Still A Good Mom

We’ve been home a lot the last few weeks. First L. got croup, so we were home for a week waiting for the worst of the symptoms to pass. Then it was a long weekend, and then after three days of work, both my and L.’s classrooms were closed due to a positive Covid case. Ever since, there have been more and more cases added on, and now that we’re close to L.’s return date…G.’s classroom found a positive case. Now I’m looking at even more time at home. We aren’t able to really go anywhere; the children aren’t symptomatic, but L. is a close contact so we’re being careful just in case. We’ve gone to the beach a few times, early in the morning before anyone else came. We go to empty parks. We go for drives for coffee and just to get out. But mostly, we’ve been playing at home. It hasn’t been awful. G. learned how to ride her bike. We have a sandbox and a climbing structure and a swing set. We have lots of things to do outside. The problem is, first it was 30+ degrees outside, and we could only handle being out for short periods of time, and then it started raining every day.

This is worst case scenario for my anxiety. Long blocks of uninterrupted play time with my children, with no buffer, no escape. (Isn’t that an awful thought, being alone with my children flares up my anxiety?! That’s a whole other thing to unpack, some other time). The mess. The noise. The chaos. I was dreading it.

In actuality, it hasn’t been awful. We’ve had moments, but that’s it. Just moments. Not days anymore. Just moments.

I have a very specific kind of guilt. When I get overwhelmed, I tend to disassociate. I want to disappear. Usually by mindlessly scrolling. Which means I leave my children to play independently for blocks of time, and then I feel guilty for leaving them unattended for blocks of time, for ignoring them. They usually start to whine for attention, I start to snap because I’m interrupted from my disassociating, and then everyone feels awful. So, I always feel the need to be playing with my kids, which overwhelms me and kickstarts the whole cycle all over again. Cue the guilt. Because we’re home and she had no kids to play with here, G. asks me to play quite a bit, and it all came to a head when she was constantly telling me I was doing it wrong, and changing everything I touched, and telling me what to say, what to do, how to play. I was annoyed, and told her, no. I’m not going to play if you’re constantly telling me what to do. It’s not fun for me to be bossed around. And ever since, she’s toned it down. She lets me join and actually play. It’s so much calmer, and much less tortuous than it had been. It feels wrong, to not like to play when my whole career is based on playing with children. It makes my skin itch, a little. Like sometimes is wrong. But that’s part of the issue. I don’t like to play the games that four year olds like to play.

This issue of independent play still bothered me. I still feel so much guilt for saying No, you can play alone for a while. In an intellectual, professional way, I know that long periods of uninterrupted, self-driven play is important for creativity and problem-solving and brain development, but it was so hard for me to leave them alone to do their work. As much as people knock on Instagram culture for creating unrealistic standards, it’s actually what’s really helped me. In an earlier post, I mentioned an account that I follow, and she had really settled a lot of the contradictions in my head. She laid out how she handles independent play in her house, and it made so much sense to me. She talks about setting time for connection – genuine connection – and then setting time for independence. That’s when she gets her own work done, and spends time on herself. And it makes sense to me. A lot of my children’s behaviours aren’t attention-seeking, they’re connection-seeking. By spending uninterrupted, focused time with each of the kids, they started looking at me to entertain them less and less. They still ask me to play, but they accept the boundaries a little easier when they know that it isn’t forever, that I will be available to them in a little while. And now they play. They play alone, they play with each other, but they play. The screen time detox that I set into place weeks ago has helped (and so has losing the tv remote) and they start their day off with quiet place, and I start my day off in a quiet place, instead of immediate stimulation. And they play, without constantly asking me to join or to help, or to direct. They just come in and out of play. When they need sometime from me – food, a drink, a few minutes of connection, they come, we hang out, and then they play again. It’s been liberating in a way, but there’s still residual guilt with it.

I’ve started telling myself, I can let my kids play alone. I’m not ignoring my kids and damaging my bond with my children by letting them play independently. We find new ways to do things that we both enjoy. My counsellor suggested it, to find ways to spend time together that feels comfortable for all of us. We go for walks. We colour. We snuggle and read books. We make TikToks together. But we don’t really play together. We connect in other ways. It doesn’t make me a bad mom if my kids play alone.

This is my new mantra.

Not playing with my kids does not make me a bad mom.

Not playing with my kids does not make me a bad mom.

Not playing with my kids does not make me a bad mom.

Little Fires Everywhere

We had a grass fire scare last night.

It was 8km away, on the other side of a river, but I almost panicked. I had bags packed. I had food packed in a cooler. I had all my important documents together, my external hard drive packed, chargers all together. It was all on the floor by the front door with a note taped to the door reminding me of all the things I needed to grab if I had to leave in a hurry. Then I sat and I refreshed the local question and answer page on Facebook, checking for updates, wondering how I would be told that I needed to leave and imagining what it was going to be like having to evacuate.

Of course, it was contained within a few hours and I felt like an idiot for being so freaked out.

But this is anxiety, isn’t it. Its prepping for the worst case scenario because you’re scared you won’t be able to hold it together if the worst case scenario happens. It’s being able to envision, in pain staking detail, all the ways things can go wrong. It’s remembering what happened to people you know who were caught in a forest fire, who had to leave everything behind, and being terrified that is what is about to happen to you. It’s ignoring the fact that there is 8km and a river between you and the fire, and only hearing the wind is blowing in your direction and that it hasn’t rained in weeks. It’s accepting this as your new reality and preparing yourself for it, because you are sure that you won’t be able to hold it together for your kids when the fire hits. It’s planning where you’re going to go, where you’re going to stay, how much gas is in the car.

It’s always looking for the escape route.

Anxiety is doing this with every. fucking. thing.

My new therapist talked to me about the link between anxiety and creativity. That creative people are more prone to anxiety because they are able to create entire worlds in their heads that feel as real as the world around them. They are able to imagine, in excruciating detail, exactly how everything can go wrong. When you live your life like this, how can it NOT affect you? I’m a writer. It’s what I’ve always done, it’s how I’ve processed, how I communicate with myself and with other people. I’m not so great with the talking but I can write. So it’s not surprising that I can tell myself stories all about how things will fall apart. This is the narrative that runs through my head. And I can be convincing. I had myself running around my house at 10pm taking pictures of everything I owned for insurance purposes over a grass fire that was only vaguely in my area. Who does that to themselves?!

I don’t know how to function like this anymore. I hadn’t really even thought about all the ways my anxiety manifests in my life until I started to see a new therapist. This one is a real therapist, not just a counsellor, and she’s tough. I cried a lot. She made me have an anxiety attack – on purpose – so that I could just sit with it and experience it and realize I will be okay. It was not the most positive experience. But, I’m hopeful. Still. Three therapists later, I’m still hopeful. I think. I just want a way to live like a normal person. I don’t want to fight fires any more.

Weight

She sat alone in the dark, rocking her child back and forth.
The child was heavy in her arms.
The weight felt foreign, an extension of herself that didn’t quite fit.
It had demands that she never quite felt she could meet.
Before had been easier.
The physical connection had been a reassurance, an innate confidence in his moods, his needs. Every kick had emotion, every roll an intention.
Now, the physical touch drove home the separation.
His needs were no longer hers but a mystery.
A puzzle she had to piece together.
This tiny creature loomed larger than life in the dark.
In daylight, her face and her scent were all he would accept. 
By nightfall he both desired and detested her comfort.
And she was exhausted. 

As she rocked, she thought about the child beyond the door.
The one who seemed so mature compared to the child in her arms.
The one who desperately wanted to be the child in her arms.
The one who wanted to be both grown and little, yet didn’t manage to be either.
This child had also been an extension of herself.
Their bond had had time to be nurtured, there was confidence in glances, in sounds and gestures. She was familiar and comfortable and comforting.
Until she wasn’t.
Suddenly this child had become a new entity.
One with feelings that couldn’t be processed and thoughts that couldn’t be expressed and needs that desperately needed to be met. 

And she failed her. 

Again and again she failed her. 

As the new weight pressed her down, she could feel it pushing on the child.
Sometimes the weight was too much and she pushed the child to carry it. 
Such a large burden for a child who wanted to be small. 
No matter how she tried, no matter how much of the weight she shouldered, she could not lift it completely off the child. 
So there was guilt.
So much guilt it was suffocating. 
The weight sat right on her chest.
Constricting.
Some days it was all she could do to breathe.

As she rocked, she breathed. 
Back and forth. In and out. 
She felt the weight in her arms finally relax. 
She heard laughter beyond the door. 
Tonight, she wanted to join the laughter, to find out what was hiding under all that weighed her down.
But the door was so very far away and she was so very tired.
So instead, she rocked back and forth, matching the motion to the inhales and exhales.
Looking at the light that leaked around the door.
A door that seemed like so much more than a door.
There was life behind that door, one who’s pressures she resented and who’s memory she clung to.
A life that used to be hers.
One that she may never fully find again.

The weight of that loss settled in amongst the others as she sat alone in the dark, rocking her child back and forth.
The weight of her new life.
One she was not certain she could carry.

2 week wait

Today is day 10 out of my first two week wait. I could take a pregnancy test if I wanted to.

So why don’t I want to?

Every other time we tried to get pregnant, I took so many pregnancy tests. I wasted so much money, so much time, so much anxiety on pregnancy tests. It was all I could think of, even though I know that worrying wasn’t going to change anything, and testing too early won’t help the anxiety. I knew these things, and I still took so many tests. And now this time, I don’t want to test at all. I’m too scared of the answer, no matter what it is.

When we talked about having a third child, I was all for it. I wanted another so bad. I have so many friends that are pregnant and I was so jealous, I wanted that so badly.

Now that the time is here and there’s the possibility that I could actually be pregnant… I have so many regrets. Not regrets, that’s not the word. More like, misgivings. I have misgivings.

I found a notebook I had been journaling in when I was newly postpartum with L. He was around 3 months old, and I could feel this fog of blackness just settling around me. I was numb. I read through all the words I had written and I could feel those feelings again, and all I could think was why? Why am I trying to put myself through this again? Why would I open myself back up to the possibility of that? It was so cold and so lonely, and I had so many regrets about upsetting the status quo. It took so much to find a new normal that I don’t know if I really want to fuck with that again.

Then another part of me wonders, if getting pregnant broke my brain, maybe getting pregnant will fix it. Maybe the flux of hormones will reset whatever is out of whack in there. Who knows?

So I’m just waiting. Waiting to see if my period come or not. If it doesn’t come by next weekend then I’ll suck it up and I’ll test and I’ll know for sure one way or the other. And we’ll deal with whatever the answer is. I think maybe I know what I want to happen. I don’t think I want it to happen yet. I don’t know if I want it at all. I may have made a mistake. If I have this many misgivings, it must mean that I think I’m making a mistake, right?

I don’t know if I can admit that to my husband.

I Did It

I finally made the call.

I officially start the intake process tomorrow to start seeing a new therapist, and I am fucking terrified.

The last time I went to therapy, it wasn’t great. I cried a lot, she taught me some breathing techniques, and that was about it. Then covid hit, and we went to phone appointments, and that was such a waste of my time that I faked getting better and stopped making appointments. It wasn’t a full fake, I really was making progress. G. and I were starting to bond again, I was making a point to focus fully on her and make her feel important, not like she was an afterthought behind her brother. The sun was shining again, and I was starting to feel more myself, in a way. I wasn’t raging like I had been, I was better able to calm myself. I was able to find some fun again. I actually laughed for real. My sex drive was coming back. However, I still wasn’t sleeping, I still was overeating. The further we went into the fall, I could feel myself crumbling under the weight of a challenging new classroom, the lack of sleep from insomnia and working full time with two kids, neither of whom would sleep through the night, and just general weariness. I could feel myself shutting down again, avoiding life again. I stopped contacting people – one girl at work told me she thought I really didn’t like her because I had such a hard time responding to her trying to start conversations. I just couldn’t fake it long enough to make it through basic niceties.

I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the one that no one wants to talk to because they can’t hold a conversation, or they have nothing to add. I don’t want to bring everyone down with me.

So, after talking to my husband, and after we decided to start trying for another baby, I just felt like I needed support. I don’t want to be like this any more. I’ve been noticing G. starting to act out, starting to show anxiety when she would get into trouble at school, lying about petty things, and not wanting to play, just to watch tv. All day long. This was my biggest fear come true. My depression and anxiety were starting to wreak havoc on her and that was my biggest trigger. That how I’m broken was breaking her, and that was the last thing I EVER wanted to happen. She wasn’t my happy, playful, silly little girl anymore. She was sullen, she was withdrawn, she either was over the top crazy or completely shut down. I don’t want that. I can’t have that. I miss my girl. I’m so scared that a new pregnancy – if we’re lucky enough to get another – will drag me right back into the mire. I need help keeping my head on straight so that I don’t mess up both my kids in the process.

So. Tomorrow I start therapy again. I’ve been warned by a friend that this new group of doctors I’m trying is intense, it’ll be hard work. I’m okay with that. I need hard work. I need something to show that I’m progressing. Teaching me how to breathe is great, but I need more. I want more. I’m scared of intensity but in a good way. It’ll be good for me.

Right?

Anxiety and Cheerios

It’s a quiet Sunday morning, my coffee is hot, and my kids are doing sensory play. You would think this would be a lovely little morning but my anxiety is off. the. charts.

G. keeps taking her brother’s toys directly from his hands, he’s freaking out, she’s screaming when he tries to take them back. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I tell her that she can’t take things away from him, that he has a right to play with toys too, she just keeps grabbing. If I give him something, she immediately “trades” with him so she gets the new one. It’s like she doesn’t think he’s a real person, that he’s ‘just a baby’ and so what he has and wants doesn’t matter. She is the important one. We’ve had talks about how she would feel if her friends at school behaved like this with her, I’ve done it to her (lovingly, and with an explanation after the freakout) and she just doesn’t get it. She doesn’t care. Everything is hers, and he can just deal. So I’m constantly wranging at her, telling her to stop taking things from her brother, to share, he can play too, etc etc etc. It ended with ultimatums, that if she couldn’t play nice then she couldn’t play. Makes for a real relaxing play experience.

And then he starts to eat the “sand” (ground cheerios, because I’m not a masochist hahaha) and so she does, then she gets pissy because I told her to stop eating the sand, because when he sees her eat the sand then he thinks he can eat the sand and I don’t want him to think that, the next sensory bin might not be edible. Now the powder is getting every where. You would think as an ECE I would be able to relax and see the learning in this but there’s no learning, just snacking. And messing.

Why can’t I just relax and let the play happen?! Why must I be so in control of it all the time?!

My girlfriend has been posting all this stuff on Insta, like she’s trying to start an educational mom blog there, and she talks a lot about letting go and letting experiences happen. I admire that. I want to be like that. I can’t quite get there yet. A lot of my PPD was wrapped up in the idea of control, that I needed to be in control all the time, if I lost control of the situation, of the kids, everything would fall apart on me. With my hubby being gone so much of the time, I always needed to be in control, I always needed to be on. If I let go, things would spiral and I would never be able to get things under control again.
This obviously is not what would happen, but in my mind, I needed to be on top of everything always. So now, part of what I’m trying to do is let go. Not control everything. The outcome is what it is.

It’s an especially hard pill to swallow, because I used to BE that mom. The one that let messes happen, the one that made ooblek and did science experiments, and just let it be. I remember sitting with some moms at out local Parent Link, silently judging them because they all agreed that they hated playdoh, that it was something that could be done at daycare, they hated it because it got everywhere and then they were forever cleaning it. And all I could think was Playdoh? Really? That’s where you draw your line? THAT’S too messy? They’d hate my house!

And now I hate my house 🤣 That’s a little extreme, but it is what it is. I hate that I’m not fun anymore, that I can’t let play happen. Let mess happen. They’re only little once, mess can be cleaned, blah blah blah. This is why this morning I decided I needed to let it happen.

Fuck me, it’s hard work. It feels like exposure therapy, and I’m ignoring the mess and the fighting and the crying and the eating by blogging and deep breathing. Makes sense, right?! If I can’t see it, I can’t stress about it 🤣

While I typed, the play calmed down. G. found a pot and started to ‘cook’ with the powder. L. started to just scoop it on to his body. I could see what was starting to form.

And then L. grabbed the towel I placed underneath to help with clean up (baby steps haha) and dragged the powder all over the kitchen and living room. Cue the deep breathing, pull out the vacuum. We’re getting there.