Monday, August 25, 2008

brave and fast

Nolie has pooped on the potty twice now, which I take as a personal sign from God that I am still loved.  Cause many of his messages these days seem to come wrapped in turds. 


Can I just say for the bajillionth time that my girls ARE GROWING UP!?!  And that I have completely mixed emotions about it?

Example:  I am holding snuggly little Nolie in my lap at the dinner table last night, and she is all chubby and yummy and adorable.  Eric and I are completely in the moment, grinning at each other with the delight of it all, and he says to her, "Nolie, just don't grow up, okay?  Just stay exactly the way you are.  No more growing!"

And she says, "No, daddy!  I growing!"  And I say, "No, Nolie!  Don't grow!"  You know, all kidding like?  And she turns to me and smacks the crap out of my face.  It was a slap that should have been in a movie.  It was that perfect.

Moment over.

Then, tonight, we're at our monthly neighborhood potluck (which fills me with oodles and oodles of gratitude, btw) and Addie is being a little shy because there are probably a dozen kids running around smacking each other with light sabers and they're mostly boys or older girls.  All night I encourage her to go play, introduce her to the other kids, who politely nod their heads at me before running off.  I hug her and love on her and tell her it's okay, just go play. 

Then, finally, near the end of the evening, she comes up to me and whispers, "Mama?  I'm going to go play with those big girls now because I'm brave and also I'm fast."  And I swell with complete pride at my little one.  I watch her trot over to a little girl who is six and very busy, and Addie stands in front of her, throws her shoulders back, smiles, waves, and says, I'm Addie! and the girl blows right past her, knocking her down.

Heart:  million pieces.

Don't grow up.  Don't do it.  No.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

and through the woods

There's no good way to organize my thoughts about all of this.  I could tick off each of the emotions, cycling every hour:  fear, guilt, gratitude, anger, sadness.  I could list the terrible things said, the knot of relationships that makes this all so complex.  Could work through the reasons I haven't gone yet.  The reasons I'm still here.

But it's all too big to think about and write about.  I've been burying myself in the busy.  Eric's dad and stepmom were here this weekend, the kids demand my attention, I've been reverse applique-ing every piece of clothing I own, like a neurotic little Cinderella with an embroidery addiction.  I've been sticking to my chores and my workouts.  I work, though was recently scolded by a colleague for being too "hasty."  "Keep your eye on the ball," he warned.

I've also been turning the wrong way down streets I take everyday of my life, badly burning myself on the curling iron or pot of boiling water, forgetting to make the kids lunch, grinding my teeth at night, having nightmares.  I dream someone dangerous barges into my room and I can't lock the door.  I'm overeating.  Wanting to shop.  All the little crumbs of anxiety, leading me deeper into the woods.  I'm in two places at once, and so am in neither fully.

"You don't have to save her," my therapist says.  "You have lots of responsibilities here.  You can't save her.  Do you hear me?  It's the hardest thing you'll ever do, but you can't save her.  It's absolutely tragic, and awful.  But you can't."

What, then? 

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Out With It

I wasn't going to write here about what has been going on with my mom.  I was worried about violating her privacy, mostly, but also figured that what was happening was an isolated event. 

It seems I was wrong.  I think her being sick is now a part of my reality, and probably will be for some time to come.  I think her recovery is going to be a long-term process.  I know that it is affecting every part of my life, most of my days, and how I move through the world. 

I don't know how this will work, exactly.  I don't know how to collect the bits and pieces into a coherent narrative that allows me to talk about what this means for me and for us, our relationship.  I might make some mistakes.  I hope you, and she, will bear with me.  Maybe my dad won't print these out for her to read.  Maybe not for a long time.  Maybe never.

Maybe we'll just start with the basic chronology, and see where things go from here.

Nine weeks ago, mom had a total knee replacement.  This is the first major surgery she's had since I was little, and she was in a lot of pain.  Her doctor was not good about responding to what seemed to her family like excess pain, but my parents stuck with this doctor, and mom just dealt.  Mostly, I just tried to listen to her, and to sympathize.  When I went up to Idaho for my grandfather's funeral, I tried to soothe and comfort her, and to let her know she wasn't alone.  It seemed like she responded to this, and that her pain and spirits were temporarily better.

Then I came home, though, and she was alone again.  I see now that she experienced this as an abandonment, much like the one she went through as a child when her mother left her with friends and family for a year.  This, and a postpartum psychotic breakdown she experienced when I was four, have been the defining moments of my mom's life, I think.

Two weeks ago or so, she finally couldn't take the pain anymore and had my dad take her to the ER.  I think they tried some new drugs then, and that gave her some temporary hope, but it was at that point that I noticed she was sounded different on the phone.  Odd somehow.  I had one particularly frustrating phone conversation with her where I was trying to argue that they needed to go see a different knee doctor, one who would manage her pain.  That she shouldn't probably be going to the ER six weeks after a surgery, for pain.  That there was something wrong.  She responded that I was being overemotional and became irrational herself.  I realized later she was speaking to me like she did when I was thirteen, an out-of-control kid.  But I wasn't out-of-control.  She was.

I think that's when it started.

Last week, it was back in the ER again, but this time because she was having breaks, slips.  Psychoses, just like she had when I was a kid, I think.  Two days in the state mental hospital--which is not a nice place--followed.  Then more ER visits.  More horrible, painful, convoluted, distressing phone calls.  More terror.

Then last night, which was really bad.

Now she's in a small residential care place.  But she can only stay for five days.  I am wondering what will happen after that.  I am wondering whether I'm going to get my mom back.  I'm wondering if it's all new now, if we will have to develop all new strategies for communication, all new ways of being together.  And I'm wondering all of this thousands of miles from her, while I'm trying to raise my own family, and handle my own crises, and live my own life.

I don't have anything pithy to end with.  No clarity or words of wisdom.  Just a lot of fear and sadness and wondering.  I don't know if it will make sense to write more here or not, about this.  Here we are.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Foul Winds

Here's another good thing to remember:  sometimes when people are giving you honest feedback, it's actually their own bullshit they're feeding you.  I'm not saying it's a good idea to always be like, "Hey, I don't need to listen to what you're telling me, you're just projecting, I'm really over here on solid ground."  I mean, if there's a fairly good mass of evidence indicating that you've got a problem to work on, you might want to listen to that.

I'm just saying it's good to also remember that other people have their own stuff to deal with, too.  And sometimes they shovel that stuff your way, not really meaning to.

My mom's pretty sick right now, and I can't write about it too much because it's her private struggle, and I don't want to betray her trust or tell her story without her permission.  But the past few days she's said some things to me that I don't think she meant to say.  I didn't know she didn't mean to say them at the time, and I felt them pretty deeply.  I mean, really, they knocked me off my feet pretty good.  Now I know that wasn't really her talking, and that all that pain I felt was me being overly receptive to someone else's critical words.

Or, I have some friends, who don't have kids, who are struggling with their friends who do have kids (and sometimes with me).  They are feeling all sorts of loss about this, and wondering why anyone in their right minds would want to have children, and are sad and angry that kids take up so much of their friends' time.  I get this, and I have a lot of compassion for it.  Loss is loss is loss.  But also?  This stings a little, personally, because it feels like I've just let someone else down.  I'd like to make everyone happy, and it's so hard to be a good friend and a good parent, and also work and work out and volunteer and think about making the world a better place and also find time to take a shower in the morning, and I just would sometimes like to tell my friends without kids to freaking be a little patient, because in a few years, my kids will be older and then I can pay everyone some more attention, okay?  And I love my friends.  Would be lost without them.  Know their feelings are real.  But Christ's sake. 

I'm just saying.  It's good to find your own ground, and to look down at it, and to see your feet anchored there, and to not get blown over too easily.  Hurricanes are a good sign your ground needs to shift, that you're trying to hold too tightly to a position that isn't tenable anymore.  But a cranky, foul wind from the next state over might mean the next state over has the problem.  You probably shouldn't let those blow you over quite so easily.

You know what I mean?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bed, Coda

I just went back and re-read that post and had to laugh at myself.  It's so Stuart Smalley. 

Am feeling better now that the caffeine has taken effect.  Going to go have a bit of a walk now and get out of my office.   Thanks for indulging my self-indulgence :).

Thoughts from the Wrong Side of the Bed

I am feeling lots of frustration at this personal growth stuff.  It's elusive and slow, and I struggle to find and trust my own perceptions.  I'll have a big realization about myself, like, "Hey!  You're a perfectionist!  Which both enables you to accomplish a lot and inhibits you from fully living your life and having intimacy with others!"  For some reason, I think that realizing something like this and allowing it to actually change my life are the same thing.  Then I'm disappointed when, months or years later, I have the same big realization about myself.  "Hey!  You're still a perfectionist...!"

Here's the thing about being a perfectionist.  It allows me to convince myself that others might see me as perfect, and that creates a lot of pressure to maintain things around me, and to try to tightly control my environment.  Then, when my loved ones lovingly (or brutally, depending) remind me that they see all my glorious imperfections and distasteful flaws, have seen them all along, I wasn't every fooling anybody to begin with, I feel shattered.  Blown to pieces.  I forgot to simply appreciate the fact that I AM SEEN, and that I'm worthy of love despite those flaws.  Instead, I embark on a campaign of mean self-talk and flagellation, trying to whip those flaws out of me.  Which, to my great consternation, seems to only make them worse.

Here's how the list might go:

I talk too fast.
I'm too self-absorbed.
I'm a shitty listener.
I care too much about keeping the house (or office, or car, or whatever) clean.
I'm easily hurt.
I'm easily defensive.
I isolate myself.
I think I'm the greatest!
I think I'm the worst!
I have trouble showing others love.
I get too focused on one thing at a time and miss the big picture.

I could go on, but you get the picture.  I don't know--what picture does it paint?  Classic type A?  First born?  Control freak?  Obsessive compulsive?  Over-emotional?  All are words friends and family have used in the past few weeks to describe my behavior.  All feel unfair, incomplete, apt, frightening.

Wouldn't it be interesting to come at this a different way?  To view myself with some compassion and amusement?  Wouldn't it be fruitful to accept some of these painful criticisms as observations and not condemnations?  To rephrase them as:

I am an enthusiastic communicator who wants to share my perspective with others.
I appreciate, get inspiration from, and feel safe in physical environments that are ordered and beautiful.
I care deeply for my friends and family, and like to feel I'm important in their lives.
I have a lot of self confidence, which enables me to try new things, meet new people, and find joy in accomplishment.
I'm receptive to feedback from others.
I enjoy practicing and mastering new skills and abilites.

These sentences don't sit easily with me.  But I have a sense that reframing my relationship to imperfection is going to be important if I'm to keep growing.

Blech.  I guess this is why they call it "working on yourself."  It definitely feels like work.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Two

Nolie turns two tomorrow, a fact she's been announcing for weeks now by proudly stating, "I two!" (or, sometimes, "I toot!").  She also frequently trolls around the house singing, "Happy durday to you!  Happy durday to you!  Happy durday dear nonie, happy durday to you." 

We chose to sneak under the radar yet again this year and not throw a party (we'll have to soon enough, I know).  Instead, when she woke up from her nap on Sunday, there were some presents wrapped up for her, and balloons and streamers around the house, and a strawberry cream frosting cake Eric made from scratch.  We did the same for Addie on her 2nd birthday, who silently delighted in the glittery wonder of it all, with a sort of "For me?  Really?" look on her face.

Not Nolie.  She finished unwrapping her gifts and sat there, fairly unimpressed, and for the rest of the day demanded "Where nolie presents!?!" as if they would just keep magically appearing all day long, there for her to scoff at and discard.  And she wouldn't eat Eric's cake, either.  Maybe she remembers last year, when I accidentally allowed her to burn herself on her one birthday candle, and now she's scarred for life.  Maybe she's just an ice cream girl.  Whatever the explanation, she turned her nose up at that cake (which took, literally, HOURS for Eric to make) and wouldn't even try it.

I sound miffed writing this, but I'm not.  I love Nolie's implacability, her refusal to get hyped up just because the situation demands it.  My goodness, is she her own person.  So different from Addie, and developing all on her own.

I'm not saying parenting and environment and "nurture" don't have anything to do with it--obviously these things matter a lot.  But the more I hang out with my kids and get to know them as the grow into themselves, the more I think about how they are their own little stars, emitting pinpricks of light in unique ways--light that stuns, burns, soothes--entirely apart from how I try to direct or shape them.  It makes me wonder how much of who I am is determined by genes rather than by upbringing.  I mean, there's a time in your twenties, right, when you find fault with your parents for everything you grapple with?  You can trace every little behavior or tendency back to them.  But perhaps that's just as much genes as upbringing.  How strange to come in conctact with the idea that there might be nobody to blame but the double-helix...

But maybe this explanation is only appealing because I'm now a parent and don't want to be held responsible, in case my kids turn out to be brats or worse.  Maybe I'm blind to what exactly it is I am passing on to them, behaviorally.  I have no doubt that I'm an important figure in their lives, and that how I act deeply matters.  But who knows how they'll turn out because of, inspite of, despite our relationship?  It's impossible to parse, and yet boggles my mind just the same.