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mom of two

Bear Traps, Chinese Finger Cuffs and Motherhood

There are a million and one metaphors I could use to portal into this topic. But the one that is most vivid is a bear stuck in some sort of a paw trap in the woods. I have no idea if paw traps exist, or if they are used on bears, but bear (oy vey…) with me.

You know how this goes. The trap locks down on aforementioned bear’s paw and bear startles and struggles, tries to get away. In so doing, she keeps injuring and re-injuring her paw in the sharp metal confines of the trap. Finally, she surrenders, relaxes, submits to reality. And the paw, still throbbing and sore, feels better. The bear, still trapped, feels a little less terrified and takes stock.

        Here I am. Now what?

Now I’m going to compare motherhood to being stuck in a bear trap.

There are many moments a day when I struggle against some known or unknown force and then finally submit and feel both defeat and relief.

I have a bushel of things to do this morning—meal planning, grocery shopping, nanny-share hunting, thyroid lab procuring, prescription filling and blog writing. This long list, in and of itself, is a problem. Some days, I do manage to keep things more simple and take on less. But let’s face it, I’m a creature of the here and now, and we’re pretty big on dodging traffic between appointments while checking our voicemail and sucking down a latte.

Since I’ve got this big list and one child who is off to school for the next 3 and a half hours, I assess my other wild card—baby Cal—to get a sense for how to organize the morning. It’s nap time, and I will triumph. I’ll put Cal down for his nap and get the meal planning and shopping list ready during that sweet 40 minute reprieve.

I do the song and dance (literally) and place Cal down for the nap. He won’t have it. I try again with a modified song and dance (literally) and still no. I could leave him to cry for a few minutes—sometimes he can put himself to sleep quickly this way, but I decide that it’s too much for me this morning, and I relent. Though I know he’s not hungry, I settle into bed and give him another long nurse. I hold his pudgy, white hand. And tip my head back against the wall and close my eyes. The bear takes stock. Her paw hurts less.

The other metaphor that was in contention this morning was that of a Chinese finger cuff. You know the little, cheapy tubes you can win at seedy carnivals—they’re woven out of contrasting strips of wood? bamboo? When you shove both your fingers in and try to pull them out, the cuff stretches and narrows and traps your fingers inside.

Photo by Casey Fleser

The way to get out of this particular pickle is, once again, to stop trying to struggle out of it. If you move your fingers towards each other, the cuff relaxes and voila! you’re free.

Now I’m going to compare motherhood to struggling out of a Chinese finger cuff.

Thirty five million times a day, I have something that I need or want 4 year old Jo to do. About thirty five million minus five times a day, Jo doesn’t want to do that thing. It is exhausting and frustrating for both of us.

I’ve been finding, thanks to a Hand in Hand Parenting class, that Jo is often a lot more cooperative when he feels connected to me. In other words, if I can put all the groceries and the baby down and turn off whatever is boiling over on the stove and get closer to Jo and look in his eyes and play with him for a few minutes or ask him what’s going on, things after that point go better. Not always, but often.

This morning we had 15 minutes to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and pack lunch before his carpool got here to take him to pre-school. We only had 15 minutes because I strategically took 7 minutes to send various cars and animals rocketing down a track he had built on our stairs in the hopes that this connection would see us through the morning gauntlet. It sort of did.

I still wound up restraining him from throwing cashews in the kitchen that he didn’t want to eat and the toothbrushing was a lengthier negotiation than I wanted. Finally, the car arrived to whisk him off to school. I wanted nothing more than to toss him inside and run for my life. Instead, he hid behind my legs and willed his body to weigh 80 extra pounds, his little shoes sinking into our patio like a rusty anchor. At this moment, I wanted to say, through gritted teeth, with all the authority and domineering I could muster, “Jo, you have to let go, its time to get in the car.”

She struggles to pull her fingers apart, and the Chinese finger cuff wraps its grip even tighter.

Instead, I surrendered. Got down, looked in his eyes and said, “Are you feeling shy?” “Yes,” he said. Connection? Check.

He shuffled those 80 lb feet all the way to the car and got inside like a champ.

While the motherhood-as-trap metaphor sounds defeatist and sad, it also feels deeply true. There are so many moments that I just want to use my free will and strength and smarts to muscle through. Often when I do this, there is so much collateral damage in the form of tantrums and resistance that it’s really not worth it. But there are some days when I just really, really want to run free. Fast and unencumbered.

And then I take stock.

       Here I am.

I have 2 children. That means that there is a built in, hour by hour surrender to my days. Sometimes, that surrender feels like giving up. Other times, it feels old and true and wise. I want less struggle. I want more connection. But I also want freedom.

       Now what?

Anxietyville USA

It’s been so touch and go around here that when I wrote this post last week, I decided to focus on my recent experience of depression. I just didn’t have enough time to go into the whole kit and caboodle. The truth is, a couple weeks after starting the Zoloft, I found myself smack dab in the middle of Anxietyville USA. The last time I visited anxiety-town was during that special time in Jo’s 4th/5th month of life that I often refer to as “The Downfall.”

Like then, the anxiety has had a consistent and tight grip. The layer of my body beneath my skin and above my muscles is always tense and on alert, particularly in my arms and face.

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Photo by arbyreed

My mind and body feel as though things are always about 13 seconds away from complete catastrophe, even if I’m just strollering baby C up the sidewalk while Jo runs and whollops everything he passes with a stick he found.

Anxiety. A real dream come true, let me tell you.

When it first crept in, I thought it was because I’d had a couple nights of sort of crappy sleep and because baby C started doing the old 40 minute napping routine that Jo started doing just before The Downfall. (Thanks to my sister-in-law, I’ve learned that this whole 40 minute thing is a Thing commonly referred to on blogs and parent forums as “the 45 minute nap intruder.”)

Desperate to reign in the anxiety, I made a plan to get more sleep (Ambien) and to simplify my daily routine (put the cloth diapers on hold and supplement with formula a bit if necessary). Check and check. I was going to nip this in the bud.

I got the sleep, and am still getting it. Our trashcans overflow with disposable diapers. And we did supplement with formula a few times. But my little friend Anxiety is still kicking. Right now as I type, I’ve got that old familiar tight ache in my biceps and wrists, as if to say, “Stay on guard. Be ever vigilant. You might be needed for swaddling at a moment’s notice.”

I’ve started to wonder if the anxiety could be a side effect of the Zoloft. I don’t remember this happening the first time I started taking the stuff, but I was also goggle eyed with exhaustion and depression, and anxiety already had me white-knuckling it through every day. (It was quite a time, let me tell you.) My primary care doc confirmed this for me today–anxiety is a common side effect particularly during the first few weeks on Zoloft. But I’m already 5 weeks in.

Whether it’s a side effect or situational doesn’t really matter, though. Because it’s happening. So what I need to do is figure out how to manage it while its here and hopefully to help it go away.

I made an appointment to talk with a psychiatrist (it only took 26 phone calls to find one who could see me this month and accepts my insurance–such a joy to do that while parenting 2 kids and feeling emotionally unstable) so I can wade more efficiently through my questions about side effects and what the best meds (if any) would be for me, given that I’m breastfeeding.

And I also have had some great revelations about things that calm me down and things that leave me feeling like a frayed live wire.

  1. Trying to connect with the anxiety in my body makes it feel better than trying to wish it away. Thanks to yet another great idea from my miracle therapist, I try to find the time to sit quietly for a couple minutes during the day and touch my arms and face where I feel the coiled up tightness. That physical connection often makes it feel better within seconds, and helps me feel less afraid of it. Yep. That layer of my body feels tight. And here I am. And everything’s okay.
  2. Trying to control things makes it worse. When I nurse baby C in the early morning between 5 and 7, I try and get one or two of his infinite burps out of him and then put him back down to sleep in the co-sleeper. Then I creep over to my side of the bed and lay down. And then I find that I’m barely breathing because I’m trying to disappear any possible sound I might make for fear of waking anyone up. I lay there, in whatever strange position I landed, worried about rustling the covers because I might wake AJ or the baby. I flinch when I hear a blunt thud –is Jo waking up? Is he going to burst in the door with his new helicopter and wake up the baby? Shockingly, being in a state of hyper-awareness and frozen silence does not help me get back to sleep. And on those rare and blessed mornings when everyone else actually sleeps till 7:30, it would be lovely to be sleeping myself or at the very least resting and relaxed in bed. So I’ve trying to breathe a lot more deeply in the morning, and, god forbid, let myself make some noise. I walk around like a normal person who takes up actual space. I even flush the toilet. If I wake someone up, so be it. We’ll figure it out. Cause its not worth the emotional and physical toll it takes to try to make myself so small and silent. And even when I barely breathe and tip toe around, they still wake up sometimes.
  3. Simplicity rules.

I might be am trying to make myself feel better with all these lists. Groping for some sort of structure in the midst of the soupy uncertainty of my days and hours. Here’s the deal–I don’t know if I’m okay. Sometimes I feel brave. Others, I’m scared and defeated. Either way, I have two boys in my care, and I’m still feeding them and smiling at them and trying to find ways to maintain an environment of safety when one of them (take a guess) rages in his little kinetic body and wants nothing more than to hit, kick and throw things at me. At any moment, I can’t say how my seretonin-challenged brain is going to react to all of this, but I do know its flipping out sometimes. I’m just hoping I can stay above water.