Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Growing Pains: Third Grade Edition

The two older boys’ first month of school is almost complete.  J is especially excited because he got the teacher he wanted for third grade.  I’ll admit it; this was the teacher I was hoping he’d get, too, because she has high expectations for her students – she sets the bar high, and then helps the kids strive to reach it.

The first two weeks of school were, well, anticlimactic.  No homework was assigned, and the boys settled into their new routines rather quickly.  Their afterschool activities began gradually, so we eased into our new routine.

And then came the homework.

To provide some context, last year, J’s homework consisted of writing fifteen spelling words five times each and three worksheets.  Per week.  That’s it.  Seriously.  Second grade was a joke as far as homework was concerned.

Third grade is a whole. new. world. 

Monday night means a language arts worksheet and some math.  Tuesday and Wednesday mean some more math.  Thursday means still more math.  Every Friday, there is a spelling test.  This Friday there is also a science test.  Last week, J had to bring in pictures of plants, herbivores, and carnivores to create a food web at school.  There will also be four book projects throughout the year.

In principle, I have absolutely no issue with the amount of homework that J has.  What I do  take issue with is the crying, whining, and hyperventilating that precedes the completion of said homework.  Specifically, this spectacle is reserved solely for the language arts homework.

Last night, J had to read a story called The Fire on the Mountain (or something like that).  The story in brief:  Haptom is a rich guy who has a servant named Arha.  Haptom asks Arha if he thinks it’s possible to survive a night on the mountain without shelter, blankets, or fire, and then suggest a friendly wager to prove it.  Arha declines since he has nothing to offer.  Haptom says that’s okay, if Arha can survive a night on the mountain, he’ll give him land, a house, and cattle.  Arha visits Hairu, the village wise man, for advice.  Hairu tells Arha that he’ll light a fire in the valley, and Arha can see the fire and imagine that he’s being warmed by it.

…I just had to interject here.  I get that the United States is no longer a Eurocentric society, and I support the whole diversity and multiculturalism thrust in education, but if I had a hard time keeping track of these characters’ names (I kept calling Haptom Hampton), how on earth is an eight-year-old supposed to?  But I digress…

Haptom is impressed that Arha has survived the frigid night and asks how he did it.  Arha says that he saw the fire in the valley and imagined that it kept him warm.  Haptom accuses Arha of cheating and refuses to pay up.  Heartbroken, Arha visits Hairu, who decides to help.  Hairu hosts a banquet and invites Haptom.  He prepares but does not serve the food.  Haptom asks when the food will be served.  Hairu asks if Haptom can smell the food; Haptom can.  Hairu says that if he can smell the food, then he must be full since Arhu was kept warm by seeing the fire.  Haptom is ashamed and decides to make good on his end of the wager.

Reads a little bit like a Biblical parable, don’t you think?  I don’t know about you, but I’m an adult and I have a hard time making heads or tails of Biblical parables.  Imagine how an eight-year-old feels.  Cue the waterworks...
The students then have to answer some questions about comparison and contrast.  Like:  How are Haptom and Arhu different at the beginning of the story?  How are they alike at the end?  (this wasn’t too hard for J to figure out; he’s a bright kid, fortunately, but I still had to talk him through the process… he kept getting hung up on the character names)  Where did Arhu’s test take place?  Where did Haptom’s test take place?  (J didn’t make the connection that the banquet was a test for Haptom…  did many other students?  If they are unfamiliar with parables, will most third graders make that connection?  Did they discuss this, or similar stories, in class?
I think my frustration is this:  yes, let’s challenge our kids.  No, we don’t expect enough of them academically.  But if we’re going to present students with challenging material, which this language arts homework clearly is (for a third grader), teachers must teach children the critical thinking skills necessary to move towards mastery of that material.  Simple repeat exposure is not sufficient.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In Memoriam

I guess today is as appropriate a day as any to start blogging again.  But in honor of the horrific events that happened eleven years ago today, I just can’t do snark right now.  It doesn’t feel right.  In fact, it feels sacrilegious.

In 2001, I worked for a small software developer in New York City.  I was a project manager, where I was responsible for determining what features our clients wanted, writing the engineering specifications for them, designing the graphic interface for the new features, testing those features to ensure that they work properly, writing the user documentation, and then training our clients to use the new features.  Initially, I loved my job.  I loved the combination of techno-geekery and creativity.  I got to design software features and the elements of the graphic interface, contribute to the user guide, and play with software.  But by the fall of that year, the software application I was originally working on and had redesigned was abandoned, my boss and I weren’t getting along very well, and the company was slashing employees left and right.  Oh, and I was also rather preoccupied with my impending wedding.  It was a recipe for near complete job dissatisfaction.
The morning of September 11, 2001 started out pretty much like any other.  I took the train into work, to a job that I no longer enjoyed.  I remember wanting to call in sick, to work from home, but I didn’t because I was supposed to accompany one of our sales reps on a sales call.  Needless to say, that call never happened.  Life as we all knew it changed forever.

Eleven days later, the Hubster officially became the Hubster.  We were married, and were grateful to be surrounded by our friends and family.  Those who couldn’t fly in to join us were missed terribly, but no absence was felt as much as that of Hubster’s friend, the Firefighter.  While everyone who could make it to the ground floor of the towers ran to safety, the Firefighter ran in to help.  He never made it out.

While the Hubster and I started a new life together, others struggled with their horrific losses. 

When I think about September 11, 2001, and watch the television shows honoring the fallen, and read the articles about those who perished, I am immediately ripped back to that gorgeous fall morning.  My stomach clenches, my eyes fill with tears, and then I remember the amazing things that happened in the aftereffect of unfathomable tragedy:  the sense of community, the willingness to reach out to one another and make sure we were safe, and gratitude that I came home safely.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Words. At This Moment, They Fail Me.

Oh, FFS already:

Right now I'm still speechless.  I'll find some words and post them later.

Friday, May 25, 2012

More Baby Steps

I’m a first-born.  And an over-achiever.  Not to mention a people pleaser.  I’m also Catholic.  Mix all that together and what do you get?  Someone who has a hard time standing up for herself and when she does, she feels guilty about it.  Someone who just does. not. like. letting people down, or having people disapprove of a decision she’s made, or be displeased with her.  Ever.

Yeah, I’ve been working on that.  For almost forty years.  Step by step, I’m making headway.

For example:

About three weeks ago I got talked into participating in the From Couch to 5K program at my YMCA. 

For those who don’t know, From Couch to 5K is a ten-week long program designed to prepare non-runners (here I am, waving my arms, non-runner over here!) to run a 5K race.  Starting with a five minute walk followed by a two minute jog followed by another five minute walk, the program gradually builds the time spend jogging until the final week, when you jog for thirty minutes straight.

Ugh, I’m getting palpitations just re-reading that phrase:  “jog for thirty minutes straight.”

Actually, the first three weeks really weren’t all that bad.  I enjoy my solo Saturday morning runs and quickly found that I can run for a minute or two longer than the scheduled times, and then run again for another three or four minutes.  Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but keep in mind that I am That Girl who, in high school, begged the gym teacher to pleeeeeeeeeease let me stop and retie my shoes during the timed mile run because my lungs were on fire.

All of that progress was very exciting for me.  This week, however, my body started to rebel.  For the past year and change, I’ve been working out three days a week – yoga, Pilates, and a half an hour on the elliptical.  Now I’ve added three days of running to that regimen, and my back is not happy. 

Tuesday was rainy, so instead of jogging on the trail, we worked out on treadmills.  Our trainer did what she’s supposed to do and encouraged us, and pushed me to jog faster to better mimic running outside.  My normal response would be to suck it up, begrudgingly increase my speed, and jog faster while whining inside my head.  On Tuesday, I decided that that wasn’t going to work for me.  And I said just that – “No, that doesn’t work for me.”  The trainer looked at me and tried to lay a guilt trip on me, but I just shrugged and kept jogging at my slow pace.  Then she suggested that I increase the incline to (again) better simulate jogging outside.  To humor her, I raised the incline to 1.5.  My lower back quickly voiced its displeasure.  I lowered the treadmill's incline back down to zero and said that magic phrase once again – “That’s just not working for me.”

It felt so good.

I know, I know, sticking up for myself to a trainer when participating in a running program is hardly revolutionary.

But for what might be the first time since I can remember, I listened to my body and instead of pushing myself further, I drew a boundary.  And stuck to it. 

That felt good.

I might not stick with this From Couch to 5K program, but I will definitely stick with listening to my body (physically and emotionally), drawing appropriate boundaries, and sticking to them.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Defining Me

It happened again.  One of my boys did something that compelled a teacher to tell me about it.  After T’s gymnastics class, a boy was sitting down and putting on his shoes when T came up from behind and pushed him over.  The teacher made it a point to let me know that she didn’t see if anything happened before hand (which I took to mean that she didn’t know if the boy had done something to encourage or provoke T), but that she saw T push the boy.

My first thought was something like: Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck.  This woman probably thinks my kid is an ass and I suck as a mom.  You know, because every other mom has such puppet-master-like control over their kids that the mere thought of misbehaving causes such psychic pain that they immediately think otherwise.  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

Now, intellectually I know T made a bad choice.  And intellectually I also know he’s not a bad kid, but your typical five-year-old boy.  He’s at an age where he’s very tactile, very touchy – he is constantly touching me, his brothers, his friends.  It’s not malicious; often it’s the exact opposite, but he doesn’t quite get that others might not appreciate his invasion of their personal space despite his desire to hug them.  But there’s still that voice in my head that says it’s my fault.

And then the Thursday before school vacation, I got a call from J’s teacher.  On the playground during recess, he was wrestling (!!!) with some classmates – boys and girls.  One of the girls fell and hit her head, and J accidentally kicked her.  The teacher said that J acknowledged that he was doing something he shouldn’t, and that he was remorseful that the girl was hurt, but she called me because the girl left school early due to her injury.  (They have recess at the end of their day, just before dismissal.) 

Again, my first thought?  Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.  I thought we were past this.  Will J ever get over this attraction to mischief, or am I going to spend the rest of his academic career as That Mom?  I don’t want to be That Mom.  I want to be That Mom of Those Really Great Boys.

In both cases, I know the boys made bad choices, and made them independent of me.  And yet I feel like those choices are a direct reflection on my performance as a mother, and on me as a human being.  And that these reflections are, for the most part, ugly and negative.  Like there’s this huge, gilt-framed portrait of me (and it’s totally unflattering because the angle makes my already large nose look absolutely humongous) with “Epic Fail” stamped on it in big red letters somewhere in the Halls of Personhood.  In the Motherhood wing.  In the Room of Failure.

I don’t doubt that this obsession with my parental effectiveness is exacerbated by the fact that I am a stay-at-home mom.  I know, I know, just being a mom is a Full Time Job (seriously, working moms, I tip my hat to you; I don’t know how you work a full day and then come home and do what I do), but when you don’t leave the house to go and interact with other adults on a regular basis, you spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about things.  Like the layout of your house (where should we put the piano?), its state of general cleanliness (don’t ask), and how to create a perpetually organized homework station in your kitchen (if you know how to do that, please let me know because I’m desperate).  But mostly you think about your kids.  And whether you’re doing a good enough job raising them.  And what your kid’s teacher thinks, and what your kid’s friends’ moms think, and what your mom friends think, about you as a mother.  You think about how you’re being judged.  Always about how you’re being judged.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.  (Please tell me it’s not just me.)

And maybe this is just me, but I feel like there’s a connection between the perceived negative judgments and the fact that I’m raising three boys.  That people tend to think that boy moms whose boys are active (you know, just like typical boys who – gulp – run in the library and touch everything within reach and constantly use their outside voices inside) are somehow not doing as good a job raising their kids as other moms.  Sure, the boys are reflections of me; and since they spend the vast majority of their time with me, it stands to reason that more of my influence rubs off on them than that of Hubster’s.  But I feel that people tend to ascribe the boys’ negative behaviors directly to me and my influence, and that every failure on their part is completely my fault. 

It’s a challenge not to let my boys define who I am as a person.  Right now, I don’t have a career other than Mother.  Sure, I have skills and experiences that were gained prior to, but I put those aside to dedicate my time and my self to raising my children.  They have been gathering dust for ten years, and I’m not sure exactly how or when they will be taken out and put back in use.

In the meantime, I need to keep reminding myself that I am doing my best to teach the boys right from wrong, to treat others with respect, and to make good choices.  And as hard as it is to let my boys go and let them learn from their choices, it’s equally difficult to remember that while they came from me and reflect different facets of my personality (and some of those facets might not be among my finest), my boys do not define who I am.

You know, except when they do awesome stuff like behave impeccably in public (how I cherish those oh so rare occasions), use good manners around adults, and win Nobel Prizes.  Then,  they can define me.  But pretty much only then.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Oh, Please

Take a look at this photo:

That’s Jennifer Lopez, aka JLo.  This picture appeared on msnbc.com on Friday, along with the following quote:
“I’m not a size 0 or 2. I’m not 6-feet-tall like a lot of the models that come around, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m really short compared to models!’,” the "American Idol" host, 42, said in an interview in the new digital edition of Vogue magazine. “I’m just a regular woman. I wear a size 6. You know, when I eat a little too much over the holidays, maybe a size 8. When I’m in shape, maybe a size 4.”
I was all ready to call bullshit on this until I went to this website.  She’s one inch shorter than I am, and weighs almost ten pounds less.  No, I’m not bitter.  I mean, depending on the brand of jeans I buy the designer, I’m either a size 6 or 8, too.  No harm, no foul there.  But then the website also gave JLo’s pre- and post-baby measurements:  34C-26-40 (pre-babies) and 34C-26-38 (post-babies).  Seriously?  She loses two inches in her hips while I lose TWO CUP SIZES IN MY BREASTS?  There is no justice.

Oh, come on now.  This woman probably has her own personal trainer, nutritionist, chef, hair and makeup team, personal assistants, and a nanny or thirteen at her disposal.  You’ve got a family membership to the Y and your parents to occasionally babysit the boys.  Of course she’s going to be in amazing shape after having twins.  And you know that the camera really does add ten pounds.

So now I’m supposed to feel better about myself because JLo isn’t a size zero?  A woman who has, from the dawn of her career, been known for – and celebrated for – her curves isn’t a size zero and this is news

And then the article shares with us that JLo wears a diamond ring that reads “I Love Me.”  You know, to remind her that if you don’t love and take care of yourself, nobody else will, either.  That is actually an incredibly important message that every female of any age should internalize and never forget.  However, I don’t think too many of us can afford to wear it on our hands as bling, as JLo does.

Uh, no.  But... your point?

Oh yeah.  Right.  My point.

Look, I do appreciate that there are celebrities like JLo who do look slightly more like "regular" women than those skeletal size 0 models.  But... and this is a big but (not to be confused with a big butt...  ha ha) can these celebrities please be just a teeny bit more realistic about how different their lives are from just about everyone else's?  You know, admit that you have a cadre of assistants who help you, and you are aware that pretty much every other mother in the world can't afford that.  And that maybe, just maybe, you realize that your life is pretty damn good, and you are grateful for it.

Because otherwise, I'm just not going to have any sympathy that JLo is "really short compared to models" at her curvy size 6.

Friday, March 9, 2012

OMG I'm Not Twenty Any More!

Last night at yoga I realized that I am getting old.  Well, yeah, we’re all getting older all the time, but I have lived in this little fantasy bubble of mine where I think – despite being married for ten years and having carried and borne three kids – that I’m still in my twenties and have this cute, tight little body (please ignore the slightly stretched out, flabby belly and shrunken boobs), and can totally hang with the likes of Kristen Stewart, Emma Stone, and Mila Kunis.

Yeah, right.

Last night it hit home that I am so beyond all that.

Over the past couple of weeks I started to notice that I was getting a little bit of a spare tire.  I know!  I do yoga and Pilates as well as cardio every week.  Okay, maybe I’m sneaking one too many chocolate covered almonds, or scarfing pretzels and chips (and Trader Joe’s dark chocolate pistachio toffee) too often, too late at night.  But still, isn’t that why I’m working out?  So I can eat those things whenever I want?

And then, last night while doing a pose during yoga, I held my arm out and looked at my hand.  Really looked at my hand.  And I noticed that my hand no longer looks like the hand of a twenty something.  No, it looks like the hand of a middle-aged woman.  I guess it’s a good thing that I was in a yoga-induced calm when I realized this, because just typing “middle-aged woman” gave me palpitations.  Me.  Middle aged?  No.  That’s just preposterous!  It’s impossible!  It just. cannot. be.

Except it is.

Let’s face it.  I’m forty.  I am going to be forty-one in a month.  Those little starlets who I like to pretend I could hang with?  I could be their mothers, for God’s sake!  (I also could have starred on Teen Mom when they were babies, but that’s another topic altogether)

No, given the chance, I will never turn Rob Pattinson’s head.  *le sigh*  And to be honest, even if the impossible actually became possible and I found myself, erm, in a position to get intimate with the  twenty-five year old Hollywood hottie, I would be so freaking neurotic that he would be horrified by the changes that motherhood have bestowed upon my body.  TMI alert, kinda – while I am proud to say that I can still fit into size 6/8 jeans, carrying three babies to term has not only left my belly soft and mushy despite the weekly Pilates classes, it has also, um, affected my other less visible lady parts.

I can’t stop the forward march of time.  I can’t magically make myself forever twenty-five.  At times (like at yoga this week), it totally sucks.  But I remind myself that everyone else is getting older, too, so while that’s not ideal, it certainly lessens the sting.  

As does $10 and a box of permanent hair color.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Reality Check

I don’t know what’s gotten into me since I unloaded my bullying experience.  It feels like 95% of my motivation for writing evaporated as soon as I hit “Publish.” 

My kids will do or say something and I’ll think oh, that’s a great topic to write about, but instead of germinating and poking its head up through the ground, the seed remains dormant.  My mind has been rendered infertile, dammit, and I do not like it!

So I apologize to you, dear reader (all one of you), for two things:  first, for my recent lack of posts, and second, that it might take me some more time for the brain to return to its fertile, writing-piece-sustainable state.

While all of this is frustrating, though, it’s really not all that bad.

I talked to a mom yesterday who, almost two months ago, had a bilateral mastectomy and about thirty lymph nodes removed.  Tomorrow she starts chemotherapy, and will later also undergo radiation, to ensure that the stage three breast cancer she was diagnosed with is eradicated.  She has a six year old and a four year old.

Thankfully, her doctor says that after her treatment, there is a less than one percent chance that the cancer will return.  But in the meantime, she has a hellish road ahead of her.

I can’t imagine what she is going through not just physically and financially, but emotionally as well.  Just thinking about it makes my stomach tighten and my eyes well up. 

In the meantime, I am organizing helpers among my moms’ club – we’re going to do what we can to help this mom in need by running errands, hosting her kids for playdates, bring them to and from school, and providing gift certificates to Target and the grocery store.

So yeah, I have been rather frustrated that I can’t seem to break through this writer’s block, but my frustration is far preferable to the medical, financial, and emotional turmoil that my friend is dealing with.  I pray for her, and I thank God for the blessings that I have.

I know I’ll get my writing groove back.  I've got to.  I’m a full time mother to three little boys.  Just dealing with them, how can my mind not return to its normal, sarcastic state?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

His First Sleepover

From his perspective, it's a big deal.  A rite of passage, you could say.

J was invited to, and is going on, his first sleepover tomorrow night.  I should qualify that statement somewhat – he has slept over Grandma and Grandpa’s house a couple of times, but this will be his first sleepover at a friend’s house.

He’s so excited.

I’m excited for him, too.  I remember sleeping over my best friend’s house when I was his age.  It was the coolest. thing. ever.  Come on, admit it - when you're seven, a sleepover at your friend's house is really that cool.

I’m also a little nervous.

Gee, now there's a shocker...  you, nervous about something?

I know, I know, that’s just a little bit helicopter-ish, but what can I say?  I am a little bit helicopter-ish.  Let’s also not forget that lovely little tendency I have to worry and be ever-so-slightly dramatic.  

Trust us, we don't forget that easily.  

But cut me a break, k?  This is my oldest, my first child, going to spend the night at the house of a person to whom we have no blood relation.  

All right, all right.  We're snarky, but we're not heartless.  It is hard to sit back and watch the little birdies fly from the nest, even if it's only overnight.

So, what exactly is making me nervous?

That I don’t know the parents very well; that although they were in class and played basketball together last year, J doesn’t mention this boy in conversation; that his friend is the youngest of three; that I’ve never been to their house; that the father has offered to pick J up instead of me bringing him there (so I can "feel out" their home); that in addition to J there will be another classmate of theirs plus the middle child is also having a friend sleep over; that something might happen that will make J uncomfortable and he will be unsure how to act; and OMG do these people have an unlocked liquor cabinet or guns in the house?

Okay, I was pretty okay before, but now I’ve just worked myself up into a small-sized (for me) tizzy.  

Way to go, mom.  So what are you gonna do about your concerns?

Well, I have to call the father back tomorrow to confirm, so I suppose I have some questions for him.  I did explain earlier today that J has only slept over his grandparents’ house, so understandably Hubster and I are a little, um, helicopter-ish about him.  Hopefully that will explain some of my possibly bizarre questions.

Is that it?

Nope.  To help ease my mind and ease my hesitation about letting go of my baby, I hereby send positive thoughts for a fun, safe, and exciting experience for J tomorrow night.  And peace of mind for Mommy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Status: Charging

In case you hadn’t noticed, my last two blog entries were, well, kinda heavy.

So heavy, in fact, that I am now either regrouping after unloading a heavy burden that I had been carrying around for years, or I am suffering from a massive case of writer’s block.

I’m not sure which it is.  Maybe a little of both.

But in the meantime, I do have something rather amusing to share.

Remember how I said I wanted more balance?  That seeing pictures of friends’ Gals Night Out gave me the sadz because I’m a Gal, but wasn’t Out?

Yeah.  And you know that old saying when it rains, it pours, right?

The more astute reader will probably see where this is going, but for those who prefer that the dots are placed really close together, I shall explain in detail:

It's pouring.

On my calendar?  Let's take a look, shall we?
  • Tomorrow night I am going to meet with some moms from T’s preschool, who have started an informal book club.
  • Next Friday I am going to play BUNCO with some moms I have known for several years and some moms I have yet to meet.
  • And just today I was asked if I would be interested in joining a group of moms from J’s elementary school to get together to play cards and drink wine.
You just realized that you need your sunglasses to shade your eyes from the sparkle in my super-wide smile, don'tcha?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

You Got All That From Playing Words With Friends? Ooooooooookay…

In my last post, I mentioned that I tend to overreact and veer into drama queen territory.  So in case you didn’t read it, or forgot that I said that, consider yourself warned.

I downloaded Words With Friends to my iphone last Friday night.  And then I made the mistake of mentioning the game in a Facebook status.

Dummy – you know that Facebook is the Debil.  

Immediately, several friends mentioned that they play too and that I need to play with them.  Like an idiot, I believed them.

So, I invited one of my friends to a game.  My opening word ran horizontally, across the board.  Her first word also ran horizontally.  Horizontally and directly on top of my word, so she got points not just for the word she played but also for all of the other two-letter words that ran vertically.  Some of these were words that most people wouldn’t believe are real words – words like “ef.”

Be honest – can you use the word “ef” in a sentence – without first looking it up in a dictionary?  Yeah, didn’t think so.  

Really?  I thought this was a Hey-Let’s-Just-Have-Some-Laid-Back-Fun kind of game, and here I had stepped into Are-You-Fucking-Serious-This-Is-That-Competitive? territory.

Immediately my stomach started tightening, my blood pressure started ratcheting skyward, and my fuse was growing rapidly shorter.  I started snapping at the kids.  I had zero patience.  All of this within the span of ten minutes following my friend’s move.  Yeah, that is not an appropriate reaction to a game.  This is supposed to be fun and relaxing and mentally stimulating.

Not an appropriate reaction?  Understatement of the year.  More like a psychotic, insane, childish drama queen tantrum.

Tell me about it. 

But seriously, get over it.  Get over yourself.  It’s a freaking game.

I know that.  My reaction really bothered me. 

So I started wondering why. 

And then I started remembering some rather painful childhood memories.

Humor me, please.

From the time I was in about fifth grade until the end of my freshman year (when I moved from NJ to OH), I was bullied.

In fifth and sixth grade, my tormentor was a petite, dark-haired girl (let’s refer to her as H).  I’m not entirely sure why she singled me out as a target, but let me share some personal information: 
  • I skipped kindergarten, so I was a full year younger (not just chronologically, but emotionally) than my classmates
  • Despite my young age, I excelled in school and was selected to participate in a program for gifted and talented students
  • Because of my young age, I was very insecure and really wanted to fit in (a deadly combination that bullies can sniff out in a heartbeat)
  • I was (and still am) na├»ve, and give people the benefit of the doubt, and often trust those I shouldn’t

When H would pay attention to me, I was so flattered.  I didn’t realize that playing right into her game - luring me into trusting her only to be humiliated in front of my classmates.  It happened again and again, and each time I was crushed.  (What can I say?  When it comes to that sort of situation, I'm a little slow.)  I think I stopped being a target for her sometime during seventh or eighth grade.  I don’t remember what happened; maybe she got bored of me, maybe she outgrew it.  Apparently I never did.

Another significant incident happened in seventh grade.  This is the year we all leave our respective elementary schools and attend the Jr-Sr High School in town.  During lunch, I sat with a large group of girls, mostly friends from elementary school with a few others mixed in.  As the year progressed and we met more kids from the other schools, our table grew more crowded.  Little by little, I noticed that there was less and less room for me.  And then one day one of the girls (who I had been friends with since third grade) told me that there wasn’t room for me anymore.  Once again, I was crushed.  I was betrayed by girls who I thought were my friends.

What do these incidents from my past have to do with Words With Friends? 

Well, I had the same physical and emotional reaction to the WWF game that I did to those events.

I have a really hard time competing head-to-head against my friends.  I am competitive by nature, but honestly, I’d rather have my ass handed to me by a complete stranger.  When it comes from a friend, it feels like a threat to our friendship rather than part of the game.

When I saw my friend’s master-level move (word stacked on word), I felt like I was nine years old again, and H was bullying me.  Intellectually, I know that my friend is just playing a game and that she is not being nice to me just so she can lure me into a game and then soundly kick my ass, ha ha ha, joke’s on you, sucker.  But emotionally, I can’t separate her moves from K’s bullying.  My reaction was the same.

Note:  I started this piece last week and was too deep in processing mode to finish.  If it's okay with you, I'm ready to finish.

Well, it's been a mentally taxing week.  Between Hubster working nonstop and me processing all of the above, I'm pretty drained.  But some good things happened:
  • I did some more thinking, and some more writing.  And with help from my dear friend and kick-ass editor, I am pretty certain that I have found a compelling direction for my writing.
  • I talked to my Jedi Master-level WWF friend.  I explained how I felt, and she was incredibly supportive (she's like that in general; she's awesome, just like my other dear friend).  She said she wouldn't be offended if I wanted to stop playing.
  • I kept playing WWF.  I'm still getting beated, quite soundly, but it doesn't hurt quite so much.  Because I am learning more about how to play the game.  Who better to learn from than a Jedi Master, right?

Anything else you'd like to share with the class?  

Why yes.  Thanks for asking.

I learned that even though it happened over thirty years ago, I'm still not over how H bullied me when we were girls.  And for whatever reason, how my mind processed that experience has affected me to this day.  Now that I know that, I must learn how to disconnect my reactions to my past from those of my present.  That will be some journey.

Not bad for a free app.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Taming the Beast

(I was inspired to write after reading this post by the Bloggess and this post from Moms Who Drink and Swear.  My battle is far from epic, but depression and the use of anti-depressants are such dirty little secrets that I wanted to give them some fresh air and sunlight.)

About four or five months after my second child (T) was born, I went on antidepressants for post-partum depression.

And I’m pretty darn sure that I suffered from PPD around the same time after my first (J) was born although, at the time, I thought that what I was experiencing was just, well… me being me.

To be honest, that I might have PPD didn’t even occur to me until after T’s birth.  When my hair started falling out (another pleasant post-partum surprise), I noticed that I had absolutely no patience with J’s completely age-appropriate behavior. 

Thinking back, I realized that I had similar feelings when my hair started falling out about four or five months after J was born.  It wasn’t as obvious the first time around:  J was my firstborn and therefore my sole focus, so I just chalked up my moodiness (aka frequent periods of extreme bitchiness) to lack of sleep.

It shouldn't be a surprise that I had PPD.  I saw several therapists during my twenties and thirties for generalized anxiety disorder, and (brace yourself, because this is a really shocking revelation) I have a tendency to overreact and be somewhat of a drama queen.  Plus, my grandfather was treated for agoraphobia and depression during the final years of his life, so I had genetics going for me, too.

Once I figured out that blowing up at a two-and-a-half year old for acting his age isn’t exactly (a) appropriate or (b) healthy for either parent or child, I called my OB.  She referred me to a psychiatry practice that accepts pretty much any insurance plan out there.  (Since they’ll take money from anyone whose check clears, I’m sure you can imagine how attentive they are to their patients.

I met with a psychiatrist who (I swear this is true) perused other patients’ charts during my appointments.  He prescribed me sertraline, the generic equivalent of Zoloft.  (Zoloft and its generic equivalent are the only anti-depressants compatible with breastfeeding, so it was the only choice available to me.

I held onto that prescription for about a month before filling it.

Why?  Oh, I had my reasons.  Reasons like:

  • I was embarrassed that I wasn’t “strong enough” to handle this on my own.
  • I was embarrassed by the stigma of taking an anti-depressant.
  • I didn’t know of any mom friends who admitted to having PPD, much less taking anti-depressants.
  • I felt like a failure as a mother because I couldn’t “snap out of” my moodiness.
  • I worried what my friends would think if they knew I was taking medication to treat depression.
  • I worried that my husband would think that my taking anti-depressants was an excuse not to “handle my problems” on my own.

    In other words, I felt a whole lot of fear and shame.

    And then (with help from a beloved and trusted neighbor) I realized something:

    • If I had insulin-dependent diabetes, I would take the medication.
    • If I had high blood pressure, I would take the medication.
    • If I had asthma, I would take the medication.

    I think you see where I’m going here.

    I finally filled the scrip and went on sertraline.  And do you know what the ultimate, twisted irony of it was?  Only 25mg of the stuff - the smallest dose you can take - made me so horrifically nauseous that I went out and bought a pregnancy test to make sure that the nausea was caused by the meds and not a pregnancy.  On the upside, it did its intended job and took the “edge” off my moods – I didn’t have such a hair-trigger temper anymore.  But feeling queasy 24/7 while nursing a newborn and minding a toddler was simply unacceptable.  I ended up quitting it cold turkey.

    So…  Did I kick my depression as easily as ditching the meds?  Unfortunately, no.  A few major things happened, including the birth my third son (S), which caused that monstrous beast to rear its ugly head once again. 

    But once I weaned S, I discovered something that kinda rocked my world:  after six years of trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, or breastfeeding, my hormones (and therefore, my moods) began to stabilize.  Oh sure, I still get bitchy the day after I ovulate and then again the week before my period, but this is nothing like before. 

    I also discovered that regular exercise keeps my mood elevated, especially when said exercise occurs while my kids are in the safe, loving environment of Child Watch at the local YMCA.  (Why did I not join the Y sooner?)

    Like everything in life, learning to deal with my moods – with my depression and my generalized anxiety disorder – is a journey, a process.  Those were six long and frustrating years, it was a real struggle, and I questioned everything about my abilities as a wife and mother.  I still struggle, and I still question my abilities, but nowhere near as often or as harshly as I did during that time.

    Life will not stop throwing me curveballs.  I will likely still get down on myself.  I still need to change how I handle certain situations.  However, I am no longer ashamed that I have a tendency towards depression, or that I needed anti-depressants to help me through a tough stretch. 

    need to help and support each another, especially during the difficult times.  God knows there are a lot of them. 

    Saturday, January 7, 2012

    Unsolicited Advice

    Over the holidays, I had to go to the drugstore to have flavor added to an antibiotic.  My oldest had an ear infection, and the medicine tasted absolutely awful without it.  I brought my youngest with me (he’s three) and, like all toddlers, he was more interested in attempting to explore his environment without Mom than standing in line with her. 

    To minimize the potential damage, I picked him up for a while.  My arms and back started complaining, so I put him back down and held his hand.  This act was interpreted as an invitation for him to act “boneless” and hang limply from my arm.  Exasperated, I mention that maybe I should have left him at home.

    Here’s where the fun begins.

    A woman waiting behind me says, “Let him go, Mom.”

    Is she talking to me?  I think she’s talking to me, but who is this lady?

    “Let him go.  He’s controlling you.  He needs to know that you’re in charge.”

    Yeah, I know that, lady, but I’m freaking tired right now.  I was up late reading, I have a massive headache, I look like a pink panda bear because the toxic black mold growing in our attic that was stirred up by our construction caused an eczema flare-up on my face that still hasn’t cleared up after five weeks, my husband has been blasting Motley Crue while painting the kitchen and master bath over the past three days, and I am standing here waiting for the pharmacist because getting my seven-year-old to take the nasty antibiotic that I brought here to be flavored has been about as easy as stuffing a greased pig into a skintight wetsuit.  I am *really* not in the mood for you to tell me exactly what is wrong with my parenting technique at this precise moment.

    I don’t know what possessed me, but instead of ignoring this Parenting Guru, I turn around and give a weary smile.  Rather than let it drop, Madame PG took my gesture as an invitation to offer sympathy publicly critique my parenting method.

    “I raised five boys and they all salute me.  You have to let them know that you’re in charge.  If they come shopping with you, they need to know that they have to behave.  My boys knew that if they misbehaved while they were out with me, they wouldn’t be allowed to come with me the next time.” 

    Blah blah blah, I’m the best mother ever, you suck, blah blah.

    She continues in a stage whisper:  “He’s what, three, right?  They’re smart.  They know what’s going on.  He needs to hear you and me talking about this so he’ll know what’s acceptable.”

    Blah blah, listen to my advice because unlike you, I am an awesome mother, blah blah, me Me ME. 

    OMFG this woman would not. shut. up.

    Did I mention that this woman would not shut up?  She kept yammering on and on about how you can’t let your kids know that they’re pushing your buttons or that you’re annoyed or exasperated or, I don’t know, human, and that you always have to keep one step ahead of them.  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her daughters-in-law.  Can you imagine having to hear this diatribe every single time you visit your in-laws?  Holy crap, I don't even know this lady and she just started spouting parenting advice.  Imagine having to hear this from your children’s grandmother every freaking time you see her.

    So what did *I* do? 

    Unfortunately, I totally suck at situations when I’m put on the spot.  I did nothing but mumble stupid shit like “Yeah, you’re right,” and “Oh, I know, I’m the mean mom.”  Just reading them is making me cringe at what a complete, spineless, jellyfish wimp I was.

    I would love to go back in time and relive that little exchange and instead say something like:

    “Look, you raised five boys, right?  You’ve got two on me; I have three.  And yours are grown, so you’ve been there, done that.  I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that your comments are well-intentioned, but I really do not appreciate that you, a complete stranger, are critiquing my parenting not only in front of my child, but also in front of all these people.”

    Nah.  Scratch that.  Let’s go all crazy-ass-bitch on her with something like this (keep in mind that my three-year-old is still at my side; expletives have been removed):

    “Ma’am, how I raise my boys is none of your business.  And if I were your daughter-in-law and you did this to me in public, I would be pissed off enough not to see you for a long while.”

    And then I would whip out my iphone and take a picture of her CBF*.  Me for the win!
    *Cat-Butt Face – you know, that look someone makes upon hearing something unpleasant; it looks like s/he just sucked on a lemon