Thursday, October 29, 2009

When A Closing Marks a New Beginning

I was a tad concerned that my last post could come across as too preachy, too holier-than-thou. That was not my intention. I certainly am not one to prance around and act like I know everything, but I can’t deny that I am proud of that bit of wisdom that I learned. Maybe some people already know it; maybe some people already live it. Maybe it is a twist on the Random Act of Kindness phenomenon that I repackaged and am trying to spin off as my own. Regardless,

I can almost trace its genesis. About a year ago, a woman who lives in my building died. She had a huge family, and some of them were staying in her apartment after she died to organize the funeral and her estate. I ran into a family member in the elevator. He was extremely kind and sweet to the girls, which always makes me instantly like someone. In parting, I said to him “Please let me know if there is anything I can do” and even gave him my apartment number so he could contact me. So we went our separate ways and it occurred to me: He is NEVER going to knock on my door and say, “Hey, you know what? We could use some dinner. Got anything?” The ball was in my court, and I see now that I could have just made some cookies and left them on their doorstep. The gesture would have been appreciated. I still regret that I did nothing.

This then begs the question: I am doing these things for others because it makes me feel better about myself? Am I being altruistic, or selfish? What motivates us, as people, to drop some money in a collection basket at church or give a few dollars to a homeless person or, more close to home, bring over a tray of brownies to a sad friend? Sure, we feel compassion, but that is an emotion, and, as we have all experienced in our lives, emotions can be ignored, denied or avoided till the cows come home. Being altruistic involves some sort of action, some sort of sacrifice on our part, even if that sacrifice is only time. What exactly pushes us to take the next step? Saying “Let me know if there is anything I can do” is like a bridge between the compassion camp and the altruistic camp. What happens next is completely up to us, and not the sad or grieving or depressed or lost person. And for me, I am trying to cross that bridge.

All of the comments on that last post were great. It was great to read how people already live this. I agree how there is a fine line between being intrusive and being thoughtful, and no one wants to be considered intrusive. Ordering someone a box from Fresh Direct, as Shelli wrote, is such a wonderful idea. I may steal that one! Leaving voicemails for a distant and depressed friend is unbelievably caring. From personal experience, I can vouch that voicemails and emails and messages and comments have helped pull me out of quite a few bad times. And, also from personal experience, I know how hard it is to be in the middle of your own hell and how difficult it is to then help others or be a good friend. I am sure there are studies that say helping others might distract you from your own pain, but I call BS on that.

This comment really resonated with me: “I appreciate people's respect of my privacy...but it is also my quest for privacy that prolongs my isolation.” This has been my experience completely. Pain and suffering and depression for me have historically been very isolating periods, and I am certainly not doing myself any favors by not returning emails or calls or accepting invitations to go out. But I hope going forward, I can learn to reach out more; to stop pretending like I can do everything myself; to admit that I can’t get through some of life’s challenges without a little (a lot) of help from my friends.

And to the commentor who lives outside the city and who just lost a baby at 21 weeks: I left a comment for you under my last post.

In other news: Yesterday, on my nephew’s seventh birthday, we closed on the house in Northampton! Nicole drove up and did the final walk-through and then signed all the papers. It all seems like a dream. We are going up this weekend, and the weekend after that, and the weekend after that, ad infinitum!

Pictured above: Not sure if we are going to Trick or Treat, because I am trying to ensure that the girls have no idea what candy is for at least another three years, but if we do, they will be pumpkins. Also pictured, Avery and her chocolate-covered Godiva strawberry. I got the girls these as special treats, not knowing that they cost $6.50 EACH. So I plunked down almost $14 for two strawberries. I would have walked out, but, in my haste to show them how delicious fruit and chocolate can be, I put the strawberries in their eager little hands before I paid. And don’t be fooled by this picture: Avery only licked the chocolate off of hers. Never again. And finally, a new donut and ice cream shop is opening around the corner from us. This is dangerous for two reasons: 1.) I can consume six or seven donuts in one sitting and 2.) I can’t get its name straight. I have already reversed the two words and left off the “y”, creating a very porn-worthy name in its place.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Best Piece of Advice I Have to Offer

Yesterday was gorgeous here in New York: A balmy 70-something degrees. I was overdressed in my puffy vest and long-sleeve shirt. After 37 years on this earth, I am still not good at dressing appropriately for the weather. In fact, several times I have made New Year’s resolutions to learn to dress weather-appropriate. I am constantly overdressed or underdressed or have too many layers or not enough. Spaghetti-strapped dresses in 60 degrees; flip-flops in rain. I obviously need to revisit this resolution.

I took the girls out to Long Island and met a friend at the playground for a playdate, which, of course, is more like an excuse for the Moms to get together in an environment that will allow for children to be happily distracted so the Moms can engage in much-needed grown-up talk. It is a great playground, right on the beach. There was a nice breeze and you could smell the smell that is the Long Island Sound (I mean that in a good way; it has a very distinctive smell). The girls had a great time, raised by the power of sand, which is a substance they love to throw at each other. The even somehow got sand in their diapers.

So my friend and I were talking about how her aunt was just diagnosed with breast cancer and has to go for surgery this Saturday. My friend asked her aunt if she wanted her to go to the hospital with her, but the aunt said no, and she said that she knows how busy my friend is with her kids. The aunt said she would do it alone (the aunt is not married and has no other family around). Funny how people shut the world out just when they need someone the most. (And yes, this is the pot calling the kettle black: I am notorious for this.) My friend is indeed busy, and has a month-old newborn at home to boot, so things like taking an aunt to the hospital is indeed difficult to work into an already-packed schedule. But despite her aunt’s do-it-alone bravado, my friend said she is just going to meet her at the hospital anyway. How sweet is that? It was one of those moments when I felt lucky to have a person like that as a friend.

OK, that was a long set up for a somewhat simple point: Actions speak louder than words. Verbal offers to help are kind and considerate and sweet, and usually genuine (though sometimes not), but doing something will always trump a verbal offer. You know how people say “Let me know if there is anything I can do?” This is what I think: Don’t ask what you can do, just do something. Anything. That is maybe the one piece of wisdom that I hope to be telling my grandchildren some day. And it only took about four decades to learn.

In my life, I have not really known one person who was able to step out of the grief/fear/depression/bad place to think of a task that you might be able to do to help them. Sadness and delegation do not mix well. “Let me know what I can do” is usually met with “Thanks, that is sweet. I will.” and then…. nothing happens. Why? In general, I think most people do not like to ask for help or to impose. People do not like to be needy. People like to appear strong and not vulnerable. Or maybe I am just speaking about myself. Regardless, I have not heard one example of a person suffering through an illness or death or loss say “Actually, yes, can you pick up a few groceries for me and maybe make some dinner because I haven’t eaten a real meal in about a week.” Or “Can you whisk me away to a movie so I can escape for a couple of hours?” Or “How about do you something slightly cheesy but sweet, like get send me bubble bath and an apple-cinnamon scented candle and a trashy magazine.” People are just not that specific.

Also in the same vein and another phrase I wish I could retire is “Call me if you want to talk.” This I experienced first-hand during my miscarriages. It meant so much to get voicemails from friends, saying that they were thinking of me and that they were there for me, even though I was not reaching out. I was not going to call anyone, really, to talk, during some of those darkest and scariest moments. My grief made an impenetrable wall around me. The irony was that I had that wall, but I wanted people to try to take it down. I needed people to try to take it down. But every single phone call with a “I’m on my way to work and just wanted to let you know I was thinking about you” message I got knocked down a few of those bricks.

Even the littlest tangible gestures mean so much more than just words. That is my wisdom. That is the one thing I know for sure.

Thanks for all of the reassuring comments about the pacemaker/heartbeat issue. I am keeping track of the palpitations and will follow up with my doctor in three months. Until then, I am going to not stress about it. Stressing would only make the heart issue worse, no? And the cycle would just continue.

Pictured above, two of my friends, appropriately dressed for the rain, on their way to a miscarriage support dinner for me. The umbrellas are symbolic, no? As much as I like to shut out the world and crawl into a cave during my dark times, I feel so lucky to have friends who will climb in there with me. And also pictured, a year ago, this was us. I can’t believe tomorrow is our first year anniversary! We are dropping the kids off with their cousins and going to do something. Not sure what, since there is supposed to be massive rain tomorrow. But we are not going to let that rain on our anniversary parade.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Appointment In Which My Doctor Uses the Term Pacemaker

I had my annual physical with my doctor yesterday, one which revealed a few surprises and twists. First, my doctor thinks I need to look into boxing lessons. I am still not quite sure why this is so, or why she was so specific about the physical activity she thinks I should pursue. I told her I run every morning, between four and five miles, but for some reason she thinks a little more exercise might help me sleep better. I tried to explain that I have had sleep issues my entire life: Sometimes it can be stress- or depression-related, but more often than not it is just me-related. Meaning I can be happy as a clam and I still have sleep problems. Falling asleep is usually not the hard part usually: It is waking up in the middle of the night and then staying up for hours. So far, the best solution is Ambien. And so far, my doctor still won’t give it to me 365 days a year.

The other interesting development was revealed in my cardiogram. Apparently my heart likes to take extra beats. She listened to my heart with a stethoscope and it did the same thing. She asked if I felt palpitations ever, and I actually do: There are times when it is so sudden and [slightly] painful that it will stop me in my tracks. But they only last a couple of seconds. The next step is I need to keep track of how often this is actually happening. Of course, sitting there on that exam table on crunchy paper in a gown open to the front, I panic. What does this mean, I ask her. Well, she said, if this is actually an issue then down the road I might need a pacemaker. I’m sorry, say that again? Pacemaker?! What? I am not going to panic. I’m not going to stress. And I am not going to borrow worry. But I have to say this is a little bizarre.

So while I am not worrying about my extra-beating heart, I can not worry about Avery’s eating. For a point of comparison, here is Madeline’s menu from yesterday:
• A pint of raspberries
• One apple
• About one cup of cut-up strawberries
• Several handfuls blueberries
• Wagon wheel pasta
• Chicken
• Four fig newtons
• five pieces of broccoli
• Homemade pot pie (peas, carrots, parsnips, celery and chicken)
• Chocolate milk and water on demand (I sue an organic syrup to make this slightly healthier)

Maddie is a superstar eater. She loves her fruits and veggies. Loves them! She will eat a bowl of green beans as a snack. She will gnaw on a whole carrot. She will pick fruit any day over anything sweet. And now let’s look at Avery’s diet:
• Whole-grain fishies
• Cheerios
• One fig newton
• Milk on demand (and she has a lot of it)

And this is Avery’s diet almost every day. This child does not want to eat. And it should come as no shock that this one won’t touch the gummy vitamin I offer her daily. Even her go-to favorites (pizza, and it’s leftover cousin, pizza sticks) are no longer givens. Nicole got her a chocolate croissant from our favorite little bakery, and Avery used to devour them. But this time—and I am not kidding—she poked a hole in it and pulled the chocolate out with her pinky and just ate the chocolate pinky pull by pinky pull.

Now I know what my pediatrician is going to say: Limit her milk so she stops drinking her calories and starts eating them instead. But I have tried that before and it only makes for a cranky, hungry Avery. I will try it again. As far as I can tell (and the doctor’s appointment will clarify this) she is gaining weight on a normal growth curve. Maybe this is just a stage. Maybe she is just abusing her decision-making power.

We have a tentative closing date next week, but these things have a way of changing. I can’t wait until we can get up there. And Saturday is our one-year wedding anniversary. One year plus the previous seven years, that is.

Pictured above, the cabinet of snacks that my picky eater refuses to partake in. And my picky little eater. And fall beautiful fall, in my friend’s backyard.

Friday, October 09, 2009

For Sale: Overused and Unwanted Parenting Subwoofer

For Sale: Overused and Unwanted Parenting Subwoofer

I had a bad couple of Mommy days. And by bad, I mean I was at times so impatient and frustrated and distant that I almost didn’t recognize myself. The kind of days where I thought again and again that I need to take a step back and settle down and refocus and think instead reflect on how grateful I should be, but I simply could not do that. Instead, I was almost vibrating with impatience as I struggled with simple tasks, like getting the girls in the shoes and coats and into the stroller so we could go outside and take a nice walk, dammit. Just completely overwhelmed.

That is the thing about parenthood: It highlights and amplifies your good qualities, but it also showcases your not-so-good ones. Like a subwoofer, bringing my lowest qualities to the surface for all to see (and hear).

My good mothering qualities, the aspects of parenthood that I excel at and am proud of, are completely opposite of my upbringing blueprint. And while that may sound judge-y toward my mother, I do not mean it that way. I am merely saying that I show love and nurture and care for my daughters in a way that wasn’t necessarily done to me. For example, I feel the need to tell Madeline and Avery all the time that I love them. I whisper it in their ears and I tell them before nap time and I yell it across the room. I say it in first person, second person and third person constructs. It pops out of my mouth at random times so much so that at times I worry that I am diluting the power of that little phrase. And yet, I still feel a strong need to tell them constantly, which, of course, speaks more about my needs than theirs.

But my bad moments, the ones I am not proud of, the ones that I would like to erase completely, are almost identical to my upbringing. And, wow, does that scare me. When I look in the mirror and see a reflection of my mother, I know I need to try harder. But trying to figure out a new way to deal with parenting’s frustrating moments is just not an easy task.

One of my biggest challenges is patience. I am not the most patient person in the world, by a long shot. That said, I must say that I have gotten much better. The infertility years helped with that. So now, these days, when I am stuck in traffic, I am able to settle into a groove and just accept it. When the girls empty the six bins of toys all over their room, I can sometimes scoop them all up and put them back in their place with sighing and lecturing. When Avery refuses to take off her doggie pajamas and insists on wearing them all day, I can shrug it off and just deal with it. But those are the good days, when my patience cup runneths over.

When my patience level dips, I change mentally and physically. I become quiet and distant. I grit my teeth and clench and unclench my hands. The tone of my voice changes. All because I just cannot understand why my two two-year olds refuse to put their shoes on, or something similarly as silly. But the thing is, my girls don’t deserve to suffer due to my own inability to have patience and due to my own shift in balance.

These are the moments when I need a break. I need to be able to take a walk by myself or go to the food store alone or sit in a dark theater and escape. I just need to walk away and re-center myself. I love my girls to the end of the earth, but there does need to be some spaces in our togetherness. Because no one can be a good mom for twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Right?

And I do get breaks. Nicole is home relatively early every night, which gives me the opportunity to have a break. The girls are in bed every night by seven, the latest, so I have that finish line daily to anticipate. My evenings are filled with baths and reading and internet surfing and mindless television. And when the weekends come, I know I can escape when I need to. The thing is, those rarely are the times when I need distance. It is in the middle of the day, when I am alone, that I most need relief. It is when something seemingly simple pushes me over the ledge for no good reason at al. It is when I see myself starting to get angry and distant and frustrated because a two-year-old did something a two-year old is expected to do. It is when I look in that parenting mirror and not like what I see looking back at me.

What helps, I learned, is positive feedback. Lots and lots and lots of specific, pointed, positive you-go-girl feedback. I was complaining to my friend Jen, the one I bailed on visiting this week because I was stuck in a lousy parenting cyclone and wanted to mope rather than do something that might break the spell, and she told me that I am doing a great job; that my girls are happy, healthy, well adjusted and smart. Her comments both acknowledged how hard this motherhood job is and assured me that I was doing fine, even though I feel like I am not. And comments like that mean so much. Those comments added some fuel to my tank and helped me to take a step back, go a little easier on myself and find my groove again.

Time is fleeting, and I will someday long for these days again. Remembering that helps. We tried so hard and endured so much to get here, and that helps too. They are miracles, my two little girls, and we are so lucky. Which makes my occasional breakdown moments seem even more unreasonable. But I think the important thing is that I am trying.

I could go on and on but that is a post for another day.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I Got Whole Lot Of Nothing

I was supposed to visit my friend Jen in Jersey today but it was rainy and dreary this morning and I was unnaturally and for-no-real-reason tired today, so I am not going. Which seems very lame of me. But there are days when I just don’t relish the idea of walking the girls to the car and loading them, their stroller and various bags in the car while other cars are waiting impatiently behind me. Getting out the door can be such a struggle. Bribes need to be made to get the girls into their stroller, since they always want to walk. And the drive to somewhere can be a torture session of dropped toys and books and me saying over and over again: “Momma can’t get that toy because Momma is driving.” Through gritted teeth, after about 15 times. Once I get where I am supposed to go, I am always glad I pushed through. But still, sometimes my motivation is lacking for no good reason other than I just feel lazy.

And my back is killing me and I have no idea way. Driving makes it feel worse. I think I need some sort of special driving pillow, one that includes a word like “lumbar” or something. I can only imagine I might have pulled something while doing the twist-and-fish-out-a-toy-from-under-the-seat-while-driving-move. Or maybe it is from lifting the sometimes thrashing toddlers who don’t want to have their diapers changed. Or maybe it was just from getting out of bed, such is my advancing age. The pain lead me to Duane Reade, where I purchased one of those heat packs for the back (it Velcos on and stays on for eight hours, but I must check to make sure I am not burning my skin) and Doan’s back pills. These pills, they have more warnings on them than I am comfortable with. I took them yesterday and they seemed to work, but still, all those warnings about complications from taking the pills makes me seriously question whether or not I should put it in my body. So today I eschew them and try to grit my teeth through the pain. Let’s see how long this bravado lasts.

I know; all of life’s troubles should be this petty.

This past weekend we took the girls to their first movie: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. We were prepared to make it about ten minutes before we would have to bail, and were pleasantly surprised—no, shocked—when the girls sat through the entire movie without a peep. Amazing! The best part it was the 3D version, which we didn’t realize till we got to the theater, so the girls tolerated fuzzy scenes every now and then without complaining. Madeline watched the previews while standing and peeking through the seats in front of her. It was cute. But the she settled on Nicole’s lap and watched the entire movie from there.

Out of the blue, Madeline has added a few new phrases to her vocabulary: “Hey, Momma” and “Ok” and “alright.” She will come up to me and ask for milk. I will repeat it back to her “You want some milk, Maddie?” and she says “OK,” as if it were my idea. From time to time I worry that she isn’t speaking enough, but then she will suddenly spurt things out like “Plane flying there” and I think I am being silly to worry. It is so so so hard not to compare the two girls. And Avery is so verbal, always talking, always repeating and shocking us with her three and four word sentences.

Some legitimate concerns I have: I am losing the paci war. What used to be jut a nighttime and naptime is now becoming much more often. Because yes, it is easier to just give in rather than listen to them cry for that damn piece of plastic. Other concerns: Avery eats almost nothing but carbs. She loves her bread products and will only eat things that have flour in them. And even that is only occasionally. She seems to be on the path of picky eater, which wouldn’t shock me, as I am a very picky eater. Madeline, on the other hand, eats amazingly. She will have a pint of raspberries, a cup of strawberries, an apple, frozen grapes and several clementines throughout the day. Interesting how the girls can be on either side of these spectrums.

We close in two weeks! We just might be in the house in time for some peak foliage!

And finally:

• I am reading Nurture Shock and loving it so fat. Chapter one can be boiled down to this: Be specific with your feedback and encouragement. Chapter 2 is all about the importance of sleep. Preaching to the choir. Nicole and I am very much into instilling a strict sleep schedule. I am looking forward to the rest of the book.

• I am also reading “Parenting from the Inside Out.” Just got it yesterday. I am hoping that this book and the other will illuminate a parenting path for me.

Pictured above, pictures from the weekend. It is fall in NY and I love it.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

At Least I Can Look Forward to Sourdough Bread

I have been parenting solo over here, since Nicole is in San Francisco. She left on Tuesday and will be back Friday night. The days have been long but it hasn’t been as hard as it has been in the past. Bed time can’t come soon enough, though; for them or me!

But I have to say I have really enjoyed the past couple of days with the girls. They have been charming and funny and cute and affectionate and just plain adorable. Not all at once, but in moments. Avery gave me four kisses in a row. Madeline curled up on my lap with a book. The both leaned on either side of me as we watched Curious George. Of course, they had their moments of screeching and pulling toys out of each other’s hands and saying “No Momma!” but all in all, a good few days. On Tuesday, I went to Long Island and visited my friend and her new baby. On Wednesday the girls and I went to the Central Park Zoo. It was such a beautiful fall day, and we meandered through the park on our way there, soaking up the fall in all of its not-nearly-peak glory. At the zoo, the animals all were particulary visible that day, lounging and stretching and preening right in front of us. Avery and Madeline both said “Bye Gus” and “Bye EEE-da” (the polar bears) and had tons of fun jumping in puddles. Today I took them to Toys r Us in Times Square and they loved it. I figured the glitzy-ness would be a nice change from our typical city street or Central Park walks. Our walk through Times Square was made even more magical for them by the presence of a giant Spongebob SquarePants.

It is October. When did that happen? I was looking back at pictures of the girls from the beginning of summer and realized that they look so much older now. They even feel heavier in my arms. Lifting them up is getting quite difficult. They talk more and laugh more and demand more. They both drink chocolate milk all the time. Time is flying, as usual, and I am still often too busy looking at the view ahead of me that I forget to enjoy where I am.

Speaking of looking ahead, if all goes well, we will be closing on the house in Northampton in a couple of weeks. I am so excited. When I have a moment of silence and time to indulge in random thoughts, I think about the house, of how much it is going to be a part of the girls’ childhood. I think about the huge Christmas tree we will get, and how will can hang beautiful garlands from the deck. I think of curling up on the couch with the girls and watching a movie and eating popcorn. I think about listening to the wind blow through the trees, which is my favorite sound in the world. I am very excited and very grateful. But also very, very impatient.

Remember the whole push-up challenge? I started doing two push-ups. I am now up to 16 in a row! I can a total of 60, if I take breaks between sets. There really is something to be said for dedicating yourself to something for 30 days: It is a long enough period of time to see progress or change and to create good habits. I am still having the Amazing Grass fruit shake in the morning. That has been nearly two months already!

Oh, and the winner of the DVDs has been contacted! Thanks for throwing your names in the hat. I literally put them names in a hat and had Avery pluck one out!

Pictured above, the girls at the zoo. How cute is the picture of their little footprints?! And the girls over the weekend.