Hopes

When I was a kid, I distinctly remember my mom saying “don’t get your hopes up.” I rationally know that it was a moment-in-time-specific saying, but it stuck with me, and has had a profound effect on many things that I do. I halt my emotions, rather than feeling them, in order to put myself in emotional limbo until all.the.facts.are.known.

I was doing this with my recent pregnancy. Because my sister-in-law had a 10 week miscarriage, I was afraid that an early announcement would bring about a similar result (not rational, I know), but announced secretly, anyway. I was afraid to let myself get too excited about being pregnant, in case it meant losing it (and then deciding the next steps, which almost 90% would be not trying anymore). When Potamus asked for a sister, and I want a girl, I held off even entertaining the idea that it could be a girl. Sure I know that I’ll love another son, but I want a girl.

In the past few days I have been catching myself calling the baby ‘her.’ I spent ten hours cleaning out our office/guest room and moving the changing table from the garage into our new nursery/guest room. I know it’s just nesting, but when my parents arrived I was just naturally calling it ‘her room,’ and saying, ‘when she gets here,’ etc. And I realized, when doing my mindfulness app, that I actually want to get my hopes up. Will I be sad, and go through the emotions if anything were to happen to this baby, or if she were to be a he, yep. And I’d also be fine. I’d know that I can handle emotions and changes and everything turns out okay.

So I’m letting myself get my hopes up. And I’ll deal with the consequences later. Because I’m tired of living like my life is on hold until I know X or Y or Z happens.

Advice for December Birthdays

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Today two of my dearest friends from college are coming in to town. One from across the mountains, riding the train and taking a bus to see me. The other driving up from Portland, Oregon, all to celebrate my birthday. A December birthday. And I. Can’t. Wait.

So, it was surprising to me, to be in the grocery line at Fred Meyer, and have the cashier tell me that Potamus will get too many presents in December, and that he should celebrate his birthday in June. Um, what? I’m celebrating his BIRTHday lady, not a random June weekday. But this sentiment is something I get a lot “oh, poor thing, having a December birthday,” and the following are either: A) He will get TOO MANY PRESENTS and be overwhelmed and then a whole year of waiting will suck for him, so spread it out, or B) He won’t get ANY presents, because people will combine them together and he’ll get shafted.

As a December birthday girl, I gotta say: people are fucking dumb.

I loved having a month of presents and magic. My friend Ruth’s birthday is on December 31 and she said it’s like the whole world parties for her birthday. I know several December birthdays, and with the exception of those born on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, nobody seems to have much of an issue with it. Because let’s be honest, when else do you get a WHOLE MONTH OF PRESENTS AND MAGIC? Getting a few toys in June just doens’t compare to the exponential magic of holiday parties and birthday parties and Christmas Eve and going to grandparent’s houses, and celebrating “Winter Holiday” in school and it feels like you were born at this magical time with Jolly Old St. Nick and Jesus and there are reindeer, and snowmen and sure it’s not just for your birthday, but it’s sorta like getting invited to Prom by the most popular kid in school.

But sure, there’s some practical advice for celebrating a December Birthday:

  1. Don’t be an asshole. Don’t tell the kid it sucks to be born in December and that they’re getting shafted. Mostly because it’s not true. And if it was, would they know any better? Are you the kind of Scrooge who tells kids Santa isn’t real, either? Don’t ruin Christmas. Don’t ruin birthdays. Got it?
  2. Make your own traditions for celebrating birthdays vs. Christmas (or your Winter Holiday). My birthday is on the 13th, and so in my family we always waited to put the Christmas tree up until December 14th so that it didn’t feel like “my day” was being overshadowed. Since Potamus’ birthday is the 20th, I’m not sure if we’ll follow that same tradition, but we will definitely ask him how he feels when he gets older (we did the Christmas tree tradition because one year they did it earlier and I felt like my birthday was forgotten). Don’t go to birthday dinner and then do Santa pictures on the way home. Keep them separate.
  3. Wrap gifts in birthday paper. There are Christmas presents and Birthday presents. And wrapping paper matters.
  4. Be pro-active with school parties. Celebrate right before school lets out for break, cause it’s WAY harder to rustle kids and families up for birthday parties when they aren’t all in school together. Send invites well in advance. When I was in later elementary school my mom would host a sleepover or after school birthday party on the Friday school let out. Gave parents an excuse to go Christmas shopping before picking my friend’s up. And we all just rode the school bus together to my house, played, and had a blast. I never thought it was weird that it wasn’t a party on a Saturday or Sunday.
  5. Let the birthday kid open gifts when he gets them. Package comes in the mail a week early? Celebrate! By far my favorite part of having a winter birthday was for once I didn’t have to wait forever. I had to wait to open Christmas gifts, because that was a family day, but birthday gifts? I got to open those on the 8th, or the 11th, or the 16th, whenever they came in. It added to the magic.

Embrace the magic, because December babies are full of magic. So I nodded politely at the grocery store cashier, and moved on my merry way.

Any other advice you might have for holiday time babies? 

Introverted Adoptee Parent

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I was sitting on the couch talking with Boof about my being an introvert, and how it effects me as a mother. And he said, “I can see it. I can see when he’s sleeping so close to you, touching you all the time, how it effects you, how it drains you.” We had been talking about our space bubbles, and how children don’t seem to have a space bubble, which he so beautifully described as:

This kid was just inside you a few years ago. He doesn’t have a concept of your own space, that you have your own space. He’s starting to have a concept that he has HIS own space, meaning there are times when he doesn’t want us in his space bubble, but it’s not going to be until he’s like…a pre-tween…when will realize that you or I have our own space, too. That we need to have our own space. For now, our space is his space, but his space isn’t always our space.

I loved that description, though it doesn’t make the physical nervous system overload that I experience as an introvert any easier. But there’s been something more than being an introverted biologically, and I was talking with Boof about how, now, as a mother, I am never alone. I know that this phenomenon isn’t uncommon to motherhood, this feeling like once you’ve born a child you are connected to them. The worry, and love, and thinking about their every little move. And I guess it bothers some women, and others not so much. Maybe it’s a neutral energy. But I was explaining to Boof that it feels like my soul, or psyche, is introverted, and that there is the lingering energy of Potamus that is within my psyche. I can’t escape this energy. And therefore, my soul is never alone. My soul is never alone, and that sometimes makes me feel agitated on an energetic level. I can’t escape. I feel agitated on the soul level, because my soul is not alone. 

My girlfriend Anne hypothesized that perhaps this feeling comes from being adopted. That since my connection to my biological mother happened so early on that my soul has felt alone since. That this connection to Potamus is one that is foreign to me, and it’s good, and beautiful, but unexpected and could feel agitating because I lived for 29 years without that feeling. Because I had talked to Boof about how my fear of adding another child into the family someday is not only due to the logistics of having another kid around, as an introverted parent might be afraid of that, but that my soul would then energetically be agitated by two soulish energies existing within my psyche. 

I was telling Anne that I feel this need to expand. I used this motion of pushing out a bubble from myself, that I wonder if I am able to expand my soul energy, to not be so close to my body (at least that’s the image in my mind), that I could maybe feel less agitation, that I would somehow be able to expand and find that I was big enough to hold not just one soul energy, but another as well. That the connection is okay, and good, albeit uncomfortable sometimes, and that I am big enough to handle it. 

Embrace the Rain

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Okay, maybe I was a little hard on other moms in the whole bathing suit post I wrote earlier. Like maybe my point was lost, that it’s not so much about wearing a bathing suit (that was supposed to be my metaphor), it’s more about GETTING INVOLVED with your kid’s lives. It’s being in front of the camera so your kids will know that you weren’t just the photographer/bystander/witness of their life, that you were there both physically, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Yesterday it rained. I don’t mean a normal Seattle rain, where it drizzles and the ground is moist (ugh, I hate that word), but it was a DOWNPOUR. I had so much paperwork to do from my on-call day, that I kept Potamus home from daycare and we snuggled in bed until 9:45 and then he watched Wild Kratts and I did my mental health assessments for the crazy crisis counseling day I’d had the day before. It was a perfect day to stay inside, curled up on the couch watching cartoons and working from home. Even the dog was mellowed by the downpour outside.

And then, when Potamus came up for air from his Wild Kratts binge, he noticed the rain. And we were off. Puddle jumping outside in his bare feet (I barely convinced him he at least needed a coat). This kid is so his mama’s boy it’s not funny. I remember the squishy feeling of puddle jumping in bare feet…in college (yes, I went a year without shoes ya’ll), that I risked the judgment from my neighbors and let him be a little barefoot hippie rainy Seattle baby.

I wasn’t wearing a bathing suit, though Potamus probably wanted his swim trunks on. Because it wasn’t about wearing a bathing suit, it was about getting involved. Being present. Puddle jumping with my toddler, whereas a week ago I was swimming in a pool with him, because these moments count. They are the things that we grow up to remember. Like the memory of jumping fearlessly into my daddy’s arms in the swimming pool as a kid, and how on the ride home we’d sing The Muffin Man.

Wear the goddamn bathing suit. Wear the rain jacket. Or take off your shoes and jump in puddles with your barefoot hippie kid. It’s that simple. Really. The dishes will wait. The pounds may never be shed. It’s okay.

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Recipe for a long-lasting marriage?

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This past weekend we left the hot side of the state and headed over the mountains to the HOT! side of the state for a little family reunion of sorts. Normally these family reunions are held in campground in Wenatchee, where my cousins spent every summer as kids, but this year it was a different occasion, so we held it at my parent’s/grandparent’s house, which happen to be next door to each other. We were celebrating my grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary, which should be a carefree time of celebration, but instead, emotions and tensions ran high…at least in my own mind and heart.

My relationship to my family is complicated for sure, but the thing that is hardest for me is the very black/white nature of their discussions on things, which is heavily influenced by their brand of evangelical Christianity. And I am not the kind of person that believes things I’m told without putting up a pretty good fight. I might be considered skeptical at best, cynical at worst. And I have the mouth of  a sailor and runaway facial expressions that let people know just exactly how much they’re annoying me without me even having to open my mouth. Maybe I sound like I’m bragging, but it’s not something I’m proud of, really. My sister’s laid back go-with-the-flow personality is one that I covet.

At any rate, this lovely celebration to highlight the fact that my grandparent’s have stayed married for 60 years was quite triggering for me. Not because I don’t think they’ve done an amazing job of staying married, but because in the daily life my family members seem to idolize this couple as the BE ALL END ALL of how relationships should be. And truthfully, on the actually 60th wedding anniversary day, I think it’s great to highlight the beautiful, the good, the inspiring. It’s in all the moments before and after that I wish my family could live in a little more of the grey. Because…honestly…my grandparents aren’t saints.

So when my aunt is giving her speech about how wonderful they are, I can’t help but sputter in my mind” BUT MY GRANDPA BEAT MY MOM WHEN SHE WAS A KID! BUT MY GRANDPA STRANGLED ME WHEN I WAS A KID AND MY DAD HAD TO PULL HIM OFF MY 3 YEAR OLD BODY! HE IS NOT A SAINT!” Of course I didn’t shout that out at the dinner table. But I wanted to. Because I think the celebration of 60 years should show that 60 years is not some fairytale. That it’s two very human people who hurt others, hurt themselves, loved others, made mistakes, tried hard, cried a lot, burned a lot of toast, spent a lot of time feeling depressed, maybe had some benign neglect, worked too hard, didn’t work hard enough…the list could go on and on and on (probably for 60 years, ya know?). They are not perfect. They are examples of a value of sticking with it when maybe they could have (or should have?) broken up years ago. I can celebrate with them that they have made it, that they chose a life and have lived in it, but I can’t pretend that their choice, that their personalities and struggles, have not also negatively affected people, you know? My grandma did pipe up with some of the more difficult things, saying stuff like “it was really hard for many years,” and that they are more softer now, more in love than ever before, so it was nice to have some acknowledgment of the imperfections on her part, but I wish that the others could really acknowledge that, too.

But the kicker was, my other aunt giving a speech, that said, “the only marriages that last 60 years are ones that are built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.” and I stopped listening at that point. Because, really? REALLY? I can give my aunt that my grandparent’s marriage is ‘built on Christ,’ because I have seen them actively use prayer and Bible study and going to church to inform their values and ways of relating to each other. But to dismiss the couples ALL AROUND THE WORLD who stay married for years and years and years and Jesus Christ has nothing to do with it.

Sigh.

I kept all of this mostly to myself, though I did make some snide remarks to my sister and her boyfriend under my breath. And spent a few hours late into the night processing my emotions with Boof about the whole thing. Because maybe I’m feeling unconsciously judged by their rules for how to make a marriage last. Certainly it has worked for my grandparents, but my marriage with Boof feels incredibly strong, even though the way we are operating within the context of what is even defined as marriage is so different than my grandparents. And even, maybe, our definition of what a good marriage is, does not include 60 years, if it is going to hurt one or the other or cause more conflict than splitting up. But here were are, only a mere 6 years into the whole matrimony thing, and I feel like we can make it to 60 without trampling on other people in the process. Openness. Acceptance. Encouragement of the individual. Playfulness. Protection. Listening. Sharing. Working through Jealousy. Celebrating the differences. Laughter.

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Thoughts dear bloggy readers: what is your recipe for a long lasting marriage?

Touching Other People’s Kids

My normal daycare dropoff and pickup routine is pretty standard. I crouch down, and give a goodbye hug and kiss (or a hello hug, and kiss as the case may be), do some soft 1-1 conversation with Potamus at his eye level, and then I either head on out to work, or we head on out together. After six months of him being in his toddler classroom, the students are beginning to recognize me, and seem to know our little routine (which differs drastically from the routine I see other parents engage in).

For the most part the children enter into my zone of proximity without it causing my discomfort. There’s ones little blonde boy, clearly the oldest of the group, who always says “potamus’ mommy, potamus mommy'” while trying to both acknowledge me and get potamus’ attention so that he can go home with me. Sometimes the kids crowd close as I give Potamus his hello hug at daycare pickup, but none of them actually…touch me.

In the past two months, though, I have had a few interactions with this one little girl that have left me feeling uncomfortable and unsure of how to react. She touches me. And I don’t mean like the blonde boy, who patted me once and said “Potamus’ mommy,’ but I mean she hugs me. These kids are between 2-3, so it’s at that huggable age, I guess, but I’m left with this gut feeling that something seems…off?

Today I came in and this little girl ran over to me. Potamus saw me and was making his way over, and when I crouched down with my arms open to give him a hug, she pressed herself into me. Flung is more like it. While she didn’t quite give me a full hug because I was turned to the side to hug Potamus, I could feel her little belly up against me. And then she lifted her shirt. And then she said “owls, owls,” pointing to the owls on her shirt.

Maybe it’s my overly sensitive to touch teacher training, or my experience as a crisis social worker, but I viscerally react to this little girl throwing herself at me. Part of me is sad that she’s seeking out attention from me, and part of me feels worried because she’s the only one. All the other kids seem to have the same level of wariness that Potamus has to strangers, and while they certainly seem to resonate with my ability to get down on their level, they don’t interact to such an extreme cling way that this little girl does.

I feel so torn. I don’t want to reject this little girl’s hugs, because children should not be shamed for wanting affection. But I also don’t want to encourage it, because with the exception of Mari’s children (who I don’t hug, either, but would if they initiated), I have zero interest in touching other people’s children.

 

Thoughts? Am I overreacting to this little girl?

Face Forward to Go Forward

Carseat Facing Forward

I had used the line before, but it was different this time. I’m not sure why this client clung to me (metaphorically, of course), but sometimes that’s the nature of crisis-work. There becomes a trauma-bond that they feel when you come and see them in the most vulnerable state, and then six weeks later they are crushed when you tell them that they have changed, are stronger, and need to keep moving forward without you. It’s the nature of crisis work, nothing personal, I tell them up-front, but there were those clients who had lots of feelings when it came to that final goodbye.

And so, my Family-Advocate and I, sat in the moldy smelling family room, with her mom and dad and sister and long-time therapist, and we had a final family meeting. And the dad, overwhelming nervous about the prospect of this crisis happening again, asked “what do we do if it happens again. We don’t want to go back,” and I replied:

When you’re driving you look through the windshield. You need to glance in the rear-view mirror to see where you’ve come from, and what might be behind you, but if you stare in the rearview mirror you’ll crash. You have to keep your eyes focused on what’s ahead. The forward journey. Glance back, but keep moving forward.

There was a moment of hush in the room. It wasn’t anything magical, I’d said it a hundred times, and it’s something I believe in, but in that moment it hit the family in a spot that they needed. Even the therapist, who had been working with this young lady for years, and was a long-time therapy supervisor, was stunned. I might have blushed because half the time I think I’m fucking everything up and about 1 step away from being found a fraud.

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I thought of this experience this morning, as I buckled Potamus into the car. We’re a month early, but we turned his car seat around to face forward. His legs had been scrunched for awhile now, and we thought it best. And he was Mr. Nonchalant about the whole thing, clearly based on the picture above. And as I drove I kept catching glimpses of him in the backseat and had to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road. I could state at his wild blonde hair and intense eyes forever. I could get stuck in the nostalgia of the first car trip with him, all 7lbs, bundled up so snugly as we drove home from the hospital. I know that nostalgia, sentiment, memories are good…really good…but I can’t live there, in the past. We move forward, driving off into the sunrise, and work, and daycare, and a new Holiday-Week, and it’s okay.

 

Student Problem

And we’re not talking about Potamus. No, he remains completely “lovey” free (save his mama’s boobies). Seriously, that kid still won’t take a bottle/sippy cup/paci or hold a lovey. Whatevs. It’s working for him.

No, I’m talking about in my class.

My high-school-dropouts-getting-an-AA-though-my-program-class.

Yeah.

This student is probably 16 or 17, artsy, and has been “unschooled” their whole life. Whatever that means (because when I look it up online it seems to mean a GAZILLION things, much like homeschool, but…more…unstructured?). At any rate, this individual hasn’t gone to school and seems to have been allowed to follow whatever whim and fancy they so desired. As in: no math past 4th grade and never written an essay. That was their self-disclosure in their opening “getting to know me” essay, which is SUPER good information, but leaves me scratching my head like “fo realz? no math? at all? past 4th grade? wasn’t that like…um…10 years ago?”

At any rate, said individual is very knowledgeable and speaks up and often in class, provides good (although sometimes tangential) responses and has a good attitude toward the assignments. They seem like they want to be here to learn. And last week they asked if they could do some sketching in their sketchbook while I lectured. Sure, no prob, I like doodling when I listen to lecture, too.

But, we’re talking full on technicolor sketching with tin of colored pencils and the shebang. Might get distracting, but so far they kept it in check.

Twice today during our activities, which, I’ll admit, did get heated and boisterous, I looked over and sorta made eye contact with this individual…sucking their thumb.

The first time I thought it was surely an accident, or my eyes playing tricks on me, like maybe there was carmel stuck to the roof of their mouth and they were trying to get it off. Or maybe they were biting their nails. Or…I ran out of any good options after that.

The second time it happened it was clear, and they then shyly played with their hair afterward, when they were “caught,” which is exactly like what my son does when he’s about to fall asleep (a little hair twirl by his ear).

While clearly I have to address this somehow, I’m going to talk with my co-teacher, because it’s such a sensitive topic. I’m sure this student knows that it’s socially considered…different…and while we’re a tolerant and open class, perhaps a different coping skill might help them be perceieved differently. But man, I don’t know what to do, really. I mean, they don’t talk about this in grad school. Sure, my elementary school friends have had the awkward 3rd grade conversation about stopping the habit (at least in public), but…17? In college? For reals?

So…advice is welcome on how to broach this subject sensitively…

Tiny Beautiful Things: A Review in Dreams

Holy shit my dreams have been intense and seemingly completely fucked-up lately. I blame the book Tiny Beautiful Things, which I purchased from Kindle after finishing Cheryl Strayed’s last book. This one is a compilation of advice columns that she wrote under the pseudonym Sugar. Some of these Dear Sugar columns can still be read over on The Rumpus. The advice she gives is raw, based on her own life experiences, and her no nonsense tell-it-like-she-sees-it mentality, it was a quick read (though I found myself taking breaks in order to process all the advice and stories I encountered.

The stories I encountered in her book did not leave my psyche upon entering dreamland. In one night I had 4 terrifying dreams, including:

  1. A dream where I was sleeping in a dream and my father-in-law came in, spooned me for awhile, and then left when he heard my husband get home. His creeping into my room woke me up, and my dream self pretended to be asleep in order for him to go away sooner. Upon waking I felt very much like a little girl who had been molested (though I have no history of sexual abuse in my past).
  2. A dream where my husband was sexually assaulted by a mentally retarded girl wearing a green shirt. He was tied to a chair when she raped him, and there were many people around, like what you would see at a college frat party.
  3. A dream where my grandma and I visited a museum where the first room was full of mummies and decorated with bones and skulls in designs (I partially blame this on a travel channel show featuring such a place), and I was afraid to look around and we walked into another room which was similarly decorated with taxidermied animals, duck wings and antlers, until finally we made it to the part of the museum we came for…which was a room full of balloons and bouncy balls. WTF?
  4. Perhaps the scariest of all…a dream where I pulled up to a park, was listening to the radio and finishing a snack before I got Potamus out of his carseat to go play. When I did turn the car off and go to get him out of the carseat, I realized that his head had gotten stuck in the straps and he had strangled. If I hadn’t been sitting there calmly eating a snack he might have lived. I called 911 and saw myself dissociate while  I did CPR, but he did not live.

Jesus, 4 intense dreams involving sex and death all in one night was a little too much for me. In the daylight I very much enjoy reading her frank advice to people struggling with all sorts of topics, but it entering into my dream-world is a little too much. Perhaps my next book choice will be something with a little…lighter…material?

What should I read next? Any good suggestions?