May 30, 2007

Blessings

Every year at the Academy graduation, the Thunderbirds perform a flyover display and everyone in the Springs turns out to line the highway and watch the show. Kurt's office sits right up near the Academy, providing a not-quite front row seat, and every year they have a flyover picnic for employees and families.

The last time we went Anna was little, maybe 7 months old. She was the darling of the picnic; shy, cute, cuddly and sweet. As I recall, she fell asleep about halfway through the show, cradled in my arms. This year, Silvia slept, cradled against me in her pouch carrier while Anna ran free. She slept because she spent the entire drive over screaming bloody murder. After I fed her in the car when we got there, she passed out from exhaustion.

Anna refused to eat anything of the catered BBQ that was available, instead wanting something else that they didn't have. Then she refused to eat the orange creamsicle pop offered to her, instead wanting something else that they didn't have. Then she wouldn't drink her apple juice, instead wanting... you get the idea.

What really set her off, though, was that everyone wanted to see the baby. HER baby. People kept coming over to say hello and take a peek at the sleeping infant... and she'd scream, and basically boo and hiss until they'd go away. Charming.

She sat on her daddy's shoulder's to watch the jets in the air, and for that she was happy and excited. That was pretty much the only time she was distracted from being as thoroughly TWO as possible.

The wife of Kurt's co-worker was there, with her four children all under the age of 6. We spoke briefly about the kids and babies, and I made a comment about how I was overwhelmed with just two kids and how amazed I was at her ability to parent four. And she said, "Well, you know, I used to wonder how I'd have enough love for all of them, but I do. Sometimes it's hard, I guess, but they're just blessings, you know?"

Ummm... blessings? Stunned, I nodded my head as if I, too, was constantly thankful and blessed by the presence of my children. Then my screaming toddler grabbed my hand with her chocolate-ice-cream-soaked fingers to drag me off so I'd stop letting people talk to HER baby sister.

I'm fairly certain that I can be a real bitch sometimes, and here's the proof. My immediate response, as I got pulled to look at some ants, was to think, "She's so full of it. I bet she cries herself to sleep every night." Now, THAT, my friends, is the mark of a truly ungrateful and mean-spirited person. I'm so completely overwhelmed by my days sometimes that I can't even fathom that someone else with TWICE the kids I have could possibly be less stressed out than me.

I love my kids. I do, I really, really do. And, in the grand scheme of things, they are blessings. I'd be half a person without them, I know, but I just don't think I have that level of inner peace to be able to simply shrug off the inherent frustrations they provide. That kind of calm acceptance and duty just baffles me. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but so be it. I'm just not that graceful.

The woman I talked to was definitely a "glass-half-full-life's-a-joyous-challenge-aren't-kids-cute" kind of woman. Me? I'm more of a "can't-find-a-damn-clean-sippy-cup-and-WHAT-is-that-in-your-mouth-oh-my-god-she-just-ate-trash-and-I-need-a-martini" kind of girl.

That's just how I roll.

May 24, 2007

Bridges

I've been taking anti-depressants now for almost three months and it's definitely been an emotional process for me. Just deciding that I needed them was difficult, admitting that things were not right, that the thoughts in my head were not normal or correct or maybe even sane. That was a big leap for me, one of those, "It's okay for everyone else, but I'm better than this" moments. The realization I had to accept, (the realization that smacked me upside the head with the full force of a charging elephant), was that I'm not better than anything or anyone. I am, in fact, just like everyone else; struggling.

Struggling to be a better person in the face of all the things I'd rather avoid is the battle that I wage every day against myself. But I have learned that avoidance can't get me very far. Oh yes, I have learned that. In some small way I feel like taking that little white pill every evening is an avoidance, like I'm trying to dodge a part of myself that I should have tried instead to confront and overcome.

But really, that pill was just a bridge to help me arrive at a place where I can start to deal with the real reasons behind all the anxiety and stress. I've come to a place where I have to stop hiding from mistakes, avoiding responsibilities. The pill can't make me happy, though at first it feels that way, like a bright warm light after a cold and dark night.

Eventually, though, just having the light on doesn't seem like such a big deal. I mean, heck, it's on all the time, so what? And having all that light has its downside, too, as it starts to illuminate the things you'd rather not see.

For me, now that I'm feeling better, now that each day is relatively stable and I'm as balanced as this woman can be (a woman who stays home all day with small children, that is), I've had to start dealing with the problems that the darkness concealed.

Some of it's small, stupid to everyone but me, perhaps, but there you go. Like trying to stay a step ahead of the laundry and housework instead of a mile behind it. Like weaning my 2 year old off of her mind-numbing addiction to television, the addiction that, let's face it, I totally enabled out of desperation. These things make me anxious and nervous and tense when they get out of control, they haunt me and start to make me think thoughts of failure and weakness. These relatively small and silly concerns can become overwhelming and serious if I let them get out of control.

Other stuff is more personal, harder to face, but equally important to deal with, correct and move on. I wrote a letter this week, a letter to an old friend that I treated badly. At first I had tried to justify to myself my behavior, convince myself of my own righteous indignation. But, truly, under all that bravado and pride, I just felt awful and embarrassed and guilty. Those feelings were seeping into everything else in my life, undermining my other relationships, invading my dreams.

So I wrote her a letter, and even better, I sent it. Admitting mistakes is an incredibly difficult thing for me to do, but I have to say that it's also incredibly freeing. Just by writing down, clearly and without any qualifiers, that I screwed up and I'm sorry, I was able to let go of a mountain of bad feeling that has been threatening to bury me.

I've spent the past six months or more afraid every time I left the house that I'd run into her. What would I say, what could I say, especially after all the stupid things I'd already said? I dreaded the very idea of such an encounter. And now... well, now I don't, it's a simple as that. I have made it as right as I can, she has accepted my apology and even offered me one of her own, and now there is nothing to dread. Even burned bridges leave behind enough of a framework for forgiveness, it seems.

Someday, maybe someone will come up with a little pill that copes with reality for you, that automatically bolsters your strengths and eliminates your weaknesses, all with a few strategic tweaks of some (as yet unidentified) chemicals in your brain. But I don't think I'd take it. For me, the strengths wouldn't mean as much without knowing the failures I had to stumble through and overcome before I started to get it right.

May 15, 2007

The road not taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long as I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth,
Then took the other as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim;
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet, knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

May 08, 2007

A place of my own

Today I bought a journal. A bound leather book with blank pages, I picked it up in spontaneous desperation, when my head was bursting with everything that I couldn't do or say or scream.

I used to write in a journal all the time, I had several dating back into high school and even earlier. One fairly humorous one had the blow-by-blow (if you will) description of my first kiss. (I was eleven, horrific thought, now that I have daughters of my own.) One day, several years ago, I read through them all, noting the patterns and self-loathing and negativity and it occurred to me that I only wrote when I was unhappy; when school was overwhelming me or I had lost a boyfriend or gained 10 pounds.

At that realization, I chose to make a fresh start. I got rid of all the journals, every last one. I decided to write only on my computer, a safer and more secret place, and to write in all moods rather than just the black ones.

The funny thing is, though, that typing on a screen isn't nearly as cathartic as an angry scrawl of ink across a blank page. And I find that instead of simply writing what I need to get out of my head, I often feel that I've got to produce some level of masterpiece before I can post it on this blog. That often leaves me too daunted to be able to write anything at all, and I end up staying silent.

Then came tonight. Tonight my mind was swirling, a veritable tempest of stress, rage, frustration and anxiety. I don't know what set me off today, but my nerves have been raw since the moment I woke. Kurt stayed late at work and I was overly furious and shortly after he came home, I simply... fled. I ran away from home.

And the first thing I did was go and buy a journal. The feel of it in my hands calmed me a little before I even began to write. I went to a coffee shop and sat, softly touching the smooth pages for a moment and then I just began to pour out the incoherent babble from behind my eyes.

"I feel so trapped, stuck, overwhelmed, who am I really? I have titles, Mother-Wife-Sister-Daughter-Friend but who am I to ME? If all those other things were stripped of me what would be left? Or am I defined by others only only the reflection of what they see need take?"

"Watching the clock, stolen time. He's at home, railing in his mind at me for leaving and taking this moment away and I DO care, I feel badly to need to run, why can't I just embrace it all why am I so frazzled?"

"Lists lists in my head. Always this feeling of having missed something, having screwed up. Anxious."

"I miss her. I fear I screwed up Big Time and now all is lost. Burned bridges scorching my skin from every direction."

"How do I become something to be proud of? I feel like I've taken a million first steps and not moved an inch."

More and more like that, random and hot and painful, and then...

"I just want to find what's really me, if there's anything there at all besides what I am to them."

Ah. That's the real trouble, isn't it? An identity of my own. I've gone and grown up, gotten married and had children without ever really finding out what I'm good at, what makes me satisfied and proud. I think all the tension I'm feeling lately is related to that. I spend my days with my children, with my friends, trying to stay on top of a household and a life and in all that daily minutae, I have lost something of myself.

I've been toying with the idea of freelance writing for years now, even more so lately. Whether or not it's a success, I think it's something that I have to try, for my own sanity. Because I need something personal to be excited about, to focus on and find pride in, something outside of my motherhood and marriage, something that is my own measure of merit.

I needed space tonight, where I could rant and rave and, ultimately, find some purpose and clarity. When I got rid of my journals all those years ago, I didn't realize that I was actually getting rid of the one place that was solely my own.