Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

They Say An Active Imagination Is A Good Thing

Last week, we were out on a family grocery shopping trip.

Bonhomme was sitting in the cart, kicking his feet against the bars.

“Momma, we gotta go find someone. She’s lost!” He announced to me in a stage whisper.

“Who’s lost? Where is she?” I whispered back.

“My sister! We havta find her!”

“You have a sister? Really? News to me!”

“Yeah! I do!”

“Oh! How old is she?”

“Uhhh….”

“Is she older than you, or younger than you?”

“She’s younger.” Bonhomme nodded his head decisively.

“OK, so is she little, or big?”

“She’s little.”

“And she’s lost?”

“Yup, let’s go find her!”

So off we went down the aisles, looking for Bonhomme’s lost sister, and picking up some raisins and hand cream on the way.

The topic came up again while we were waiting in line at the cash.

“Momma, there she is, I see her!”

“You do? Where?”

“Oh, she’s gone.”

“Oh, OK. So, tell me more about this sister of yours, Bonhomme. What’s her name?”

“Uhhh… Uhhh… Venny!”

“Venny? Her name is Venny?”

“Yup!”

“OK, her name is Venny. So you know, if Venny’s your sister, that must mean I’m her Mommy!”

“No! You’re not her Mommy. You’re not!”

“Well, you know, that’s usually how it works with sisters.”

“No. You’re. Not! You’re NOT her MOMMY! She’s MY friend!”

“I see.”

“Hmph.” Bonhomme crossed his arms, frowning ferociously, and nodded his head.

All was quiet on the sibling front as we packed the groceries and ourselves into the car and headed home. Peacefully driving along, my chitchat with Dearest was suddenly interrupted by an outraged howl.

“Momma, Venny HIT ME!” Wailing, and real tears.

Dearest and I exploded into laughter.

Dearest decided to get in the groove. “You know, I think Venny should say sorry for hitting. We don’t hit in this family.”

Silence from the back seat. Sullen silence.

“Has Venny said sorry yet?” I asked Bonhomme.

“No, she didn’t.” Bonhomme was very put out.

“Well, then I guess Venny’s going to have to have a time-out. We get time-outs when we don’t say we’re sorry and give people hugs.”

“Momma, Venny gave me a hug!”

I turned to look at Bonhomme’s delighted face.

“Well, that’s lovely! I’m so pleased!”

“Me too!”

And we arrived home, a cheerful toddler, two exhausted parents, a car full of groceries, and one fully dimensional imaginary friend.

If I’m going to have to arbitrate for non-existent people for very long, I’m going to start having imaginary friends too. Except mine are going to like to drink. A lot.

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The Way Moms Are

Yesterday, Da Momma wrote: “Ducky taught me that being a mother isn’t about being great with kids. It’s not about giving birth. It’s not about providing a perfect child-centered environment. She shared her space with me, the space in her home and her heart.”

Thank you, Da Momma. Thank you for sharing Ducky. Thank you for your wisdom. There are days when sharing my space is monumentally difficult for me to do. Yet I never hesitate. Now I know why.

An End-Of-Summer Haiku

A long stretch of cloud
Unravels – geese trumpeting
That change is coming.

An Unsupervised Mommy

This morning, I took a shower by myself. With the door closed. “Huh?”, you ask, “this is a novelty?”.

Daddy was away at the dentist’s. I was alone in the shower. Bonhomme was alone in the livingroom. And disaster did not ensue.

I suspect only a small subset of parents understand the importance of this experience. Most parents of small children are probably not limited to showering only during one of the following three circumstances:
– the child is asleep
– the child is being supervised by another adult
– the children is in the shower with you

“Why only these circumstances?”, you ask, bewildered. “Surely to gods you can leave a child playing by himself for 10 minutes while you hop in the shower by the time he’s two. Surely!”, the Childless scorn. The Expecting may include a note of fear in their scoffing laughter.

Ah, but I am blessed with a child who is energetic, curious, creative, persistent, has no fear, and does not understand the concept of boundaries. This is the child who up until a couple of months ago, routinely ran into walls, because, you know, they’re in the way. This is the child who opens the office door, grabs the mouse, starts clicking away, then looks up at me in all innocence when I catch him at it and says: “Momma, I can’t do da Google. You need to boot it up!” This is the child who is so strong and tall at 27 months that with his ability and inclination to move a kitchen chair by himself anywhere on the entire ground floor of our house, the only things out of reach for him are the things that are out of reach for me.

Hence, the novelty.

A library book happened to get torn while putting his shoes on by himself later, however, so I’m not completely off the hook.

A Depressive Working Mom’s Mantra

1 – I love my husband, and most of the time I even like him. Yes, I did know what I was thinking when I married him. So try not to kill him. Or divorce him.

2 – I’m not always doing everything wrong – sometimes people are just assholes. And idiots.

3 – This time in my life is important, precious, and fleeting. Try not to miss too much of it.

4 – The pride my son took this morning in announcing to Daddy how you must make a marinade for the chicken and that come see, he would show Daddy how, is more than endearing. It is astounding. So go see.

5 – The body takes a toll for months of enduring, increasing stress. The mind is part of the body. I simply depleted my capital, is all.

6 – Mood is a spectrum. And a pendulum. And a scale. What goes up must come down, and vice versa. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s physics.

7 – Someone not recognizing my worth does not diminish my worth. They just might need better glasses.

8 – My life is an abundance of riches. I am wealthy in every currency that matters.

9 – Today is just one day in a lifetime yet to come.

10 – Chin up young person, this too shall pass.

Allow Me to Introduce Monsieur Noir

Despair is like one of those animated private investigators, a black silhouette on the corner of a dilapidated building.

It lurks.

It waits patiently, stealthily, tracking your every move. It spots a weakness, and pounces. It reveals itself with a swirl of cape, crying: “Bwahahaha! I’ve caught you! You’re in my clutches now, my precious! It is I, Monsieur Noir! I have come to reveal your every flaw to the world!”

He rubs his hands with glee.

I wallow.

For days, I’ve been dragging. Dragging myself out of bed, sludging out the door, leaning against the bus stop, weighed down by gravity. Staring blankly through the days, the only thing getting me through hour after hour is constantly repeating to myself that tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow is always better.

Then I wake up, it’s morning, and it’s worse.

Every morning, I wake up more tired than the morning before. Every day, the tears are that much closer to the surface. Any little thing could tip the balance, knock me over.

This is the horror of depression: having perfect clarity and at the same time having the perfect inability to do anything about it. I can see myself clearly, a mile away, with absolutely no power to intervene.

I know I’m not myself. How do I know that? Because I am myself, but that self has had a sudden and inexplicable demotion. I’ve become a side-seat driver in my own looming car crash. I have no idea why or how, but have a vague notion of when the demotion occurred. I don’t know what is required to get back in the good graces of the Grand Maestro orchestrating my brain, and get Monsieur Noir out of the driver’s seat. I’d settle for a chance at the brake pedal.

When depression hits, I spend a lot of time hiding. Hiding my feelings, suppressing my tears, trying to reign in the volatility.

I become furtive.

Everything becomes louder, harsher, brighter, sharper.

Harder.

People’s words become accusatory, layered, mean.

Nothing goes right. Nothing tastes good. I’m always tired. Everything aches.

Everything aches.

There is no such thing as reason. Reason relocates. I understand reason, I know it exists, it just doesn’t happen to live here anymore.

Despair moved in instead.

Depression is a strange disease. It’s one of the few that you actually forget you have. Not deny – forget.

When you live with depression, you routinely forget that you are living with it. You forget that it’s always there, waiting, lurking. You have a good day or a great weekend, or you get that lovely stretch of an upswing that lasts a month or a season or even years.

And then it hits.

You’re never prepared.

At first, you don’t even realize it – you start to have some trouble sleeping, you don’t feel so great but nothing is really wrong, but you know, that’s life. We all have our days.

And then, it’s only those days. Unrelenting.

Day after day of gray.

You just want to sleep. Or there’s a book you can’t put down – really can’t. You realize you’ve been staring at yourself in the mirror for 15 minutes, not really seeing anything, not doing anything, just standing there. You’re always late. You’re always in a rush. You resent the rushing. You resent anything that gets in the way of sleep. Nothing in your closet fits.

You’ve forgotten how long you’ve felt this way.

You figure it’s time to start doing something about how you’re feeling, that maybe you’re not quite right. But there is no energy, no reserves left.

So how do you do it? How do you start to pull yourself out of the hole when the hole just keeps falling in on you? I don’t know. Sometimes the sun peeks though, for an hour, for a day. Sometimes it’s enough to let me fit one piece of the puzzle in – call a friend, go for a walk, write. I’ve had enough experience on both ends of the spectrum to build a toolkit that works for me, a support system of people that I trust. People that have seen me in worse places than I am right now, and haven’t given up on me yet.

They remind me not to give up on me yet.

And when the good days come, as they always do, I know that they are good days.

This is the blessing of depression: having perfect clarity to recognize the good days, and truly know at a visceral level just how precious those days are.

Because tomorrow might not be one of them.

The Secret Life of Mothers

I was sitting at a staff meeting today, spending a great deal of concentration on simply keeping my gritty eyes open.

My colleagues were discussing the Alaskan cruise one of them just came back from, talking about how much there is to do on cruises, all the wonderful eating, the entertainment, the swimming, the shopping, the sightseeing – and I just wanted to shake them and shout: “What’s wrong with you people? You take two blessed weeks sequestered away from all earthly commitments, and you don’t just want to SLEEP?”

And then I realized, with a sinking pit of horror yawning beneath me, that there was nothing wrong with them.

There’s something wrong with me.

I now routinely daydream about sleeping. Yesterday I went beyond daydreams to the real thing, nodding off at my desk. The only thing that woke me was that in my dream I dreamed that I fell asleep at the wheel and rear-ended the car in front of me. The crash in the dream-within-a-dream is what woke me, heart racing, only to stare wide-eyed at my policy-ridden computer screen.

It’s enough to make me want to give up my license.

This morning, Bonhomme was bouncing about on the bed while I got dressed, and Dearest starts having a conversation with me from the kitchen. He actually expected me to hear him and respond in a perfectly logical and witty rejoinder (with well-modulated volume). Never mind the screeching toddler one foot away.

Dearest tries again later, again from the kitchen, right as Bonhomme falls down the stairs as I’m getting the stroller out the door.

Dearest stops talking about whatever it was, exasperated, as I kneel down to console my crying toddler and kiss his hands better.

The thing I’ve discovered is that the rest of the world has NO IDEA that I’m communicating with them using at most one tenth of available brain activity. They don’t know the secret life of mothers.

They don’t know that in our heads, almost every square millimeter of space is filled up with screams, the last time the diaper was checked, cries, how many minutes late we are right now, snacks, developmental milestones, the fact that we haven’t taken anything out of the freezer for supper, whining, whether the daycare needs extra changes of clothes or wipes or pull-ups or hats or sunscreen, bobos, and how much we would kill right now for three more hours of sleep.

They don’t realize that so many of the times that we laugh we are trying not to cry.

Our husbands don’t know that when we look at them from across the room and blink in confusion, that we weren’t not paying attention – we’re just trying to remember where in the world we we are right this minute and what do we have to do next and where is the darn kid.

On the weekend, I got to watch half of the movie The Secret Life of Bees before falling asleep on the couch. I have no idea how it ends, having read the book before having had a child (and therefore have had the memory of it subsequently written over due to limited RAM), but I did get to hear Queen Latifah tell me the four bee rules:

  • Don’t be afraid of the bees, but at the same time,
  • Don’t be an idiot – wear what you need to to stay safe.
  • Never ever swat the bees, and most of all,
  • Send the bees love.

These seem applicable to mothers too. I’d change them a wee bit though.

The four mother rules:

  • Don’t be an idiot – mothers follow Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and most of the time, we’re at the bottom. So feed us, and let us get some sleep. And then let us have a night off to go see our friends.
  • Never ever swat us – we swat back.
  • Send us love. Lots of love. And then some more. And some chocolate.
  • And lastly – be afraid. Be very afraid. Because despite having nine tenths of our brains filled with child-related tasks and worries and our bodies running on fumes of caffeine and hormones, we still manage to put intelligent thoughts together while getting everything done. Just imagine what powerhouses we’re going to be when the kids grow a bit more and sleep stops being a reward.

Some day, an Alaskan cruise is not going to sound like a foreign concept – or a joke.

Some day, coffee will be an indulgence, not a necessity.

Some day, self-actualization will be within reach once again.

But until then, I’m going to keep on kicking ass – occasionally with my eyes closed.

Mothering Depression

I have been waiting for the right moment to introduce the raison d’être for this blog.

This isn’t the right moment.

There isn’t a right moment.

So, today’s the day. Along with the creativity, the humour, the studies, the family, the career, the idealism, and everything that else that makes me me, I suffer from life-long, hormally-induced, always-just-around-the-corner depression.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I have managed to build a very full, very fabulous life, and it includes a wealth of loving supporters. Even on my worst days, I can still get out of bed, do my job, trust myself to parent reasonably well, and just plain trudge through until bedtime. I know lots of people who have no volatile brain chemistry to speak of who can’t claim as much.

I’ve worried for years now about how I can make a difference in the world, how I can contribute to real, lasting, fundamentally important change. I try to do and be my best in the small, everyday things. I create and share beauty whenever I can. I recognize that at this stage in my life I am building the foundation, with my studies and my career and my family and my home – and that when things settle down a bit I will have tons of time and energy to volunteer and get involved. I know that raising a child is the most fundamentally important contribution to society there is. But I chafe at the waiting.

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that there is something that I can do, right now, that is sorely needed in the world. And that is to raise awareness about the reality of depression. And to provide some sense of been-there-done-that to other mothers, be they working in or out of the home, who have had or do suffer from depression too. We exist. And we get through the days (because when you have a kid, there’s no such thing as not getting out of bed, regardless of whether you think you can). And we are all around – but are likely pretty quiet about it.

Let me clarify here that I’m not talking about postpartum depression (PPD). I’m talking about depression that dates back, on and off, to my adolescence, which happened to raise its ugly head during and after pregnancy. There is so much information and support (all good things, don’t get me wrong) about PPD, but the fact of the matter is that PPD is generally episodic – it goes away. It’s seven kinds of hell, and then some, but it GOES AWAY. My kind of depression, in contrast, takes breaks. And then comes back.

One of the things I had the most difficulty with during my pregnancy (and obviously still have attitude about) is that pretty much all the social support I could find was only oriented towards PPD. I was even told flat out while pregnant that I did not qualify for a wait list for a PPD discussion group because I had not yet had my baby. Apparently, pre-partum depression has no traction here in grand ol’ Ottawa Family Services. I did eventually qualify for that waiting list, ending up both with a baby (surprise, those seem to result from pregnancy), and with diagnosed PPD. But, by the time a spot opened up, I was going back to work full-time (having had to start mat leave 2 months early due in part to said non-qualifying pre-PD), and the group only met during work hours.

And of course, that’s when the depression really hit with a vengeance – about 6 months after going back to work, when I just plumb ran out of reserves, from (yup, I actually really did all this):

  • working full-time at a demanding career,
  • getting up all night because my 18-month old still did not sleep through the night and my husband couldn’t seem to get him to go back to sleep no matter what he did – but I could,
  • studying part-time (and flunking, duh), and
  • helping my husband through a mid-life crisis and heart-attack scare.

All of which to discover (surprise!), that you no longer qualify as PPD when your kid is no longer an infant.

Hmm, yup, I think there’s a little bit of attitude in there, somewhere.

So, all this to say, that you CAN be a supermom and have depression too. It’s just one more thing to manage.

The good news? Kids aren’t a cure (often being an aggravating factor), but they sure do help a whole lot. I have my own private giggling ball of sunshine just waiting for me to get home.

Beauty is as beauty does.

A couple of recent academic studies have raised my formidable ire.

One is from McMaster University, which concluded that women changed their eating patterns based on who they ate with, but men did not. Many news articles were written in response, titled such literary gems as “Hey women, wanna slim down? Dine with men“, and “Men good for your diet“.

The other is from the University of Helsinki, which concluded that attractive women have more children than their less attractive counterparts and that a higher proportion of those children are female, and that this repeats itself through generations resulting in women becoming steadily more aesthetically pleasing over time. Further, a study in 2006 by the London School of Economics found that good-looking parents were far more likely to conceive daughters, and suggested this was because of differing “evolutionary strategies” that each sex has adopted to survive, and which had been subtly programmed into their DNA.

Say what?

1) May I ever so delicately say that these academic studies are utter CRAP! These beautifully written articles defend my profoundly poetic accusation: “Of causation, correlation and calories“, and “The mystery of beauty“.

2) Why are we perpetuating the myth, and giving it increasing strength when we do so, that women not only do compete, but should? This post beautifully states that “the idea that women are superficial and judgemental is damaging, and particularly so when it comes from smart, respected women.”

3) Why, oh why, do we determine our self-worth according to what we think others value about us? Isn’t the idea of self-worth something that should be determined by oneself? Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I’m an artist, which I think entitles me to espouse an opinion on the concept of beauty.

I’m also a mother, a policy wonk, a life-long learner, and (gasp!) a feminist. Which I think entitle me to espouse an opinion on what kind of world we want for our children.

And I don’t think that world should be one where the snarky, empty, bullying, vain, sneering, judgemental, shallow and self-important people win.

So, wanna change the world? Don’t give them your consent.

The Return of the Harmonica

Best Friend calls me up at work one morning this week.

“Hey there, guess what we found in that bag you sent us home with on the weekend!”

(non-stop gentle cherubic sounds of screaming toddlers in the background, punctured by off-key toots)

“Is that a harmonica I hear?”

“Yup. Was that on purpose?”

“No! I wouldn’t be so cruel! It must have fallen in there when the bag was sitting on the ground at some point.”

“OK, just wanted to check, just in case it was intentional.”

“Yah, that was my evil plan, leave you at home all week while the daycare provider’s on holiday with two toddlers and one harmonica. Man, if ever I needed payback, that would be it. But I swear I didn’t, besides, Bonhomme would never forgive me if he knew!”

“Well, I guess I know where we’re going today -”

(we both shout in unison) “The dollar store!”

“Good luck, my friend. Godspeed.”

“Thanks.”

“I owe you a glass of wine, I think. You’ve been contaminated by my house of clutter.”

“Yeah, it’s a harmonica, remember? That’s not worth a glass – you owe me a bottle.”

“Deal.”