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.
The weather has been cold and rainy lately and my energy level went way down. I wasn’t moving my body very much, and I’ve felt tired…but not a good tired. A yucky, blah, haven’t-used-my-body-so-I-feel-like-a-lump-tired.
So today I forced myself to put on my workout gear first thing. After breakfast, and after helping my son cut out 8465526289 paper geometric shapes for a school assignment, I put an exercise video up on the TV and got shit done.
And by got shit done, I mean I powered through amidst everyone and their mom trying to interrupt me with noise and feelings.
Instructor: C’mon ladies, let’s power through! Gimme more lift, and lift, and lift…
Me: Uuggghhhh lift…lift…keep lifting…
Daughter, who comes to sit down right next to me, almost touching: IMA DO YOGA TOO MOMMY! MOMMY WATCH! I’M DOING IT LOOOOOK!
Me, grunting: Y-yup. I see you. Good. job. Hey, could you scoot? I’d like some personal space.
Now side…to side…side…to side. C’mon!
Son: MOM! I’M STUCK! HOW DO I DOOOOOO THIIIIIS?!
Me: Figure it out, dude! Take a deep belly breath and try it again!
Son: BUT MOOOOOOOM!
Me: You got this, dude. I know you can do it all by yourself. This is my time right now.
Now crunch UP left, center, right, AND DOWN. Left! Center! Right! And down!
Daughter: Mommy, I’m tired. I want to be a ballerina INSTEAD!
Me: Cool. You do that. Fuck, I’m tired too.
Son: LOOK MOM I DID IT!!!!!
Me, without even looking: Great job, man! See I knew you could.
Now balance and lunge and pulse it and keep your core tight! Don’t stop now!
Me, (I turn to lunge and my daughter ballet-prances right into me, pushing me over as I lose my balance): Hey Little Miss, PLEASE give me some personal space, okay?
Daughter: OKAAAAY! She spin-dances away.
Now I want you to kick up and back but don’t sway those hips! You’ve got this ladies! Woo!
Me, huffing: You want us to do what?
Daughter, who shoots a nerf dart right past my torso: WEEEEEEE!
Me: Could you please stop shooting that in here? GO IN THE OTHER ROOM AND GIVE ME SOME SPACE!
Ten more reps, ladies! I can start to feel it now, I hope you can, too!
Me: Oh I can feel something, you chipper ass bitch.
Son: MOOOOM! I NEED HEEEELP!
Daughter: MOOOOM! WHEN ARE YOU GONNA BE DOOONE?!
The Cat, who walks underneath my body in a downward facing dog, looks up at my face: HOOOWL!!!!
My house is plenty big enough for 4 people and a cat under normal circumstances. But decidedly not during a pandemic.
My husband has been working from home since March, and he set up his workspace in our master bedroom. It’s really the only space in the house that makes sense for him to work and get anything done.
My son does his distance learning at the dining table in our open-plan ground floor. This also makes the most sense, as I need to be within earshot if he needs help.
My kids pretty much rule the entire ground floor during waking hours. They’re either doing school or pulling toys out of the playroom or running around screaming like banshees or using the TV so they’ll stay still and quiet for more than 10 seconds at a time.
Which means…I’ve lost any personal space in this house that I may have had at one time. Since we’ve been home for this pandemic, I’ve taken to using my son’s room for zoom yoga or privacy in the afternoons if I need to nap or read or sneak snacks or ugly cry in relative peace. I guess it beats hiding in the bathroom…but now that I think about it, at least I can lock the bathroom door. Sigh.
I’ve started fantasizing both in my head and to my husband about wanting a room all to myself in our next house, whenever that may happen.
Me: …you know, kinda like a She Shed, only it’d be a room in the house where I can paint. You could build it for me like Noah did in The Notebook!
H: I might grow a beard, but I’m not taking off my shirt. What’s a She Shed?
Me: You know! Like a man cave, only for the lady of the house. I need a room where I can paint or read or watch a movie that’s just mine.
H: Sounds doable.
Me: Yeah! I’d need a TV and storage for my crafts, and a couch and shelves for all my books. And a table to paint. It would be great to have like a little sink so I don’t have to leave to wash brushes and OOH A MINI FRIDGE FOR MY SNACKS. Maybe a microwave?
H: This doesn’t sound like a room anymore.
Me: Perhaps a tiny water closet with a toilet so then I wouldn’t have to leave the room AT ALL and INTERRUPT MY FLOW.
H: Let’s not talk about your flow.
Me: Doesn’t that sound NICE?!
H: …are you asking to move out?
Me: Well…maybe we should just look for a place with a detached guest suite, you know, just in case.
Today, I was able to shut the world out for several hours in the best way – I read my book semi-uninterrupted.
I say semi because I have small children. People with small children, or who once had small children and maintain an accurate memory (read: not the kind of biased memory that leads you to grow old and senile and shout ENJOY EVERY MOMENT! at moms in the grocery store) know exactly what I mean. For those who have never had the intense pleasure, I’ll briefly elaborate: interruptions ranged from forced verbal admiration of random lego pieces pressed together to wiping butts to trouble shooting the online math platform to an obligatory distance high-five for getting 100% on the online math assessment. All in a day’s work.
What am I reading? Funny you should ask. Those who know me, or who have read this blog for long enough know that I have a terribly unhealthy habit of choosing varying levels of traumatic entertainment media, now being no exception. And actually, now is a classic combination of some poor choices mixed with some bad timing. See, for October I thought it would be fun to choose a spooky book to read because I enjoy Halloween more than most human contact and I was concerned that Covid would steal away my joy. In an attempt to capture some additional spooky Halloween spirit, I chose Bird Box by Josh Malerman. It was a great choice for several reasons: 1) There was no wait at the library, and 2) I had already seen the movie sooooo how scary could it be, really?
In the middle of reading the book, I was not-so-gently reminded just how vulnerable my nervous system has become since 1) giving birth to and parenting two small children, and 2) the anxiety rollercoaster ride of Covid quarantine, among other things. The book struck close to home because it’s a mom trying to survive with one daughter and one son (I have those things), and she’s doing it while wearing a face covering and trying to stay away from dangerous people and entities unknown. Add those real-world similarities to the forgotten fact that BOOKS ARE LEAGUES SCARIER THAN MOVIES and I was toast. I usually read books at night, in bed, with the red filter of my headlamp. For this book I had to turn on the light.
Fast forward to now. Because I don’t know how to quit you, I decided the sequel to Bird Box would be an excellent idea. And I’m not sure how it happened, (read: I’m lying and I know exactly what happened) but my friends started chatting about the Haunting of Hill House and I thought my husband had watched it and he’d only seen the first episode and was willing to see more. I was intrigued, and in my pre-motherhood days I enjoyed a ghostly horror flick from time to time but DEAR LORD (no spoilers, please, dear readers). I think we’re averaging 1.5 episodes per week because my nerves can’t take any more than that. And watch is a loose term, because the way I’m getting through these is by cuddling with my emotional support husband, with a blanket, and oh look it’s a scary part up comes the blanket over my eyes! And then my husband narrates what’s happening so I’m still included in the action.
Me: OMG! What’s happening now?!
Husband: She sees a hand.
Me: What?! What’s it doing?
Husband: Moving. It looks dead.
Me: Just a hand?! Is there more?
Husband: Now she’s scared, she’s backing away. She’s gonna escape up the ladder.
Me: Are you sure?!
Husband: No wait. More than a hand. It’s got her…it just pulled her tongue out through her anus…..aaaand now she’s dead. You can look now.
We’ll finish the series eventually, at the cost of my remaining sanity.
And so my motivation to sit and read for an extended period of time today was threefold: 1) I enjoy reading for long periods of time, 2) I wanted to shut out any and all election news and take a frickin break, and 3) For the love of all that is holy I need to finish this book because I can’t be reading a scary book AND be watching a scary series at the same time because my. nerves. can’t. take. it. but failure is not an option and I refuse to just up and quit. So there you have it.
Also, I didn’t intend for this blog post to become one of many lists, but now you see how my mind works so you’re welcome.
Like many Americans, I’m having some feelings this week. Lots of flashbacks to the last election.
Four years ago, I was pregnant with my daughter and I was excited. I was so sure my daughter would be born into a world where she’d be able to take a female American president for granted. To me, it seemed like a no-brainer: our country’s most qualified candidate in history was running against our country’s most unqualified, outwardly racist and misogynistic candidate. It should have been a slam dunk.
I believed the polls. I had faith that an overwhelming majority of Americans would not choose fear and ignorance and hate. Needless to say, the outcome was shocking and traumatic. The experience was definitely a loss of innocence.
That election day I attended a goodbye party for another mom-friend of mine. This was a sad occasion for my whole family since her husband was friends with my husband and they were basically the first friends we made after moving to Oregon. This party was also the last time I planned to leave the house for a while, as my goal was to potty train my 2 year old son as best I could before the new baby came.
We had election coverage on in the background while we ate dinner. We had to turn it off while my husband put my son to bed, and I remember sitting in my room on my phone, scrolling. My first indication that something was wrong was when Florida went to He Who Must Not Be Named. After that, we watched with growing fear and went to bed in shock and disbelief.
I woke up the next day in a daze and proceeded with the potty training plan. It was horrible, stressful. I spent a good portion of the day in tears, not knowing what exactly I was crying about. All of the day was spent elbow deep in piss and shit, one way or another.
I remember thinking that my daughter would be ALMOST FOUR before we’d have the chance to vote him out. Four years is a hell of a long time to do a lot of damage. And so much damage has indeed been done.
As I write this, it feels akin to how one might tell a story of where they were and what they were doing when the twin towers fell or when Kennedy was shot. It was a dark day; one I’ll never forget. Looking back, it spun me (us) into a crazy-ass couple of years. My daughter was born. My post-partum anxiety took off like a brush fire. I went back to therapy. I spent a good few years just trying to get ahold of myself and figure out who I was and how to leave the house with pants on. All this with a background of news reports on hate, ignorance, fear, anger, violence. Rolling back progress and denying human rights.
Fall of 2019, I finally started feeling better, consistently better. I, like many others, declared that 2020 was going to be my year. And it was…until the pandemic. And now the election.
So you can see (I hope) how I am holding my breath. I’m white knuckling this. I’m so angry and scared. I want to believe the polls. I want to have faith in people to do the right thing. But frankly, this country is not what I thought it was, and we’ve all been here before, on this abusive rollercoaster from which we can’t seem to get off. I’m honestly not sure how I’ll get through the next few days…or weeks…or longer, depending.
To those in power who are using that power for personal gain and to manipulate and spread fear: we see right through you. You might be fooling some, but you sure as hell aren’t fooling me.
Abusive people use anything at their disposal to have power and control over others. If they can’t control others, their power is gone. Abusive people try to stop others from voting. Abusive people try to sue for votes to not be counted. Abusive people lie and manipulate the system. Abusive people threaten violence. Abusive people intimidate (in this case, by bringing guns to the polls, or by blocking traffic, etc.). Abusive people gaslight others and deny any wrongdoing. All of these behaviors are coming from a place of insecurity, NOT love, NOT protection, because if these people knew they could be fairly reelected in a just, democratic system, then there would be no need for such devious theatrics.
Abuse is not strength. Make no mistake, we are in an abusive relationship and that is an incredibly powerless feeling.
I voted as soon as I possibly could. I even made sure my ballot was received. And now, I wait. Full of dread, fear…and some cautious hope.
With Covid floating around in the air and threatening to jump into our face holes, we’ve had to get really creative about how we have fun, amirite?!
And if you know me or have read this blog for any reasonable length of time, you know that Halloween and creepy shit is the only thing that personally makes the slow, steady descent into winter oblivion worth staying conscious for. Adding Covid into the mix this year requires even more creepy and dark humor.
I started decorating my house – inside and out – for Halloween early this year. Let’s just say I was inspired by the orange smoky death cloud that hung over the greater Portland (Oregon) area for a good chunk of September. We were stuck inside and it looked like The Road outside so I figured celebrating the day the dead returns to the earth was a good call. Maybe they [the dead] could give us some pro tips on how to suffer in style.
I picked up an apocalyptic DVD bundle at the library and took advantage of the extra couch time. I revisited The Road and Hunger Games. I watched 1984 and Clockwork Orange for the first time and now I think I’m all set to hide under my bed and sip my Xanax milkshakes until the Supreme Court decides if it’s okay that Americans can experience safety and joy ever again.
I’m struggling now to remember how it came up, but a few of my mama friends and I text pretty much daily while hiding from our children. We were discussing Halloween and what freaked us out (I think?) when my friend mentioned she had a creepy doll stashed in the back of her closet that gave her the heebie-jeebies. Her mom had picked it up at a garage sale with care, love, and my friend’s daughter in mind, but I’m guessing my friend didn’t want her daughter to get sucked into The Upside-down so into the closet it went. “Isn’t this how most horror movies start?” you ask. And you’d be right.
We (and by we, I mean me) made a few jokes about haha, wouldn’t it be funny to scare some mom-friends by leaving the doll on their porch in a bloody mess and then running away? And then my friends texted back a tentative suuuuuure and changed the subject.
I then started texting only my doll-having friend to see just how willing she was to use the doll in this way. It will be hilarious! I said. It’s the perfect socially-distant creepy fun! I said. LET ME HAVE THIS. I screamed. At long last, she sent me a pic of the doll and I swiped right, my friends. This was happening.
My friend didn’t want to completely fuck up her doll so we compromised and I made a creepy sign with red paint to accompany her. We also wanted to scare the crap out of our victim friend without making a huge bloody mess on her porch, because we enjoy maintaining friendships.
Not to be outdone, the afternoon before we were scheduled to scare our mutual mama-friend, my doll-having friend dropped off the possessed plaything on my porch without telling me and then texted with: knock, knock. For one quick second after I opened my door, she scared the poop out of me.
Touche, my friend. Touche. The messers become the messees!
And so sweet, little Gwenivere (more on this later) came to live at my house for an afternoon. You guys, I had never seen a doll quite as uniquely creepy as she was. Her facial expression was very dead-in-the-eyes meets resting bitchface. When I picked her up, which I don’t recommend, she was surprisingly heavy in an unsettling way. She slumped over when set down. And the worst, by far, was that she fucking smelled. I can’t even describe it, but I’m going to try. It was a scent that used to be sweet, or was trying to be sweet, but missed the mark. It was like super, off-the-charts sweet that had gone sour with age, under a layer of mothballs. And the scent clung to everything it came in contact with. Sadly, I realized this after it was too late.
I set the doll at the bottom of my stairs for the afternoon and she scared my husband and me no less than 10 times. My daughter wanted to keep her. NO! I shouted, SHE’S NOT FOR YOU AND SHE’S LEAVING TONIGHT. Before I grabbed the doll to go scare my friend, my daughter came up and whispered in my ear that she had kissed the doll goodbye. Dear lord, I really wished she hadn’t. She [my little girl] smelled like rancid Koolaid mothballs.
During our magical afternoon together, the name Gwenivere for my little guest just came to me, out of the blue. My husband later informed me that it was the name of the ill-fated van from Onward, which we had watched the previous night, but I prefer to believe otherwise. On a whim, I decided to look up the meaning of the name, just to see if it fit.
Gender: female. Origin: Welsh. Meaning: white ghost, phantom.
My doll-having friend picked me up and we drove the short distance to our other mama-friend’s house. It was dark and windy and raining. In other words, perfect. Gwennie stunk up the car with her evil wrath but man it was worth it. We successfully deposited her and her bloody sign on their doorstep without the dog barking (until we rapped on the door), and then we ran behind a parked car to watch and giggle.
The initial response was underwhelming, but what turned out to be hilarious (from my point of view, anyway) was that my friend’s two daughters instantly loved Gwenivere and wanted to keep her. We were texted a pic of her girls cuddling with the smelly, possessed demon and I was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down onto my mask.
Needless to say, the fun won’t stop here. I think Gwennie and her sinister stank needs to be introduced to all of my friends. She has so much more love to give.
My little girl was almost hit by a car today. Almost.
We were on our way home, crossing a busy street. My son was on his bike, my daughter on her scooter and I was on foot. We looked left, we looked right. No cars. We were in a crosswalk. We did everything right.
To the right of the crosswalk is a traffic circle, and I saw a car whip around and it wasn’t slowing down. By this time, I was halfway across, my son was behind me, and my daughter was ahead of me.
I screamed, STOP, [HER NAME], STOP!!!
My girl started to slow down and I lurched forward, groping for her, even though she was still out of reach. I later told my husband that we’d both have been hit if the driver hadn’t slammed on her brakes.
If there was ever a time when I felt like a crazed, full-blown Mama Bear, this was it.
JESUS CHRIST!! I screamed at the car.
SLOW DOWN!!! I bellowed as I threw my arms wide in rage, fear, and desperation. I’m sure my eyes were red and smoke puffed out of my ears. Certainly, adrenaline was pumping through my system.
The driver gave a gesture that I interpreted as apologetic, but it all happened so fast. I just wanted to get back home where we’re safe.
This is several hours later, and I’m still trying to shake the rage. fear. desperation.
A similar incident happened a few months ago, but I was able to shake that one off much sooner. The differences: we weren’t in a pandemic, and I didn’t feel so constantly vulnerable, thinking about health and loved ones and safety and loss. That time, I was close enough to her that I grabbed her hood and yanked her back. Even if the car had continued to run the stop sign, I had successfully pulled her out of the way. Lastly, everyone was moving slower: me, my daughter, the car. It was far less scary, in a far less scary time.
Also a contributing factor: I’m currently experimenting with different cold brew ratios/recipes/techniques and dear baby jesus, I think I made this last batch way too freaking strong. Today I’ve been jittery and strung out. My husband says I’ve been talking a mile a minute today, buthowisthatpossibleIdon’tknowwhatyou’retalkingabout.
Not to mention that I’ve had two nightmares in the past week, one of which was technically a nightmare within a fucking nightmare (so I guess that makes it three nightmares in all). I shit you not, I had a nightmare and in the dream I went to sleep, had yet another nightmare, “woke up,” BUT WAS STILL IN A NIGHTMARE. When I woke up for realsies, you’d better believe it took me a hot minute to be quite certain that I was conscious and the world before me was indeed real. I think it’s high time I made myself a totem, BECAUSE HOW DO I KNOW I’M NOT BEING INCEPTED?! Leo?! JGL???
As a surprise to absolutely no one, I’m also knee-deep in a violent dystopian novel. My choices amaze even myself.
Soooooooo there you have it. Too much, too often I feel like the world is burning and I have a front row seat. I can feel the warm glow on my face and I can see the ash falling from the sky.
Everyone, just please do me a favor and SLOW DOWN when you drive. Check the crosswalks. Then check them again. Thanks.
This is getting hard. It’s taking a toll on me, and what’s worse is that it’s taking a toll on my kids.
We’re currently toeing the line of social interaction, and my kids desperately want to be normal, and I desperately want to let them. I really, really do.
They beg me and I explain, one more time, that we can’t get too close and we can’t share toys and it’s all because of this nasty, tricky virus. They blame me, and say I’m mean and that’s okay. I don’t expect them to understand because how in the world could they? And who can blame them when they see other kids playing together, other kids sharing toys? I just keep telling them that it’s my job to keep them safe and I am doing the very best that I can. And then I die a little inside. Am I making the right choice? Maybe we should just stay home. Would that be easier or harder?
Today, once we got home my older kid was off playing by himself so I took a moment to thank him for handling the situation so well, because he really did. It’s not easy hearing your mom say no again and again. I hate doing it. But he didn’t yell, he didn’t throw a fit. He disagreed with me and expressed his feelings like someone years older, and then went to sit in the car. I’m so proud of him, and I told him so, and yet, my heart breaks for him. This is not how it’s supposed to be. This is not normal and this is going to get harder before it gets better and I’m so sorry.
I am so scattered and internally, my mind is going in a million different directions at once. I start so many things that I struggle to go back and finish. Articles. Text messages. Podcasts.
I’m taking in so much information and I’m getting interrupted way more than normal because my kids are home and all over me. I can’t remember what I read where.
I’m moody. Way moodier than normal. I read too much news, I get anxious. I chat with friends, I’m uplifted. I see beauty in the human spirit online and I’m inspired to paint or write. I do yoga and I’m energized. I think about extended family, people’s inability to lead or plan ahead or follow directions, and all that I can’t control, and I fall into despair.
I microwaved some lunch, and when it beeped, I opened the fridge.
Since September, my autonomy from my kids had really begun to increase, take shape, make me feel like I was getting back to myself again. My kids were going to school. I was going to the gym. Heck, I was exercising more regularly that I have ever done in my entire life. I was going to the gym and yoga and pilates and sole sisters (walk/jogging) every week. I was doing Whole30. I was feeling pretty great.
And then extremely quickly, I lost it all. All of it. And while I’m a tried-and-true introvert, this is giving me ptsd from when I was stuck at home with newborns. I’d be okay if the time at home was my own. If I could do what I wanted.
I was unemployed when I was pregnant with my first and I did okay. I read a lot. I watched tv and movies. I ate whenever I wanted. I napped whenever I felt like it. I took walks. I did chores. It wasn’t the best, but I’m good at entertaining myself. I like my own company.
But now…I am constantly breaking up fights. I can’t hear myself think. I can’t read when I want. I can’t watch tv with adult themes. I can’t exercise. Fuck napping. Basically in order to do what I want, I need separation from my kids. Bottom line. On top of all that, I’m supposed to teach them shit, too. All while being scared out of my mind.
And so I try and do whatever I have to do to get by. One day at a time.
I’ve taken to locking myself in other rooms of the house. Oh yeah, because not only is my time gone, but also is my space. My kids rule the entire first floor, and my bedroom is now a home office where my husband works. I’ve taken to locking myself in my son’s room so I can nap or do yoga or chat with friends. It’s what needs to be done so I can continue to get through these days.
I don’t know how long it’s going to take until we find a new normal, or if we’ll ever find one. Because this is NOT. NORMAL.