Bonus Day

Yesterday, the first day of spring, my children had a snow day from school.

No, the irony does not escape me. Yes, I realize our region of New England does not preclude such occurrences (one blizzard happening several years ago on April Fools’ Day – apparently Mother Nature has a healthy sense of humor every year). Alas, the snow totals fell drastically short of the predictions and the sun shone and snow melted by what would have been dismissal time.

As I lay in bed Sunday night, after receiving the robo-call from the school department, I was more relaxed than usual knowing I wouldn’t have to rush the kids out the door the next morning. I did say to my husband, however, that I wasn’t looking forward to a whole day inside with the kids. He agreed with me that my comment didn’t exactly sound nice, but I’ve gotten used to some quiet school days as a respite. Plus, I’ve been having iPad battles with the oldest (see previous post), all the girls have been having battles with each other, and I just end up yelling.

It made me laugh, then, when a friend called in the morning, saying I had a ‘bonus day’ with the kids. None of us were dressed. I’d been on my phone all day. They’d bounced between their rooms, the Wii, iPad, and computers. Her use of ‘bonus’ implied unexpected and appreciated quality time. I think I was on vegetation/survival mode.

I finally got my butt in gear enough to strip all three of their beds, a task – believe it or not – they’d been bugging me to do. My very particular middle wanted tightly tucked sheets. My little wanted new blankets. The oldest sleeps with such reckless abandon her bed was just torn to shreds. I figured with them home, perhaps they could help me. I also hoped I’d find my middle’s long-lost library book shoved under her mattress. Ha ha!

When I pulled the bunk beds out to sweep for books and animals lost to the abyss, I made the mistake of leaving the room for a bit afterwards. We all know what empty spaces and crevices and unexpected configurations are for, right? For me, it meant extra room to tuck in those pesky sheets on the far side of the bunks. For them, it meant fill with stuffed animals and baskets and blankets!

'Sure I know what would solve this problem. More floor space.'

Or personal space . . .

 

Suddenly, awash in piles of bedding flooding the hallway, random crap scattered everywhere on the bedroom floors, another step added to an already unwelcome task – I was transported back to days when all three were pre-school. When it was one step forward, two steps back. When it was literally shoveling shit against the tide. When keeping them happy and/or entertained and a house with the least order of squalor attainable and some semblance of sanity was a nearly impossible balance.

And I was scared.

I was reminded what life was like with a house full of littles. As the sole caregiver, comforter, cheerleader, coach, craft guru . . . I am well aware that I need not be all these things at all – and certainly not all at once. But my anxiety treats any deviation from a perceived plan or expectation as a misstep, a notch closer to irritation, panic, anger. It makes me hide in a corner of my couch, balled up in my pjs, content to try nothing rather than get frustrated with things not going according to plan. Or overwhelmed by the enormity of a whole day with all these people – when it should be about the moments.

Even when summer vacation starts and I have not only the new infant, but the older three, it will not be the same as those insular days when they bounced off the walls like ping-pong balls. They are not all toddler and preschool age. They can have some independent and alone time. Even while I tend to the baby, they can play on their own or swing outside. Hopefully they will understand that I won’t be able to – nor should I – entertain them all day. Hopefully I’ll remember that, too.

And to take each moment one at a time for what it’s worth – not worrying the whole day away before it’s even started.

 

Whirling Dervish

Hands shaking, limbs twitching, cells, veins vibrating, blood boiling.

Breath ragged, tears prickling, sobs wracking.

The physical shell spins

The mind reels

Emotions swarm and swamp

Even the calm between the swells a sad, dead place.

There is no taking a bow.

The dance is never over.

The dervish whirls and twirls herself into a tizzy.

from Abundance Created Together

from Abundance Created Together

The Hairy Crumb

Do you remember when you were a child and your mother seemed so neat and tidy, so put together? She would whip the house into shape in no time. Flit about the house each morning, making beds, washing breakfast dishes, hanging clean laundry to dry in the sun.

You knew she did it, but it never occurred to you how. You never weighed the drudgery of the tasks, the tedious amounts of effort that went into the seemingly effortless job she did.

Did the tasks weigh on her the way they do you? Another item added to the to-do list adding one more stone upon your chest. The never-ending monotony of it threatening to suffocate you like a toppled tower of laundry. The disarray around you making you feel like a failure.

The hairy crumb on the floor taking on a life of its own, sucking the life out of yours spiraling out of control.

Keeping house probably didn’t send your mother into the existential angst of a panic attack. Not because she emulated June Cleaver, but because she was not (is not) ruled by anxiety. She would not take on more than she could chew. And if she did pack her calendar, she’d know how to prioritize to make it all work. She did not suffer from the irrational desire for physical orderliness as a means of reining in her mental and emotional chaos.

Or maybe you’re seeing your mother through the eyes of a child – a superhero who can do all effortlessly and heroically. Perhaps not unlike your own children see you. Only you’re pretty sure you never saw her sitting on the floor, hands hovering near her heart, tense and twitching, physically trying to push. the. demands. away.

Memory Loss

We must leave the house at 3:45

No, wait, the bus arrives at 3:45

Aah, rinse the soap out of my hair and showering is done

Wait, did I wash my feet?

 

When there is a bullet of fog

lodged

in your brain,

it’s very easy for thoughts to get lost in translation.

 

The tricky part is remembering what the hell they meant in the first place.

Weeds

The mosquitoes actually held off long enough the other night for me to do some weeding in our vegetable garden.  In that time shortly before the gloaming, when the heat of the day was finally fading as the sun dipped between the trees and the wind rose up to fill its space, I loosened the earth all around my feet, gently extricating snap pea tendrils from crab grass claws.  There were weeds with plump, red stalks that looked like they would ooze moisture if I snapped them.  There were delicate rounded leaves with lacy white flowers.  They were under and around and throughout – an integral part of my garden – perhaps more numerous than the plants that were supposed to be there.

At times, I had to stand back and survey the leafy patch below me.  Bent over in the worst possible posture for my back, it was hard to distinguish the plants from the weeds.  At eye level, all the leaves blended into one range of green.  It was hard to tell where the clover ended and the pea leaves began.  The heart-shaped leaves of the green beans melded with tall stalks of pointed leaves.  There were even imposter marigolds with tiny yellow buds.

It almost scares me, the uncanny ability of nature to so closely mimic ‘actual’ plants with its weeds and then to germinate them right next to the others so they have the best possible chance at survival by blending.  Think about it, the first weeds a gardener pulls – even if it’s in the five-second walk to her driveway – is the tall spindly one sticking out like a sore thumb.  These others are stealth, imposters of the best kind – or most insidious depending on whose side one takes.

It’s no wonder, then, that I have a hard time distinguishing my bad habits from productive practices; destructive behaviors from healthy ways of being.  The roots of the less desirable plants of my life are invasive, wrapping themselves around my more likeable attributes and behaviors, making themselves almost impossible to extricate – or at least harder to distinguish or even notice.  Without stepping back to take stock, my life is one solid plane of green, weeds and all; the different shades and shapes indistinguishable.

Making the rounds at our local farmers’ market, I stopped to talk with a woman who had woven some beautiful baskets (who also happens to know a thing or two about gardening; she harvests worms for composting).  One skinny, oblong one with a graceful arch of a handle caught my daughter’s eye.  The woman directed my attention to a small ceramic plaque stitched to its front.  ‘Weeds’, it said.  She told me of the Native American tradition of placing their worries in a basket such as this to put them away; make them go away.  I joked how you could also take weeds as a literal worry as a gardener.

But as the day went on, I marveled at how symbolic that little basket and the word etched on its front were.  If I don’t take the time to stuff those weeds into a receptacle of some sort, they will crowd out the good in my life.  The weeds of worry, perfectionism, over-catastrophizing, unrealistic expectations, not prioritizing, not slowing down enough to come to a gentle stop rather than a screeching halt.  I need to cultivate my garden in such a slow, gentle way that I see the weeds as they pop up and handle them one by one, rather than waiting to turn the earth over and start over because they’ve taken over.

I think I need a bigger basket . . .

I think I need a bigger basket . . .

Retreat

When the world got to be too much, including my little corner of it, I used to retreat to the bathroom.  It was usually just as supper was about to start, food laid out on the table, cups of milk poured, husband home from work – Mom sitting on the toilet sobbing soundlessly with an unnamed sadness and inability to cope.

My husband would give me a few minutes, then call softly through the door to see if I was all right.

You would think that would be the easiest part of the day, having made it through ten or more hours of sole care giving, dressing, feeding, getting out the door-ing.  A time to sit with my family and enjoy the shared responsibility of parenting with my spouse.  But just like a toddler who does not do well with a change in caregivers, so I was not transitioning well.  We were all getting hungry and tired and my head couldn’t take one more shrill scream or pop of sound.

At first, a friend didn’t recognize this scenario as one resulting from my postpartum depression.  She got angry, she said, irritable, wanting to lash out when she couldn’t abide the situation at hand.  She wanted to fight vs. my flight.  Both natural responses to elevated levels of stress; to the wooly mammoth of parenting postpartum.

The word retreat itself is an interesting choice.  It has wartime connotations, as in run away from the enemy, give up the fight, fall back to a place of safety, behind that line that should not have been crossed.

When the bathroom won’t do anymore; when they’ve figured out your hiding spot; when you can’t while away your tortured existence on a germ-infested throne anymore – what then?

throne

At first, I turned to my midwife, then a licensed social worker, then lifestyle and diet changes, then medication.  I don’t want to lock myself in the bathroom as much any more, but I still need a respite to get my wits about me.

As a teenager, it was a requirement to attend a retreat as preparation for Confirmation.  In college, I attended many enriching weekend retreats as part of peer ministry.  In preparation for marriage, my husband and I went on an “Engaged Encounter”.

Where are the programs for mothers who love their children but want to retreat?  Who have lost themselves and their faith amidst the everyday beat-down of the job?  Who know what a blessing their children are but just can’t feel it for the pressure pushing down on them?  Who found their depression only now because they must function, they have no choice to go sit in a corner and listen to The Cure until life seems better.

Children bring us out of ourselves.  As they say, it’s the only way you can feel your heart beat outside yourself.  They teach us selflessness and caring for others.  They give us a view of the future, of possibility.  But in giving our all to them, it sometimes feels as if it’s the end of our possibility.  It doesn’t seem like there’s room for anything else.  A feeling that often makes me want to retreat.

Crash and Burn

My five year-old was invited to a classmate’s birthday party at the bowling alley.

The day dawned rainy and miserable.  She had stayed up late the night before.  Her grandparents brought donuts for breakfast.  She was so amped up, I think she had burned through her reserves before we even got in the car.

She excitedly greeted her classmates, donned her bowling shoes, and added her name to the scorecard when we arrived, but two turns down the lane, she gave up.  “I don’t know how to play,” she complained.  Then she spotted the arcade games.  Cut from the same cloth as her father, she gravitated toward the motorcycle that swayed side to side as its driver maneuvered the flat terrain of the screen.

We had a seemingly needless discussion about why we were at the bowling alley: to visit and celebrate with her friend, the birthday girl.

The behavior that followed defied all logic – unless you take into account the lack of rest, the lack of energy resulting from sugary foods, the lack of barometric pressure that was doing something to her brain and skull.

By the time we said goodbye to the guest of honor and her mother, she was a sniveling mess grasping onto me for dear life.

“Oh no, what’s wrong?  Is she okay?” the mother asked.  I think she was concerned she was hurt – and also that she hadn’t had a good time at the party she’d hosted.

“Oh, she’s fine.  She’s just crashing and burning,” I said.DownloadedFile

“I know how you feel,” said the mother with an exasperated look.

Indeed, I’d watched her try to catch her breath throughout the party as five year-olds pooled around her legs.  ‘Herding cats’ was the phrase that came to mind as I watched them try to adhere to bowling procedure.  As she tried to coordinate with the staff to get lunch on the table for all these kitties, I overheard her tell her husband to ‘do something’. 

I recognized in her all my telltale signs of anxiety bubbling up.  The throwing of hands in the air.  The curt responses.  The barked commands.  Looking around you as if you’ll see the one thing that will calm the chaos.

I wasn’t supposed to notice.  I wasn’t supposed to hear the slightly heated exchange between she and her husband.  But I didn’t judge.  Instead, it roused me to action.

For once, I wasn’t the one crashing and burning, but since I certainly had been there, I did what I thought I might appreciate when I was.  I grabbed a pitcher of soda and refilled cups.  I moved said pitcher when I was afraid the birthday girl’s unwrapping might upend it.  I tried to assist the kitties at my end of the table with cutting of food, getting of napkins, etc.  I tried to make her laugh and get her out of her own mind, which no doubt was swirling and sucking her in.

I don’t know her that well.  I don’t have any right to assume what she needs.  But I know what it’s like to crash and burn.  And I know I’d appreciate it if someone slowed my descent even just a little.

As for my five year-old, after scowling into middle distance on the thirty-minute ride home and sulking for a bit once there, she finally snapped out of it.  The familiar surroundings of home and routine and a good night’s sleep resurrected her good mood.

I guess we all just need care and attention to thrive – or at least not end in a fiery inferno.

Entropy

I used to like you.

You were a concept I thought was rebellious, unique in its dysfunction.

I scribbled your name on the brown paper bag book cover of my science book.

I joked how my life was a measure of entropy.

I didn’t know that my worst day of stress or ill-preparedness back then was a cakewalk compared to now.

While entropy is supposed to be unpredictable, I can feel myself slipping into it.  That detached feeling while everything swirls around me.  Worries, permission slips, due dates, appointments, a specific pair of pants to be washed, thoughts, concerns, shopping lists, stresses.  I cringe as I await the fallout.  The important detail missed.  The distractedness in me leading to some major misstep.  I know it’s coming.  I know it’s only a matter of time.  I dread it.  It makes me sick.  Makes me feel like I need a keeper.  Yet I can’t stop the feeling, can’t prevent the catastrophe.

It’s only after the catastrophe that I am emptied – of the dread, the worry.  Only to be filled with sorrow, regret, and guilt.  Ashamed that I scraped the side of my car along the opening of the garage as I pulled in.  Mortified that the bus driver awaited my return at the foot of my driveway; that my children had to wonder where I was.  Weak with worry that I could do something so stupid.  And it’s in that low place that I determine such a scenario will never occur again.

And for a while, I am good.  I dial back the enthusiasm when scheduling things.  I plan ahead.  I try to allow for more time than I optimistically think I need.

But slowly, slowly I forget that ‘limp as a dishrag’ feeling following the sick rush of adrenaline and life ratchets up again.

exergy_tube

Is it like the volcano that releases all its pressure with an eruption and then lies dormant again?

Do I push and push and push until my psyche can’t take it anymore and I get set back to the starting block – only to do it all over again?

Sisyphus has been bounding around in my head a lot lately.  A friend pointed out that any upward or forward motion is good – even if it doesn’t result in reaching the summit.  I need to explore these ideas.  Because a whole lot of $#!7 keeps hitting the fan and it keeps on spinning.

Entropy is not my friend anymore.  Chaos is not anti-establishment.  It is insanity.  I know there will always be a measure of ‘can-go-wrong’ness in my life, in anyone’s, but I can’t let it build to the boiling point at set intervals if I want to live a peaceful life.

A Rock to Remember

Last week, I was forced to go to the beach.

I was cranky.  I was tired.  It was a holiday and all three kids were home, but my husband was working.  I still had tons of tedious tasks to do to get settled in the new house.

My parents said, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go for a walk.

I walked from the breach way to the border of this same beach with my parents when I was a girl.  It was like coming full-circle treading it this day with my own children a short distance from the place I now call home.

The girls dove straight into rock hunting with my mother.  I didn’t even have to chase my three year-old out of the waves, as she plopped down in one spot and proceeded to sift and stack.  I sat down, too, and gave myself over to the sound of the rocks chattering against each other in the surf.

My other home was a short walk from a small inlet on Narragansett Bay.  It was a lovely spot and we were fortunate to live so close to it (though we didn’t make the trek nearly enough).  But it had nothing of the raw power and expansiveness of this beach, the open ocean.  I am not used to the mass amounts of rocks, perfectly pounded and rounded by the constant tumbling of the sea.  The smooth spheres of granite, mica, and other minerals I should remember from science class and Rhode Island history.  Their shapes were so alluring to me, beckoning me to pick them up, roll them in my hands.

And so I did.  I sat just apart from my daughter’s sifting and sorting and felt the weight in my hands.  The cool heaviness, the sun-soaked pressure.  I searched for the one that fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.  Then I spun it round and round, the smooth surface soothing me in a way that didn’t seem needed, but became suddenly essential.

I felt my hackles lowering, my blood slowing in my veins, my body decompressing, my soul expanding.  I was running, running, running so quickly, so constantly, that I didn’t even know how wound up I was.  I didn’t know how much I needed the salve of the sea.

I recalled a stretch of preteen fall days when a friend and I rode our bikes to the sand flats with our notebooks and sketchpads.  I was so disappointed that I was caught without a notebook when the muse was so apparently calling to me, when an epiphany was beating me over the head with a smoothly-shaped rock.  I hoped beyond hope that I could bottle this feeling and bring it home with me.  It’s been diluted over the last week, but I did bring some rocks home with me as reminders.  I picked out some beautifully speckled, striated, spotted ones that I stacked into cairns in my garden.  I selected two larger ones to use as worry rocks, prayer stones, literal talismans to ground me; I planned to give one to my husband so he could benefit from my lesson, too.

As I kneaded these rocks in my hands, I thought of the many manifestations of humanity’s need for physical reminders of the spiritual side of life, of our souls.  Kachina dolls, worry dolls, worry stones, chime balls, stress balls, rocks perched on gravestones, relics . . . there are so many examples.  But they all begin at their basest level with a bit of the natural world.  There is a reason humans turn to nature to reset their moods, their demeanors, their selves.  While I cannot put my finger on it, there is something about it that resonates in our souls.  I’ll just have to wrap my hand around those rocks each time I forget.

Eat the Frog

I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

Suffering through those things I don’t want to do in order to get to the ones I want.

Problem is, by the time I eat said frogs, I’m usually too damn tired to do the things I want, which never really were obligatory anyway.  Or, I take so long staring down the frog or pretending I don’t hear him croaking that I have just enough time to gulp him down hurriedly before the sun goes down; it’s time for dinner; time to pick up the girls from the bus stop.

Procrastination and perfectionism are not mutually exclusive.

When, pre-move, I described how I was failing to meet my goal of packing five boxes per day, an acquaintance pointed out how I couldn’t possibly be an overachiever and a procrastinator.  Luckily, another such duality came to my defense.  She concurred, that, oh yes, it is possible to be so worried about doing something perfectly that it stops you from attempting it at all.

In college, I grabbed a pamphlet from the career center on procrastination.  I’ve since thrown it out – though it took me quite some time ; ) – but it laid out similar terms.  I didn’t necessarily agree with it.  I am not one obsessed with the pursuit of perfection.  At least not overtly.  I understand the human condition and all its frailty.  I like to think I empathize and can forgive our various faults.

But do I refuse to start projects until I have sufficient time to complete the entire task?  Yes.  Will I stay at that task far into the night or despite my husband’s repeated attempts to beckon me to the dinner table until it is finished?  Yes.  Will I avoid beginning a task until I know exactly how to execute it?  Yes.  Do I fail to commit to a task until I know I can fulfill all the obligations that go along with it?  Yes.  And regardless of all reasons not to start, do I place an unrelenting sense of guilt heavy upon my breastbone until I do start?  Yes.

Hmmm . . . maybe I threw out that pamphlet because I was not ready to see myself in its words.

What is it with these freakin’ frogs?  And why do they all float on lily pads obscuring what murky depths really cause all this angst: ANXIETY.

Because that’s what it really is, isn’t it?  I worry about getting things right because I’m anxious.  I put things off because they make me nervous.  Or I’m worried about getting it all done.  Or I’m worried I’ll run out of time.  Or it’s an unpleasant task.  Or it’s out of my comfort zone.  Whatever hue or size these amphibian friends and foes come in, they’re all from the same frog mother.  And what a mother-f*&%$#@ she is.

The more I learn about myself, my reactions, feelings, and disposition, the more I realize how much of my life has been colored by anxiety.  I don’t know if I’ve ever known what it is to live without it.  There was a time when I didn’t know I was living with it, but looking back, now I can name it unequivocally.

A very talented writer friend of mine just shared a story wherein a character and her mother try to pinpoint the exact origin of the mother’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.  They realize that not only is it impossible, but it is a form of obsession in and of itself.  What does it matter where it began?  One must learn coping mechanisms to take forward with her.  I find myself doing this repeatedly with my anxiety.  But why?  When did it start?  How?  What purpose does that serve beyond making me more anxious?  Why roll back the reels over those years over and done – and with a pretty good measure of success?  Why create suffering where there may have been none?  Or where there was some, but where I had the wherewithal to function despite it?

Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me, but I feel that the fact that I’ve reached a point in my life where I can’t hack it when I previously could makes me a failure on some level.  I know this is my masochistic overachiever unrealistic hair shirt-wearing self, but it is still part of me and I can’t turn it off no matter how hard I try to push with my rational self.  And all that croaking just reminds me of it.  Why do I get a mental block when I assess my to-do list?  Why can I not complete tasks that I know will reap rewards?

Guess the only way around it is to choke the frogs down before they choke me.

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