Gracious heavens, y’all, it’s been nearly a year since I’ve updated. I’m so ashamed of myself. Last week I was going through an old notebook I found and found stuff I’d written about ten years ago — utterly banal stuff, like a tally of a yard sale a friend and I had in Chicago, a Christmas list, a list of books I found on Amazon that I wanted to check the library for — but it was FASCINATING to me because it was such a little snapshot of my life at that time. I KNOW I will miss knowing anything about the past year, ten years from now, but I have had a hard time working up the motivation to sit down and write. It’s been a difficult year. Let’s kick this post off with a State of the Union address.
These children are five years old. FIVE. How did that happen? We had a surprise birthday party for the fifth birthday. Probably not the best idea. This is what they looked like when they walked into the skating rink to find twenty of their family and friends yelling “surprise” at them:
Point taken: perhaps five years old is a little early for the surprise factor. They DID warm up to it seconds afterwards.
It was a GREAT party. The main reason we kept it a surprise was that we weren’t inviting their pre-school class — and I knew if we told them about the party, they would talk it up at school, and I didn’t want anyone’s feelings to get hurt about not being invited. I’m just downright uncomfortable with those all-class parties for a variety of reasons, not the very least is my crippling social anxiety. So I wimped out and just did family and close friends.
They will be going into kindergarten in August, and I do not know what to think about it. Of course I’m thrilled at the prospect of all of that free time (although, of course, I will be searching diligently for a job, since the lack of daycare needs means I can consider lower-paying jobs than I could before) but I’m also surprised to find myself uneasy about the prospect of handing them off to someone else to take care of for seven hours a day, away from me, where I can’t monitor what’s being taught or said. I KNOW, RIGHT? I sound like a crazy person. I never expected to feel like this. Justin has already started feeling uneasy about the amount of “Pink is for girls” and “boys don’t do THAT” Jack has been bringing home lately, which we can only attribute to what’s going on at pre-school, since we’re both so careful not to categorize stuff like that. We’re really getting ready to move into the territory where what’s taught at home may be in opposition to what they’re hearing from teachers or kids at school, and it makes me nervous as crap. Skills-wise, though, we’re in good shape: Emme got tired of Jack getting all of the attention for reading early and she taught herself to read. Get this: she started turning on the subtitles when she watched TV — Justin is convinced this is how she learned. However she did it — sheer force of will or dark magic powers — she can read just about anything you put in front of her, as can Jack. I am REALLY proud of this fact, even though I try really, really hard not to act like I am, because I don’t want to be one of THOSE parents, so we didn’t really say anything to the pre-school teachers about it, although the lead teacher asked at the mid-school year conference if I knew Jack was reading some words and I said, oh, yes, he can read, then bit my tongue from saying anything else. One day, when I came to pick them up, the other teacher grabbed my arm in the hallway and said, “Emme can READ.” I said, yes, yes, I know, we’re thrilled, and she said, “NO. You don’t understand, she can READ. She read every word I put in front of her!” so I have figured out that when you tell someone your four-year-old can read, they think, oh, they’ve learned some sight words. But these kids are reading freaking chapter books and WHY YES I AM BRAGGING OKAY? This is really not that astonishing — Justin and I both read early (I read at 3, Justin claims he read in utero) and while their father is a certifiable genius, I am not that smart, so, eh, this could really go either way after this point so I AM TAKING THE WINS WHEN I CAN. They’re doing well with writing, as well, though we’re about to embark on some practice on a daily basis because they’re still having trouble writing on lines and keeping their words together/apart, depending on what’s required. They grasp concepts pretty quickly (tonight, Jack explained why the moon was red during an eclipse to me which, I didn’t know or had forgotten at some point along the way HEY I SEE YOU MAKING THAT FACE AT ME) and Justin has taught them A LOT. Emme seems particularly engaged in, and quick at, math, which thrills me, because I was (and am) worthless at math. They are getting speech therapy twice a week to correct a few issues they have with some sounds, and the therapists think they’ll be on track by the beginning of the summer. And Jack finally learned how to skip. In short, I am pretty at ease with their kindergarten readiness.
When they are not being whiny or stubborn or oppositional (so, say, 20% of the time???) they are hilarious little human beings who adore each other (tonight, I heard Emme scream from the bathroom, “Jack! I’m out of toilet paper!” and in runs Jack to save the day, after which, Emme said “You’re the sweetest boy EVER”) the majority of the time and abhor each other (fisticuffs, hair pulling, hiding each other’s toys) a small minority of the time. Emme is the boss, which is one reason we are not so broken up about the idea of them being separated in Kindergarten — Mr. Jack needs to start forging his own way and making his own decisions sooner rather than later.
They giggle — a lot. Today, at lunch, while I was checking my e-mail, I heard them talking about something that led to a bout of out-of-control giggling and when I asked, “hey, what are you guys talking about,” Emme answered, “it’s okay, Mommy, you don’t need to know.” !!!!!!!!!! That means mommy probably definitely, certainly needs to know.
I ran into my friend Kristie at the thrift store tonight, and she ran out to the car to give the kids (who were waiting with me with Justin) a quarter each. When we were walking into the house tonight, their quarters clasped in their sweaty little hands, Jack started listing all of the people who give them things: Shara, Kristie, Bailey, Ms. Parrot, Miss Mary Ann, Grandma, Nisi, Pop…he said, “we have a lot of people who give us things.” And Emme said, “some people don’t have anyone to give them things,” and I was like BINGO, please freeze this moment and promise me that she is being sincere and not just saying what she knows I want to hear. We’re working so hard to get them to be grateful and realize how lucky they are. It’s so hard, in this lily-white, fairly prosperous town, to explain to them that there are other people who don’t look like they do, or who believe different things about religion, or who come from different countries or cultural backgrounds, or who don’t have as much as we do, and our job in life is to realize we are all the same and we are only who we are (and where we are) out of pure luck and we need to offer help where we’re needed.
They went to their first play last weekend: we took them to the High School’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Justin’s drama teacher from high school was in it (he’s the chair of the department there) and he took us up on stage and introduced us to the cast after the show — the kids were in AWE. Emme ADORED the show and almost never lost focus, while Jack was a little more squirmy and a bit whiny about halfway though. I think we have enough evidence to say that Emme is prooooooooooooobably going to have a flair for the dramatic.
They are lovely, loving, bright little balls of energy.
They have been in a phase for about the last year that is particularly wearing on my patience: they’re definitely pushing the envelope every chance they get, especially Emme, who seems to be acting a part in a play going on inside her head a lot of the time. (Things are going along fine. You say, Emme, go wash your hands, dinner is almost ready, and she SCREAMS back “I DON’T WANT TO WASH MY HANDS” and stamps her feet like one of the bad girl orphans in a stage production of Annie.) Jack continues to have periods of hyperactivity where it’s difficult to reason him back to normalcy — these are linked to periods when he’s particularly tired, and we did have him evaluated at the place they’re getting their speech therapy, and it all check out normal, so I’m assuming this is just…how a five-year-old boy acts, I guess? The quality they both share that I am the MOST grateful for is that, if one is acting out on a particular day, the other one reigns it in and is a model child. As long as they continue to do that, I’ll be okay.
This has been a bad season for sickness — they’ve both been sick, repeatedly, and even missed a lot of school. Emme, in particular, seems prone to upper respiratory ailments and holds on to a cough for very long periods of time. Justin feels sure that she’s got his allergies and I’m starting to agree, since her cough seems worse when Justin’s having trouble and she doesn’t really ever get sicker, and there’s no fever associated with the cough. Bless her heart, some nights she’ll cough for an hour or longer and the only thing we can do is lie there and listen.
Emme is still doing that thing where she makes mean faces at kids that she arbitrarily passes like, at the library, or in the grocery store. Her first instinct seems to be animosity. She has a lot of anger in her, I’m afraid, which makes me anxious, because I’m scared she’s picked it up from me, after this year-long episode with depression I’ve been experiencing. She’s still not being very nice to her niece, who is younger than she is, despite the lectures and timeouts after examples of bad behavior. The other day, when we were visiting our friend Mrs. Parrot on our Meals on Wheels Route, I was talking to the caregiver while keeping an eye on Emme across the room, who was trying to tell Mrs. Parrot a joke. Emme was asking, “why did the chicken cross the road” but Mrs. Parrot, who is hard of hearing, didn’t understand it was a joke, and instead of answering back, “I don’t know, why?” as Emme was clearly expecting her to, she just smiled at Emme and turned her head. Emme’s face: murderous. I was worried her feelings would be hurt but no, she was FURIOUS. I explained to her in the car that the problem was that older people sometimes have trouble hearing but it really bothered me that it made her so angry. She’s only five. I know it could be just a stage. Still, Jack seems softer, and more empathetic, and notices a lot when people are sad or upset. He also has more anxiety than she does, and is scared of odd things, like the shapes shadows make on his bedroom wall and places with very high ceilings (where did this one come from??). Of course, it seems clear to me that I have royally screwed both of our children up, which brings us to…
(Thus follows a long, dramatic passage full of navel-gazing about the past year. Feel free to skip!)
I am on what I’m pretty sure is the tail end of a pretty significant depressive episode that has lasted about eight months. I think it’s the tail end because 1. I’m actually having conversations with my husband again after months of not wanting to talk to anyone and 2. Getting out of bed has become much easier and 3. I feel as though there is a chance things might get better, eventually and 4. I was actually motivated enough to sit down and write this post.
There is no surprise to the fact that I ended up in a hole the way I did — there are plenty of factors.
- My dad died. (DUH.) This is, of course, the most significant factor, and the one, I think, that was the catalyst for pulling me down as far as I was. But before that…
- I left a job I loved and moved to a place where, it has become increasingly clear, I probably won’t find a comparable job doing the same thing. I am an incredibly anxious person, and a large part of my anxiety stems from the fact that there are terrible things that happen to people in this world that I can do nothing about. Working at a school where the poverty rate was 95%+, where I was helping kids get through high school and go on to college, helped mitigate that part of my anxiety because I felt like I was, at least, doing what I could do to make things better. Then, suddenly, I wasn’t.
- I moved to a place where I had no social network and no new job in which I would find a readily-available, pre-formed social network. Instead, my co-workers were two two-year-olds (who were routinely dissatisfied with my job performance) and there were many, many days when my husband was the first adult I talked to when he walked through the door at 5:30. That has slowly changed over the years as I became closer to my friend Shara (who I truly would be lost without) and have semi-daily phone calls with my friend Kristie (who can make me laugh on the darkest days) and made other junking friends, as well as when I made contacts via Facebook after becoming active in some community activism, but I am still fairly isolated on a daily basis.
- I am not good at stay-at-home-momming. I’m just not. In perfect circumstances, it would be a challenge for me — but depressed? I’m a horrible parent. And it’s an endless, vicious cycle, as the depression makes me impatient and aloof and angry, which I can see affects the kids, which makes me feel guilty and horrible, which makes me feel more depressed, which makes me impatient and aloof and angry…rinse, repeat.
- The reason I moved away from a city, job, and friends I loved never really materialized: the initial deal had been that my parents were going to move to Fayetteville (where my brother and his family also live) in the year after Justin and I did. My family moved far away from our extended family shortly after I was born, and never lived closer than within twelve hours of them until my parents moved back to Arkansas when I graduated from high school. I adored my grandparents and hated that I only saw them once a year. When we had the kids, the idea that they could grow up in the same town with their grandparents, uncles, and cousins, something that I had wanted so badly when I was a child, was irresistible. Unfortunately, my parents changed their plans, and though my father tried desperately to finalize the move shortly before he died, there just wasn’t enough time. We probably saw him more often than we would have had we stayed in Chicago, but it was not the close relationship that I had dreamed about — and the finality of his loss and how it related to the loss of this wish was devastating. There are a variety of reasons why, but this move did not give me the result I was expecting. I’m still grateful that I was here for his last year, but it has been difficult for me to let go of the (probably unrealistic) dream of what living in the same town with family members would look like.
- My Dad’s last weeks were excruciating. I am still having terrible flashes where I will remember him trying to tell me something, over and over, that I couldn’t understand because of the oxygen mask, or that awful night when the itching was bothering him so badly, or the even worse night where his pain was so horrible and there was nothing to do but stand beside him and cry. Will these go away? They seem to only get more and more intense, as though the months immediately following his death offered a sort of numbness and shock that protected me from the harshness of the memories. When they hit, I second-guess all of my choices, all of my reactions, and wonder and worry that there was something else I could have done to make him more comfortable or to ease his pain.
Y’all, I’m telling you, it’s been a straight-up horror show up here in my head, for a while now.
A brief presentation on how this depression has manifested itself:
- Once the kids demonstrated they could they could get up by themselves, get breakfast, and occupy themselves without killing each other, my reason for getting out of bed first thing in the morning was gone and it became increasingly difficult to get out of bed at all. Guilt was about the only thing that motivated me to drag myself up.
- I could meet the day with the best of intentions only to wilt at the first sign of argument or opposition from one of the kids, and whatever plan I had initially — to practice hand-writing, or go to the library — flew out the window and I decided it would be a “movie day” where we do nothing but watch movies and eat popcorn.
- I couldn’t talk. Like, at all. Particularly dark periods would find me saying only the words that were necessary to the kids and a handful of words to my husband.
- Many days I just wanted to sit and stare. Impossible, with two five-year-olds. Which made me irritable and angry. But then again, everything made me irritable and angry.
- I have a crippling social anxiety that I have never had before. I have never been entirely at ease in situations where I was meeting new people but these days it sends me into paroxysms of terror. In January, I decided that getting out of the house was what I needed to do and, in a fit of manic energy one day, signed up to be on a committee for the local school system and volunteered to tutor middle school kids twice a week. I quit them both within a month because being around other people, especially people I didn’t know, was making me miserable.
- I have no energy. None. No motivation. The only reason I’ve been able to keep up with the booths for the last eight months is because I feel an obligation to the folks that own the stores they’re in.
- I’ve gained about 15 pounds and nothing I’m doing is helping solve that problem. I joined a gym, both for the weight issue and also because I know exercise can be helpful to combat depression, and managed to go on a fairly regular basis for about a month. We went up to Little Rock to help mom pack up her kitchen for four days and I haven’t been back to the gym since. I know the bigger issue is diet, but, man, it’s really, really hard to eat well when you’re bummed out a majority of the time.
- The guilt of how I’ve let this mood disorder dictate my life and deprive my kids of an involved, attentive, fully-loving parent for the last eight months and the guilt of how I’ve left Justin standing on the sidelines, helpless and hurting and wondering how to help me is killing me and perpetuating the cycle of depression.
Over the past month, I’ve started to have strings of good days, rather than one good day here and there. I wake up and see blue skies, which makes the mornings where I wake up and see the hovering grey clouds all the more frustrating, because I’ve had a taste of the sunshine, I know it’s there, and I can’t figure out how to access it again. I know enough to know that my depression is primarily situational, borne out of the events of the last three years, but I know that it’s also the result of a hormonal or chemical imbalance because 1. this runs in my family 2. I’ve experienced it before and 3. there is probably some degree of perimenopausal depression going on here because, hey, I’m of that age. Now that I’m starting to feel more energized and motivated, I’m going to schedule an appointment for some blood work and Justin is talking to some contacts from work to get the names of some counselors I can choose from. I want to start going back to the gym, and if I can manage that (they have a little kids’ area that the kids really like), and I can start talking to someone on a regular basis, and make sure there’s nothing in the blood work that requires medication, I THINK I will be back on the path to blue skies the majority of the time. And the fact that I can even type that sentence tells me that I have made progress, hoo boy, have I made progress, because even a month ago that was not my outlook on life.
As I said, I have gone through depression before, long before I had kids, and it was horrible, but it is so much worse now that I have two little people of whom I am the sole person in charge. The weight of that crushes me on the bad days. But let me be clear: I am LUCKY. I have a nice house, plenty of food to eat, a husband who does everything within his power to support me, I am safe, my kids are safe. I can’t stop thinking of people going through this who are struggling financially, or who have serious health issues, or whose spouses have serious health issues, or…the list is endless. I’m focusing on the positive. I’m glad I’m to a place where I am able to focus on the positive.
I hope this isn’t too personal and too dark of information to put on here — but I felt an explanation was needed for what the past year has held and once I started writing it kind of just came out. I hope that things are on an uptick and there will be much more about the kids and much less about me from this point forward! My goal is to start updating regularly, so now that I’m over the hurdle of the first post in a year, I’ll try to make that happen.
As always, thanks for reading. Especially if you made it this far. 🙂