Sunday, April 27, 2008

Part II: Missing Pieces (PPD Chronicles)

I had the privilege of attending a regional women's conference. "Free To Be" was the theme and Kathy Tolleson and Melodye Hilton were the speakers (see links for more information on these incredible women).

We were free to be women and worshippers in an environment without the distractions of family, work and life.

I enjoyed the time. I welcomed the opportunity to seek God in the quiet places of my heart. I had a great slumber party with my BFF Shel, talking long into the night about life, love and education. (She's my hero in a number of areas!) I won the purse game for having the highest number of items in one bag (not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing). I was touched and changed by the speakers and know I will never be the same.

It was a surprise to discover it wasn't what I received that was the most powerful, but what I realized I was missing.

When Melodye was speaking she talked about allowing your heart to beat again. To be brave, to believe again in the goodness of God and the possibilities of life. To this heart, accustomed to missing beats due to depression and circumstances and life, it was indeed time to beat again.

Kathy spoke on allowing God to heal and fix those broken and missing pieces in our emotional lives. At the point of great emotional pain, distress and/or abuse we lose our ability to move on. For example, she shared a situation from her first marriage where she had to take a ton of abuse and had no way out. Years later, in a new marriage and with plenty of emotional and spiritual support, she found herself overreacting. Upon reflection God showed her that the past was encroaching on her present with residual pain.

What missing pieces of my past are encroaching upon my present and causing me to miss out on my future?

My heart missing a beat, missing out on a future of possibility. There was indeed much missing from my life. One last missing piece was discovered. I desperately missed my boys. I felt as if a part of me was missing.

When the gorilla of PPD was howling at his loudest (see PPD Chronicles), I would have given the children away in exchange for a little sleep, a little shower, a little peace. On my commute to work I drove past a Fairmont hotel. When it was particularly dark for me I would plot how I would check in and disappear for a few days. I would free myself from the boys and all the depression, pain, and despair attached to mothering.

So it was a surprise the depth to which I missed them. I counted the miles to the nearest convenience store for diapers. I looked for a refrigerator in the room to put a sippy cup. I sized up the dresser to see if it would suit as a changing table. I kept track of where the hospitals and/or clinics were in case we needed to do a middle of the night ear infection run. I would need none of these this trip.

When a person loses a limb, it is said the nerves to the brain 'remember' the feelings even after the flesh is gone. Phantom limb pain. Pain where none can possibly exist. I had phantom 'kid' pain. The pain of separation reverberated in my now well rested brain. Nerves once raw with the daily demands of care and feeding now pulsed with a desire to know what they were doing, eating, seeing, feeling at that particular moment.

I missed them. I missed who I was becoming with them. I was missing a piece of myself.

I realized they weren't breaking me into pieces. They were the catalyst to put the pieces back together. They were both the hammer and the glue of my heart and psyche.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Missing Pieces: Part I: Travelogue

153 miles. Just 153 miles. It should take about 3 hours. Or so I thought. 5 1/2 long, long (did I mention long?) hours later I pulled into my beautiful bed and breakfast to begin my women's conference weekend.

-5 1/2 hours earlier-

To cross the Sousa bridge, I live in the DC area, I had only to travel 8 miles. 8 little miles. An hour later, I just crossed to the other side. I was so desperate I called my brother in L.A. to get on Mapquest and get me out of there. It seems my directions were missing any details on how I could go around the construction with the signs warning, "25 minute delay ahead". Like the levels of hell in Dante's Inferno, the signs detailed my stay in the purgatorially slow traffic on 295. "20 minute delay ahead" (this just an hour from my home). "15 minute delay ahead" You get the picture.

-3 1/2 hours earlier-

Baltimore and its suburbs, I am sure, are beautiful. A great place to live. Why, oh why, did ALL the people that live there take off early THIS particular Friday? And why, oh why, did they ALL need to go in the same direction as I did? No, that's not me banging my head against the steering wheel, that is some other pathetic travelin' soul.

-2 hours earlier-

Harrisburg. The land of the lost. The lost being me. I am lost in a sea of stalled traffic wherein 6 lanes must merge into one. Though the 2 miles of scrap yard were fun to look at, I was reminded of the Transformers Movie, my son's current obsession. As I crawled through traffic, apparently every commuter in Harrisburg likes this back road too, I imagined Bumble Bee rising from the pieces to bat away all the cars stopped in front of me. No banging this time, just a few choice words and several loud renditions of the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. I will love you.....Until my dying day....or when I get out traffic, you get the idea.

-1 hour earlier-

The sign read, "slow 20 mph" with an arrow pointing right. Thankfully I did slow as the road before me simply ended. It was the tightest curve I had yet to navigate in the SUV and the steepest cliff to my right. I can handle 8 lanes of beltway traffic moving at 90+ miles an hour but this country road with the cliff to the right made me sweat.


Apparently the yet another missing piece on this journey would be from my carefully Googled directions. Did you know most roads in this part of the country are named after the family living on them? Did you also know my B&B is not on the Amish farm into which I pulled in (falsely) ecstatic to have arrived? My first clue things were wrong, the children running barefoot through the mud. My first suburban, modern mom thought, "Those children really will have a hard time getting their feet clean tonight before bed." Thought #2, "I am really not in DC anymore!" In calling the B&B they too had no idea where I was. However, if I just continued to drive down the main road (the only road), I would come by the place. I would know it by the black cows grazing in the front yard. Cows.In.The.Front.Yard.

-Destination, Part Deux-

Ah, here at last. I love the smell of fresh manure on a fine Spring evening. I also love the view of a shirtless farm hand. I don't love the view of said shirtless wonder's 'Pa' bending over to fix the tractor....shudder. In my room, a very coordinated boudoir(by very coordinated I mean EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY THING had a peachy color to it), were warnings not to touch the electrical fences and to look carefully before pulling out because tractors do drive everywhere.

Epilogue to the Travelogue
I'm here, but my soap is in my bathroom 5 1/2 hours away. Great. I shower with the sample size bottle of baby soap I find in the deep recesses of my travel bag. I now smell like Grins and Giggles. Before leaving my room for the first session of the conference, I check the directions from the B&B to the church. What if they too are wrong and are missing pieces of roads?

As I remove the dead, ginormous bee from my front seat (dear God, even my car is a haven for living things on this stinky farm!), I hear horns blaring from the road. Speeding past at 100 miles an hour is the caravan of people I know attending the conference. I burn rubber, scare the cows and peel out of the driveway to follow, narrowly missing Pa in his tractor. I don't want to be later than I already am, there are too many missing pieces to find.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Just Five Things

In the throes of PPD, mothering or just any Tuesday it can seem impossible to get even one thing done. How do I tackle the mountain of laundry when the baby simply won't stop pooping? How can I blog when the phone won't stop ringing reminding me of Doctor's appointments and playdates I scheduled and have since forgotten? How can I shower after jazzercise when the baby looks far, far, far from ready for an afternoon nap?

The following is a bit of wisdom gleaned from our support group facilitator Anne. Her sister, the mother/goddess of five children shared it with her. I offer it now to you.

I offer it to you, beleaguered and overwhelmed mother of less than five. I offer it to you, the mom who is sitting now in an office and wondering what her little miracles are doing at this moment in day care. I offer it to you, the woman who is wondering how she will get even one thing done.

There are Just Five Things to be done everyday.

#1: Shower
(Can be replaced on particularly 'cloudy' days by any combination of at least two of the following-brushing teeth, brushing hair, washing face and/or putting on earrings)

#2: Feed Them Dinner
(Cereal works for breakfast and lunch and sometimes dinner, however, when the children think that Lucky Charms and Trix are part of the food pyramid, it's time to break out the pots and pans.)

#3: Play with a Child
(Play, one on one, eye to eye, butt on the floor or on the bike...whatever they pick. No education allowed. Simply play. Trust me, it's harder than you think.)

#4: Read to a Child
(Some education allowed. Mostly listen in between reading. I learned that my 4 1/2 yr. old is obsessed with his guts. I learned this when I read him a story while waiting at the doctor's office. To be honest, the harried business man impatiently waiting across the room enjoyed my adaptation of the story too. Another honesty moment, I have read aloud from Entertainment magazine to my isn't so much the plot as the voice he loves. )

(I like this one best. The only rule for #5 it can ONLY be used in the care and feeding of YOU. I have only begun to learn that a healthy, happy, rested, fed and encouraged Mommy is a Mommy everyone can live with.)

Can't manage five? Pick one. Do that one thing and know that you did the best you could. Do two the next day (week, month, whatever) and know you did the best that you could.

Notice what isn't on the list? Housecleaning. Bill paying. Laundry. Those daily and weekly chores always seeming to slip by anyway. When you can nail down the five, you'll be surprised when you can sneak in something else. I have been able to add exercise just this week. Dusting may have to wait until next week.

Remember, just five things.

To close here are Just Five Things I Appreciate About You:

#1: You read this often meandering blog and don't leave mean comments.
#2: You have taken the time to read when I know there are far more than 5 things on your own "to do" list.
#3: You smile a bit after reading about the dog's newest favorite treat.
#4: You are a mothering warrior, with her own battle armor, her own scars and her own victories.
#5: I get to blog about this mothering thing. I have more to learn and I'm glad to figure it out with you.

Thanks. J.C.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

PPD Chronicles, Chapter 3A: Groupie II

I never cease to be amazed at the seasons God brings through my life. This must be the Groupie Season. Not only did I discover community through the support group but in another more unlikely place-a jazzercise class.

Let me begin by saying there was never a lazier woman than me. I'm not being mean to myself, it's just the truth. If there is a choice between a good book and nap on a comfy couch and any kind of workout, the cushions and words will win out every time.

So it was a surprise to me a few years ago, when I found a mode of regular exercise I liked AND to which I could remain committed. It also allowed me to indulge my inner groove thang. Jazzercise.

No, it's not that thong wearing, headband donning, solid gold dancer type of workout (though there are women and some very special men who still cling to the 80's). It's taking top 40 radio and putting it to dance/exercise.

I'm in and I'm out. In 60 minutes I get a great workout, shake my groove thang and I'm done.

I took class for about 3 years, in part from a big butt intervention by friends, but mostly due to the crazy Sergeant at arms/bulldog/energizer bunny of an instructor-Mary. She bullies, she coaxes, she yells, she laughs, she cries, she cheers....she makes you move, even when it's the last thing you want to do. She even ignores my, "Are you kidding me with this butt crunch/purgatorial/painful/stupid/too long routine?" face.

I quit when I quit on myself from the pregnancy depression and the PPD. I quit for over two years.

Anne, the mother-goddess/support group facilitator, strongly recommends exercise as a coping strategy for PPD and life. She even was encouraging me to attend the Stroller Strides class she teaches across the street. Again, the couch won out. Until...

I realized Mary's studio had day classes with childcare. I could work out while the kids had a playdate. I could return to the only exercise I ever kinda liked.

So I did. The PPD gorilla kept asking me, "What are you thinking?" As we left, late as always, diaper bag dragging behind the stroller, "How are you going to manage the drive/workout/the kids and get a shower after?" He followed me to the elevator, "You'll never keep up with it."

I took him with me into the studio. I turned my back and started to shake my hips (of course, I had to find them again underneath all the post baby flub). With each step, even the missed ones, the gorilla hushed and hid in the corner.

The workout was tough and I was cursing Mary/doritos/my couch/anything to keep going through the thigh and abdominal portions. As I was leaving all I could hear was the chatter of my 4 year old saying how much fun he had at Mommy's dance class and could we go get a Starbucks now?

I didn't hear the gorilla. When getting home and getting a shower (the baby was helpful and slept for a few minutes), I couldn't find him.

At 3 a.m. he came back for his usual middle of the night anxiety chat. I listened for a minute then tried to roll over, sore from jazzercise. "Shut up," I said, "I need to get some sleep."

And he did.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Are You Kidding Me? Top Ten

There are times when the task of mothering is overwhelming in its intensity (who knew caring for other smaller humans could take so much energy both emotional and physical?).

There are also times when the outrageousness and sheer lunacy of a week make it tough; tough in the, "Are you kidding me?" kinda way.

Here are the top 10 reasons it was tough to be the mommy this week in my house:

#10: It was 85 degrees in April and I have yet to buy summer clothes for the kids.

#9: The vacuum began to spew dust OUT and UP instead of in, fascinating and amusing to the children, not so much for my sinuses.

#8: There was a Star Wars marathon on t.v. Try explaining the dark side of the force and why Darth Vader breathes so funny to a four and half year old.
(To the social workers who may be reading, no, I did not allow him to watch the more violent or frightening parts. Though, I do admit, the light saber fight between Yoda and the guy with the voice from the Buick commercials was too cool to pass up!)

#7: Did I mention it was 85 degrees in April and we discovered the baby HATES to be hot? Yet another night o' sleep deprivation blues.

#6: I didn't get paid from work (hence the no clothes shopping debacle).

#5: The dog discovered he liked the taste of dirty diapers.

#4: I nearly broke my husband's ankle by throwing a glass bottle at him
(disclaimer for divorce court: I didn't know his foot was in the way of the trash bag...really I didn't.)

#3: I had to take both littles with me to the PPD support group, thus necessitating the following balancing act: vigilance over the baby not to fall over and scrape his face on the hospital carpet, helping the four year old understand he doesn't need to announce so loudly, 'I have to pee,', while keeping the healthy yet tantalizing snacks coming- all in the midst of trying to be supportive and give support.

#2: The dog discovered he liked the taste of dirty diapers and promptly got sick UNDER the bed, 5 minutes before I was about to lay the baby down for the night. True to my germaphobe nature, I had to scrub, sanitize and Lysol the floor. I now have an underbed (?) clean enough to eat and/or throw up on.

#1: I lost my voice from allergies, broken vacuums, 85 degree weather and sleep deprivation. Yelling at anyone, including a poop spewing dog, is now met with a, "What did you say Mommy, I didn't hear you?" blank stare.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

PPD Chronicles, Chapter 3: Groupie

I encourage new readers of these Chronicles to start with Chapter 1 in order to become acquainted with the Gorilla. Thanks.

I have never been a joiner or a groupie. I only lasted 3 years as a girl scout when I realized two important facts. #1: I didn't look good in the green uniform for the big girl, girl scouts; and #2: Boy scouts were way cuter than girl scouts and got to do cool things like camp and light fires and stuff.

Even in junior high/high school I was never really a member of a group. I was always a bit too loud, too big, too smart (just too...) to fit into one social strata. However, I seemed to join every group when having a graduation toga party (but I digress...hopefully that videotape is long destroyed!).

In college I was the weird christian leader who did theatre and wanted to save all the poor children from illiteracy. I know, yet again, not quite fitting into any one group. (Thankfully, no video evidence exists.)

One would think joining a group at a church is a no brainer for a believer like me. Not so much. We learned some hard lessons on how destructive community can be and unfortunately there was a cross over the door as we exited.

So it isn't any wonder that studying, building and affecting community is something I have done professionally and personally for years. Though I can help you find and build community, (I'm a professional group facilitator), I had yet to understand what it meant to truly be a part of one...until recently.

It all centered on mothering and becoming a mother.

When having my second son, I was in the midst of a serious and deep depression. I didn't call it that. I called it, "being pregnant". I didn't know you aren't really supposed to be so incapacitated in your emotions, soul, spirit and body that the thought of getting out of the recliner was enough to generate tears.

However, in the midst of the 'blacks', a shower of baby cards came in the mail. These cards came from people we had met once, even never. They were from a church pastored by friends of ours, four hours away. We visited several times a year but are by no means regulars. Michelle, a soul professional if I ever met one, is the co-pastor and my very bestest of bestest friends. She created a hand stamped and embossed card (details meaningless to the uncrafted, however, for those in the get it.) In the card was our address for a 'card baby shower'. Shel didn't tell us she did it until months later, just one example of her quiet, selfless service to those blessed enough to be loved by her.

As the cards came in, for well over a week, the clouds parted briefly. I felt engulfed in the care of a group of strangers from whom love and care seemed to be as second nature as breathing. I began to slowly realize what a miracle our little promise was going to be and how this group of believers had already embraced him and me. This was the beginning.

Yesterday, I went to my second meeting of the PPD support group. I had two prior weeks of clouds and a couple black days. I had a list of things to discuss. Instead, I listened.

To protect identities and the sacrosanct nature of support groups, no names will ever be used without permission. Instead I'll use prince and princess to describe beautiful baby boys and girls.

In the listening, we formed a community-a group of maternal warriors, reporting out on our battles, both won and lost.

As the beautiful mommy shared her raw and deep concerns about the reality of bonding with her princess baby, we all wept with her. We wept because we could plainly see that she was the center of this beautiful baby's universe, and because we could feel deeply her concern as we too wondered at our own bonds.

When a little prince's mommy shared she couldn't keep up with her french class and run a marathon, we smiled and assured her that every diaper, every nursing, every minute of lost sleep was indeed running a marathon-every day!

When a mommy of a 4 week old (4 weeks post partum and she was dressed, lucid and present at a meeting! wow!) shared she was a control freak who met the ultimate in control freak busters in her beautiful princess, we all mentally set aside our own to do lists and reassured her the only thing that doesn't change when mothering (at any age) is everything changes!

I shared a little. I admitted to the group I had indeed suffered depression for a long time and only now was beginning to deal. I had to stop and recognize this was the first time I said it out loud to anyone. They clapped, cheering the progress made and power in admitting.

Saying it out loud made the gorilla very unhappy, I had to deal with his howls of recrimination the whole way home. I tried to medicate away from him with McDonalds but the lady forgot to give me my extra food (damn).

I finally shut him up by remembering one thing. In two weeks I would return to this community of mommys. A groupie of our shared mother existence. A groupie of this community of warriors. A member of the group, once and for all.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

PPD Chronicles, Chapter Two: Coming Out

I came out last weekend. No, I'm not a lesbian. I came out to my circle of Mommy friends that I have been overcoming PPD. (To say 'suffering from PPD' would discount the progress I've made...I shower nearly everyday now and haven't cried over a spill in a couple weeks!)

My 8 month old was attending a baby shower with me. We were celebrating our friend Jamie's miracle baby. She and her husband worked hard and suffered much to create little J.B. All of us were thrilled to celebrate his impending arrival.

As mother's do, they asked if I was still nursing. I said, "No, you can't take anti-depressants and breastfeed. I stopped the day I knew I needed some chemical help." The Gorilla raised it's head from the corner, preparing to howl. (See PPD Chronicles: Chapter 1).

In my mind, I had rehearsed the scene a million times. I would break down (weeping pitiably and beautifully -in the imagination one always weeps with panache, nary a booger in site), bemoaning my lack of sleep, hygiene, sex, will to live, etc. They would either a) quickly come to surround me in a circle of maternal love and care or b) (the Gorilla's favorite) they would all sit in stunned silence and judge me as a horrible mother, a lazy mother, a diva who can't handle one of the most basic and profound tasks of womanhood, bearing and caring for children.

Surprisingly, neither occurred. The conversation continued to flow as it always does when women set aside being judgemental and simply embrace the magical moment of unfettered communication with someone else who has been there. Those rare and gorgeous moments when all use the shorthand of motherhood, when tired has a whole new depth of meaning and having sex is a dream (only to be achieved after a good night's sleep).

Later in the afternoon, I apologized to the hostess. She had seen me at the beginning. Then I wore the gorilla on my back, not yet cognizant of his existence, yet suffering nevertheless. His massive paws covered my ears (shutting out anything positive), his legs firmly wrapped around my waist (squeezing the breath out of me). I somehow managed to get myself to a children's consignment sale (the nirvana of bargain shopping).

The pseudo-tradition I and the other Moms had was to go to the consignment sale and then out to dinner. Chatting over the fence has been replaced for our little group of modern mothers by a hastily planned dinner at a local restaurant possible only after 1) someone (anyone) takes the kids and 2) shopping for said kids is complete. It was the plan this time. However, I couldn't do it.

I barely managed to dress in something other than the oversized white t-shirts and stained workout pants-my official PPD uniform. We met and I couldn't hold a conversation. I couldn't remember for longer than 5 minutes what sizes I was shopping for or what I needed. It was so bad, I literally walked away from one of our moms, Holly, as she was in mid sentence. Jamie rescued me and was my 'guide mommy' through the mentally demanding process of checking out. She even pretended to understand when I made some lame excuse about missing dinner, hastily jumping into my car to leave. She has since joined me in my "gorilla ass kicking army"!

That was nearly seven months before the baby shower.

Holly was the hostess for the baby shower. This time I was lucid, properly dressed and communicating in complete sentences, and I took the opportunity to apologize. I told her I was in pretty bad shape then and it wasn't anything personal. She said the magic words, "Don't worry about it. I've been there."

As the afternoon progressed I could say with certainty several other women in the room had indeed been there. Whether they too came out and described their own gorillas explicitly or simply nodded their heads in silent affirmation, most had been there. Been there and been back.

The gorilla seemed smaller in the face of these survivalists of the maternal. I indeed had been there, and indeed would be back. I would come out from under the gorilla's influence once and for all.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Questions from the Carpool

I have a 90 minute total commute to drop off my son at childcare/preschool. In that time, I get to 'surf' the morning political talk shows. Here are a few questions about the current political races and campaigns.

1. John McCain encouraged an audience at Annapolis to get more involved. However, wasn't it he who created and passed the largest curbing of free speech via the McCain/Feingold bill?

2. At the average American high school, only 50% of students actually graduate with a diploma. Two questions: 1) where are all those kids going, working, living? and 2) where are the Congressional hearings into this national tragedy? (Tammy Bruce, on the Laura Ingraham Show this morning put it far more eloquently than I, "If the Superintendents of all the Districts were taking steroids or were doused in oil, maybe we would have hearings on the Hill.")

3. We actually get only 13% of our oil from arab nations. The largest percentage (nearly 48%) is from Canada. So does true energy independence mean putting our neighbor (and arguably the 52nd state) into an economic disaster? Why are we the only nation, yes kids, the only nation to not significantly drill within our own borders or on our shores? China drills off our gulf coast. We don't. They don't care about the species of fish potentially harmed. Frankly, neither do I.

4. Rep. Cleaver is quoted as saying white people are voting for Obama because he is articulate. “I think for many white Americans, they are looking at Barack Obama and saying ‘This is our chance to demonstrate that we have been able to get this boogeyman called race behind us,’” Cleaver said. “And so they are going to vote for him, whether he has credentials or not, whether he has any experience — I think all that’s out the window.” Are white people so eager to have race no longer be a factor in public discourse that they would elect someone with less than in depth credentials? Having race not be a factor, isn't that at the heart of the civil rights movement?

5. At the brilliant blog (check it out regularly for a dash o' random brilliance), there is a post Everyone Should Have A Say about the silence at a party relating to the fight between Clinton and Obama. To comment is to risk being viewed as racist or sexist. So instead, there is silence. My question is this, would Hilary Clinton be where she is if she were Bob Smith? Would Barack Obama be where he is if he were John Smith, a white, junior Senator from Illinois?

6. What's the point?