Friday, September 30, 2011

Genetic Malfunction

I have a problem...a genetic malfunction, if you will, that may or may not have caused my husband to consider divorce on a number of occasions. What is this defect, you ask, that could be a catalyst for such a drastic idea?  I giggle when getting reprimanded... directly in the face of he who is most serious about the transgression.  This is not a newly acquired trait. It landed me in the principal’s office and forced my mother into many a parent-teacher conference throughout my childhood and adolescence.
While this sounds like a disturbingly evil habit, it really is merely my own sensitivity to those that are upset, that triggers this bizarre and unsettling behavior. I am so completely uncomfortable with disappointment from those whom I care about the most, that laughter seems to spill out of me involuntarily.
Now, as far as my husband goes, in our 10 years together, I have yet to hear him raise his voice, and it takes a catastrophic event to raise his blood pressure even a couple of digits.   But, throughout our marriage, there have been a handful of "discussions" during which he has been more than just a little bit frustrated with my viewpoint on certain subjects.  Because, simply put, I can be a lot.  His steadfast calm and groundedness is most often unwavering, and is by far one of the top 10 reasons I married him in the first place. He is, without a doubt, the perfect Yin to my boomeranging Yang.  So, during the extremely seldom instance that his feathers do get ruffled, he certainly deserves to have his spouse patiently listen and allow him to express his frustration without her giggling like a pre-pubescent girl.
I bring all of this up, to announce that my son seems to have inherited this more than slightly obnoxious gene. Some may call this Karma, but I would disagree, as why should I have to pay for something I simply cannot control?  But, now I understand that simply knowing that your subject is only laughing in your face because he or she cares, really doesn't cut it in the heat of the moment, be he 2 or be she 34. It is infuriating.  I learned this today while trying to very sternly explain that throwing a wooden puzzle piece at our sister's head is unacceptable.  Evidently, hysterical news. 
So, while I apologize deeply for bringing this flaw into our marriage, and for now, having the unfortunate happenstance of passing it to our offspring, there is simply nothing I can do but offer empathy for what my precious husband has had to endure.  We can only wait with bated breath and hope that this mutation skips siblings, leaving Isabelle unaffected. But, I have noticed the devilish glimmer in her eye at my brewing tension, as avocado or broccoli purees fly across the kitchen floor, and I fear that we have lost another.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Oh, blissful phase...wont you stay and play?

I understand that my entries are not nearly as amusing when I am not in a state of complete panic, ready to check myself into a mental ward and about to sell my children to the highest bidder. But, I must apologize for my lack of entertainment and cautiously admit that we are in a place of glorious balance at the moment. Zachary is behaving as if he has entered some sort of "most angelic two year old" contest and Isabelle is, well, Isabelle...delightful even with sunscreen and sand in her eyes.
My son has been walking around saying things like, "Mommy? Would you like some water?" And, if accidentally bumps into one of us, says  "Oops. I'm sorry. Can I kiss it?"  And, can't seem to pass by his sister without a sweet peck on her forehead and an offer of his favorite toy.   Um...who is this little person who used to resemble Bam Bam in more ways than one?  His communication abilities seem to have progressed overnight, leaving us to feel as though the foreign exchange student we've been housing has actually known English all along, and has just now decided it’s time to stop the insanity.
So for now, that highest bidder will have to wait before purchasing my children, and my readers may feel nostalgia for the original “on the verge of a breakdown” author.   But, lest you worry, I believe I stated in a not too far off post, that these periods are usually the calm before the storm.  Massive upheaval is surely just around the corner, whether it be caused by new teeth, a cognitive burst (a term that is supposed to make us feel better about being awakened every hour), a germ from the park, or just plain boredom with being agreeable. But, if you would like me to hurry it along, perhaps a trip to the beach is in order.

As I write this, my child has decided that a 20 minute nap should suffice for the day....that tragic post is surely on its way.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Perfect Baby Registry

What is it that happens to us after we have had kids, that gives us this compelling need to impart all of our knowledge on poor unsuspecting mothers to be?  While I do hope I am not up there with the most obnoxious offenders, I must admit my guilt on this one for today.  My dear friend, Anne, asked me to help her with her baby registry.  We scheduled our highly anticipated field trip to Babies R Us, met for lunch and began our adventure down the aisles, purple registry book in one hand and scanner gun in the other. 
I told myself beforehand to take a deep breath and remember how overwhelming this process was two years ago, and to allow her to make her choices without constant interjections of my own experience.  Yes, she did ask for my help, but there is a fine line between offering personal thoughts when asked, and railroading an expectant mother’s ideas with know-it-all verbiage that means very little to those outside of the fog.  While I tried my best to act as this gentle guide, I fear that I crossed the line on more than a few occasions.  But, I had company. 
Anne was picking up her chosen baby bottles, and while I did have my reservations about the type of nipple, I held back my thoughts, as neither of my children took bottles regularly and I am not the best to offer advice.  But another mom walking by, interjected with her story of how her daughter hated those particular bottles and which ones she discovered to be the best .  As she and I chirped annoyingly back and forth about trivial things like nipples, pacifier usage and breast milk storage bags, I looked at my friend as her cheeks flushed and her eyes glazed over.  Oh my gosh.  Lets back up.  
Why does this happen so often?  Why do we need to be heard concerning all of our maternal decisions?  Better question, why do we want other women to follow our lead?   Part of it is that we have been in the trenches and are dying to latch on to anyone who may bend an ear to our war stories. Have you ever made the mistake of asking a woman about her birth experience? But I think also, on some level, we think we can keep women from going through all of the trials and errors we went through.  It took us 10 different bottles, but success!  We unlocked the code and found the right one!  (Psssssst…..the truth is, the baby just outgrew it’s immature digestive phase, but we like to think we are clever sleuths and figured it out.)
But, I believe it is a rite of passage to go through all of the rights and wrongs of being a new mom.  Maybe, even if it was possible to create the perfect registry, like a golden ticket for entry into a post partum period of serenity and ease, we would actually be depriving our soon to be sisters of the tumultuous but beautiful journey. 
So, after 2 and a half hours, I left my friend to take some time alone and walk around her new territory.  I encouraged her to scan anything in the store that made her heart flutter with excitement over her tucked away bundle, and reminded her that later she could add and remove items as she wished.  I am hoping she went back to those bottles she originally wanted, the swing I didn’t feel folded with enough ease, and that she went ahead and added the 15 hooded baby towels with the yellow and blue fish.  Because really, can you have too many of those?

Friday, September 23, 2011

"How was home?"

To work or not to work?  A decision for many of us that is not as much based on desire as it is dictated by circumstance...especially at this current time.  But, it has been coming up a lot with friends and acquaintances of mine.  Those that work 40+ hour weeks are yearning to roll around on the floor with edible baby toes in their faces, and those of us that are home full time are dying to brush our hair, put on a pants suit (or in my case, a pair of tap shoes) and flex some of our long forgotten muscles.  It is not a new hypothesis that the part- time scenario offers the best of both worlds, although I hear that too comes with its disadvantages.  Nothing is perfect.

I have struggled with figuring out how to embrace this new vocation while not having to watch my original career float away on a helium balloon. From age 5, my talents as a performer made up almost 100 percent of who I thought Emily Smith was, and if I may be so bold, I had some success within my field.  It was never my intention (and isn't still) to enter into motherhood with a ceremonial waive of farewell to this huge slice of myself.  So, as each day passes and that balloon seems but a tiny speck in the sky, I dig my heels further in.  However, it has occurred to me that maybe one of the things keeping me from immersing myself into these limited days of puzzles, purees and pat-a- cake, is the fear that in so doing, a crucial part of me is dying.
However, weeks like this make me want to sing praises for the gift of this time at home.  I have been able to bask in the delightful sunshine of my children, and ironically feel more in the head space than ever to be creative and accept work, should the opportunity arise.  Someone said to me "Emily, you can have it all. You just can't have it all at the same time."  I fought this statement tooth and nail, and in protest, last year piled way too much on my plate.  Starring in a show, 24 weeks pregnant, alone with a 10 month old with my husband 8 hours away, was possibly up there with one of the most insane endeavors of my lifetime.   What on earth, except that the term “nervous breakdown” is not always used as a hyperbole, was I trying to prove, and to whom?!
So, this beautiful and rewarding week ended with a perfect Broadway button.  Zachary has picked up our dinnertime pleasantries, and at the table every evening turns to Steve and says “How was work?”  Tonight he added to his dialogue with a turn to me and said "How was home?"  
"Home was good Zachary. Home was really, really good."

P.S.  What’s a pants suit?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A break in the fog

I think I have yet to explain the actual title of this blog.  Mother “fog” doesn’t only apply to the flightiness and lack of memory that mothers often joke about, but also to a rather significant haze that many of us feel throughout the first year and beyond.  I have spent some time discussing this with friends of mine.  Some are mothers, some are health care professionals and some are both. I have even gone as far as to discuss it with my own doctors to be sure I am not ignoring signs of something more significant.  The answers I have gotten have been somewhat unanimous.  This is just what should be expected. The first few years of motherhood, women most often find themselves in survival mode, especially once the second child is born so closely on the heels of the first.   Even more so, for those us that struggle with rigid perfectionism. 
While on one hand, it is reassuring to hear that I am not crazy, it is also disheartening to think that I have to merely “survive” this precious time in my life and the lives of my children.  I don't want to wake up clear headed one day 3 years from now and realize I have blindly barreled through a few of the sweetest years of my babies’ lives.  Right now, there seems to be a constant static, leaving me feeling frantic and unfocused.  When visiting with friends during playdates or parties, I often feel like I'm running behind the conversation or racing 5 miles in front of it. Never right on top of it.  I want so desperately to fully drop into my life with my kids and savor every minute.  Notice I did not say “love” every minute, as I believe that is unattainable.  But, “savor” the good, the bad and all of the chaos in between.
It breaks my heart to say that I have not been able to do this since Isabelle was born. And if I am to be painfully honest, probably much longer before that.  Since the loss of our first baby girl, late in the pregnancy, I have literally spent the last 3 years going from grieving, to obsessively trying to conceive, to pregnant, to figuring out how to be a Mom, to surprisingly pregnant again.  I am just now attempting to catch my breath if not my hormones.
But today was my baby’s birthday.  My precious little boy, whom I love in a way that is indescribable, turned 2.  What better day for the sun to break through than today?  Steve and I went back and forth for 2 months with different birthday party ideas.   Do we host a party here? At a park? An indoor playroom?  Any idea we came up with required a lot of work and energy (which I don’t have right now) or a rather large sum of money when all was said and done.   At this particular time, this seemed silly for us, if not irresponsible.  So we decided that at age 2, it would be just as special for Zachary to celebrate his birthday with us, at home.
So, that’s just what we did.  Mommy, Daddy, Isabelle and an 8 dollar cake Zachary picked out at Ralphs Supermarket.  He chose the green and blue one and called it “broccoli cake” and shouted “Happy Birthday!” all through the store.  The simplicity of our economical decision, turned out to be perfect in more ways than one.  Not only would this “overly concerned about others’ needs and well being” mother,  have not been able to pay any attention to the birthday boy if hosting a party, either at home or a rented space, but the spontaneity and lack of commotion brought out something special in Zachary.  His energy is joyful and infectious most of the time, I have to say, but witnessing his exuberance over every birthday related discovery was pure magic, in no other terms.  I have been desperately trying to simplify and slow down for months, and for some reason, today of all blessed days, it happened on its own.
Do I believe that Zachary suffered for lack of a birthday extravaganza, filled with lots of friends, party games and presents? I am absolutely certain (and I am certain of very little these days), that he did not.   We’ll save that for birthday number 3.  Perhaps the 100% presence of his Mommy, along with his Daddy, his sister, and a new tee ball set was everything this 2 year old could ask for.  And, the fact that I got to truly experience it with every piece of me is just the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For the love of God, where are the grapes??!!!

For some reason, I always seem to push the limit with Zachary and the timing of dinner. He becomes too hungry, falls apart, and in turn upsets Isabelle.  And there we have it, the dreaded witching hour, brought completely upon myself.  This translates into two screaming and hungry children while I attempt to breast feed with one arm and throw together a healthy meal with the other.  I have to ask myself why this happens so frequently.  In my defense, once the alternating nappers are awake for the remainder of the day, changed, dressed and given a snack, it's 3:30.  Call me selfish, but I NEED TO GET OUT.   It doesn’t help that getting into a vehicle in Los Angeles is like jumping into a black hole.  Even a trip down the street to the grocery store somehow turns into a 2 hour excursion.
Yesterday, we were at an indoor playground for the latter part of the day. "Daddy should be leaving work soon! Let's have him meet us here?" I missed my husband dearly. Having him there to help me load and unload 2 kids at dinner time after a long day didn't even cross my mind. But by the time he got to us, it was already almost 6 O’clock, and Zachary was beyond hungry. Thank God I packed grapes for the car!  Steve buckled him in while I secured Isabelle and our two cars joined the other 4 million vehicles going 5 mph.   I love Los Angeles at 6 O’clock, and every other O’clock for that matter.   Within seconds, Zachary started screaming and crying for grapes and I could find them nowhere in the car. I called Steve.
Me - "Um...where is the bag of grapes I handed you to give Zachary?"

Steve -"I have them in my car. Why? Does he want them?"

Me - "What? I can't hear you. He's screaming for grapes."

At the next light, I pulled up beside Steve and he skillfully tossed the bag across his passenger seat into my driver's side window just before the light turned green. Disaster averted.   I would love to go on to tell you about the cop who pulled us over for dealing drugs, but I vowed to tell the truth, so I will wait a few months before making stories better. 
In summary, for the nutritional well being of my children, if not just for my own sanity, I really should plan on being home by 4:30 to prepare a healthy dinner.  Perhaps,  also donned in an apron while the kids quietly play with wooden blocks, listening to Chopin to enhance cognitive skills.  I’ll put that on my list of goals for tomorrow.

Happy Meal Times

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New week....let's start fresh

In my book, this week was not a good one.  I am just not communicating with Zachary in a way that’s up to my standards as a parent.  Growing up with a younger brother with Down syndrome, I always felt that I was going into this motherhood business armed with more wisdom than most.  I was six when Nicholas was born, and with both parents as teachers, I was taught early on to work with him on motor skills and language development, and to deal with difficult behavioral issues in the most productive ways possible.  I was a little mommy at age 6. For the record, Zachary is not up there with the most oppositional…at least not yet.  But, he is two, and two is just two. 
So, I must say that I have been humbled more often than not in the past two years.  Being a mother seems to be much different than being a sister.  Surprise, surprise.   Lately I have been in a bit of a slump, and have found myself lacking creativity with my parenting.  The worst part about having the knowledge and tools to handle a situation, is watching myself not actually apply them.   I have been slipping into what I like to call the “high voice”, which on the surface is calm and centered, but is slightly psychotic as it's disconnected from any truthful emotion.   And, Zachary, God bless him, seems to be tuned into every subtle shift in my energy, no matter how well masked I believe it to be.  There is no wiggle room for my moods or any distractions of any kind.   So my recent responses and handlings with him have only served to encourage the undesirable behavior to the ‘nth degree, and invite the not so nice girl in my head to chime in and say things like, “Really?  That’s how you’re choosing to approach this one? Wow. I feel sorry for your kids. ” And that is the watered down version.  She is extremely judgmental, and try as I may to put her on friendship silence, she refuses to stop talking. 
Anyway, I’m going to chalk it up to an energy lull and start fresh tomorrow.  I can do better.  Isn’t that what Mondays are for? 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Stifling or Creating Boundries?

Aside from what just happened at bedtime, today was for the most part a good day.   It seems we have triumphed over the disaster of the dreaded Thursday, as we have figured out the truck conundrum…hopefully.  A morning at the zoo, a late lunch and later nap and all of the garbage commotion is missed.   Success and a new Thursday routine! 
Speaking of routine….it is, and always has been very important to me.  Now, more so with two. But, I have this persistent worry that I am too much of a control freak to allow my children to freely discover their world.  I’m mostly speaking of Zachary who is approaching the age of two.   Isabelle is not yet at the “I do it!” stage. 
I’ve come a long way with meals, as I’ve been told it is important for them to be able to explore their food as they learn healthy eating habits, which translates into making a gigantic mess.  It makes me crazy, but I allow it.  Every day, I try to breathe through things with Zachary as not to force him into anything, and allow him to come to things in his own time.  This idea sounds lovely for a family that has only one child and no deadlines.  I suppose I could just stay in the house all day, plan no excursions and let the house be in a shambles.  But, try as I may, this is NOT OK with me.  It gives me heart palpitations to see one of the alphabet refrigerator magnets in the bedroom rather than the kitchen.  I know.  I’m working on it.    So, often my attempt to give him the time and space to do things when HE is ready, results in both of us getting upset. It starts with me being calm and patient, then edges it’s way into my wondering how long I am supposed to wait until we move on to what needs to happen next, and then rapidly becomes frustration at my lack of control of the situation.  I then I have to force him to do what I wanted him to do in the first place, 20 minutes prior.  The temper tantrum is actually larger than it would have been if I had just done this from the beginning.   
Tonight, it was about brushing teeth.  I bought him a new Thomas the Train vibrating brush because he is obsessed with our electric toothbrush and there was a meltdown over that last night.  So, he wanted to brush his teeth for a long time.  Great, right?  Don’t I want him to be excited about dental hygiene?  Awesome.  But, am I controlling because I don’t feel that toothbrushes should be carried around the house and used on the walls, the toys, the floors and the dogs? I’m sorry.  Also, I am a strong believer in getting to bed ON TIME.  Everyone suffers when I experiment with loosening my reigns on this.  So, what started out as a tooth-brushing success, ended in a power struggle.   I literally ripped the toothbrush from his hands, after trying to gently explain numerous times that we could brush again tomorrow, causing sobs and devastation.   It ended quickly…for him.   It just doesn’t feel good to play tug-of-war with my baby.   The more freedom I give him, the more he takes. Is there something I am missing?  Am I just an ignorant newbie of the “terrible two’s”? Or am I ruining my son with my desperate need for structure?  All donations for his future therapy will be graciously accepted. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Memories Made...Memories Lost

The Country Wagon - Maine, NY

This is a picture of the Country Wagon.  A produce market and gift shop in the upstate New York town of Maine, and a place that holds many beloved childhood memories for me.  My home town, and many surrounding, recently experienced catastrophic flooding as a result of tropical storm Lee, and is vastly under water.  As I flip through these pictures, I can’t help but be overcome with sadness and nostalgia for my somewhat of a fairy-tale childhood.  Right out of a chapter of Anne of Green Gables, the Country Wagon provided many summer and fall family excursions to pick peas, strawberries, apples or the perfectly shaped pumpkin on a crisp and colorful October afternoon. 
Although my family lost the entire contents of their basements filled with 5 and 6 feet of water, it is nothing in contrast to the devastation people have experienced, as entire homes have literally floated away leaving them with nothing.  But among those contents was a 30 year collection of photo albums and video tapes that my late Father painstakingly created of every event throughout our childhood and early adult years.  It has left me questioning what it means to truly create memories. 
We all have different ways of holding onto our most cherished things and loved ones.  My Father clung to his video camera at every function and spent hours afterward re-watching and editing for future posterity.  I have very vivid memories of him sitting on the couch and watching a performance of my sisters' and me over and over, with an expression that I understand now to have been pure and tremendous pride.  As has often happened since the birth of my children, I am revisiting much of his behaviors and habits as I recognize them so clearly in myself.   Now, through a parent’s eye, I understand them on a different level.  I too, seem to be quite obsessed with creating digital memories.  In fact, one of the many things adding to the constant feeling of “catch up”, is the fact that I have yet to complete photo books 2009 and 2010. They have been on a “to do” list every day for over a year.  Now, as hundreds of VHS video tapes lay on the grass, in my mother’s futile attempt to preserve them, I am left to wonder what we do this for.  What is this magical time in the future for which we are waiting to revisit these memories? And, does it in fact keep us quite distant from experiencing our lives fully right now? 
I say this with the acceptance that I will continue to carry around my flip video camera and create movies of my children.  I get as much joy out of making and sharing them as I understand my Father did.  At the time, I remember being frustrated that his camera was a constant appendage and wishing he could just simply “be” at the event and enjoy it.  So, while I can appreciate now his need to savour these moments, I wonder if my children have the same sense that I am not always “present” and with them.  However, perhaps on some level it is because of the “fog” and chaos I’m feeling so frequently, that I feel the need to capture so many moments, for fear that I am not quiet and centered enough to remember them.   Either way, as I think about the untimely death of my Father and wonder how much he actually got to enjoy his masterpieces, I feel that maybe the practice simply calls for more awareness.
 We live in a world that is rapidly becoming completely technological.  Every phone and gadget has a camera and these snapshots and videos can be shared instantly across cyberspace.  “Hold still!  Let me grab my phone! I’ve got to send this to Nana!”  Instead of “Wow!  You guys look so silly and adorable right now.  Can I join you as you make each other giggle with funny faces?”  While I am so thankful to be able to share these tender and funny moments with my family, whom all live 3000 miles away, I might try to practice more mindfulness throughout the day and absorb some of these treasured “snapshots” with a deep breath and sigh of gratitude just for myself.      

If you would like to contribute to the Flood Relief efforts,  please click on this link
Thank you

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When is your Mother coming home?

I know it is strange to admit that getting sick (although it rarely happens) has some sort of excitement in it for me.  Like it’s a valid excuse to cancel all obligations and lie in bed and watch T.V. .… Pre-Motherhood, that is.  Zachary is extremely oppositional and absolutely refuses to make me chicken noodle soup and Isabelle seems completely unable to thaw her own bottles and grasp the concept of whispering.   So, good thing I am not the one who is sick!  At least not yet.  Zachary had a fever all weekend and his world literally fell around him in shattered and devastating pieces every 17 seconds.  Is it bad that Steve and I found many of these dramatic melt downs comical? Have you ever had someone giggle when you feel like your life is ending?  Thankfully, he is on the mend, but Isabelle has a fever which I only know about because she didn’t find her brother tackling her nearly as hysterical as usual, so I thought I should check.  102.5.  So much for those beloved “breast milk antibodies”!   So, we stayed inside and put no expectations on the day. 
After puzzle number 8, book number 17, and lego house number 4, I found myself looking at the clock, shocked at how slow time was going.  It reminded me of my babysitting years.  I always felt guilty that throughout most of these jobs, I was anxiously awaiting the mother’s return.  I can remember worrying even at age 14, that maybe I would make a horrible mother because I didn’t enjoy every second with these children.  But, I told myself that it would be different with my own.  Well, for the most part it is.  But there are those days like today, that I find myself looking at the clock every 2 and half minutes wondering “When is your mother coming home?”

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Middle Ground

A friend of mine recently said to me, “you know, em…it sounds like you have hit a really difficult place right now with the kids and I believe that means you are about to turn a corner.”  It was one of those pieces of wisdom that among the snippets from sympathetic friends that go in one ear and out the other, served its actual purpose, creating a pause and some peaceful space in my endlessly frantic head.  And, lo and behold, this week seemed a little easier.  I don’t know if this has anything to do with the couple of yoga classes I forced myself to take, (although Isabelle had much better ideas for what I should be doing with my time) or just the hope that things may soon feel lighter.  Perhaps just a different mindset and clearer head allows us to view the same set of circumstances differently when in fact nothing has actually changed.  But, also I am reminded of one of the most important pieces of advice that although I hand out regularly to new mom’s, can’t seem to hold onto for myself.  It is the simple fact that no matter what is happening….IT WILL CHANGE.  One of the most frustrating things with children is also one of the most encouraging.  Nothing stays the same.  Just when we are on our knees, humbled by the pure exhaustion and seeming impossibility of getting through another day and we have no idea how to change what isn’t working, something shifts.  And this shift usually has nothing to do with our best laid plans or lack thereof.  It is simply our children entering a new phase.  This is sometimes great news!  Unless we are in a blissful phase during which we feel proud and a bit cocky about our excellent parenting skills.  "Of course Isabelle is happily putting herself to sleep for her naps! It must be my beautifully timed nap routine and the spa –like ambience in her room!  I must write a best selling book about the art of mothering!" It is exactly this thinking that is a warning sign for a landmine.  Usually , it means that within a day or two I am headed back to a place of utter insecurity concerning all of my choices and abilities to parent and my kids are screaming  and bouncing off the walls as I look for the camera that is surely taping the "before" video footage for an episode of Nanny 911. 
Therein lies the lesson which I relearn probably every other week.  I’m doing my best.  Every day, I’m doing my best.  Sometimes that “best” is less to be desired, but at the end of the day, it is everything I had.  And there is another day.  Perhaps, I need to learn to live a little more in the middle, allowing for these shifts and changes.  After all, the constant, the one and only thing that will never change, is the fact that everything is constantly changing.  Maybe if I could breathe a little through the difficulties as they run their course without hysterically envisioning an entire lifetime of ruined naps and blinding sleep deprivation and then lashing myself for all the things I must have done wrong to create them, they would perhaps not last as long...or at the very least, may not seem to last as long.  For that matter, pride in a well timed day, restorative naps, healthy (actually ingested) meals and quiet, sweet bedtimes is a beautiful thing.  But taking too much credit for the good is just as dangerous as taking too much responsibility for the bad.   We are here to help them as best we can to grow and learn, but most of the time….it’s just not about us.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Beach

Nice place to live near, wouldn't want to visit....

For reasons aforementioned, I decided to pack the kids up and drive to the beach. I checked online to make sure Toys R Us had an inexpensive pop up tent that I could quickly swing by and grab on our way.   Is there a drive through window at Toys R Us? After slathering sunscreen on both babies, packing a rather lack luster lunch and filling the car with the 14 bags a trip like this requires, we were on our way. With Zachary not having napped and Isabelle suffering through a burning eye which may or may not have been due to my haste in applying sunscreen, we were not off to a chipper start. The car temperature gage read 107 and I can already tell my mood is not of the sort that attracts positive things.
I threw two hot and very bothered babies into the double stroller which doesn't actually fit through the aisles and headed in for my beach tent. I impatiently asked a sales person where it was and he told me they didn't have it. Now, here is where I feel it is my penance to admit what happened next. I snapped at him as if it was his fault, and told him he had to find me something with which to shield my children from the sun at the beach immediately because clearly it is his fault that a.) Zachary is terrified of trucks and won't nap. B.)Its 107 degrees C.) I haven't had more than three hours of consecutive sleep in two years D.) My children are both under 2. And E.) I'm not handling it well. Really Em?  The poor man deserves to have his day ruined by your negativity and narcissistic insanity?  For someone who truly believes that we can heal the world with positive and loving energy, you certainly just vomited arsenic throughout the San Fernando Valley.
Ok. I needed to move on and try to salvage the day.  There was still time to turn it all around.  It was after all only 3:00.  I made a mental note to compose a lovely letter of apology in classic Emily Smith fashion and send it to the Toys R Us man. They found me a pop up tent that touted a one-step set up and I was out the door before I realized it cost me 70 dollars. Wow. Let's just go. Isabelle still had one eye streaming with tears from the sunscreen and Zachary had poopy diaper number 5 of the day.  After a diaper change, a quick eye wash with a bottle of water, and a phone call to my husband, Steve, asking to look online for anything suggesting babies have gone blind from sunscreen, we were back on the road.  For those wondering, his answer was no, but apparently it should be avoided.
45 minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot at the beach that I had hoped would be the easiest for me to adorn myself with one baby in an ergo, one on my hip, a diaper bag, a bucket of sand toys, a bag of towels, and a 70 dollar tent, and head to the prime sand-castle-making location.  As Zachary was excitedly saying "sparkly water!” over and over, I was cautiously optimistic that this was going to end up being a magical day after all!
The closeness of the water seemed to be an optical illusion and I hiked through the sand for about 2 football field lengths.  But finally, I felt we were close enough to the water and I let my shaking arms drop all of our baggage.  After having a near asthma attack setting up the tent (which is being returned because it was ripped already and served as virtually no shelter from the sand and wind), the lifeguard came over to tell me I had chosen a spot in the middle of the orange cones signaling that the area was off limits. He nicely offered to help me, and this time, still having some pride, I will not tell you what my response was.   But seriously, how many letters of apology would I be writing before the day was through? At that point, as I very awkwardly moved everything over the 6 feet it took to be in the legal zone, I stepped outside myself to watch this completely insane women with 2 babies and felt so utterly sorry for her and even more so for her children.
Once set up a second time, Zachary decided the tent was a sandbox and proceeded to douse his sister, adding more than sunscreen to her eyes.   Hadn’t Steve just read to me that one should flush it out with sand? As I turned to tend to Isabelle, I noticed a group of teenage boys pointing and laughing at what I realized was my son who had somehow managed to plant his face and the whole side of his body into the sand, evidently with his tongue out and was gagging and caked in every crevice. It was then I decided to abort mission.  But, I was determined to get some water in the bucket, force Zachary to make a freakin’ sand castle so I could take a picture giving a false representation of the day and high tail it off of the beach where I was serving as an ad for birth control for everyone within a half mile radius.
Perfect Day at the Beach!
 Apparently the tent's one-step set up was not congruent with a one-step break down and I could not get it folded and back into the bag. As long and hard as my trip from the car was, it was going to be much harder now with a fully expanded tent. I actually thought for a second of calling my husband and telling him to leave work and come rescue us. This was after all a family emergency, right?  But that would take at least another hour and a half which in our current state was unacceptable.  So, I gathered everything and everyone and heaved my way back to the car. I have a very vivid picture of what we must have looked like making our way back, and harbor no ill feelings for those that offered no help. I’m sure I was a terrifying site, and in Los Angeles, it is always best not to approach crazy people.
By the grace of God, we made it back to the car and after the 17 steps of cleaning, feeding and soothing we were headed home.  I sobbed all the way as Zachary, mistaking my cries for laughter, giggled somewhat maniacally.  I can either take comfort in this, as perhaps he was blissfully unaware of what a scene his mother just made, or take it to mean he understood completely.  In that case, I am concerned about his sense of humor.  How many hours to bedtime?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Garbage Day

Thursdays are a dreaded day of the week in the Smith household as of 4 weeks ago.  Thursday is garbage day. Garbage days used to be exciting adventures where we went outside to wave at the friendly garbage men who would cheerfully honk and wave back, a day when the 123 diapers which had spent time baking in the 97 degree valley heat got carted away, and a day just that much closer to Friday when we would soon have Daddy all to ourselves for 2 whole days.  Oh, pre-august Thursdays.  Thursday is now a day when many a tear is shed, 2 children are "collapse on the floor in melt-downs literally over spilled milk" over-tired, and Mommy is panicked and painfully aware of only having 2 arms.
Out of the blue my 23 month old son developed an earth shattering, fight or flight response to the sound of the passing garbage trucks. He literally threw down his beloved dirt devil and ran screaming in terror away from the sound as if it was chasing him.  "Zachary. You like the trucks.  There's nothing to be scared of. Let's have lunch and get ready for the glorious 2 hour nap Mommy waited for 15 months for you to take regularly." And, it begins.
We live on the corner, so from the hours of 11:30 to 3:00, (an entire window of possible toddler nap times) there is no reprieve from the cacophony of truck motors, squealing brakes and electronic arms picking up each of the 3 bins, green, blue and black and throwing the contents with a vengeance into their vehicles. The first week this occurs, we all head into Zachary's room for wind down time, 11:30 for a 12:00 nap.  As I sit down to feed a 7 month old Isabelle, a truck rumbles and clanks by the window. Zachary begins to claw at me and scream "Mommy hold you! Mommy hold you!"  Normally I find this backwards usage of the "me-you" pronouns endearing. But while holding a 7 month old, also screaming to be fed, the pleading and begging only serve to remind me of my limitations and raise my anxiety level to match his. So much for mommy being the nurturing and loving rock. I basically now have to decide which child's needs are less urgent and therefore should be left to scream. Hunger, Fear, Hunger, Fear. I put each of them in their cribs on opposite ends of the house and run back and forth with toggling video monitors trying to get one of them to go to sleep. Every time one is put down, blood curdling screaming ensues. I make it about 5 minutes per kid until I can no longer bare it, and switch to the other. Back and forth for an hour and a half. Finally, Isabelle drifts off to sleep in her bed with little gasps in her breath from crying and I am able to hold Zachary, now completely petrified and exhausted, his breathing also displaying the aftermath of his distress.  He sleeps in my arms for the next hour and I allow myself to break down and start to sob myself.  How else could I have handled that? What should I have done? Even sound asleep, he trembles as every truck passes and every attempt to put him down, brings him back into hysterics. Blackberry in hand, I desperately write an email to his doctor asking what I am to do about these new developments. His response surprises me as we spent the first year of Zachary's life being rather chastised by pediatricians and other Mothers for not letting him cry in order to sleep through the night.  He had no answer for how to handle the fact that I have another child to tend to, (to be fair, I don't think there is one) but with a fear such as this, I must go to him immediately and support him through this.  He is not all that concerned with naps.   I would like to invite him over at around 5 pm on a napless day to see if his level of “concern” rises.  So, in summary, infants are supposed to be left alone to scream while the parents sit outside the door counting minutes, but once they become toddlers and said parents no longer have the capability of sitting to eat, let alone to stare at a timer, it is unacceptable. I really must learn who made these rules.
The following week, I attempt to add our sound machine to the one he has used from birth and just for good measure throw in my ipod to join in chorus (or more accurately, create mind numbing confusion)with the dueling white noise.  By 11:45, I can barely hear myself think and am feeling awfully clever at the fact that I have surely beaten the trucks.  But, alas…garbage truck number one of 258 begins his rounds 15 minutes past schedule.   The tambour cuts through all of my strategically placed distractions as if it is a giant transformer unaffected and uncamouflaged by our silly ocean waves, rain storms and magic garden tunes from the 70's. At the first sign of panic from my son, I pack the kids up, throw them in the car and head to the beach.  How hard can it be to take 2 babies to the beach alone?


Hello, Friends! 

I have been encouraged by some to start this for quite some time and I have had reservations. Being a compulsive people pleaser, or to put it less nicely, one who is completely terrified of not being "liked" and respected by all,  I have  been worried about my thoughts ruffling feathers.  It is exactly this obsessive preoccupation that I believe make this an important step in my journey.
Also, I have worried that writing this may look as if I think my life is somehow more interesting or harder than any other mother's.  This is absolutely not the case. These are simply my thoughts an experiences and if by sharing them, I can make someone laugh or lighten the pressure we put on ourselves as mothers and give a little freedom to admit that it is not always fun, then it has served its purpose.
Finally, and maybe the crux of this blog, is that my experiences, while often amusing, have been coupled with sometimes suffocating guilt over the sense that due to my struggles and heartbreak while attempting to create this family, I should have only pure, unadulterated, sunbeams and lolly pops gratitude for my two beautiful children and all of the things that come with them.  While I do in fact thank God every day for my babies and never forget what blessed miracles they are, I also am in what often feels like a "barely surviving mode" with them bogh under two, and 16 months apart. So, while I hope to share many stories of sweetness and joy, I feel that plain and simple honesty is imperative as we all navigate through our lives...whatever our stories may be. We have no ability to affect others in any way while holding our cards close to our chest. And while I have held much envy and respect for those who can live this way, after many repeated attempts, I have never been able to actually do it myself.  I am coming to accept that this particular heart refuses to be tucked into any sort of sleeve. 
So.... Mommies(and perhaps Daddies) I say this with absolute certainty, no matter how easy or painful our road to parenthood was, whether it was planned, or snuck up on us,  it is hard. Rewarding, overwhelmingly beautiful, and hard.  There is a book by Andrea J. Buchanan called Mothershock that I highly recommend.  I have shed many a tear in the bathtub, glass of wine in one hand and this book in the other. Just hearing another mom be unabashedly honest about her experiences has made me breathe a little easier and feel less alone. I mention it to say that I know that the candid style and content of this blog is in no way revolutionary. I am not the first to share openly the unedited version of motherhood, but the more of us that do, the more support we can offer one another.
Even if only a couple of women read this and can identify, then it is not a waste of time. I will go further and say that even if no one reads it, it is not a waste of time as there are many therapeutic benefits in journaling.


Emily (Mommy to Zachary 23 months and Isabelle 7 months.)