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Two big announcements

You may have already connected the dots: the exhaustion, the infrequent posts, the hamburger eating and overwhelm.

I’m pregnant.

This was a deliberate impregnation of the lightning fast variety.

I got the news after 10 days of systematic pregnancy tests. Every day I got a negative, I would mentally scream “Liar!” at the benign looking single-striped stick and drop it in the trash. I had been exhausted in that basement-floor-dropping-out-from-below-you kind of way, and I had also intuited that if we opened the door to this second baby, that he or she would come rushing in.

Confirmation of my pregnancy came right on the heels of a night out I had with the doula who supported us through J’s birth. I asked her at the bar over our beers, “If I’m 37 days after the first day of my period and I’m still getting negative pregnancy tests, I’m probably not pregnant, right?” She said that no, I probably wasn’t and so we proceeded, among other things, to go outside and share a cigarette. Two days later, I was chatting with A about this and was saying something to the effect of, “Now that we know I’m probably not pregnant, let’s talk about this whole idea again. After this first month, and thinking that I was pregnant, it kinda freaked me out to have it happen so soon, and I’m wondering if we should delay things a bit. How do you feel about the whole baby #2 thing?” As I was saying these words, I was somewhat absent-mindedly taking a pregnancy test, since doing so had become as routine as brushing my teeth.

While A was answering me with his typical response in times like these (and at most times, really) the “I feel pretty much the same way I have for quite a while” response, I saw that second purple line fill in.

I felt vindicated. I laughed. I was terrified. I swore a lot. And after A left for work, quite dazed and twitter-painted, I sat and stared into space with something between an elated and crazed look on my face. And I kept swearing. A lot.

That was week 4. I’m now 11 weeks. The swearing has lessened. The complex array of feelings has not. It’s been really hard for me to share the feelings I’ve been having around this pregnancy both because they’re socially unpopular and because I’m uncomfortable with some of them. But a couple of weeks ago, I felt some clarity during a post-toddler-bedtime online chat with a friend from childhood, JS.

JS: does J know he’s getting a baby yet?

Me: J does know.
he thinks its a girl and he doesn’t want a baby in the house.
somewhat representative of my thoughts too.

JS: ha!

Me: its been hard.
i’ve just felt sort of passionless about it.
which makes me feel sad.
and we all know how much it sucks to feel bad about your own feelings.

JS: but that’s legit too.

Me: and then sometimes i get scared.

JS: lots to feel all at once!

Me: it can feel like this big lid clamping down on my life.

JS: oh shit that’s heavy

Me: to be quite real about it, i’ve felt more negative emotions than positive thus far.
and that’s just the truth.

JS: amen

Me: and here i am. still pregnant. moving forward.
thanks for being a gal who digs the truth.
i haven’t really said that to anyone.

JS: hang in there, friend. at least you’re not trying to pretend it’s otherwise right now.

Me: RIGHT NOW i’m not.

JS: honored!

Me: but its hard when i tell people the news and its all CONGRATULATIONS blah blah

JS: yeah, feels out of sync, right?

Me: totally. just on some other plane.

JS: I hear you, lady. and it’s all the right way to feel. all of itMe: nice.
thanks yo.
that is the hardest part.
oh lord…J is in his room saying “hush little baby don’t you cry”

JS: awwww
look out!

Me: hardest part: judging my feelings for being wrong.
i think i just didn’t expect to feel this way.
and it worries me that the feelings mean that i shouldn’t have done/do it.

JS: hmmm…I could see that. you guys didn’t have much time to get used to the idea of trying again before it happened…could still be catching up with all that processing, yeah?

Me: yeah. i think so.
and just saying it out loud, i know that the feelings don’t mean that i shouldn’t do it.
they’re kinda separate.
i want to do it. i’m inspired by it AND i’m also scared and overwhelmed and tired.

So, there you have it, big announcement number one, in all of its awkward glory. As for big announcement number two? I actually think I’m too tuckered out to go into that now. But after a night of out-like-she’s-dead, crazy-dream sleep and some uninspired snacks eaten over a foundation of nausea, I’ll shore up enough energy to let *that* cat out of the bag. It’s a good one, so stay tuned.

A photographic challenge: capture and share a less-than-perfect moment

I’ve been thinking about this photo for a long time.

photo by Jessica Todd Harper

And this one too:

Another beauty from Jessica Todd Harper.

Both were part of this NYT article that a friend recommended after reading my first video blog post. I loved the article for the counterpoint it offered to the “Don’t you just love every minute?” comments that people kept flinging at me when I was out and about with my infant son.

I was so inspired by the photographs that I took one of my own.

It was such a relief to capture a moment simply as it was. It wasn’t begging to be captured, it didn’t show my son in all of his perfect, chubby glory. It didn’t make me look particularly competent or satisfied. I tried to show the moment how it was. From what I remember, I was tired. A little bit bored. And trying to pass the time.

Then last week my friend M sent me this blog post written by a mom of 2 who talks about all of the things you don’t see in the photos of her family life that she posts on Instagram. She tends not to post images of marital spats, colicky infants at 3 a.m. and the like. Of course she doesn’t post that stuff. Most of us don’t. After all, who would want to see that?

I would, for one. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t relish the idea of wading through a ton of photos of screaming children or exhausted parents in dimly lit bedrooms strewn with diapers. But something in me does tire, after a while, of seeing everyone’s perfect pictures of their lives with their children, and, for that matter, my own. The part of me that gets tired of all that perfection is the same part that wonders if everyone else’s life is just a little bit (or a lot) happier, tidier and more successful than mine. It’s the same part that breathes a huge sigh of relief when someone I know tells me about her depression or his failed marriage or her crippling jealousy. That part of me needs to connect with the realness in other people, the darker, messier reality that doesn’t make the cut for Facebook.

This ties into the reason I started blogging in the first place: I feel a responsibility to be honest about my actual, lived experience of parenthood, so that other parents and future parents might feel a little less alone and weird when they’re having a less-than-savory time. And this applies to any aspect of life, really, but I’ve found that our culture’s reverence for family life and unrealistic, filtered portrayals of it to be particularly isolating. The stories we hear and images we see of young families help us form our expectations of parenthood (that later come crashing down…or soar up, perhaps, but that wasn’t my experience) and drive the way we connect with other parents one we join the fold. They help to define what we talk with other people about and what we don’t. What we ask others about and what we think we shouldn’t.

And images, I think, are particularly powerful because they can sink in so quickly. Every one of us, if asked, can instantly bring a long string photos to mind when we think of the word parenthood. A mother lying in the grass, holding her smiling baby up into a perfectly blue sky. A father asleep, newborn baby curled up in his beefy arms. The latest, greatest photo-journalistic rendering of a family of four, wearing jeans, on a walk in a leaf-strewn park, laughing with each other. I like pictures like these. I have some. I want that photo-journalism one.

But I want the colicky infant too. And the sink full of dirty dishes. And the site of 2 frayed moms sitting on their couch, celebrating their son’s decent into a nap by watching crappy tv.

So, I’d like to invite you to take a picture in the next week when you normally wouldn’t take one. To capture a moment that isn’t perfect. See what it feels like to show it how it really is. Without checking your hair or wiping down the kitchen counter. Then, if you’re inspired, I’d be tickled pink if you would share your photo on my Facebook page. Maybe we can start a little photo revolution.

***

If you liked this post and are feeling bold and decisive, please subscribe. I’ve got more where this came from.

Toddler sleep update

Well, thanks to all of your helpful comments responding to my cry for help, things are going a bit better on the sleep front.

Your suggestions reminded me of something that I knew deep down in my heart–J is getting bigger all the time, and I will probably always be a few steps behind, thinking he still might need his crib or only drink 4oz of milk at one sitting or that he’ll want to sleep swaddled until his mid 40s.

So I did it. Thanks to my trusty IKEA-supplied Allen wrench, I turned his crib into a toddler bed.

J explores the joys of toddler-bed-dom.

I was definitely terrified of what chaos might ensue, and also just clinging lazily to old routines. It just takes so much damned energy to construct a whole new set of bed time procedures. But it seems that we’ve done it.

Naps are still the real challenge–we’ve gotten him to fall asleep in there on his own for nap time once. I was so giddy with excitement that I had to take a picture:

All other times, he has either fallen asleep nursing (which I must say, I think I am finally ready to give up at this point) or he has never fallen asleep and thus had “quiet time” which consists of bursts of quiet or loud play alone in his room, punctuated by opening his door and having chats with me. I have yet to find a way of enforcing quiet time that feels right to me. The one thing I haven’t tried that I might is turning on an album and saying that he has to stay in his room until the music ends. I welcome any other tips you might have.

Nighttime is much simpler. My friend B sent me this very applicable quote from this website, which seems quite helpful especially for the 0-1 set.

I want to be clear that we are talking about BEDTIME. This is the time you put your child to bed. The only rule is that they stay in bed. You can’t make an older child sleep (nor can you make them eat or poop FYI). This is why we don’t call it SLEEPTIME. As a parent your job is to give them an age-appropriate bedtime, a soothing consistent bedtime routine, establish the limits (primarily that they stay in bed), and then leave. What they do at that point is up to them.

Does that mean it’s OK for your 2 YO to sit in their bed awake and talking to themselves for 45 minutes? It sure does!

Is this a form of torture? No it isn’t! Learning to entertain themselves, care for their bodies, or (*gasp*) spend a moment of the day without constant stimulation is actually really healthy! As adults, what do you do when you can’t fall asleep? You lie there and think quiet thoughts until you DO fall asleep. Your child is learning to do this too.

I found this particularly helpful and found the extra added reinforcement of a Goodnight Moon pop-up book that J and I found on the street corner the other day. Granted, many of the pop-ups had been torn off, which is probably why this book had been jettisoned by its former owner, but one function that remained delightfully intact was the pop up of the little bunny who goes to bed in the great green room. There’s a little tab that you pull and the little bunny sits up, and if you push it, she lies down. But she doesn’t get out of bed. Because she knows it’s BEDTIME. I explained all of this enthusiastically to J and really put some ooomph behind it. I’ve been reminded of the power of ooomph by this post about intention that my blogging friend Turned on Mama wrote. (And she also happens to give great sex advice to boot.)

Anyhoo. He bought it. He stayed in his little bed and fell asleep. And he’s done that a few nights now. Of course, it’s not always perfect. Sometimes he clucks around in there for what seems like forever. Other times he gets out of the bed and winds up falling asleep like this:

I mean, he did technically fall asleep in his bedroom. Though maybe his nose didn’t…

But I can handle that.

Why I take my brain out for dinner. And what we talk about. And what we eat.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an increasingly intimate relationship with my brain.

Thanks to my friend D, who introduces me to at least half of the things I love the most in the world, I started going to meditation and dharma talks led by this guy. The practice of just sitting with my often frenetic brain for 40 minutes every Thursday was sometimes a refuge and sometimes completely infuriating, but it served the function of sitting down over a nice, lingering dinner with my brain on a weekly basis.

A dinner my brain and I enjoyed recently: Cuban Chicken Salad w/ Garbanzos. Brains really like protein.
More about that later.

We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. And I now understand that my brain does what all brains do. It thinks. A lot. Unceasingly at times. Just like hearts are completely obsessive compulsive about pumping blood, brains are like hyper OCD versions of that one friend you have who needs to discuss everything, all the time.

My weekly meditation pretty much went the way of the dodo as soon as J was born. Much like my relationship with my partner A, my brain and I had a nice solid foundation to draw on in those first soaring and, well, shocking post-partum months. And, much like my relationship with A, the groovy connection I’d developed with my brain started to flail and falter pretty quickly after J was born. And ever since, we’ve been scrambling towards recovery.

The Zoloft certainly helped, as did J growing into a person who sleeps more and has more predictable, human-like behaviors. And, as I’ve discussed, I’ve been trying in the last year to reach a nice, steady, and dare I say optimistic place with my post-partum brain.

Enter: Brain books.

They’ve taught me that I didn’t know my brain as well as I thought I did.

One of them was tucked in the bed side table of the house where we stayed while on vacation in my Colorado hometown. (We managed to sort out a house swap during our time there, which was awesome.)

I’d been meaning to read the book ever since I heard Taylor’s TED talk (which is, coincidentally, the second most-viewed TED talk of all time) and BOOM, there it was, begging to be read. Taylor describes her experience of a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain, and her stroke of insight, as it were, is that once her left brain shuts down, her right brain floats into a sort of timeless, peaceful bliss.

So I’ve developed this image of my left brain, all numbers and science and words–a stern accountant sitting at a perfectly organized desk, making sure every ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ is crossed. And right hemisphere, a buddha-like child, giddy with the sensory input of the present moment and happy to sit dangling her toes in the stream and feeling the warmth of the sun. Maybe it’s not necessarily a matter of seeking peace, but rather tapping into that right brain that’s already there (and perhaps tying up and gagging my left brain).

Since we got home from Colorado, I’ve been reading this:

It’s been a game changer for sure. The biggest revelation so far: there are a lot of other mood issues other than depression that are associated with having low amounts of serotonin in your brain.

  • low self esteem
  • obsessive behaviors
  • controlling behaviors
  • false fear in the form of shyness, anxiety or panic
  • perfectionism

Reading that list, while an unnerving indictment of my life for the last 6 months, has been deeply liberating. So maybe it’s not just that I’m one of those perfectionist types, but this could actually have something to do with my brain chemistry. And more than just feeling liberated by an idea, I’ve been actually feeling better. My mood is improved.

As the book recommends, I’ve been paying more attention to my diet, and focusing more on good mood foods–fish, poultry, eggs, lamb, beef, pork, Pippa milk, veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains, butter, coconut milk, olive oil. And having less of a love affair with bad mood food: sugar, white flour, wheat, and soy. I’ve also been paying more attention to my daily mood cycles. Ross says that it’s very common to have a serotonin dip in the afternoon, which is why we often crave sweet snacks and caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon–to prop up our mood.  So I started taking my Zoloft around noon–instead of before bed as I had been doing.

And shazzam. My mood is improved. My brain seems to like this new turn of events. And it’s better company during those long, get-to-know-you dinners.

Before this starts to sound like some hopped up infomercial, let me please just say that my main motivation in writing this is:

  1. To celebrate.
  2. To share–in the hopes that you’ll find it helpful for you or some anxious, OCD perfectionist you love.

I just honestly never knew so much about my brain before. And I feel a lot more fondness, interest, and compassion. And less like wanting to exchange mine for a new one.

Homesteading update: the status of my chicken and kale dreams

I’ve been craving more space for our little family. Daydreaming of 3 bedroom apartments with chickens in the backyard and a garage for our bikes. And then the universe promptly declared, “Put your money where  your mouth is, lady!” in the form of an unexpected and radical rent increase at our little cottage.

After recovering from my initial shock and terror, I realized that this was just the kick in the pants I needed to get moving. Nothing like the prospect of paying $700 more per month to motivate a hunt for new housing. So we’ve had to put the backyard chicken plan on hold for the time being. That is not to say that our coop isn’t getting plenty of use.

JoToddlerCoop

Please note the cool combo ladder/door that my naked child is playing with. I came up with the design and A hammered it out–this way, we don’t have to put out and then take away a separate ladder every time we open and close the door. What efficiency! That is, won’t that be efficient once we actually get chickens?

JoToddCoop

While our chicken aspirations are on hold, my kale dreams are coming true.

Perhaps I’ll go make myself a kale salad and go obsess over housing ads on Craigslist…

Happy Mother's Day from a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom

Living things change. They adapt and grow and die. Trees leaf out, snakes molt, babies grow up into frat boys. It just happens.

Aren’t you glad I picked this picture instead of one of a frat boy?

So why is it I thought the moment I had a baby that I would be a full-grown mother?

It came to me a few months ago when I was talking with an adoptive mother at the park. She brought home her baby boy 4 months ago, and he was now a year and a half old. “It’s been hard to relate to the other moms with kids his age because we’re just hitting the 4 month mark of having a kid,” she said. Without even thinking, I said, “Yeah, I mean, he’s an 18-month-old baby and you’re a 4-month-old mom.”

That means I’m a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom. And back when I was wondering if I would ever feel like a “natural mother,” I was a 3-week-old mom. A newborn. I was 4 months old when I was white-knuckling through my exhaustion, anxiety and depression.

My maternal grandmother, who we called Dee Dee, was most definitely a full grown mother when I knew her. Since she had a son and a daughter who were 61 and 59 when she died, I’d say she grew to the ripe old mom age of 120.

Thinking about my mom age this way makes me feel better. It helps me have more compassion for myself in those first few disorienting months. Things often felt wobbly and strange. Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to feel this way? We don’t expect newborn babes to come out of the womb quoting Shakespeare. So why do we expect the equivalent of ourselves as mothers?

And here’s my dear friend E. Who will become a 2-year-old mom this August and give birth to kiddo #2, growing her mom age by leaps and bounds ahead of mine.

So for my Mother’s Day gift to myself and to all of you, I’d like to let us all be the mom age that we are.

For a mom in her toddler years, I feel like I’m doing okay. I don’t have everything down to a science, like my 7-year-old mom friends, but I’m starting to have fewer tantrums.

How old of a mom are you? Or if you’re not a mom yourself, how old of a mother is the mom that you’re closest to? Does thinking about mothers in terms of their mom age change how you feel or think about motherhood?

What becoming a mother looks like for T at 3 weeks post-partum

Remember the video I posted of my conversation with T when she was 38 weeks (roughly 9 months) pregnant? Well, here she is a month after we had that first talk–3 weeks after giving birth to her baby boy.

I love her willingness to share and how she captures that kind of floaty, coming-back-down-to-earth feeling that I remember from my first few weeks after J was born. Even at more than 2.5 years post-partum, I still feel the challenge that T talks about: to “connect my life before with this new life.”

How are you managing with that epic challenge?

Sadness and succulents

Honestly, it’s been hard to know what to say after my sadness project post. The flood of wholehearted comments you all wrote knocked my socks off. Reading your sadnesses lifted me off of my solitary sadness island and dropped me down in the middle of a feast. And we all belonged. What a sweet, sublime relief to connect with the deep, dark, real parts of other people. It reminded me of PostSecret and had me dreaming of other projects where we could all be anonymous and really let it rip–The Jealousy Project, The Tell-Motherhood-Like-It-Is Project, The Things-I-Can-Hardly-Admit-To-Myself Project.

Thank you.

Part of me wants to admit that now I’m cured. Writing about my sadness and connecting with all of you fixed me. But I know that’s a load of crap. My feelings all have a purpose, a season, and they pass through like summer storms. But no matter how mindful I get, I still return to the impulse to cut away certain parts of myself and throw them into the deepest pit of the ocean. But after loving all of you so much for your sadnesses, I’m reminded once again that I just need to pull extra seats up to the table when I’m feeling these things. “Hey there Crippling Jealousy, would you like some more mashed potatoes?” How many times will I need to re-learn this lesson?

In other news, our walnut tree finally decided to join the spring party.

I’m blown away by the tenacity of succulents. This was a leaf that J ripped off of a neighbor’s plant.

I put it in a dish of water and every time I walk by our kitchen windowsill, it reminds me, I’m more alive than you can imagine.

My sadness project

I started taking Zoloft when I was a 5-month-old mother. I had been depressed before, in adolescence and in college, but this was the first time I’d chosen medication. It worked. And now I’m slowly tapering off of my dose because I want to know what life is like without it. Will my long lost libido find its way home again? Can I be the woman and mother I want to be without it? I hope so.

I cut my dose in half back in December and my dear friend D had to remind me of that fact in January when I was puzzling over why I was zombie-ing out every night with television and a rotating assortment of carbohydrates. Now I’m down to 1/4 of what I used to take and will be Zoloft-free in a couple of weeks. And I feel a lot more sadness.

Since I live in a world that doesn’t save back much room or reverence for sadness, I’ve felt pushed to the margins lately. Like there’s a big glaring part of me that is not welcome. Thanks to my wonderful band of friends, it gets to leak out sometimes, like when I cried on C’s couch during her Easter party about losing my temper with J (he’s been expressing displeasure lately by throwing things at my face). But these are exceptions. A lot of the time, I hide my sadness and think there’s something wrong with me for feeling it.

I know sadness can make people uncomfortable. Hell, I’m uncomfortable writing this. But I think that if my feelings were allowed to take up more space, they would actually take up less.

In my experience, there is little that feels more cathartic or relieving than this: when someone you love fluffs up a nice soft spot for your melancholy and invites it to sit down and stay a while.

So in that spirit, I’m just going to go there.

Here, in all their glory, are my reasons for feeling sad today:

  1. I’m sad that it feels like I have to choose between depression and libido.
  2. I’m sad that J’s blankets and puzzles and diapers and a whole bunch of old photo album stuff is strewn across our kitchen and living room since we re-organized this weekend.
  3. I’m sad that we live in one of the most expensive housing markets on the planet Earth.
  4. I’m sad that my boobs are little withered sacks of their former selves and that my pants won’t button since I stopped breastfeeding J as much.

I welcome you to join in. Really. I’m guessing there may not be a ton of places where you’re allowed or encouraged to feel sad in your daily life either. So I would love it if you would use my little comment box as your personal sadness repository.

My sadness wants to make friends with yours.

Concert-going: then and now

“Why don’t I just go pick up D’s burrito and go drop J off at S’s so that you can have some extra time to finish at work and then we can just meet at the house and go.”

This? The culmination of our plot to escape the vacuum of our family life for a night to go to a Radiohead concert. We had to drive an hour to San Jose, and wanted to see the whole concert (with 2 encores!), so it was a small triumph to cobble together childcare for 8 hours and hit the road.

We like to ply our friends with any food of their choosing so that they’ll come to our house and put J to sleep and hang out into the wee hours, eating burritos and ice cream. Thanks to our glorious friend D, who did this last night. And to S who had J over to play with her son for the few hours before D was available.

Oh, it takes a village. Especially when you don’t want to pay $80 (or can’t!) for your babysitting so you can go see a band.

Last night, San Jose was our oyster. We went out for steaming hot bowls of Ramen in Japantown and then snagged a free parking spot a mere 15 blocks away from the concert venue. As we walked to the complex where the concert arena sits, I saw little scenes from a similar evening we’d spent there 7 years ago.

On a moment’s notice, we’d driven 4 hours to Tahoe to get last minute tickets we found at some desperate-U2-fan website. Then drove the 4 hours back to Berkeley, slept for 2, then picked up our friends and drove to San Jose to play Scrabble in line all day in the hopes of a good spot next to the stage. We were handsomely rewarded.
We were so close to the stage that I still think the lead singer of Kings of Leon has the hots for me. We shared an electric eye contact moment.

And the girl next to us was the one hoisted onstage by a thick, bald security guy to dance with Bono during Mysterious Ways.
She collapsed in a sobbing heap into my arms when they lowered her back down again. But not before I could snap this picture that prominently features Bono’s butt sweat:
Last night was somewhat different. I watched those herds of people bouncing near the stage from my plush folding chair up in the almost nosebleeds. The concert was a juicy display of neon colors and visual noise. And Thom Yorke wiggling, all elbows and knees.

I felt a little guilty, sitting up there. I wasn’t exactly sucking the marrow out of the experience like I once had. I was sipping my beer out of a straw (they sold them that way at the venue?!) and dancing in a seated position. It was not a scream-your-lungs-out, Bono-butt-sweat kind of night.

I really miss that intense and deliberate diving into a single experience. But honestly, folks, I don’t have the energy to put into getting to the front row right now. It used to be that the stuff of life was to intentionally plunge myself down deep into a big experience–a concert, a solo backpacking trip, an all night game of drunken canasta, for example. Now, all that depth that I used to seek is just spread out over the wide reach of every day–the challenges of raising a child and making sure we’re all fed and trying to stay connected to myself and my partner. So now, what I seek out is less intensity, not more: reality tv with a beer, going to bed at 9, and thoroughly enjoying a Radiohead show, beer with a straw resting in my lap, and listening to Idioteque through the wad of toilet paper stuffed in my ears.