Tag Archives: motherhood

Bounce Back

I’ve been trying for months to spit out some words. I have started and then failed to complete any number of thoughts in a way that would be, best case scenario, marginally intelligible to readers. I had more or less given up on the idea of creating useful or insightful content, primarily because every concept I entertained eventually slipped through my sieve-like mind. The mental fog has been so great, I haven’t been able to string words together, let alone thoughts.

There were times when the desperation felt so great, I didn’t want to write at all. I crawled over each task on my belly and every word I attempted to write felt like mountain in a long, desolate range than stretched as far as I could see in either direction. Naively, I believed I was just tired, overwhelmed with work and the stress of raising a toddler. I didn’t see how my mental health was spiraling out of my control until I was on the precipice of a crisis.

The signs of a major depression are known to me and have been for a long time, but I still managed to take the sadness, the intolerance, the anger and loss of interest for granted. Recently, when my behavior escalated into full-blown mania, I couldn’t pretend that I was getting by anymore. Hard to feel healthy and grounded when your mind is propelling you straight into the sun.

I’ve been telling myself to that I need to bounce back. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps and move on. Just get up off of the floor. Stop doing this — get. up.

Every day I am trying very hard to be here.

I recognize that there will always be times that life leaves you in places of despair. This time, in attempts to insulate from those places and those people,  I chose to withdraw back into myself, knowing it was a risk. But I have tried to withdraw in the direction of the Right Things: my husband, my child, my work, my tribe. I have been trying to care for myself the way a mother would, because I know that I need caring for.

“You have to find a mother inside of yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still need to find this part of ourselves inside.”
– Sue Monk Kidd, from The Secret Life of Bees

I am searching for that part of me inside that is going to push me to bounce back in the way that I must. The woman who will nurture me and encourage me to try something new. To turn away from relationships and loves that no longer feed my soul. I am trying to identify that voice inside that says, “Get up. Breathe. You can do this. Don’t sell yourself short. Just breathe. Breathe, and go eat a good meal, and wash your hair, and then get in bed early. Get up in the morning at a reasonable time. Go to work. Do your best like you always do. Work, and work on you. And work on those things that are important to you. Brush yourself and the naysayers right off. Trust that you are a good mother. Trust that you know what you’re doing is right, because you know what’s right for you. Leave fair-weather friends behind, and then forgive them. And then forgive yourself, because you are worthy of being loved just as you are, which is just as I made you. Circle back in on yourself when you need to, but grow. And live. And love. And at the end of every day, let your final take-away be this: My darling girl, look how far you have come.

Crisis

Crisis. An interesting word when you hear it or speak it over and over again to yourself in a short period of time, am I in crisis? I am in a crisis. A mental health crisis, meaning, a moment in time where I am a potential danger to myself, if not others. A moment in which my ability to make sound decisions has come into question. A crisis of consciousness — as in I have TOO MUCH OF IT on account of the fact that I very much want to not exist anymore, not now, not in this moment. I don’t want to be here anymore.

The first year after we lost my stepfather, I would wake up in the apartment that I shared with my mom, his wife, where we lived together still surrounded by his things and when she was in crisis I would sit with her until it passed. In the year after her death, I would be in significant moments of crisis as my boyfriend slumbered peacefully in the bed beside me as I sunk to floor in the cold moonlight and desperately tried to make peace with the sudden terrible desire to die, hating him a little bit for being oblivious to the tempest raging in the room beside him. And now I am here: hours post-triggering event, still slowly circling the drain of my consciousness just waiting to fall off the edge into what? I don’t know. It never occurred to me to care aside from my literary sensibilities warning me away from the phrase “into oblivion” — if you must be crazy, try not be be crazy and also a cliche. Make no mistake, though, that is what I want: nothingness. Perhaps not forever, but just until the storm, this “crisis” passes.

Even if the crisis never passes because it is ME I am the critical component here and the harbinger of my own descent into madness. I am the failure. I am the reason for my own sadness.

I just want to hurt in a way that I can see and touch. A pain that I can feel on the inside and the outside. I want to grasp something tangible and say THIS. This hurts, it is injured and it gives me pain and because I can touch it with my hands not only am I positive that it is real and that it is there, but I am also confident that it will heal someday. It’s a strange sort of drive that makes a person want to harm themselves — mostly, I think, it is the innate desire to have one’s insides match their outsides.

In the middle of the storm, I recorded a few of my racing thoughts. The state of crisis lasted for a few days, which felt bizarre at the time. I think that I have often considered a “crisis” to be a singular moment of tragedy, a precipitating event for a Before and an After. However, after this crisis was triggered, I saw that it bloomed into a complete mental and physical state that took several days to subside. Days during which I didn’t know exactly where I was, except for the few brief moments of clarity and presentness that punctuated the dark.

I caused myself physical harm in that time. Self-harm has been a constant blip on my radar for years, but it’s been manageable. During my crisis, the desire to self-harm bowled me over, seducing me with promises of equilibrium. Where I once felt that I was spinning out of control, my focus narrowed and concentrated on a single point in time, a singular feeling of physical pain that obliterates all other sensation from my mind. In that moment, it was a welcome reprieve, but in the bright light of day I was disappointed and ashamed of myself — not only because I had resorted to self-harm, but because I had allowed myself to be triggered and suffer a crisis at all.

I like to envision myself as fairly invincible. I frequently imagine myself in horrible situations and think myself through the step-by-step reactions I would deploy to control and ultimately survive the situation. In my own mind, I am capable of withstanding absolutely anything. In life, however, I find myself wanting. It becomes clear to me that I am not, in fact, invincible.. I am actually vulnerable and weak, and in many ways, defunct.

I can’t get pregnant. My body seems to have forgotten how to make itself a host for a new life. Despite trying for over a year, we’ve come no closer to growing our family, and I know that it’s my fault. I can’t get pregnant and my heart is broken. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. I think back to all those times as a teenager, my girlfriends and I taking turns with the awful possibility that we had gotten in trouble. Too young to be mothers, so we prayed and prayed please God don’t let me be pregnant. Now all the manic energy that went into counting the days until we bled has been translated into a deep emotional clenching trying to hold it in and support a life that we are desperate to give birth to. There was a genetic legacy that I was rather depending on, that I have since been discouraged from cashing in. None of the women in my family have been infertile; at least, not that I’m aware of. One of the last things my mother ever told me what was a good mother I would be someday, speculating how easy for me it would be to get pregnant once I was ready, and I believed her, of course, because mother knows best.

So now a new crisis: a crisis of faith. Ever the believer, ever the hopeless optimistic, I’ve not yet given up the dream. But it has cost me no small measure of peace to hold on with such determination, as if I could, by sheer force of will, make myself conceive. It’s ridiculous. I am no Mary and there is no reason to expect Divine Intervention. After all, it’s not exactly uncommon. Secondary infertility, the inability to become pregnant despite previous successes, happens to a fair share of women. Though if I’m honest with my myself, the birth of our daughter nearly three years ago is truly nothing short of a miracle. We struggled to get pregnant, and I struggled to carry her past those first tremulous weeks where it seemed all too likely that she would just slip away, out of my body and out of existence. It would appear that Moira, fated to be born, was the exception, and that my wasted body, this useless mass of flesh, has no miracles left to give.

Every wretched cramp that twists my insides, every drop of wasted blood, every excited announcement of another woman’s fecundity is a thorn in my side. Salt in the wound. I am so angry, I want to scream at someone. I want to make another person feel as hurt, as dispossessed as I feel. I want to give this grief a name and a purpose and to make this pain wearable, apparent. I want everyone to know I’m a fucking open wound, just walking around, waiting to hurt.

And then, the guilt. As I’m reeling through these feelings of loss and failure, a part of me comes to attention to remind me, with cruel alacrity, that I am not, in fact, as disenfranchised as I may feel. I have a beautiful daughter. I have a wonderful career that I love, and a family that loves me, and there are starving people in China, for crissakes, so what’s your fucking problem? You are not a victim. I am not a victim of anything or anyone except myself. I ought to be focusing in on the good things in my life with humility and gratitude. After all, there are scores of women out there, some of whom are close friends, who have been unable to conceive at all. At least I have one child. One perfect, lovely, intelligent, beautiful child. I shouldn’t be so selfish, so greedy, as to wish for more.

But it just isn’t fair. Perhaps it’s the Libra in me, this constant preoccupation with fairness that so brutally trips me up when life becomes chaotic and unreasonable, as it is wont to do. Life isn’t fair, of course, and I know that. But I’m stubbornly resistant to the notion, unwilling to capitulate to fate. I reckon that if I do everything right — if I eat right, I exercise, I keep healthy, I take my vitamins; whatever — if I do all the right things, then I ought to get the outcome that I want. That’s how we’re often taught to look at problems, excepting for those insurmountable challenges that are so far out of our hands that we are instead told that it’s God, or the Universe, or Fate, that will decide. Just be patient. Relax. Whatever is meant to be will be.

What rubbish.

I am, or at least, I have considered myself to be, a spiritual person, but instances like this test my faith. It incenses me to hear that “God has a plan” or “You never know what the Universe has in store for you.” Bullshit. I have plans. My plans aren’t good enough for God? The Universe is withholding my happiness from me because It knows better? Ridiculous!

These are the uncharitable, heathenous thoughts that intrude upon me every waking moment. I am painfully aware of how unreasonable my sadness and frustration have made me. As this writing has proven, I vacillate between petulance and shame frequently. I am struggling to float, let alone rise above the tide. Yes, I ought to deploy some focused gratitude, and center myself around what is really important. Yes, I am at the mercy of my biochemistry in some respects, but I am responsible for how I respond to the changes in the tide. I am aware of these truths and more, but the sadness and disappointment are indefatigable and merciless. I am as trapped within my spotty mind as I am within my troubled body. What is broken cannot always be mended.

 

Keto

Some people close to us are aware that Hubby and I have been trying over a year for Baby #2, without any luck. Last week, I was finally able to see a doctor to discuss my concerns, which he took seriously enough (thank goodness) to order tests. But after he had done that, he sat down with me and explained, “You know, it could be nothing more or less than your weight.” Oh. Yeah. That.

Look, I have never been thin. Even a hundred pounds ago, I thought I was fat. I have always thought that I am fat. I’ve talked about this before, how in the aftermath of losing my parents and struggling with my mental health, I ballooned up to 230 pounds in just a year. I got back down to 200, and then I got pregnant. After that, I figured, what’s the point in killing myself to lose the baby weight if I’m just going to get pregnant again in two years?

And there’s the rub: I’m not pregnant. I have been able to conceive. And it might be all my fault — well, my treacherous body’s fault, anyway.

So I took the doctor’s words to heart: I walked straight out of his office and into a new diet. I have to try, at the very least, or the medical community at large will never acquiesce to helping us have another baby, if it so happens that we need to try IVF or something like that in future. Friends of mine have had great success with the low-carb diet route. One of my close friends has been on the ketogenic diet and it gave her great results, so I decided to start there. Also, I have been on my share of diets in the past, but low-carb was never on the menu. I LOVE CARBS. I love bread, and pasta, and potatoes, and fried things, and you can take them away from me after prying my cold, dead fingers apart. BUT — eye on the prize. If I’m going to have better results, I need to try something different than anything I have ever done before.

I decided to start on a Friday, since I have heard the first few days of this transition can be hellacious. I didn’t want to be at work while going through literal withdrawal from carbs and sugar.

Day One: ALL THE CHEESE
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I can totally do this. I can totally live on cheese and meat and cream and vegetables. Om nom nom!
By lunch I have run out of no-carb options in the house. This place is Carbohydrate Hell.

I resolve to go to the market as soon as possible and start scouring the web for every low-carb/no-carb food item that I will need.

Day Two: Espresso with Heavy Cream
Not a bad way to start the day, since I am already sick and tired of eggs. Not even the avocado on top can make them easier to choke down.

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And you have no idea how much I want that romaine to be a baguette. No. Idea.

Went to the store and bought all the things the Internet said I would need for this diet. I am going to be very poor until I reach my goal.

Day Three: I Hate Eggs

I feel like death. I have no energy, I’m nauseated, and my brain is fuzzy. Today’s highlight was my friend, Steph, resident keto guru, coming over and cooking for me. She made a great soup with beef, cabbage, and mushrooms. Still, I have not felt satisfied by anything I’ve eaten in the past three days. I am not hungry. I feel pretty full actually, but, emotionally and mentally,  I feel empty.

Day Four: Food is for the Weak

I have transcended the need for physical sustenance. Coffee with heavy cream and water are all I need. All day, I have felt a physical aversion to all other (keto-friendly) foods that is reminiscent of my first few months of pregnancy. In the meantime, I stepped off an elevator today and caught a strong whiff of pizza (Sunway’s Flatizza to be exact). My reaction was akin to Edward Cullen’s psychopathy upon smelling Bella’s blood for the first time. That poor Sandwich Artist didn’t know what hit him.

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But instead of draining his life blood, I ordered a salad. Good on me.

Day Five:
I am too bitchy to come up with anything pithy to say about today. Today sucked.

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But here’s a picture of my dinner, if it makes you happy. Asshole.

Day Six: Naughty Rice

The world is not a friendly place for the no-carb syndicate. I didn’t have time to pack a lunch, so I had to go hunt for a keto-friendly option at the mall. I settled on a poke bowl, figuring that I could just toss the one dollar worth of rice at the bottom.

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Tempt me not, white demon!

And so help me God, I tried, but that delicious white sushi rice called to me in a voice both forbidden and tantalizing — I couldn’t help myself!

I had a few bites and then I threw it out. And maybe I cried a little. Whatever. Don’t judge me!

Day Seven: Finally Feeling Human Again

After a full week of keto, I finally feel like I’m coming out from under the fog. My disposition has evened out some, and I don’t feel perpetually angry. Though I’m still a little salty over all the things I enjoy that I can’t eat right now. I see the results of ketosis, though not necessarily weight loss results. Of course, I haven’t weighed myself, but I do feel a little less bloated than I did a week ago, as if my body were a balloon that is slowly losing its air. I feel cautiously optimistic. Aside from the ill-begotten rice from yesterday, I haven’t slipped up — not EVEN when offered a free gourmet cupcake.

I have never been a successful dieter, but maybe that’s because I never had a reason to be: I’ve been healthy; low cholesterol, low blood pressure; all of these years, despite gaining a considerable amount of weight. I have body dysmorphia issues going way back — I’ve never been proud of the way I look. But gaining a hundred pounds over ten years has forced me to make my peace with that. I will never be thin. I will always be curvy. And clearly, no matter what size my jeans are, I’ll always feel fat. So I came to the conclusion that I had to love myself regardless. I had to love my fattiness. I’m still not the poster child for body-positivity, but I did a pretty decent job of cultivating that unconditional love for myself since M was born.

I’m proud of that achievement, and to my benefit, it has nothing to do with what I’m attempting now. I’m not trying to get thin. I’m not doing this to look or feel better — I looked and felt fine while I was eating carbs with every meal, thank you very much. No, I’m doing this to get my body in gear to host another life, to get my insides on board with my reproductive plan. That’s a very salient with specific goal for me to focus in on. And as anyone who knows me can attest to: I can be quite tenacious when pursuing my goals.

That being said, I’m also conceding some points relating to my health that I have long ignored: I have an unhealthily emotional relationship with food. I self-medicate frequently and with abandon. So that’s something I’m going to need to work on even after my end-goal is reached. I need to get on-top of my manic binge-eating. I need to make healthier choices and be a better role model for my daughter. I know all of these things, but they are not as easy to fix as my endocrinological system might be. At the end of the day, I’m still a work in progress. But hey, at least there is progress to be had.

Yuletide Blues

Christmas-time is a difficult time of year for everyone, it seems. All of the togetherness, peace, and good-will toward men comes with a grand helping of isolation, sadness, and guilt. Without meaning to, the holiday season does its damnedest to remind us all of what we’ve lost.

Christmas was a big deal to me when I was growing up. My mom was positively possessed of the holiday spirit. Every inch of our five-bedroom house was decorated; the banisters festooned with garlands, mechanical singing-and-dancing merry-go-rounds on the landing, and an eight-foot-tall tree front and center in the living room. Our hand-made stockings were hung with care o’er the fireplace with limited-edition stocking holders care of the Disney Store. Special towels and holiday-scented soaps were strategically placed in the bathrooms. Stuffed polar bears, reindeer, and Mickey Mouse in a Santa hat were my once-a-year friends. These artifacts became integral to my experience of the holiday season. Without them, the holiday felt pale, lackluster, deficient.

The year I turned eleven was the last of the great Christmases of my childhood. You just can’t stuff a two bedroom apartment with yuletide glee the same way as a two-story home. Being a child of divorce made it happen that Christmas time was more “hum-bug” than “ho-ho-ho”. As I grew, I came to realize that this meant there was no home-base to return to. No childhood bedroom filled to the rafters with relics of my past. No safe-haven to return to after a bad break-up or a fight with the roommate. There was no longer a place to safely store the artifacts my my childhood until such a time came for me to pass those things on to children of my own.

Things disappeared gradually, so much so that I didn’t realize they were missing until it was too late. I assumed the ubiquitous storage units my parents each rented when they moved separately into sad-divorcee apartment blocks would be kept in perpetuity. I assumed that both my mother and father knew, instinctively, that I was counting on keeping my great-grandmother’s china, our family albums, and other assorted pieces from around our home. I assumed that my mother’s horde of Christmas decorations was just as sacred to the adults around me as it was to me personally. In retrospect, perhaps it was all wishful thinking: I wanted these things to be true.

Things were jettisoned over time, in part out of necessity. When my mother and stepfather moved from California to Hawaii in 2003, they could only afford to ship so many things with them, and my grandmother only had room in her garage for so much. Again, I assumed that the things that were being saved and stored were the things that mattered so much to me. In the end, I won’t ever know for sure if that was true.

I came to live with Mom and Al in November of 2004. By Spring of 2008, they were both gone, consumed by separate but voracious illnesses. When Al went, we kept everything. A closet full of aloha shirts, a silver menorah, and a baby grand piano neither of us could play. When Mom got sick two years later, the decision was made that she would move back to the Mainland for treatment and stay with her mother. The piano went with her, but a great deal of Al’s other belongings were passed on to his daughters or donated. We boxed up our whole apartment, including most of my journals, photo albums, and knick-knacks — I was going to live in a much smaller place with a roommate and I wouldn’t have space for it all. I assumed (what was that thing your mother always said about assuming…) that everything would be stored at Grandma’s house, next to great-grandma’s china and Mom’s Christmas Horde. After Mom was gone, it gave me comfort to know that once I was a real grown-up, I could go retrieve those vestiges of our shared past.

We lost a great many things in that fire that consumed my mother’s life. She was more than just the person that gave birth to us. She was our home and the lynch-pin that held our family together. Our greatest cheer-leader and supreme boo-boo kisser. When she went, I lost my friend. My siblings and I, we lost our memory-keeper. And in the intervening years between losing my mother and having a family of my own, I lost my history.

It’s all gone, you see. Every journal I kept from age 13 until 20. Every note and token of love from my first love, which I saved in a (literal) heart-shaped box. Crappy candids of my friends and me in school. Baby-blankets and a sweater knit for me by my Grandy. All of the tangible pieces of the first twenty years of my life. Great-grandma’s china. And all of my mother’s holiday collection.

I frequently force myself to remember that these are just things. Things are not love and they can’t replace the people that you’ve lost. I try to remind myself that I don’t need to cling to these fragments of my past or of my family, because I’m making a new family and building new memories. But it’s hard. It’s hard to decorate a Christmas tree with my daughter and think of a legacy of joy that I won’t be able to pass on to her. It hurts to sit around a table of my in-laws and listen to them tell stories about my husband as he was growing up, knowing that I can’t reciprocate by sitting him down with my mother and having her relive my history for him. It’s sad that so much of what we all seem to take for granted as being permanent and unchangeable, is in fact completely fragile.

I have had to let go of a great deal, but I carry on with traditions and hold my new family close. I’m M’s mommy now. I’m her history-keeper, and I take this appointment seriously. Her stories are written down in baby books and documented in photos. We are building a life and a foundation for her to jump off from and I will make sure that it persists in case she ever wishes to return. Every year, we buy a new ornament and add to our Christmas collection, rich with fondness for what we have and bittersweet joy for what we lost.

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Wrong. All we can do is learn to float.

 

Working From Doubt

I have arrived! Now is a time in my life that I fought hard for, for many years. I should be beaming with pride for my achievement and relaxing with the fruit of my efforts.

So why am I plagued by incessant debilitating self-loathing?

Well, I guess you can’t have everything.


 

When I graduated high school, I knew what I wanted to be: I wanted to become a freelance ASL interpreter. I wanted an education. I wanted a home. I wanted a family. In the ensuing ten years, I have chipped away at that list, attending college, earning three degrees, marrying my college sweetheart, establishing a home for us, and becoming a mother. Three years ago, I earned my interpreting credential and starting working freelance on the side, while maintaining my nine-to-five job for its financial security. This year, after a great deal of consideration and planning, I decided I’m ready to take that final leap: I resigned from my nine-to-five and announced that I would be freelancing starting in 2016.

I’m excited, and terrified, and elated. I feel like Diane Lane’s character in Under the Tuscan Sun: after years of struggle, I finally got everything that I asked for. But in my head and in my heart, I’m still so deeply unhappy with myself. Ever since I made my decision, I’ve been completely depressed — why am I tortured this way?

In part, I am actually deeply disappointed with myself. I’ve managed to achieve a great deal, but I’ve feel that I have failed myself in other ways, primarily in terms of managing my self-destructive behaviors. Things that I once considered to be bad habits or the result of a poor lifestyle have now insinuated themselves into my psychological state: I’m not just an emotional eater, I’ve developed a full-blown eating disorder. I don’t just bite my fingernails when I’m anxious, I’m addicted to self-harm through dermatillomania. I don’t just have low self-esteem, I emotionally eviscerate myself with pathological regularity. I am literally incapable of experiencing my own joy. I’ve evolved in many positive ways, but the comorbidity of my progress to my illness can’t be overlooked. What if I sacrificed too much of myself in order to achieve my dreams?

Don’t Call My Baby Fat

Look, I get it, all right? I have cute aggression, too. I can’t resist those chubby thighs, those chunky cheeks, the little Michelin tire rolls ‘round ankles, bellies, and wrists.  I mean, let’s just face it: skinny babies just aren’t as cute as the rollie-pollie kind.

GAAAAHHHH!
GAAAAHHHH!

But so help me God, if one more person calls my baby a “chunky monkey”, or squeals with joy  while pinching her delicious little rolls between their forefinger and thumb, I’m going to lose it. God bless my girl friend who heard this from me recently after telling me she, “loved Moira’s chunk.” “Don’t call her that!” I said, a little snappily. My girl friend was chagrined, but listened kindly as I tried to dismantle my aversion and explain my reaction. Yes, Moira is chubby. She is rounded in all of the delightful ways a healthy young child should be. And unfortunately, I am a product of a society that equates “chubby” with “fat” and tells us that fat is just about the worst thing a person can be, so I’m a little sensitive to comments about my child’s looks. Until “fat” ceases to be synonymous with “lazy”, “unhealthy”, and “frumpy”; until “fat” is no longer antonymic with words like “beautiful”, “healthy”, and “attractive” — don’t call my baby fat. In fact, why not praise her for all other salient reasons for which she ought to be praised, rather than her looks? Her intelligence, her kindness, her joyfullness, her curiosity? Praise her being, not her body! But, that’s another blog post.


Before Moira was born, I made a pact with myself that she was going to grow up different than I did. That promise entailed a great many things, but chief among them were the lessons I learned about food, body image, and self-esteem. After I learned I was having a girl, I began to anticipate what an immense responsibility I would have in addition to being this child’s mother — I was going to be responsible for stewarding this perfect little girl through a world that would gladly strip her down to flesh and bones, both metaphorically and in body, to meet their idealized and unrealistic standards. I was going to have to fight for her right to be and do everything that made her heart feel right, damned what the world thought, because who is going to teach a girl how to be a healthy, happy woman, except her mother? Since she was born over 18 months ago, I’ve been increasingly defensive about my daughter’s body. It began with the acknowledgment of my own insecurities and a solemn promise to never share them with Moira. I can directly trace my own insecurities back to observations of my own mother, who would constantly poke, prod, and abuse herself for her plump physique. I recognize that if I don’t learn to put a cork in it (or, better, actually start loving myself), I’ll be hurting my daughter. As far back as I can remember, I was concerned about body image.  I distinctly recall being no more than seven years old (SEVEN!) and sucking my tummy in as I walked past boys in the supermarket because I wanted to seem appealing to them. But why? Where did I learn that behavior, those values? Yes, I was rounder, less lithe, than the other girls in my grade school, but I definitely wasn’t obese by any stretch of the imagination. So tell me how my self-image became so tarnished? My mother, I think, failed to realize how her example would affect me. Every time she talked down to herself, admired another woman’s thin athletic build while simultaneously degrading her own, I listened and incorporated her perspectives into my own world view. Every time she went on a crash diet, eschewing meals for “milkshakes” and killing herself on a Stairmaster for hours into the evening, I watched and I learned. When she would criticize herself in photos and compare her thighs to my grandmother’s while sighing mournfully, every time she took me with her to shop for clothes and berated herself in the dressing room, I logged it away for later use against myself.

Mothers, you are your daughter’s first mirror. She will look at you and see herself. If you tell her that what she sees in that mirror is ugly, no amount of praise or compliments will prevent her from tearing herself down.
Mothers, you are your daughter’s first mirror. She will look at you and see herself. If you tell her that what she sees in that mirror is ugly, no amount of praise will reestablish her ability to love herself.

There are probably many more reasons for my low self-esteem and my lifetime struggles with weight. I wasn’t raised to be a healthy eater. I wasn’t raised to be especially active. I had a negative self-image from very early on, but as I got a little older and started to fill out in ways that weren’t considered healthy, I was subjected to a lot of criticism, both at home and at school. I don’t recall my pediatrician ever commenting that I was overweight, but I remember my parents scolding me for what I ate, and when, and how much. Our home was emotionally fraught and sometimes violent, and I began eating as a way to self-soothe. I would binge eat and hide it from my parents, and they would become effusively angry when they busted me (Tip: if your child is an emotional-eater, there are way better ways to confront that issue than shaming them about it. See “opposite of intended effect”.) Somehow, it never occurred to them to change their own habits in order to set an example for me to follow.  People aren’t born thinking that being fat is a bad thing — we have to be taught to hate ourselves or each other, and I definitely was. I was taught by two adults who didn’t much care for their own bodies how to hate my own. I don’t think they ever considered how their well-intentioned criticism, or their own self-hatred, would influence me. I’m a parent now, and I keep my mother and father’s example close to my heart. Not because I want to follow it, but because I want to avoid it. All of the wrong decisions my parents made, and all of the wrong decisions I later made for myself, I’m using those lessons to concentrate on making the right choices for M. Still, people allow their distorted perceptions of beauty and health standards color their view of our family and even our parenting choices. Yeah, I’m fat — does that mean that my daughter will be, too? No, of course not. I suspect that many people look at me and assume that a.) I’m unhealthy, lazy, irresponsible, etc., and b.) assume that I will graft my flaws on to my daughter. However, nothing could be farther from the truth: my husband and I make very careful, conscientious decisions regarding food and activity choices in order to set her up for life-long health. Note: health, not thinness, because we’ve got our priorities straight. Does she still eat pizza? Sometimes. (“My monkey, my circus”, remember?) You see, I don’t want to take all that I’ve learned about being healthy and run to the other end of the spectrum, counting calories and obsessing over what goes into our bodies. In the end, that attitude would defeat the purpose of what I’m trying to achieve: raising a healthy, intelligent girl who is able to appreciate all things are best in moderation. Regardless of the size of her dress or the number on the scale, she will know that she is beautiful, valuable, and important, even if she does keep her chunky-monkey rolls all the way into adulthood. Eff your beauty standards — those thunder thighs are a family legacy. And we are gorgeous.

My Monkey, My Circus

She is my daughter. My charge and my responsibility. I get to make the calls, decide the treatment, and set the course of action. She is my monkey. This my my circus. And there are days that I haven’t the slightest clue how to conduct the show.

There are a lot of things that they don’t tell you about being a parent.

That there is just about the most common thing you hear, ironically. So common as to be a cliché. I mean, with all of the parenting books, websites, blogs, random strangers giving you advice, friends and family imparting parenting wisdom — how could there possibly remain something that they don’t tell you?

I think I know the answer: they don’t tell you because they don’t want it to be true. The truth of the matter being that parenting comes with a big, heaping dose of shame.

Shame for different reasons, though. Maybe because you didn’t breastfeed, or because you use those awful, eco-disaster disposable diapers. Shame because you do (or don’t) ascribe to a parenting philosophy, like “the gentle parenting method” or “the Montessori approach”. People will give you stink-eye for just about anything: how you make your child’s food, where you buy your child’s food, organic versus mass-produced versus vegan, home-care versus day-care, TV versus no TV, et cetera.

The worst shame, the most taboo, is the shame of wanting a break. That is most common, most stigmatized, and most under-rug-swept dirty little secret that parents can harbor. Sometimes we are simply and completely maxed out.

Doesn’t seem that the world has a great deal of compassion for us poor bastards. There’s no chapter in any parenting book that I have ever picked up that gives you tools for how to keep on keepin’ on when you’re just about ready to throw your hands up in the air, say “fuck it!”, and let the little bastard have their third cookie if it will just shut him up.. There are no online support group for parents to talk, openly and without censorship, about how they just don’t enjoy parenting some of the time. (Except maybe this one.)

No one warns you that some days, you won’t like your child very much, and that’s all right. Nah, we judge the hell out of parents who have the temerity to admit their feelings, saying things like, “Well, you were the one who chose to have them! It’s not the kid’s fault — she’s only a baby!” and “Didn’t you realize what you were getting into? Parenting isn’t easy, after all.” “What on earth are you bitching about? Isn’t not that hard.”

But the thing is that yes, it really is that hard. Even though I knew what I was signing up for, even though I even anticipated a colicky, unmanageable child much worse than the one I eventually got, there was no way I could possibly have been prepared enough. And while I understand that M is a small child who lacks the ability to control her actions, she is sometimes a tiny, tyrannical sociopath and the truth is, it gets to me.

I can’t help it. I love my daughter absolutely and completely. I have never, would never, consider a life without her. Being a mother has been a gift unlike any I have ever known. That being said, I would like very much to be able to take a short break from motherhood, in order to reacquaint myself with, well, my self.

There are things I used to do for myself that I simply haven’t the time or money to do anymore. Parenthood has robbed me of my ability to self-care. I can’t tell my daughter that her screaming is giving me an anxiety attack. I can’t explain to her that I have been feeling very depressed and low-energy, so I need to return to bed for a day. I never expected that my feelings could be hurt so swiftly by her capriciousness, that her coy refusal to give hugs and kisses would stir my feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

I was prepared be tired. I knew there would be tantrums. But I never fully appreciated how sleeping in two days a week was integral to maintaining my sanity. I never understood how much I needed those quiet, isolated hours spent underneath the duvet in my darkened room. It didn’t occur to me that once I started caring for my daughter, seeing to her every need, that I would no longer be able to care for my own, or that my emotions could be so heavily influenced by hers.

It feels somewhat trite to muse over all the things I don’t like about being a parent. As I said, it’s an amazing gift, and one that I jealously anticipated. My husband and I are already planning Baby #2 (A second one! My god!) because we have always known we wanted to have a nuclear family. I am also acutely aware that there are many, many people unable to have the family that they dream of, which throws my words into rather harsh light. Still, it is my truth, and the unspoken truth of many: our love is boundless and unconditional, but our patience is not. The fact of the matter is that we are only human, and repeated trials by a demanding two-foot-tall bully will deplete our mental stores. It can’t be helped. Sometimes, the ringleader of the circus needs to leave the monkeys to their devices and exit the tent.

Separation Anxiety

I have been blessed with a child who is flexible, pleasant, and joyful. She is also loud, opinionated, and relentless. So when Moira’s godmother and godfather offered to take her for the whole weekend to allow me some much-needed rest, I leapt at the chance, particularly when they offered to watch her over this weekend, as I have just had my last two wisdom teeth pulled and I fully intend to spend the next few days hopped-up on painkillers, eating Jello, and watching bad TV. Hey, you recover your way, and I’ll recover mine.

Jello: It's what's for dinner.
Jello: It’s what’s for dinner.

I’ve been looking forward to and dreading this weekend in equal measure. First of all, I’m not a real big fan of having teeth pulled. It’s painful and uncomfortable and it prevents me from eating solid food. On the other hand, SLEEP. I get to sleep in for two whole days in a row; a decadent, delightful vegetative treat. I’m really looking forward to indulging in that prolonged unconsciousness. On the other-other hand, though, I’m going to miss my baby. Since the day she was born and was whisked away to the NICU for the night, I’ve always been anxious when we are apart. So far, she has only ever spent isolated nights away at her grandparents’ houses and I have always rushed to pick her up the next day. When I’m home without her, I am at a complete loss as to what to do with myself. What do I do when I’m not acting as Mommy? While I’m anxious and troubled, however, Moira has proven to be as carefree and cheery as ever. I’ve never received a call in the night from a sleep-deprived Nani or Grampy with a screaming infant in the background. No desperate pleading for tips to get her to eat, or ways to decrease her crying — because she doesn’t cry. She is blissfully unperturbed. As always, my darling girl is too busy loving life to feel anything but elation.

Unbeknownst to me during my pregnancy, I had conceived the Anti-Sarah: a child so delightfully unlike me as to be persistently effervescent, filled with sunshine and happiness.
Unbeknownst to me during my pregnancy, I had conceived the Anti-Sarah: a child so delightfully unlike me as to be persistently effervescent, filled with sunshine and happiness.

This has confirmed something that I have always secretly believed about becoming a parent: by some miracle, there are times when neurotic, emotional people have kids and witness these children turn out far better adjusted than the parents have any hope to be. Hallelujah! Honestly, I consider it a triumph: so far in my daughter’s 16 months of life, I have not managed to imbue her with any of my anxieties or neuroses. She doesn’t have any trouble sleeping over at her Auntie’s house because she is loved and secure. My daughter has no worries. Score ONE for Mommy! I’m not sure how long this will last, of course. Right now, she is fairly unaware of my struggles and idiosyncrasies, but that will not always be the case. I will have to continue to monitor myself and wage my personal war in private if I am to avoid exposing Moira to my various insecurities. I know from experience how important this is — I see in myself so many of the same feelings and manifestations of self-loathing that my own mother had. That is not the legacy I want Moira to grow into. My mission in life will be to preserve my little girl’s outlook (sunshine and rainbows included), so that the only one who has to suffer separation anxiety — or any other sadness — is me.

The terrible, inescapable joy of toddlerhood

I did not have rose-colored glasses on when I looked forward into the future and saw myself as a mother. I knew that there would be sleepless nights, unbearably disgusting messes, and futile tantrums.  During my pregnancy, I had prepared myself to give birth to a child much like myself — and according to family mythology, I was no picnic. I pictured myself nurturing a squalling mess of a newborn, overcome by colic; a disagreeable little potato-person who wouldn’t let me leave her sight without wailing, just like her mommy before her. I was pleasantly (to say the least) when M was born and she was perfect. Perfectly formed, perfectly darling, perfectly perfect in every way. She was a good sleeper, a good eater, and she loved people. The only time she really kicked up a fuss was when her FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) kicked in. When she settled into a routine around 4 months old, I rested easy — maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad, after all.

Okay, so maybe I had some rose-colored shades hanging around my neck, but I swear, I really wasn’t picturing Maytag-commercial levels of parenting bliss. I was ready for anything — until she morphed, slowly but completely, into a tiny tyrant, willfully defiant just for the simple joy of watching me lose my shit.

We had entered the Toddler Zone.

100% of toddlers just want to watch the world burn.
100% of toddlers just want to watch the world burn.

All of a sudden it seems that my delightful, joyful little girl has become hellbent on making me turn into the worst possible version of my own mother, screaming admonitions through my clenched teeth and wielding an open palm, posed to strike a diapered butt. This is not the parent I want to be, but damned if it doesn’t come naturally.

Other mothers know what I’m talking about, but women are so damned competitive, most of us would rather floss with barbed wire than admit to our shortcomings. Not to mention the fact that parenting is an art that we all consider ourselves to be masters of: hindsight, it seems, is not exactly 20/20 when looking back at the first few years of your child’s life and recalling with perfect clarity the successes, but not so much the failures or struggles. Whenever I broach this subject with more “seasoned” parents, I hear “Oh, I know exactly what you mean. You really ought to try this…” followed by a stream of well-meaning advice that certainly may have worked for them, but doesn’t fulfill my immediate need of someone to commiserate with.

I mean, advice is welcome and it is typically well-intentioned, but sometimes I don’t want to hear about your parenting philosophy which has been vetted by child psychologists and is tried and tested and true. Can’t you tell me about the time you wanted to drop your screaming toddler and run in the other direction? Or about how you tried every approach you could think of or read about to discipline and redirect them, but nothing ever stuck? I want to hear about how you were at the end of your rope when your 15-month-old decided to pour juice over their head for the second time while watching you with an impish grin on their face, blissfully ignorant or apparently disinterested in your distress. THAT’s the story I need to hear, while gazing in wonder at your polite, well-behaved 4-year-old who, eventually, grew into a charming little person. I want to hear that all three-year-olds are assholes, and that toddlers are, by definition, tiny sociopaths who, like the Joker, don’t know why they need to do the terrible destructive things that they do, but they simply must. Those are the stories that give me hope that we really will survive this, and that my child is not actually trying to give me an aneurism.

She might just succeed though.
She might just succeed though.

This isn’t to say, of course, that I’m no longer enjoying myself. Even when M is being a tiny monster, she’s still pretty cute (God made them that way on purpose so we wouldn’t kill them, you see). I just find myself uttering the words “Parenting is hard” and “I’m so fucking tired” more and more these days, living for those moments when she’s exhausted and cuddly, before she becomes a little hellion again.

toddlernoun
She is equal parts lovable and maddening, and I wouldn’t have her any other way. Well, okay, maybe I’d have her be a little less interested in climbing the furniture, but that’s about it.