Follow-up on my last post

I meant to spend a little time responding, in my last post, from the former magazine editor in me. I was annoyed by two things: a) the “Growing Movement” part of the MC article headline, and b) the pictures of empty cribs, swimming pools, and (especially) the abandoned teddy bear on the floor…

Having been at many a headline-writing meeting, I have witnessed those moments when the splashiest words and phrases are chosen for headlines, for the obvious reason that they attract readers. So I am always a little bit skeptical of them, and often annoyed by the stigma and fear they can unnecessarily create.

Is there really a “growing movement”? The writer claims: “The movement got its (arguable) start nearly 10 years ago when Corinne Maier, a French psychoanalyst, writer, and mother of two in Brussels, wrote candidly about her own regret inNo Kids: 40 Reasons Not to Have Children.” I like that she says “arguable.” That’s laudable. Is there really a movement? Or are there just more outlets for people to express their thoughts and feelings publicly (as evidenced by the Facebook page the article references)? Perhaps it’s one and the same, but I guess it rubs me the wrong way when a conversation about a topic as sensitive as this is undermined by a somewhat exploitative headline.

(I might be more testy lately, however, because of recent headlines and news coverage of “3-Parent IVF,” which makes me see red. But that’s another story.)

The photos only underscore the headline. They are laughably over-the-top. They look like scenes from kidnappings. Again—caricature undermining exploration.

But just to contradict myself a little, I do think that although the article rightly focuses on the mothers’ point of view, it is important to remember the point-of-view of the children, as well, in an exploration of this topic. It would have been good to hear more about what happens to children, emotionally and psychologically, in these situations—and not just through staged photographs.

But perhaps that is an article for another sort of magazine, like Psychology. 

I used to write a lot of short stories about children with unavailable parents, or parents who behave like children. People who knew my parents were bewildered by the sheer volume of stories I wrote including parent-characters such as these. “But your parents are so nice!” they would say. And for a long time, I didn’t understand it, either. Why was I so obsessed with this kind of parent? I knew plenty of people who had dealt with parental situations that, from the outside, seemed far more damaging. Where was my obsession coming from?

It took me years to understand that although my parents were, by any standards, invested and loving parents, they were often very self-involved, and I was often left to parent myself when it came to difficult issues. They knew how to handle parenting at a certain level, but once things became more complicated—in short, as I grew into a young adult—they really didn’t, and still don’t. (Case in point: when my mom was vocally really, really upset that the hotel hair dryer wasn’t working, on the morning that the embryo that became S was scheduled to be transferred into my uterus. She couldn’t stop complaining about it and how her hair looked. Even on such an important day for me, she was worried about her hair. On the other hand, she was there.) I have forgiven all of the crazy things that have happened over the years, and accepted that my role was and is that of leader, problem-solver, parent to myself and to them (although I now absent myself from most involvement in their life decisions).

These were, are, good parents. They did the best they could. I know that now. And they loved me and did not regret becoming parents (at least I don’t think they did!) at any point. They saw being mother and father as their primary roles in life.

If someone like me can be so deeply affected by her parents’ shortcomings—parents who were affectionate and wanted to be parents—I can only imagine what happens to the child whose parents regret having her altogether, or who have to force themselves to love her.

It is said that we fetishize children in our culture, and we fetishize childhood. Fair enough. But as adults we are right to protect children as much as we can from unnecessary psychological pain and suffering. We call them innocent because they are. We call them pure because they are. I make no excuses for my views on this. I witness it every day in my son and in his friends.

Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality”–I fell in love with that poem in college. I think I fell in love with it at that time because I was only nineteen years away from whence I came, so to speak. As you probably know, it is a poem about being born out of immortality into mortality, and how, the closer you are to that birth, the more able you are to see the world as beautiful, bathed in “celestial light.”

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:/ The Soul the rises with us, our life’s Star,/ Hath had elsewhere its setting,/ And cometh from afar…(Read the whole poem here.)”

I have thought of this poem often, since S’s birth. We call him our Starman, and we tell stories of his coming from afar, from the stars, and we do the “Starman Handshake,” pressing our fingertips to one another’s, forming a circle, and going, “Neeeee, yay!” before we eat. When I forget to do it, S reminds me, sticking out his index finger. He knows what we’re doing. He more than any of us understands this form of prayer, of grace, because he is pure being, a present-moment master. His eye catches on this and that throughout dinner—what we call distraction—because of his innate unfettered fascination and ability to see beauty. There is innocence in this ability.

I think all children are born Starpeople. They will learn soon enough what the messed-up deal is, here on Earth.

Maybe some year down the road a child can learn about and handle the regret their parents had after she was born.  But not while she is young.

It is important for the regretful parents to find a place to be honest about their feelings and process them, but they do not need to crush their kids while doing so. Thanks, commenters, for making such a point of being vocal on this front!

Process, yes, try to heal and maybe even move on, yes, but don’t do so at the expense of your children’s sense of love and security. Therapy is a good place for processing. Public pronouncements that your children can easily find are not a good idea.

This post became much longer than I expected! Speaking of headlines, I’m going to delete “Quick” from before the word “Follow-up” in my own headline now.


My response to “Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids” and “Why Parents Hate Parenting”

First of all, thank you for replying, responding to the “Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids” Marie Claire article. For easy reference, right here:

And you might also want to check out the I Regret Having Children Facebook page, here:

I am also going to reference “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” here:

When I stumbled upon the Marie Claire article, I immediately thought of the moment, not too many years ago, when one of my best friends, a mother of twins, told me about the article “Why Parents Hate Parenting.”

We were standing in her kitchen in Wyoming. I was not yet on my rollercoaster ride of infertility and pregnancy loss, but I was yearning for a child and family life. She and her husband quoted the article—“I love my children, I hate my life”—nodding their heads emphatically, saying that it was true for them and for so many of their parent friends. They weren’t saying they regretted parenthood, but they were saying that they were exhausted and depressed. “It’s a depressing kind of life,” my friend said. “You have no freedom and you are just worn down to the bone.”

I nodded, but I was so completely in opposite territory that I could not understand what she was saying. I knew she had always yearned to be a mother and I wanted her to imagine how bleak she would feel if she thought she would remain childless forever. It was my biggest fear and I worried I would have to confront it head on. Which, of course, I did, in a more dramatic and traumatic way than I could have even imagined.

Now that I’m a mother, I understand the exhaustion. The lack of freedom. The depression resulting from near-constant delayed gratification. The niggling fear that I might not ever get back to fulfilling my own goals to my satisfaction. But I was so recently on the brink of childlessness, facing a future without family life, entering the bleak (to me) future of growing older without children, that I can still feel the chill of it. And I know that the bleakness would have robbed me of far more than the exhaustion of caretaking does.

In “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” there is an exploration of different kinds of happiness. When parents were studied in an effort to assess their moment-to-moment happiness, they were found to be unhappy—less happy than their childless counterparts. But when they were studied in an effort to understand more existential matters, “like how connected they felt, and how motivated, and how much despair they were in (as opposed to how much stress they were under),” they were not found to be less happy at all. Psychologist Gilovich says: ” ‘Should you value moment-to-moment happiness more than retrospective evaluations of your life?’ He says he has no answer for this, but the example he offers suggests a bias. He recalls watching TV with his children at three in the morning when they were sick. ‘I wouldn’t have said it was too fun at the time,’ he says. ‘But now I look back on it and say, “Ah, remember the time we used to wake up and watch cartoons?” ‘ The very things that in the moment dampen our moods can later be sources of intense gratification, nostalgia, delight.”

And that is the distinction for me, the one between my daily life and my existential life. My daily life can be a grind, but my overall life has more meaning and purpose for me now. The bond between my son and my husband and me is fulfilling on a higher level–the level that breeds deep gratification and nostalgia and delight.

Like so many commenters on my last post say, I, too, have moments when I just need a freaking-fracking break. I don’t want to stop being a mom. I want to spend a few days regaining my mental bandwidth, letting my mind wander and my body do whatever it wants to do, whenever…

Like right now. My DH and my 21-month-old son are visiting S’s paternal grandparents for five whole days. This is the longest S and I have ever been apart; we’ve been apart for only one night and day before now. I bawled after saying goodbye to him at the airport. I sat in my car and cried harder than I have in a long, long time.

But during the drive home from the airport, Led Zeppelin came on. I turned it up. I turned it up some more. I was not listening to “Hello, Everybody” or “The Sad Little Puppy” from our Music Together CD, music that brings delight to my toddler and delight to me really only through him (as proven by the fact that I pop that sucker out the first second I get into the car on my own). I was listening to chaotic adult music. And it felt so good. And it was so, so loud. I was scream-singing and car-dancing. I did this alllllll the way home. Then I got inside my house and downed a GF beer. I turned on a rom-com with lots of curse words and sex in it at four in the afternoon. I had potato chips and waffles and wine for dinner. I fell asleep in my clothes and slept in until 10 AM.

It was glorious.

When I woke up, I stared at the ceiling and simply let my mind wander. Ahhhhhhh….

Then I deep-cleaned the entire house. This sounds lame, but it gave me the sweetest of pleasure. Usually I go around the house, seeing the same damn things I want to clean or put away, and I don’t—not because I am lazy but because I physically can’t. Because I have a toddler on my hip, or I have only five minutes, or S poops, or S cries, or, or, or…something. And so I look at the same irritating whatever week after week after week, and it grinds on me, even though I tell myself to relax.

But some messes are dangerous to a toddler. Sometimes I have to clean or straighten or put away right that second because it isn’t safe to leave x, y, z lying around.

For the past few days, I have left plastic bags just lying around, and it has given me such pleasure. Or I have put things on the table—recipes, ingredients, equipment—with no fear that S will find his way up onto a chair to steal them, throw them on the floor, or ingest something he shouldn’t.

I know that when I return to a room, everything will be where I left it. It’s…incredible. Endorphins flow.

As a parent, the moment-to-moment is filled with hazards to protect your child from, tasks that must be done right then, multiple conflicting demands—should I clean up this syrup or play trains with him? Should I give DH my ear or get the soup started? Should I change the poopy diaper now or sneak in this phone call to the pediatrician? How can I do yoga and stretch in a way that is entertaining for S? If I figure that out, then I won’t be so cranky carrying him around today, and that’s important, right? Should I allow myself a break by turning on that screen or cuddle with him and a book? And on and on and on.

So it makes sense to me that the moment-to-moment would feel sucky to most women. And I do mean women

From the Marie Claire article: “For many countries, raising a family still constitutes a vast landscape of unpaid work that falls almost wholly on women’s shoulders. It’s a societal infrastructure that innately depends on women cheerfully embracing the experience, even if every impulse tells them otherwise….Here in the U.S., a lot has shifted professionally in the last few decades—women are now expected to lean in both at work and at home, never missing a board meeting or ballet recital. A 2015 study found that American mothers now spend 13.7 hours a week with their children, compared to 10.5 hours in 1965–even though a significantly larger percentage of mothers also now work outside of the home. The combination, for many, is exhausting….’Today’s mom is a domestic throwback to the ’50s, combined with the ’80s-era working mom,’ says Avital Norman Nathman, editor of The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality. At every stage, she says, there are expectations for the right way to mother. ‘Because of this, it’s really hard for women to speak out about their horrible experiences, from a miserable pregnancy to a bad birth, because you’re supposed to be this loving, glowing Mother Earth person,’ she explains. ‘It doesn’t leave much room to process actual feelings.'”

And this is the important point for me. We must leave room for women to process their actual feelings, whether we feel the same or not. Because perhaps through processing, real healing can occur—which can only benefit both the parent and the child.

It’s also important to remember the larger political, cultural context of parenting. From “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” re: the parenting landscape in Scandinavia:”If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)—well, it stands to reason that your own mental health would improve….’We’ve put all this energy into being perfect parents,’ says Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, ‘instead of political change that would make family life better.””

Okay, I’ll leave it at that, for now. I’ve got to run home and squeeze in another rom-com, after a day spent at the gym, and dallying at vegan restaurants and Victorian cafes and vintage kitchen shops. A lovely day. But a video of my son’s beautiful face just popped up on my phone, smiling so brightly as he plays piano at his grandparents’ house, and I have to say that although I don’t miss him, exactly, I grin at the thought of kissing his soft cheek again and feeling his little monkey arms around my neck.



“Inside the Growing Movement of Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids”

Dear Readers,

Really curious to hear your thoughts on this article…



At least I am the smiling sun

Everyone knows motherhood is not all yummy feelings and beautiful moments. But it’s so much harder (read: less fun) to write about the times that challenge the soul. But I’m going to now…

I was REALLY looking forward to working out Tuesday morning. Scheduling Childwatch at the gym has been a pain in my arse (childwatch full, or they’re not open, etc.) and that combined with my parents’ visit and S’s series of long drawn-out colds, I haven’t worked out in almost 3 weeks. This makes me feel achey and exhausted and puffy. Working out regularly = happier me, better mama and spouse and person in general.

So I was all set to take S to the gym with me Tuesday morning because he really did seem all cleared up Monday—a little stuffy, but fine. He woke up crying and and didn’t want me to put him down. I knew he hadn’t had very much to eat Monday night, so I thought he was just very hungry. When he’s really hungry, breakfast is tough because he wants to be in my arms, and if he’s in my arms I can’t cook! And it’s tricky getting anything into him, even cereal, when he’s in this mode. I try to reason with him (silly mama), but he cries and wants me…while his tummy growls loudly. Once his tummy is full, he perks up and is happy and no longer needs to be held by me so much.

So I thought that’s what was going on. But he was extra-upset so I broke down and put on a train documentary (the history of steam trains, a scratchy black-and-white, my retired gentleman-toddler train afficionado’s favorite) so I could make something for him. But as the eggs were cooking, he runs into the kitchen and screams for me to pick him up. I say, “Please be patient, mama is cooking,” and that’s when he throws up on the floor. I scoop him up, talking to him, and feel his belly churning. The eggs start to burn just as he throws up over my shoulder, all down my back.

These are the moments we do not capture on Facebook! Eggs burning, vomit in my hair and down my back and on my toddler, who is crying so hard he is gagging.

What to do first?

Turn off eggs. Talk to toddler. Wipe his face, his eyes, hug him. Notice that the vomit is all clear water and mucous. See if it is a matter of his having an empty stomach—stomach acid + post-nasal drip from his cold = throw-up—and try to offer him some little bits of things to see if he eats them. No, no, no. Hysterics.

We both smell foul. I try to take off my shirt one-handed while holding wailing toddler. I try to take off his shirt gently. I say to myself, “Stay calm.”

So, after the drama, my little boy falls asleep fast and hard on my chest, reminding me of our newborn-couch days.

When I finally put him in the crib, I call the gym to cancel my workout.


I think I might finally have the time to make breakfast cookies (it has been so hard to feed S before preschool, and healthy cookies will help) and after I make the beds, put stuff away, make myself look somewhat presentable, allowing myself to wear the same stretch pants I wore to bed last night and have not yet taken off (everyone does this, right?) I start in on the cookies, just in case he has a quick recovery and can go to school Wednesday.

And then he wakes up.

You get the picture. Everything I tried to start, I had to stop at a midpoint. I want to take good care of him, but because we are on a strict budget, I have been planning our meals down to the penny and that means I cannot let food go bad, or miss making a particular recipe at the right time. I had planned on doing my crucial make-aheads for breakfasts and lunches for both S and DH, but I could not. S needed my arms…all day long…

It IS beautiful and I DO have yummy feelings about my baby boy needing me so much.He was so run down and agitated. My number-one job was to hold him.  But sometimes I really need to accomplish my own goals, even if that goal is simply making a batch of breakfast cookies. Not just because of the budget, but also because I am an adult human being whose brain is wired to release endorphins when goals are accomplished. I am pretty much putting aside my goals all the time, not just when he is sick. But I felt an extra layer of guilt that I was feeling impatient, my brain tugging me toward other things, while he was sick.

Still, I did put all aside and took my boy out into the industrial area behind our house, where the trucks and bulldozers were hard at work, and we could watch them from a safe distance at a picnic table. He has only seen them after-hours, when they are still. Watching them scoop dirt and skid through rocks and pour out cement was endlessly fascinating to S and the best therapy for him.

And I was so, so bored.

This is one of the things no one talks about much—the boredom. You want to be interested in what your 21-month-old is interested in, but after a while, you just aren’t. Because you are not even close to being a 21-month-old boy but are instead a forty-two-year-old woman.

There are times when I look at the book he has brought me—the one about trains, the one about trucks—and my heart sinks. Once, I said to him wearily, as he brought me the 100 Vehicles book, “Oh buddy, I’m sorry, I don’t think I can read that one again right now,” and he understood. He went, “Hmmm,” looked at the book, wore an expression that said he was processing his minor disappointment, and then went back to the shelf and selected another book for me to read. I was floored. Communication! Putting aside his desires for mine! I gleefully read the new book to him—one that involved a storyline! characters! relationships!—and thanked him for his compromise.

As soon as we’d finished, he went to the bookshelf and selected 100 Vehicles again. “Lap, lap,” he said, coming toward me, and plopped down in my lap. “Vrrrrummmm!”

Anyway, by Tuesday afternoon, I was a little worn down. He was not able to nap during his afternoon nap time. I look forward to nap time, particularly on days when he is very dependent on me, with the same sort of anticipation you feel when you are about to go on vacation. Smaller scale, but similar. Even if that vacation involves running around cleaning, high-speed cooking/baking, or staring at a television show while feeling somewhat depressed that you are watching TV during the day. (One day, he will not nap at all. This is something I choose not to think about.) I was measuring flour for cookies, listening to This American Life, feeling my brain neurons turn back on, when I heard the first cry.

“Mamaaaaa! MAMA!!!”

Defeated, I answered his call.

That evening, I was trying to get him to eat a pouch of pureed salmon because with his cold, he wouldn’t eat his usual foods. He had barely eaten a thing all day. He refused the pouch, too—but not before he saw the picture on the front of the smiling sun.

He pointed to the glowing sun with the smile on its face, which was smaller than a dime.

“Mama,” he said, with such warmth and affection, pointing to the pouch’s smiling sun. “Mama,” he said, pointing to me. Back and forth, pouch, me. Mama, mama. To him I am the smiling sun.

He has done this before, without prompting. With a playing card featuring a smiling sun. With a smiling-sun wooden chair at a local Mexican restaurant.

I thought in that moment that if I am the smiling sun to him, I must be—even in  my weariness and impatience—doing something right.

The bigger challenge was Wednesday. I had been looking forward to Wednesday with fervor because I knew it was going to be my only me-time this week, due to all sorts of dr appt obligations and so on. Except it wasn’t. Because in the night, S woke up with a fever. He did not go to preschool Wednesday.

In the night, around 1 a.m., I scolded my husband for not knowing the second he picked up S that he was, in my words, “on fire” and needed Ty.lenol for fever for sure. I know the difference, the second I touch S, between a low-grade fever and a high one, and I was alarmed that my husband didn’t. (Particularly since he is going to Florida alone with S soon.) DH had been holding S for a while, S wailing and moaning, and he was not doing anything about it. Nothing was done until I woke up and dashed in. DH was furious with me for getting upset with him and the next day he sent me an email saying he did not understand my behavior, that we should have been a team.

How to explain the frustration I feel that he is simply… NOT me?

I never apologized, but I should have. Instead, in response to his email, I wrote back, “Please leave me alone. I can’t talk right now.” You know, some more A+ spousal behavior.

S woke up many, many more times in the night. I think I got a total of two hours of sleep. I was an absolute wreck the next day. That’s what I’ll blame my lame email on.

So I spent another long day with my toddler on Wednesday, my me-time spent in cortisol-land. He was crying so much, and almost nothing I did pleased him. On top of that, he was very out-of-character, being aggressive with me, pulling my glasses off my face, pushing me away, butting his head into my groin, digging his fingernails into my finger pads. Obviously he was incredibly frustrated by his cold symptoms, which had resurged big time. His fever came back off and on. I tried not take any of it personally and I didn’t, at least not consciously, but it’s difficult not to have some reaction. Unconditional positive regard, Winnicott’s holding environment—I know them well. But I felt pushed to the brink.

At a certain point, I tipped over that brink by bending over the kitchen counter and letting out an “Ahhhhhhhh!” I’m not proud. S heard me, and he started crying louder. Not A+ mother behavior. He came running, probably scared (I’m so sorry, buddy!), into my arms.

I was not compared to a smiling sun that day, but we did get through it. I held him a lot, danced with him gently through the rooms, which seemed to soothe him. I also jetted at dinner time to go get my hair done, and although I was worried about him, I was also glad to talk to another adult and read a book and just zone out. When I got back, he did not seem happy to see me. His last interaction with me, on the cushions in his nursery, was one of agitation, pushing me away. I kissed his forehead and told him I loved him so much and I hoped he slept well.

And he did.

This morning, there was my son again. My smiling son.

“Mama?” he said, confused, and I gathered his soft sweetness into my arms.

He is better. He was okay enough to go to preschool, and they said he had a great day. They said he is learning to set boundaries (he’s so small and gets knocked around a lot). I loved seeing his dirt-covered face as I walked up. He was playing with another boy. He was telling him something, going on and on, like I had never seen him talk to another kid. The other kid was listening intently. Then they climbed up on something and both fell back into the grass at the same time, going, “Woah!” A game, apparently, they had been playing.

And today, right now as I type, he is finally napping.

Now he is crying my name.

It’s time to scoop him up again.

And forgive myself for the past two days, for being human.





A visit from his grandparents: Some things I don’t want to forget

I don’t want to forget how he smiled when he saw my mom and dad for the first time through our living room window.

How he took them each by hand, Ma-Maw to the right, Pa-Paw to the left, and immediately took them into his room.

Four whole precious days with their undivided attention.

I don’t want to forget how my dad, heavier and creakier now, would never refuse S when he asked him to get down on the floor, to carry him, to run with him.

“Pap-pow!” he calls my dad. “Mah-muh-ow,” he calls my mom.

How intimate he is with both of them, leaning close to their faces when they hold him, grinning and murmuring and giggling.

He must have shown them his Classic Trains train-enthusiast magazine at least fifty times. He never gets tired of it. And my parents were so easy-going and gentle, flowing with him wherever he went, whatever he wanted to do, and just looked and looked at that train magazine with him.

“Psshhh!” he says, imitating the trains brakes. “Choo-choo!” “Whooo-ooo-wooo!” “Trip-trap-huff-puff”—train going up a hill. And of course my very favorite: “Balla-booooor!” (All aboard!). “Balla-boor!” All day long. His love of trains is absolutely epic.

I don’t want to forget how he started talking so much more after they arrived. How his sweet little face takes on that serious look of concern as he tilts his head side to side and “talks”—a long stream of sentences made up of sounds that are probably exactly what we sound like to him sometimes. “Bashuh-shuh dolla badabidah, abeeya, abeeya-ya-eeya-eeya.” Impossible to capture on a recording or in typed words.

How he takes books off our “adult” shelves and sits down beside us to read them. “Hmm,” he says with delighted anticipation. And then he reads aloud—“Abeeya-beeya-taka-do,” tilting his head back and forth. He takes down Creative Visulation and Thich Nhat Hahn’s True Love and Zen and the Art of Meditation many times a week. He is particularly attached to Creative Visualization, fascinated by the 70s cover featuring women in headdresses. One morning he wanted me to read him John Hawke’s Travesty, a dark, dark wicked book, and one night he wanted  me to read to him How to Talk to the Disoriented Old-Old for his bedtime story.

He asked my parents to read him countless books over the past four days. “Buk! Buk!” Pointing. Getting Caw-Caw (his blankie). Settling in.

At the Chinese restaurant last night, he was in rare form, cracking us all up, going from the seat beside me to the seat between his grandparents. He’d climb into their arms and make them laugh so hard. Dancing, tickling them—“teedle, teedle, teedle,” he says, gently tickling them. Saying their names in his gravelly monster voice: “Ma-Maw! Pa-Paw!” Eating three fortune cookies and stealing all of my poor dad’s food. Climbing behind me on the booth and hiding there, his high-pitched delirious giggle.

We went out into the empty industrial park toward the “terts!”. Trucks. The bulldozers and frontloaders and whatnot in a fascinating construction site, after all the workers had gone home. The bright white moon above. My dad, who is an expert in the construction industry, telling my boy the names of each. The two of them had raced there, to the terts, across the deserted parking lot, S’s little arms pumping. (He slowed down and reached for my hand when it was time to cross the street–he learns so quickly.) “Mun!” he said, pointing to the moon. “Ball!” Yes, the moon is a ball. “Terts!” He is a boy through and through, nothing more fascinating to him than vehicles and machines and dirt and rocks.

At the bookstore, he had taken down a book all about trucks, drawing in his breath and running over to where we sat to show us. Then he went and got three more—of the same book! So all four of us could have the same book and we could all read along. He’d point to the different vehicles and I’d read aloud the names. He pointed so quickly I could barely keep up.

Under the white moon in the pink sky a the construction site, my dad climbed up onto the bulldozer’s tracks (illegally, I’m sure) and showed S the inside where the gears are. He called for his Ma-Maw, and so she climbed up, too. They’re always game, my parents. I have countless shots of them wearing crazy Asian basket-hats at a thrift store to make S laugh.

“Lemur-lemur-lemur-le-ma-le-ma-le-ma,” he calls out when it is time to snuggle. And my parents would lie down with him and Lemur-Lemur, Oowa, Kitty Meow-Meow, and Groves (Grover), and he’d tell all of them all about his day. He’d grunt and struggle over the mountain of pillows to get to my dad, and happily burrow down right beside him, inside the curve of his arm. “Pa-Paw,” he’d murmur sweetly, full of love and relief.

I always want to capture it all. I always have this feeling of not wanting to forget one thing. But it is impossible to capture and document it all. I’ll leave it at that, with gratitude for having been able to live it.





Leaves in the baby pool, tiger chasing train

The end of summer, the beginning of fall. It was a little chilly when I took Mr. S to the pool yesterday afternoon, a few brown leaves floating on the surface of the water. But we stayed in there for over an hour anyway, S getting out the usual pool toys from the container—car after car, truck after truck, watering cans and buckets to give them showers and baths.

I put him in his little floaty vest. I draped my arms over a tiny raft and frog-legged around the baby pool. It was just the two of us. It was one of those rare times when I felt absolutely at ease. All around us, people were sunbathing, reading, leisurely swimming. I had a distinct sense of being in the easy flow of life.

Over the past week, S has been tipping onto his tummy, sticking his legs out like I do, and floating beside me . “Ahhhh,” we both say in unison. “Ahhhhh, ahhhh.”

And now the daredevil is tipping onto his back, too, giggling and squinting up at the sun as he floats. Much shorter time than he floats on his front, but I can tell he enjoys the thrill.

Yesterday, he made another leap. Blowing bubbles. I put my lips to the water and showed him–close your mouth, blow like you are blowing into a harmonica.

That did it for him. He blew like he does into his instrument. And there he had it—bubbles!

He makes a sound when he blows bubbles. He starts making it even before his lips touch the water.

God, it was beautiful, floating and blowing bubbles with him yesterday. I felt as though we were suspended in time.

“Bubbles!” he exclaimed. He climbed onto my back and we floated some more. Mama whale and baby whale, just like I used to imagine us when I was swimming during pregnancy.

He has a poster now on his wall of a mama dolphin and baby dolphin, right over his crib. He does the sound for fish—kiss, kiss—every time he sees it.

At home, we listened to classical music. His eyes grew round and his lips parted when the music swelled. Every time the music swelled, he looked at me and clapped his little hands so hard. “Yay!” he said. “Yay!” Then he listened some more.

What would it be like to hear that sound for the first time–the swell and drama of classical music?

At home, we dove onto the new bedspread on our king-sized bed, which is golden yellow. “Yellow!” I called out. “Lo-lo!” he replied. We rolled back and forth, tickling and laughing and singing out yellow.

Then out to the wooden train table and countless wooden trains. We lined them up by color. We raced blue trains and red trains. I got plastic tiger and chased the trains down the track. I thought he would pass out from laughing. “Roar!” I said, clop-clop-clopping the tiger after the trains. And if I stopped, he’d do sign language for “more” and say the word more—which, when he says it, sounds like, “Muh-ine, muh-ine.”

I can’t seem to keep in mind the new words he says. It’s like they evaporate from my memory. And then when he says them again, I go, Oh yeah, he can say that now, I forgot!

And he can understand everything. Everything.



Preschool, coffee shop, trains

I am sitting in a coffee shop while S is at preschool, trying to find direction. It’s been so long since I’ve had time to let my mind wander, time to tackle my to-do list, time to be creative, that I don’t know where to start. I start to do one thing, hop over to another, watch the clock. This is only my second coffee-shop day, so I haven’t yet found my rhythm, but I will.

I feel ridiculously lucky and privileged. I will soon enough have to begin working again, at least part-time, but for now, I can do things like write a blog post.

Things continue on an upswing. It is no surprise to me that studies show that moving homes is one of the most stressful life experiences, after death and divorce. Disruption to routine is no joke! And disruption of resources. We moved in mid-Feb and in mid-June, and two and a half months after the second move, I still have to remind myself every morning, “You’re home.”

Good people around here. Down-to-earth. Friendly. Can have substantial conversations. Being a native Midwesterner, I definitely do feel at home. Having lived in Brooklyn for about a decade, I look around and see city folks who look like people I could hang out with. I also sometimes hear the slight Appalachian twang and see the beards and flannels that remind me of my childhood and college days. I keep having to pinch myself. Are we really here? Have we found our long-term home? The place where S can grow up, make friends? Where we can form a community?

I realize that things have seemed unstable for so long!

The last step in stability is finding a home we can purchase and just lay down roots. We are loving many things about the house we’ve rented, but it’s becoming increasingly important that our home is our own.

The separation from S on the first day of preschool was bittersweet, of course. My boy. My sweet, sweet little boy. He cried and reached for me, his face bright red, his mouth opened wide and crooked, exactly how he looked the second he was born.

He settled into the teacher’s lap and that’s where he stayed whenever he was outside. Inside, they told me, he enjoyed the elaborate organic snack (around a long table, with candles!), and played with the others, but outside, he needed a lap to nestle into or a hip to cling to. At least for now.

When I picked him up, he smelled of sweet essential oils and organic baked goods. I couldn’t stop breathing him in!

He was very remote and quiet at first, but once we were driving home, he exploded in song. It’s quite possible that I have never seen him so exuberant. Laughing, joking, flirting with me. His fantastic mood continued into the night, and we all three were rolling on the floor with laughter, or running like wild people after one another through the house.

I think the stimulation of preschool opened him to another level of happy.

DH gets S talking about his day by bringing out “Kitty Meow-Meow” and asking S questions in a high-pitched voice. Oh, the babbling S does in response, imitating our inflections, talking in sentences and questions in pre-words! It’s something I wish I could bottle. I can’t seem to capture much of it with a recorder.

I can see him changing. Expressing himself more and more clearly, his unique personality emerging.

I see so much of myself in him. Doesn’t matter that he is a donor egg babe, this boy is so my son.

I see myself the most in his dramatic antics. His hamming it up. He struts. He cocks his head. He runs and squeals, casting flirty looks over his shoulder. He nods exaggeratedly, with coy smile. He tickles me constantly, going, “tiddle-tiddle-de-la-de-la-la-la.” He puffs out his chest and belts out a phrase of a song so exactly that I stop in my tracks. He talks to himself as he plays with his trains, cars, stuffed animals, beginning to give them voices, beginning his long, long life of imaginative play. He takes his crayons and draws wild, expressive lines and circles and dots. “Dot-dot-dot! Dot-dot-dot!” he cries, dotting the page all over with bright color. This boy is in love with life. He is such a tiny person (5th percentile!) with the biggest life force.

But I also see myself (and DH) in him when it comes to his quieter, observant, thoughtful side. He still likes to go to the edge of a yard, room, playground, whatever it is, to see the perimeter, get a lay of the land, observe its goings-on, before delving in. He watches other  kids interact with quiet fascination. He studies the paths of ants and other insects—“bee, bee,” he calls them all—and if an ant crawls on his hand, he doesn’t flick it away, he watches it crawl and goes, “Hmmm,” as if to say, Wow, look at this.

Hmmm, is a big one. Yep, Nope, Hmmm. He gets the Hmmm from me.

He puts his little arms around me and pats my shoulder. “Mama,” he murmurs, utterly content. He presses his forehead to mine and whispers my name. I hope he never, ever, ever stops doing this.

We got teary, DH and I, after he went to bed. Thinking of how wonderful it is to see him grow into himself. But we were also hit with that slight panicky feeling. His babyhood is really now gone, and his toddlerhood will probably go by as quickly.

The other day in the store, he saw one of those collector-edition train magazines over my shoulder and his eyes popped out of his head and his legs started jiggling and he did that giant intake of breath. “Oh my gosh, what is it?” I asked. And then I turned and saw it. Of course bought it. The magazine is half his size (literally) but he wants to take it with him everywhere. He loves to look at the old black-and-whites of old steam trains, at the tiny pictures silver trains coming out of trees, the pencil drawings, the color photos from the 70s–all of it fascinates him. “Choo-choo!” he says over and over. Pointing. There’s another! There’s another! “Choo-choo!”

In the mornings, he goes out onto the sunporch to the wooden Thomas train set that has been in my family for over two decades and plays with the trains. In the afternoon. In the evening. Whenever he can. It’s his all-consuming hobby.

He’s like a retired man with a train collection and aficionado train mag.

Our local pool is right by a train track, and whenever one goes by, he does that eye-pop, leg-jiggle, breath-intake thing. I have to take him out of the baby pool and walk over to the entrance to the pool and hold him up for five minutes while the train goes by. If my arms tire and I start to head back before the train is finished, he looks panicked and says, “Choo choo? Choo choo?” pointing. I always end up staying, pointing along with him, until the caboose.

I want to write that in a card to him someday, when he is old enough to understand the deeper meaning. Dearest baby boy of mine, I will always hold you up and stay with you until the caboose. Love, Mama.




What is happening now:

  • We found the perfect program for S to start in the fall. It is my dream school! Very earthy. Our values. I participated in a day and I didn’t want to leave—that slow pace, enjoying the outdoors, forming relationships, was healing for me. S was in heaven. More on this later, but in short: This was a gift. We were on the waitlist with little hope. And then: the email. The visit. The rapid succession of good things. The peace it gives me to know that he is going to participate in something so enriching, and to know that I will have enough time to revamp my career in earnest, is invaluable.
  • My health: Wellbutrin for my head and Prilosec for my GI system, my friends. Wellbutrin is a strange drug! It doesn’t feel like I’ve taken anything at all. I just feel steadier and happier. More on this later, but I’ll just say that I realized there was no point in waiting any longer. (Thanks for the nudges, commenters. You were right.)
  • Two or three times a week of aerobic exercise at the gym. Ahhhhhh…my poor body was hurting! And I’m curing it, slowly, with oxygen and movement.
  • Got a mouthguard and my jaw pain and headaches are pretty much gone! So simple!
  • My esophagus: I was terrified, and still am a little, about something going on. This dates back to 2003. I will write an entire post about it. I have an endoscopy coming up at the end of the month and would appreciate vibes, prayers, or whatever you have.
  • My anxiety, fears of death, and recurrent miscarriage PTSD: I am much better now, but there were days  I couldn’t get out of fight-or-flight mode. I had flashback-like experiences. Not actual flashbacks, but acute memories of being “on the table” hearing no heartbeat, acute memories of feelings and thoughts. Racing thoughts about things being very wrong with my body. Terrifying thoughts about dying young. I found myself saying, I can’t have my baby, the universe won’t let me have my baby, the universe is going to take me away from him. Which are the exact type of thoughts I used to have when experiencing the pregnancy losses. I can’t have my baby, the universe is going to take my baby away from me. A few days and nights in a row I was shaky. It felt exactly like it did during recurrent miscarriage hell. Tears would come to my eyes as I kissed my boy’s head because I thought, What if I die and have to leave him? What will happen to him? My fears had mostly to do with what has been going on with my esophagus and throat. I fought with the University of Michigan to dig up my old health records from 2003, because I lost them long ago, and they finally found them and emailed them to me—and what I saw put me at ease! So. I am much better now. But still nervous about the upcoming scope.
  • Sidenote: I’d like to write much more about how health scares, any kind, often bring back recurrent miscarriage fears, anxieties, inconsolable sadnesses. Probably always will. It’s good to be aware of what is happening.
  • Money: I love you all for your helpful advice. Thank you sincerely. My head was spinning. Now it is not. Now I am using this iphone App that keeps track of expenses and I can’t get over how easy it is! No more late nights with receipts. Now that we’ve been at this budgeting thing for a few weeks, we are already learning how to save money. It’s like writing down everything you eat in a day in an effort to lose weight. My spending habits are slowly changing. We are learning how to lower our grocery bill—two weeks in a row, it has been less than we projected. And DH is packing lunch almost every day, which saves us enough to have a modest meal out or two. It’s working. I’m a little worried about how preschool costs are going to impact us in “real life,” but we’ve put it in the budget and it at least looks like we’ll be okay. Small steps, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.
  • DH and I have been getting along much better. We’ve been affectionate with each other, sweet and nurturing.

That’s the Relief Update, for now. I’ll keep you posted on how things progress. I have a lot of doctor’s appointments coming up, targeting health issues, and it’s my hope that by the end of it, I’ll have more self-care tools, and less worry. In the meantime, I’m drinking 1 cup of 1/2 caff a dat and no alcohol, tomatoes, citrus, and so on, to keep acid and inflammation low. I did find a study online that said drinking one glass of wine a day is actually associated with fewer esophageal problems! Well, hot damn. Still, I’ll be safe for now. I told myself that if I can’t go a month without drinking alcohol, then that’s kind of ridiculous. More soon, all. And thanks again.

Money after fertility treatments, and its relationship to body, mind, marriage

Woke up after five hours of sleep with my period and that deep sigh of relief—let’s get this blood out of here, already. Guys, the lead-up to my period has been about 1 to 2 weeks of a lot of intense stuff: body pains and stiffness, bloating and GI upset, insomnia, and extremely erratic emotions.

But I keep telling myself: wait before you get a prescription for anything, like an antidepressant. Wait until you try regular aerobic exercise and yoga. Wait, wait. Try, try. Try and see.

Got the $70 membership to the community center with free child care. Can exercise there for 1.5 hours at a time. Do it, do it, doooooo it. Two doc appointments, one Monday, one Tuesday, then doooooo it.

Monday is for S. Physical required for daycare. (Daycare will be $10/hour, a few hours per day, two days week–so about $60 a week.) Tuesday is for me. Have to see a GP because we’re HMO insurance (hooray). I have a list of ailments so long the doc might think I’m a hypochondriac. I’ll have to explain how long it has been since I’ve seen a doctor and all of the stress I’ve been under. Problems: Anxiety; esophageal spasms/dysphagia/esophagitis; GI issues; chronic pain; insomnia; PMS (or PMDD?); need to see an allergist re: food allergies; need OB appointment. Also need dentist appointment for check-up, bite misalignment, teeth grinding, jaw pain. All of this paints a picture, doesn’t it? Yikes.

Money. I do believe our money struggles are closely related to my stress and health problems. Money has been a major source of stress for so long that I have that helpless/hopeless attitude toward it. I’ve got to adjust my thinking, because money worries suck so much energy from me. Money thoughts, lately especially, are literally toxic to my mind and body.

It is difficult for those outside the fertility treatment world to understand what a huge role money plays in our struggle. And that struggle is oftentimes just as bad or worse when a couple pursues adoption.

The repercussions of investing so much money into trying to conceive a baby and carry a pregnancy have been long-lasting for us.

We had to ask for help from DH’s parents for IVF. Before that, we were on our own (as graduate students, no less) footing the bill for supplements (oh my god, I blanch to think of what we spent on supplements), acupuncture, three times a week yoga (saved me), and any not-covered medical stuff (I didn’t have the best insurance). As many of you know, we decided to go to Colorado  and Dr. Schoolcraft for our one-shot IVF. I’ll never know for sure if that was the right choice (strike that—of course it was, because it all led to my beautiful son in the end), but at least it means my body went through the hell of IVF meds, etc, only once. But although DH’s parents helped by paying the (insane) medical costs, we had to foot the bill for all flights, hotels, supplements, medications, anything else extraneous—and it added up big time. Then we used our entire savings—$30K—for the donor egg program. Again, that covered only the program, and all else we had to put on credit cards.

Then we had our incredible little boy, who is this kind, gentle, sweet, funny, generous-spirited angel from the stars and who is, of course, invaluable. So none of this is to say this hasn’t been worth it!

But just to write out how the numbers have affected and continue to affect our lives…. We bought a LOT of stuff for S when he was an infant and young toddler. A lot. I did most of the buying. I didn’t know what I needed. There was a lot of trying things out. There were a lot of purchasing mistakes, and very few hand-me-downs. I was also alone, so I did a lot of shopping on Am.a.z.on, which was a lifesaver. Click, click, click, and the products would show up at my door two days later. I’m sure I could have been more careful, but I also know that I was dong the best I could, and that when I compared what I bought to what other parents bought, we were being very conservative.

But we are not other parents. We are two people who went into 3-4 years of extremely expensive fertility treatments right out of graduate school, career-changers without careers established yet, one of whom had to drop out of the income-game and not work after her 6th devastating miscarriage, a donor-egg pregnancy, so as not to lose herself entirely and try to heal enough to become pregnant and stay pregnant. Who had to stay home during pregnancy to ensure that she was doing absolutely all she could to maintain the precious pregnancy that finally stayed. Number 7.

And now here we are, with our 19-month-old wonder child.

We don’t want to put him in day care 40+ hours a week while we both work. I honestly cannot imagine it. Not just because we waited so long, and not just because he will be our one and only. But also because of the bond, because of what we are building together. I’m not judging those who do put kids in daycare 40+. In fact, I kind of envy those who are able to do it. But for us, it just does not feel right.

S is a healthily attached little boy, I’m very proud to be able to say. I see how free he is to explore. How friendly he is with others. How he naturally shares, without prompting. He amazes us with his gregariousness, agreeableness, his loving attitude toward adults and other children. And I see how he comes and checks in with me, or with DH, and then bounces back into the world after having touched his home base.

I am always there. This is what we have established. Now it is time for him to spend more and more time away from me and gradually ease him into the world of school. But I don’t want to do it abruptly. And I don’t want to spend more time at work than I do with him. I don’t want him to be in daycare and then aftercare. Just having dinnertime with us and then he going to bed.

He’s a December baby , so he won’t actually be 2 in time for 2’s preschool programs this fall. He will be closer to 3 by the time he can participate in those programs. We don’t want to push him into things early because a) we’ve read that that is almost never the best decision, and b) he is very small for his age, not even on the growth curve, but growing steadily below it.

In essence what we are looking at is probably 5 years before he is in full-day public school: 1st grade. (I believe kindergarten is still half-day, no?)

I have to figure out what I need to do (another licensing exam, problem, UGH!!!), and do my requisite yearly continuing ed (thus the tiny bit of day care now) to practice social work again. But I’ve seen the preschool options and it would be tricky if not impossible to find a part-time job to match those programs’ hours. Especially the programs we could afford, and the programs we prefer.

I’m not saying I can’t eventually figure out how to work within that 5-year span before 1st grade, and still maintain the time-with-parents we want for S’s young life.

But I’m saying that I am not able to figure it out right now. That it looks almost impossible. And it scares me.

But the other thing that is looking almost impossible is surviving on DH’s salary alone for 5 years.  It is $89K here (before taxes, insurance, etc), because his salary was adjusted for cost-of-living in PA. We knew that would happen, but we also thought it would be so much cheaper to live here. And 89K used to seem like a lot of money. But when we calculate our modest bills and rent, then add in our grocery bill, we basically end up in a situation where we are once again living on very little spending money per week. Almost impossibly low.

And it is my job to maintain the budget. I’m the one going out into the world with S, collecting receipts, tallying, buying groceries and supplies, managing the household. DH takes out $50 for the week, uses that on his lunches and coffee at the cafeteria, and that’s it. My calculations are much more complicated.

It’s so stressful, guys. After S goes to bed, I am doing math for at least half an hour, bleary-eyed and back burning.

But I have to keep doing it. We went into serious credit-card debt for the two moves in a row. Things are seeming so painfully tight. There are also still student loans to pay off!

When I look at our Excel spreadsheets, I feel so depressed. I see that there is little to no money for clothes, for eating out, for toys. Forget getting my gray hair dyed. Forget going on trips. Forget furniture and lamps.Forget massages. Off, off, off the list.

All of this does a number on our (non-existent, really) sex life. We just feel so weighed down. Also so tired from work (DH) and taking care of a toddler (me) and being older (40 and 42) doesn’t help.

I want to enjoy life now, while S is young, while we are relatively young, but it always seems like the freedom is down the line, not now, not now.

I have got to see past the numbers and learn how to feel hopeful about our life, about what we can do, now, not just in the future.

I am looking up “cheap recipes” every week and am trying to cook with less and less. I am conscious of everything I buy, from a cup of coffee to a poster for S’s wall. I am trying not to focus on the beat-up walls of this rental and focus instead on its beautiful yard and sunporch and bay window. Trying not to think of how we can’t even buy painting supplies for the walls that are the worst. Trying not to think of how we are uncomfortable because we have a cheap, uncomfortable couch (that at least looks nice) and few places to sit…we are often just on the hardwood floor (we have one rug so far) with blankets. The walls are blank. We have a plastic patio table for two to eat on. There is a mentality of knowing what is missing. Knowing what I could do if I had the money to make a beautiful, comfortable home. I’m a natural homemaker. It kind of feels akin to being an artist trapped with a canvas, day after day, but never any art supplies to do something with it.

But I am writing all of this out because I know that the problem is with me, in part. The numbers are undeniably bleak. Yes. But. The word “bleak” is a soul-sucker. The mentality behind it is an energy-sucker. I have to learn how to get past the numbers. This is my only life, and S’s only childhood. I have to figure out how to live it with hope and optimism.

I’m trying. But writing this out—I’m crying as I type. I need to give myself at least another month. Things won’t always feel quite so hard.

An unleashing update

Hello! It has been a minute. I don’t know if anyone is still reading this blog, but if you are, I say hi, thank you for reading. I feel compelled to apologize for being MIA in terms of posts and especially in terms of comments on your blogs, if you’re a blogger, too. I do read blogs in my WordPress reader (not as regularly as I used to) but I very rarely check my Blogger reader because it requires signing into a separate email account, is not easy to do from my phone, etc. God, that’s lame. But it’s the truth. I’ve missed your stories, Blogger bloggers. WordPress bloggers, I rarely can think of anything great to say, in terms of comments, so I just read it, “like” it with a star icon.

I haven’t been writing in here because of fatigue, time, toddlerhood, and two moves in row.

I feel, at times, a level of fatigue I can only describe as crushing.

Things are about to change. I can sense the beginning of the shift. I am putting things in motion to regain my sense of selfhood and my mental and physical health.

My face hurts, I am so tired. My back hurts. My limbs hurt. I have insomnia often. I collapse in a heap and fall of a cliff into sleep often. I have trouble thinking clearly. I am not the greatest conversationalist because I can’t find words.

All this said, I know that I’ve just been through a lot and I have to cut myself some slack. Two moves in a row with a budding toddler (NINETEEN MONTHS OLD NOW!) is effing insane. And I am only now really starting to pull all of my resources together…

These are things I must take advantage of as soon as possible in our new city: Daycare. Community Center. Exercise at community center with free child care. Mommy’s Helpers. Library programs. Mom groups. Set up playdates with  new friends. Writing, writing, writing during daycare hours (about three hours per day/two days a week). Continuing ed for SW license during those same hours. Research what you have to do to practice in PA. Start the search for part-time jobs, even though it’s far away.

Write fiction. Submit fiction. Do it for yourself. It matters. It creates meaning for you. Don’t treat it like it’s a luxury.

Carving out a shelf of selfhood. Taking care of mind and body. Cutting yourself some slack for needing time to work out how to find and utilize all the resources in a brand new environment.


I was running for a while, before the second move. I would come back from a run (most runs) feeling high, feeling better than I had in ages, and the thought would be: Aerobic exercise is not optional.

The first problem is fatigue. Usually I am so tired that when I have a moment, I collapse. I go still and quiet. I try to zone out and not move, or I fall asleep.

The other, and related, problem is time. I try to get up early to exercise first thing, but I have become even more tired in those wee hours than ever before, and then there are the wild-card mornings when S gets up earlier than usual, and my plans are derailed. I try to exercise after he goes to bed, but that’s even less possible because of an even greater level of fatigue than in the morning. The only solution is the Community Center, where they will watch S while I go to class or do some sort of exercise on my own for 1.5 hours.

It can and will happen. I just have to take a deep breath and be patient. I’ll make it happen at some point this week. (I only discovered this resource last week.)

I have been irritable. Snappish. Sore. DH and I are fighting more. My patience is threadbare. All of this is due to lack of self-care.

The move went smoothly except for two things. The first is this: MIL. Long-time readers, you know her well. I thought things were going to be better, they seemed like they were on an upswing, but that was perhaps foolish of me. I gave it my best. But at this point, I think I might have to go the route of her other daughter-in-law and protect myself with rigid and high boundaries. It makes me sad. But I have to accept the situation. Perhaps it will change—ugh, I just typed the words I need to stop saying. It probably won’t change. It won’t. I need to learn the lesson once and for all not to let her in. She is unpredictable, pushy, contrary, disrespectful, superior, victimized, hot-cold, and just not consistently “in my corner,” so to speak. I don’t think she knows how to consistently love. I think she lives in a state of mind in which she is wronged always and she is looking for that. And although I realize this is armchair psychology at its worse, I think it’s true: I believe that on a deep-down level, she would rather be the one married to her son (and to her other son). There! I said it.

Long story short: She helped us with the move by watching S. I flew with her and S from LI to PA (while DH drove). Many things happened. Her treatment of me was not good. I lost my patience twice, as I honestly believe any human being would have done in my shoes. She booked an earlier flight home and said that I ruined her time with us and S. She wrote an email that was so filled with revision of facts, demonizing portraits, and victimization that I thought, “Oh. OH. She is actually not mentally healthy at all.” It all caused an enormous amount of stress during an already extremely stressful time, and the lasting effect—well, I feel that we are still feeling the reverberations. It did a number on my relationship with DH, but he did what he should have done years ago and wrote to her an email in which he defended me and tried to clear up what she claims is confusion about why I (and other people) get frustrated with her. I read his email but I have not asked how she responded, nor will I. It’s time to remove myself (yet again) from the toxicity.

Being with MIL triggered my anxiety in a major way. Why we thought it would be okay to have her watch S while we packed and moved (moving being already such an anxiety-provoking situation) I do not know. But we needed someone, and we couldn’t afford to pay someone. By the time we got to PA, I was so frazzled and exhausted, my stomach in knots, my mind buzzing, my chest tight. Classic anxiety. I wish I’d had some medication, but I didn’t. Now I know that it is a good idea to have anxiety medication, just in case. For those fraught times. I wonder if a doctor would agree to that—to give me a prescription just for those once-in-a-while peak moments, which might come every few months? I definitely don’t want to take it daily. But I wish I’d had something then, I really do.

After she left, DH went through a period of mourning. He cried. He thinks the situation is very sad, because his mom has always had so many problems with driving people crazy—him, his brother, his brother’s wife, his dad, her friends. Once, he told me, his beloved high school English teacher ran into his mom somewhere, and the next day in school, she asked DH: “What is up with your mom?” It was one of his first moments of truth about his mom. Once when he was a kid, his mom went on a trip, and when she came back, she asked his dad how things were while she was gone. His dad took her by the shoulders and very pointedly and somberly said: “Peaceful. It was so peaceful.” And she was furious with him for a very long time. He said that was another time he realized how objectively difficult she is.

After that fiasco with the MIL, I had to deal with our landlords—who also happen to be Asian. An older Asian couple. I’ll call the woman L and the man J. It doesn’t take formal analysis for me to understand that the woman’s incredibly frustrating communication triggered all the recent stuff with MIL. Also, the previous tenants hated these landlords and advised us to not ask for anything or interact with them much–we still wanted the place because it is so awesome and for relatively inexpensive rent. In any case, warnings from previous tenants aside, I thought things were going well. L was annoying, but it seemed she was responsive. At least at first. The big problem came when there was an issue with the gas, and the stove, and the sunporch windowsills, which were a mess, and which little S was getting into (splintered, rotten wood, paint chips, fingers, mouth, you get the picture). The first issue was vital because it involved the gas line—not something to mess around with. The second issue was also very important to us because it so clearly involved S’s health. After an enormous struggle, we resolved the first issue. But the windowsills—that was a bigger struggle. Communication was so difficult. Language barrier, yes, but also that communication style and positioning so familiar to me from my MIL. In the end, the windowsills were scraped, filled in, and repainted, a job they had promised to do and that took no longer than two hours but took a month of infuriating communication and power-struggling to actually get done. We will do everything else that needs done ourselves from now on, if we can (which I’m sure was the whole point of the struggle).

All this said: the house is lovely. The neighborhood is lovely and filled with families and children. We love our sunny sunporch. We love our giant, flat back yard. We love our big bay window. The trees all around. It feels like a summer cottage. It feels like a home. (Mostly. It is still rather institutional, in terms of the bare, white walls, but we will have to decorate slowly, due to budget concerns.)

S loves it there. He runs with abandon. He runs naked through the back yard, going for dips in the kiddie pool, pushing his red wagon all over the place. “Go, Hercules!” we call after him. He plays with his big trainset on the sunporch, the one that’s been in my family for over twenty years. The trains are his hobby, his passion. Trains and cars. He giggles, pointing out the windows at the squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, and the wild turkeys. We have five wild turkeys who frequent our yard, along with five little fuzzy baby turkeys.

S shrugs his shoulders up and down to imitate the squirrels. He thrusts his head forward and back to imitate the turkeys.

The evenings—dinner, playing in the yard, running, pool, sandbox, ice cream—are absolutely sweet and pure and good. We laugh so hard. S will get so overcome with joy and go, “Mamadada!!!!” He’ll spontaneously blow us kisses or kiss us on the lips or thrust out his finger to do the Starman Handshake. “I la oo!” he still shouts out, for “I love you.”

Because throughout all of the changes, all of the adult concerns, the anxieties and stresses, he is there, this small Starchild, looking at everything in wonder. He points. He talks. He wants to see and say everything. He starts “working” the second he wakes up–pointing, commenting, touching, smelling, watching, bellowing, laughing.  Doing.

We’ve already made new friends. I left a city park one Sunday morning (one of those free music fests) with four new phone numbers and offers of playdates. And then there is sweet R, shy little girl, and her mama, whom we’ve seen the most. We’ve gone to the toy library with them (yes, a place where kids can play with all variety of toys together and also check out toys like library books, volunteer-run for 40 years) and to a Music Together class that is amazing, and over to their house for lunch. He holds R’s hand and swings it. He laughs at her jokes (she likes to point at him and call him “Buh-buh”). He is so friendly. He seeks out and finds R’s hand and her mama’s hand when we leave so he can shake their hands and say, “Bye-bye!”

He sings and sways and plays instruments in his music class. He pumps his arms like Arsenio Hall or he does very expressive free-form circles with his arms, thowing back his head. He hangs back on my lap and safely observes. He runs into the center of the circle and grins around. He runs over to the chalkboard to where there are Christmas lights and, with the other children, he “blows out” the lights. The “O” of wonder on his sweet little face.

He and I are so bonded. It’s like nothing I have ever known. It really does grow deeper with each day, as the adages go. There are so many inside jokes, at this point. Many established routines that we love. Many ways we know how to make the other feel loved.

There is the brand new riverside park with totally amazing playgrounds, hiking-distance away. The zoo. The aviary. The museum. The nature trails. The free park festivities on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. Folk music. Ragtime music. Belly-dancing. Circus. The pool right on the river. So much of it free.

Right now we are at my parents’ house, having taken advantage for the very first time of the (relatively) short distance between our homes. Hard to express how moving it is to see him running and playing with my cousin’s boys, with his beloved Ma-Maw and Pa-Paw, my aunt and uncle and cousins. He entertains them all with his gorgeous singing. He loves for everyone to have a different instrument and “jam.” His piano-playing is just unbelievable to me. It’s so pretty and musical. And he sings along, in key! Wow. He can hear a tune once and remember it—later, we’ll hear him “la-la-ing” to every note.

There are days when I say, “Agh, I can’t do even one more thing! This is the end of all thing-doing!” Because of three meals a day, the endless cooking and cleaning up. Because of all the nitty-gritty of caretaking. The lack of space to think a thought. The runs to the doctor for unexpected emergencies, because of hand-foot-mouth disease and tick bites and burns and fevers. Because dressing a toddler for the day or for bed is like trying to dress a very strong feral cat. Mama’s back burns. Mama’s eyes burn. I yearn for The Good Wife and the papason. But about an hour after he is asleep I miss him and yearn to hold him and can’t wait to see his funny little smile in the morning. To lean on his feet as he gives me an airplane ride. To hear him exclaim with delight and belly laugh and show me how truly stunning the world actually is.

I’d better go now, but it has felt good to unleash! Everyone take care out there. I’m going to start the self-care up on this end as soon as we reach home.