that I can make a foray into the world of writing… or 2) Continue to be a tolerable housewife and mommy while stifling 97% of creative impulses because free time? Doesn’t exist so much.

You mamas whose children are finally in a less-needy stage of life—Was it this hard for you? I feel terrified that if I give up on my daydreams now, I won’t be able to pick them back up once life has settled enough to allow for them. I’m likewise terrified that if I don’t find contentment now, my girls will grow up with an aloof and unhappy mother. Occupied, distant, unfulfilled, absolutely not the kind of parent my little girls deserve.

And now you all need antidepressants. Apologies.

I’m unsure where to go from here—should I redirect my lagging energy away from cleaning or blogging or venturing out of the house or occasional grooming practices?—but I assure you: it will not involve the word “chipper.”

3Jan

Tums for the Soul

Since blogging last, I have:
Baked cookies for everyone we know, and them some.
Taken girls to the doctor for seasonal maladies, discovered the doctor was not in, and tried again the next day. And again the next day. And again…
Finally Skyped a doctor friend in the States at 1 a.m. to find out if we should be panicking over Natalie’s fever or not (Answer: not).
Finished Christmas shopping.
Loaded up on groceries.
Cracked the code of crunchifragilistic caramel corn.
Used up the last of our wrapping paper.
Painted.
Made a mental list of the dumbest holiday song lyrics ever (Winner = Emery’s “God, please make a way for Santa’s sleigh”).
Put Sophie back to bed 4,687,721,003 times.
Concocted a white-chocolate-blood-orange cheesecake that will be the death of all other cheesecakes henceforth, amen.
Hosted Christmas Eve Brunch, complete with Christmas Casserole, games, and intense theological discussions.
Watched our girls open their gifts and hit the ceiling with explosions of sheer joy (a tent! a dollhouse! finger puppets! story books! Legos x 10480!).
Hosted Christmas Dinner, complete with chili, cornbread, and assorted fight-and-make-ups.
Guzzled Delicately sipped three gallons a bit of eggnog.
Read an entire book cover to cover (over the course of three days… but it totally counts).
Edited and uploaded reams of photographs.
Conquered the slopes with my new snowboard.
Worn the same sweater three days in a row.
Rolled sushi with the hubby (a fork may have been necessary at one point… shhh).
Gone on a hot date.
Wound up lost on spaghetti-sized mountain roads in the dark.
Attended two parties.
Swept under the shoe pile (lordy).
Been asked by a new acquaintance if I’m expecting a boy or a girl.
(Note: I am not with child. Not even remotely.)
Eloquently told the new acquaintance, huh?, at which point he dashed away.
Laughed.
Cried.
Laughed.
Cried.
Cried.
Cried.
Cried.
Laughed.
Been kissed by hordes of Europeans in celebration of the New Year.
But not gotten any spumante.
Twisted and shouted.
Participated in Italian group karaoke.
Finally finished a giant puzzle that Dan and I gave up on several years ago.
Climbed Mount Laundry and lived to tell about it.

The one thing I haven’t done is sat down to write, which had a lot to do with the flurry of guests and baked goods and teething Sophies. It also had to do with the stampede toward 2009… life getting off the couch to boogie, and my perspective getting trampled into the chocolate-stained rug. Symptoms of my new year include sweating palms, hair loss, and repeated trips to the chocolate bowl.

I’ve had over a year now to get used to life with two little ones, but I honestly feel more overworked than experienced these days. Soul-searching is limited to five minute bursts between dirty diapers and boiling pasta until my mind is impossibly fragmented and just. wants. sleep. You know that feeling, yes? Last New Year’s Eve, I had inklings of a lush, creative beautyscape ahead, but this year, I’m swerving along a tightrope with a chasm of housewifery below and aspirations obscured by neon signs flashing “Selfish! Selfish!” and “Untalented: YOU!” Miles away from champagne and fireworks, I know.

My belly has been an awful character lately (aside from making people think I’m pregnant, though that is certifiably awful): gnawing at me from the inside-out, tying itself into knots, whispering with clenched teeth that 2009 will be a wasteland. It won’t. I have to believe it won’t, but damned if it doesn’t look just like dirty bathrooms and tumbleweeds from here. Anyone have a burst of inspiration to share? An extra sprinkle of optimism? Some champagne-and-fireworks wishes that I can pop like Tums and transform my stomach from a gremlin to an upstanding citizen again? Because I’m not so good with tightropes, and Mount Laundry’s no longer waiting to break my fall.

13Oct

Thinking Without Responsibility

It’s the third full day of some eerie symptomless sickness that has left me bedridden. There’s no pain or congestion or nausea or anything out of the ordinary except for a vast hollowness where my head used to be, and even reading ten pages of a book tires me out. In between the heavy sleeping and the dizzy waking, I’ve been thinking. It’s nice to be able to think without responsibility, when no one expects you to be coherent or figure out so much as a lunch menu.

I’ve thought a lot about the upcoming elections and America’s future. I have little faith in candidates’ platforms, though I am concerned what McCain and Obama plan to do regarding our drowning economy. I find myself drawn toward the candidate exhibiting the most sincere goodwill toward people—not America’s status in the world, not its corporate wealth, not any generalized patriotic ideals—but individuals who are struggling to pay their rent. Who can’t afford health care (raise your hand, anyone?). Who don’t make enough to support their families because of corrupt corporations and an impersonal government. Who feel cheated by decisions our leadership never adequately informed us about (no names, but it rhymes with Shmiraq). Our nation needs a hefty dose of TLC.

I pretty much keep my political ideas confined to 1) my husband, who has always respected what I think, and 2) my own head, because people are pretty polarized about the presidential election and I have no immediate death wish. So no, I won’t tell you who I’m voting for… but here’s a hint: If you’re Alaskan, we may or may not agree. ::Grin::

My thoughts of late have also been occupied with family life. I am a hopeless perfectionist, and my addled brain has latched onto the following ideal of motherhood:

  • Takes the kids for daily hikes, nature walks, and/or camping trips. Teaches survival skills, knot-tying, etc.
  • Structures each day according to Somebody-or-the-Other’s accredited theory of education, packing spare knowledge into all empty spots of the day and raising bright-eyed geniuses. Creepy nighttime learning tapes optional.
  • Plays regular sports with the family. Kids get a wide enough exposure to athletics that they can make educated decisions whether they want to become MBA players or make the Olympic curling team.
  • Converts a portion of the house into a communal art studio, complete with miniature canvases, safety glass scissors, and sippy cups of gel medium.
  • Earns the nickname Mrs. Montessori for her colorful playroom always stocked with dress-up clothes, abaci, and imagination enhancement drugs.
  • Reigns over her little domestic kingdom in high heels and oven mitts, singing supercalifragilistic ditties to scare toys into place and always baking something light and fluffy. By age four, kids would know how to scrub grout and make perfect quiche.

I feel like I’m just now waking up and OMG! I have spawn! and OMG! I have no parenting archetype! It feels a lot like the flu. I’ve done a lot of problem-solving over the last 3.6 years—figuring out how much rice cereal to fix at a time, how to battle diaper rash, how to get a stubborn toddler to stay in her bed—and I’ve relied heavily on mamalove to fill in the gaps. It’s not a bad way to parent. And yet, I want incredibly special girlhoods for my daughters. I want them to remember a mother who was fully present with them, not constantly thinking about writing or worrying about the dirty house. I want us to use our imaginations together and create sparkling memories, whether we’re learning multiplication tables or simply having a ticklefest.

I haven’t done a good job getting my genetic anxiety under control, and OMG! it’s time for me to relax and enjoy life already. Especially with my little girls, who matter 1,000,000% more than anything I spend my time worrying over. So now the question: How to parent more purposefully without stressing out about all the versions of mother I am not? Because I so am not a sports person. Survival skills I have none. We have no space for dress-up clothes, and I don’t even know how to use gel medium. Something tells me that I don’t have to be perfect at everything in the world to be a great mom, but that something has a “Kick me” sign stuck to its bum, compliments of my brain. Stupid brain.

My bedridden thoughts have also drifted toward holiday gifts and Matt Damon and tarte tatin and how I really should shower once this week and I’m just going to stop there. After all, sick people aren’t responsible for hygiene any more than they are for perfect parenting or political involvement. OMG! whew.

15Sep

Season’s Change

Autumn whooshed into town today, leaving skid marks across our last short-sleeved morning. Apparently it never got the memo that seasons don’t change for another week, and the sky is suddenly damp gray flannel, steadily leaking rain. Goodbye, summer. We hardly knew ye.

This morning was also Natalie’s first day of public school. I was a little worried dropping her off, not knowing how she would take it… by which I mean not knowing how I would take her taking it. I had cut out a tiny pink paper heart in case she needed some extra love to carry throughout the day, and I fingered it in my pocket as we got near the school. But lo and behold, her classroom was brightly lit, flitting with color and activity exactly as a classroom should. The teachers were all smiles and showed us the cubbyhole to put Natalie’s backpack; by the time we turned back around, she had already plopped down in a cluster of children around the train set. That was it. No fanfare, just my independent little girl setting out on her 19+ years of formal education without a look back.

I took a deep breath then headed out for a quick cappuccino and the most effortlessly productive morning I’ve had this century. I cleaned, read with Sophie, and spent an unbelievable two (2!) hours uninterrupted at my desk. And before I knew it, Natalie was home with her daddy for lunch.

“The teacher told me she cried at breakfast,” Dan informed me. “But just a little. For a first day, it went great.” Positive assessment aside, I couldn’t help imagining my sweet three-year-old sobbing into her juice. I felt an unmistakable twinge of that guilt parents get for subjecting their children to life, even in all its goodness. She must have felt so lonely; would she even want to go back?

I sat down at the table with Natalie and asked her to tell me about her day. She broke into a huge smile and announced, “I was such a big girl! I was a crying big girl! Can I cry at school again tomorrow?” Sure thing, kid.

So the pink paper heart is now on my desk where I can see it throughout the day and think of that brave, articulate, hilarious girl I love so much. And if I ever had a doubt on the subject, I’m now convinced that Natalie has the kind of heart to take on the whole world.

16Jul

Dichotomous Days

Tension:

  • Lead-blanket tiredness, every single morning and sometimes until bedtime. I hung onto today by a thread of willpower and finally gave up at noon, when I put my haggard self to bed. (Coffee helps, though I suddenly stopped liking the taste last month. Coffee in a chocolate-coconut frappuccino courtesy of my blender-wielding husband definitely helps. Sleep, exercise, and nutrition do not.)
  • Owning a house during a major housing slump and losing our renters. Taking care of our house when we lived in it was enough work, but figuring out the details from across the ocean? Without the extra income? Wondering how soon the place will fall into ruin without tenants and become just a pile of bricks swallowed by crabgrass? There’s a chance that worrying about this has impacted my sleep…
  • Huge possibility of having to move to another city next summer. I knew this home wouldn’t be permanent, but I’ve come to love our friendly little neighborhood and the old, old streets of downtown, not to mention the people who have welcomed us into their families. (Benefits of moving: Will be closer to Florence, Dan’s brother, and IKEA. Very much closer to outlet mall. The other city is still beautiful, AND we may finally get a large-enough house. Oh, and the transfer has the possibility of being long-term. Really, I need to just get over this and be excited already.)

Ease:

  • Summer-colored fruits and veggies, fresh or bread-crumbed or slathered in yo-cream or drizzled with balsamic vinegar. I love how easy it is to eat healthy in warm weather—salads and fruit drinks every day, and we’ve reduced our grocery budget by €40 a week. I feel all earthy and bright at the thought, like I’ve just discovered a secret.
  • August just around the corner. We spent our vacation budget (uh, for the next five years) on Sophie’s emergency room trip, so we’ll be coming up with fun and relaxing things to do around here. Which, really? Could not make me happier. I mean, we’re already in Italy; might as well enjoy it! I’m planning to serve meals on paper plates and read books somewhere breezy.
  • A certain member of the family finally being potty-trained. After what felt like seventeen years of Pull-Ups and puddles and uncontrollable weeping (on my part), we have autonomy. Also, another member of the family recently contracted mobility, and the crawling, cruising, and self-congratulatory giggles are almost too fun to stand! Almost.
  • Exciting new changes coming soon, like school for Natalie! And hopefully well-scheduled days for me during which I can write and write and write! Plus, a significant raise and talk of a winter ski vacation with the in-laws. Exclamation point!

C’est la vie, non?

11Jul

Eat Me, Uncle Moneybags

Growing up, I learned to hate the song “Count Your Blessings.” (Please tell me some of you are old-fashioned enough to know it too?)

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.
(Lyrics by Johnson Oatman, a 19th century preacher who probably got beat up a lot as a kid)

No matter how many times I sang it, its birthday wish mantra never worked. The magic elixir of contrived thankfulness turned stale when I swallowed it, and nothing ever got better as a result.

Dan and I lay awake in bed far, far too late last night talking (a bad habit that’s always been too delightful to shake) about the life we could be living right now had we just accepted it. We wandered through shadowy conjectures of a big suburban house and a six-figure salary. Bulging pockets. Unlimited comfort. Dollar signs popping out of our eyes just like in cartoons. We have been so tempted some days to quit our grad-schooling, world-traveling teetertotter life and grab the easy one dangling very much within reach.

But no matter how beautiful the bait looks, we know we are happiest as free fish with the whole ocean to play in. We need adventure, he and I, even if it sometimes looks like instability. Money matters so much less to us than experience… though, admittedly, a lot of experiences are easier to come by with a fat wallet.

I’ve been skulking on the outskirts of panic lately, and it helps to keep all of this in mind. It is so easy to feel lost in a new culture, especially with talk of moving to a different city soon. Especially with quickly growing babies and quickly disappearing time. Especially with the kind of urgent, helpless inspiration my brain manufactures without warning. Especially when unexpected expenses converge like thunderheads over water and more water, no dry land in sight. It’s the price of diving headlong into the ocean.

So I beat myself over the head with logic and lecture myself with my own beliefs. Keep everything in perspective… and This will all be worth it some day… But for all the mental haranguing I do to keep myself on track, the only thing that truly brings me out of dark moods is thankfulness—spontaneous and unplannable. It happened today when the girls woke up from their naps together with that gorgeous, sleepy glow of afternoon dreams. I looked at their faces, and simple as that, I was floating. To be able to know these vibrant little people, to be able to kiss their cheeks and read them bedtime stories and add beauty to their eternal souls was like a living in a sudden song. Unexplainable joy.

That’s how thankfulness got me out of our tightly-walled house and into the sunshine today. The girls and I had to go out for a necessary purchase—strawberry gelato with two spoons—and a playground date. We really had no choice but to have a perfect, panic-free evening once I realized how ridiculously, extravagantly rich we are together.

At the park - Natalie

Of course, later came a particularly fussy bathtime and dirty dishes and the dull thud of reality and the fear that everything good about my day was horribly cliché…

But if sunwarmed giggles with these two and overwhelming lightheartedness become cliché for me, I will have more to appreciate than Uncle Moneybags or even Johnson Oatman himself could ever count.

At the park - Sophie

—-

By the way, and on a completely different topic, I wish everyone in the world could get a chance to read this.

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