Saturday, October 28, 2006

More Love, Please

More scribbles from the spring:

A day of rattling brains, over stimulated nerves, a queasy stomach. I’m crashing again. I seem to run in short cycles of mania and depression. Good Lord, could I be bipolar? If I am, it’s exacerbated by the citalopram. During the “manic” phase I feel boundless possibility, endless creativity, ideas popping left and right. I love everything, everyone. Yes! I say. This is life!

And then there are days like today, when I can’t handle a thing. The kids nag, I want to scream. Someone makes a demand on me, I want to knock them across the room.

In yoga class today, our sub teacher Beth focused on the yama of non-harming. Non-aggression. Which is really, says Beth, love and loving-kindness.

Love and loving-kindness were way beyond my ken today, so I meditated on non-aggression. I put my boundless aggressive energy into massive muscular dynamism. I did my standing poses like a warrior. I did my chatturanga dandasana with supple animal strength. When I was all emptied out, I did legs-up-the-wall pose and then savasana.

Savasana is always a great opportunity to feel the effects of my practice. I could see something wavering beneath all that aggression and cyclonic emotion: lack of love.

There is a lack of love in my household, I declared to myself. The kids are needy, naggy, whiny. Matt and I are depleted, irritated, always trying to get away. There is hardly ever a time when we can look at each other, face to face, and complete even a short, declarative sentence, much less a loving gaze or searching question. Trying to focus on one another feels futile. I miss him. I need us to be a real couple.

I am nervous about where my aggression lies today. It’s at my kids. I cannot connect with them. I just want them to be quiet, go away, leave me alone. I want to slough them onto someone else. I can’t do anything for them. They nag me, and pull at me, and demand of me, totally fucking constantly. Audrey has another cold, so she’s been crying and yelling a lot. Matt has a stomach aliment so he’s been running to the bathroom a lot. We are sick. This household is sick.

Lord, help us.

But what if love didn’t have to be something I made up from scratch? What if I didn’t have to create it or perform it? What if the love is always there, and now it’s buried and obscured? The love is, maybe, like the pearl. Buried under a lot of crap. But always there, always shining.

Thinking this way lets me off the hook. It relieves me of so much guilt (which I am feeling heaps of tonight). It’s not that I’m a bad person incapable of loving my children. I love them fiercely. The love is depressed by all this…depression.

Which brings me to another big question: when am I going to get better? Is this what it’s going to be like for a long time? A few good days, a few bad days, a violent haze, hello schizo mommy? Should I just put aside a trust fund for the children’s future therapy right now?

Depression is so weird because it can actually erase love. Or block my capacity to feel it, contact it, dip into its river. Oh, love, I think wearily. That’s when you don’t yell, right? I am continually stunned by the way depression can close off whole rooms in my mind, without my even noticing. It makes me feel like an utter loon.

So what do I do now? Up my dosage again?

Or this: maybe I do nothing. Maybe I just float.

Let Yourself Off the Hook Today

Still, nothing. Here's another relevant passage from my journal last spring, and something to remember as the days grow shorter:

When I was in Oakland, Jonna and I went to two yoga classes taught by her teacher, Baxter Bell. He said something so profound during a meditation. He said, “You may notice that your mind wanders off. That’s fine, you don’t need to be upset about it. Just lead it back here. No need to be mad at yourself. Just come back, over and over. Let yourself off the hook, over and over.”

I realized, that’s what I have been trying to learn over these last few months. How to let myself off the hook, over and over. It’s a practice. It’s not as if you do it one time, and now you’re ready for the world. It’s like building a muscle, or stretching a muscle. It happens over time.

Being a mother presents a unique opportunity to see oneself as a failure in all respects. After all, can you ever love your children enough? Can you ever be there for them enough? But if ever there was a job in which you need to let yourself off the hook every day, it's parenting. Otherwise, perspective is easily lost and pretty soon you're popping Xanax because the two-year-old won't eat.

Twelve-steppers know that you change your mind one day at a time. You recommit every day, you practice every day, and you only expect it of yourself today. Tomorrow is tomorrow and you can face it tomorrow. For today, do today. It’s a wonderful way to set yourself up for success. Changing behavior requires building upon small successes.

I learned that with dog-training and kid-teaching. Do it until they have a measure of success, and then stop and do it again tomorrow. It's a good tactic to use on myself.

Friday, October 27, 2006


I am happy to report that life is good at the moment. I have child care, I have a writing project, I have health.

Thus, nothing to blog about today.

Here is a passage I wrote last winter about Jonah, age 3 at the time, during a rare period in which he wasn't sucking the life out of me:

My son and I are having a tender love affair. All day long, he smiles at me, caresses me, and complements my appearance. “I wuv that toft tweater you’re wearing,” he says often, then pets my arm or breast. “Will you pway wiv me?” he asks. “It’s nice to be together. I’m so happy to see you.”

Every afternoon we hang out on the sofa and engage in what can only be called canoodling. We snuggle, bump foreheads, give Eskimo kisses, and pat one another. Sometimes he lies on top of me and rests his head on my shoulder like he did as an infant, and other times we spoon each other and talk about things like whether bunnies are nice.

The longer this goes on, and the more Jonah keeps saying, “I like Mommy better,” to Matt, Matt is getting anxious. Today we were at the dog park, and Jonah expressed some desire to walk next to me or something, and Matt said wryly, “I think you have a new boyfriend.”

“I know,” I sighed. “But it’s perfectly natural.”

“It’s perfectly Oedipal,” he said.

I do draw the line at him caressing my breasts. “Please leave my breasts alone,” I say. “Those are private.” Of course, he’s just as happy to touch my shoulder. It seems to be all the same to him. He just wants a piece of me.

This morning he came padding into my bedroom after Audrey and Matt had gone downstairs. “Can I snuggle wiv you?” he asked. I mumbled and he crawled in bed beside me. He petted my hair, and talked to me, until finally I snapped that he could only stay if he was quiet and still. The next thing I knew, it was 20 minutes later. He’d actually let me sleep! I turned over to find him staring at me. “I was quiet,” he said. “Shall we go downstairs now?”

They say children’s personalities are basically formed by the time they’re 3. I will be happy if that’s true in his case.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Readers, I have just gone back and looked at my first month of posts and realize that it sounds as if I was beating my kids. I was not. Just so we're clear.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What's Your Apgar Score?

For those of you who haven't read it, The New Yorker's latest issue includes an article about the industrialization of childbirth ("The Score," by Atul Gawande). It's a refreshingly non-judgmental approach, written by a surgeon, and includes the history of obstetrics and an explanation for the prevalence of non-emergency C-section deliveries. All fascinating stuff. It doesn't judge doctors or patients, just presents the history of obstetrics-related phenomena from a surgeon's perspective.

One thing that really blew me away was learning about the birth of the Apgar score. As many of you will recall, the Apgar is the score that your baby gets at one minute and five minutes after birth, rating such things as color, breathing, crying, etc. Apparently, before there was such a thing to standardize the way doctors chose to treat (or not treat, as the case may be) infants upon their arrival in the world, the obstetrician would decide subjectively whether the baby was worth saving or not. As we now know, a baby's Apgar score can be very low at one minute and very high at five, particularly if steps have been taken to improve breathing and body temperature right away. Babies were, if I am to believe this writer, simply left to die if they were born blue, too small, or malformed. A woman named Virginia Apgar, an anasthesiologist in the 1950's, was so appalled at this practice that she devised a score for nurses to rate the condition of newborns.

The Apgar score changed everything. Suddenly all kinds of new data were being observed and collected about newborns, and now there was a way to measure - with a number - how an infant was doing at one and five minutes. It measured color (blue or pink), heart rate, vigorous breaths, and movement of all four limbs. These numbers could be compared and used as learning tools for doctors. Neonatal intensive-care units appeared. Prenatal ultrasound became common. Fetal heart monitors became standard. As Gawande, points out, hundreds of adjustments were made in the practice of obstetrics over the years since, to produce what is now called "the obstetrics package."

Ok, so the average hospital birth is full of things that most of us would rather not deal with. I don't even want to get into whether a hospital birth is bad or good, whether it's best to go with a midwife at home (back in the days when doctors didn't wash their hands between performing autopsies and examining delivering mothers, that was definitely your best option) or submit to a totally medical experience when one may not be necessary. What about what happens later?

What was your score one day after giving birth, and five days after giving birth? What about five months after? How can anyone tell? Who is to rate a mother's well-being? It seems an important part of the equation is being left out here. I believe that unless a mother is actively crying all day and night or talking about killing herself, people tend to look past us to the infant. Or just look past us.

What if there was an Apgar score for moms? What kinds of things would you want rated? What could be done to maintain your health and sanity after childbirth, and into the early years?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hello, I Love You

You know how when you parent, you don't see the results for years sometimes? Or how, after you spend all that time being pregnant and then giving birth, the child doesn't even give you a smile for several months? You know how great it feels when they finally do?

Every time I read a comment from a reader, it makes my day. It makes me feel like I'm not alone, that you're not alone, that someone is reading my writing, that someone else might be thinking about some of the things contained herein. I mean, I know tons of people are wrestling with the very same questions. We just tend not to talk about it at cocktail parties. (That is, if we even get to go to cocktail parties anymore.)

So go ahead. Make my day.

That's the Real Yoga

In yoga class yesterday morning, Denise had us trying this crazy pose that almost no one could do. People were alternately laughing and complaining about it. There was a general buzz of, "Oh, yeah, right" in the room, and lots of people falling over and blowing raspberries at themselves.

Denise stopped the class.

"The reason we try these poses that seem outrageous is not just to be able to do the pose. If you can put your foot behind your head, is that really going to help you out there?" She gestured toward the windows, on the other side of which idled a noisy cement-mixing truck. "Not really," she answered for us. "But if you set your sights on the impossible, and you create the intention to go in that direction, that will help you out there. Because you're doing what hasn't been done before. That's how change happens. Now," she said. "Let's try it again on the other side."

Chastened, we all got into position. I squatted into a very low, leaning lunge. Slowly, I hooked my left shoulder under my left knee. My face came close to my left foot. (Chipping nail polish, hmm, need to take care of that.) I leaned back, tried to lift that foot off the floor and...I fell onto my butt. I got back into the pose and commanded my foot to lift. There was a slight contraction of a muscle deep in my inner thigh. Hello, little muscle, have we met? I contracted it more. My foot raised up a hair off the mat. And then I fell over again.

After class, I chatted with a woman from class as we waited for a light to change. I'll call her Diane, because I believe that's her name. She's a short, solid, middle-aged woman with steel-gray hair. She wore a button on her black sweatshirt that said, "ANOTHER QUAKER FOR PEACE."

"That was great," she said of the wacky pose. "They should put this idea in places like Yoga Journal. Doing the full pose isn't the point. When you're working hard in that direction, that's the real yoga! They need to come take pictures of our class and put that on the cover. Instead of these skinny-ninnies who can do everything."

And that, in a nutshell, is what Denise teaches us. Whatever we do, the spirit and heart of our energy is what truly matters. Setting our minds in the right place is what gets us there. It's easy to forget this sometimes watching her. She's fifty-four with a totally gorgeous bombshell body. But she does set us on the right path. Especially when it comes to our expectations about what yoga can do for us.

"I get annoyed at some claims people make for yoga," she said once. "Practicing yoga doesn't mean you never get sick or bad things never happen to you again. It gives you the skills to deal with that stuff."

So I learn, again and again, that the practice of health and balance is neverending. I will never get to the perfect life balance and then rest there. It takes intention and practice and re-evaluation.

Like now, I have regained a certain level of mental health, which has led me to be stronger and more capable, which has led me to pile more things on my calendar and desk. So I'm sort of shaking the water off my face and asking if this was the actual point of getting well. If I am to stay well, the answer is no.

So I guess I just keep moving toward what really matters and let everything else fall away. How else can I do the important work of my life?

Readers, what do you let go of when something has to give?

Sunday, October 01, 2006


I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the most depressing places on the earth: playgrounds.

I'm fine when I show up, but after ten minutes I'm in serious need of a cocktail. There is nothing with quite the stench of boredom (to borrow a phrase from my friend Jane) as a playground during the post-nap, pre-dinner time of day. Especially on a weekend. Weekdays are filled with chatty stay-at-homes, be they moms, dads, or nannies. But the weekends tend to be deadly. Especially due to the dads and their cell phones.

I can't count the number of dads I see at playgrounds yakking on their cell phones. I am sorry if I am on a man-bashing trend right now, but DAMN. Today I watched a dad talk on his phone while his three kids ran all over the playground. He talked on his phone while he led them to the SUV. And then, he talked on his phone while he loaded them into the car and safety seats with one arm. When he backed out of his parking spot, he was still talking on the phone. I see dads talking on the phone while pushing babies in bucket swings.

Is this a coping skill that I just haven't learned? Believe me, I understand the desire to run screaming from a boring hour at a playground, but I do at least mime involvement. My kids don't want to just play in the sand. They want me to play in the sand with them. Talk to them. Make eye contact. I can do this while thinking about what to write for my next blog and they probably don't have a clue.

Maybe I'm in a huff about the cell phone dads because I absolutely hate going to playgrounds in general and I think everybody else should be as miserable as I am. Truly, after being stabbed with the desire for a drink or a smoke or ANYTHING to alter my consciousness, I am beset with soul-sucking dread and dullness.

It reminds me of being nine years old on blacktop kickball court in 95 degree heat. When I was a kid, I didn't really know how to do physical play. If it didn't involve roller skating, lip-synching, or redecorating my bedroom, I'd rather be reading. So being forced to play games with balls at school was a special form of torture. On the playground at recess, I jumped rope or did cherry-drops on the bars. And then when I found my soul-mate best friend in fourth grade, we spent our recesses together cruising the blacktop and talking. That was heaven.

So maybe my current playground aversion has to do with my past, or maybe I just resent spending time doing boring shit with my kids, or maybe playgrounds are boring for everyone and no one admits it.

Anyone care to comment?