We’ve Been Here Before

I’ve been feeling a weird sense of deja vu the past few days.

Here in the Portland, Oregon area we’ve finally had some smoke settle into the valley. I say finally because we’ve had a large wildfire burning southeast of us for a while now and we’ve been fortunate to not have the smoke-filled wind heading our way until a few days ago. Oh hello. I’ve been expecting you.

Last September, a windstorm blew smoke into our valley that stuck around for 11 long days. For a time, we had the worst air quality in the world. The sky was orange, the sunsets were bloody, my kids didn’t leave the house, and smoke seeped into our house as we tried in vain to tape up every source of air leakage. Covid had made my home and the outdoors the only safe places, but airborne ash and soot were able to reach every crevice where Covid had missed. My safe space had gotten so small, I was ready to start crafting a cocoon. The only thing left to do was to hibernate and hope the time for butterflies would come sooner rather than later.

Schools are getting ready to open again. A few weeks ago, we got an email saying that masks would not be mandated. Before this announcement, a survey was sent out to parents asking if we planned to send our kids to school in person if masks weren’t mandated because personal opinion trumps science now. I was prepared to send yet another letter to the superintendent urging her to hear reason over the deafening cries of anti-mask, anti-vax parents. Thank goodness our governor came through with a K-12 mask mandate sooner rather than later.

Last summer, I remember getting an instant injection of anxiety-dread each time a new email was sent by the school district, principal, office, whoever. Every new change was a jolt to my system, a new adjustment in expectation, another calculation of perceived safety needed. There were many. It was overwhelming.

And so, a year has gone by. I’m so tired. I suppose a better word for it is weary. Traumatized.

The major positive difference this year is that the adults in my life are vaccinated. While that’s not nothing, it’s also not enough. When my husband and I got our shots, family members commented to us that they were so glad we could relax now. We rolled our eyes. Relax, you say? These were not people raising young children during a pandemic, and it showed. Yes, we’re all in the same storm, but only those in this boat containing tiny humans (controlling for all other sources of privilege) know the special hell of the last 17 months. And it’s not even close to being over.

But I digress.

While the alarming rise in Covid cases, smoke, chaos preceding the upcoming school year, and still-unvaccinated children gave me that sense of deja vu, it also feels different this time. My response has been different.

I can’t quite decide, but it’s either that I’m so traumatized that these now seasonal stressors are not surprising, and even expected – right on time, just like the arrival of pumpkin spice – or it’s that I’m stronger this time. More prepared. We have air purifiers. N95s. We’ve done the whole distance learning thing and we rocked it and we know we can do it again. We’ve been here before. Oh hello.

Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. Either way, we’ve done this before. We will do it again.

Wrinkle Cream and Lounge Wear

What a year this has been. Holy freaking cow.

I like to blog and take stock of my life on my birthdays, but this year I don’t even know where to start.

I usually get a massage on my birthday, but that didn’t happen. (There is a part of me that just wants to say fuck it and go do whatever I wanna do, but the rule follower part of me won’t allow that fantasy to become a reality.) Even though holy crap I could really use one because I can literally feel the weight of junk that’s been collecting and that I’ve been dragging around with me. After said massage, I usually go and sit in a Starbucks where I drink coffee without kids and I blog and read. As I type this, I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot of a park overlooking a river. I have my Starbucks and I just inhaled a birthday donut. At least it’s quiet and there are zero kids in the vicinity.

Usually, my birthday evokes feelings around my long-ago cancer diagnosis. This year, I have some (because how can I not), but mostly I’m struck by how covid/the pandemic/quarantining has shoved my cancer history to the back burner. Comparatively, it’s made my cancer feel more like a distant memory than ever before. Not sure how I feel about that.

It’s been exactly a year since I’ve had a date night out with my husband. I haven’t seen my parents in 15 months. I haven’t seen my brother for even longer. I can’t count how many face masks I own now. It’s good to acknowledge loss and take time to grieve, and I do that from time to time, but….how do I keep doing that when the trauma isn’t over? And this is me, who’s specifically trained to help heal trauma.

I often wonder how time and perspective will shape how I feel about this experience, this season in my life. How will I remember it? What stories will I tell? How and when will this all end? How will this shape how I live the rest of my life?

I’ve realized that it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Or content, at least. In a time when I’ve been stuck at home and can’t have nice things, it’s been the little things that have gotten me through. Kickball with my kids. Watching disaster movies with my husband. Reading really good books late into the night.

At the same time, I feel like it also doesn’t take much to trigger my anxiety. I anticipate having to retrain myself what safety feels like once this is “over” and we decide we can be social again. (Notice I didn’t say “normal,” because life won’t go back to the way it was before. In many ways, we’re forever changed.) About 3 years ago I went back to therapy for severe postpartum anxiety and in many ways I feel like the progress I made then has been shredded by covid. Covid is my anxiety’s best friend. Fuck you both.

I’m getting to the point where I am craving human contact and mentally crumbling under the cumulative weight of this crisis. Two of my peers lost their fathers recently, one to covid and one not, but both can’t grieve the way they want. I still don’t know anybody personally who’s died from covid but it’s getting closer and closer to home. It’s unsettling and I don’t like it.

I’m getting so sick of my family. I love them, but we’re always together. I have no opportunity to miss them. It’s a blessing and a curse because I wouldn’t have it any other way, but sweet baby jesus I’m ready to travel and go to the movies and hug my friends and have more personal space. I have never wanted a shot in the arm so badly in my entire life. I still have hope, of course, but what I need is some relief.

I know that many can identify with me that this year of deprivation has lit a fire under my desire to get my adult life started as soon as this is over. Life is short, and I want to go back to work. I want to see the world. I want my kids to build lives of their own, apart from me. I realize this will all happen in good time, but right here, right now, we can’t do it and I’m getting tired of waiting.

This morning, instead of a massage, I bought wrinkle cream and lounge wear on the internet.

So. I’m weary, I’m anxious, I’m hopeful, and now, I’m 38.

My Tangible Reminder

I have this little wooden sign on my mantle at home.

A few years ago, I found it inside one of our local Little Free Libraries and it spoke to me, so I grabbed it and brought it home.

I suffer from perfectionism, always have. Becoming a mom fanned those perfectionist flames and they took off like an uncontrollable brush fire. It used to be that I only had to worry about making myself perfect, inside and out, but once I was fully responsible for one and then two little goblins, all hell broke loose inside my perfectionist-flavored brain.

Dear lord there’s a lot of pressure to be the perfect mom, whatever that is. What worries me the most is how much I may have internalized all those perfect mom messages.

Make sure to breastfeed…

Put them in all the classes…swim, dance, Mandarin…and how to swim in Mandarin.

Make sure to shower! And put on pants!

Wear your baby all the time, don’t ever put them down.

Don’t let them have screen time until they’re two, otherwise their brains will turn to mush and Harvard won’t want them.

I continued my daily practice of positive self-talk to keep all those mothering shoulds at bay and to externalize them as much as possible.

When my kids were tiny, I had to start reminding myself almost daily about the good enough parenting model. All I had to do was reach the good enough threshold and my kids were gonna be fine. Heck, more than fine. Which meant I had to start cutting myself some serious slack. The thing was, I was never the type who would kill myself trying to physically get everything done all day every day, but I would instead mentally beat myself up for not getting it all done. For falling short. Of what, I ask? Says who, I wonder? I was learning how to forgive myself again and again and again…as many times as I needed. And I still need it. I already know, this will be my life’s work.

I picked up that little piece of wood because it serves as my daily reminder. It’s something that’s real, I can see it with my eyes and hold it in my hands, and it says: life is messy and that’s okay. you’re enough, you’ve done enough, now go love your kids.


Day 25

The World Is Not Ending

I’ve realized I need to remind myself that the world is not ending.

Somewhere along the way, I figured all the stores are closed and school is closed, so I should be too.

This is it. Accept it. We don’t get nice things anymore.

But then I hear other people are going out.

Having experiences.

Seeing people.

Doing things.

Living their lives.

And then I remember. Huh. Maybe I should too?

Staying home is nice.

Safe.

Warm.

Comfy.

But is this what I want?

I’m so tired.

Weary.

Sad.

Numb.

But is this what I want?

Sometimes I don’t know what I want.

Oftentimes I change my mind.

Or my mind changes me.

Just remember, self: the world is not ending

And neither are you.


Day 22: Pepper Day!

The Last Day

You guys, this is the last day.

I did it!

I’m actually genuinely super impressed with myself, because almost every single day this month I was able to generate original content, and some of it was actually kind maybe good-ish.

And, the fact that I was actually able to write about my daily life without too much trouble, means – wait for it – that I actually have a life! Actually!

Before, when I had tiny babies and was largely housebound and unable to string words together to make coherent thoughts, let alone get pants on my ass, I didn’t feel like I had much to say. It was the same shit, different day. Literally. At least now, my kids are growing and changing rapidly and I’m running to catch up and I have some time to myself to collect my thoughts. We’re also able to go to better and more interesting places, have more lively conversations.

In short, life is getting more interesting. And I’m thankful.

I hope, for those of you who stopped to read this thing, that you enjoyed it. I hope it was amusing at the very least, and at the most I hope it made you laugh, made you think, and made you get to know me better and want to be my very best friend. I like warm hugs.

Also, THANK YOU. If I didn’t care about anyone reading my stuff, I’d write in a private diary. So thanks for stopping by; I really appreciate it.

Now I am off to decorate my house for Christmas and then redo everything my kids try to decorate. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. Stay warm. Stay sassy.

Stay psycho.

 


nanopoblano2019

Blog On.

At the risk of annoying y’all, I’m posting twice today.

That’s right – TWICE.

WordPress just informed me that it is my blogiversary! Eight years ago today I began an adventure into writing for an audience. It’s been fun and challenging and a learning experience that I plan to continue in some form for years to come.

To all those who actually read this thing- thank you. To those who comment- THANK YOU!

Blog on, my friends.

Blog on.

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.

The Other Shoe

Anxiety is so freakin weird, you guys.

For the past several weeks I’ve actually been on a really good kick. My anxiety has stolen morning sleep from me only….twice (three times?) lately, and once was because I decided it was a great idea to watch Bird Box.

As a rule, I’ll never say I’ve beaten anxiety or that I’ve banished it from my mind and body forever. I know that’s wishful thinking, but it’s just not going to happen. Anxiety, in acute, appropriate doses, is actually healthy and adaptive. It keeps us out of danger.

Anxiety has always kinda been in the background of my life, but for the past two years it’s been (almost) ever-present. Right now, I seem to be in one of those almost times when I get to have a break. To a certain degree, I can enjoy these times. But then a funny thing happens. I don’t even know what to call it. It’s this state of mind where I’m worried that I’m forgetting about something that should be causing me anxiety. (I just reread that sentence, and yes, I know exactly how crazy that sounds.) It’s because anxiety has been my BFF, glued to my side, banging around in my brain, burning a hole in my chest, hitching a ride on my back, for so frickin long now, that when she’s gone, it feels…unnerving. Weird. Not normal.

It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So even though it’s a “break,” I still find myself having to do a lot of daily (sometimes hourly) work reminding myself that I’m safe, my kids are safe, the sky is not falling.

First, I stop and ask myself if what I am feeling is, in fact, anxiety. If the answer is no, then I employ a certain flavor of self-talk and any number of mantras I’ve collected over the years that feels helpful.

I am safe now.

I will figure it out.

I have nothing to be worried about.

Everything is going to be okay.

There is nothing wrong.

I have everything I need.

I am capable.

I am healthy.

Sometimes, it feels ridiculous that I actually have to say these things to myself, and that I have to say them so often. But, as I spontaneously explained it to my husband the other day, because I’ve dealt with anxiety so intensely for so long, it’s been seared into the neural pathways in my brain. Responding to situations with panic has become automatic, and the process of interrupting and rewiring those pathways is long and hard. The good news, however, is that it’s possible. In no way am I doomed to always feel this way.

And so, I do my best to inject hope into this shitstorm that is all too often my life.

Please continue to wish me luck, and I’ll keep telling my anxiety to go to hell, where it belongs.