Random Thoughts: The Word Vomit Edition

My Monday started at 2 a.m. this morning. Just woke up, and my brain started spinning. I tried reading. I watched the rest of an episode of OITNB. I finally fell asleep by reciting Our Fathers and Hail Marys.

And then M came into my room, twice. The second time he got into bed with me (I usually go to his bed to lay down with him, but I was too tired from having been awake for about 2 hours) and proceeded to squirm around until I told him to knock it off.

And then I woke up at 7:05 because I forgot to turn on my alarm.

I have a very busy week, and I am trying very much to take it one day at a time. After all, that’s how it happens, right? I am, to my detriment, already focused on getting to the weekend.

And on a day that started with thinking of All. The. Things I need to do this week, it wasn’t good to read this article from the NPR health blog.

I think about this often: how stressed is too stressed? What can I do to lessen my stress levels? If I can’t lessen them, how can I better manage them?

I don’t like saying I’m stressed. I don’t like saying “I’m too busy”. I really don’t. It sounds like an excuse.

But. I might be too busy and stressed.

This week looks like this:

Monday: Work, School Advisory Board meeting at 6:30. Now, obviously, I was foolish to express interest in being on the SAB, even though I am interested. Because this means I have to leave work, pick everyone up, put dinner together, and turn the evening over to a babysitter to manage. It means I had to hire a sitter in the first place!

Tuesday: Get up to workout, work, soccer practice for Flora, bath night.

Wednesday: Work. My stylist is coming over around 9 p.m. to do my hair. I kind of consider this an off night, but it may be late.

Thursday: Get up to workout, work, practice spelling tests, bath night.

Friday: Work, pick up Flora at soccer practice, pick up Kate at school, pick up M at daycare, turn children over to ILs to babysit for night, go out to dinner with my parents who are in from out of town.

Saturday: I don’t even know what is going to need to happen by Saturday. This is what I know: Flora will have a soccer game, I would like to go to the gym with my husband, and I am going to see the Afghan Whigs. This concert is pretty much the only reason I am hoping to survive this week without a breakdown.

Sunday: Somehow I have to get my mother and my children all in the same place. This sounds almost straightforward, I realize, but there are some complicating logistics regarding where my mother will actually be (at Dr. Bro’s house), whether or not she just wants to hang there, and how we will get around game day traffic coming or going.

Also, somehow, even though I noticed that we were out of milk yesterday, I never managed to either go to the store myself and get some, or send Dan to get some — plus, I didn’t shop at all this weekend, so the meal plan is a touch sketchy for this week. So in addition to starting this week at 2 a.m., we started it sans any kind of milk, which makes serving cereal for breakfast a little tricky.

Oy.

There is also money to manage and bills to pay and a house to keep in fairly decent shape. I cannot wait until Dan gets back to putting the basement in order for the littles. They need their own damn space. I’m tired of managing their stuff. And, yes, we are teaching them to pick up and do chores and so on, but it seems to be a lot of repetition for very little gain some days.

Especially on a day where my living room was very clean for most of the day (because my children were otherwise elsewhere), and then completely trashed in about 30 minutes because they were home. That’s just ridiculous to me. Is it just me?

How do you manage stress and not sweat the small stuff so it doesn’t kill you?

Standing close to this band is my reward for getting to Saturday. That and drinks with my husband.

School Update: The Good, The Bad, and The Flora

1. Kate has been a rock star (well, until this week*). She has consistently completed her homework in Extended Day. She comes home and does her evening chore. There are some slight issues about her behavior when she’s hungry — because she’s not just hungry, she’s starving to death, of course.

Oh, yeah, we have chores going on. Each week, the girls either have to set and clear the table, or wash the dishes. The time I gain in my evenings due to having the girls do one chore each evening — one! — has been remarkable.

Kate sometimes has to be reminded to get her chore started, but once she starts, she goes from start to finish without stopping. I help with dishwashing, making sure things are cleaned and well-rinsed, then I dry and put away most of the dishes.

Because of her exemplary behavior these past two weeks, Kate has earned a special Katie-Mom day this weekend. I really couldn’t be prouder of her.

Katie and me

(*This week, she has complained of stomach pain. She’s missed two days of school. No fever, but we are heading to the pediatrician’s office this afternoon.)

2. Ha, ha, just kidding. I just wanted a catchy headline.

Michael is *thrilled* to be in preschool. He loves just about everything about being a “big boy”: his teacher, his backpack, his folder. He actually seems to like Tuesdays and Thursdays best now — “Do I go upstairs today?” he will ask. The preschool classroom is upstairs. “Yup,” I’ll say. He’ll do a fist pump: “YESSS!”

It’s ridiculous.

He had no trouble transitioning back into the daycare setting either. Didn’t even faze him. I think he missed his little buddies.

My cheeseball

3. We may have turned the corner on this one. It remains to be seen.

My children, Kate and Flora, are responsible for doing their homework in Extended Day. This is a habit I tried last year to get started with them. Mileage, as they say, varied.

This year, I put down the law. Homework gets done at Extended Day. If they needed help with something, they could save it for home, but the majority of it has to get done before I pick them up. And, yeah, they have to motivate and monitor themselves. I am not going to put responsibility on the EDS proctor.

Flora has consistently chosen not to do her homework. I would find her playing on a computer at Extended Day, and she would turn to me and say, “Oh. Um, I didn’t do my homework.” After about a week of this, I said, “Why aren’t you doing your homework?”

“Homework is a waste of time.”
“You think homework is a waste of time.”
“Yes. Also farts.” (I took this to mean she thought homework was farts, not that farts were a waste of time.)

“Fine,” I said. “I’m taking the 3DS away.” And I did.

A day or two after this conversation, there was a note in her math book. She hadn’t done her homework for two days in a row. So she was either telling me she did it at Extended Day and didn’t, or she was telling me she was doing it at home, and didn’t. Either way I trusted her. That’s over!

(No, I don’t check my children’s homework. They do that in school. Of course, now I check to make sure they actually did it.)

Two days into this week, Flora has done her homework both days. I have checked, and helped her with a couple of problems she skipped because she didn’t understand the question (distributive property, ahoy!). She asked for the 3DS back, and I said that we had to get through the week first.

I haven’t signed her up for violin yet — that’s a matter of disorganization on my part. She has soccer practice Tuesdays and Thursdays, and chorus on Wednesdays, so getting her homework done is even more vital.

Also, she hasn’t done well with the chore. She starts and stops, starts and stops. She’ll set out dishes and wander away. I have to call her back time and again to finish. When she was not doing her homework in Extended Day, she didn’t have time to do her chore — and boy did she ever milk that.

This week, as I said, has been better. She has washed dishes (she gets frustrated rinsing all the soap off them). We really need to fix our dishwasher. The girls also help with laundry (mostly putting clean clothes away) and vacuuming.

And, we’ve only been late once, and that was due to construction. It’s a new record!

4. So, that’s where we stand in the middle of September. Flora loves to learn, but she sincerely hates homework. And chores.

Life is rough. /sarcasm

What do you think? Anything else I can do to help Flora get her work done? After she gets the 3DS back, what’s next?

The Mother of All Mommy Blogging Dilemmas

I want to give you all an update about how school is going, what the children are up to, what new changes in our routines have meant.

One of my children, though… driving me crazy. There are issues, problems, dilemmas. And I don’t want to post them here to complain about said child — I want to post them here because I NEED SUGGESTIONS.

Maybe I should just email a few of my friends who are moms or those who are in education. Although, too, let’s face it, it’s not like I have hundreds of thousands of readers that are going to see me posting about my child.

Someday, I imagine my children will see this blog. They are aware of social media, Facebook and Twitter and the like. They watch YouTube videos. They get how the Internet works. We use search engines for homework already.

I guess, for me, context is important. I don’t want my children to see one or two of my blogs posts and think, “Jeez, my mom didn’t like me very much.” It goes without saying how much I love my children — they are really great kids.

The other course of action is to brag on the child who is outstanding as of late. Although I’m not sure how that helps me help the other child.

It’s nothing of an embarrassing nature. I try not to do that. When M was born, I told myself that I was never going to post about my children’s potty habits (I think I was discreet before that as well; I’m a big believer in not talking about poop on the Interwebz). I never talked about accidents — or, even, successes. That was uber private. Anything having to do with my children’s bodies — that’s just off limits.

What say you, my readers? Shall I outline the dilemma here and ask for suggestions? Keep it to an email? Keep this place positive?

Those darn kids!

Those darn kids!

Open Letter to a Babyloss Mother: Part III, Don’t You Worry About Me

After I came to your son’s memorial service, you sent me an email. In it you said, “That can not have been easy for you.”

And this is my final note on that: Don’t worry about me.

After Gabriel died, I had no one to talk to (aside from Dan) about what the hell had happened and about what we were going through. I didn’t know of a single person who had had a stillborn baby. Or if they did have a still baby, I had never heard their stories. Dan and I were completely at sea. Our midwives pointed us to Compassionate Friends, which was helpful. I eventually discovered a whole world of baby loss parents on the Internet.

I learned what I’m trying to tell you in these letters: Grief doesn’t end. Other people’s babies can hurt. It’s okay to talk about your son. You are a mother.

I didn’t have someone (aside from my uncle) to tell me this stuff. I slowly found resources, and I was incredibly fortunate in the support I did have in family and friends.

I am more than eleven years down the path that you have just stepped on. You probably can’t even see me ahead of you.

I will do my best to leave you some markers. You probably feel horribly alone right now. You’re not, although some days I wonder how much of a consolation that is.

I’ll be all right. Even when talking to you brings my grief back to the fore, I will be all right. I know my strengths and my resources. I know that I have my own spaces and my own comforts. I have some place to turn for support.

Tell me what you need to tell me. Please know, I will always have your son’s name in my heart. I won’t shy away from your pain — if anything, I will wish I could protect you from it. I can’t, though, and I don’t want you to worry about protecting me.

I hope that if you need to talk to a therapist or a professional that you find someone. I will be as good a listener as I can, but you may find yourself needing an even safer space, a completely objective listener.

And, if you need a few more little bits, please consider these. From me to you.

My post at Glow in the Woods. I found this site helpful in part because I am a writer by trade, by nature. The other writers here helped me language my own feelings.
More on grief as a never-ending story here and here.

I hope that I can help you find your way to some peace.

red pen mama

Springtime path in the woods

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Open Letter to A Babyloss Mother: Part II, About Babies

Dear You,

When we finally left the hospital after Gabriel’s delivery, we went out to eat. “We” is my husband and I, my parents, and my in-laws. A family with a little baby in a car seat was at the restaurant. Everyone tensed up, and looked to me. I laughed. “It’s okay,” I said to assure them I wasn’t going to freak out. “The world is full of babies!”

This was shock talking.

The world is full of babies.

At first, you may feel the way I did. The shock of losing Gabriel carried me through months of dealing with other people’s babies. I have a nephew who was born a month before we lost Gabriel; we spent Father’s Day with that family, my nephew sprawled on my husband’s chest and belly, sleeping. Close friends had a baby about five weeks after Gabriel died. We went to the hospital; we became that boy’s godparents.

And then, in October, another nephew was born, to my SIL — Dan’s sister. If Gabriel had lived, he would’ve been the first grandson on that side of the family. When this nephew was born, I met my husband at the hospital.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I told him. I was in a panic.

“Just try,” he begged.

I tried. I walked into that hospital room. I managed to congratulate my sister-in-law, and then I walked right back out, sobbing. She wanted to ask us to be godparents, and I begged my husband to please talk her out of it. At the very least, to not ask me. I hope she has forgiven me for my (very understandable) actions when her son was an infant. He was the one who shattered the cocoon my shock had wrapped me in.

These years, your 30s, are full of pregnancies and babies. You may be able to deal with them with grace; you may not be able to deal with them at all. Please know that eventually, it will be okay to celebrate your friends’ pregnancies and babies. You may be able to deal with some people’s babies with more grace than others.

For a little while, it’s okay to say, “No.” Don’t make excuses. Decline shower invites if you think it’s going to be too hard; absent yourself from baptisms and birthday parties for awhile; send cards and nice gifts and warm wishes.

Other people’s babies can be hard. You and I know that what should be a time of joy and celebration can end badly. Sure, you can pretend to participate — you may be even stronger than I, and truly feel the joy with none of the anxiety and jealousy. I know that in my mind, I was very happy for the birth of healthy babies and excited parents. My heart, muffled in cotton wool for a while there, was a different story.

At the risk of repeating myself, be gentle. Know what you can do, what you can face, and what you need to say no to. And, at the risk of sounding mean, screw the people who give you a hard time about it.

As a final note, I don’t really have any advice to give you about moving forward with the next pregnancy, if you and your partner decide to do that. I am not your doctor, your midwife, your partner, or your heart. Dan and I were told to wait *at least* three months to start trying; we waited six. Flora, our oldest daughter, was conceived nine months after Gabriel died. I was more ready than my husband.

We have three living children now. My pregnancies were fraught. But with trust and faith, we got through them. It’s not going to be the same as your pregnancy with your first son. But it can still be good. I wish you all the peace and luck on that front.

You are in my heart.

Sincerely,
red pen mama

Other People’s Children

What if I do look hungrily
at other people’s children?
Maybe I am raging with envy inside,
holding these living bodies,
running my hands over their supple skin.
Maybe I am crying inside.

It’s hard to be with these children,
particularly the sons and their laughing faces,
making them smile
drawing on a summer’s sidewalk with chalk
playing their favorite games
with their favorite toys.

And no one would blame me
if I didn’t
touch them see them talk to them
cradle their tiny heads
if I were envious
if I did shed tears over their lively bodies.

No one would blame me at all.

wintertime

source

Open Letter, Part I: Grief

Open Letter to A Babyloss Mother: Part I, Grief

Dear You,

I have so much I want to tell you. I hope I can give you some help, give you some hope. Please pick and choose what you need from what I can say. And also know: I am here to listen.

First of all, and I’ve told you this already, but I really want you to remember it: You are a mother; your partner is a father. You are parents. You will question this in the next weeks or months. You will have people tell you that you are not a mother. Really awful people will say it to your face. Innocently, earnestly.

Try to avoid really awful people.

You carried and nurtured your son. He grew and thrived under your heart. It is a great unfairness — how inadequate is that word? — that he is not here, in your arms. It is the most devastating thing you will endure.

Second, grief has no timeline. Grief is a different animal when you are living inside of it. It doesn’t have steps; it doesn’t end. Other people are already moving on, and it’s because they are *just* sad. Not to minimize their sadness, but sadness is not grief. You and your partner are in a different boat. A very lonely boat.

Cry as much and whenever you need to. Someday, you will go through a day without crying, but that day may be months away. The first time I realized I had gone through most of the day without crying, I started crying. It felt like a betrayal of my son. It’s not — it wasn’t. It was a sign that I was actually healing. I didn’t want to heal. But it does happen.

When we lost Gabriel, we had a memorial service. My uncle, my father’s brother, lost a son to a car accident when the son was 22, 30-some years ago now. My uncle walked up to me, put his arms around me, and said, “You will never get over this.” And it was such a relief for me to hear that! It took away all the expectations, all the worries I had about actually, you know, getting over the death of my son.

It is survivable, as you said in an email to me. You will get through. Be gentle on yourself. Physically, too. You delivered a baby. That is hard on a body. Couple that with the emotional trauma you are experiencing, and know that you are not going to bounce back quickly, either physically or emotionally.

Two more notes about grief:

Your partner will grieve in his own way. You may not recognize it as grief. It may be hard; you may feel he is moving away from you in these early, grief-filled days. You will both do things that the other doesn’t understand. I encourage you both to try to stay connected however you can. But try not to judge each other’s grief. It’s not a contest.

And back to those really awful people. In general, people are well-meaning. I am willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. But, you will hear a lot of stupid things for awhile. If you can, try to be understanding and gentle with people who say stupid things to you. They don’t know what to say — there really are no words for what you are enduring right now. If you can’t be understanding, you have my permission to walk away, to put down the phone, to delete the emails, to unfriend them on Facebook.

Someone will ask you if you are over it yet. You will not be over it; you will never be over it. And I’ll tell you: that’s perfectly okay.

You are in my heart.

Sincerely,
red pen mama

Trees in Winter

Lucky Number 13

I didn’t marry my best friend.

I married this guy

Marrying Dan was the best decision I have ever made. He is the best partner I could ask for, a solid teammate. 

I was recently discussing marriage with a woman who has been married three years. I mentioned that my 13th wedding anniversary was coming up.

“Wow. Thirteen.” She laughed and said, “Got any advice?”

Poor girl, I did.

“Talk,” I told her. “Talk, talk, talk. Talk even when you don’t want to. Talk even when it’s going to make you cry, when it’s going to make you angry. You’re allowed to take breaks, and you’re allowed to go to bed upset. But keep talking anyway.”

The three most important things in my marriage — I can’t presume to speak for all marriages, so I won’t, although this is advice I’ll probably pass down to my children eventually — communication, humor, and sex. Without those three things, I don’t know how our relationship would survive. 

Dan and I love to make each other laugh. The important thing about humor and laughter in our partnership is that is doesn’t come at the other’s expense. We really do laugh with each other, not at each other. (Well, okay, sometimes we laugh at each other, because sometimes we’re idiots. But it’s all in good fun, and never mean-spirited.)

And sex. I mean, I don’t know what to say about this without being TMI. We make time for it. There’s a lot of give and take, and a lot of communication about this. 

And after 13 years, and four children, and amidst the work of raising three children plus our careers, it is better than ever.

One thing that was vital to us from the get-go was that we be married and partners even after we had children. Even once we became parents, we needed to take time to reconnect with each other. We have dates. And, we have a bedroom door with a lock (very important if you are going to have a sex life. Children get impatient and have terrible boundaries).

Dan is my favorite person. I’m so happy when he gets home at the end of his day. I love having a family with him, and I love when it’s just he and I out to dinner or at a concert, or catching a cocktail on the couch after a long week.

I’m so lucky.

Happy Anniversary, Dan. I love you.

“With this ring, I thee wed;
with my body, I thee worship;
and with all my worldly goods, I thee bestow.”

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The Strength of a Man

Dan texted me Tuesday: “Do you have a minute.”

My reply: “Yes.”

Dan and I touch base at least once a day via text or phone call. Most of the time, it’s a quick check in: How are you? How’s your day going? Some of the time, it’s a question that needs an answer: Can you stop at the store/bank/beer distributor? And very occasionally, it’s urgent.

A few moments later, he called. His tone was very intent. “How is your day?”

I know my husband well enough by now to know that with that kind of opening, there was a purpose behind the call.

“It’s okay. Getting stuff done.”

“How’s the tension level?”

“Well,” I said, tensely, “it’s starting to ratchet up now!”

Dan sighed. “I just got some very bad news, and I’m trying to figure out where you are mentally before I dump it on you.”

Me: “I’m fine. Shoot.”

A friend of Dan’s called him. Her sister, who was past her due date with her first baby, had just discovered that the baby had no heartbeat.

And just like that, it was June of 2003 again.

My husband said, “What should I tell them? What do you think they need?”

I listed a few things:

1. A photographer if they can find one. This may sound morbid to some people. But having this experience recorded and having images of the baby — it’s important. It’s vital to grieving. Or it was for Dan and me, and I’ve heard from other baby loss parents that it helped them too.

2. A support community. My go-to for these situations is usually Glow in the Woods. Compassionate Friends is helpful as well, especially when parents are ready for real-life interactions.

3. “A Fr. Ray,” I said.

Father Ray is the priest who married us. He was a good friend to Dan while they were both at Duquesne, and he’s become a friend to both of us since the wedding. He was there when we were in the hospital with Gabriel, and he has baptized our subsequent children. Everyone should have a Fr. Ray — if not a religious person, a therapist, a counselor, a sounding board, a shoulder to hang onto to.

Dan became their Fr. Ray.

++

It was hard to know that my husband was carrying this for the couple. I honestly don’t know how he did it. That phone call from him brought back a lot of memories. Not bad memories, exactly. Hard memories. Painful.

Knowing that I was going to have to go through labor with nothing to show for it. (For awhile, denial and shock protected me from that. My brain knew it, but my heart didn’t accept it. Shock and denial are very useful tools for a body.)

I couldn’t help thinking about what this first-time mother was facing. A labor that could be long, possibly painful. My epidural wore off, and I was finally put on a morphine drip. It took four days to deliver Gabriel. I barely remember the last two because of the pain and drugs.

The parents were probably discussing a name. I wonder if the one they picked was one they had already decided on. They didn’t know if they were having a boy or girl. Dan and I hadn’t known if Gabriel was a girl or boy at the time either (although, my mother’s heart thought “boy”). We had had a girl’s name picked, but I didn’t want to use it on our still baby. We discussed a lot of names. We finally decided on Angela or Dolores for a girl. And Gabriel for a boy.

While we were at the hospital, we had a lot of support. My parents, his parents, siblings, and friends. I don’t know about Dan, but after a while, I felt like *I* was responsible for comforting *them*. Telling them that it was okay, that I was okay, that — all evidence to the contrary — it was going to be okay.

The pain. The frustration. The waiting. It really is not okay, any of it, but what are you supposed to do? What are you supposed to say?

I just waited it out. I remember asking Ray if Gabriel (well, “the baby” at the time) needed to be baptized. Ray said no, that he had gone from one world of love into another, of love and light.

That helped.

++

The baby came. Dan held him. The parents named him.

Dan came home, spent. Utterly drained. I made him a cup of chamomile tea.

We sat on our respective couches to pick a show to watch. We couldn’t face Breaking Bad, nor could we deal with most of the Netflix documentaries. “None of these are happy,” Dan pointed out.

We came across the listing for the updated Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch (whom I insist on calling Bernard for some reason) and the ever-affable Martin Freeman. “Look,” I said. “It’s Khan and Bilbo! Let’s watch this!”

Partway in, Dan griped, “I wish we had a TV in our room.” I expressed my dislike of that idea.

“Yeah,” he said. “But if we had a TV in our room, I could lay down next to you and be warm.”

I made room on the couch. He fell asleep before Sherlock was over.

Memory Lane: 1994

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So, SPIN Magazine released its list of the 100 Best Alt-Rock Songs of 1994, and I basically fell down a rabbit hole. This is the soundtrack to my 23rd year.

I was a hot mess, but damn, the music was fantastic.

A few of these songs remind me of a short-lived abusive relationship I was in with a drug addict (short-lived because he was an abusive drug addict, der). See: Suede; Smashing Pumpkins.

A number of these songs remind me of The Ex, a man I would spend the next four years with, give or take a few months in the middle there. (We were on a break!) See: Liz Phair, “Supernova”; Guided by Voices, “I am a Scientist”; Pearl Jam, “Better Man”.

But most of these songs remind me of being single and feeling fierce, which is how I spent most of 1994. I had a pierced lip and a tattoo, and I was Gen X to a T — a pot-smoking, aimless slacker living on my own. I had a job and was freelance writing, and spent most of my money on rent and beer at Dee’s Cafe on the South Side.

I don’t remember “Possum Kingdom” being so rapey. I do remember Urge Overkill’s version of “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” being *exactly* that creepy, though.

The most nostalgic songs for me: “Something’s Always Wrong”, Toad the Wet Sprocket; “Gee Angel”, Sugar.

And talk about women in music: L7, Lisa Loeb, Hole, Breeders, the aforementioned Liz Phair, Bjork, Luscious Jackson. LUSCIOUS JACKSON! Lots more. And I remember every single word to “Seether” by Veruca Salt.

And now for a video.

I thought about posting the video for “Gentleman” by Afghan Whigs, but, two things: 1. I didn’t listen to the Afghan Whigs in 1994. They are a new obsession. 2. If I watch a 28-year-old Greg Dulli in this video one more fucking time, I’m going to turn into a puddle of quivering jelly.

I limited myself to the Top 10 songs, and I still have to post two. Point and counter point as it were.

1994 was the year Kurt Cobain put a bullet in his brain. “No Apologies” from Nirvana, from MTV Unplugged Nirvana, is a fitting elegy.

On the flip side, we have Courtney Love of Hole howling into the void with “Miss World”.

If you don’t feel like flipping through the slideshow at SPIN, here’s the link to the Spotify playlist.

What were you listening to in 1994?

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