A Midsummer Maternal Airing of Grievances

It’s getting kinda crazy up in here, people.  My children have been out of school for exactly a month now.  We have about 6.5 weeks left to go.  Holy crap, I just looked that up to be sure.  That’s longer than I thought!

I’m trying to enjoy summer with the kids, really I am.  We made our summer “bucket list” in June, and everyone contributed all of their very excellent and creative and expensive ideas about how we, as a family, can squeeze every ounce of fun out of our short Upstate New York summer.  Never mind the fact that in order to execute all of these fun things on the bucket list, both the hubby and I would need to get second jobs to have the money to pay for all the amusement park fees and movie tickets and road trip expenses, and then NOT ACTUALLY SHOW UP TO WORK AT ALL for 4 straight weeks so that we have the time to have all the fun.  Who’s stupid idea was a summer bucket list anyway?  My kids learned about this from school.  They actually came home with a drawing of a bucket that they had colored and cut out, and there was lined paper on the front to write out all the ways that they hoped that their parents would disappoint them over the summer.

Let me give you an example to illustrate how well our family activities are going so far this summer.  This is an actual conversation that occurred in the car today:

Kid:  You know what we should do?  We should go play glow golf!  It’s so fun!  I played it at a birthday party last year!

Other kid:  Yeah!  Glow golf!

Me:  Glow golf?  That sound fu–

Husband (interrupts):  Are you kidding me?  You guys are the WORST to play golf with!  Every time we go golfing you fight over who’s going to go first, and cry if your ball goes in the water, and someone has a meltdown before we even get to the second hole.  NO WAY am I golfing with you guys.

–silence–

So, yeah.

When it comes to parenting and family life, I usually look for the path of least resistance.  Typically, I’m all about keeping things simple, planning in down-time, and not over-scheduling our lives.  Everything with parenting has been feeling really hard and sticky and overly busy and difficult since summer started, and I haven’t been able to get a grip on why that is. Where are you, path of least resistance?  And that’s when it occurred to me.  THERE IS NO PATH.  There may be a path from September through May, but in the summer, the path is hidden under piles of Goldfish crackers (also lovingly referred to as lunch), popsicle wrappers, summer camp schedules, wet bathing suits, and a huge pile of laundry that multiplies exponentially every hour because everyone changes their clothes four times a day.

Let’s talk about the fighting.  Good Lord, please make it stop.  I know my mother is laughing right now and you can just stop it, mom.

And bedtime. Disastrous.  Every night.  I never told them they were exempt from bedtime in the summer.  But they seem to think that bedtime should be optional when school is not in session, so every night is like trying to herd wandering cats.  Listen kids, if you want me to like you in the morning, you need to be in bed by 9 pm.  End of story. Feel free to go at 8:30 pm for bonus points.

Don’t get me started on the mess.  No one can “remember” to hang up their wet towel, or put their dishes in the dishwasher, or put things away.    I told the kids I felt like a broken record, and they were all like, “What’s a record?”

I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but some days it feels a little bit like a house arrest situation.  My guards are short, demanding, prone to mood swings, and hungry all the time.  They do not allow me to have showers or bathroom breaks without supervision.  They follow me everywhere. They interrogate me multiple times per day, often until I am close to tears.  Their main tactics to break my spirit are constant interruptions, talking to me before my morning caffeine load, and repeating my name over and over.  Sometimes I am allowed out of the house to drive them places or to gather additional rations.  Sometimes they bring their friends over to help them make large amounts of noise.

In addition to driving everyone to and fro, the extra laundry, refereeing the fights, getting harassed poolside, and reading the same sentence in my book over and over (see constant interruptions in the previous paragraph!), I also have to make time to prevent summer slide.  I usually don’t even think about summer slide until it is the end of the day, and then it’s too late!  They have already slid.  They are sliding, a little each day, and it’s all my fault.  Today I broke our screen time rule and let them play video games for 2 hours straight because I just needed some peace and quiet and yes, it was glorious for me.

Moms and dads, fess up.  Tell me what your summer looks like.  Not your Instagram version, but the real stuff.  The messy stuff.  We need to talk about it.  I can’t be the only one.

Revenge of the school bus driver

Last week was the last day of school.  Both kids came home with a mix of emotions, and ran off the school bus eager to tell me all the sad and tragic and happy things.  My oldest is starting middle school in the fall so he is dealing with the excitement of moving up, combined with sadness at leaving his elementary school and a healthy amount of fear of the unknown.   We talked and hugged, checked out their report cards, had a snack, and I sent them out to play.

About a half-hour after later, Leah came running inside to tell me that their bus driver had driven by our house on his motorcycle to give them a present!  She promptly checked with the kids next door and down the street and confirmed that she and her brother were the only lucky recipients of a special gift from the bus driver.  Why  this matters to her, I don’t know.  Everything’s a competition when you’re eight, even winning favor from your school bus driver.

Then I saw what the bus driver got them.  HE GAVE EACH OF THEM AN AIR HORN.


You guys, what do you think my kids DID to the bus driver this year, exactly?  And why is he punishing ME for it?  I am guessing he holds me responsible in some way.  I swear, I knew nothing of any misbehavior on the bus this year.  If they did something to tick him off, he could have just talked to me about it and I would have nipped it in the bud.  That’s the kind of parent I am.  I am a bud-nipper.

But no.  Instead, he bided his time.  Waiting.  For just the right moment.  For the first day of summer vacation, when they were returned fully to our care for two whole months.  When he KNEW there was no way they could bring those devil’s instruments on the bus.  He’s no fool.

On the bright side, they have learned a few musical tunes.  See “Jaws on the air horn” below.

Hauling my family to church every Sunday is making me lose my religion

Let’s get a few things straight right at the outset, before we dive in.

I love my family.

I love God.

I love and appreciate my church family.

But I have to tell you that for me, attending church with  my family on Sunday morning has earned a place up there on my poo-list with Mondays, dinner, glitter, daylight savings time, and people who try to talk to me when I’m sleeping.

Let us first discuss the hellacious process of getting everyone ready for church, which in itself is enough to make me start raiding the communion wine.  There is the issue of what to wear.  Now, does God care what we wear to church?  Really, no.  Of course we know that the answer is “no”.  However, I do think it is my duty as a parent to teach my kids to dress appropriately for the place and situation in which they happen to be in attendance.  I fear that if I fail to do so, they will one day show up at a job interview wearing pajama pants and a stained t-shirt because nobody ever taught them that there is a time and a place for that sort of thing.  Obviously, we save our pajama pants and stained t-shirts for when we go to Wal-Mart, but I digress. One kid doesn’t want to dress up, which is fine.  We don’t insist on “dressy” clothes, but we do insist on no sweat pants.   Unfortunately, for my 10-year old boy “no sweat pants” is the same as “dressy” by default. So a “certain someone” is inevitably in a foul mood from the moment the sun breaks the horizon Sunday morning.  The girl doesn’t have as much of an issue with getting ready for church because she gets to wear a pretty dress and pretty shoes.  It’s really the main reason she goes to church, aside from the candy our children’s ministry puts in the “busy bag” they hand out to the kids before the sermon.  All that to say that by the time we navigate the “normal” morning mood swings, breakfast, clothing-related drama, getting everyone dressed and out the door on time, and have the “I don’t want to go to church– it’s boring” conversation, we usually arrive on the doorstep of our place of worship a little bit discontent, to put it mildly.

Then there is the issue of actually being at church with kids in tow.  Kids are super talented in that they can ruin anything.  Church is no exception to this rule.  When they were babies and toddlers we would put them in the nursery, which sounds like it would be a good thing, right?  Unfortunately, it turned out to be fraught with all kinds of worship-killing issues, such as separation anxiety, diaper blowouts beyond the scope of the nursery volunteers, feeding times, missed morning naps, and usually some kind of plague that they would acquire 36-48 hours after leaving.  Between the Sundays we missed due to our own kids’ illnesses and the Sundays we had to take our turn volunteering in the nursery, it felt like we hardly ever got to attend the service.   On the rare occasions we were all healthy, present, and able drop them both off in the nursery, Jeff and I would enter the sanctuary and sit there like abused prisoners of war who had just been set free out of a dark hole, blinking in the blinding light of freedom.  Those 45 minutes without the children tugging at us were less about spiritual growth and more about the free babysitting just taking a breather.

With the exception of those few times we were able to make use of the nursery when they were babies, I have not sat through a church service in over a decade without being interrupted every 4 minutes at a minimum.  Over the course of a typical worship service, I break up at least 3 arguments, play a rendition of musical chairs in the pew, field at least 3 requests to go to the bathroom (despite the fact that they both went before we got there), respond to 2 additional requests to leave to get a drink of water, fish at least one child out from under the pews, answer approximately 15 random questions that have nothing to do with church or God or Jesus or worship or anything remotely connected to what I am trying to concentrate on, and THEN–then!!–9 times out of 10 one of the kids will fart (always silent/deadly), thereby crop-dusting all of the poor unsuspecting worshipers around us.  It is exhausting.  And stinky.  And not at all conducive to spiritual growth of any kind.

We have tried many things over the years to try to foster our children’s love for God and their church community.  They love God, but Sunday church is not a fan favorite.  They don’t enjoy going, and because they don’t enjoy it, it is much less enjoyable for me.  I’m not sure how to walk the fine line between prioritizing church as a family without tipping over into legalism.  Or losing my sanity in the process.

This is not how I pictured it would be, of course.  I always thought we would be the kind of family that would be really involved in our church.  Not because I think that will win us any special favors in the eyes of God.  I know we are loved whether we attend church regularly or lay on the couch in our jammies.  But I also want my children to grow up immersed in a healthy faith community, where they will learn the importance of knowing others and being known, of giving and receiving, and where they can practice worship and service.

One of my good friends told me about her husband’s grandmother, who had 6 children.  On Sunday mornings she would take the older kids to the early Mass and the younger kids to the later Mass.  If the older kids misbehaved, she made them attend Mass a second time with the younger siblings.  Say what??  This woman is my hero.

So if you see me smiling maniacally at church on Sunday morning or stage whispering to my kids in the pew, now you know that I’m just white-knuckling my way through until nap time.  MY nap time, that is.  Pray for me.  Deliver me, Lord, from Sunday.

Parenting after infertility

It has been almost 11 years since I had my first baby.

It’s been approximately 12 years since we started the process of in-vitro fertilization.

It’s been about 13 years since I took my first steps over the threshold of the reproductive endocrinologist’s office, scared and angry.

Thirteen years since we did almost a whole year of intrauterine inseminations, hoping against hope each time, trying to avoid doing IVF because I was so terrified of that process.

Fourteen years since I had my first miscarriage.

In my late twenties, when I should have been having fun and experiencing all of the excitement and freedom and possibility of young adulthood, when all of our friends were getting married and popping out babies one after another, we were having medical tests and surgeries and perfectly timed sex, driving as fast as we could from home to the doctor’s office with a sperm sample in a cup tucked next to my body to keep it warm so it could be washed and spun and clinically inserted into my uterus later that day, just like nature intended.

The thing I remember most was the shame.  And grief, so much grief.  I didn’t tell very many people what we were going through at the time.  It was so hard to talk about.  I had this body that wasn’t doing what it was made to do, what lots of women’s bodies did by accident, even.  I was young and healthy and married.  I had a job.  I had a house.  I did everything in the right order.  All those years worrying about birth control and getting pregnant “at the wrong time” seemed pretty silly, in retrospect.

And people said such stupid things.  Even though I knew logically that they were just trying to help and they didn’t mean any harm, when I was already wearing all of my nerves on the outside of my body, other people’s well-meaning but misguided comments were just too much to bear.  So I just kept my pain to myself, and did my best to muddle through work and the responsibilities I had at the time.  I plastered a smile on my face every time I went to a baby shower for a treasured friend, and then went home and cried for days over my own bitter situation as well as my inability to be truly happy for another person that I dearly loved.  The pain hung between us as a couple.  We could hardly speak to each other about what was happening, lest we step into an emotional minefield and lose our footing.  Our marriage suffered as we each retreated to our individual corners to deal with our pain in the best way we knew how.  My mental health unraveled.  We drifted away from our “couple friends”, who now all had at least a few kids and were more interested in doing family-centric activities on the weekends than hanging out as couples.  We avoided any activities where we might be bombarded with pregnant ladies or babies or families, which turned out to be all activities, everywhere.  We became more and more isolated.

Finally we came to the end of our options and did IVF, and it worked.  And I was so sick.  Not in the “morning sickness” way that other women get sick, but in the “complications from IVF way that nobody really tells you can happen” way.  But we were pregnant.  And we were supposed to be happy.  But I was too scared and sick to be happy, so we were just guarded, and every time a little joy would bubble to the surface, we just popped the bubble to keep the joy in check in case the worst happened, because our experience was that the worst usually did happen, at least to us.

As my pregnancy progressed, some of the complications resolved, and new complications arose.  There were some scary, horrible moments.  There was ovarian hyperstimulation, which led to more procedures and treatments.  There was bleeding and bedrest.  There was a twin who was lost, leaving us to grieve the loss of one as we hoped for the other.  As I passed into my second trimester, things started to look up a little.  I came off bed rest and was able to go back to work.  I had a cute little belly.  We started planning and making a registry and getting the baby’s room ready.  We found out we were having a boy.  We let the joy bubble up.  The pain and fear were not gone, but we could lift up our heads in the midst of it for the first time in a while.

Then we had a boy.  All of 5 lbs 11 oz.

13730862_10153656729746994_2625429603277002769_o

And 2 years later, a girl.

IMG_0060

And there you have it, right?  I got my happy ending.  Not everyone’s infertility story ends that way, I am well aware.  As my friends told me during my darkest days, it was all “worth it in the end”.  Story over.  Except that it’s not.

After almost 5 years of trying to conceive, more interventions than I can count, 3 million home-pregnancy tests, 3 actual pregnancies, 2 losses, 2 c-sections, and 2 live births, I now have two kids who can read and write and pour their own cereal and who let me sleep in on the weekends.  Hallelujah.  And yet, I still have this dark twisty place where shame and grief live.

I thought the shame would go away once we were through with treatments, but it didn’t.  It just transferred neatly over to parenting, and there it has stayed, after a full decade of raising these little miracles that I prayed and cried and ached over before they were ever conceived in a Petri dish.

When I am in the midst of the never-ending laundry pile and cleaning and school papers and picking up the crap that everyone drops all over the house, shame whispers “At least you have people who need you.  Not everyone is so lucky.”

When I don’t want to cook one more meal and just can’t bear the complaining and whining that happens almost every night at the dinner table, shame says, “Well, you get to sit at the dinner table with your husband, a little boy, and a little girl–this is what you wanted, right?”

When I feel simultaneously overstimulated and yet mind-numbingly bored from all of the school happenings and extracurricular activities and homework and baths and bedtimes and board games and recitals and band concerts, I hear “You should be grateful that you have the privilege of watching your healthy kids grow up.  Not everyone gets that opportunity.”

My therapist told me that feelings are just feelings.  Except that some of my feelings feel like a grenade in my hand.  If I hold on to them, no one gets hurt except me.  If I throw that grenade, the people around me get hurt.  They might think I don’t want them or love them, which sounds like a terrible message that I would never want my kids to receive from me.  So I lock myself in the bathroom for some quiet, I go to yoga and on long runs.  And I ponder–can gratitude for my beautiful family really co-exist with these feelings of being totally, utterly exhausted from parenting?  Can I really feel like I want to hold on tight to my dear little family in one breath while wanting to run away from my life in the next?  How do I hold space for the part of me that is so completely resentful of these people who harass me to make them pancakes on a Saturday morning before I have even had a cup of coffee, even as I remind myself that had it not been for medical technology and a $10K gift from my parents, I would be eating pancakes alone?  The truth is that after you go through infertility, there is no space for those feelings.  I can sit in a therapist’s office and agree with her that yes, logically there should be space to be disillusioned and disenchanted and exhausted and frustrated by parenting and that of course, one can feel more than one emotion at a time, in equal measure, even if it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.  Because feelings don’t always make sense.  But.  Everything I do now as a parent– the choices I make, how I relate to my kids, the way I think, the way I feel, the way I am–is all colored by the grief and the pain of that journey we went through to get where we are today.   It changed me.

And what of the loss that comes with infertility?  So much loss, and not just pregnancy loss, which is significant.  There is also loss of your privacy and dignity. Loss of that dream that you would surprise your husband with happy news and he would swing you around and you would both jump up and down in the kitchen.  Loss of some of your friends, who drift away or move on because they started driving in the mommy lane a decade before you, or because you you’re so bogged down by grief to be a decent friend.  Loss of your innocence.  Loss over the way you thought it would be.

I know a lot of people who, after they have suffered greatly from one trial or another, would tell you that despite the pain they endured they ultimately were so grateful for what they learned through suffering that they wouldn’t ever change it.  I don’t think I am one of those people.  My emotional journey didn’t end all nice and neat and wrapped with a pretty bow on the top.  I will never be able to package it like an after-school special with a positive message at the end for everyone to take away and feel good about.  I would never want to change the two children that I have, with the exact combination of chromosomes that make them the unique little beings that they are.  I can appreciate that if we had gotten pregnant earlier, these two kids would not exist.  But would I choose to undergo infertility and pregnancy loss to that end?  My answer is a resounding NO.  I suspect that my inability (or refusal, if I’m being totally honest) to embrace that particular suffering as a “blessing” makes some people pretty uncomfortable.   But maybe it also will give voice to others who, like me, don’t feel the need to weave a silver lining through every little piece of life.  Maybe we can start talking about things like this, and the shame won’t feel so big once it’s out in the open.  Maybe.

 

 

The 10 phases of attending a school band concert


So, your child plays in the band?  Guess what?  Time for spring concerts!  In case this is your first time, let me guide you through what to expect at a typical band concert.

Phase I:  Excitement and anticipation.
Whether you child plays woodwinds, brass, or percussion (like mine), you will be excited to attend this important event, potentially the performance of a lifetime.  All year your child has been waking up early twice a week to get to band practice, instrument in tow.  Finally you get to hear the fruits of his labor!  You mark your calendar, rearrange appointments, and shuffle any competing extracurricular activities so that the whole family is available to be in attendance.  How often are you treated to a night of FREE musical entertainment, after all?

Phase 2:  Preparation.
You rearrange your work schedule to make sure you won’t be late at the office that day.  You make sure to have a cup of coffee around 4 pm to get you through the evening’s excitement.  Getting home a little early, you have dinner on the table by  5 pm.  Can’t let your micro-sized musician go to his big concert with a rumbly tummy!   There is no time to linger over dinner, but you manage to get the dishes in the dishwasher and everyone has their homework done.  Your mini-Mozart has his instrument and band binder by the door ready to go.  A quick check reveals that everyone is wearing pants.  You are winning!  It’s  almost go time!

Phase 3:  Enter into the first concentric circle of hell.
You remind baby Bach that the band teacher wants all the boys to wear a shirt, tie, and dress pants, and all the girls to wear a dress or a skirt.  What?  A TIE?  I HAVE TO WEAR A TIE?  I HATE TIES AND I’M NOT DRESSING UP AND I AM NOT GOING AND I HATE BAND ANYWAY AND WHY DOES MY BAND TEACHER CARE WHAT I WEAR THIS IS SO STUPID I’M NOT GOING.   As you are putting out the fire in Ringo’s dressing room, sister shows up, after being asked to go brush her hair, in a beautiful off-white formal dress with a tulle skirt and sequined bodice.  You explain to sister that she should go put her jeans back on because a school concert does not require formal dress, while simultaneously trying to get your musician into a shirt and tie.  The incongruity is not lost on you, or your children for that matter.  It looks like it is all falling apart, but really, there is a simple explanation for this: You have entered the gate of hell.  “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (translation, in case your Italian is rusty–“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”).

Phase 4:  Arrival and seating.
You and your family are now varying degrees of sweaty, angry, stressed, and resentful.  This means you are ready to go!  You pile into the family-mobile and drive in frustrated silence punctuated only by a mom-lecture from the front seat.  You get there early enough to get some choice seats–4th row!!  You see that the program you picked up on the way in mandates no flash photography, and requests that the audience express their appreciation with applause only, and not with “hooting and hollering”.  You make a mental note to contain your enthusiasm.

Phase 5:  Begin to unexpectedly enjoy yourself.
About mid-way through the first song, you realize, “hey, these kids are good.  Like, REALLY good!  I can’t believe these kids are in elementary and middle school!”  The music selections range from classical, to “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, to a jaunty Lady Gaga medley.  This is pretty awesome!

Phase 6:  Experience shock, awe and pride.
Then, all of a sudden, it’s the big moment. The 5th grade band takes the stage.  The conductor raises her wand and they begin to play as one, in perfect harmony.  You burst with pride.  Even though you can’t see your 4’11” percussionist in the very back behind the tubas because of the tall guy in front of you and all the flutes and clarinets in the way, you can hear all kinds of drumming and maraca shaking in the back and you just know–that percussion section is KILLING IT.

Phase 7:  Start to feel the fatigue of your day setting in.
You are enjoying yourself, you really are.  But after the adrenaline wears off from the pre-show circus at your house and the 5th grade band exits the stage after their third number, and the 4 pm coffee wears off, you realize that you are just plain tired.  You start to fantasize about your pajamas, and how good it will feel to take off your bra.

Phase 8:  Start to hate everything and everyone and SWEET MOTHER OF MARY how much longer is this concert get me out of here because I need to go to bed.
You look down and, to your dismay, you are only one-third of the way through the evening’s program.  You start to practice your deep breathing, just like your yoga teacher taught you.  As the moments go on, you start to hate people, all people, especially all the people around you who look like they are having fun, even though you were having fun a minute ago too, but now you changed your mind and you are no longer having fun.  You are tired and you want to go take off your pants and lie down in your bed, but you know that before you can do that you will have to sit in a long car line on the way out of the parking lot with all of these happy-looking people who apparently have much better coping skills than you and can stay up past 8 pm without needing a mental health arrest.  Screw them.

Phase 9:  Rush home to put everyone to bed.
You made it to the end.  Now, only 8 hours until you have to wake up at the butt-crack of dawn to get yourself and your kids up and out the door for school and work!  You sit in the stupid car line out of the parking lot, then speed home.  You order everyone upstairs to perform their nightly dental hygiene practices and get into their pajamas.  But, no.  NO. THEY CAN’T DO THAT RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THEY ARE HUNGRY.  They need a “snack”, because heaven forbid they go more than 2 hours without some kind of carbohydrate-laden concoction filled with red #40 to stick in their little music-makers.  You say, “No, go to bed!  You’re tired, not hungry!”,  but your spouse “doesn’t think it’s right” to send kids to bed hungry, so he gives them yogurt while you haul your weary carcass up the stairs.  You brush your own teeth and get your own pajamas on and try to figure out why your children are so resistant to bedtime, which is the best time of the day, in your opinion.

Phase 10:  Recovery.
At this point, assume the recovery position.  Lie on you side in the fetal position.  Stare catatonically at the wall.  Feel proud of your child’s accomplishments.  Feel proud of yourself for being a super awesome good enough parent.  You may close your eyes and allow sleep to overtake you at this point.   Dream of your child, all grown up and performing in the symphony.

***The sequence of events in this blog entry and all characters appearing in it may or may not be entirely accurate and not at all fictitious depending on who is asking and whether or not you are going to tell my son that I blogged about that part with the tie.