Identity Crisis

Fly, Birdie, Fly

Henry run away on beach 2015People often say that as your children grow up, you have to let them go, let them fly. For this anxious mother, I have to let them go so that I can fly too.

It was the fall of 2011. My three-year-old was in preschool five whopping half-days per week and it was glorious. He had gotten a coveted morning spot which worked exponentially better for all of our schedules - including his one-year-old sister - than the two afternoons per week the year before. In one of our first weekly updates from the teacher, she announced they would be going a class field trip to a nature center. Out of town. On a school bus. What?!?! School itself didn't stress me out, but field trips off the island were a whole other story.

I did what any normal neurotic, anxious, fearful-of-death mother would do and got to work looking up laws about seat belts and car seats on school buses in New York! I mean, the West Side Highway and Saw Mill River Parkway are essentially race tracks! And buses tip over - like, all. the. time. It turned out that it was in fact against the law to put a three-year-old on a bus not in a car seat. Phew. I could couch my fear in the law - one of my favorite things to do! I'm not crazy. SEE! It's right here. But I didn't want my kid to miss the trip. So, of course, I drove him in our car. Yes. I. Did. He was too young to be embarrassed and I was too proud and self righteous and it was a great trip. And the bus didn't crash so those other kids got lucky too.

Flash forward to 2017. My now nine-year-old has been on countless school trips. I went on a lot of them in the early days. I was anxious about things like crossing streets and likely things like him falling off the subway platform. As time went on, I admitted to myself that I HATED going on field trips. It's not fun to be in charge of other people's children. It's not fun when kids misbehave or feeling like I have to tell them what to do. It's not enjoyable being vigilant. It's exhausting. It's not fun losing all the (flexible yet demanding) work time and figuring out how to get it all done. I still go sometimes - in a pinch - or if he asks - because I know I'm lucky to still be asked and because I get to learn cool stuff and because my schedule allows it.

I think part of my lessened fear and anxiety has had to do with my son getting older and me being more ready for him to do more as he experienced more of life without me and still came home at the end of the day. I had always worked, but mostly part-time and mostly from home, with him with a sitter within 5-10 blocks if not in another room for his early years. As he spent more time at school, with friends, at activities, I could breathe the tiniest bit deeper when he was away from me. My brain also had become occupied with more - juggling more work responsibilities and a second child left just a little less time to obsess and worry. 

I've also actively worked on reducing my anxiety. For this particular representation of it, a few months of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT*) was very helpful. I was going for pretty intense anxiety around some health challenges (other posts to come) and did some work to transfer some of what I was learning to the "I'm afraid my kid is gonna die" anxiety. I have been a fan of talk therapy for nearly 20 years and gone on and off over the years. After trying the medication route with not much success, CBT was recommended and I was in fact the prime candidate my doctor thought I would be. It's not perfect, and as my CBT therapist had to tell me more than once, his goal was to help me REDUCE the anxiety, not ELIMINATE it (which had always been, and still is - don't tell him - my goal). There would be spikes and valleys, he said. And there are. But thanks to that work, for the most part, I've been able to get down from the spikes more easily and more quickly than before.

He is on a trip to Ellis Island today. I don't even know how they got to the boat. 

I better go make a call.

*I did not plan to mention CBT in this post and this is not an endorsement of it. It has been helpful to me, as have lots of other things. I'm certainly not a qualified medical professional and it would make me anxious if you thought I was.


Village People

When we moved back to New York after a seven-year "hiatus," one of my 8 billion concerns was whether I would find "people like me" again. While I'm pretty outgoing, I've worked hard over the years to find and cultivate friendships with a variety of folks that feed me in different ways, friends whose lives I hope I add a fraction of the value to that they do to mine. This time it felt different. Since I had left town, I had gotten married, had my first baby, and was pregnant with my second. "Me" felt pretty significantly transformed since my last go round here. Not to mention, I had quite unexpectedly stumbled upon pretty special friends (read: lifelines) through my new moms group that I was pretty sad to leave (second only to my OB/GYN, therapist, and chiropractor).

Well, add this to the list of 7,999,999 worries that were a waste of energy (I really should listen to B more) - and not just because I found new friends, wonderful treasures, in different corners of my new life in New York, but also because, as I had been able to before, I "brought" many of my existing village with me. Not physically - that would have been uh-mazing - but many members of my village came with me via text and email and phone call and even long periods of silence because life just does that sometimes. And, it's exciting to think about new people who may join my village, for a night, a year, or forever. They're not all "just like me," and never have been, which is part of what makes them so perfect to be part of my village.

My "lightbulb" moment happened over the course of these past few weeks (Can lightbulb moments take weeks? It does take weeks for me to change lightbulbs.) when I was in the midst of obsessing once again about all sorts of micro and macro issues around work, family, identity, what "really" matters to me, what I want my life to look like today, tomorrow, forever. What I want my week to look like next week. None of these things are new obsessions for me - or for many members of my village to hear about, unfortunately for them. But most of my village knew that this particular moment was yet another step in my process of continuous figuring-it-out and trying to make the best decision when there is no right decision (or so I'm told). And, one by one, as I reached out, each member of my village dutifully stepped up to help me through it in his or her own particular way. And, it felt kind of awesome.

Luckily, I only engaged a fraction of my village on this one. This way only some of my village will still be too exhausted next week time I need. It also felt good (and always does) to be able to support some friends who needed me to play a more active role in their villages recently. #Callme.

Maybe it's come with age, or maybe I'm just too tired for this particular worry (most of the time) anymore, but it's finally dawned on me that my village - while made up mostly of individuals who aren't in each other's villages and who span generations, careers, family make-ups, and all sorts of other things - well, they'll always be my village. And while we may fade out of each other's villages over time and need and be needed with alarmingly different intensity and frequency, I just feel so damn lucky for having a village and finally recognizing that it doesn't actually have to consistently exist as a cohesive group in a physical space to work...though one of these days I am going to get my village together for an Oprah-worthy celebration...we'll wear white, there will be cocktails, and masseuses, and...

Thank you village. I love you.

PS - crossing this worry off the list gives me a lot more time to worry about other things like flying, kids' swimming at summer camp, over-under-scheduling children, work, childcare, finding time to work out and eat healthy on a consistent schedule, oh, and cancer. Thank goodness.


Stop Pretending

Many of you know about my fairly well documented "issue" of staying up way past my bedtime. I have long blamed my parents (duh) for having this problem because they gave me a tv for Christmas one year and I stayed up late every night watching David Letterman - in the days when he wasn't on until 12:30, and then there was the fact that my dad always worked really late (in our basement) so I had someone to stay up with, even though we weren't in the same room or even on the same floor - at least until I got older and he'd be up when I came home from a night out and we'd watch Cops and eat ice cream until 1am. But I digress.

Photo(24)I have tried all sorts of things to "correct" my problem, including a reward chart - something I don't even do with my children! No, it wasn't a joke, but it was a spectacular failure. I have also tried to get B-husband involved and invested, thinking that two people changing a habit is better than one - and heck - he falls asleep on the couch all the time, so getting him to bed before he passed out seemed like it could be a fun challenge for both of us. Well, either there are ALWAYS "special" sporting events that go late or my timing was just bad [says the girl typing next to her husband watching the BCS Championship game]. Nothing works, not consistently anyway.

What's the big deal, you ask? So you go to bed a little late...get over it. Well, I'm one of those people who needs a good 7 to 8 hours - and everyone who has to deal with me when I don't get it always wishes I did. I mean I can function without it - for days, even weeks - but I'm much snippier, snappier, crankier...and INefficient and UNfocused, which makes me even snippier, snappier, crankier. Throw in a 2-year-old who acts like a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old who sometimes acts like a 3-year-old and you wind up with a 30-ahem-year-old who acts like a 2-year-old. Add some work frustration, logistics issues, and a slightly imperfect husband on the third Tuesday of the second month of the year...you get the picture.

What dawned on me tonight is what I think is the ROOT cause of my issue. It's not my parents' fault for buying the tv, it's not my dad's fault for being nocturnal, it's not even...wait for it...B-husband's fault for not wanting to get on my early-to-bed train. I think the issue is that with ALL the coolness that has faded away from my life in the last several years, starting with the mononeucleosis-debacle of 1996, this may just be the last vestige [no laughing, please] of me thinking I'm a cool kid, a rebel, a young person who can do whatever she wants whenever she wants because nobody is the boss of me and I can if I want to...really, I can. I'll show you all! Mooowahhaaahhhaaa!

Yeah, not so much, I'm not that cool. And truth be told, I never really was, or much of a rebel either. But with all of the control exerted within, without, on top of my daily life, and the lack of control I have over all of it (when I'm willing to admit that), this was my (idiotic) piece de resistance (too tired to insert accents). Did you catch that past tense? Now that I know what the root cause is, I can just STOP pretending...and go to bed. Goodnight. Darn. I'm already 20 minutes late.


Kindergarten sucks

I'm not ready. I said I was, but I'm not and I'm mad that I don't get a choice in the matter.

Not ready for what, you ask?

Not ready for Kindergarten, duh! I answer.

You smile, you may even laugh a little. I think it's [sort of] funny too, when I'm not busy trying not to cry.

Today is day three. B dropped him off - at the door - this was the last transition in the process.

He got a little upset and said that he wouldn't be able to find his classroom. B talked him through it and the principal introduced him to the "big" kids (1st & 2nd graders) who would escort him upstairs. He recovered quickly on his own and walked in with confidence. Just like any parent would want, right? Except B and I are both trying not to cry and he's probably already coloring pictures in his class.

On the second day, I was late to drop him off. We were ready an hour before school started and live a block away from the building. We had two "issues" just before we were to walk out the door - one requiring a full outfit change of a toddler - and, well, we were late by 4 minutes. All the other kids were seated in their seats already [though on the way out, I saw another much more relaxed seeming mother walking her son in too...]. It was a rushed goodbye b/c I was afraid of breaking the rules and getting in trouble [yes, seriously]. He blushed for one of the first times in his life, which made me feel even sadder and guiltier. I'm a blusher and it's usually not any fun when anyone else notices. Again, he said goodbye and went with his teacher to hang up his stuff. It took me the whole day to shake it off and I made sure I was one of the first in line to pick him up.

On the first day, we mostly got it right. Though they asked us to leave the room when I was in the middle of reading a story to him and I really didn't want to leave in the middle of the story. I mean, didn't I owe it to him to finish the story? He wouldn't know what happened in the end if I left now. I started to leave, then I started to read the next page, then I left because, well, I felt silly trying to rush through the story as other parents were leaving the room.

Everyone said it'd be harder on me than it would be on him. And I did believe that, I did. I knew he was ready. Not a doubt in my mind. And I thought I was ready too. He needs more stimulation, more learning about "school" things. He's ready to be in big kid school. And selfishly, his moving on is one signal in my path to feeling okay about working more and continuing to re-expand my professional self. I've even joked with people about L being ready for more than her "silly" 2 mornings per week of preschool b/c I selfishly want the time for work without having conflicting feelings about it...or paying for additional childcare.

Because he was ready, I thought I was ready. I changed my mind. I want him back. Right now. And, I do not care at this moment that he is so clearly ready, and that somehow I can take some credit for that. I don't want the credit, I want my H here running around, drawing pictures, playing and fighting with his sister. Kindergarten sucks.

I'm even more upset now because I know that if this is my reaction to Kindergarten, I'm in big trouble for the next 30+ years. This nonsense is exhausting.

HMommyPicSept2012

H drew this pic this morning before school. Overheard: "I'm going to draw a picture for mommy because she's so cranky." A few minutes later he came in to see me in the shower: "I need to look at you. Is your hair brown or...oh, it's orange." Ah, if only it were developmentally appropriate for ME to be that self-centered....

P.S. I'm pretty sure that's my heart ripped out of the middle of my chest.


Too much and not enough

Moments of madness strip me of the fantasy that I am meant to do this, even in the short term. Moments of yelling, screaming, and fully “losing it,” shout at me that I do not want this to be my full time job. I am angry that maybe for the first time I’ve found a job that I can’t do well. This is not to say that I don’t think that I’m the best mother that ever lived. I know what my kids need and want in a way no one else can or will. I will forever be – or hope to be - their primary place of comfort, acceptance, love, and understanding. At least until they are able, hopefully, to find a partner like I did to take on that role for them (because of course I have set them up well to do so). I know I don’t have this level of control over their lives, but I’m still working on actually acting like I believe that. I think I needed them to be my only purpose for a bit. I thought that bit would last longer. But I don’t think they can be my only purpose any longer. They are three and almost one and I’m ready to figure out who I am again – without them. It’s time - for them and for me – to figure out what’s next. Maybe some of that will be writing about them and my experience as their mother, in the least exploitative way possible, so I can make sense of my experience, and hopefully help others with similar experiences along the way. A happy mom makes a happy family. It has always sounded so trite to me (so many mommy sayings do). I now say that because I know it, not because I pretend to think it’s true. I love them more than life. But they’re not going to know that enough if I’m with them all of the time – and seem frustrated or thwarted or downright angry. And neither am I. I love myself too. And this is one of the ways I can make sure I – and they – know it. [Gulp] [Jump]


Dear Diary

I started this blog with the hope that I would put very little filter on what I write, even though I know people will read it - most who know me - and maybe judge, or worry, or ask questions, or think things about me that make me uncomfortable. It's worked out well so far but sometimes I think of great things to write about that I don't write because it's not anonymous and I don't want anyone to judge, worry, ask questions, or think things about me that make me uncomfortable. I know I care too much what other people think, and I'm working on that, and a lot of other stuff too, but it is what it is.

So, I really want to write that I'm confused about our impending move to New York. I'm thankful to several amazingly patient and wonderful friends for talking me through a lot of it with me because they know who I am and what my issues are and how I need to talk through almost every decision I make, even when the decision has already been made...and they love me anyway. And let it be all about me, when really it shouldn't be as much about me as it sometimes feels like it is.

Everyone thinks this decision has already been made, everyone except me. We've made an offer, it's been accepted, we're just waiting on the contracts to sign. We've put our place on the market, it's received an offer, I think we're in the middle of negotiations. We've told everyone we're moving. The only thing that's uncertain is my brain. My heart. I hate uncertainty. I'm still waiting for my Gut to tell me what to do. But it won't say anything, or maybe it is talking, but it's being muffled, strangled even, by anxieties like Mr. Prepared For Financial Ruin, Ms. Your Kid Needs a Yard, Mrs. You'll Never Find Friends Like These Again, and my personal favorite, Mr. If You Change Your Mind Later You're A Failure.

Please, I know these are all anxieties that can be rationalized away, and in all likelihood you have already had a conversation with me to tell me it's going to be okay, and better than that, that it's going to be great. You've reminded me that New York is the dream I've always had for myself and my family...that New York is WHO I AM. You've told me that you'll miss me, but really, I should go.

Why then, doesn't it just feel RIGHT?

Or is it like one of you confirmed for me yesterday, that I'm going through the stages of grief? Shock and Denial have recently passed, making room for stages 2 (Pain/Guilt), 3 (Anger/Bargaining), and 4(Depression/Reflection/Loneliness) all at once. Can you imagine how tortuous this is for B - who just woke up one day and decided this would be a good idea and hasn't looked back? I know some of you can imagine, because you know just how tortuous I can be. Sorry, B.

So, here's the question: Does it make sense to be going through the stages of grief for something I really want to do?

And, here's the second question: Will one of you just call B tomorrow and pretend to be some big fancy firm that's going to pay him a ridiculous amount and allow him to have all of the creative freedom in the world with one contingency...that he move to New York? I'd be much better at getting behind this decision if it wasn't up to me to make it.

If I weren't worried that you would judge, worry, ask questions, or think things about me that make me feel uncomfortable, that's what I would write.


Dreamer

I don't consider myself a dreamer. I was at dinner tonight with a friend who considers herself a dreamer. And I would say that in the short time I've known her I agree with that assessment. I think of my husband as somewhat of a dreamer too. I have dreams, nightmares actually, but if we were playing some kind of word association game, I would call myself a planner much more easily than a dreamer.

But, the thing is, I am a dreamer. It's just that I NEED my dreams to come true so I don't allow myself to take the dreams too far without a PLAN. I can't stand disappointment and am easily disappointed, so if I'm going to allow myself to dream, I have to make plans to make the dream come true. This could explain some of the anxiety that leads to the aforementioned nightmares.

Anyways, I'm also a horoscope believer, and lately I've found them to be extra deep and somewhat perplexing, as if the universe has a plan for me and it's my job to sit and wait for it (I think the horoscope people have been talking to Oprah). Here is today's (courtesy of tarot.com via igoogle.com):

Your confusion may reach new heights today before beginning to finally dissipate. Of course, others might not think this is so productive, yet you are smiling because your visionary dreams and soft intuition can show you a healthy way through this extraordinary time. But avoiding the intensity is not a great idea; it's more important that you embrace the changes now, as they can teach you a lot about your true character.

It appears that I'm not only a dreamer, but a visionary too. Oh, the pressure. What should I be intuiting? Which changes should I be embracing? What are they going to teach me about my character? How can I plan for this change? What should I be envisioning and dreaming about? Avoid intensity? I thought you knew me. Here comes the anxiety. Within the hour I will be having a dream where I will be in some kind of hotel-like building where I cannot find the stairs or use the elevator to get to the room I need to get to. People will tell me things like, "oh, you can't get there from here," as if I'm crazy, and there is a chance that there will be a logistical challenge of some kind with HD (in the dream only, I hope) as well. Ah, to be a dreamer.


ENFJ or ISFP

B sent me a link today to this cool site that does a Myers-Briggs evaluation of your blog. Here's what the Typealizer has to say about Fruit In My Dessert. I'm an artist!

I was shocked at first to find out that my ENFJ (Extroversion, iNtuition, Feeling, Judging) self writes a blog that is ISFP (Introversion, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving). I have not done a complete analysis or review of what this really means, but I'm a big believer in this stuff and can make a quick assessment.

I do not write completely freely on my blog because I don't want to offend, irritate, or upset friends or family or others. In real life (as my closest loved ones and colleagues might mention) I have very little problem telling you exactly how I feel and how you are a part of that for better or worse. I also do a lot more fact-based and article-based talking on my blog, whereas in real life, I just tell you what I think about a topic or issue with no need to back it up with any real data, unless you make me. My blog world is more concrete than my real world has ever been, which would make my high school Physics teacher and soccer coach proud.

It appears the only element missing from my equation on both fronts is the big T - Thinking. Lucky (or not) for me, that doesn't actually mean I don't think. Instead:

Those who prefer thinking tend to decide things from a more detached standpoint, measuring the decision by what seems reasonable, logical, causal, consistent and matching a given set of rules. Those who prefer feeling tend to come to decisions by associating or empathizing with the situation,looking at it 'from the inside' and weighing the situation to achieve, on balance, the greatest harmony, consensus and fit, considering the needs of the people involved.

As noted already, people who prefer thinking do not necessarily, in the everyday sense, 'think     better' than their feeling counterparts; the opposite preference is considered an equally rational way of coming to decisions (and, in any case, the MBTI assessment is a measure of preference, not ability). Similarly, those who prefer feeling do not necessarily have 'better' emotional reactions than their thinking counterparts. (source: Wikipedia)

In other words, Kumbaya, dammit!


focus

I have a list of blog posts that i want to write. I usually come up with them laying in bed at night and roll over to write them down on BH's Michigan post-it pad that has mysteriously ended up on my nightstand. I write things like:

  • I read InStyle but I don't live/dress InStyle
  • Cookies
  • Chief performance officer

and more detailed ones too, like:

  • Raising baby simultaneously euphoric and wondering what to do next
  • Logistics of doing things when you think of them
  • Were these obsessions (e.g. parabens) invented for SAHMs or people with too much time to focus on the wrong things - busy, doing what? Not what I want. Analogous to kids with after school activities doing better than kids without? More to manage, focus on the important stuff.

That last one is my problem. I'm not focusing on the important stuff. I have so much I want to write about, so much I want to do, but the days go by and somehow I manage not to do the things I want to get done, not to make the most of EVERY possible moment, and of course, not to let it go. Then the night comes, and I log on to check and maybe even respond to email, and I get lost in the tangled Web that others have weaved to trap me here. I read and sob about the death of someone else's child because I am so afraid that it could happen to my child. I read friends' blogs and "friends'" blogs, and strangers' blogs, and twitter, and facebook.

I help other people think about their passions, their projects. I get inspired. And then I get blurry. I can't think of what to write, what to do, what is actually the important stuff. 

And then I climb into bed and read books like Unconditional Parenting or Be Perfect Without Being Happy Happy Without Being Perfect and fiction alongside them for good balance. I stay up too late, which makes getting up energized and motivated more difficult.

Part of the reason I became a stay-at-home-mom (a term I am still not happy with), aside from wanting to spend exorbitant amounts of time with my son, was to give myself some time and space to try new things, things I've always wanted to try, for fun and for serious. And, in the last 15 months, I've dabbled, but not jumped in all the way to anything, and I'm getting impatient. I'm ready for all of that passion I have bottled up inside me to be put to good use (I think my husband is too - wink, wink). Use, use, what is the good use!?!?!?

I think this is what some people may call a rut. But I don't want to say that I'm in a rut because that says something about me. And I don't think I like what it says. I am happy, d***it, most of the time. I just feel very unFOCUSED of late. And, I've been talking a lot to other stay at home moms (it's what I do) and they feel this way a lot too. We're focusing on the wrong things, obsessing about decisions and parabens and schedules and all sorts of things that I wish I wasn't. It's time to DO something that MEANS something to ME. But how? But when? I really think I just need to start doing and the "thing" that I'm supposed to do will come. I don't think I can take it as far as a vision board, but maybe I will.

WWOD? (What Would Oprah* Do?) I think we both know she wouldn't be wasting her time writing a blog post about it, would she? In fact, if Oprah weren't Oprah, would she even watch Oprah? Man, I've got a lot of work to do.

*I do realize that including Oprah in my post may make some of you think less of me, and worse, less of the post. Sometimes, including Oprah in my thoughts makes me think less of me too. But I can't help it. It is what it is. In the future, I'll try to warn you if she's going to be in the post, so as not to jerk you out of your reading pleasure or thoughts.


Atom Bomb

The other night, I was on the phone with my dad and he told me that he took a picture of an item in a store to help him with a work project. He makes prototypes for a living so he often sees things when he's shopping that are shaped or that move in a way that could be useful to his work. He'd never taken a picture with his cell phone before. I'm actually surprised he even had his cell phone with him. Like many dads of people my age, he rarely has it on him and has it mostly for emergencies. 

We spent quite a while on the phone with me helping him figure out, step by step, how to send the picture to his email, so he could see it in a larger size and potentially print it out. We worked hard together, me working as the customer service agent that you wish you had, him playing the role of very well behaved customer who was completely compliant, including going out to the mailbox in the freezing cold because his cell service isn't very good in his house. He kept saying to me, "you really enjoy this, eh?" I think meaning that he couldn't imagine being on my side of the conversation, explaining, Googling, describing, anticipating, guessing what his phone options might be, and trying new things to help him.

When we got to the part where he had to type in his email address in to the phone, he laughed. He couldn't believe that he had to type letters in using numbers and moreso, I think he couldn't believe that people do this every day and use it as a primary way to communicate. As he went along, he got faster and started not to need my help anymore. I was excited for him, and oddly, perhaps, proud. As he completed the typing and hit send, he said, "I feel like I just invented the atom bomb," and he almost meant it.

I don't know what I want to do when I grow up, and I've been thinking about it a lot lately, but I do know that THAT is how I want to make people feel.

[End note: It turns out that text messaging and photo sending were blocked on my dad's phone. Newly empowered, he stopped at a Verizon kiosk the next day and had them take the block off for him. I got a text later that day from him: "I've like entered the 21st century! Dad" Don't you wish he was your dad?]