Funny, She Doesn’t Look Blueish

I have been sad all week long and I don’t know why.  It’s not an all consuming sadness, it’s just a dull ache in my shoulders and a hot scratchiness behind my eyes.  The sadness itself isn’t nearly as onerous as my unflaggingly incessant need to determine if it’s just sadness or if it’s an early sign of depression.

I have a history of depression.  I know what it feels like to tumble ass over tea-kettle down the rabbit hole of endless, hopeless, unnamed misery.  I know what it’s like to watch my life pile up around me, turning laundry and homework and answering the phone into Herculean feats of strength. I know what it’s like to harangue myself with nasty epithets like “lazy” and “ungrateful” and “slovenly.” I know what it’s like to not only question the existence of the light at the end of the tunnel, but to wallow in the muddy certainty that even if it were out there somewhere, that it’s just the 3:10 to Yuma come to put me out of my misery.

Deep, dark, depression is no joke.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, like I am, you’ll forget to call your mother on her birthday and she will know that something is really, truly wrong and she’ll call you up, leave a voice mail on your machine saying, “I’m calling you again in two minutes and you will answer the phone.”  And then when she does, and you do, she will say, “What. The. Fuck. Is going on?” And when the question finally unlocks the answer (as the right question often does) the truth will come tumbling out, ass over tea-kettle, and you’ll have finally named it, and naming it will bring about the kind of help that actually helps, whatever that might be.  For me, in that deep, dark, junior year of college, that help came in the form of medication, therapy, and my parents and me taking turns reading The Taming of the Shrew out loud so that I could complete my final Intro to Shakespeare assignment.  The truth, as advertised, will always set you free.

I don’t ever want to go a-tumbling ever again.  I’ve slipped since, I’ve even fallen, but I have fought tooth and nail against the tumble and I can humblebrag that I am Tumble Free since 1997.  When I was pregnant with Boyo, I was so scared of postpartum depression that in addition to deputizing both my husband and my mother in the Battle of Baby Blues vs. Full Blown Depression, I became hyper-vigilant about analyzing my emotional state.  Ever since he was born, I’ve been constantly sifting through any shades of blue moodiness in search of black, opalescent despair.  I spend vast stores of energy making sure the light at the end of the tunnel stays lit.  The shadows on the tunnel wall might be scary and macabre, but the thing about shadows is that they do not exist without light.  I can deal with shadows.  It’s replete, impenetrable darkness that scares the shit out of me.  When I feel even just the tiniest bit blueish, I rip it apart, searching for its source, spending whatever (rare and precious) energy it takes trying to reframe what’s bothering me, put a positive spin on it, look for the silver lining, smother it in confidence and affirmations, baking it in sunshine so it doesn’t even think about leading me toward the rabbit hole.  Most of the time it works beautifully.  But sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t Pollyanna that sadness into submission.

Hyper vigilance, as it turns out, is exhausting.  At the end of the week, when I still didn’t feel any better and I still didn’t know exactly what it was that was bringing me down, I just surrendered to it.  Not in a “I can’t fight anymore so I must be depressed” kind of a way, but a “Well, I’m already sad, might as well watch Legends of the Fall” kind of way.  When there’s no energy left to fight the blue, all you can do is let the blue in while you regroup. (Plus, Brad Pitt makes for excellent regrouping company, wouldn’t you say?)

Because I bear the internal scars of depression, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to feel blue. It’s okay to sit with it and in it.  It’s okay to steep in it, even.  Life in general (and new motherhood in particular)  is hard, and it’s kind of ridiculous to pretend that it isn’t.  I’m battling sleep deprivation, the monotony of days, hours, minutes, that are all remarkably and recklessly the same, a pitifully puny bank account, and the loneliness brought on by acute friendlessness (just to name a few), so it’s not only okay to let sadness wash over me, it’s probably healthier than spending every ounce of energy I have staving it off.  I freak out at the first sign of clouds because I’m afraid if I don’t do everything in my power to chase them away, I will drown in the deluge.  But rain and flood are two different things.  Rain won’t kill me.  If I’m caught out in a rainstorm having forgotten my umbrella, (or, more likely, my umbrella blew away while I was trying to untuck my dress from my panties) you know what will happen?  I’ll get wet.  That’s all.  Not the end of the world. The danger isn’t in getting wet.  The danger is in confusing wet with dead.  The danger is in the unceasing worry that wet will turn cold which will bring on a case of turn-of-the-century-influenza which will morph into tuberculosis which will lead to dying, alone and impoverished, in the gutter like a dog, leaving only Puccini to weep for me.  My (rare and precious) energy is better spent accepting what is real than fretting over what is absolutely not real.

I feel blue.  And it’s okay.  There, I’ve named it.

Still Tumble Free since 1997.

This poster of Brad from Legends of the Fall hung on the a door in my childhood bedroom from the time the movie came out until I was 30 years old.  Yeah, I can sit in sadness with this man. No problem.

This poster of Brad from Legends of the Fall hung on the a door in my childhood bedroom from the time the movie came out until I was 30 years old. Yeah, I can sit in sadness with this man. No problem.





That’ll Do, Pig.

It’s been said that the only people who don’t have doubts are frauds and the only people who don’t struggle with guilt are sociopaths.  Well, if that’s true, then I am the least fraudulent and least sociopathic mother who ever cried into her glass of Target-bought boxed wine.

I have been wrestling the greased pig of guilt more than usual these days.  Guilt is a furtive, insidious little fuck that always seems to find ways to ruin decisions, stall out momentum, and generally make you feel as though the Parenting Police is going to break down your door and haul your giant, please-don’t-judge-me-because-I-still-haven’t-lost-the-baby-weight ass to the clink.  (Hey, Parenting Police?  You didn’t have to break down the door.  I forgot to lock it last night.  As you were.)

The thing about New Mother Guilt is that she never rubs her bitchy little snout in the big stuff.  It’s the myriad tiny decisions that fill the trough. Consider the following internal dialogue I had not too long ago:

Should I feed the baby?  Yes.  Should I feed the baby cereal?  Um, yeah, sure. Is it time for cereal? I think so. I didn’t buy organic, should I go back to the store? Um, well, no, that doesn’t make sense. Does it? Should I? He’s rubbing his nose, is he allergic to this cereal?  Uhhh, well, probably not. He’s probably just got an itchy nose. Probably. Can a baby be allergic to non-organic?  Well, if he can, I bet he is.  Am I poisoning my son?  Yes.  YES!  Because you are terrible at this! If I were a better mother I would have gotten organic.  Well, this poor kid has the worst mother in the world, so how much more damage could non-organic rice cereal do, really?

And that’s just breakfast.  It’s only 7:00 in the morning and I’m already a guilt-ridden failure.  An entire day of decisions lays before me like the poppy field suburbia of The Emerald City.  I’m exhausted.  And going nine rounds (with a voice inside my own head for eff’s sake!) over rice cereal is just ridiculous. It’s time to slaughter that guilt pig and fry up some pride bacon!

So, in an effort to overcome the oink, I am going to turn my attention to the things I know I am doing right* instead of the things I think I’m doing wrong.  Here are a few:

1.  I am proud (and grateful) that I am staying home with my son.  It’s the most challenging, exhausting thing I have ever done, but I am doing it.  My son’s days are filled with me and mine with him and I think we’re both extremely lucky to have each other.

2.  I am proud that I make Boyo’s food.  It’s not a huge deal, really.  I just boil up fruits and veggies and then puree them in a food processor.  But, I’m reducing the packaging that I bring into our home and put out with the garbage, I’m saving us money, and I have the reassurance of knowing EXACTLY what he’s eating because I made it myself.

3.  I am proud that I am learning where my limits are.  I know what the end of my rope feels like I am getting much better about tying a knot and hanging on instead of tying a noose and slipping it over my head.  I reach out.  I call my mother, I text my girlfriends, I step outside, I breathe.  Then I write about it, get rid of it, release it.

4.  I am proud that I know in my bones that perfection is unachievable and what I need and want to strive for instead is excellence.  This one’s easier for me because I have never been a perfectionist.  Know why?  Because my mother knows it in her bones, too.

5.  I am proud that I remember to take care of myself.  When I know what I need, I ask for it.  And I am lucky enough that I get it when I do.

6.  I am proud that my husband and I are still cheesy, mushy lovebirds.  When we got engaged, we joked that our goal would be to make everyone we know throw-up a little bit over how cute we are.  We did.  We do.  We will.  I put handwritten notes in my husband’s homemade lunch.  He tells me all the time that he still can’t believe that it’s me, his childhood crush, sleeping in his bed.  We still turn each other on.  He loves my boobs.  I love his butt.  We make out.  We make love.  We always greet each other at the door.  We are husband and wife before we are Mommy and Daddy.  And we are better parents for it.

7.  I am proud that we have not turned our home over to our son.  There is no doubt that a baby lives here, but our home is not overrun with baby things.  One of the best decisions I ever made was forgoing a baby registry and asking for gift cards instead.  (This decision was not without drama.  A couple of relatives got really pissed and thought that I was extremely rude and even ungrateful for robbing them of the opportunity to shop for my baby.  Weird, but true.) That allowed us to determine and purchase what we actually needed and kept our tiny apartment from bursting at the seams with toys and apparatus that we never used.  Every single baby related item in our house is used almost every day.  Boyo has one smallish basket of toys, but it’s mostly filled with kitchen utensils and books.  He has a jumper, but we packed away his little gym before we put it out.  Instead of an expensive, space hogging high chair, we have a $25 Fisher Price baby seat that attaches to the kitchen chairs we already have.  Everything has a home, a place where it belongs, and because we aren’t drowning in an ocean of stuff, we are able to pack most of it away every night.  Although the “Just Wait-ers” would have me believe that this will not last forever, I am very proud that it’s true today.

8.  I am proud that I have committed to telling the truth about motherhood.  I think I’m helping people in doing so and I know I’m helping myself and my child by not pretending this isn’t the hardest goddamn thing in the world.

9.  I am proud that when I’ve had enough of feeling bad, I find a way to feel good.  I hope to pass this on my boy.

10.  I am proud that when I am not at all proud of myself, I am lifted up by family and friends (and even strangers!) who are.

Although I have yet to experience the rarity of heading to bed thinking, “Man, I really nailed today!” I am equally as certain that I do have solid moments of “I’m doing this right” as I am that feeling as though you nailed an entire day is probably reserved for the fraudulent sociopaths.  Lucky bastards.

*Gentle readers, It’s important to note that if what I think I am doing right is the opposite of what you think you are doing right, we are both right.  I do not judge.  Not you, anyway.

Learn it.  Love it.  Live it.

Learn it. Love it. Live it.

Love and Understanding

The thing about being a movie junkie and a relatively self-reflective person is that sometimes a movie I’ve seen a hundred times can all of a sudden come to life with a previously undetected and all of a sudden vitally important life lesson. Those kinds of lessons aren’t usually at the hands of the grand and dignified like Gregory Peck or Sir Alec Guinness, because the lessons that Atticus Finch and Obi-Wan Kenobi have to teach are pretty on-the-nose.  No, I usually uncover these hidden gems under the most embarrassing of rocks.  Like, Renee Zellweger embarrassing.  Consider the following:   The scene in Jerry Maguire when Dorothy is confessing her too-soon-but-I-can’t-help-it love for Jerry.  She boldly and excitedly proclaims, “I love him for the man he wants to be and I LOVE him for the man he almost is!”  Her proclamation always bewildered me.  How can she love a man she doesn’t understand?  How can she be so sure that she loves him when she’s also so sure that he doesn’t even know who he is himself? That rock-solid certainty in the face of nebulous uncertainty never made sense to me.  That is, of course, until I became a mother.

Let me back up for a minute.  In the three weeks since I last wrote a post, so much has happened to and with my Boyo that time stretches and dilates, taking up more room in my memory than it really took.  He experienced his first trip on an airplane (and did marvelously, miraculously, magnificently well!) He got his first stomach bug (and puked profoundly,  proficiently, and pretty much everywhere!) He sprouted five new teeth, he started eating finger foods, he threw crawling into high-gear, and he discovered the magical satisfaction that can only be found in a crash-clink-clatter of a set of metal measuring spoons.  Big doings.  He also just came through one of the most challenging of his “Wonder Weeks.”

I’m not the kind of person who finds comfort in doing a great deal of research.  Having every option in the world only makes me feel more adrift.  I’m much better off taking a simple piece of advice from a trusted source and seeing if it fits my needs, then adjusting from there, deciding as I go what works and what doesn’t.  For this reason, I don’t read a lot of parenting advice books or articles.  I find a resource that has been recommended by someone I trust, (or that just resonates with me for whatever reason) I give it a try, and if it works, I use it as a reference until it stops working for us.  Well, The Wonder Weeks might as well be called, “Keeping Mommy Sane:  A Guide to Raising Boyo.” I won’t go into major detail about it except to say that this book helps me understand that my son is going through something major even if I don’t understand exactly what my son is going through.  The thing I really love about this book is that it does not offer parenting advice.  It simply informs the reading parent of what’s happening in her developing baby’s brain, how that affects his behavior, and some head’s-up signs that her baby is, in fact, in the  throes of a developmental leap.  What’s to be done from there depends entirely on the integration of whatever parenting style works best for this particular baby (something only his parents can determine.) The Wonder Weeks has helped mitigate my monumental frustration of a thousand unanswered questions (Why is my baby, like, screech-screaming?  Why is he all of a sudden not eating or sleeping? Why does my baby act like I’m peeling off his skin when I change his diaper?) by not only providing some of those answers, but also by reminding me that sometimes, there simply aren’t any answers.  Sometimes, it’s just life blooming and blossoming and all that is to be done is to take a deep breath and remember that while there are similarities in all babies’ development, all babies are different and the only expert in raising my child is me.

Having scream-fuss-whined himself through a huge developmental leap, my persnickety little man is now cheerful and bubbly, crawling full tilt, pulling up on chairs and ottomans (and entertainment centers no matter how many “No!”s I thunder at him.) He’s fascinated by simple household items (thank you, Whisk and Giant Spoon!) and laughing spontaneously at things I didn’t know were hilarious until I heard his golden laughter trumpeting out of his toothy little mouth.

I do not always understand my boy.  I don’t always know what’s making him cry.  I can’t always figure out what he wants, even when I can tell that he’s seeking something.  I am often surprised by his reaction to both new and familiar circumstances.  I am living with a (tiny) man that I do not understand.  And I love him.  I do.  Deeper and more profoundly every day.  I love him for the boy he is today, right now, this moment.  I love him for the boy and man he’s developing into.  I love him for the boy and man I hope he becomes.  Watching my son’s nascent personality effloresce is a pleasure and an honor unlike any I have ever known. Each new bit of understanding is another link in the garland of love that we are building together, like the strung-together popcorn on Bob Cratchit’s Christmas tree.

I don’t have to understand Boyo to love him.  I only have to understand that I do love him.  I only have to remember the Dark Days when I wasn’t sure if I did love him, when I felt like all I could do was tolerate him, when the inky stain of that guilt threatened to ruin the fabric of my sanity.  I only have to be grateful in my bones to have realized that love is where I go when patience is gone.  Love is where I go when frustration threatens to cloud up and rain chicken shit all over my day.  Love is where I go when my yearning for understanding gets sharp and heavy, like a medieval flail.  When impatience, frustration, and lack of understanding have me in a free fall, love is the net that will catch me.

So, as embarrassing as it is, I have Renee Zellweger and the 100th or so viewing of Jerry Maguire to thank for helping me unearth a lesson that I hadn’t realized I had learned.  Love, that sturdy bulwark in the battleground of parenthood, will stand strong with or without understanding.

Now, if I could just get someone to show me the money…

This serving spoon does what a pile full of toys did not...Entertain my cranky baby.  Thanks, Giant Spoon!

This serving spoon did what a pile full of toys did not…Entertain my cranky baby. Thanks, Giant Spoon!