A Better Mom

I’m not what people would call a calm person. In fact, I’ve been called a hummingbird on speed. I am in constant motion and full of a constant stream of thoughts, very few left unsaid. It sounds funny, and sometimes it is. I’m a hit at parties and a bringer of levity at meetings and conferences. But when I’m just living my daily life as a stay-at-home-mom, it’s exhausting and scary. And it is a problem that is stigmatized and misunderstood as evidenced by the reactions to this article on Parenting.com and the ensuing talk shows like Anderson Live and Katie where wine drinking and mood-stabilizing drugs prescribed by a psychiatrist are lumped in the same category.

I have generalized anxiety disorder, and after the twins were born, it became postpartum anxiety and depression. This meant that before treatment my mind was my worst enemy. My ability to imagine turned ordinary new-parent worries into disasters of epic proportions. It was imperative that I give the boys the exact same amount of formula. If I didn’t get them to take good naps now, they would never sleep well. Having pears on Monday meant not even looking at pears Tuesday so that they had a nice variety in their diet. To get to the living room from our master bedroom, you had to pass the mantle which had a corner that stuck out almost into the hall. Every time I passed that corner, I imagined accidentally knocking a baby’s head into it. I saw the blood gushing and heard the screams and cries. I never accidentally hit that corner, but it haunted me every time I passed it. When I went to take the boys to meet Michael, my husband, for lunch, I would pack three meals’ worth of formula in case there was a massive traffic jam, and I had to be with them in the car for hours. Seriously.

It only got worse when the boys got mobile, and I ventured outside to normal places like the park and the mall. My brain saw the germs on the play structures. I could imagine them jumping onto my sons and sending them to the hospital. Stairs were my mortal enemy. No matter how much the boys improved at navigating them, I still imagined them falling down them. My brain played out the whole scene. They fall screaming. I drop what’s in my arms and run to them. There is a lot of blood, and I tell the other twin to call Daddy on my phone. I grab band-aids and calmly apply pressure to the wound even as I know in my heart the injured child would need surgery and would never be the same. And it was all my fault for not holding their hand or telling them to slow down or being late and in a hurry. And the park? Play the stairs scene over for every piece of equipment. I tried to have play dates there and enjoy the company of friends and their kids, but I was always on alert and ready to run after a child heading for traffic or falling to his death from the slides. These things never happened, but I was sure they would.

The stairs at our Poland apartment had to be faced every day. And every day I imagined the boys tumbling down.

The stairs at our Poland apartment had to be faced every day. And every day I imagined the boys tumbling down.

I’m shaking, and my heart is racing right now just writing this. I can’t stop thinking of all the examples of this behavior.

The only way I’m able to get through the day and be out among the people is with therapy and medication. And even with that I still have the thoughts. They just don’t paralyze me or send me into an anxiety-induced crabby-fest. My anxiety manifests as anger; the anger is that things are out of my control. But I have coping skills, and I have support.

In other words, my medication makes me a better mom. My medication and techniques I’ve learned in therapy. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group at ppdchat. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding, superpartner spouse.  My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group at ppdchat and my fantastic spouse and my involved parents. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding spouse and my caring parents and exercise. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding spouse and my involved parents and exercise and having a hobby.

My point? Yes, I’m medicated, but no, I’m not using it as a crutch. I work hard to be a good mom. It’s an obsession that can lead me down a rocky road. So I use all the tools I can find to find that balance between striving to be what my kids need and keeping my spirit intact. It’s not easy, and anyone who tells you medication is the easy way out has never been where I am-at the top of the stairs facing another day of shutting off the horror show in my brain.

I Don’t Understand (Stream of Consciousness Sunday)

I’m once again linking up to my friend Jana’s blog. Our task? Set a timer and write for five minutes without editing or censoring. Our topic? I don’t understand…

I don’t understand how I have two little boys all of a sudden. I mean, I know how I got kids. It’s a timeless tale of doctors and stirrups and no shame. But what I mean is that I don’t understand how my babies are now big kids.

This weekend they started T-ball. My sons can now hold a bat. In fact, they own bats and regulation t-balls. We spent the whole afternoon after practice getting geared up. Thank God they didn’t have to buy cups.

These boys also have super hero sheets and a real Star Wars love. They can roam the playground with me at a greater distance. I still hover, but it’s with less anxiety and stress.

Friday night we had dinner with our group of friends and their kids. We set the kids at one table, and we grown-ups took the other. We are finally getting to the point where the kids can play, and we can actually have a conversation or play cards with few interruptions.

But still, I don’t really understand how this happened. It boggles the mind.

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How To Raise A Little Geek

In case you missed my 256 announcements yesterday, I’m guest writing on Quirk Books in their Raising Quirk Community. I’d love for you to go over and take a look and maybe leave a comment.

Mommy Days

When I get a case of the Mondays, it’s a bit different than the kind an office worker gets. It’s me screeching away from the boys’ school after drop-off like I’m leaving the scene of a crime. Even a stop at the grocery store is less annoying. I get my list items and some fresh bread to celebrate. Then I get home and run a victory lap in a quiet house.

Don’t get me wrong; I love our weekends. We hang around the house in jammies, and we play. But there’s just something so great about having the house to yourself. No one is here to tell me ‘no’. No one is here to silently judge me for propping my feet up in front of HGTV as dirty clothes threaten to smother us. (Okay, truth. Michael doesn’t care if I watch TV instead of clean. When he gets tired of the filth, he gently asks if I can get to it ‘sometime this week’. The silent judgement I assign to him is my projection. I feel guilty when I sit down. I feel I do not deserve a break from doing bare minimum. In other words, my brain does special Stephanie-thinking.)

After Monday, my second favorite day of the week is Stay At Home Mommy Day. This is the one school day a week I keep the boys home. It’s usually Thursday, but sometimes we wake up, and a rainy Tuesday is just the perfect day to stay inside. I love being able to keep them home when either they or I feel like it. I will miss these days when they go to kindergarten, and I go back to work. I actually get chores done because they play with such gusto. They are free to do as they please, and they know it. They do not waste a minute. They can play one thing all morning. And of course they invite me along.

No school? Let's get after some hanger art in our jammies.

No school? Let’s get after some hanger art in our jammies.

One of our favorite games on Stay At Home Mommy Days is bear family. We all pretend to be bears, and my bedroom is our cave. As bears, we fish, gather honey, and take naps. Yes, being a carnivorous beast is exhausting, even if you’re on the small side. The naps are only pretend, but I enjoy the chance to cuddle under the blankets with my sweet boys. I often get roped into telling stories during bear naps. Then the boys will tell some. It’s pretty great.

These Stay At Home Mommy Days are my special reward. I seem to be able to enjoy the boys and who they are becoming while also getting things done around the house. They are the days I hoped to have when I pictured being a stay-at-home-mother. I will never regret this time with my sons, and I hope they remember that Mommy was not all work and no play.

The Elf On The Shelf Is A Marketing Miracle

I’m not sure of the name of the award they give marketing campaigns. If it were my job to name it, I’d call it the Mind Control Medal. Anyway, whatever that award is should be given to the evil geniuses behind the holiday ‘tradition’ of Elf on the Shelf. This ‘tradition’ is very loosely based on Scandinavian folklore, but mostly it was a cute story that we now have to make a thing- a Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter party of creative splendor and what-not.

My first issue with this lies in the obvious. They look way too much like clowns. I swear to you they are watching you and waiting for you to drop your guard.

Another problem lies in my own ineptitude/laziness. For example, the year the boys were born, Michael went out and bought a lovely pre-lit tree. I made it more festive by putting all the Christmas cards we received on it as opposed to ornaments. I bought the boys stockings for the sole purpose of taking their picture in them since they were only a month old. By the time I got around to this, they were too big, and I kind of shook them in like a pillow in a pillowcase before remembering not to shake the babies and then freaking out.

This behavior is weird considering my mother is Mrs. Claus. When I was little, Christmas was everywhere in my house. If it was stationary, it had a nutcracker, santa figure, or plaid ribbon on it. We had stockings on our bedroom doors because having them over the mantel wasn’t enough. I have a lot to live up to, so I don’t need an extra tradition, thank-you-very-much.

Look, I even hung lights in the boys' room. What? It's fine.

Look, I even hung lights in the boys’ room. What? It’s fine.

I’m also not big on the intent of the Elf on the Shelf. I think it does two things. One, it provides whimsy and excitement to the days leading up to Christmas. I’m sorry, are we saying before someone invented this smiling spy cleverly disguised as an elf that the month of December was boring? Cookies, parties, decorating, school break was not enough? The last thing I need is something else for my kids to get rabid over. I have one son that can smell the chocolate from his Advent calendar through a door and another with a wish list he devised in August and has carefully monitored ever since. I need no more fun please. Isn’t Christmas too hectic and stressful already? Now we need to add art director to Santa’s minion to our plate? No thanks. When I want my kids to experience daily bursts of creativity, I turn on the TV; there is a new Christmas-themed Dora every day.

The elf’s second purpose, as far as I can tell, is to scare kids straight so they can earn the toys their parents bought on Black Friday and therefore cannot return due to the fine print on the receipt. In other words, he’s blackmail. He’s blackmail that has to be named and given a back-story. My blackmail is a little less complicated. “Do what I’m asking, or I will be the crabbiest mommy on the block.”

I see the Elf on the Shelf as another being I’d have to be responsible for. Sure, it would be great to have at least one thing in my house that bent to my every wish, but it’s still too much trouble. He also has an end date for responsibility. You only have to watch over him for like 25 days. With real kids there is no end. Ever.

An added bonus is the Elf on the Shelf is yet another thing we can use to be mean and hateful to each other. Oh, you don’t have an Elf on the Shelf who does creative things like build marshmallow snowmen in the pantry? Do you even love your kids? Or, the flip side, Oh, you lie to your kids about an elf spying on them? I guess you don’t have any better ways to teach your children to behave. How sad for you. Parents even got to curse out a Good Morning America host for revealing the Elf’s true puppet masters. Thanks a lot Lara Spencer; you ruined my magical fucking holidays.

No Elf on the Shelf here, but can I scare you with some Angry Birds on a dresser?

No Elf on the Shelf here, but can I tempt you with some Angry Birds on a dresser?

I love the holidays, and I love making my kids happy. I don’t need a creepy elf in my house for that. However, in honor of the power to make me think I do, I give to you, dear marketing minds behind the Elf on the Shelf, my Mind Control Medal and an insincere Merry Christmas.

Who’s The Boss?

This morning the boys were playing Worker Man. This involves ‘fixing’ and ‘remodeling’ rooms  and furniture in the apartment. They really just like to saw stuff with their many plastic saws, though the black one is coveted for some reason. So, Jack was sitting at his little craft table in the kitchen while I loaded the dishwasher. He was drawing up ‘plans’ for the fixing project. (Seriously, it was cute as hell. They really understand how to be marketable TV contractors.) Alex was in their room pretending to be the homeowner calling for help. He did the ‘ring, ring’ noise to indicate he was ready to begin.

Jack, without pausing or looking up, said to me, “Can you answer that?”

And you know what? I did. Because when Jack tells you to do something, you do it.

Yep, that’s Jack using a pacifier outside of bed at age 3. He kept that paci until he decided he was done with it. Also? How cute are little kids in big boots?

He’s a bit, um, bossy. That is such a nasty word for leader, but it fits at times. He likes telling people what to do. He likes to be in control and for things to be his way. What that really means is he is genetically driven to love routine and bring his vision to life come hell or brother with other ideas. I expect nothing less considering his mom, me, was born with a clipboard and a manager’s voice. (Gwen, now is the time for you to tell the story of me allegedly telling you how to open yogurt.) And my husband Michael isn’t exactly one to let others decide how he is going to do things.

I see Jack’s inherent sure-mindedness, and I know one very important thing we must do as parents is take our children’s natural tendencies and help make them strengths. Is your kid stubborn? Sure, it’s annoying when that means they will not be wearing the shirt you had picked out for them which is also the only clean one, but how great will it be when they don’t succumb to peer pressure because they are standing their ground? Jack is a leader, but he is also a cheerleader. This kid wants everyone to be happy and to know they are doing well. “Mommy, you’re building that Lego car just great!” “It’ll be okay, Alex, Daddy can help us figure out the game.” He immediately shifts into helper mode when I’m frazzled and Alex is on the verge of losing it too. He takes charge and tries to get us back to peace with his reassuring phrases and cheery outlook.

I love my kids just the way they are, and I want to make them better, stronger, faster. No, wait, that’s not right. I want to help them be happy and successful. Yes, that’s it. I want them to be 100% true to themselves while also making the most of what God has given them.

And for Jack, that means molding him into a brave leader who takes care of his charges. I know he has it in him. He already has some useful managerial skills; he can dismiss an idea without saying it’s stupid. He says, “Sure, sure,” and then goes on saying the way he wants it done. Sure, sure is code for “Um, no, that’s not gonna happen”.

It’s a start.

The Week The Women Went And Left No Helpful Post-its

I likes me some reality TV. I usually stick to the classics like Survivor, The Amazing Race, and The Real Housewives. I add new shows that appeal to my interests, like Dance Moms, or have great commercials that suck me in. (My husband can always tell which commercials I’ve seen by which restaurant I pick for dinner.) When I saw the ads for The Week the Women Went (Lifetime), I was intrigued. First, reality TV, so, duh. Second, I’m very fired up about the media portrayal of dads as being complete morons. See? My brain still functions despite the TV addiction.

I recorded the first episode and then saw that it was hosted by Jeff Foxworthy. I almost immediately deleted it, but I decided to watch anyway so that I could see if it fit the usual media mold for dumb dads. The choice in host told me this was a real possibility.

The show takes place in a small town in South Carolina. The premise is that all the women over 18 leave town for a week to see how the men cope without them. Foxworthy sets the scene and declares secrets will be revealed; it’s a social experiment of Biblical proportions….ooohh! Right off the bat I’m disappointed because it doesn’t look like a parenting experiment; it looks like, well, reality TV.

The ‘characters’ range from a mother who has never been away from her kids to a zexy cougar who leaves her three teens with her 20-something Marine lovah. We have an oversexed loudmouth mom and a single mom who actually should have been on Intervention. (She says the only thing keeping her from getting into another abusive relationship is the regular customers at the failing restaurant she owns. Did I mention the 13 year-old daughter will be in charge of that restaurant for the week? And also the restaurant is in the older daughter’s name to get rid of a deadbeat boyfriend of the mother’s? Welp.) The men stay in town alone, and the women hit a resort with a pool in Amelia Island, Florida.

Current score? Women-Everything, Men-Less Than Zero

Just in case single parenting doesn’t make the men look stupid enough, the show has thrown in some challenges. The main big surprise is that the men have six days to throw a beauty pageant for all the little girls in town. That sounds fair. It’s totally a typical event in my average stay-at-home-mom life.

One of the dads works for the railroad and is normally gone all week. He states he is looking forward to spending a lot of time with his kids. He does not sleep a bit the first night because he’s afraid he won’t hear the baby cry. So he’s tired, but he’s happy, because he knows it’s special to be home. In other words, he loves his kids. Which is weird because I’ve been taught that men just love sports and see their parenting responsibilities as wiping their kids’ butts on the kitchen counter. Is it possible TV has led me astray?

It seems that all the men act like humans who are in an extraordinary situation that tests new skills and throws off their normal routines. They freak out when the kids cry at bed time and then apologize later and sleep in the kid’s bed because they know the kid is just missing Mommy. When my husband left town for 15 days last February, both boys got sick, and I served cereal for dinner in front of all of the cartoons ever made. On day two. In other words, I did not handle it well. I am a stay-at-home-mom who could not handle the extra hours without another adult around.

Daddy will be home in 12 days. Here kids, take as much cereal as you need. Mommy needs to go in the bathroom and scream.

These men were set up to fail. They were put in a situation that was tough for any parent, but it was made to look like they were having trouble because they are men. And that’s why I couldn’t watch any other episodes. I liked most of the dads. They seemed like regular, loving guys. The daddy of 15 month-old twins had the sweetest interview about how his wife deserved a vacation, and he hoped she was having fun and not worrying. He was concerned that she was not taking care of herself because she is such a devoted mom and wife. He clearly sees what his family has going on.

He is, for example, not the kind of dad who needs no less than 325 Post-its to remind him to put the Go-Gurt in his son’s lunch. He may need one note about what goes in lunches since he is not the regular lunch-maker, but he does not need to be treated like an idiot.

I am sure Yoplait thinks they are very clever with this new campaign. Procter &  Gamble fumbled their Olympic ads by only thanking moms (And only stay-at-home-moms at that). Yes, moms make a lot of the buying decisions in situations where P&G products are an option, but this was dismissive of what dads do for their kids. And Huggies dropped the sensitivity ball with their “Let Dads Put It to The Test” commercial. So, here comes Yoplait telling us that a good dad gets that his kid needs healthy food like squeezable dairy products. He gets it because the lady of the house told him what’s up. So, yeah, he’s dumb otherwise.

I’m ready for this stereotypical, fumbling, moron dad thing to go away. It irritates me on behalf of my husband and on behalf of my life in the real world. I have learned a thing or seven or 20 from my husband and how he raises our kids. I’m sure he’s learned a thing or two (about obsessive worrying) from me. We work together. We have to, or the kids will win.

Listen, if you’d like to show a parent managing poorly with no help or needing 325 visual reminders of an easy task, call me; I look great on camera. Just leave my husband alone. He’s busy teaching our boys how to make the perfect pancake.