I’ll Eat When The Cheer Is Complete

At the beginning of this long holiday weekend, I was all I’m gonna turn a corner in my life. We’re gonna bring in some Christmas cheer and I’m gonna stop watching scary movies that prevent me from sleeping and I’m gonna get gift shopping done early sos I can kick back and enjoy watching this yule log of a year burn, baby, burn. Or something like that.

To kick off the holiday season right, but also so I could move on with my life, my husband and I watched our last 3 hours of The Haunting of Hill House right after the kids went to bed on Thanksgiving. Tis the season!! This show scared us so badly that we were dragging out the time between watching each episode and I just needed to rip this bandaid off right quick. Overall, I did enjoy the season even though I felt like it stole a few days from my life and they are now residing in the Red Room with everyone else.

The next day I asked my husband if he wanted to watch this one random movie I got from the library and he said foolishly said sure. I picked it up and showed it to him, and I have a disease, you guys. True to form, I had chosen a zombie flick because it had the word pandemic on it. It was called Alone, and it came out this year – how did I manage to miss this?! The movie was just okay, and it involved an interesting take on the classic zombie genre. Because my nerves were still fried from Hill House, I jumped way more than I should have, but I persevered, my friends. I don’t expect my family and friends to associate with a quitter.

So today – today – was for sure the day. We were gonna create some motherfucking cheer, goddamnit. We got up and had pancakes, which never fail to make my kids happy. We attended a surprise birthday car parade which was lovely and joyful. To continue the cheerful momentum, I hesitantly asked my husband not to freak out, but that I wanted to decorate for Christmas aaaaaand – gasp – play Christmas music. This, this is simply not done in our house. My husband has this thing where he won’t celebrate a holiday until the first of the month of said holiday. Lately, I’ve been asking him ever so sweetly to stop CRUSHING MY JOY when we see Christmas lights go up in the neighborhood or hear sleighbells on the television. Today, he graciously allowed me to usher in some gaiety after I shouted at him that THIS WAS ALL THE HOPE WE HAD LEFT.

I started getting the bins out and my kids actually helped put up some decorations. I left the fake, lit garlands I usually wrap around the banisters until last. I was getting a little peckish but I was determined to finish the job and so I pranced over and decided to plug them in – just to make sure they worked, you know, as a formality – before I strung them up. First one lit up the room. Excellent. The second – crap. Suddenly, my empty stomach felt cavernous. The dull, annoying headache I’d had pounded up my brainstem and beat me behind the eyes. Oh yeah, was it that time of the month too? WHY THE FUCK NOT?!

Not to be deterred in the slightest, I proceeded to expertly wiggle and jiggle each and every bulb, all while muttering devil-words under my breath. My husband could sense a change in the atmosphere in the house, and gingerly suggested I take a break and get something to eat. I’LL EAT WHEN THE CHEER IS COMPLETE was my rabid response.

Knowing my limits as a rational human being, I screamed at allowed my husband to take over to troubleshoot the light issue. Then, for reasons still unknown to me, I decided that only fools eat food or take breaks, and I proceeded to organize the liquor cabinet. This only enraged me more when I: 1) couldn’t reach the back of the cabinet and had to ask for help, and 2) couldn’t open a jar of 10 year old homemade booze that we’d never drink and had to ask for help, and 3) banged my head so hard on the open cabinet door that I had to stand there for a good 30 seconds to let the pain pass. Sigh.

After I Marie Kondo-ed the booze (it all sparked joy, save for the 10 year old Baileys that had chunks floating in it, may you rest in peace), I had enough good sense to make and eat some noodles. By that time, my husband had exhausted all options with the lights and he promptly ordered some new ones on the internet because he loves me and he effectively saved Christmas!!


Day 28

Nibbling at Your Joy

You know that feeling when you’ve discovered you put down a burden you’ve been carrying for a long time?

The relief.

The discovery at feeling that relief.

When did it arrive? What did it replace?

Like one of those tortoises that lives to be over 100 years old, it lumbers up your back. So slowly, so determined. It gets comfortable up there perched on your shoulders. Not comfortable for you, of course, but you get used to it. After a bit, the scaly creature becomes a part of you, stretching its neck and nibbling at your joy before you can have a taste, not aware of what you’re missing.

One day, as slowly and as surely as it arrived, it decides enough is enough. The tortoise turns around and crawls back down. You’re so consumed with doing all the things that you don’t notice. You reach up and absentmindedly scratch where the creature clawed at your skin. You keep going, staring straight ahead. Gotta get to the other side.

Until, for no reason you can tell, the wind shifts. Your face gets slammed with this new warm, sweet breeze. You stop in the middle of the road, close your eyes and inhale.

Your exhale escapes with frantic peals of laughter. Sudden. Uncontrollable.

Through the laughter you find that your feet have carried you the rest of the way across the road. You stop, turn around, and look back, a stupid grin still slunk across your face.

What is that, there just climbing up the curb on the side from where you came?

You squint to see through the dusty warm air.

What an odd thing. You think. What is that doing way out here?

As you shrug your shoulders, you dimly realize that they are now light enough to be shrugged.

With one last glance over your shoulder, you continue on, now with a spring in your step.


Day 27

Only a Hippopotamus Will Do

Today, I did something that I am pretty sure I’ve never done.

I listened to Christmas music way early.

I know, I know. Some people do this all the time and some people are chipper and some people can bite me.

It’s not that I don’t like Christmas music – I do! It’s just that I love Halloween more, and I respect doing holidays in order, and I don’t want to make Christmas music feel less special by overplaying it. You know?

At any rate, today I was daring to feel thiiiiiis much more hopeful about the outcome of the election (I kid you not, I’ve literally been breathing more easily today. I’ve felt lighter.) and I started working on Christmas lists for myself and my kids. I asked my daughter what she wanted for Christmas and, without hesitating, said “a car.” She’s three.

From there, I got “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” stuck in my head and so then I needed to hear it, and after that YouTube took it from there. I was dancing and singing and shaking my butt and it felt so wrong and yet so right.

As an afterthought, I’ve also begun to realize that I’ve been doing things early (for me) and speeding things up in an attempt to try and make time pass faster because, in my mind, if time passes faster, the sooner this pandemic will be over and I can hug my friends and family again.

Usually, I’m the type of person who lingers. I like to savor moments and try to stretch things, wringing out all possible enjoyment. But this year, the day after Halloween was a Sunday and I…just found myself cleaning up the decorations. I never do that. But I had decorated early in the first place, and it was a weekend day so I had the time and I just…felt…done. Like it was time to move on.

Just like now, where I’m so done. We’re heading into winter and dear lord I need some cheer in my life. So if that means extending the Christmas holiday, so be it.

Also, a hippo would either trample you or eat you alive. Zero stars, do not recommend.


Day 6

My favorite part of the day

Today’s my birthday, y’all. And you know what that means – I insist on some me time so I can wax poetic on my blog about another year gone.

Another year older, wiser, more tired. It’s also been a year a bit more hopeful than recent history. My kids are getting older and more independent (read: less dependent on mommy for every goddamn little thing), which is very much appreciated. We’re all creeping out of the baby stage, and while that makes a part of me kinda sad, it makes a larger part of me sigh with relief. We’ve got potty training on the horizon for the little one, and while that process will probably be a brisk walk through hell, I am giddy with excitement when I think about life on the other side. I simply won’t know what to do with myself.

Along those lines, in the fall my oldest will start kindergarten and my youngest will start preschool. That means I get some time to nap, clean the house, poop alone, and start the process of maybe eventually going back to work.

I think my brain just exploded.

And now I’m going to leave you with a little window into my day. It’s a story that’s been bouncing around in my head for a few weeks and I’ve been meaning to get it down in writing.

__________________________________________

One of my favorite parts of the day is when we read to the kids right before they go to bed.

My son has always settled down to be read to, but my daughter has only started sitting still for books in the past 6 months or so, and it’s glorious. Even so, she’s still demanding to help turn the pages, interjecting every 5 seconds with “waat hap-pen?!” but I’m not complaining.

Getting ready for bed is usually chaos. Screaming, streaking, wiggling. Diapers, pajamas, teeth brushing.

Each child gets to pick a book.

We sit perpendicular on my son’s twin bed, resting our backs against the wall. We use a body pillow for support that my husband first bought me when we were living in Boston, as a surrogate for his own body once he left to take a job in California. How time flies.

My son sits to the far left, then daddy, then my daughter, then me. Always the same.

We have a desk light on low. Daddy and I do all the voices. I specialize in Princess Sparkle, supersonic jets, and the Minosaur. Daddy’s really good at Old Bear and witches and farmers.

About halfway through the first book, without fail, the cat skulks into the room and jumps up on the bed, demanding my lap. Her furry body warms mine. My daughter reaches over to pet her back or poke her in the ear.

Snapshot: for about 10 minutes each day, or entire family is calm and snuggling and…together. All focused on the same thing for a brief moment before we say our goodnights and iloveyous, lay them in their beds, turn out the lights, and shut their doors.

Sometimes my son wordlessly reaches for my hand.

Sometimes my daughter rests her head against my torso.

Sometimes the cat purrs.

Sometimes my partner and I exchange a glance above our kids’ heads.

Always it’s my favorite time of day.

Always.

Suspended in Joy

For those of you who know me, you know I’m not a risk taker.

I like rules (as long as the rules aren’t dumb, but that’s for another post), I like feeling safe and warm and cozy. Preferably with hot chocolate and a good book.

But I also like doing new things and pushing my comfort zone…within limits. My MOMS Club group found a photo from another chapter where they did this spunky thing called aerial yoga. This sounded right up my alley.

We’re spunky, too. We said.

We can do that even better. With more flare. We didn’t really say.

Fuck those bitches. We’re already signed up. Now I’m just making things up.

I was excited to go. I figured it’d be fun and that I’d probably do okay because I’ve been doing yoga on the regular for a solid 15 years now. Am I the most athletic person? No way. Do I have any upper body strength to speak of? A big fat nooooope. Is my core strength completely shot from surgery and having two kids? You bet.

But hey, let’s give this a shot. We had a private class all set up, so this was a safe space in which to potentially make a fool of myself.

Ohmigosh, you guys. Once we got into those hammocks and I was enveloped by the silky fabric (meaning: no one could see my face), I was grinning like a giddy kid on Christmas morning. The teacher ran the class pretty much like a typical yoga class, so there was time when we were doing normal yoga stretches and breathing, only suspended in pure joy.

It felt awkward, for sure. But it also felt so liberating! Something about swinging and hammocks awakened this inner child in me and I just felt so free. You know that part in Eat, Pray, Love when the wise man in Bali says to smile with your mind, your heart, and even in your liver? My liver was smiling lobe to lobe.

There was something about the hammocks that felt very cocoon-like, womb-like, and very primal. (I have several different metaphors churning around in my head so bear with me.) During shavasana at the end of class, I could peek out and see everyone else’s silhouettes. We all looked kinda like a family of bats hanging upside down in peaceful, creepy sleep, or like corpses caught and wrapped in colorful spiderwebs, spinning slowly and silently, also creepily. I wiggled and squirmed around, completely enveloped and feeling safe and relaxed, and it was warm and sweaty, and at the end I emerged – was born from the hammock – feeling new and different, albeit sweaty and sore. (So I guess my two emerging themes are both about change and transformation: one about sleep, death, corpses…and one about cocoons, wombs, rebirth and metamorphosis. Joking aside, the symbolic implications of this experience were extremely palpable for me. My high school English teachers would be pretty proud.)

I pushed my body to do things I wasn’t sure I could do. The teacher demonstrated an acrobatic move at the end and I wanted to give it a try even though it kinda wigged me out. I needed help getting positioned on the damn hammock, which cut into my side fat like that string you use to tie up a turducken (I don’t cook, clearly), and my movements were far from graceful, but I DID IT! I was inverted and pulling myself up and sliding through and hanging by one leg and I’m just proud of myself. And it was all safe, in this controlled environment. Pretty perfect for me.

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Even before the night was over, I could tell that my body would be screaming in protest at all this…exertion. I wasn’t wrong. My triceps are shot and my side fat (ok, fine, love handles) is bruised and I learned that I have these things called “lats,” and guess what – they hurt too. And don’t even give me crap about toxins leaving my body – the pain is still here and I think it’s camping out for a few days.

But. This kind of soreness – the kind where I’m not injured, just hurting – is the best kind. It’s proof that I did something awesome with my body. I actually used it and pushed it to do cool stuff I didn’t even know I could do. Total empowerment, not even kidding.

So I’m writing this to capture the feeling I felt last night and continue to feel today. Maybe I need to go back. Maybe I need one of those things installed in my house. Not creepy in the least.

I didn’t even know aerial yoga was on my bucket list until I crossed it off.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Quick anxiety update: it’s flare-up time. (Relapse time? Outbreak time? Really unsure what terms to use here, and I’m the mental health expert. Better get on that.)

I’m on my second week of dealing with early morning anxiety…..again. It goes like this: something will wake me up early in the morning. Take your pick – husband, cat, bladder. Neighbors. Traffic. Kids, but very rarely. Go figure. And then something sparks this burning fire in my chest that I can’t extinguish in order to get back to sleep. So I toss and turn in anguish and waste 1-2 hours when I desperately need sleep, but can’t get it. Lastly, my kids wake up, and then it’s all over. The anxiety slowly fades and is replaced by exhaustion as the day goes on. Makes me fantasize about going full Walden.

I’m hopeful to report that I think I’m getting better at squashing this more quickly. The past few mornings I’ve actually been able to get back to sleep and wake up for the day not feeling like such a zombie. It’s this magical combination of self-talk, physical relaxation techniques, and distracting myself by thinking about something – anything – not about me, my body, sleep, or the present moment.

(Update: I started this post yesterday, and this morning I actually slept all the way through the morning and woke up naturally and feeling rested. So there’s hope!)

Now I’m going to outline things that help me – specifically, things whose helpfulness I tend to forget – to fight this anxiety monster that creeps into my bed (or tries to) each morning. This is not meant to be preachy or self-helpy, but it’s rather to help…me. Because, just like depression, anxiety lies. It lies to me and it makes me forget what normal and healthy feels like. It makes me forget what coping skills actually work and it lies to me about there being joy in the world, and that it’s within my reach.

  1. Sleep

The biggest one by far. If I don’t get enough sleep I have very little motivation to face the day. The sleep that anxiety steals from me in the mornings sets up my entire day to be complete rubbish and it’s really hard to get back on track. That makes naps vital on some days (when I can get them), and I’ve been working very hard to get to bed at a time that ensures I’ve allowed for at least 8 hours of sleep. Even though I don’t always get it, I have to carve out room for it. Have to.

2. Exercise

I’m not a person who really enjoys exercising, per se, but this week I’ve been feeling the urge to move my body. I tend to get that feeling when I’m super angry, or when I’m jumping-out-of-my-skin-anxious. I’ve realized that when I exercise, I don’t have room for the jitters. I actually get real-time relief. That’s why I made sure I got out there and ran from zombies, even in this smokey heat wave we’re having. It felt so. good.

3. Music

I’ve written about this before, but the act of singing, like really singing, is so stress relieving and this is one that I forget about all the time. So if you see me running (from zombies) and I suddenly stop to belt out a well-timed lyric and bust a move, then you know what’s going on.

4. Laughter

This usually means social contact, but sometimes a really, really good show or standup routine will fit the bill here. I recently watched Iliza Schlesinger: Elder Millennial on Netflix, and man it was exactly what I needed. I might just watch it again. Also, The Bloggess is the reason I started blogging in the first place, and I realized that I was no longer getting her updates for some reason. That has been remedied.

5. Taking time to get out of my head and space out

Having kids all day everyday, this often takes the form of me being on my phone. This usually comes with a lot of guilt, but I’m trying to tell it to fuck off. As long as the kids are safe and cared for, I am taking lots and lots of tiny micro breaks throughout the day just so I can slip the phone back into my pocket and be present for 20 more minutes when I previously thought I couldn’t. I kinda felt like I needed permission to do this, and only realized that after my therapist had given it to me unsolicited.

6. Having something to look forward to

It has been a godsend to join my local chapter of MOMS Club and automatically have events lined up for me on my calendar each month. It sounds so mundane, but it keeps me going. I’m constantly looking forward to the next thing, and being able to feel excited anticipation is a powerful enemy of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

There you have it. These are the main coping skills that I often forget are available to me.

Side note: while writing this over the course of two days, I have been interrupted a total of eleventy billion times. Another antidote to anxiety is being able to get into a flow state, and in order to do that you need to cultivate calm and stillness. Yeeeeeah. This is one reason why it’s SO HARD for me to put myself to bed at a reasonable time, because stillness only happens WHEN PEOPLE ARE UNCONSCIOUS. My point: I reeeeeally miss flow states. Please tell them to come back and visit.

 

Contributions and Gratitude

I’m reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B, and in it she talks about how recognizing your contributions to the world helps to build confidence and a sense of agency. She urges people to recognize this in addition to things we are grateful for. Yes, gratitude is important for cultivating happiness and joy, but she argues (and claims the research shows) that because gratitude is passive, it only goes so far. Meaning, gratitude practices acknowledge things you receive, while recognizing and celebrating one’s contributions to the world is more active – it’s something I’ve done to make the world a better place.

And so, I thought I’d give it a try. Here are a few contributions of which I am most proud.

  • Everyday, I am raising my children to be kind, compassionate people. I try to show them with my words and also lead by example.
  • I try to do small kind things for people around me, both friends and strangers.
  • I blog. I put my feelings out there into the world, in hopes that maybe someone will read them and feel less alone.
  • In my previous life (and I will again in my next life) I devoted my career to creating a safe space where clients could come to vent, heal, and be heard. I served as a crucial witness and container for suffering.
  • I keep my household running pretty damn well.
  • In spite of it all, I actually manage to take care of myself, too.

As another year comes to a close, I am also extremely thankful for the following:

  • My health, my husband’s health, my kids’ health.
  • We have enough. Of everything. Food, housing, transportation, money, clothes. In a world that is hell-bent on telling us we need more, more, more – and the flip side of that is that we never have enough – I want to remind myself that we DO, in fact, have enough.
  • Choice. I am privileged, and I have choices in my life. Living under a presidential administration that is working to take choices of all kinds away from citizens makes me realize just how precious and important it is.
  • Freedom of speech. We still have the right to say what we want and fight injustice in this world, and for that I am thankful and do not plan to take it for granted.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope your day is filled with contentment, joy, and stuffing.

Rain

cheeks are red

ears are hot

the rain sizzles to mist

when it hits skin

 

lungs deflate

shoulders lower

water runs down my back

tributaries coming together

forming a river down my spine

 

arms fan out

fingertips float up to the heavy clouds

I spin

as if

inside a lazy tornado

 

hair whips around

drenched.

smacking the side of my face

sticking.

 

chin tips up

eyes flutter

dodging the drops

 

tears wed the rain

and they dance down my body

as one


I wrote this while listening to a friend of mine play the most divine improvisational piano music I have ever heard.  I also wrote this poem the last time I heard her play.


NaBloPoMo Day 10