When life gets twisty…

I am almost failing my post-a-day goal! But today was a crazy one. It went something like this:

Child mentions physical concern.sick kid

Parent schedules doctor’s appointment for later in the day.

Doctor confirms concern, sends parent and child to hospital for further testing.

Parent and child go to hospital and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And get awaited-for test.

Results are positive, less extreme than feared. Medicine and follow-ups prescribed.

Parent and child return home after six hours at various medical facilities, for a quick dinner, hefty doses of intense medicine, and bed.

Waiting parent consumes wine and gives thanks for positive diagnosis, which didn’t included the very much feared surgery, or worse, the unspoken but consuming fear of a suspicion of malignancy.

Child is sleeping. Parents are fed and relaxing. Thanks are being raised for this moment, when all is well and the future is hopeful.

And an extra prayer is being sent that the doctors are right.

Sending.

Prayers.

Please, that they got it right this time.

Please.

Waiting for the rain

One of the reasons I haven’t been blogging lately is I feel as though were I to say half of the things on my mind, you’d think I was nuts.

But here’s the truth:  some days I’m too much in my own head to write.  Some days, anxiety chokes me until I can’t breathe, until I want to throw up.  It makes my skin hot and crawly, and steals my voice.  On those days all I can do is power through, be the best parent I can under the circumstances, and hope to ride it out.

And yes, I take medication, but some days it’s not enough.

To stop the shakiness and nausea I clean.  I can’t sit still.  I wander from room to room, picking up toys and shoes and balls of lint, things that on normal days would be invisible to me.  I scrub the floorboards in the kitchen and scan the ceilings for cobwebs.  I let the kids watch too much TV and help themselves to snacks.

I first began to suffer this debilitating anxiety when I discovered the lump in my breast.  Getting a clean bill of health, getting a prescription, starting a new routine of exercise and yoga and meditation all helped.  But as life went on, those things went by the wayside.   Slowly, old habits and fears crept back in — I started smoking again.  I worried that a chest pain was a heart attack, a hemorrhoid was cancer.  Since Mitzi’s diagnosis I’ve been too focused on what to do for her to think about how I felt about it all.

So here I am today.  Hands shaking, heart thumping.  Phantom worries swirl around me and I have to remind myself to breathe.  The only thing that keeps me from crawling into a dark closet is my children.  For them, I’ll stand up and breathe and help them make play dough and splash them in pool and do the best I can, all the while hoping that tomorrow will bring rain, and peace.

Time to believe?

I don’t believe in much.  I question just about everything and tend toward pessimism in most circumstances.

And yet, in the still of early mornings, I think I can believe in the mysteries of the universe, a possible God, the interconnectedness of all things, the power of a wish, and maybe, just maybe, the presence of fairies in the twilight hour of each day’s end.  I sometimes believe in fate, karma and that you can in fact influence things far away and otherwise out of your control.

So today I silently chide myself — I shouldn’t have opened my big, fat mouth.  See, yesterday I had a long chat with Mom on Grandma’s status, her upcoming surgery, the good news that was suddenly before us.  Later, I confessed to Ray, “Every time the phone’s rung this week I expected the worst.  I’m glad that’s over.”

Then today, Dad’s phone call.  Off to New Jersey.  Grandma didn’t have a good night.  They don’t know if it was a stroke, or what.  We’ll call later with news when we have it.

Shouldn’t have opened my mouth.

Then the kids, this morning, making things for Grandma to cheer her up, odd little sculptures made from cardboard tubes,  crayons, shiny stickers, construction paper, tape.  What they are, I don’t know.  But they are happy little things.  I’m pleased that the kids thought of Grandma on their own, pleased that they are the kind of kids who like to cheer up other people.  But their timing needs work.

Last year, in one of my cleaning frenzies when I was going to finally live an uncluttered life, I came across an envelope filled with the kids’ drawings and a note by me.  It was for Grandpa, unmailed, dated just days before his death.  Why didn’t I mail it?  I can’t remember.  I’m not very good at getting things out on time.

Or in time.  I gather up the kids’ newest projects.  There’s no mail until tomorrow.  Will that be time enough?

A big fall, a big reminder

Most of us parents go through life fearful of the might-bes, the things that could happen if we are not vigilant enough.  Most of us, though, do not dwell on these thoughts, because if we did we’d be sitting in a soft-edged hospital room where we could receive the help we needed.  We’d drive ourselves crazy.

I do this from time to time, if I am pre-menstrual or have had too many glasses of Pinot Noir.  I fear the worst.  I imagine horrific scenarios of disaster and disease, I am nauseated by the thoughts of losing anyone I love, especially my children.  Ray is my strength and comfort at these times, as our family optimist (yes, those who know him might be surprised by this, but he really is, for all of his gruffness, a half-full kinda guy).  He lets me fear, then grounds me, reminds me that it is, mostly, all right.

And then, there are those times when the worst almost happens, is a hair away from happening, but because God or Allah or Mother Earth Spirit decided “no, today is not the day”, that “worst” becomes a tearful miss.  Like today.

Ellie was dressing up.  She does this, a lot, like many little girls.  Her favorite thing of all her dress-up wardrobe is fancy shoes.  With three girls, we have quite a few pairs to choose from.  Sadly, they are all plastic, skiddy things, treacherous on hardwood floors.  So after lunch, here she came, dressed for the ball, proud in her three-year-old way that she got everything on where it should be, facing the right direction, and matching, thank you very much.

She started downstairs, and just as I started to admonish her: “Sit down, those shoes are too slippery–”, slip, slide and down she went.

A few full-body rolls smartly down the basement steps, the ones with no railings to stop a child from plummeting 10 feet to the concrete floor below.  Then she slid, headfirst, another half-dozen steps.  I sprinted behind her calling “It’s okay, I’m here, I’m here!” though I wasn’t anywhere near her, my beautiful daughter in danger and I could not sprint, my slippery slippers preventing me from getting all that caught up.  But maybe my voice, my presence comforted her, because she stopped herself soon enough and sat up, just as I caught her, that flat metallic taste of adrenaline in the back of my mouth, the cloying taste of  fear paralyzing me now that she was in my arms.  I caught her and held her and she said, “It’s okay, I’m okay.  That was a big bump!”

I laughed, agreed, and told her I needed to hug her for a few minutes, the fear of what might have been still heavy on my skin.  She could have twisted and snapped her neck; she could have gone off the edge and cracked her head open on the floor.  She could have been gone.

But I held her and breathed her Ellie-smell.  She did none of those things.  She is here, she is okay.  It took me a while, but I let it go.  I know can’t control what might be — I can prepare, I can be cautious, but in the end, I can’t protect my kids from everything.  I can’t always protect my kids.

You can bet, though, for the rest of the day, I made everyone sit down when descending those basement steps.

Anxiety

Over a month since my last post.  I don’t know what’s up with that.  Well, I sort of do. Thank god no one but my parents and sister read this blog!  After vacation there was a rush to prepare for the new school year.  Mitzi in first grade, Cooper in kindergarten, Ellie in preschool.  A lot to focus on.  Writing?   What’s that?

So, the enormity of what to write on this blog about being a Mom.  Shall I discuss the loss I feel and the simultaneous pride in Mitzi’s fearless venture into full-time, big kid days of first grade?  Or the confusion with Cooper’s sullen and silent kindergarten experience, full of both friends and success and secrecy?   Of Ellie’s ease into preschool, with complete sentences, printing letters and words, and this-is-who-she-is-on-her-own indpendence? The new mornings of Joanna and I, alone in the house or on errands, strange to each other, shy and awkward, like new lab partners in tenth grade biology?

Or do I wax poetic on the smothering anxiety I try to swallow every day, floored by my reality — how did I get here?  The feeling that I am an imposter, that at any moment I will be asked for ID, a high school student in a downtown bar, with nothing but a poorly crafted laminated license in my pocket.  Yes, I am not who I say I am.  I have no right to be here.   That soon I will be found out – you are no grownup!  You are no Mommy!  How dare you purport to guide and prepare these children for FUTURE?  The choking anxiety watching other parents who seem so at ease and confident and mature, not only ready but willing to adorn the mantel of parenthood that weighs so heavily on my shoulders.  Am I like them?  Are they like me?

I am thisclose to buying a pack of cigarettes, certain that smoking will ground me, remind me of who I am, what I can do. Inhaling, I will remember:  I am a writer, a poet, certainly a poor role model full of insecurities, doubts and demons that never really leave me, no matter how many lunches I pack, no matter how many orange slices I ready for sunny soccer games (How dare I parent these babies?)

This new Me, a mommy of four, scares me.  I don’t really know who she is, what she can do, where her flaws are.  And is this all I can be, should be, want to be?

Questions so large I haven’t been able to blog since summer vacation, when at least the sun and sand and low expectations allowed me the freedom to shirk my responsibilities, to return to a simpler world where I didn’t have to be the grownup, and didn’t have to know what “being the grownup” means.  We lounged and ate and slept, we played games and enjoyed, and didn’t worry about calendars and homework, lunches and playdates, conferences and committee meetings.

Do you know what it means to be the grownup?  Can you tell me?

So I avoid the writing, the questions, lose myself in reruns of CSI and a glass of wine (or two or three), and envy those who jump, who risk.

I try to breathe deeply, to relinquish a desire for control over my spinning world.  My dad, in his daily recovery as an alcoholic, reminds me of the brevity of life.  He sends in emails quotes from Buddha and daily meditations.  His anxiety is not unlike my own, I think.   I try to learn from his pain, to benefit from his road, all the while wondering if I will succumb to the same fears, temptations, regardless of what I have witnessed.  Regardless of the genetics, the hand-me-down addictions.

Then Ray comes home, late from an evening of work and professional experience.   Ray, who helps me ground myself as much as smoking or drinking, jagged edges notwithstanding.  I am not perfect; he is not perfect; I breathe and let the imperfections be.  Ray does not tell me about myself or my current condition; Ray allows me to be, wherever, whenever however I am.   A dialogue begun, certain to continue.  So I rise from my computer-facing folding chair, save this entry, and return to the things I need to do.

And pray that tomorrow the sun will rise clear and sure.

Nightmares

I had a terrible dream last night, the kind of dream that scares parents more than any other, and the dream that most of us have at one time or another. The dream came in the last sleep cycle of the morning, after my alarm had rung twice and I ignored it twice, settling back into the warmth of my husband for a few minutes before the day really began.

Four hours later I am still unsettled, the scratches of the nightmare’s fingers still hot on my skin.

I tend to have very dramatic, vivid and strange Dali-esque dreams. I always have. I usually do not have the gentle kind, the sort where kind ghosts of long-gone family and friends visit to chat, or where hopeful images of future play out over green fields and under blue skies. Perhaps I am too much a pessimist, a worrier for those. I also do not usually remember my dreams. Given their nature, that’s probably a good thing.

I am of the school who believes that dreams are our mind’s way of unraveling the mysteries of our days, the worries, fears and hopes that tangle in our thoughts without attention during our busy waking lives. I’m not sure how much I believe in the symbolism of dreams — if I’m swimming in a dream, does it have to be a metaphor for my personal struggles or fears?

I’m told that you can control your dreams, to use them to your advantage. If you have a problem you can’t figure out, focus on it before sleep and an answer will come in your relaxed mind. Or focus on those happy positive thoughts and that will be the substance of your sleeping images. I’m usually too sleepy to attempt this, most nights falling asleep with my glasses still on, a book open on my chest. But maybe I’ll try it again sometimes, anything to never have last night’s terror again.

About last night, using the dream interpretation approach. My primary job, as I see it, is to keep my family safe and healthy and whole as each one grows more into who he or she will become. I think I felt a bit of a failure yesterday in the safety department. In the hustle and fun of our early-start holiday, I forgot to put sunscreen on my fair-skinned family until just before lunch, after we’d already been outside for a few hours. Most of us got a bit sunburned, which I didn’t notice until after baths late that evening. Perhaps my dream had to do with that. My family got hurt. I failed to keep my family safe.

I woke up crying because of the awful images in that early morning nightmare. All morning I have been touching my family, rubbing a back, smoothing hair, kissing sleep-warmed cheeks, reassuring myself of their solidity. As I finish typing, the smallest arms in our house are cradling my neck from behind, their owner raining my ears with kisses, in her effort to draw me away from the computer. Who could resist this reality? I will wrap up.

A dream is just a dream. Today, even as the forecast calls for thundershowers, we are all slathered in sunscreen. Just to be safe.