Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rainy Days and Tuesdays...

It's funny how sometimes the weather changes your mood; and other times it seems to simply reflect it. As though the gray skies and dripping leaves are just an extension of what's going on inside. For me, today is one of those days.

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving break - time with family, time in the yard, good food, Harry Potter - and it was much needed. Because surrounding that break, I've been battling various types of illness and dealing with several stressors that seem to never fully resolve. [Nothing serious, friends and family - no need to call for more information. Unless you want to. Which is fine.]

I recently did a presentation on kids and resilience for a local elementary school PTA, and in my research for that talk I learned that we all respond better to stressful events that are finite. Something happens, it's hard, you cope, things get better. These are the experiences that build character and strength, and give us skills for the next hard experience. A necessary and important part of life and developing self-esteem.

The stressful things that are not helpful are those that become chronic -- the conditions that seem to go on forever without letting up. This is why kids who are abused year after year often don't develop the strength and resiliency that help kids who, say, live through a natural disaster or experience the loss of a parent.

On a much smaller and less serious scale, I notice this pattern in my own life. I can handle one big confrontation, for example, with the contractor who is supposed to be finishing up our bathroom. But when the challenging conversations become a daily event; as a two-week project turns into four or more; it starts to wear down my patience, my energy, my resources. It also does far more damage to our relationship than one major error or misunderstanding ever would. With each minor breach of our agreement, I feel more and more exasperated and less and less tolerant.

Add that to several similar situations going on in my life at the moment -- ongoing problems that require attention but do not seem to benefit from it -- and you have a recipe for one exhausted and ineffectual person. This is a different kind of stress than a general hectic-ness or too much to do with not enough time. It's a sense of always putting more into a situation than you can reasonably expect to get back; and that's a pretty discouraging way to feel. No wonder my immune system is compromised and my creativity sapped.

In the middle of all this, Thanksgiving was the best possible remedy. Gratitude and time with family both help keep things in perspective; and watching my little boy interact with his grandmother, aunts and cousins brings me incredible joy -- more of that to come with Hanukkah around the corner.

As I pass into my mid-30's and settle into family life, I realize that this is what the holidays are about as much as anything. The traditions and big meals and gift-giving are about more than giving and receiving, more than just being together -- they're about creating a momentary space in the middle of life's chaos to refresh ourselves and each other. In good years, this means pausing to celebrate and congratulate and reaffirm our relationships. In difficult years, it means doing our best to set aside our worries for a few hours and allowing ourselves to be buoyed up by those around us; letting enjoyment of friends, family and food overtake us for a while. So it was for me this year.

Blogging serves a similar purpose for me, too. It keeps me in touch with a part of myself that can sometimes be eclipsed by all the stress (and sinus pain). Whether today's blog is awesome or mediocre, read by four people or forty, the simple act of sitting down to write it is my own personal tradition. It helps me to focus my energy in a productive way, to remind myself that I still have a tiny little something to contribute.

Even when I feel ragged and worn down. Even when it rains all day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Life's Questions Answered... Or, Not

A mommy first today... I got a call about an hour ago that my sweet baby was vomiting "everywhere" and I needed to go pick him up from preschool. Yuck. And poor baby.

So I am busy scrapping my plans for the afternoon, desperately rearranging my work schedule, and waiting for a call back from the pediatrician. MLM is sleeping soundly upstairs, while Mommy waits. And wonders.

When I feel nervous, my anxiety tends to take the form of a need for information. In situations like these there is almost always a period of time during which we have no information, like between the time the school calls and the time I get there to see what's going on for myself. So it ends up being sort of an internal Q & A session...

How sick is he? Sick enough that the school felt the need to call you. Is it too much to hope that he just showed the teacher his new trick of sticking his fingers down his throat? Probably. Did I remember to pack a change of clothes for him today? Yes. Why isn't DH answering his phone? It's been 6 minutes. Why didn't I take the time to find a new pediatrician yet? Have you met you?

Once I pick him up, give him a big hug, and bundle him in the car, the questions seem to snowball. Should I call the old pediatrician or try urgent care? Would it be better for DH to come home early or for me to shuffle my clients? Should I take him home to nap or try to feed him? Is that vomiting I hear in the backseat? Is this a stomach virus or the beginning of strep throat, as the preschool director suggested? Do we have anything that gets throw-up out of car upholstery? Is it my imagination, or am I feeling a little queasy myself? What is my schedule like for the rest of the week and how disastrous would it be if MLM and/or myself were sick at home? Could it be the milk from this morning that expired today?

At home, I decide to pack MLM off to sleep, talk to DH and realize he knows exactly as much about what to do as I, check the milk and pour it out even though it smells fine, and continue waiting for a callback from the doctor's office. Now, maybe someone in the health care industry can explain this to me, but why when I just need to make an appointment for sometime in the distant future, I can call the office and talk to a live human being right away; but when I'm trying to figure out if and how to organize the rest of my afternoon around a spewing 16-month old, I get to wait 2 hours for a triage nurse to call me back? The need for information strikes again.

So, getting no answers from all the reasonable sources, I begin to direct my anxiety in a new direction, one that only mommies of my generation can really understand: the Internet. Fortunately, I'm wise enough to know that putting "baby vomiting" into a search engine is going to do me zero good. So I begin to cling to one of my amateur theories about what could be making MLM sick, and I google "can expired milk cause vomiting?"

Seriously? I am 35 years old, relatively intelligent, and I just asked the entire universe if old milk can make you sick. Someone should really go to my office, take one of my 4 degrees off the wall, and smack me in the head with it. What I really want, I realize, is to talk to a health care professional and have him or her put my anxiety to rest by giving me some direction, telling me what to look for, assuring me it is more likely this or that. At least then I'd know what today's next task would be, and I'd have some idea how to care for my little guy.

But in the absence of such reassurance, I really, really want to be able to rule out (or in) the idea that MLM just has what my grandmother used to call a "sour stomach" from drinking milk past its prime -- which would be great because it's not contagious or overly dangerous and he would likely be back to himself by tomorrow.

So I find myself trolling through chat rooms, looking for pieces of a puzzle that I wish I could put together immediately -- when deep down I know I just have to wait and see what happens.  For me, that's one downside of the Internet, it allows me to continue feeding my anxiety by searching through infinite information (some credible, much more of it not) hoping for reassurance; rather than forcing me to deal with the uncertainty and move on with my day. Sometimes what we need is not more information, but more patience.

If you're wondering whether expired milk can make you sick.... Not really. Or, yes, but only if it gets thick or smells bad. Or sometimes if it is neither thick nor smelly. You should never, ever, ever drink it after the expiration date. EVER! But many people successfully drink it up to two weeks after with no problems. It can make you mildly sick. Or be fatal! Or it's fine. And never, ever drink unpasteurized milk. Unless you prefer raw milk and believe it's healthier. So listen to your mom's advice. Or conduct a testing procedure with lemon tea before drinking it. Or just throw it out. All clear now? Good.

Now if you'll excuse me I need to go see what the symptoms are for Avian Flu...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Very Cluttered Diaper Bag

The latest obsession around our house, edging out the toy vacuum cleaner that a girlfriend let us borrow, is Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Before MLM was born, people warned me that this book would be the object of pure passion, and that has certainly has been the case. I now read that book, on repeated and sweet request ['peeeeese'], about 9 times a day. DH adds another 3 or 4 readings himself. I can hear that little caterpillar munching in my sleep.

I don't mind, I really don't. In fact I'm pretty excited that my son is growing attachments to his books and our rituals of reading them together. But I'll admit that when one of the characters on Modern Family was reading his daughter a gossip magazine because he couldn't stand to read TVHC one more time, I could completely relate.

I'm starting to think in the simple meter of that story about everything. Exempli gratia:

The Very Cluttered Diaper Bag

By the light of the moon, a tired and messy mommy rubs her shoulder.

Even when the warm sun comes up on Sunday morning, she cannot find anything.

Her diaper bag is so heavy and messy. She decides to look for the bottom.

On Monday, she moves the diapers and the wipes. But she still can't see the bottom.

On Tuesday, she pulls out her sunglasses, wallet and keys. But the bag is still full.

On Wednesday she removes a crumpled diaper that's a size too small. But the bag is still cluttered.

On Thursday she takes out an empty snack container and a used juice cup. But the bag is still messy.

On Friday she pulls out a board book and a teething toy. But she still can't see the bottom of the bag.

On Saturday, she takes out.......
one cup of applesauce, one bag of Scooby snacks
   two bibs, one lollipop, 14 cheerios, one pack of yogurt snacks
        three wadded up post-it notes, 43 cents in change, one yarmulke, three baby socks,
              17 receipts, one hair band, five ear plugs, one pacifier cover, one bottle adapter,
                       two tubes of lotion,
                          one empty glasses case [odd since Mommy doesn't wear glasses],
                                 one camera battery charger, four pens and
                                             one plastic baby spoon.

That night she had a headache.

The next day was Sunday again, and she turned the bag upside down over the trash can to get out all the crumbs, 6 more cheerios, and 13 additional cents. She felt much better.

She decided to keep her bag neater from now on. This lasted for two weeks.

Then she got busy again, and did not emerge as a beautiful organized butterfly.

But she loved her little man and always had something he needed. So that was okay.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Yesterday it was my birthday...

I hung one more year on the line
I should be depressed
My house is a mess
But I’m having a good time...

[With my deepest, most sincere apologies to Paul Simon.]

Just an update blog because I've been missing you guys... Thought I'd tell you why I love November.

Elections: I know it's dorky, but I love Election Day. Maybe because it's usually wedged between Halloween (the most fun holiday ever!) and my birthday, but all the hooplah around elections just gets me all excited -- in a civic duty sort of way. I like going inside a school or church I drive by all the time, meeting the volunteers -- who love Election Day as much as I do! -- and I even like standing in line with other voters. There's a special sort of simpatico among citizens out taking advantage of our democratic process to express our opinion about our governance rightfully and peacefully. Kinda cool.

Kinda cool. I love fall weather -- at least for the first few weeks. I think I've talked about this already, but to me the cool, crisp autumn days are just as full of promise as the first signs of green in the spring. Maybe it's the deeply programmed hopefulness of an over-achieving school nerd, but it's like I can smell the potential A's and A+'s waiting around the corner. Sure, I was more of an A-B student, but it's about potential, people.

Wish for Wendy. This amazing softball tournament put on every year by my friend Andy is helping fund research that will one day cure Cystic Fibrosis. MDH and I volunteer for it every year and it's always such a fun experience. You can stop by and see us at the scoreboard if you're up REEEAAALLY early on Saturday, or just make a donation online and sleep in.

Field day. My friends and I do a big family field day every year - it's a great way of getting all of us together outside with our kids before the gluttony of Thanksgiving for some high-quality, silly fun. The original idea was inspired by a Play Therapy class assignment I had a few years ago to get out and do something playful (Best assignment ever!); but my awesome friend Rob has been running it for three years now and taken it totally to the next level.  

Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving because it's all about gratitude. And eating. Two of my favorites, together. Oh, and family. So three of my favorites. I cook every-other year; and this is my year off, so it's even more relaxing! 

Planning for next year. That's right. Planning for next year. You'd never know I had this Type A streak, particularly given that I have about a 20% rate of success when it comes to carrying out plans, but I think it goes back to all the promise and excitement of fall I mentioned before. I love rounding into the holidays thinking of all the fun and excitement waiting in the last two months of the year and the fresh start in January. It's like the universe is saying 'Go ahead, spend some time with the family, be merry, enjoy the festivities; and then get your tush in gear next year.'

So traditions. And service/duty. Gratitude. Friends and family. Playing outside. And indulging my Type A side. What's not to love? Happy November!!