Posts Tagged 'therapy'

Good Mom

Yesterday afternoon I posted this as my status on facebook: “The boys came home from school under the impression that leprechauns would visit our house today – which is a shame, because I was under the impression this was one of those holidays I didn’t have to go to any effort for.” Half an hour later I updated the post with my last-minute solution: adding food coloring to the muffins I was already making anyway and telling them a leprechaun must’ve turned the muffins green, and then sending the boys outside with a tupperware container to search for little people. The whole thing took minimal effort on my part, plus it got the kids out of the house: win.

I wrote the post as a way of poking fun at myself for such lazy parenting – so when I started getting comments like, “Good job – this is why you’re such a good mom!” I was truly surprised. A few drops of food coloring followed by shooing the boys out the front door are far from what I would’ve thought a Good Mom would do in that situation – no, her solution would’ve involved leaving a trail of tiny green footprints to a hidden cache of chocolate gold coins, or something, and then having the kids help her mix the green muffin batter. And maybe taking the muffins to the homeless shelter. Maybe while speaking conversational French with the kids so that they could grow up to be fluent in a foreign language. No, mine wasn’t the Good Mom method, it was the do-enough-to-make-them-happy-and-get-them-out-of-my-hair-so-I-can-go-back-to-watching-hulu-while-I-cook-dinner method.

Jennifer The Therapist has been trying to get me to see that the bar I’ve set is unattainably high. She’s been arguing that I’m trying to compare my mothering to that of my mom – and not even to my actual mom, but to my saintly dead mom whom I have only fuzzy memories of, and so whom I’ve built up in my head as being inhumanly perfect and loving and Susie Homemaker-y. She’s been gently trying to make me understand that no one can meet that standard, not even my mom herself. I’ve not been buying it; but when some of the women that I hold up as Good Moms, much better moms than me, left me compliments on what I considered to be a rather lackluster parenting moment – well, it gave Jennifer’s words a bit more oomph.

The boys talked all afternoon about the green muffins, and when Aaron got home from work Noah gravely hypothesized that a leprechaun had sprinkled magical green dust in the oven when the three of us were in the other room; they didn’t have any luck catching a leprechaun in the yard, but they were optimistic to try again next year on St. Patrick’s Day – “I’ll be older and faster and trickier then,” said David.  So I guess if it got their imaginations and their bodies working faster for an afternoon, that’s Good Mothering enough, even if it doesn’t live up to the standards in my head. With any luck I’ll get through these 18 years without them ever noticing I’m not a Good Mother.

Well hello, there.

I haven’t written in five months. FIVE. MONTHS. I don’t really have an excuse for this. I mean of course I do, I have a lot of excuses: I could tell you all about the time Peter climbed onto the dining table and poured a full cup of coffee into my laptop, that’s a good story, it ends with Aaron taking my laptop apart piece by painstaking piece and cleaning every single one and then gently putting them back, and the laptop working again but not before Aaron had turned several shades of purple and said a number of words that I’ve cautioned the children not to repeat. Or I could tell you about how after a few months of coasting through therapy (there are bound to be a few months of those after seeing her twice a month for three years, but there’s still a surprising amount of Work to be done; apparently I am quite the screwed-up individual, still able to find damaged bits of self to examine and fix up even after all this time; or perhaps it’s not that I’m that unhealthy, but that I’m just terribly bad at therapy) anyway after a few months of coasting through therapy on easier topics like how to strike up casual conversation with the other parents at my son’s preschool, I am back to being neckdeep into hard things like my body image and relationship with food and my father’s addiction and whether it’s possible to be unconditionally loved — and in fact I do plan to write about all of these things here, soon, but we all know about my track record for following through on things I plan to write about, so don’t hold your breath is what I’m saying. The truth is that I could have made time to write, even with snowbound kids to entertain and scrapbook pages to lay out and groceries to buy and books to read and all of life happening around me – I could have made time to write, but I just didn’t feel like it.

But I’m back! So, hi there. I do have so many things I want to say, things about therapy and about the guest post I’m writing next week for a friend’s blog and about how much I really enjoy my kids even after a long winter with not enough playing outside. But as I have been thinking about all these things I’ve realized there is a more foundational post I need to write before I can adequately explain everything else that I want to say, so here goes:

I am a Christian.

It’s a bit telling that I have to take a deep breath before I can write that sentence, isn’t it? The fact is I’m extremely conscious of how “Christian” is usually defined and so I normally identify myself as one only when I have ample space to do a lot of qualifying about exactly what kind of Christian I am, and so it’s much easier just to not bring it up. There are so many assumptions about what Christians are that just don’t apply to me – I don’t vote the way most Christians are said to vote, I don’t think making it legal for same-sex couples to ride tandem bicycles makes it any less special when my husband and I ride a tandem bicycle together, I don’t think Haiti or the poor or the uneducated or the uninsured are asking for it. I don’t have an opinion on how others should live their life, nor do I wish to have one. I don’t have the energy for that.

No, these days most of my energy is tied up in trying to get a handle on the unconditional love of God, grappling with the truth that because of Christ, God loves me completely, limitlessly, despite how I eat or how I vote or how I parent my children or how I feel about other people. God loves me. And with the understanding that Christ covered every possible thing I could ever do, I’m free to live my life without worrying that anything I do can make me attain, or fail to attain, God’s love. I’m free to let the Holy Spirit (yes I said Holy Spirit and it’s such a churchy thing to say I know but there, I’m saying it) direct my life and my actions – and do the same work in everyone else’s life, too, without it being a reflection on me. After a religious upbringing that emphasized being “right with God” — that unless you’re “right with God,” you have no platform for asking Him for help, or guidance, or just experiencing His love, so until you can find a way to get right, you’re trapped in an endless loop of not measuring up to His standards for rightness, but not being able to ask Him for help to get there — after this upbringing, it’s incredibly freeing to know that no matter what I might do that changes my relationship with God, His relationship with me will never change. He just loves me, unconditionally, limitlessly. And that’s amazing.

So I had to write this, to put it out here for the entire internet to see, because this is the foundational belief that colors everything else I am learning in therapy, colors how I feel about my children and my parents and my cellulite and my refrigerator. This is the truth that I am trying to just get, the one piece of myself that will make all the other pieces work. And I need you to know that I am a Christian because God loves me, not because I think He shouldn’t love anyone else.

And now I can write all the other things I want to say.

Smug

On my refrigerator I have a handmade sign that says, simply, “Quiet.” Usually the people who see it laugh and think it’s an order for my children, or my Calgon-take-me-away dream, and I smile and let them think that, but really it’s an instruction for myself. After a Bible study I did last fall I realized how much I need to remind myself to practice quiet, that maybe instead of telling Aaron he’s wrong or nagging my children or criticizing my loved ones to my girlfriends I should just shut up and not talk. Let my husband figure things out for himself. Let my kids experience the consequences of not using the bathroom when it’s obvious to me that they need to, let them learn to listen to their bodies instead of their shrill mother. Let my girlfriends think my loved ones aren’t always annoying.

And I need to practice quiet in my self-talk, too, and shush the voice that tells me how much I’m in danger of being unloved, unliked; turn off the tape that plays telling me that I’m not good enough, smart enough, right enough, worthy enough. And quiet the words that come out of my mouth desperate to prove how much I know about everything, so eager to show you how much I know so you don’t think I’m stupid – or worse, wrong.

I rarely pay attention to the sign, of course. Every once in a while I’ll glance at it just as I’m opening my mouth to say something unnecessary; but mostly it hangs there, unnoticed, while I drown it out with useless talk. Today, for example, I gave some very wise, considered advice to a friend about potty-training her son – never mind that she is a very smart mommy who is quite skilled at figuring out what her son needs without my lengthy advice, and never mind that of the two children I have potty-trained, one wets the bed and one refuses to wipe his own bottom.

There I sat, feeling very satisfied with myself for having such helpful things to tell her, considering myself a good friend and an excellent mother; and then I got up to go check on Peter — where I found him down in the basement, decorating himself with the contents of the catbox. I stood there going EW EW EW EW EW for just a short moment before I grabbed him and whisked him away to the bathtub. It wasn’t until after I had shampooed his hair that he smiled at me, exposing a grinful of gravel, with blue flecks from the Odor-Eliminating Crystals; whereupon I grabbed the closest toothbrush – mine – and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed until there was no more gray paste in between his teeth.

Moral of the story: NEVER, EVER, EVER TALK. For the love of God, JUST SHUT UP.

Readjustment

Lately I’m more awash in hormones than I’ve ever been without being pregnant (and NO I AM NOT PREGNANT DON’T EVEN THINK IT), and I feel like the embodiment of every feminine cliche about PMS and ice cream and crying at diaper commercials. I am a walking Cathy cartoon. In the past week, I’ve gotten weepy holding a friend’s three-week-old firstborn (“The first few months are so hard! And you’re doing such a good job!”), listening to my sister-in-law talk about her birth plan (“You’re going to be such a good mommy! Your life is going to change so much!”), and sharing labor stories with a friend (“I wish I would’ve known you then! I would’ve visited you in the hospital! And brought you casseroles!”).

Actually, upon closer inspection, it appears my hormones have a particular fixation on firstborn babies and their births, which (besides probably being fascinating to my therapist) makes sense given that my levels haven’t yet adjusted since I finished breastfeeding my third, and presumably final, child about six weeks ago.

Here’s something: I did the math recently and figured out that since I became pregnant with David nearly seven years ago – 83 months – I’ve spent 58 of those months either pregnant or nursing. NO WONDER I’M INSANE. And in the past eight weeks, I’ve switched antidepressants, stopped breastfeeding, and changed birth control pills. So, yeah, I’m a bit unbalanced, in the same sense that Shaquille O’Neal is a bit tall, or that Edy’s Mud Pie ice cream is a bit tasty.

Watching my sister-in-law prepare for her first wee one, in particular, is touching a nerve I never realized was exposed. I’m loving being part of her support system, getting to go to Babies R Them and scan tiny pink onesies and talk about epidurals and doulas and FMLA leave and the pros and cons of the My Brest Friend nursing pillow (Pros: great for nursing; cons: “MY BREST FRIEND”??). I think what’s making me sad (and therefore uncontrollably sniffly) is looking back and realizing how much of a support network I DIDN’T have in place during my first few months as a mom, and how clearly that contributed to the paralyzing postpartum depression that engulfed new motherhood for me. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gotten hit with PPD anyway – the fact that I still deal with depression and medication now means it was bound to come up regardless – but I grieve for how much harder it was facing it alone.

Labor and delivery with David was awful. My work schedule made childbirth classes impossible, so I watched some videos the hospital lent us, videos that were so old my own parents could’ve been featured in them; and I blithely assumed that since I knew from the onset that I would be requesting – nay, demanding – The Good Drugs for my labor, there was nothing more I needed to know.

Go ahead, laugh.

So instead I woke up at four in the morning, five days before he was due, thinking at first that I had just overindulged in Hamburger Helper the night before (yes, gross; cravings are the great equalizer) before at some point I realized the stomach cramps were getting stronger and oddly regular and hey, Aaron, wake up, I think I’m in labor, whee! By the time we left for the hospital I had been in labor for nearly five hours and my uterus felt like it was trying to escape through my belly button and I thought I was dying and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the drugs, the beautiful drugs, when will they give me the delicious wonderful drugs? Instead I had to wait in utter and complete agony while they checked my cervix – and if cervical exams during pregnancy felt like they were trying to reach up to my tonsils via my private lady parts, the cervical exam while I was in labor felt like they were trying to reach my tonsils using an extremely angry bobcat – only to be told that I was only three centimeters dilated, not enough to admit me, and by the way your baby hasn’t dropped so the best thing you could do right now is walk around for a while and come see us again in two hours. TWO. HOURS.

“But I’m dying,” I whimpered, once the nurse had let go of my tonsils. “I can’t possibly walk when my uterus is trying to crawl out through my belly button!”

So instead I sat in the waiting room and watched Monsters Inc. on the ceiling-mounted tv for two hours and when they finally checked me again I had progressed to five centimeters, hallelujah!, so they admitted me and hooked me to tubes and wires and gave me Stadol to make me not care about the contractions until they could get the anesthesiologist for my epidural, which wasn’t for another hour – during which time I kept comically falling asleep between contractions and then waking up to go OOOOOOF every three minutes. And then there was the epidural, glory!, and then I napped and generally lived the good (albeit paraplegic) life until late afternoon when suddenly there was TRANSITION and I was throwing up and then it was time to push, and pushing was HARD, horrible exhausting work, so much harder than I had been prepared for. And I pushed and pushed and pushed and it felt like nothing happened because the baby still hadn’t dropped, so I had to push him that much farther and it was two hours, two exhausting hours, before anything that seemed like progress happened and I wanted to give up long before that happened.

And I kept pushing, and finally he was out, It’s a boy!, What do you mean it’s a boy??, Look Aaron he has your toes! – and because it had taken so long he and I were both running fevers and so they whisked him away to run tests and make sure he was okay while I was left, shaking and exhausted, on the table, without a baby.

They brought him back after half an hour or so, but he and I both had to be monitored more closely for the first several hours, and anyway I was so tired I could barely hold him anyway. But what I am saying is, I wish I had been more prepared, I wish I had had a doula or a strong friend to encourage me, to help me walk the hallways instead of sitting, to help me endure the pain and frustration better, to just help me. Aaron was thoroughly wonderful, but even so he spent the entire sixteen-hour day looking slightly startled at how much harder everything was than we’d imagined. So I just wish it had been better.

And I wish the first few weeks and months had been better – I wish I hadn’t been so afraid to leave the house, so afraid of everything that could go wrong, so afraid to go to sleep. I wish I had had friends to bring me casseroles and hold baby David so I could shower, or sleep, or let down my guard for just a few minutes.

All this to say, I’m watching my pregnant sister-in-law and her huge, amazing network of friends, watching my new-mommy friend who seems so confident and well-adjusted, and grieving that I didn’t have that back then. Wishing I had been able to ask for the help I needed before depression sank my battleship. And this is all surfacing now, in the midst of my joy for my friends and my own tangled hormones, and I’m a bit of a weepy mess. But it’s okay, because now I know, better than ever, how to help them have a better experience than I did. I’m going to be the friend I didn’t have.

And So But Also

Have I mentioned Infinite Summer? It’s the biggest thing – besides those three kids of mine, and also the fact that Hulu just posted the series run of Dead Like Me – that’s been keeping me away from here lately. Infinite Summer is a giant internet book-club with the goal of reading David Foster Wallace’s epic 1,079-page opus Infinite Jest over the summer, from June 21 to September 22.

Of course, I’m already about a hundred pages behind schedule – see above re. three kids, Dead Like Me – but the time I’ve spent in the book so far has been vastly enjoyable, albeit strenuous. DFW doesn’t pull any punches, and the book has been a mental and emotional challenge. This is the second time I’ve been through Infinite Jest; the first was during my pregnancy with David, back when I could get home from work and read without any interruptions, assuming I ignored the dishes and the laundry (I usually did); I remember getting odd looks in the waiting room at my obstetrician’s office, with this gigantic tome propped on my belly while all the other moms-t0-be leafed through copies of Sexy Pregnancy Today or whatever. I discovered early in the book that I’d have to set my sights low, that success would be merely making it through all 1,079 pages with a vague grasp of the plot. And when I did make it to the final page, I let out a huge breath and said HOLY CRAP WHAT WAS THAT and patted myself down to see if I’d lost any parts.

This time through, however – now that I know where the story goes – I’m trying to dig much deeper, taking notes and using post-its, trying to find the clues he’s planted along the way, to really UNDERSTAND what the heck is going on. Having the online guides along the way has been immeasurably helpful, but I’m having a very difficult time finding time to read; it’s taking all of my focus.

I’m finding glimmers of myself in the reading, too. Dave Eggers wrote of the book in its introduction,

It’s long, but there are pleasures everywhere. There is humor everywhere. There is also a very quiet but very sturdy and constant tragic undercurrent that concerns a people who are completely lost, who are lost within their families and lost within their nation, and lost within their time, and who only want some sort of direction or purpose or sense of community or love.

Which is of course how I feel very much of the time too, humor and pleasure but also sadness and lostness, a feeling I’m slowly learning to push through with therapy, the slow sort of finding-myself that comes with maturing, I guess, and with laying to rest old issues, old demons. Which is what many of the characters in the book are doing, also, I suppose, with varying degrees of success.

I also liked this David Foster Wallace bit from his commencement speech at Kenyon College, which Eden quoted today in the Infinite Summer blog:

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. … The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.

This fits well for my treks through both the book and therapy – picking up the pieces, examining them, deciding what to do with them. Learning how to think about myself, my parents, my life; watching as these characters make the same choices.

Even if you’re not interested in plowing through Infinite Jest, I’d suggest you go read Eden’s post, maybe poke around the Infinite Summer site a little. Now, I’m going to go see if I can make some headway (or, let’s be honest, watch more Dead Like Me.)

Coming Soon

I started this blog to talk about my progress in therapy overcoming what my therapist calls “closet narcissism,” but because I’m a big weenie I’ve shied away from talking about that stuff in favor of – witty anecdotes! and pictures of my kids! and meaningless slices of life! But more and more people have been landing here after googling “closet narcissist,” and how selfish would it be for me to monopolize this rockin’ site name without ever discussing the thing itself? The googlers deserve some answers!

At least, this is how I justify Feelings Talk to myself. Because I’m a total weenie.

So: feelings talk coming soon – brace yourself. Meanwhile, here’s a picture of my bangs, which I dyed purple. I am not exaggerating when I say that this was a total whim.

purple hair

Have you ever tried to take a picture of yourself in the bathroom mirror, get everything centered and focused, and not make a weird face? This one’s a little blurry, but it’s the best of the bunch. Anyway, you get the idea – purple!

I’ll be back later with What I’m Learning In Therapy. Stay tuned.

Mail

Today I mailed a letter.

It was a letter I needed to mail, full of words I needed to say, words my therapist helped me form, words helping me seek closure on old wounds. After weeks of composing, I brought it to my therapy appointment today all folded up and stuffed in an envelope, an envelope with a stamp, hoping my therapist would change her mind and tell me that as a matter of fact I’m one hundred percent fixed and I don’t need to mail the letter after all. She didn’t; she encouraged and applauded and cheered and said she can’t wait to hear about the response I’ll get. That bitch.

After therapy I went to Target and took deep breaths and tried not to think about the letter in my purse. I put things into my cart that I didn’t need, and then I took the things out and put other things in. I looked at all the different Easter baskets, one by one. I pretended the letter wasn’t still waiting, nagging me, daring me to mail it or burn it or shred it into Easter grass. 

I paid for my stuff. I sat in my car and ate an entire bag of kettle cooked potato chips. I drove around and pretended I wasn’t thinking about the letter. I drove and ate until somehow, inexplicably, I was at the post office, face to face with a big blue mailbox. 

I took a deep breath. I wiped potato chip crumbs on my jeans. And I dropped the letter into the box. 

Oh my flaming heck. I just mailed the letter I mailed the letter I mailed the letter.

Instantly a sitcom unfolded in my mind, one in which I took apart the mailbox using a screwdriver and my teeth, a sitcom that culminated in my pursuing the mail truck in a high-speed chase across the Arizona desert, and then cut to a wide shot of me stranded with a flat tire amidst the saguaro and the sagebrush, shaking my fist at the sky, as the mail truck bounced blithely toward its destination. Oh, the shenanigans I could undertake in a 23-minute time slot! How funny this would be, if it weren’t my life!

Instead I drove home in a state of moderate panic, where I now face several days of fighting back nausea whenever I check my email and jumping out of my skin every time the phone rings. I hope it isn’t too high a price to pay for closure. I hope I don’t regret not chasing that mail truck.


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