Mayday, Mayday, Mayday

M’aider: help me

repeated three times in a row

internationally recognized distress call

Next 31 days – third May I’ve tackled mental health issues for a month straight

It is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, the beginning of a month dedicated to opening dialogue and resources to all women in the perinatal realm; that is, attempting to conceive, prenatal, postpartum, and living the dream.  There are air quotes around that last phrase there – because sometimes mothering can be a nightmare – for too many reasons to list here, but May is a month dedicated to the mental health of mothers, be their struggles situational, emotional, or physical.

As maternal mental health is an issue close to my heart – and psyche – I endeavor to share my own experiences throughout this month and explore others’ and share information.  The fact that I haven’t made it each May since the inception of this blog is an illustrative example of my life and the raison d’etre of the blog itself.

While I was blogging in 2012, I’d only just started my fifth month.  And while I’d signed my name in ink and blood on its byline, I don’t know that I was fully in mind of where my daily life and mental health intersected.  By 2013, I felt comfortable enough in the platform to tackle a month-long series to raise mental health awareness and work to eradicate stigma.  Even then, I still saw the month as other; a separate function of my blog.  I showcased the fabulous Blog for Mental Health Project, but hadn’t taken the pledge myself, feeling unworthy since my blog wasn’t dedicated solely to discussion of mental illness and health.  By 2014, I was ready to laser my focus on not only mental illness, but the flavor that burned the back of my tongue after the birth of my third, inciting this whole process: maternal mental health.  Ironically, this laser focus blew everything wide open.  I began to realize that my blog was always focused on mental health even if I wasn’t discussing DSM or sharing the latest research; because mental health, whether an individual accepts it or not, affects every. aspect. of. one’s. life.  

And then, 2015, I didn’t log daily posts during May.  Perhaps I was burned out by the idea of daily posts with my three minions around.  Maybe I felt I’d saturated my serial idea.   I know I wasn’t naive enough to think I’d covered it all.  Maybe I was naive enough to think my life had hit critical mass and I didn’t have the time.

Because in May of 2016, irony of all ironies, I gave birth to my fourth child.  Another surprise.  Another girl.  But a new beginning with no mental health issues – other than the low-grade ones I’d been dealing with for the previous seven years.  Needless to say, a month-long daily series did not occur with a newborn.

Enter 2017.  I’m going to try to climb back on the horse, though it may look more like the dark ride of the ring wraith than the victorious march of the Mother of Dragons.

I’m not promising anything – except my ever-continuing support of all those struggling with mental health issues.

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Some Similar Sunday

Just when you think you’re trudging this road of life and parenting alone, you come across a gem like this.  I’m brought back to the Sunday evenings of my childhood, where we ate not popcorn, but scrambled eggs or a solitary bowl of cereal.  I’m mise-en-placed to any meal with my own children where we rush to throw a paper towel on the spilled pool of milk before it cascades down the cracks between the leaves of the table.  And I’m gleefully reminded how this all must be done with laughter.

It must have been a sight: eight to twelve of us packed around the dinner table, heads bowed over books splayed flat (somewhere a librarian cringes), the pages held open with one hand while the other dipped in and out of the corn, back and forth from bowl to mouth, the rhythm interrupted only when someone refilled a bowl or took a pull at their Kool-Aid.  When your eyes are fixed on text, you tend to fish around with your free hand, and nearly every week someone upended their Kool-Aid.  The minute the glass hit, Dad jumped up to make a dam with his hands in an attempt to keep the spill from leaking through the low spot in the table where the leaves met.  For her part, Mom grabbed a spoon and scraped madly at the spreading slick, ladling the juice back in the glass one flat teaspoon at a time so it could be drunk.  The same thing happened if someone spilled their milk.  Sometimes when I wonder how my parents managed financially, I think of Mom going after those spoonfuls of Kool-Aid like an environmentalist trailing the Exxon Valdez with a soup ladle, and there’s your answer.

from Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

Skin Deep

A bloody gouge across my ring finger
coagulated and dark by the end of the fray

Tiny teeth marks amidst pink raised skin
Ragged red streaks where fingernails have strayed

The physical signs of one morning of motherhood

These are nothing of the mental anguish,
the emotional toll
the trials and tribulations
of getting out of bed and out the door

Today there are scars to show
for all the toil
Outward reminders
of what is always underneath

Grocery Delivery: Soup to Nuts

I stood in the bread aisle of the regional chain grocery store and my head spun.  White bread.  I just needed a loaf of white bread.  One somewhere left of high fructose and right of nutty wonder so my kids would eat it.  The options stretched away from me ad infinitum and I felt myself being pulled down a slippery chute lined with smooth plastic bags striped in red and yellow.  The baby stared up at me from the cart.  I knew my window of her compliance wouldn’t last forever.  Nor would my will to survive.  Yet I was struck inert.  I didn’t want to be here anymore, in this bright, overwhelming environment; neither did I have the energy to reduce this bread conundrum down to digestible size.

And this was a quick trip to the grocery store.

I’ve written before about well-meaning old ladies at the grocery store; running people down in those infernal race car carriages – grocery store annoyance has been done.  One would think an overabundance of choices and the money to buy them, within reason, would be a fabulous experience.  But buying groceries is an emotional burden.

When my third baby was still a baby, maybe before I even realized I had postpartum depression and really needed it, I started ordering groceries through a delivery service.  It may have had something to do with my physical limitations following her birth, but it saved me mental anguish as well.  Have you ever taken three children to the grocery store?  Even if you haven’t, just stop a moment and imagine.

The log-in to my account was serenity.

Having a chipper delivery person walk bags of groceries right through my kitchen door while the children ran and hid in the other room?  Priceless.  Hell, I’d even take a cranky delivery person.  I remember ordering a sippy cup for my toddler for delivery in those early days.  Order a non-grocery item from the grocery store?  At that exorbitant price?  Oh, you’ll bring it to my door?  Okay!

Those days, it was all about survival.  When the older two went off to school and the baby was more manageable, I ventured back into the arena, but pregnancy and infancy number four retired me once again.  And this is the baby in the cart now.

For an anxious person with too much on her plate, walking through a mine field of choices is almost too much.  Locating ingredients for a recipe, weighing options within ingredients, prices, health concerns.  Now multiply that by five other family members.  Multiply that by three meals a day, seven days a week.  Compound that with the dread of having to come back for forgotten ingredients.  Stick a baby in the cart.  Or three free-range children with sticky fingers, no concept of economics, and food ideas of their own.

There are downsides to delivery as well.

Delivery fees, of course.  However, new customers get coupons for free or reduced delivery for several months.  There is also a flat fee for delivery for a year, which is a tough pill to swallow initially, but actually more cost effective overall.

That obsessive behavior in aisle two?  Must be done at home, on-line and in a flurry of cookbook pages.  Thought of each meal must be made by midnight on Tuesday night so your family can eat for the next week.  And if you forget something – you might have to go to the store in person anyway!  GASP!

There are some ingredients you just can’t get.  When my husband started moving toward a plant-based diet, I couldn’t get nutritional yeast from the site I use.  Guess that doesn’t fly off the warehouse shelves in these parts.  But that could happen in any brick and mortar, too.

Overall, grocery delivery saves a piece of my sanity that might otherwise shear off and shatter on the floor of the bread aisle.  And to me, the price of delivery is worth all the serenity it buys.

This is Love

When the other Dr. Meescham was alive and I could not sleep, do you know what he would do for me?  This man would put on his slippers and he would go out into the kitchen and he would fix for me sardines on crackers.  You know sardines?”

Ulysses shook his head.

“Little fishes in a can.  He would put these little fishes onto crackers for me, and then I would hear him coming back down the hallway, carrying the sardines and humming, returning to me.”  Dr. Meescham sighed.  “Such tenderness.  To have someone get out of bed and bring you little fishes and sit with you as you eat them in the dark on night.  To hum to you.  This is love.”

– from The Illuminated Adventures of Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Loss in Children’s Literature

The first book caught my eye from its display, the title singing to my soul, The Poet’s Dog, a novel by Patricia MacLachlan.  The second, I found flipping through the bins of picture books, its title, Until We Meet Again (Susan Jones), speaking to my family’s recent season of loss.  Little did I know how thematically intertwined they both were.

Both titles speak to children bearing and moving through the loss of a loved one.imgres

The Poet’s Dog is more novella than novel and told in sparse prose.  But it is told from the point of view of Teddy, the poet Sylvan’s dog.  And Teddy, while wise and loquacious for a dog, is dealing with the stark life left him by Sylvan’s death.  There is a beauty and simplicity to the unfolding of this tale and the healing that takes place.  Teddy, in saving two siblings from a raging storm, is himself saved by their companionship.  The siblings, Nickel and Flora, and readers don’t find out what exactly happened to Sylvan until halfway through the book, which is really quite wonderful in terms of grief.  Teddy, like so many experiencing loss, comes to a slow realization of the gravity of the absence of his loved one; even slower, comes the ability to share the painful parts of that loss.  He opens up as he comes to terms with it – and it is through the gentle love and presence of the now dear young friends.

untilwemeet-448x600Until We Meet Again, a picture book by Susan Jones, illustrated by Shirley Antak, is told from the perspective of an adorable little boy, made so both by Antak’s rendering and the amazing way he transcends death’s grip on his beloved grandfather.  The opening sequence shows the deep bond and ritual of this grandfather/grandson relationship.  The boy obviously adores the strong influence of his grandfather.  When he first gets news of his grandfather’s eventual demise, he is unsettled, of course, but this midsection of the book sets the stage for the last, when the boy becomes the strong influence.  He initiates and continues all of their special traditions, validating his grandfather, cementing their unending bond, and gathering his own strength for life without him.

Both these titles tackle a topic that is usually met with the awkward shrug of a smile, the stammering silence of not knowing what to say.  The subject matter is the stuff we try to shield our kids from, not books we willingly hand them.  But as with any tough topic, the children dealing with death need them right now.

Ironically, I chose not to share them with my children right now.  Perhaps I am being naive in thinking I can protect them from the direct blow of death for just a bit longer, but they’ve yet to be at a funeral.  They blessedly haven’t felt the stinging sorrow of a daily hole in their lives.  The deaths dealt to our family recently have been on their periphery.  But to know I have such gentle and poignant resources in literature should I need them – I’m glad the literary universe conspired to bring them both to me in the same lending cycle.

 

Light and Dark

As the joy of the holidays subsided, the dark days of winter took hold.  Truly, the last few days of 2016 brought death to a close and disconcerting distance.  It stepped in and stayed until as recently as last week.  And still, it lingers.

I’d pulled my black leather pumps from their shelf high in the closet.  I’d arched my inner soles into their uncomfortable embrace.  I’d released my tired, swollen toes from their pinch at the end of the day.  But I’d yet to return them to their box; death would not let me store them away for the next black dress event.

There was another, and another.

A year of new life was marred by the loss of three precious ones.

Death is always waiting in the wings – but I’m comforted by the thought that their spirits fly in the wind that catches our breath and reminds us we’re alive.

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Three’s Company

How does one bounce back?

A perfectionist prolongs her reentry, waiting for the perfect post, story, sentiment; making her grand reentry so untenably grand, it may never happen.  Or be such a tremendous let-down, it truly disappoints.

A dweller in the present seizes the few minutes’ pocket of silence to write like her life depends upon it; easing back into life with the monotony of a moment, a microcosm of her world, the gentle ebb and flow of everyday.

If the procrastinator gets a hold of either of these two, nothing will ever be written again.  Too many of the dweller’s moments will pass, needing explanation, analysis.  Explanation and analysis swoop in upon the perfectionist like the ugly albatross.

As the sun warms my legs and slowly melts the snow outside, I sit at the center of a circle drawn by these three.

‘Tis the night before Christmas Vacation

‘Tis the night before Christmas vacation
and all through the land
not a parent is sleeping
for teacher gifts await – to be made by hand

There are crayon wreaths
and cookies
Ornaments galore
I might’ve lost the baby
in the mess of ribbons on the floor

Such care is taken
Special attention to detail
There is no room for error
No such thing as a Pinterest fail

For our beloved children,
teachers go the extra mile.
It’s really the least we can do –
to burn off our fingerprints
with an overflow of hot glue

wine-bottle-boy-today-tease-1-151005_dafe9dd9bcffe57d6f8b1c92ec31437b

If we’re being real . . .

At daybreak, the kiddies
to the bus they will go
your precious cargo – the gifts –
into their throes
But you’ll hear the bus driver exclaim as she drives out of sight:
What, was your mom up making that all night?

Mother’s Milk

This tiny little person

latched on to my body

as long as I am wide

Miniature fist clenched around a rib of fabric,

holding on for dear life

Eyes arched in ecstasy,

then drooped in slumber

More parasitic than symbiotic,

but the sweetest symbol ever seen

 

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