Reclaiming My 2017

2017 has been a tough year.

I feel like I’ve been saying that every year since…2013, which…sucks. It makes me feel bad. It worries me, along the lines of, Is this my life now? (meaning: life=tough)

I want to talk about my challenges here, partly so I can continue to process them, and also so I can let people know about what’s been going on in my internal world all this time. I’d like to be able to talk about the hard stuff with people I see in person on a regular basis, but having screaming kids running around is not the easiest way to begin the conversation.

I’ve always been a fairly anxious person. I’ve inherited it, I’ve found ways to cope with it, I’ve found ways to power through it, and I’ve accepted it as a part of my life (but not who I am).

But.

This year, I’ve been the most anxious (and occasionally depressed) I’ve ever been and it’s been largely unbearable.

As I look back through pictures that were taken of me over the past year, many of my smiles have been pasted on over massive amounts of anxiety, worry, and irritability. A general inability to calm the fuck down and enjoy any moment of what is happening in front of me.

The tulip festival. A Mother’s Day tea. Playdates. Storytimes. Trips to California.

I remember talking to a friend in early summer and telling her how I had experienced some depression after having my first kid, but that it started to get better after about six months (as did the weather). At that point, it was passed the six month mark (which I realize is totally arbitrary) after having my second kid, and I told her that my symptoms weren’t going away- they were getting worse. It worried me. Actually, it scared the hell outta me.

I remember coming home from a Mother’s Day tea, where my kids were just in the other room from me, being cared for by teenagers I had just met. I sat there rigid, sweating, mind racing. I ate and drank and made conversation and tried SO HARD to enjoy the kid-free time. But it was too much (what was it, I ask myself). I burst into uncontrollable sobs to my husband when I got home. It was all just too hard. Everything felt wrong.

I knew I needed to get back into therapy, but I felt so overwhelmed on a daily basis that I didn’t have the time or the energy to start looking for a therapist. I emailed one of my therapist friends who lives clear across the country late one night to confess to her exactly how much of a shit time I was having. She did an amazing thing and researched therapists in my area and sent me a list of three to check out. It was a godsend.

I started therapy in June, and it was slow-going at first. Of course, therapists make THE WORST clients and I imagine I’m no exception. I want therapy to work and I want it to work YESTERDAY. I overthink everything. I start critiquing her choice of decor and start mentally taking notes for when I eventually go back to work. Mainly, I just wanted to dive in and get to the hard stuff asap so I could feel some freaking relief.

Since then, my anxiety has ebbed and flowed. For a few weeks in September, right after my oldest started going to school for the first time, I thought I had this beat. And then it came back full force for no apparent reason and it’s interfering with my sleep, which has been devastating. For the longest time, I blamed it on the cat and her early morning howling. Everyone around me heard about it. Well, we worked around the cat issue, and wouldn’t you know, it’s not the damn cat. It’s just plain irrational, raging-fire-in-my-chest anxiety. How mortifying.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me, at least recently, was that I had a panic attack. And it was in front of my kids. It scared me to death and I just can’t live like that. I won’t have my kids growing up being worried about their mom falling apart like that. What a horribly embarrassing and terrifying experience, as any of you who have had one surely knows.

I have held out this long against trying medication as an option, but after that, I swallowed what little pride I had left and called my health insurance and made an appointment for a med eval for January. I surrender.

I read some research that said if people are given some sort of escape button that promises a bad experience will immediately end if pushed, they are more likely and able to endure said experience. Case in point, I’ve had clients before who got anti-anxiety meds only to carry them around in their purses and never actually take them. Maybe an escape button is all I need? We’ll see…

I feel held captive by this monster, this thing. I’m desperately trying not to be in constant fear of it, nor constantly battling it. I’m exhausted. I don’t have time for this shit. What saddens me most – THE MOST – is the thought that I’m so incredibly preoccupied, terrified, irritable, utterly exhausted, that I’ll look back on my kids’ young lives and realize…I missed it.

Somehow, I must reclaim my life. (Ugh, that sounds so dramatic, written with tears rolling down my face.) Because this isn’t me, and this isn’t how I want to live. It’s not the mother I want to be, or the wife, or the friend, etc. This motherfucker is trying to rob me blind and I won’t let him. Kicking and screaming.

Me writing this, and putting this out there for people to read, is partly how I fight. Because anxiety wants me to stay silent. Anxiety wants me to shut myself in and cower in fear. Anxiety doesn’t want me to feel joy.

Well…fuck you.

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The beauty of this place

We hiked five miles today, just the two of us.

This was where we met, where we worked together for several summers, where we fell in love, and where he proposed.

It was great to be back. I missed the beauty of this place.

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NaBloPoMo Day 27

Like Nothing Had Ever Happened

This post was after a particularly shitty day, told in the third person. I’m sure many parents can relate.


NaBloPoMo Day 25

Psychobabble

It started like any ordinary day.

And that’s the thing – these days, most days were just that – ordinary.  Sure, some moments stuck out for better or for worse, but they were mostly spent in the monotony of keeping her kid safe, clothed, fed, occupied.

As she lied in bed, she could hear her son happily babbling over the baby monitor.  He rarely woke up in a bad mood.  She got up and started her usual routine of making the bed, getting dressed, dragging a brush through her hair, and then she went to go get her son.

As soon as she opened his bedroom door, the stale odor of his poopy diaper floated out to greet her.  And then she could see, under her smiling, blond baby boy, that his crib sheet was quite soiled.

She sighed.

First things first, she thought, Diaper change, then strip the…

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Tolerating Sadness

I think about this older post of mine quite often, and I’d like to share it again. I hope you enjoy it.
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NaBloPoMo Day 20

Psychobabble

In my experience, sadness is not tolerated well or at all.  It is not given much room, and it is not given nearly enough time.  It is shamed.  It is seen as weak.  It is hidden and dealt with privately, or not at all.  Often times, it’s covered up and comes out disguised as another feeling altogether.

Has anyone ever told you to: Cheer up!  Look on the bright side!  Everything will be ok.  Don’t cry.  You need to move on.  Get over it.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel sad and someone tells me something like what I listed above, it makes me feel even worse.  It makes me feel like there is no room for my sadness.  My feelings are not ok.  Not only that, but that you (the person invalidating my feelings) cannot tolerate my sadness for some reason.  A person’s reaction to another’s…

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Things Motherhood Has Brought to My Attention

  1. My patience (though it runs short at times), overall, runs deeper than I ever could have imagined.
    • Sure, I lose it and blow up at my kids. Just this morning I stomped on the floor and yelled when my son spat out cereal onto the floor. But, for that one time of losing it, I experience at least 50 more times when I’ve stuck with it, dug deep, and kept my cool beyond what I thought was possible of myself in that moment. And I have no idea how that happens. That’s a lie; yes I do.
  2. Being a mom has brought my and my family’s mortality into sharp focus, causing me to make decisions based on whether or not I’d have regrets on my deathbed.
    • This may sound horribly morbid, and while it is morbid, I don’t think it’s horrible. Watching my kids grow up like weeds before my eyes reminds me how short and precious life really is, and this just shoves all the important stuff front and center.
  3. I don’t have control over anything. Like, at all.
    • While this is easy to type and easy for my intellectual brain to grasp, my emotional core is still working on accepting it. I have a feeling I’ll always come back to rage-cleaning the kitchen when I feel like my life is more out of control than normal.
  4. Working with a partner to try and raise two healthy, happy, fed, (mostly) clothed, well-adjusted kids is the hardest thing ever.
    • What threw me on this one is that I thought the hardest thing ever would be staying at home, by myself, with these kids all day everyday. And yes, when Daddy is home I get the physical help with the child-wrangling. But, when he’s not here there’s no discussion about what there is to be done (unless you count the one constantly running through my head) – I just do it. There’s no need to communicate, “Ok, you do this and I’ll do that” I just do it all. There’s no need to scream at the other person, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! WE’RE LATE!” because, during the day, it’s just me. Often, the effort it takes to try and work together and delegate and communicate (read: scream to each other over the din of also-screaming children), is so exhausting that it feels easier to just bare down and do it all. (Does anyone else feel this way? I feel like I did a shit job of explaining what I mean, because I am in NO WAY ungrateful for the job my husband does raising our kids and keeping the household together. There’s no way I could do this job alone and stay sane.)
  5. I can do more on little sleep than I ever thought possible.
    • I don’t function well on little sleep. I turn into a rabid zombie chainsaw killer. While I still suffered (still suffer-ing, actually) with each kid, there’s just something amazingly tender and potent about your chillins that make you want to do the opposite of kill them, even on scary few hours of sleep.
  6. (Going along with the previous point) Never underestimate the power of naps.
    • Naps come from heaven. Naps are good for all involved. Covet them. Create time for them. Force them if you have to.
  7. I need free time to feel like myself.
    • This wasn’t obvious to me when I had a whole shit-ton of free time, but it sure is now.
  8. I have a feeling that raising these kids is going to be my life’s most important work (with therapy a close second).
    • My kids will be kind, thoughtful, compassionate, productive human beings if it’s the only thing I do.
  9. I am really good at this mom gig. Like, I kick ass at it.
    • Seriously. As hard as it is, even though I constantly make mistakes and lose my cool. I learn from those mistakes, I model how to say sorry and repair the damage. I remember doctor’s appointments. I know where 90% of the toys are in my house at any given time. I keep my house more than bearably clean. I can get two kids diaper changed, dressed, fed, potty, shoes, socks, jackets, car seats, out the door in 45 minutes. You heard me! I get fairly good sleep. I make my bed everyday. I help keep our cat alive (wait, we have a cat too?!). I pack for vacations and camping trips and beach trips and walks to the park…and I remember 99% of all the things we could ever need in case of the zombie apocalypse. I do the laundry AND FOLD IT. AND PUT IT AWAY! Sometimes that only takes a week to complete. I remember to buy toilet paper. I remember birthdays and parties and shopping for gifts for said parties. And wrapping the damn present for said said parties. Not to mention remembering to BRING said wrapped present to said parties. I kiss boo-boos and give hugs and make lunches and clean up. I clean up all fucking day.

…and then, after all that, I get up and do it again the next day, and the next, and the next.


NaBloPoMo Day 7

Invisibility Cloak

It’s been really hard trying to adjust to life in Oregon.

People have been telling me that it’ll take time.  Like, 2 or 3 years.  You know, to find friends and get used to the rain.

Well, it’s been 3.75 years and I’m still waiting.  Waiting to feel…adjusted.

I’ve moved before and it hasn’t felt like this.  So I’ve been wracking my brain to figure out what is different about this time and this place.

Many things are different: this move is permanent, with no end date in sight.  I didn’t move here for a reason of my own, meaning that we moved here because of my husband’s job and not because of work or school for me.  We don’t have any family close, not anywhere in state.  I moved here 8 weeks pregnant and have been largely housebound raising kids ever since.  The weather suuuuuucks.

But all this I’d been over in my mind, again and again, and nothing felt heavy enough to be such a roadblock.  Perhaps all of them put together is what is blocking my road?

Of course, there’s more.  My life is pretty unrecognizable from what it was 4 years ago.  I was working full time, not yet married, not yet a mom (of two).  I had friends and family.  Hobbies.  A brain.  A life.

Now I feel like I am getting somewhere – that along with grieving the loss of my homeland (via the move), I am grieving the loss of my identity.  Before, I was a therapist.  A partner.  Active, creative, thoughtful.  Productive.  Energetic.  Mobile.  Free.

I look at the clothes hanging in my closet, and I don’t recognize the woman who wore those clothes.  She’s not me, but I kind of remember her, the way one remembers a grandmother who died when you were a child.  I deeply miss her.

I feel like becoming a capitol M-O-M has wiped out any identity I had that doesn’t pertain to my relationship with my kids.  People no longer ask about me, they ask about the kids.  Or they ask about how I am in relation to the kids, as a mom, and not as a person.  (Because moms aren’t people, you guys.)

Edit: To be fair, my momfriends very much DO genuinely ask how I am doing.  It’s just that most often, I’m unable to answer honestly or with much gory detail because of the circumstances (read: kids running around trying to kill themselves).

Make no mistake, I’ve definitely been making an effort to integrate myself into my new life.  This introvert and homebody has forced herself to join a moms club, get to library story times, and go to various playgroups.  I’ve made friends and enjoyed some of what Oregon has to offer.

What finally hit me was something my good friend said to me recently.  I was bitching about how being a mom gets in the way of making good quality friendships because even when my momfriends and I can get together we’re still always chasing after our kids and can’t have a decent conversation.  I can’t remember how the conversation went, but I think I said that my momfriends and I mostly talk about our kids because that’s what we have in common, but we don’t share who we are as people.  And she pointed out that none of the people I am meeting and trying to forge relationships with in Oregon knew me before I had kids.  I just read back what I typed, and I can see how that may not sound so earth-shattering, but it definitely felt that way to me.  Besides my husband and this particular friend, zero people in Oregon knew who I was before children.  There’s been essentially no carryover from my old life to the new one, in every way possible.  Ugh.

As I take this thought and play the tape through in my mind, I’m seeing another layer of difficulty in trying to make new friends: not only do we lack the logistical opportunities as moms, but I am working blind.  I don’t even know who this new me is yet, and no one here knew the old me, and in that sense I feel completely invisible – swallowed up by my children (and then pooped out for me to clean up).

Three Years Later

On Tuesday my partner and I celebrate three years of marriage.

I want to say it’s been all rainbows and unicorn farts, but it hasn’t.  Well, there have been farts, but not those of the unicorn variety.  It’s been…loving and supportive and stable and hilarious and the kind of tenderness that brings one to tears.  But it’s also been the biggest challenge in our relationship since moving out of state and having a kid and basically having our whole world flipped upside down.  And now we’re about to flip it once again with baby number two.  Woo-boy.  I’m sure glad I have him by my side for all this.

But enough about our marriage.  The anniversary gets us thinking about our wedding and all the bittersweet feelings that go with it.  I blogged about it (read it here) to help me cope at the time and then the post got Freshly Pressed, which I initially had mixed feelings about.  On one hand, getting recognized for my writing is always nice, but I was worried that the feedback I got would just make me feel worse.

Overall, the good outweighed the bad and I felt so validated knowing that many, many other people felt similar letdowns as a result of their weddings.  My comment section became a big virtual group therapy session.  We shared horror stories and shared what helped make us feel better.  I thanked people for reading and supporting and commenting.  People thanked me for writing because it made them feel less invalidated, less sad, less alone.  I am glad that I wrote what I wrote.

What interests me now, and what prompted me to write about this again, is that that blog post has been by far my most popular post.  To this day – almost three full years later – it still gets about 3-10 hits a day, on average.  Every day.  And occasionally, people still comment with their own stories.

It makes me feel so sad when I read what people have Googled to get themselves to my wedding blog post.  Things like, “my wedding was a disaster,” and “I can’t get over how my wedding went,” or “I’m depressed about my wedding.”  This sucks!  Part of me feels validated because, again, I am definitely not alone in how I feel about my wedding.  However, part of me feels like a sucker.  I fell for the whole wedding-industrial complex.  I got wrapped up around expectations that were handed to me (and that I readily accepted) by society, spent a hell of a lot of money, put tons of eggs into the basket of one blissful day, only to have it crash down all around me. What does this say about our society that this post-wedding blues phenomenon is so common?!

Would I do things differently?  A few, but not many.  I admit, even now, I still just wanted the fun, expensive party that I could enjoy with all my friends and family.

In the months following my wedding, I responded to the many comments readers posted.  Some were unsolicited advice (one of my least favorite kinds of feedback), others were words of sympathy and encouragement, and many were similar horror stories.  Because I was going through my own grieving process, I found it difficult to respond to others who were suffering as I was. Reading those comments brought up my own yucky feelings that I was still wading through (or trying to forget – depending on the day) and it was uncomfortable.  It stung.  Each new story was a reminder that I’d always look back on that day with some amount of sadness, grief, regret.  Even today, a random comment that gets posted brings it all back, just a little bit.

While responding to these comments, I found myself wanting to slip into a therapist role as I typed.  Of course, that role feels natural to me, and it also protected me because it created distance between myself and my feelings.  Now that I am much more at peace with how my wedding went and how I feel about it, reading and answering the comments is easier.  Easier, but not pain-free.

My brother made us a wonderful video from the raw footage a relative took at our wedding, and only recently did my husband and I muster up enough courage to actually watch it, almost three years after the day.  Of course it brought back some of the yucky feelings.  The grief.  But.  It also reminded me that I actually managed to have fun that day.  And the ceremony was wonderfully moving.  And I looked beautiful.  And we were so in love.  I couldn’t deny it – the proof was right there on camera!  Whew.

In all the discussion with readers about how to heal and move on from these experiences, we often talked about having a do-over.  A “corrective experience” as therapists put it.  I pictured the two of us on a beach in Hawaii with an officiant and a photographer.  No one else.  I have flowers in my hair.  The wind is whipping my white cotton sundress around.  The sun is setting.  We’re laughing and holding hands.  And no one can take away our joy.

Maybe someday.  I say maybe, because I don’t want to get too hung up on expectations.

 

My Little Yeah Man

Some phases you never expect.

I expected that my kid would go through a hitting phase, a running-away-from-me phase, a picky eater phase…you know, the normal stuff.

And I fully expect my kid to, someday in the near future, figure out how fabulous the word “no” is.

But today isn’t that day.

Lately, my kid has been saying “yeah” to everything, and it’s the flippin cutest phase ever.

“Hey Dylan, do you want to go to the park?” (It’s pouring rain outside)

“Yeah.”

“Dudeman, do you want more veggies?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want to take a dump in Mother Maggie’s shoes?” (Google it.  Better yet- YouTube it.)

“Yeah!”

He also agrees with many statements I make throughout the day.

“Man, you made quite a mess.”   Yeah.

“Boy, you’re cute!”  Yeah!

Sigh.  I love you, buddy.

Some phases you can’t wait for them to be over, but this one, this one I am very thankful for.  Especially since a part of me is bracing for the “no” phase that most likely is yet to come.

And it’s not only that my kid is particularly agreeable most of the time.  He’s also friggin’ polite and I have no idea where it came from.  Seriously, we’ve taught him here and there to either say or sign “please” and “thank you” (he’ll only sign “please” and he’ll do a combo of signing “thank you” and/or saying “da-gu!” *melt my heart*), but he spontaneously says da-gu, like, all the time. And when he asks for something and we hesitate to say yes for whatever reason, he’ll often follow up with an adorably placed “please” sign and an expectant smile.  We’re in big trouble.

One time, he thanked me for changing his diaper.  I cried.  It’s so charming that it’s scary.  He could ask for a flame thrower, sign please and say da-gu and I’d hand one right over without a second thought.  Sure, my love.  Whatever you want!

So forgive me for gushing about my baby.  He’s not perfect, and I know phases are temporary, which is partly why I think I am drawn to blog about this particular phase.  I want to remember this one.  I want to remember how, for a few months (maybe longer??? please??), my kid acted like a charming angel some of the time.

Da-gu for this phase, little man.

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Down with the Sickness

The hubs and I are sick.

And, man, it sucks.

Being sick on a regular day sucks, but it sucks harder when you’re a parent.  And even harder when both parents are sick at the same time.  It’s the suckiest.

Both of us have been coughing and sneezing and hacking and gagging that my toddler thinks this is a new game.  Even though he’s still healthy (I have no idea how he hasn’t gotten our viral plague as of yet), he’s started fake coughing because he thinks it’s now the cool thing to do.  If this goes on much longer, we’ll have given our son some sort of complex.

We’ve been cooped up for several days now, and I’m not sure how much longer we can hold out.  Our produce is almost gone, we’ve dipped into my NyQuil reserves (this is not a joke), and we might be sick of each other.

As a SAHM and an introvert who is prone to self-isolation, the social commitments I make for my son and I each week are crucial to my sanity, and when one of us is sick, we can’t go talk to the other humans.  And that makes mommy something-something.  So the only silver lining is that, this week, my husband is home sick too.  WOO!  PLAGUE PARTY!!  We can sneeze the Overture of 1812 better than Ferris Bueller’s keyboard.  Seriously, it has been nice to have him home with us, because at least I don’t have to sick-parent a well-kid all by me onesie.

However, this situation has also given way to arguments over who is sicker, and thus who gets a free pass from parenting the not-sick, full-energy child.  My partner may or may not have said that he’s so sick that he’s not at work and deserves a break.  And I may or may not have said that I AM STILL AT WORK EVEN THOUGH I AM SICK AND I DESERVE TO POOP ALONE.  And then we agreed to disagree after the argument devolved into a mutual coughing fit.

In related illness news: I discovered that I can now hit Adele’s sexy, sexy low notes. I’d better get this down in the studio before my immune system decides to wake the fuck up.  Also, after visually confirming that my voice wasn’t coming from a would-be creepy male kidnapper, the hubs told me that I should start a late night sexy-talk line (that’s what they’re called, right?) and use the alias Bernice in order to earn a little extra cash.  You know, for our kid’s college fund.  Or so I can buy some more NyQuil.

My 2015: Wading through the shit

My 2015 was tough.

I feel like I’ve been saying that about every year for a while now.  2012 was probably my most recent “comfortable” year, even though that was the year I studied my butt off for the two hardest exams I’ll ever take in my entire life and became a licensed therapist as a result.  I say “comfortable” because I was still in my comfort zone, both professionally and personally.

In 2012 I was cohabitating with my long-term partner.   At that time we’d both been in the same location, same apartment, same jobs for the previous 4 years.  We were growing, just slowly, and it was nice.  We were growing towards making the commitment to get married.  We were both approaching a point at our jobs where we felt competent, yes, but we also increasingly felt like we had outgrown them.

I didn’t know it at the time, but 2012 catapulted me into a whirlwind of change where I’m still feeling the effects.

I got licensed and promoted at work.  Brian and I got engaged, then married, then pregnant.  We quit our jobs and moved out of state for Brian’s dream job (!), bought our first house, had a baby (which was my dream job) and I ended up being a stay at home mom.  Whew.

Scaling back to just the last year: my kid grew from 4 months old to 16 months old and changed every day.  He started sleeping through the night.  Like, 10-12 hours at a time sleeping through the night.  It was glorious!  He started solids, we made the difficult decision to stop breastfeeding.  He sat up, he crawled, he walked.  He fell down.  A lot.  He’s signed over 15 signs to us, and he’s said 3 words.  He’s shown us delicious bits of his glowing, giddy personality and I can’t wait to see more.

As for me, in 2015 I started to feel like a mom.  I started to feel competent, which goes a long way in preserving my day-to-day sanity.  I was able to meet my kid’s needs.  We developed a schedule, and I learned to be flexible with it.  I got us out of the house, even forced us out, when I knew we/I needed it.  We stayed in when I didn’t feel like forcing it.  I fought my mom guilt.  I did projects around the house.  I actually kept an exercise schedule!  I made an effort to make friends – this was huge for me.

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In many ways, I feel like 2015 was a rebirth year for me.  Sure, I gave birth to a human the previous year, but this year I was getting to know a new me as well as my newborn son.  Everything about me felt different, and it was incredibly disorienting.  At the beginning of the year, I was still struggling to find my way out of the fog that is new motherhood.  And make no mistake- that fog is all-encompassing.  Physically, mentally, spiritually.  I didn’t recognize my body.  None of my clothes fit right.  I physically didn’t feel like myself.  The emotional highs were very high and the lows were scary low.  I was moody, frustrated, irritable.  I often felt lost and alone.  I isolated, because that’s easy to do.  And spiritually, I questioned if being a mother was going to feel fulfilling for me and my life.  Everything had changed, my world was rocked, and I was wading through all the shit (literally) as best I could.

So, slowly, slowly I found my way out of this.  And of course I had to mourn the fact that there was no turning back the way I came to reclaim the person I once was and the life I once had.  I had to make a new way.  I had to reinvent myself.  I basically went through a puberty and coming-of-age stage all over again, and I am still getting to know the new me.

I remember, soon after Dylan was born, a neighbor commented to me in passing about how he couldn’t imagine his life without his kids, who were something like 2 and 4.  At that time, I could totally imagine my life without a screaming poop machine.  I wished for that life back on a daily basis!  I rolled my eyes at his cliche and moved on with my day.

So the big deal is that at one point later on this year I remember indulging in my daily wish of going back to our old apartment in California, to our old jobs and our old town where we felt happy and competent and young and free.  And then I realized – we couldn’t do that.  Because I would miss him.  I would miss Dylan!  Everyone talks crap about love at first sight with their babies, and while that may be true for some, I had to get there in my own good time, and this was one moment for me.  I would miss my son too much.  My gooey, giggly, blue-eyed little boyman.

There you have it, my meandering year in review.  It was a tough one, but transformation is rarely easy.