Monday, March 28, 2011

turn, turn, turn

So this fall, my little girl starts preschool.  We've chosen a co-op about ten minutes away from our house.  Since she's in the process of dropping her nap, we're enrolling her in the afternoon program.  Today, they hosted a "messy art day" which we thought would be a lot of fun for Julia, and also provide an opportunity for Karissa to see the school, since she'd only seen the website and was working the morning I toured.  It was a great day in a lot of respects.  I saw many acquaintances from the park and playgroups, and two of my friends came out with their kids.  It was very crowded, and while the messy part was a bit more prevalent than the art part, it was heaven for Julia.  Obviously, every day at preschool won't be a messy art day, but it was wonderful to see Julia in the space having the time of her life.  The people working the event were parents at the school, and they were open, welcoming and friendly, even given the chaos and the crowds.

It makes it clear to me that as hard as it's going to be for me to let go of her, of seeing her every day, of always knowing how she is and what she's doing, she needs different space, different experiences, and different people to really grow at this point.  Mostly I'm excited for her, and my excitement is rooted in my confidence in the school's program, and how much of a fit it is for Julia.  She's always been fiercely independent, and really thrives in a space in which there is a variety of activities and she's free to choose between them.  We've shied away from programs with imposed circle times, scheduled inside/outside time, enforced snack and meal times.  Sure, when she's older there will be more constraints, but she'll be developmentally ready for them, and now she's just not.  At this time in her life, she just needs to explore her world and create her own learning experiences in a safe place.  And that's what the school provides.

So once we left there, we headed with another family to a favorite restaurant of Julia's.  She had a great time and ate well, but by 1:30, her glazed eyes and under the table antics made it pretty clear she still needed to catch up on sleep.  When we got home a bit after 2:00, she was weepy, tantrum-y, and exhausted.  I laid down with her, and she fell asleep at around 2:30.  Of course, once she wakes (it's now after 5:00), there's no telling when she'll sleep again; she'll probably hold out until 11, regardless of when we put her to bed.  Then she'll wake up late, and refuse to nap tomorrow.  And it begins again.  No nap, early bedtime, nap, super-late bedtime, and on and on.  There may even be a few 3:30/4 am wakings when she's gone to bed too early, has had a bad dream,  or is too wet.  This new no-sleep phase has changed all of our sleep cycles.  Even when she sleeps through the night, I often wake up at 2:30 to eat animal cookies and watch reality TV because my mind is racing, I'm starving, and the baby's wide awake and on the move.  It's hard to say when sleep will ever resume normal patterns again.  

The disrupted sleep is symptomatic of this period of transition, of instability, that's affecting all of us.  It's not just that physically, Julia's needing less sleep.  In a month, we won't be the family we've been.  We'll fill the space differently, and roles will shift.  It would be easier to think that Julia's too young to grasp what's coming, and maybe consciously, that's true.  But it's also true that she, like all children, is very sensitive, and she feels my mounting anxiety, Karissa's stress.  And she's taking in all of the obvious signs of the change on the horizon.  

She's now sleeping in the big girl bed, and the crib has moved out.  All of our new books (given by a colleague of Karissa's) have to do with babies and big brothers or sisters.   And she gets it, in some basic way, that something, someone is coming.  When she asks about the baby, when she calls herself a big sister.  She's even started telling me that she can't do this or that thing because she's pregnant and asks me to feel the baby kicking in her tummy.  She's processing everything in her own, almost three year old way, and she's processing it, as we are, at all hours of the day and night.

So we have to take care of each other, and realize collectively that the changes coming, challenging as they may be, are good changes, spectacular changes.  And when one of us forgets, the other two need to be there to do the reminding.  I know Julia reminds me so often what a blessing change can be, when she uses a new expression, when she reaches another milestone, when she smiles or laughs at a joke she wouldn't have gotten a month ago.  The sun's coming out today after weeks of rain, yet another example of how change, however frightening, can be overwhelmingly, heartrendingly positive.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

L & D and OMG

This morning Julia woke up at 3:30.  Karissa and I both tried to get her to go back to sleep, first in our bed, then in her bed, then in our bed again.  She had me fooled a few times with her quiet breathing and then she'd bust out with some observation, Sesame Street quotation or the question, "Is it wake-up time?"  When I finally got up with her at 5:30, I was in a rotten mood.  I opened the freezer to find the ready-to-bake cinnamon rolls I'd been saving for the weekend, thinking if I could just have these with my (very weak) morning coffee, the day might be saved.  Not so much.  The rolls were too chewy and not sweet enough.  Not that it stopped me from eating four or five of them, in the hopes they would improve.  And of course, they didn't.  I ended up crawling back to bed at around 7:00, once Karissa was up and coherent, and slept fitfully until around 8:45.

I had to get up because we had to leave the house an hour later.  We were dropping Julia off at a friend's, and going to the Labor and Delivery tour of Kaiser Oakland.  The tour guide was late, but gave a spirited overview of the intake procedures at the hospital to us and the three other couples on the tour, one of whom I was fairly sure spoke very little English.  She paused for questions a handful of times as we went up to triage, L & D, and the recovery rooms.  Karissa and I were the only ones with any questions at all, the others just stood around in stunned silence, staring at the tour guide, staring at us, staring at Karissa in particular as she asked about parking and other important logistics.  I must admit, though I participated more than most, I myself was a bit stunned.  I never wanted to have a baby in the hospital; I had fully intended to have the second one at home until right after New Year's when we took a hard look at our finances and decided there was no way we could afford another home birth.  A part of me was comforted by the MDs and nurses everywhere, all of the technology and equipment, even though I needed none of them last time, but most of me doesn't understand how it's all going to work.

My last labor was four hours, and I went from breaking water to active labor in 20 minutes.  Labor was so sudden and so difficult, that I couldn't imagine moving two feet, much less getting into a car, parking, walking into a hospital, taking the elevator to the fourth floor, going to triage for an evaluation, moving again to a (beyond dreary and sterile) delivery room.  I couldn't imagine having an IV put in or having monitors attached to my body.  It would have made an already terrifying and excruciating experience so much worse.  But now, that's what I'm doing, and I still can't imagine it.  So I'm going to do the only thing I can do, which is to put it out of my mind for now, and pray that when the time comes, things will go smoothly.  Thanks to Karissa, we have "plans for various scenarios in place."  I thank God that my wife is so detail oriented.  Someone has to remember all of the steps for getting into the building and getting up to the right room just in case I'm out of my mind at the time.  Don't get me wrong, I understand this is what most women in this country do.  This is normal.  I guess I'm not, but then, that's not really news to me.

Later in the afternoon I had my first (and sadly, probably my last) prenatal massage.  It was wonderfully relaxing, though I spent a little too much energy trying not to fall asleep, and the ONE place I asked her to work on, she didn't touch.  What kind of "master therapist" who gives prenatal massages doesn't know where the sacroiliac joint is?  She rubbed away on the small of my back, and I was too polite (and frankly, too sleepy) to say, um, could you go a little lower?

We've passed a quiet afternoon since we've been home, and we're both praying we can get Julia to bed early given the epic mostly sleepless day she's had (she fell asleep for about an hour in the car).  I'm not sure Karissa or I will last very long after she's out.

I have a lot to think about (or try not to think about) in the next four weeks, but my biggest hope is that the weeks will fly by, my body will have become a "master laborer" in the three plus years since I did this the last time, and I'll be able to hold my baby boy in my arms without much pain and suffering to get him there.  At least I'll have mastered the sleep deprivation that goes along with new parenthood, or as I've learned, parenthood in general.

Friday, March 25, 2011

unconditional friendship

"Love is the unconditional support of imperfect human beings."

My MIL put this as her FB status this morning, and it got me thinking. Of course, I was already thinking, you might say overthinking. At some point, I'd really love to stop overthinking, but that would require a level of engagement in some project or other, and outside of the day to day, and the fact that in five weeks I'll be a mother for the second time, I have nothing going on. I've been inspired to write again after a long hiatus because of an incident that occurred the day before yesterday.

One of my first impulses was to write a story or maybe a screenplay, something like "Mean Girls" but based on a group of stay at home moms in Berkeley. Then I wanted to write an essay, something like, "SAHM: The Failed Experiment." But then I thought, I haven't blogged much since I quit my job, moved to Berkeley and decided to stay at home full time. Living began to take up a lot more time than it used to, downtime became scarce, and I had less and less time for reflection. This past Christmas I bought a new journal, but soon reflective writing gave way to grocery lists, budget spreadsheets, in short, necessary, but unfeeling things. In the meantime, my thoughts have built up to dangerous levels, and now at this crossroads, I find myself on the verge of emotional eruption.

So what happened? Well, a friend of mine (and I use that word loosely now) after several weeks of being MIA from my life (begging out of playdates, avoiding me in social circles, etc.) wrote me an email saying she was cutting off our friendship, as we are "incompatible, playdate-wise." She cited no specific instances, but said she has the impression that I feel her sons are too rowdy to hang with my daughter, and she feels that I don't like her older son. She feels I am an overprotective parent, and she feels the need to be overly controlling of her boys when spending time with us; basically, being with us isn't fun anymore, and she's done.

I defended myself in my reply the best I could, having nothing really to go on but her general feelings. One of her boys is two years older than my daughter, and he's very physical. But during our playdates, he tends to ignore my daughter and play with his older friends. Her younger son is my daughter's age, and in general, they've gotten along very well. So I really don't know what she's talking about.

Maybe I did something(s) to offend her, but I don't know what I did, so I can't explain myself. She doesn't want to give me the opportunity to defend myself, she simply doesn't want to spend time with me or my daughter anymore. To make this more confusing, she says she's enjoyed spending time with me in an "adult setting," that our friendship was real, but wasn't meant to last. This playdate incompatibility seems to be a deal-breaker for her.

So where does this leave me? Well, at first, I must admit I was devastated. Not because she was such a close friend, but I did care about her, and never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be on the receiving end of any unkindness from her. I felt a keen sense of loss, but I soon realized the depth and complexity of my feelings were triggered by the email, but in fact, had very little to do with it or the friendship.

My hurt was compounded by the fact that my feelings of isolation are mounting as my pregnancy comes to a close and I get ready to embark on this new chapter in my life. My postpartum period after my daughter was born was one of the loneliest times I can remember, and I'm anxious about having to go through it again. Not a great time for someone to give me a detailed account of why they don't want to be around me.

And then, there are my particular insecurities. Pretty much since I've been a mom, I have feared being judged by my "mom friends." My little girl is extraordinary in many ways, but she's also very challenging. She has almost no fear of new situations or people, even kids that are overtly unkind to her. She is extremely willful and is only beginning now to be at all concerned about her own physical safety. I try not to shadow her, but I'm often afraid for her, and I struggle between trying to keep her safe and not seem like a "helicopter" parent. The few times I've really pulled back and been less than vigilant (usually in a social settings with other moms), she's been hurt or frightened, and I've felt nearly destroyed with guilt because I've let other's opinions of me as a parent interfere with what I know my child needs. The fact is, what I think is best for my daughter may make me unpopular, and I need to be OK with that. No one knows her better than I do or loves her more, which is why I made the decision to stay home with her in the first place.

The last time I blogged in the fall of '09, I was going to the park every day on my own, sometimes having nice conversations with other moms, but mostly feeling frustrated. Not long after, I met several women through a friend. We hit it off, and I was invited to join their playgroup. This became a weekly meeting, and led to other activities. As I widened my circle of friends in Berkeley, my confidence in my new stay at home life grew. I had a routine, new friends for my daughter, a full calendar, people to talk to. None of it was perfect, and I often felt I was a part of these new groups "on approval," but I was determined to make my new friendships work.

Now it's a year and half later, and the last nine months have been especially turbulent. My more difficult, stressful and exhausting second pregnancy coincided with a ramping up of my toddler's challenging behavior. She began running away from me (often into a street or parking lot), defying me, throwing dangerous, frightening tantrums, hitting, kicking, biting, etc., etc., etc. One of these tantrums landed us in the emergency room a few days before Christmas. When/if we got out of the house each day, it was only after a protracted struggle that left me feeling frustrated and helpless. I began to avoid playdates farther from home, or that might involve crowds my wayward child might get lost in. Not being able to run or pick her up added to the potential stress of many scenarios.

At the same time, the connections I'd made in the past year began to unravel, for different reasons, which added to my feelings of stress and isolation. People moved, or their children started school, or their children's nap schedules changed, or their activities. It was around this time, I guess, that I offended my friend, and she began to disappear from my day to day too. No wonder, I think, looking back. When I'm that stressed out, I tend to forget to try to be the most pleasing version of myself. It's hard to see anything else but my own strain.

So now what? Well, thankfully, I didn't move to Berkeley bereft of friends, they were just far flung at the time, and we've made serious efforts to bridge time and space and stay connected. The night of the dreaded email, I called one of them (who's now a mom of a toddler herself and moved to Berkeley last year) in a panic. I'd been in a nasty mood during our last playdate and I was afraid, irrationally afraid, that she was nursing some grudge against me, too. She talked me down, and told me a few things I should know, but desperately needed to hear. Firstly, she had no problem with me. Secondly, she said, if she did, she would tell me and we would work it out or she would give me the benefit of the doubt and let it go. Because our friendship isn't about convenience or playdate compatibility, as so many of my newer friendships have been (although, thank God, her son and my daughter are crazy about each other), it's about something deeper and it's worth something to her in a long-term way. Perhaps no friendship is unconditional, but the best friendships can stand some wear and tear. Those that can't aren't meant to last.

There's another lesson to take from this, too. While I don't want to close myself off to new friends and experiences, there's something to be said for working on the friendships I already have. I have a deep need for adult connection, and really need to get to know people as the people they are, not just the parents they've become. Often it's not possible to do this when I'm connecting with someone around our kids, and when I try, I can't connect or parent effectively, so it's a lose/lose. The groundwork has already been done with my old friends, and so I don't need to be as "on my game." They're less likely to judge, less likely to misunderstand me, more likely to want to work through any misunderstandings.

I'm starting grad school in the fall, so I'm hoping I can get my needs met there. If I can, my time with my kids will be more about them, not about gaining ground with a new group or trying to impress anyone. I'll also be a lot happier, which can only make me a better parent in the long run. This is the completion of a cycle. Through it, I've learned a great deal about myself. And as painful as this ending has been, there are beginnings around the corner, and I can only be grateful to get yet another fresh start, as a mom and as the woman I'm still becoming.