insert emoticon here, The animals

Not my Miles

Yesterday I received a barrage of emotionally difficult email at work that simultaneously triggered my compassion and my frustration.

This morning I had a series of meetings that made it clear we’re all going to get through that frustration as a team, with compassion.

Last night, when asked, my daughter pointed at the dragon and the horsie and the princess and the knight. Language: Acquiring.

This morning, my cat was described as “riddled with tumors” and “insulin-dependent.”

Ups and downs. Downs and ups.

Miles and I took a nap this afternoon. I cried myself to sleep while he slept against the curve of my belly and thighs, purring. He’s lying on the couch at my hip right now.

I’m not ready. I thought it was going to be Jack, first. I was mentally prepping for Jack.

Not my Miles.

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I’m overwhelmed at work (seven. simultaneous. construction. projects), I think my cat is dying (Fat Miles is losing weight rapidly), I just got done doing two back to back family weekends at Camp (hostessing is hard work, yo), I have 13 separate writing projects on my work to do list (and that doesn’t include the book chapters I said I’d write), and I really meant to exercise today (goddammit why is it 9:17?), so…. it’s totally logical that my brain is fixated on whether or not GWC is acquiring language at an appropriate rate. Because that is a situation just as fraught and unknowable and “wait and see” filled as my day job, just as emotionally laden and exhausting as everything else… and so it’s a good target for transference of anxiety.

Except does it really do any good to transfer the anxiety from one section of my brain to another? Does it change anything? Do I feel any better?

Not so much.

Anxiety can bite me.

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I’m home again. I was in San Francisco, and now I’m not. I pulled into my driveway at 8:30 last night, left my suitcases in the car, and made my way back to the master bedroom, kicking off my shoes and ditching my sweater as I went. I walked into our room, heard that Justin was still talking quietly to Gwyn, and flipped on the light. The explosion of GIANT HAPPY DOG was more overwhelming than the hesitant and then full-faced smile that lit Gwyneth’s face when she saw me, but there was no more joy anywhere in the room than on their two faces. So I crawled into bed with my family (and Malcolm was SO HAPPY that he got up on the bed uninvited and draped himself over my legs, so I mean the whole family), and we tried to sleep.

Yeah, right. I eventually ended up sleeping in an alternate bed with Miles while Gwyn and Justin fought it out in our bed, because I had to go to work today. But I’m home, and that’s really all that matters. A grinning baby came toddling into see me this morning, pointing at Miles and saying as clear as day “KITTY!” Home.

Except I was home while I was in California, too.

These people? They’re a part of my home. Across a decade, the amount of time I’ve spent with each of them in physical company is counted in days and weeks, not months, but it’s irrelevant. They are my team. They are my tribe. They are my family. Friendfeed, Facebook, email, Twitter, IM, and Skype are our daily talk, and they (and others who weren’t in SF, clearly) know more about my world than most anyone else on the planet.

So that was home, too.

Home is where you find it.

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Flags mean things. Eddie Izzard is funny as shit when he does that bit, but it’s not just funny: It’s true. Flags mean things in our world. They’re symbols and rallying points.

I don’t even know how to frame this, and it feels silly to even write it, because, like, isn’t this obvious? And who am I to decide to write a screed on this? I’m a white woman with a library degree and a lot of anger, that’s who. There’s too much for me to say about racism in America right now, about white complicity via silence, about the feeling of powerlessness to do anything about it, about all the things we have to change and the lack of clarity about how to do that, about the horror that it is to live in this world at this time… and as a white woman I’m not even a victim.

Jon Stewart did a nice job, though.

And then I started researching the current usage of the Confederate flag (because if you’re going to be upset about something, at least know why you’re upset, with some accuracy) and confirmed my belief that it is nothing but an emblem of yearning for a racist past and a desire to recreate a kind of “normal” that I despise. Just as I reject the romanticized 50’s gender roles for women, I reject the idea that the ethics, morals, and culture of the Antebellum South made up a world we should emulate. The argument that the Confederate flag is anything other than a racist emblem holds no water with me. Here’s why.

Per Wikipedia, the swastika “is considered to be a sacred and auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism,” but we don’t use it anymore because of the Nazis. We don’t use it in the western world because it calls up memories, images, and emotions related to horrific crimes perpetrated on marginalized people out of intolerance and hate.

Also per Wikipedia, “…a now popular variant of the Confederate flag was rejected as the national flag in 1861. It was instead adopted as a battle flag by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee. Despite never having historically represented the CSA as a country nor officially recognized as one of the national flags, it is commonly referred to as “the Confederate Flag” and has become a widely recognized symbol of the American south.”

And “In Georgia, the Confederate battle flag was reintroduced in 1956, just two years after the Supreme Court decision Brown v Board of Education. It was considered by many to be a protest against school desegregation. It was also raised at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) during protests against integration of schools.”

The entry also quotes a historian who writes, “The battle flag was never adopted by the Confederate Congress, never flew over any state capitols during the Confederacy, and was never officially used by Confederate veterans’ groups. The flag probably would have been relegated to Civil War museums if it had not been resurrected by the resurgent KKK and used by Southern Dixiecrats during the 1948 presidential election.”

So. It is a flag that was never the national flag of the rebels, but instead the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (which fought at many of the major battles of the war, and whose surrender on April 9, 1865 effectively ended the Civil War, ensuring that historically speaking this flag is drenched in blood). It is the flag of a treasonous army that sought to break our country apart, which was resurrected 90 years later by the KKK and Southern Dixiecrats, “a splinter party that opposed racial integration and wanted to retain Jim Crow laws and white supremacy in the face of possible federal intervention.” Reading that, knowing that, the flag should, like the swastika, call up memories, images, and emotions related to horrific crimes perpetrated on marginalized people out of intolerance and hate. And yet for the last 60 years it’s been publicly claimed that it’s not about racism, no, not at all. It’s a “symbol of Southern culture”. Bo and Luke Duke put it on their car! It celebrates Southern-ness!

People tell me that my dislike of the American South is unfair, that there are lovely, wonderful people there, living in rich, nuanced cultures. I’m sure the people who tell me that are right. Those cultures and people are, I’m certain, living across our country, in all regions, just as there are racists, bigots, and intolerance in all of our communities across our country.

But the Confederate flag originated as a battle flag in a war in which the flags were explicitly designed to empower those “fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.” It is a flag championed in modern times by the KKK and proponents of segregation, and it now flies with government oversight over the State House in South Carolina.

And it’s not charming. It’s not cute. It’s not a representation, in America, of “Southern values” as meant in a folksy and reminiscent way. Like the swastika is now indelibly linked with the Holocaust despite its origins in eastern faiths, the Confederate flag is indelibly linked to racism. So regardless of whether or not Southern proponents of the Confederate battle flag believe it to be a symbol of a past they cherish… it is a symbol of racism. Of oppression. Of hate. Of violence. Like the swastika. And we must stop letting it be used, holding it up as a symbol of pride. We must not be proud of hatred and oppression.

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A friend of mine is struggling with a relationship, as so many of my 30-something friends have struggled in recent years, and in this particular case I think there’s straight-up emotional abuse going on. My heart aches from just the small portion that I know, and I want to scream and kick and take a verbal scythe to the person who is saying and doing those things to someone I love. My friend deserves so much better, and has been so badly damaged by life circumstances and health and this relationship and it just kills me to watch this. I want to break shit.

Instead I’m trying to focus on being supportive where I can from afar, and reflecting on the things I have now that I fought for and that are worth protecting. Life with my husband isn’t always easy — the autism spectrum is utterly fascinating and seriously challenging. Add it onto the challenges that come from any relationship in which two humans try to mesh their perspectives and goals and emotions, and it’s just a little harder than it would otherwise be. But the truth is that easy or not, I adore him. He’s an amazing father, as I knew he would be, and he’s a true partner in the life we’re building together out of shared values and shared goals and mutual respect. He’s a funny, kind, generous, dedicated, honorable, smart man. He’s my best friend. He sees me at my impossible worst and loves me through it. He sees me at my shining best and celebrates it. He hears me struggle with challenges and supports me as I fight them. He shares his dreams and listens to mine.

I am lucky in that. I know it. I’ve lived in other ways with other people, and I know that I hit the jackpot, here.

I wish my friends all had what I have. All my friends. All those who wish it, and are alone, may you find that partner for yourself. And all of those whose “partners” aren’t — whose spouses or significant others aren’t pulling their own financial weight, aren’t equal emotional partners, aren’t building you up when you find weak spots, aren’t giving as much as they take on all fronts… May you find the strength and resources to say “I deserve more than this. I am worth more than this. I need more than this.” And may you get it.

insert emoticon here, working mother

So, let’s pretend. Let’s pretend there’s a guy I know, who works about 50-60 hours each week at a job for which he is well-paid and which he loves and is good at. As a perk of that working lifestyle, his wife is able to stay home and be full-time parent to their young child, and that’s a big bonus, because the wife has some chronic health problems that she’s dealing with, and runs a small business, and trying to balance full-time work and health and family would be deeply hard for her, and for him, and their child. After a few months in which those health problems were made worse by an untimely injury to the wife’s dominant hand and then a family-wide bout of viral illness, they decide to hire some help to get their house cleaned and under control.

I would read that scenario and think it all sounded just fine. Like, perfectly acceptable life choices. The things you do to get your world in order, when you have the resources to do that.

Of course, that paragraph is about me. I’m the guy I know. I work a lot, at a job I love that pays me well enough that Justin can stay home with Gwyn and work on his health problems, and creating Agincourt Arms. His health has been made worse recently by the fact that he injured the tendon in his right thumb and can’t use that hand at all while it heals, and then we all got slammed with consecutive ear infections/vertigo/asthma attacks, and we’re pretty much at the end of our collective ropes right now.

And yet I spent part of my day feeling like I was a failure because we’re hiring some help to clean the house this weekend. Because as a woman I’m supposed to keep a nice house. Because that’s what moms and wives do. And after all these years of consciously considering those things, and challenging that paradigm, and living differently than that… I still unconsciously think I’m supposed to be The Wife And Mother Of Myth And Legend. Like choosing to have someone else help with the bathroom and the floors while I deal with laundry and play with my daughter is somehow wrong of me.

I really hate gender roles and the ways we assimilate them without even realizing it. Because I’m a great wife, and a good mother. (Good wife, great mother. Either way.) I can’t tell you the last time I scrubbed a toilet or changed the sheets on the bed, but nothing about that changes either fact. We are not our gender, and I’m entitled to do wife and mother the way that works for me. I would not judge others for making the choices I’m making — I would applaud them — and so I should also not judge myself.

Now I just need to convince myself of that.

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This morning I drank a smoothie while making scrambled eggs with cheese, raisin toast, and bacon for the rest of the humans in the house. Then I ate a piece of raisin toast and called it a win.


In the course of living today, I:

  • jammed copper wire from the pan scrubber under my thumbnail
  • had a stack of four garbage cans roll over my big toe because I wore flipflops to Lowes
  • broke a nail while doing dishes
  • took a baby skull to the cheekbone
  • spent 20 minutes trying to convince G to nap but really just getting kicked in the boobs a lot
  • crawled across the floor and managed to put my knee, the one with the big-ass scab on it from falling two weeks ago, right onto an alphabet block
  • wrenched my shoulder, the problematic one, while picking up G at a bad angle
  • walked into a bag of Sakrete on a shelf at Lowes, jamming my upper arm into the corner of it
  • I don’t even know why my left hand hurts but it does

Did you know that if you sprinkle cheerios onto beef-and-bean enchiladas, like a garnish or a seasoning, the toddler whose dinosaur divided plate holds said enchiladas and cheerios will be compelled to eat the cheerios, because toddler, and then will also eat the enchiladas beneath the cheerios despite rejecting said enchiladas not 10 minutes earlier? Because cheerios are the ultimate in food and make everything better.

Note: This does not work on sauteed spinach. Sauteed spinach is for losers, and the toddler will just pull the spinach off the cheerios before eating them.


 

The kid who lives in my house can now wash her own face (badly), brush her own hair (badly), open the refrigerator (too easily), close any and all doors (so far, with her on the correct side), and independently travels around our home.

It’s brilliant.


 

I think I’m not going to have a full two-day weekend where I am home and not working until late May. I’m trying not to dwell on this. I chose this life, I love my work, it’s exciting times, and I’m doing good things. But man, would I like to disconnect for a few days in a row…


We took the crib side off of her bed, and made it a toddler bed. Because, hell, she doesn’t sleep in it, so we might as well make it into a little book-reading couch.

Jack has moved in. He sleeps there, now. Screw you guys, this is my new house.


I washed all the dishes ever to dish today. Justin emptied, vacuumed, sorted, dusted, and windexed both cars. We ate homemade breakfast, ran errands and went to four stores, and were home by 10:30 am.

I have no idea who we are anymore. Strangely competent (and yet fully incompetent) adult-type people, I guess.


I have not yet exercised or meditated, but I played with my kid without distractions, I did at least 30 minutes of housework, I made a food plan and stuck to it, and I cooked food for my family. All of those are daily goals, and I did them. I’ll see about the meditation and exercise after I do a few hours of work.

And the whole “get 10 hours of sleep” thing can just go crawl back under its rock, because BWAHAHAHAHA.


I’d like to crochet a blanket for Gwyn, inspired by Wee Liam’s blankies that come with him on Fridays. Then I think about my life and I just set aside that desire for some other time.

Maybe while we’re at Pennsic. I can crochet in garb.


 

 

There is a flying pig on Gwyneth’s new carpet. It’s awesome. When pigs fly, dude. When pigs fly.

insert emoticon here, The Tiniest Capen, working mother

I have hit another breaking point. This is undoubtedly one of the posts that will get some member of my extended community to tell me I’m oversensitive, unkind to the well-meaning, and too quick to anger.

Today, I just don’t care. Read at your own risk.

If you’ve been a parent recently, and you’re of a certain socio-economic status, you’ve probably heard a whole lot of this:

“You’re having a hospital birth? With a doctor? Aren’t there any midwives in your area?”
“Stress isn’t good for a gestating fetus. You need to relax and rest.”
“Stress isn’t good for your baby. You need to relax, and rest.”
“Stress isn’t good for your child. You need to relax, and rest.”
“You’re putting that onesie on wrong.”
“Why isn’t she wearing shoes?”
“That bookcase looks overloaded. Did you know falling TVs can kill children?”
“Oh, the chest clip on that carseat should be higher. That’s not safe.”
“Are you sure you installed that carseat right?”
“You need more than one of her favorite lovey, or you’ll regret it.”
“Breast is best, you know.”
“Well, at least you’re using organic formula.”
“She’s in daycare? Oh.”
“Is the daycare feeding her organic food?”
“Are you sure you want to vaccinate on the regular schedule? You do know how aggressive and stressful that is, right?”
“Avoid antibiotics at all costs to avoid damaging her gut flora.”
“That poor baby is getting eaten by mosquitoes!”
“Don’t use bug spray on that baby, it’ll cause cancer.”
“Wash your hands! Wash her hands! Use antibacterial wipes!”
“Don’t overuse antibacterial wipes, they cause superbugs.”
“You let her drink well water? Is it filtered?”
“No bottles at bedtime!”
“You let her sleep with you?”
“Don’t forget to brush her teeth.”
“Is there flouride in that toothpaste?”
“Did you put sunscreen on that baby? Where’s her hat?”
“You haven’t taught her to wave bye-bye yet?”

And let’s not forget the part where I’m also supposed to work hard to provide for my family, but not work too hard so I can spent lots of quality time at home, enjoying every moment of my child’s life, as I keep my house clean and tidy and make home-cooked meals with organic ingredients (that aren’t available in the small town I live in) while I make time to exercise, meditate, and sleep 10 hours a night after I read to my child and play learning games with her and walk the dog while I also spend quality time maintaining relationships with my husband, family, and friends as I eat smart and pack my lunch and plan for weight loss while I appreciate the small things and live in the moment.

Let me put it simply:

THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE. These expectations are impossible. They conflict, and they expect that parents have more hours in every day than there are in a week.

Maybe I need to share less of my family with the internet, so there are fewer venues for people to tell me the ways that I am insufficient to the task of living the perfect life you want me to have. Maybe I need thicker skin, which would require being a different human than the one I am, so that’s probably also not happening. Maybe I need to sleep so I can rebuild some emotional resilience but OH WAIT I CAN’T because I am spinning up into an anxiety attack because my daughter, who ate a nitrite-laden hot dog for dinner, is sleeping in my bed (not hers) after having a bottle of milk (which she needs no less than 20 oz of per day, but she shouldn’t have too much dairy because cow milk is toxic to humans, and that milk is organic, right?) to help her sleep, after brushing her teeth (instead of before, so now she’ll have tooth decay) with flouride toothpaste (which is going to kill her), and so I am clearly a failure of a parent and how am I supposed to sleep when all those things are true?

I just can’t. I can’t sleep, and I can’t do this.

My child is sleeping. She is comfortable and happy and loved. She was soothed to sleep by her loving parents, who did the things they felt best to care for her today. And as I think about it, it becomes clear to me that this is not anxiety I am feeling. I am not anxious about my parenting. I am confident about my parenting. I am comfortable with my parenting. I am, however, angry. I am frustrated. I am bewildered and unhappy.

Life is not Pinterest, nor is it the National Enquirer. It will not be picture-perfect, and neither will it be filled with sensational horrors. It is just life, good, bad, and indifferent. It is my life. It’s a good life, and a happy one. I know you love me, us, and I know you mean well, but for pete’s sake: back off.

Gwyneth’s bookcases are safe. Her carseat is correctly installed. We feed her well, and she is lovingly cared for in a safe and comfortable home to the best of our knowledge and ability.

That’s all any of us can ask for, and I’m going to bed.

insert emoticon here, working mother

Another mom in a Facebook group of parents asked about an offhand remark I made about postpartum anxiety, and so this is an elaboration on my response, which got too long for a comment. I share it because mental health is just health, and shouldn’t be a secret, shouldn’t be shameful, and shouldn’t be hidden.

I’ve always been a worrier, and pretty Type A about life. I’m a librarian by education but an academic administrator by career meanderings, and I manage people, projects, budgets, politics, relationships, and a facility… and that’s just my day job. I also have a husband who’s self-employed and has a couple of chronic health challenges, my own chronic physical issues, a dog, two cats, a house, two aging cars, student loans, family scattered across this country and two others, and all the trappings of American middle class living. I worry about stuff. A lot. I’ve always framed it as a way to keep track of things, to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, to ensure that I handled all that was supposed to be handled, to keep our lives moving forward as we wished they would. I keep mental lists, I check things off of them, and our life proceeds apace.

On a good day, that’s a true framing. On a bad day…

Immediately after Gwyn was born, I started having dreams that really were nightmares, the kind I’d wake from, sweaty and shaking and mentally shaken. They had two forms: In one, I had fallen asleep holding her, and had tangled her in the blankets or under my body and in the dream I was ripping off bed linens trying to find her before she died. In the other, I was carrying her and dropped her, and that one always ended with me watching her little head hit concrete, and then I’d wake up. I can still see images from both of them vividly in my mind if I think about them, a year later. It was pretty clear to me that this was a response to the hormones pumping through me, postpartum, and that my brain was acting out some of the anxiety I felt about being a brand new parent to this little creature. It seemed pretty reasonable, if utterly horrible. I figured it’d fade as the hormones settled, and as I got comfortable with this massive and major life change.

Except it kept ramping up, slowly. I felt better about being a parent, and my hormones did settle, but I never felt less anxious about it. It all came to a head when Gwyn was about 8 months old. I was back to work full-time, Justin was home with G, and things were good — they were totally fine, on a basic “how’s life?” scale. I was healthy, G was happy, Justin liked being a stay at home dad, and we were doing pretty great, overall. Except I was coming home from work every single day and in the course of just living in my life, I would burst into tears. The stress of existing had me just falling apart. I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t let go of a single thing on my mental list of stuff to worry about and remember, and I couldn’t prioritize anything on that mental list of stuff to worry about and remember. I couldn’t parse what was big and what was small, and I was freaking out about everything.

After a literal week of sobbing every night, I happened to have a regularly scheduled check up with my doctor. I probably wouldn’t have scheduled an appointment just because I was “sad and stressed out”, but since I had one on my calendar already, I did what I always do with my regular check ups with him — I think through “what’s up with me”. My checkups are intended to monitor my blood pressure, since in my early 30s I started demonstrating signs of chronic hypertension, and we’ve managed it together for 6 years now. As a part of that, he always asks about stress levels, my mental health, and how I’m sleeping. So I thought all of that through, as I do… and when I got to my appointment I looked at him and said “I’m not okay.”

We talked about why I thought I wasn’t okay. He asked good questions. We identified that I had just weaned Gwyn fully, and that was probably messing with my hormones even more than usual. He agreed I didn’t sound like myself. And he prescribed a low dose of Zoloft.

I took it. Gratefully. FIX ME, I thought. And for a week, the drug just made me sleepy.

And then about 10 days after I started taking it, Justin said, “You’re back.”

And I was.

I don’t know how long I was trapped in a spiral of anxiety I couldn’t break free of. I don’t know how long before I noticed it began. I don’t know if it was even truly related to pregnancy, childbirth, or weaning. I don’t know if I’ve always carried a low base state of overly concerned about everything. What I do know is that after I started taking the SSRI, I started feeling like a person I recognized, who I didn’t realize was missing from my life. I started to feel like my life was manageable again. I laughed more. I relaxed more. I got better. I still worry about Gwyn, but now my stress dreams are like they have always been before — the classic “show up naked to work and realize you forgot you have a final exam today” variety of dream. No one is maimed or killed in my sleeping mind, anymore. That alone is worth its weight in gold.

And if I hadn’t had the option of a drug that could right my brain’s chemistry, I don’t know where that dark, sad, frustrated, terrified, anxious road would have gone. I was doing everything right, had all the support I could ask for, and was having no crisis worth noting — and I couldn’t do it alone. So if any of this sounds like you… please ask for help. It’s out there. And it’s worth it.

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Some bullet points for those who wonder.

  • Currently, the specialist ortho says no surgery for Justin — OT and PT instead, with his “best hand therapist”. That starts later this month. We’re hopeful. Fewer knives are better.
  • However, all Agincourt crafting is off for a while, because Justin can’t hold any small tools until this is healed. Which sucks, for him and for the people who would like things made.
  • Last night Gwyn very clearly said “hot” in response to Justin telling her she needed to let her french toast cool a bit before she tried it. I’m also 80% sure she said something very close to “bottle” when I asked if she wanted one.
  • Pets are pets: Miles is super fat but in love with Gwyn in oddly sweet ways, trying to sleep with her whenever possible. Jack wants nothing to do with her, and also hates the new litter, and is peeing on all the things that are not the new litter. Malcolm is our beloved doofus, and we are trying to figure out how to handle his anxiety at being separated from Justin.
  • I am working a lot a lot a lot, probably too much, but I have two major deadlines on May 1, and I need to handle those no matter how much I wish I had more home and down time in my life.
  • My current schedule is doing no favors for my physical issues, but I’m not falling apart, and I’m coping. Today I’m coping with an ergonomic office chair, a large iced coffee, and some excedrin.

Life is good, if a wee crazy.