String Theory

The baby is screaming.

She fell asleep during her bedtime feeding, exhausted from the non-nap she took, but woke as I dressed her in pajamas. Two of her sisters came to her crib-side to stem the tide of tears, only prolonging the cry-it-out of which she is desperately in need.

My husband has finally comforted her and there is silence. I’m not sure it will last once she leaves his arms.

I’m sitting in the living room in the dark. In a singular armchair in the corner because it’s the farthest away from couch command central I spend those hours of nursing/napping with the baby during the day.

I screamed when I saw the previously smooth comforter on my bed had been rumpled like the ridges of wet sand left by a receding wave. I swore when I saw that said rumpling slid most of the clean load of laundry I’d dumped on the bed for folding onto the floor.   I flung dirty, yet previously sorted, clothes back into their piles from where they’d been strewn across the hallway. I didn’t even know what to do when I found one of my few personal care products had been removed from the basket on my dresser and moved to the baby’s.

It’s all a violation. After a long day of doing everything for everyone, to have even one little bit of it undone is a slap in the face. Or a turning of a screw tightening my already taut strings into a discordant twang.

Especially in my room.

Do not take what little I have for myself. What little sanctuary I have.

That being said, if the sight of one misplaced purple hair care bottle disturbs me so, I think it’s safe to say I need a break.

It’s time to scale back. Sit apart. Self care.

However, I realized earlier today that, except for two, all of our weekends throughout the entire summer are booked. Summer hasn’t even started yet! A good number of those are family time and travel, which is, of course, good. But it’s a major weight on my ever-forward-looking and always-cognizant-of-what-needs-to-be-done mind.

It’s also a reminder that a place where I’ve fallen short is discriminately choosing what absolutely adds to the quality of our lives and what would just be nice if we had time; that I need to clearly and effectively communicate my desires and capabilities – for what works for me and us, not others.

Because I’m obviously feeling stretched to the limit tonight and stuff like this shouldn’t make me break.

guitar_neck_and_strings_by_mikithemaus-d3ima5n

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I’ve Been Had

I had to clear out months of clutter in a matter of weeks.

I had to squeeze in cleaning sessions between naps.

I had to let some things go that seemed absolutely essential.

I had to receive guests into an imperfect house.

I had to admit that the next week was lost due to physical and mental recovery.

I had to hope that it was just the exhaustion of overextension and not the harbinger of a downward slide

into

anger

irritability

the dull padding of apathy.

I have to rally the hopeful spirit of the season and strive to be reborn each day.

 

Mental Intervention

What was I thinking having three kids?

I mean, I love them, but who went and told them they could have their own social lives?

My life has turned into a maelstrom of meetings and play dates, educational outings and activities, birthday parties and sleepovers. Add that to my own [limited] social calendar and my outta-mind anxiety is over the top.

A dear friend once commented that a fellow mother reentered the real world more smoothly and earlier than I, perhaps because she came from a large family and was better equipped to juggle multiple responsibilities at once. She was busting my beans for being incommunicado for most of my child’s infancy, but it stung. Because I was an only child, I sucked at balancing the many demands of life? More so, I think it hurt because it hinted at my inability to cope. In a subconscious effort at self-preservation, I had compartmentalized my life to its limit. The new job of mothering was so all-consuming, I shut out all other demands like the airlock of a submarine to prevent an all-out deluge.

Nine years later, I feel myself pulling back, anticipating catastrophe as life – mine in relation to the swirling schedules around me – ramps up big time. Can I truly not handle all we’ve taken on? Or is my anxiety creating a problem before it’s even – or will – begun/in? I think my struggle is a direct result of my anxiety and not from a need to learn to say no.

It could also be the stubborn mule in me that hates change putting on the brakes. My family no longer exclusively rolls as one unit. The oldest is here, the middle is there, the youngest is home with Daddy while I run errands. Going to the grocery store by myself and buying Christmas gifts without acting like an art smuggler to keep them away from prying eyes is a luxury – but our family life feels so disjointed lately. Times of transition are not my friend.

Another friend once left me a message – somewhere between the two points on today’s timeline – that I couldn’t just stop answering the phone because I was stressed out. It amazed me that she could see me more clearly than I could see myself. When I finally did talk to her, she made me laugh and at least temporarily forget my troubles.

I need some sort of mental intervention now. If only I could enact one myself.

Impossibly Easy

Last night for dinner, we had ‘Impossibly Easy Cheeseburger Pie’ – which would have been impossibly easy to prepare had I not flipped the dish upside down into the oven.

Just as the oven timer beeped, my husband’s gastrointestinal juices gearing up, I gripped the glass pie plate on either side with my ove-gloved hands and proceeded to do a spastic ground beef ballet. Time slowed down as it only can during inevitable and unavoidable catastrophe. I watched helplessly as the plate tilted at an ever-alarmingly steep angle and poured the eggy, cheesy, beefy crumbles down into the multifaceted cavity between the open oven door and hot oven floor.

My husband, on the phone with his parents, ran into the room to see what was the matter, alerted by my cries. I still can’t recall if what I said was appropriate for his parents, hanging in midair on the phone in his hand, to overhear. When he’d hung up and reentered the room, he asked how it happened – to which I do remember answering quite snippily that if I knew how it happened, I wouldn’t have let it happen. I said that I meant to do it, to spite him, to ruin the family dinner, that it was my intent all along. Yes, it was my grandest moment.

Impossibly Easy, my ass

Impossibly Easy, my ass

You see, it never really was about the impossibly irritating cheeseburger pie. I knew when I gripped it, my hold was tenuous at best. I was already floating off on some negative tangent as we’d traipsed the troop into the school gymnasium to vote. The kids flitting about on the periphery, drawing the dirty looks of the board of canvassers representative, didn’t help. My rotors, failing brakes, something squeaking all day as I drove down the road didn’t help. Money troubles and a possible looming lay-off didn’t help. The greasy mess congealed to the bottom of my stove was just the icing on an already slimy cake.

After I winged a plastic spatula just to the right of him, he thumped a couple of walls, I lied down on the bathroom floor for a good cry (all while the kids played doorbell ditch on their own home) – I set to cleaning the stove. I’m not sure I’ll ever want to prepare or eat this dish again. I discovered places in my stove I never knew existed – just wide enough to allow a chunk of mangled food in and just small enough to prevent my fingers to take it out.

The good thing about this all-around disgusting evolution is that my oven is now clean! It is ready for the onslaught of Thanksgiving like it never would have been had I not spilled food all over its-hotter-than-a-spilled-pie-plate-of-ooze insides. And that’s about the only good thing. I’m not proud of my behavior. None of the issues precipitating the great pie-plate debate of ’14 were resolved. I still feel pretty mushy about the whole thing.

If only it was as impossibly easy to wipe away the grime of our lives.

Unintentional Hiatus

 

My month-long series on maternal mental health ran up to the end on a high-note. It organically happened that I took Sundays off (which happened last year, too, I believe) and I missed one Monday. But the second to the last day of the month led into a multi-day outdoor assault – my own family’s feet on the rocky outcroppings of a letter-boxing trail and my husband and I splitting wood like the lesser versions of Paul Bunyan that we are – keeping me away from blogging for much longer than I anticipated.

Shouldn’t have been a big deal, missing that last day of the month, right? Wouldn’t have been – save my anal-retentive perfectionist tendencies and overbearing need to summarize. I couldn’t post any inane essay on my pre-series schedule before concluding the series. And life was ratcheting up, not allowing me to sit and form any cohesive set of thoughts.

My youngest’s preschool program finished for the year, also ending those blessed two and three-quarter hours of writing time twice a week. Some of it had also become crush tortilla chips while surfing the web after writing time, but it was alone time nonetheless.

image from Peggy Lampman

image from Peggy Lampman

Perhaps the biggest challenge to my settled psyche, however, is the change in schedule itself. I can hear the words of my wise LICSW repeating in my head, telling me the beginnings and endings of school years are transitional times for everyone in the household. I still try to tell myself it’s no big deal, but apparently it is. Yes, we’ll all be liberated from hectic mornings and rigid schedules, but we’ll all have to get used to spending all day everyday with each other. None of us will have freedom from each other. No alone time. No individual activities. No uninterrupted playtime with friends – be it other children or corn chips.

Then it started raining. I half-heartedly set myself to chipping away at the piles of laundry and dishes that had accumulated whilst we frolicked with sharpened woodland tools outside. And I went and read this amazing – in its content, expression, and ability to scare the bejeezus out of me – article about motherhood that messed with my already fragile state of juju (which may, in fact, become the starting point for the summary posthumous post of my series).

So I’m here. In some state of transition. But aren’t we all. God damn walking the tightrope/balancing life again. Isn’t there just some set state of equilibrium I can have installed in my inner ear?

 

They’re Baaaaaack

And what a hell of a reentry that was.

They came bearing packages, bags of laundry, and lots of noise.  All of which happened to coincide with the whine of chainsaws and segments of tree thudding to the ground as we removed two more trees from our property.

The yard looks like a tornado came through, which I would think was totally fitting, if I wasn’t the one swirling around in its center.

Apparently there are findings that show people experience depression upon returning to their routine schedules after vacation.  This weekend felt like the ultimate vacation.  I was calm.  I was peaceful.  I was not done.

The moment they walked back in – in fact, even as I rushed around trying to finish things I knew I wouldn’t be able to when they came home – my stress level ratcheted up.

We showered them early because they had run around sticking to the tree sap and I looked at my husband at 6:13 PM and said, do we really have to wait over an hour to put them to bed?  Whatever reserves I had built up over the weekend had been depleted in a few short hours.

One validating point: my father-in-law, when recounting how the weekend had gone, looked at me and said,

“I don’t know how you keep up with the three of them all day.”

Yes, it was a shallow victory because it just confirms how life-sucking they are.  BUT – and this is a very big BUT – it means that there is not something wrong with me to find it challenging.  It’s a normal, natural response that many people have apparently.

That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with on a day-to-day basis . . . but at least I know I’m not some freak of nature.

So, the take-away.

  • I like alone time.
  • I crave uninterrupted creative time.
  • I respond well to long, drawn-out, meandering shopping trips.
  • I thrill in the perfect flea market find for my home décor.
  • I eat like a pig who has found the trough for the first time when I can do so without distraction.
  • A new dress does a girl good.
  • Certain physical endeavors provide good stress relief 😉
  • I suck at carrying over these lessons to the everyday; reality, if you will.

But I have to figure something out.  As I said when I lay in bed last night, in an exhausted stupor, ‘I love them.  I need to find a way to like being with them.’

Whether it’s situational depression or what, that’s not something a mother is supposed to say.

Holiday Road

Packing for a trip is worse than the outside stimuli that necessitated the trip in the first place.

At least with children it is.

A vacation.  A getaway.  A respite.  From everyday life and its trappings.  From routines and schedules.

That requires that every stitch of clothing in the home be washed so the one pair of sweatpants your child wants is clean – and located in the bottom of a basket of clothes that had been clean to begin with.

That requires digging through bins of off-season clothes to locate the bathing suits – and then digging some more to find the perfect one with the peace signs.

That requires testing dry-erase markers till we find one that hasn’t dried out yet for the all important game of car bingo – which will more likely be used to tattoo the inside of the car than the bingo card.

Books, magnetic games, coloring pages, stuffed friends, flash lights. . . . packed, unpacked, played with, tossed about the floor where they had previously sat stacked neatly waiting for loading into the car in the morning.

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Can I just leave the kids at home?

 

Then it would be a vacation.

Chopping Mangoes

Is there an easy way to cut a mango?

I tried the avocado method.  Cut in half, drive knife blade into pit, rotate blade quarter turn, and pull.  Not so much.  That pit was not having it.  Didn’t budge.

I tried digging it out.  That just hacked up the fruit flesh around it.

I did not have such warm feelings toward my mango.

I did not have such warm feelings toward my mango.

I finally sliced the fruit away from the core, apple style.

Except my hands were completely covered in goo from the pulp most of the fruit had become.

Goo + santoku = not the optimal chopping situation

As three small children pulling at your pant-leg while wielding said santoku is not.

Giada’s fish tacos with mango salsa be damned.  I was ready to fling that mango out the window or smash it against the wall.  I’d have squeezed it in my fist if only it weren’t so damn slippery.

No, you can’t have fishies right now.

Mama’s trying to concentrate.

No, fish tacos aren’t disgusting.

Yes, I’m putting that green stuff in them.

How the hell do you cut a *&^%*(# mango!?

Potatoes, mangoes – whatever I’m chopping, preparing dinner is always a trigger for me.

It used to be because I hadn’t planned a meal.  Countless trashed produce and late nights cured me of that.  Now I plan an entire week of meals before food shopping.  So that’s not the problem (well, that’s a PIA in and of itself, but that’s another topic for another day).  I’m toast by the time dinner prep rolls around.  I’m getting hungry myself.  I’m tired.  The sun is going down.  Daddy isn’t home yet.  That pot of anxiety boils up pretty quickly.

Revisiting the feelings elicited from chopping potatoes, things have changed.  Potatoes are dense; mangoes are much softer, pliable.  Potatoes are born of dirt; mangoes have a hard core with a soft surrounding (oh, there are so many metaphors for a post-baby body with that one).  Potatoes are a cold-weather crop; mangoes thrive in a tropical clime.

I am a warmer, softer person than I was post-partum.  I may not have tight abs, but I do have an inner reserve of power from which to draw.  Like slicing through the pulpy flesh, a lot of things are easier, but not all (removing the pit).

I still get pissed off at the distraction and whining as I’m wielding a large, sharp knife, but I no longer want to cut off my fingers to earn an escape to the emergency room.

I’d call that progress.

And I’d call mango salsa on fish tacos freakin’ delicious if it weren’t so hard to chop.

 

* Against my better judgment, I’ve included the recipe for Giada’s fish tacos.  Proceed with caution – and use sour cream instead of wasabi and crème freche, unless you like adding more stress to your life.

** I’ve also included a link to the proper way to cut a mango (There is a mango.org – who knew?  Video is worth it for the entertainment value alone).  I think I’d still proceed with caution.

Too Much Stimuli

Anxiety = Distraction = Stupidity

That’s usually the formula when I get super-stressed.

Nearing the end of my pregnancy with Julia and a hectic school year, I rushed from my teaching duties to get Bella at daycare.  A tractor-trailer truck making a delivery pulled off the road just enough to make me think in my altered state of mind that I could squeeze through, but not enough for me to actually do so.  My side-view mirror thwacked against the bottom corner of the loading shelf at the back of the truck, leaving an ugly black gash.  The truck was none the wiser, my little car a gnat flying by in great, stupid haste.

A year or two later when I was stay-at-home mom leaving the house solo for the first time for an extended period of days for a writing institute, the mornings were harried to say the least.  I zipped to the adjacent capital city and through the busy streets, late of course.  On one particularly narrow street always lined with cars, I again misjudged my time/space continuum and thwacked that poor mirror.  I’m surprised that poor thing hasn’t just shriveled up and fallen off the car in protest (though the automatic adjusters are not quite as precise anymore).  Perhaps it would have if it’d happened a third time.

Luckily, it didn’t.  This morning, it was almost the front end of the car that got it.  And it was not an inert object on the other end of the deal.  Fortunately – for the mirror, the car, and my marriage – all that occurred were many angry faces directed at me through two windshields worth of glass.

What is it about anxiety that makes my mind go elsewhere?

Postpartum, it was intrusive, irrational thoughts that invaded my consciousness.  My thoughts are no longer reaching those levels of irrationality, but the fact that they’re more ‘normal’ is almost worse.  It’s easier for the distractability to fly under the radar until it’s nearly overwhelming, until it’s almost too late.

Except for the moments when I freakishly self-aware.  The moments when I can feel my thoughts spinning out of control; an energy boiling up under my skin threatening to force its way out and roll on down the street; my mind grasping for one singular thing to hold onto and coming up empty.  At those moments, it’s like I’m at the center of a maelstrom of thoughts, worries, ideas swirling around me with no one stationary object to use as a marker.

Planning meals for the week and writing a grocery list?  Choosing which household chore to do first in the limited amount of time before the kids get home from school?  Prepping the house for a realtor’s evaluation?  Aaahh!  I’m supposed to prioritize in this state of mind?  Choose from myriad options and lists of items?  No wonder I drive into things.  I’m driven to distraction.  Unfortunately the next stop is stupidity.

I must get a grip – maybe it just shouldn’t be on the steering wheel till this storm passes.

 

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