We Are in This Thing Together

I’ve been obsessing over ruminating on my Ex and his divorce ever since I saw him last weekend.  He was the left-ee in this situation – left with the kids by his wife.  Every time I think about it, I can’t help but imagine what it would be like if Mr. X did the same thing to me. All I can think about is that I would be without my best friend and how much that would suck.  Because, that is what Mr. X is – he is my best friend with benefits.  We are each other’s other.  Thinking about it actually makes my stomach squeeze up a little waiting for the blow.

We are in this marriage together, for better or worse, and have to weather whatever comes together.  When it comes to the kids, though, it’s been hard to put this concept into practice.  Inevitably, rather than supporting each other, we are silently blaming the other for not helping enough with the kids or the housework or giving the other enough decompression time.  It doesn’t feel like we are in the battle together but in reality are battling each other while fending off the onslaughts from the children.

I finally realized this – it takes me a while these days, what with sleep deprivation and a metric f*ck ton of shit to do every day – when I was asked what thing I would give up that is only bringing me down.  I knew pretty quickly: I wanted to stop feeling like I was responsible for Mr. X’s happiness. I was getting very stressed about how I was managing the kids so that they wouldn’t make him more stressed. I was trying to control everything that could touch his life so that it wouldn’t cause him more stress than he was under.  You know how this doesn’t work, right? I didn’t.

I told myself that I was being a good partner – I was trying to lighten his burden because he was so stressed all of the time.  Of course, what I now realize is that in assigning myself the role of being his happy maker in addition to that the kids and the cats and the office and the clients, we were no longer working together. I was working for him. And when he didn’t appreciate the effort I was putting in to make his life less stressful – because we all know how easy kids are to control! – I would get angry at him and myself for the precious amount of effort I had expended on this monumental and now mostly futile task.

The person to whom I confessed this to is very wise, and also happens to have children out of the insane toddler years. She suggested that we be each other’s resting place.  The more I thought about this, the more I understood and appreciated what this meant.  Rather than trying to control the external factors of his life to make it more easy, I could instead become the person who gives him that outlet to just be or to recharge.  This doesn’t mean I will stop doing laundry or feeding the cats, it just means that I’m not going to stress about trying to make his passage through fatherhood easier. Maybe the happiness I get back from that alone will make him happier.

* And wow, two posts in one month!

** Double wow, I also forgot that I’ve been doing this blog thing for six years – twice as long as I’ve been a mom.

A Shadow of My Former Self

I took a trip back in time on Saturday.  I left Mr. X and our napping children, stole his car and headed across the lake to meet up with two of my friends from college, both in town for our 15th reunion.  I was very excited to go.  I looked forward to the reminiscing, the visiting of old haunts and the telling of old stories.  And, frankly, I was just as excited about not having any children or husbands in tow.  I was a single gal, at least for an afternoon.

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Photo by zimpensifh, Creative Commons

I was also excited because one of the two friends I was meeting up with was an ex of mine.  I had a major bee in my bonnet for this boy for most of college and frankly, a few years afterwards.  Even when we were dating, though, I knew that we could not be together for any long period of time because we just brought out the worst in each other.  But, we did have a chemistry that was undeniable.  The last I had heard from him before the Facebook Era was right around the time I was getting married to Mr. X.  The Ex called to see how life was going and to report that he too had found someone and was getting hitched.  I was surprised, to be honest, since he had terrible commitment issues when I knew him and I couldn’t see him changing this so quickly. I wished him well, but was a little piqued that I still wasn’t the right lady for him.  Ten years later and he is now divorced and a single father of two.   And I am a happily married mother of two.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have at least a spark of attraction left for him.  But why? Because he was the one who sort of got away even though even at the time I knew he wasn’t right for me? No, I think it’s mostly because I never quite knew where I stood with him – did he like me, did he not like me? I could go through a garden full of flowers picking petals right and left and still wouldn’t have found out the answer. I wanted him to like me, I wanted to be The Girl He Wanted because he was the boy that I wanted.

When I joined Facebook in 2010, we reconnected.  We caught up and eventually came around to discuss our time together.  He apologized for leading me on, and I apologized for coming on too strong.  But, neither expression really captured what was going on. We were playing a game of push and pull with exquisitely bad timing and misreading of signals as only young adults can do so well.  At that time, I allowed myself to think about actually being with the Ex again and felt an almost immediate rush of … revulsion.  He wasn’t what I wanted.  But, I still wanted to be what he wanted. I still wanted to know, once and for all, if he really ever wanted to be with me.

So, fast forward to yesterday, sitting in the university center which was at once so familiar and also so modernized to be unrecognizable.  His mannerisms are driving me crazy again and we’re bickering, just like we always did. I said something about how I loved that my phone chirped and he said, “God, I missed you.”  “Missed who?”, I said. My phone? “No,” he said. “You.”

Later, after dinner hearing the really terrible tale of his divorce, I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek before leaving.  I realized in that moment that I still care about him, but now, it’s the same care I would feel for a brother (if I had one).  I wanted to mother him, make sure he was doing ok and find him a nice girl. I wanted to give him words of encouragement for getting through the tough years of being a single parent and getting his business off the ground.  Most of all, I wanted to tell him it was ok, I know that he did want me, just the way that he should.

Expounding

Ever since I posted about my re-emerging battle with the impotent rage of unfairness and reading the thoughtful and wonderful comments that were left by you, dear readers, I have been giving more thought to the question of why the why still bothers me so.

It is an eternal question, one that I have fought with before.  I’ve read numerous articles about bad things happening to good people.  I’ve heard the, “don’t ask ‘why me’, ask ‘why not me’?” and I still don’t really understand what that has to do with the price of grief these days.  None of these things really helped me get a final answer – they just gave a short lived high of compassion and understanding.

Of course, this is because no article can tell me about why I feel the way that I do. They can suggest reasons or solutions, wrap them up in helpful bullet-point lists with uplifting words and uses of exclamation marks.  They cannot substitute for me doing the necessary mental gymnastics of really sitting down with myself and having a conversation.  Which I have finally done. Here’s the transcript.

Me: Why does this continue to bother you?

Me: I can’t think about it without feeling that it is all terribly unfair.

Me: You sound like you’re whining. Life isn’t fair, right?

Me: Of course I’m whining. Perceived lack of fairness is one of my greatest pet peeves.  To me, the “life isn’t fair” screed only applies to the little things like parking spaces, bad hair days and a genetic predisposition to thighs that rub together.  It shouldn’t apply to the big things in life, especially when I’ve been taught so often that I can accomplish anything.

Me: So how is it unfair, though?

Me: Because I can’t for the life of me figure out what makes them so special that they get to be normal and happy and ignorant and I get infertility and miscarriages and dread.  I think it’s the part where they get to act like getting pregnant without help and then have the baby like it’s all normal and good that drives me crazy the most.

Me: That’s because it is normal to them.  It’s normal to most people in the world.  You’ve been graced, for whatever, reason with the unnormal version and get to obsess over your inclusion in this illustrious group for the whole world to read.

Me: And, it’s my inclusion in this group that I cannot explain.  I can’t explain it going backwards looking at my past misdeeds, I can’t explain it now and I probably won’t be able to explain it going forward.  And I want an explanation because I can’t stand thinking that it is just random or bad luck.

Me: You’re going to need to work on that because unless you become omniscient, you’re never going to know why it happened to you.  And, I would like to posit that maybe that’s ok.  Maybe it doesn’t make you a lesser person than those ladies, maybe it doesn’t make them luckier or more blessed.  Maybe it just is.

Me: Damn, damn, damn.  That is way too esoteric for me.

My (So-Called) Purpose Driven Life

If you had asked me before we had Rex whether or not having a child would give my life purpose, I would have answered with a resounding YES with multiple exclamation points.  But, if you would have looked closer, the yes would have had a giant asterisk next to it and underneath, in small print, it would have read: “Note that above statement is based upon experiences of others and the author in fact has absolutely no clue whether or not this will be the case for her.”

Via Creative Commons by Steve Snodgrass

Now that we’ve had the much awaited and longed for and wanted child, I feel more of a completeness than I have in quite a while.  But, utter and total fulfillment? Nope.  And I want you to know that this is ok.  For you and for me.

But, it got me to thinking.  What would make my life fulfilling because apparently, being a mom and a wife and a lawyer is not completely doing it.  Which lead to the even more loaded question of, what is my life’s purpose?  Perhaps due to the cosmos’ perverse sense of humor, it was exactly last week in fact that I spent the better part of four days meeting with many different people who all had found a very specific purpose for their life.  While I didn’t share this particular purpose, I still was in awe of the fact that they had found something that they believed in and they dedicated their lives to it.

I know women who feel that way about mothering.  I know women who feel that way about lawyering.  I’m sure there are even who feel this way about being a wife.  But, what would make me feel this way?  What would make me go to the ends of the earth to know or do because it is my purpose in life? Unfortunately for you, dear Reader, I’m going to try to figure it out here.

In advance of this intense navel gazing, I give you a pass to skip this entire series of posts.  Really, don’t thank me.  Go find your own purpose.  Better yet, tell me about it when you’re done.  I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Confessions of An Introvert Mom

I am the introverted daughter of a librarian.  This means that I like books more than people.   (Not you, of course. Just everyone else.)

 

jbwan via Flickr Creative Commons

Being introverted also means that I require a lot of time to myself to recharge.  A lot of time.  If you are thinking that this is likely incompatible with an infant, you are correct (see why I still prefer you to books?).  In fact, it seems like I require even more time than I did before Rex was born which is probably a direct proportional response to the amount of time that Rex deserves and requires.

Because Rex, being human and all, is a person who requires heavy interaction and entertainment, two things that easily drain my battery faster than your average person to person contact.  I’ve never been good at entertaining someone else for long periods of time – even adults! So, entertaining a baby for long stretches has been really hard for me.  Rex, bless his heart, is becoming every day more and more of a joy to entertain, though.  No adults I know give me such huge smiles or giggle at the simple things like he does.  Granted, very few would also probably let me tickle them.

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I can always tell when I haven’t had enough me time.  I begin to get cranky, even with Mr. X’s company.  I feel physically and emotionally exhausted and want just to go somewhere quiet for a while to be alone.  Of course, with a baby, that’s not always feasible.  I refuse to short Rex time with me because of my need for ‘me-time’ but negotiating away me time is also not an option.  The solution?

I take it where I can find it.  This has meant getting creative about fitting it into my day, especially since I’m still working to pay for those diapers and the SimiCrack (not to mention socking away cash for the ballooning college education expenses).

I’ve become more disciplined about how I spend the time that I do have allocated.  Gone are the days of aimlessly surfing the net.  I read, sew or (gasp!) work on my book (aren’t we all?).  If I find that I’m feeling particularly drained in a day and don’t have any long stretch available in the near term, I will take a quickie 5 minute break and read a trashy novel.  Works like a charm every time.

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I’ve also allowed Mr. X to help me.  Yes, you read that right.  I’ve come to realize that more often than not, I was not letting him help mainly because it was so much easier for me to do whatever it was that needed to be done.  The down side of this, of course, is that I was doing everything.  Stuff was getting done, but I was slowly losing my mind because let’s face it, folding the laundry, while productive and useful, is not a substitute for recharging time.  I realized that it was ok to let the clean laundry sit around until Mr. X got around to putting it away.  The world would not end, and it turns out that his schedule is not terribly later than mine.  So, rather than spend that time folding laundry or any number of things that need to be done but not right at this very moment, I will take that time to peruse a magazine, or play with the dog, or just be.

I’ve been able to squirrel away enough me time for now so that I feel normal again.  I’ve also recognized that I need me time like diabetics need insulin.  It’s what makes me work, makes me be able to take the daily onslaught with a modicum of grace and humor.  I also know that I can always find five minutes and I’m allowed to take them, if I need them, to recharge.

Tempus Fugit and Forget It

Rex turned seven months old on Sunday.  In response to a picture of Rex I posted on my Facebook page that evening, one friend said, “didn’t he just turn six months?! Time flies it seems for everyone.

Except us.

These last seven months have been some of the longest of my life, no doubt in part due to the fact that I’ve been awake far more during their waking and non-waking hours than I would care to think about.  Even after we all started sleeping for longer periods, though, the time alternately dragged or flew.  I think this is because our lives are still in a state of flux as Rex grows and changes almost literally before our eyes.  Time seems to fly when things are routine, but when things are constantly changing, you don’t have time to get used to the new normal, let alone get into a groove that lets the time fly by.

But, why would you want time to fly, you ask?  I read so often new mothers with babies of Rex’s age and even younger wanting to keep their babies this age for all eternity.  And, I frankly have to admit, I don’t get it.  I really don’t.  I can’t wait until my child can feed himself and begin to communicate with us even if it’s sign language for “give me food, bitch!”  He has already started being able to give himself a bottle and it’s been this side of heaven for me. Look Ma, no hands! I can put him in the boppy with a bottle and gaze lovingly upon him as he stretches out like a fat cat nonchalantly sucking down his Similac Crack.

Still, there’s that little voice in my head that says, “remember this time. It will be gone before you know it and the kid will be 5 and no longer suffer your hugs and kisses.”  Right now, the overwhelming part of me says, “please, let’s get to 5. At least then he can wipe his own behind.”

Part of my antsy-ness to get him out of babyhood has to do with the fact that even though I’ve been taking care of an infant for seven months now, I still feel like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.  Sure, I can diaper him up in 15 seconds while lecturing him on proper changing table etiquette (twisting one’s body to get to the baby lotion is not acceptable while mommy is trying to cover your boy parts) and I can feed him a jar of pureed chicken and rice without getting too much on him or me.  But, I still don’t feel competent, in charge, in control of the situation.  And boy does that bug me.  Still.

Part of me thinks that once he reaches that age that I can talk with him, I can at least try to have a conversation with him in which we can discuss such serious topics as poop, pee and other topics of inherent interest to the below 3 set.  For now, he is full of grunts, screeches, screams, and singing notes going over several octaves.  He’s right where’s supposed to be developmentally. I’m just the one with the itchy finger on the fast-forward button because there’s still not a whole lot that we can do together.

Remind me of this, will you, when I’m lamenting that he’s 5 and I can’t believe how the time has flown?

image: Monceau

I Am Not Extraordinary

My parents were masters of making me feel like I was the smartest most fabulous kid out there.  In hindsight, I see that I was the only fish in their pond and so of course, I would have all of these superlatives thrown at me. Plus, I was quite the over achiever and they were “modern parents”.

As I grew up and waded into larger and larger ponds, though, I began to realize that while I was still pretty darn special (special in a good way, not in a knowing wink-wink way), there were literally thousands of kids just like me.  What was worse, there were thousands of kids who were smarter, more talented and more everything than me.  That was hard to realize and even harder to accept.

These days, I am mostly comfortable with who I am and what I’ve accomplished.  I finally realized that I needed to compare myself only to the plan that I had for my life, not with the accomplishments of others. On that scale, I’m doing pretty darned well.

Some days, though, that’s hard.  Like when you hear an interview with a woman who is your age and has just won a MacArthur Genius Grant.  What have I done with my life that would warrant a $500,000 no strings attached grant?

Nada. Zilch-o. Zippity-Do-Nah.

And you know what? That’s ok.

I admit, it did burn a little, even though I desired to be a marine biologist for about 5 minutes when I was 7 (although what girl didn’t dream about being a marine biologist when they were younger? I swear, for a few years there  it was the stock answer to the question of your future career).

Mr. X and I discussed this question of extraordinary-ness on one of our recent evening walks with Rex (who added to the conversation by babbling and gurgling from behind his little red stroller curtain).  He is very wise, Mr. X.  He reminded me that the measure of my life is the love that it is in it and what I do to make me happy.   Rex raspberried at that moment, probably to reinforce this.

He’s right. As usual.  Right, right and right.  And I know that I am happy with who I am, whether or not I’m given $500,000 for being fabulous.  Maybe I should start playing the lottery, though, just in case.

I’m That Mom

Lately, I’ve been asking myself , what kind of mother am I?

In some ways, I am the mother I always thought I would be.  In others, I am the mother that I know many people would shake their head at in disgust and disapproval because they would think that I’m selfish and cruel.  And you know what? When it comes to what others think, I can finally, honestly say, I don’t care.

Let’s get my mommy sins on the table, though, shall we? Rex hasn’t had the sweet taste of breastmilk since April, instead subsisting on the crack that is Similac (ooh, is it bad that crack and Similac rhyme?). He sleeps in his own crib, and has since we brought him home from the hospital.  If he cries in the middle of the night, I turn over and go back to sleep.  If he is happy in his crib and talking to himself, I let him stay there.  He goes to daycare pretty much five days a week.

Do these things make me cruel and heartless? Do they make me a bad mom? Nope, although if you think so, so be it.  I have excellent reasons for why I commit all of these ‘sins’ against my child, all of which culminate in the fact that they help him gain valuable skills that he will need in this dog eat dog world of ours.

You know the part about letting him cry at night? It’s because it teaches him to soothe himself and put himself back to sleep, which he can now do in under 10 minutes.  I’m certain the neighbors whose master bedroom is about four feet from his window are thrilled with that development since there were a few nights there where he was averaging 20 – 30 minutes of pure on crying (and I’m not sorry, guys – this is payback for leaving your extremely reactive dog with the World’s Most Annoying Bark outside at all hours for the last two years).

The daycare? It’s a fabulous facility that stimulates him socially, physically and intellectually far better than any regimen I could dream up or implement.   I’ve missed seeing him hit a few developmental milestones, but what’s most important is that he’s hitting them, early sometimes, and that he has someone there who is just excited about it as I would be.   And, its his daycare that lets me go back to work which I needed to do for my sanity and for our bottom line.  I need that time as an adult to be the best mom to Rex that I can.

The Similac Crack? Several different reasons there. One, the child has the appetite of an elephant.  There was just no way my itty bitty titty committee could keep up and I really detested pumping.  Two, frankly, I wanted my body back.  I gave him 110% for nine months, just as I gave my two previous pregnancies the best chance possible with following all of the draconian food and beverage restrictions of pregnancy.  The way I see it, though, I’ve let others have my body for the last five years – through the initial wonderment phase of trying to conceive, to the trenches of treatment.  My body did everything that was asked of it and I limited, restricted, cut back on whatever I needed to get the job done.  Once Rex was born and I had safely delivered my perfectly confected cargo, I knew that I would want my body back to do with as I pleased.  I knew that it would be sooner rather than later.  I just knew.  In the end, he got four weeks of breast milk, which I am happy with.  I had some wonderful moments with him breastfeeding and I’m glad for it.  He’s growing like a weed on the formula and thriving.  So it’s costing a small fortune.  It’s worth it if it means that Mr. X can drag his ass out of bed at 3 am and feed Rex without me having to do anything but give him an encouraging shove.

Rex sleeps in his crib because I was initially terrified about rolling over on him in my sleep and looking forward, I don’t want a three year old in my bed.  It’s hard enough to sleep with Mr. X throwing himself around (I don’t care what you say, Tempurpedic with your damn wine glass demonstration, I still feel him moving all time) and the cat wedged up at my head let alone a three year old throwing himself around the bed too.   No, I wanted to nip that one in the bud (or bed?) ASAP.  And, when Rex wakes up in the morning, I love to hear the sound of him chirping as he talks to himself and grabs at his little footsies.  He  babbles, raspberries and coos to the ceiling fan.  He’s learning to amuse himself, which again, is a terribly valuable skill, especially when it means giving mommy and daddy that extra 30 minutes of sleep.

I used to fret that I was too selfish to be a good mom.  Now I know that the question is not whether I am too selfish, but if I am selfish enough to let him grow and develop in the way that is best for him.  The answer is a resounding yes.

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

The other day, I spent about an hour counseling a friend who has just passed the bar and is looking to break into the legal job market.  Of the hour I spent talking to her, only 15 minutes was spent discussing her resume with some ‘move this here’ and ‘change that around’.  The rest was spent trying to get her to stop apologizing for her lack of everything – legal experience, good class rank, etc.  She would never get a job that way.

I thought about this as I was reading the over much-hyped article about infertility in Self magazineResolve has taken up the article as a rallying cry against infertility being ignored. I think this is missing the point.  Being ignored is not the issue here.  Not being able to sell our disease to the public as a crisis and a travesty that needs public support and funding is the issue.

After all, infertility is nothing but fault based, a sort of you-break-it-you-buy-it scenario.   It is our fault that we can’t get pregnant: we waited too long to have children, we were promiscuous in our youths, we drink too much caffeine or alcohol, we were foolish enough not to request a semen analysis before the wedding and married men who shoot blanks, we can’t control our lady parts that have the nerve to grow outside of the uterus, we don’t have a uterus but can’t seem to grow one either, we just happen to be gay and have two of the same parts, our hormones are wonky because, hello, we’re just crazy bitches that way! As if this weren’t enough, infertility isn’t even fatal.

No wonder your average non-infertile person is going to look at infertile people and shake their head in disbelief that we want sympathy and money for treatment.  Or, they offer up one of those famous lines that we should just adopt because there are so many kids out there that need good homes or that we’re being selfish for spending so much money (ours and other people’s) to do something that is supposed to be natural and free.

The thing is for infertility to be taken seriously as a disease that needs to be treated like other diseases with the funding and treatment, we need to change public opinion about infertility.  I think one of the most crucial steps is that we need to stop apologizing for wanting the same experiences as our more fertile brethren.

I will say this again since it bears repeated. We need to stop apologizing.

People who don’t have difficulty conceiving don’t apologize for not having difficulty conceiving (although, frankly, some of them should).  And, on the other end of the spectrum, people with cancer don’t apologize for getting chemo.  So, why do we feel the need to apologize for wanting to have our own kids?  We need to stand up and say, “we have just as much a right to conceive our own children as those who do not have difficulty conceiving .”  We have to answer those who tell us to adopt.  We have to respond when we are accused of being selfish.

Being infertile means never having to say you’re sorry.