Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Managing the kids' anxiety

I've had recent "situations" with the kids that are anxiety-related.  Two were obvious anxiety, while the other is anxiety posing as tantrums. 

N loves to play with her American Girl dolls.  She got "into" them quite late--3rd grade, but she is hard-core AG now.  

Recently, she has had some anxiety related to her friends giving up doll-play as they approach middle school, a concept that N finds confusing and potentially embarrassing.  On the one hand, she doesn't understand why anyone would need or want to give up playing with the dolls, but she is aware enough of the social strata to not want to be thought of as a baby for playing with dolls. 

There have been numerous crying bouts about middle school, about how her friendships are changing, how her friends are changing, and worries as to whether she is weird.  It is painful because it automatically brings to mind every middle-school-related angsty feeling I ever had.  How can I possibly help her manage this when I managed it so poorly?

There have been 3+ events whereby M and I are driving in the car, and he brings up death. 
"Mommy, I don't want to die."  
"Mommy, I don't want you to die; I will be so sad."  
Last week he started tearing up on the road, bravely trying not to lose his stuff.  
Yesterday, he said, "When they give me the first shot that will make me die, will it hurt?"  

I knew right away that he was thinking about our discussion about Shanks and euthanasia, how the vet would give Shanks two shots--the first that would relax him and the second that would stop his heart.  M, since that time perhaps, has been internally wrangling with death.  

I explained that we only do this with pets when they are sick and old, not with humans.  I explained how we give people medicine to help them get well, and if the medicine doesn't work and they grow sicker we give them another medicine to take the pain away until their heart stops beating on its own.

His reply, "I'm not scared to die anymore."
When I told D this last night, he wondered how freaked out M has been all these weeks while getting his allergy injections.  

What I suspect is G's anxiety has masqueraded as temper tantrums.  It is difficult when this happens because I have to do a lot of detective work to figure out what is provoking him.  Right now, we are in the midst of a number of transitions that may be impacting him: M graduated from preschool, N is graduating from elementary school, school ends in a few weeks, right after school lets out we are flying to Orlando.  Given G's rigidity, any and all of this can be churning up worry.  

It could also be his first grade performance, which his class has been practicing for weeks. I am reminded of Dec 2013, the month from Hades when he was off-the-rails tantrumy.  It was also the month when his kindergarten class was preparing a performance.  

Yesterday, he said his class had performed in front of two other first grade classes.  He said, "My heart was beating so hard the whole time."  

G is aware of his anxiety because he has started handing me his brush each night before bed so I can do the Wilbarger brushing protocol.  We haven't done it in a long time; all of a sudden, we're back at it at his initiation, which is good. He at least recognizes that it makes him feel better.  

I am starting to have a better sense of just how differently difficult it is as the kids are getting older.  When they were babies, it was physically exhausting and isolating to be with them all the time.  As they grow up, I am increasingly aware of how much guidance and support they are needing, which I am completely ill-suited to give them.  If they only knew that I don't know what the hell I'm doing.  Parenting is graceful, and often not-so-graceful, winging it.  

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ermagerd! I hate Mother's Day.

I do not have a legitimate reason to hate Mother's Day.

I have a lovely relationship with my mother, as well as my mother-in-law.
I am a mother to three pretty great kids, and all things considered, I have a good relationship with them.
I didn't struggle to become pregnant.
I never lost a pregnancy.
I tell my husband exactly what I want for Mother's Day, and he buys it for me. (This year....a chainsaw.)
I refuse to get up during the night with the middle child or get up in the morning with him on Mother's Day, and my husband does it.
The is nothing for me to dislike about this day.

But I loathe Mother's Day as much, if not more than, Father's Day.

I hate it because it is a day to celebrate, to sentimentalize motherhood, an experience that is, at least for me, all full of conflicted feelings.
Motherhood blows at least 70-80% of the time (sometimes 99.9% of the time if it is a really bad day or week).
And yet, I wouldn't change it at all.
How f*cked up is that?
It sucks, but I wouldn't change it?????

It is a day in which, because it is a thing, I feel like I should, maybe a little bit, be worshipped.  And I am, sorta, with the cards and the gifts.  But I don't want to be worshipped because 1. that is ridiculous and 2. that means tomorrow, when I'm not worshipped, I'm just gonna be pissed off.  I will be thinking to myself, "Yesterday you were all sweet to me and today you're screaming at me because I put the corn flakes into the pink bowl instead of the orange bowl." Mother's Day is false worship.  It is worship because someone, somewhere, in some office noted the date on every calendar that is printed in the country.  My family doesn't thank me because they feel honestly compelled to do so.  They do it because a date on the calendar makes them feel obligated.

This is why I hated attending church as a kid.  I did it because I had to, not because I wanted to.  Which is a lot like motherhood.  I do it because I signed up for this, even though I didn't know what I was getting into, and now I have to do it.

Celebrating Mother's Day is like saying, "Thank you mom for falling into the same trap everyone does which is thinking motherhood will be different for them.  Thank you for not walking out on me when I was a complete pain in the butt.  Thank you for not murdering me in my sleep and screaming at me any more than you did.  Thank you for not allowing your resentment of how I stifled your life in various ways to boil over and completely eff me up as a person."

Do you see why I hate a day honoring this?  For me, it brings up all kinds of weird feelings about how society thinks I should feel about motherhood and how I actually often feel about motherhood and how, in spite of all those feelings, I can't imagine my life without being a mother to these kids.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Social commentary on Facebook (Baltimore)

D asks me sometimes, "Why do you stay on FB if it pisses you off so badly?"

It doesn't piss me off, really, but the comments and postings I see on it confuse me on a regular basis. And I don't necessarily mean bad "confuse."  Confusion, if it makes a person consider and reflect, is actually a terrific thing in my book.

So it is, at the moment, that I am "confused" about the reaction to the Baltimore riots.

I feel like I should preface any comment I make with the obvious declaration that as a suburban, white woman I have no earthly idea what it is like to be an urban, black person.  I am so smothered in privilege that I don't know which end is up.

But, here's the thing:  I understand why they are rioting, or at least I feel like I get it.  When people riot, destroy things, hurt others in anger, I understand it.

Although I believe nonviolence is a much harder road to take (to restrain oneself is an act of supremely powerful will), I totally understand
that anger can fester....
that sometimes people lash out and regret it later....
that anger is not to be ignored or belittled.

I read A Raisin in the Sun with my 9th/10th graders this semester, and we talked about a number of race issues, such as what an Uncle Tom is and which characters acted "white" and what that means.  We discussed what stereotypes we have of "acting black" and "acting white."  I recently read Across Five Aprils and The Brothers' War:  Civil War Voices in Verse, which I will be using with my middle schoolers next year.  I think, despite so many positive changes, there are still so many issues related to racism that our country hasn't figured out.

I'm certainly no expert, but I like to think reading the things I have read keeps me humble, keeps me from thinking that "those people are just crazy, wrong, thugs, etc" (which is some of the stuff I've seen on FB about the rioters in Baltimore).

Why are they angry?
Would you feel the same anger in similar circumstances?
How would you handle your anger if given those same circumstances
(not your current circumstances, which may play a huge role in how you think you would address injustice)?

Why is their anger any worse, why are they more thug-like, than the white folks who burn their couches when their basketball team wins or loses?  To me, at least, the folks in Baltimore are making a stink over something far more important and complex than a danged sports game.

The comments I see are ones that make me feel I have to choose a side.  I'm either right or I'm wrong. I either choose the black side or the white side.

Does a person have to be black to question racial profiling?

Does a person have to be black to remember other race riots from many years ago (Rodney King verdict) over law enforcement/criminal justice?

Does a person have to be black to wonder how a man dies from a spinal injury that didn't exist prior to being arrested by the police?

Does a person have to be white to fear that thinking such things means he/she will be accused of not supporting law enforcement?

Does a person have to be anything to ask whether both sides of the equation are failing in their own particular ways? 

Monday, April 27, 2015

I'm ready (pre-emptive August thoughts after 11.5 years of stay-at-home mothering)

I willingly stayed home with my children for the first five years of each of their lives, a decision that I do not regret.  Still, after over a decade, I am ready for the next stage.

I'm ready to not frantically squeeze in exercise, volunteering, errands and me-time in a 6-hour window per week from Sep-May.

I'm ready to be able to write during the daylight hours without interruption or bribing my kid with video game time.  (The fact that I have composed and published as much coherent stuff as I've done is miraculous.)

I'm ready to make professional phone calls without the worry that the Xbox timer will run out and the person on the line will hear endless screams of "MOM!  MOM!  MOM!" in the midst of our discussion.

I'm ready for a 5-minute errand at the grocery to actually be a 5-minute errand and not a 45-minute traipsing through the aisles being badgered into "just one" nasty processed piece of junk.

I'm ready to get my butt to the gym without any more coercion than what I need to get my own physical self out the door.

I'm ready to be able to browse Target sections that I like rather than reading a book in every toy aisle.  (Seriously, they need to put benches at every end-cap.)

I'm ready to only get food for myself during the day and not have to cater to the Hobbit meal plan of post-breakfast snack, lunch, and post-lunch snack.

I'm ready to not pack 30 lbs of food and drinks for every jaunt outside the house Monday through Friday (per the Hobbit diet).

I'm ready to be able to finish books in less than 3 weeks because I can read uninterrupted while waiting after my allergy shot.

I'm ready to only take care of my waste removal processes during the day.

I'm ready to finish a number of projects that have been in limbo for 11 years.

I'm ready to have occasional lunch dates with my husband and friends.

I'm ready to take a nap after lunch without falling asleep to the sound of Uncle Grandpa and being awoken by the Hobbit's demands for food.

For many years, I fretted over the time when my children wouldn't be young, thinking I wouldn't be needed.  I am 41 years old and still call on my own parents regularly to ask questions or favors.

I am ready for my children to need me in a different way.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Serendipitous death

I've written before about feeling like life/God is telling me something....those odd coincidences that just feel more purposeful than random.

I'm in the midst of one of those.

Looking back, I see its progression.

My neighbor told me about a book she wanted to finish reading called God In a Box by Marion Pember.  After reading a bit about it, I decided it sounded interesting so I got a copy and read it.  It was a bit mind-blowing for me, especially its discussion of what heaven may or may not be.  I've never been really comfortable telling my kids that heaven is in the sky because that feels too concrete for something as nebulous as death.  Plus, I want my kids to determine what they believe and having some choices, some possibilities within a framework, feels right to me.

Soon after I read the book, G commented as we drove by a cemetery, "There's thousands of people who've died, right Mom?"  I decided to tell him about the book and its suggestion that maybe death, what we think of as an ending, could be movement into another dimension that our brains can't perceive.  He seemed to like this idea, the idea that those we've loved and lost are closer to us than "out there" in heaven, wherever that is.

A week or so after the book and my talk with G, a former colleagues' boyfriend died of cancer.  She has been on my mind for many months since she reported his diagnosis.

This past Thursday, we euthanized Shanks with the help of a most compassionate vet, and that same afternoon I received an email from one of my magazine editors asking me if I'd like to write an article about preparing for a loved one's death when you know it is coming.

My inner anxious instinct wants to go off the rails on this one, wondering "Am I going to die soon?  Is THAT what life is trying to tell me?  Maybe D or one of the kids is going to die soon?"

I'm trying really, really hard not.to.go.there.

I'm trying to see this as purposeful, too many connective strings for me to ignore.  That this is not a warning, but that I've somehow, in some way, on the right path at the right time.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The heaviness of afterwards

D and I, with the help of a caring vet, helped Shanks pass this morning.  I felt his last breath; it was quick and peaceful.  I am sad and relieved and all sorts of other contradictory feelings.

The basement door is open, and I keep thinking I need to shut it so Shanks doesn't come up.  I keep thinking that a chunk of my and D's marriage is now different.  I associate getting the cats with the start of our life together.

Last night, we told the kids, which was a mix of all kinds of contradictory reactions.

As soon as I said "Shanks," N began crying.  Full-on ugly cry that bordered on ridiculous.  High drama.  I struggle with high drama.

G and M were in a fit of stupid until we went downstairs to visit with Shanks for a bit, at which point G understood the weight of what we were saying.  M danced around, jumped on the trampoline and when I said he wouldn't see Shanks again after Thursday, he said, "Ok" (in the same way he would if I asked him if he wanted some chips).

I anticipated that G would extrapolate outwards, and he did at bedtime.
"Why aren't you crying?  Don't you care?"
"Who will be my mom when you die?"
"Will I ever see you again when you die?"

This morning was much the same.

I am emotionally exhausted both from being a part of Shanks' passing and from trying to guide the kids through their own grief processes.  I know we did the best, most merciful thing.  It was time.  I think often, probably too often, about how I will face death when it comes, at least if I am sick or grow old.

I am bathing in the heaviness of afterwards.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Euthanasia blues

The week before our Good Friday and Spring Break vacations from the cottage school, I asked my students to respond to the creative writing prompt:

You try a button on your new cell phone and it opens up a channel of communication between you and the Lord. What do you talk to Him/Her about?

I was surprised by the responses of my 11th/12th graders.  I guess I assume that most Christian homeschooled kids are pretty firm in their beliefs, so I was a bit shocked that rather than praising God, they were questioning, asking why are things this way?  Why do things feel unfair?  Would you really deny salvation to those who have different beliefs?  They sounded like questions I would pose to God.

We talked about how faith, how living, is all about hard questions, complexities that are not easily remedied.  Well, I guess they would be easily remedied if we could all just snap our fingers and "be like Jesus," but that isn't very easy for regular ole humans.   I told them that one of the most maddening things for me, personally, are those people who claim to have a sure answer.  Answers are easy, at least in theory, for them.

For me, life is far too complicated and weird for there to be a pat answer to anything.  We like to think we can live in a black & white world, but most things are grey.

How, for example, do I decide when and if to euthanize our 17-year-old cat, who is absolute skin and bones, and has been in decline for months?  Last night, I came to the basement to find every cushion on the two couches and one overstuffed chair with large urine splotches on them, and Shanks lying in one.  His tummy rumbles like it is going to explode, like I may not want to sit too closely or I might be bathed in cat digestive juices.  He is wobbly on his feet, although he can still make it to his food.

I spoke to an end-of-life vet today.  She says most cats his age have kidney failure.  Cats with a history of chronic vomiting (as he has) often develop intestinal lymphoma (which may be the crazy rumbling/gurgling).

He is not going to "get better."  We're on the downhill slide, and as I know from when Gonzo passed two years ago, there is a very short slip between "seems tolerable" and "Get a vet here this second to put him out of his misery."

There isn't an easy answer to this.  If he couldn't walk or eat, it would be simpler, although Gonzo got like that and it still took us 2 days to call the vet because there is always that hope....that "maybe he'll rally and have a little bit of time left."  I spoon fed Gonzo soft cat food and water trying to help him stick around longer.  I didn't want to make a hard decision.

No one likes to make hard decisions...the grey decisions...the ones most of life is about.  The ones I might like to ask God about if my new smartphone ever opens up that special link of communication.