Sunday, January 26, 2014

Whispey

I impulsively got myself a kitten when I was in college. My roommate at the time, Cassi, mentioned she was going to go get a kitten that afternoon, and I ended up coming along and bringing home my very own little orange ball of fluff who was later dubbed Whispey Creme.

(His name may or may not have been inspired by a certain delicious doughnut chain. And creamsicles. And I may or may not have a problem naming pets after delicious food, ain't that right childhood guinea pig named Chocolate?) 

 The kittens were very cute together, even when Cassi and I weren't doing terrible things like feeding them ice cream.

Whispey slept on my pillow the first night I had him, which really isn't all that surprising since the last cat I dearly loved began her life with me in a sleeping bag on the laundry room floor because my cruel parents required her to sleep in there despite her pitiful little mewing.

However, Whispey quickly became too large to fit on my pillow, and had to be re-trained to just sleep on the bed next to me.


He was a sweet cat, a little skittish at first and easily startled, but always there at bedtime. Whenever I slept, wherever my bed was, he would show up.

He was there with me when I turned 21, and got ridiculously falling down drunk. Totally willing to spend the night with me on the floor if that was the place I decided to be.


He was there when I got pregnant, a quiet and reassuring presence that could potentially unintentionally smoother the baby. 

 
He was there through all of the moving across the country.


And he was what I held during the tears of the deployments and divorce.


The children loved him too. 

 
And he was always so incredibly good about just letting them love him.


He was a peaceful creature, who enjoyed the sun and his too small cat bed.


And he was my fuzzy companion for many long years.


A few weeks ago there was a night where he wasn't on my bed. As he had gotten older, sleeping on my bed had become his favorite activity day round. After the second night of a noticeable absence of my bedtime companion, I went to find him. He was on the floor in Kristina's room, underneath her bed. 

He couldn't walk. He didn't respond to me talking to him, to saying his name. He wouldn't eat, and couldn't use the litterbox. He just laid there, looking vacantly past me. 


The vet wasn't sure if it was a brain infection or a tumor, but regardless, the rate of decline was so drastic it was ultimately irrelevant.

And so then I had to say goodbye to this cat who had always been there with me through all of the stress and laughter and turmoil and questionable judgement and change and hope and grief of the past 9 years.

And it was so much harder than I thought it would be. 


Friday, January 24, 2014

Baby Hazing

I have suddenly found myself surrounded by friends and acquaintances who are having babies, and as pregnancies progress and babies tick off milestones in their first year I have often pondered motherhood hazing. But before I ramble about why it happens and whether there's any way to actually make it not be a terrible thing, a few important points:

  1. New fathers have a hazing too, especially if they are equal or primary caregivers. I in no way mean to be dismissive or ignoring of this fact, I simply lack a good foundation to commentate on it further beyond recognizing it's existence. 
  2. It gets better. I promise you, it does. It may get worse first, and it may take years to actually get good again, but it will get better. This baby will not define the rest of your life and your existence will grow past changing dirty diapers and 2am feedings. In 6 months, everything will be different. 

Baby hazing is the part of new motherhood where suddenly you find yourself wearing the same disgusting pair of sweatpants for the third day in a row and ready to sell your soul for 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. It's the part where your house is covered in piles of laundry and you can't remember what day of the week it is and whether you need to take out the trash and dear god why are there so many dirty diapers? It's the part where you are lonely and overwhelmed and absolutely certain you have no idea what you are doing and that somebody messed up big time by putting this baby in your care.

It happens to everyone.

Some are exceptionally stoic and manage to keep their shit together through the first infant, and it's not until the second or third one comes along that they really find themselves in this place.

Some are convinced they made a huge mistake somewhere along the line by the time they get home from the hospital.

Some have good support systems around them, and can get the help they need before they even realized they needed it.

Some spend years just trying to survive today.

There are many factors that pile on all together at the same time, and make the transition into motherhood one hell of a ride.

Unknown ignorance and subsequent reality check (aka baby sticker shock). Generally, families are much smaller and much more isolated these days. Most people really haven't spent much time of their remembered life living with the daily rhythm of a baby until they end up with one of their own. And it is so incredibly different than what you imagined it would be.

I worked in a childcare center before having Kristina. I totally thought I knew what I was getting in to, and how to handle having a baby of my own with grace and poise.

(I'll pause here for the mommy veterans to stop laughing.)

(You done yet?)

(Yeah yeah, it happens to the best of us.....)

Turns out already knowing how to mix a bottle of formula and change a diaper doesn't actually do that much to prepare you for the mommy hazing. For starters, I had no idea how hard it is to be Mommy 24/7. There is no end of the work day, there is no calling in sick, there is no lunch break, no sleep, no respite from being on duty. It is this all consuming factor of your life, where every single decision you make and thought you have is somehow centered around this tiny little creature. Simple things, like taking a shower or preparing a meal, are suddenly a juggling act of squeezing them in to nap times or when somebody else is around to watch the baby. Anywhere you go, you go with the baby and the 50 pound diaper bag (for the love of your sanity and any scrap of personal dignity, try to remember to squeeze an extra tshirt for yourself in there somewhere).

And it takes a while to adjust to this demanding and immediate change of priorities in every single thing you do.

Losing yourself and known identity. It is hard to suddenly no longer be identified as yourself, but as [insert baby's name here] mommy. The things you used to do during your day are suddenly no longer yours, as they must be scheduled around the baby or done with baby accompaniment (see above).

Even the most basic things like your relationship with your significant other have suddenly been altered. It is hard to get your sexy on when every time you take off your bra your boobs spray milk everywhere. Your stomach is saggy and pouchy and covered in stretch marks, looking nothing like the body you know as yours from the life up to this point. None of the clothing you own fits you right, and you end up resorting to oversized tshirts from his side of the closest because half of yours you cannot physically get on due to your boobs growing about 8 cup sizes seemingly overnight and the half you can get on you certainly cannot leave the house in because you got over the looking like a hooker fashion statement back in high school.

And I am not even qualified to discuss what happens when you have a c-section beyond what I have heard about how you didn't really want to be able to do stuff like bend over or pick up your own baby anyways, right?

Your hormones are still raging every bit as much as they were during pregnancy when that stupid iphone commercial made you start crying. And you just want them to stop. You just want to feel like yourself again, the person you were before this whole mess started, and you're terrified you'll never be able to be that person again.

And your friends.... you have suddenly had this huge life altering thing happen to you that makes everything different, and they think they're being supportive because they got you some cute onesies and made plans to go out for lunch next month. They have no idea what is happening to you, because it hasn't happened to them yet, just like you had no idea it was going to happen until suddenly BAM you're living it.

I won't even say much how hard it is to keep doing activities for yourself, because you are so tired and worn down and don't even want to do it anymore because it requires something more from you than sitting on the couch which is all the energy you have left over these days, and that's without even considering the logistical challenges of (you guessed it!) childcare.

Being human. Some of the biggest problems come from the fundamental flaw of you yourself being human. Like sleep deprivation. Oh my god does long term sleep deprivation suck. It's not that the baby was up a little or a lot last night. It's that you have been chronically woken up every 2-3 hours for the past YEAR. It's that even when you are sleeping, you are no longer deep sleeping because you are listening for the baby, for her to cry, for her to breathe, for her to... be.

I ended up sleeping with both girls in bed with me a fair amount their first year, not because I had any big ideals about family bed sharing or co-sleeping (in fact, I actually really like having MY bed and MY room that does not contain either of them in it), but simply because laying down to nurse was better than sitting on the bed to nurse which was better than getting up to sit in the rocking chair to nurse when I was tired in the middle of the night. And it turns out, you can doze off in all sorts of odd ways when you are sufficiently tired. But that's just it, it was dozing off, and yes, dozing off in bed with a baby was significantly better than being wide awake with a baby, but it wasn't the same as getting deep restful sleep. And the long term effects of how that treats your body are real.

Some people are a little better at coping with sleep deprivation based on things like age and natural temperament. Some babies are a little bit better sleepers than others. Some families are able to share nighttime feeding duties so both people get a little bit more sleep out of the deal.

But it still comes down to a whole lot of shitty nights that first year.

The other part that makes motherhood incredibly hard is when you get sick. It will happen, and if you are unlucky you will still be the primary care giver for this little baby regardless of whether you have the flu or strep or a miserable nasty cold. The baby still needs it's diaper changed. The baby still needs to be fed often. The baby still needs your love and attention, and is completely oblivious to how you happen to feel like you're on death's doorstep right now because you can't even take any of the good drugs like Sudafed that might even actually help your sinus infection a little because you're nursing! 

So it is hard when your body fails you by it's simple human limitations.


All of these things, and more, combine into a really nasty cocktail of life that gets dished out to new moms. Coping with it is easier if you have supportive family with you (some days, you still want to be able to call YOUR mommy and ask her to come over and make everything all better) and a supportive, present co-parent. But it is never easy.

It does get better though.

You lower your expectations on things that don't matter. You find ways to juggle life. You learn who you are as a parent, and that it's ok to not be who you were before.

And your baby grows.

In 6 months, everything will be different.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Adrianna's 4th Birthday Party

Adrianna turned 4 a few weeks ago (ok ok, it's a little late, I know, but hey, at least it's still January, I totally call that good enough), and needed a 4th birthday party.

Which happens to also be the first birthday party she's ever had. Because I'm a terrible parent  she doesn't even like people  it's too close to Christmas  she never asked for one sometimes life just happens that way.

So I really wanted it to be special for her (you know, in case it's the only one she has before she's a teenager). Or at least something she'd enjoy. Did I mention she's actually not a big fan of hanging out with other people, 'friends' or otherwise? And how it's January, and cold, and hard to find birthday party events that are not bank-breaking expensive and/or excessively noisy??

Thank god for google.

After much searching and browsing I eventually came across the Clementine Art Studio here in Boulder. You know who likes art projects a whole lot? Miss Adrianna. And the studio would only have the people we invited in it, vs. places like the children's museum which have the usual Saturday assortment of visitors on top of the party guests all running rampant through the place like the little hooligans 4 and 5 year olds are by nature.

Yep, this was a possibility.

And in a valiant show of not-sucking-at-this-parenting-thing, I happened to be doing the whole "plan kid's birthday party" endeavor in the beginning of December, a whole month before we needed to make stuff happen (and before making stuff happen got caught up in Christmas mayhem), so I was even able to reserve the day and time I wanted and not pay late fees.

I was so proud of myself.

The party place was booked. The necessary My Little Pony decorative paper products were ordered. A cake was selected. Adrianna Birthday Party was a-go.














And the birthday girl even seemed to enjoy herself at it!


Monday, January 6, 2014

New Years Resolutions.

People have been very resolute this past week. A nice list of goals for the year. Lose weight. Get a better job. Travel someplace cool. Develop relationships. 

All reasonable things, mind you, but perhaps a bit redundant? 

My weight loss diet involves the usual "hey maybe you should eat a salad instead of that box of doughnuts" conversation I have with myself about once a month year round. But this year I also have little children guilting me to drink less soda too. Yay healthy eating education. 

I just get depressed if I think about the job situation too much. Hence: show up, do your job, get paycheck, don't get fired. And for fucks sake, try to stop remembering you have a college degree like it should mean something. It's liberal arts. 

Travel can be fun, there are many places I'd like to see someday. But none of them need to be this year. 

I'm actually really happy with pretty much all of my relationships with other human beings right now. I am in a good place as a person, and a good place with other people comes with that. Keep it up, I guess? 

So now that I've gotten the usual suspects out of the way, I'm going to tell you what I actually want to do in 2014. 

I want to write a novel. 

It needs not be very long. It probably won't be very good. And it almost certainly will never so much as come with a hundred feet of a publishing house. 

But that's ok. 

I just want to write it. 

I'm really rather terrible about being passionate and excited about a story or idea, and then burning out on it a week later to never look at it again. So having the fortitude to actually stick with one spark of creativity for months really would be accomplishment in of itself for me, and something that would help me feel successful in an odd sort of way. 

After all, everyone has to start somewhere. 


The Advantages of Being Economically Disinclined

Not having a lot of money is often challenging in a consumerist world.

Or even just the one where you're not filled with the overwhelming desire to buy stuff but your old car is falling apart and fixing it is really pinching your budget.

However there are some aspects of living a tight purse life that are beneficial to whom you are as a person.

Take food. Consuming food is a pretty basic necessity. Eating out often gets very expensive. Buying lots of prepared frozen dinners is still sorta costly. Sometimes you even have to wait to get the regular groceries, basic things like milk and bread and eggs, until your next pay check shows up. Thus you end up staring at the depths of your cupboard pondering what you can make with minute rice, Worcestershire sauce, and a can of mandarin oranges. Creativity and google are both extremely helpful here, but ultimately it is the circumstance of not always having the ideal ingredient set driving you to consider food in new ways and to try new things. 

You know, like people have traditionally done whenever there's an economic recession, or rationing, or time before supermarkets. 

Saying no is another good one. You learn to say it to yourself (even if those were some really cute shoes). You learn to say it to your children (even when they're being good and deserve indulgence). You might even learn to say it to other people (sometimes, at least...). And you learn to analytically consider the differences between need and want, and quantitatively look at the price per happiness ratio when considering non-necessity purchases.

And it makes the times you get to actually say yes so much more meaningful.

Then there's generosity. I can not begin to properly articulate how crucial hand-me-down clothes have been to my family at different times, and have genuinely endeavored to continue passing on the wardrobes my children have outgrown to those who would also greatly benefit from such generosity being bestowed upon them. A simple kindness initially shown to me and my children by a few families has had a permanent impact on an ever-growing web of people, and I am eagerly watching to see how far some of the original clothing items will go on.

Some pieces are already bedecking their fifth little child, and that's assuming they were purchased new by the family who gave them to me.

And my favorite, basic math. Nothing like a budget to make you try and figure out the best deal on toilet paper in your head, which, you know, would be MUCH easier if there was any slight semblance of standard roll sizing or packaging (is a triple roll really equivalent to three "normal" rolls? does double ply count for twice as much as single ply since you'd hypothetically use half as much? does this generic have the proper sturdy-to-soft ratio my derriere has come to expect? which is least likely to clog my toilet when the three year old flushes excessive quantities?), and maybe then it would not be the most stressful part of household shopping ever.

Except for maybe when I need to get toilet paper AND paper towels in the same trip.... those are the days when I finally get overwhelmed and just grab the smallest packages I can see and high tail it out of there.

So there you have it, some of the basic considerations of the budgetary conscience and how financially constraining circumstances make them into better grown up people. See also: why service jobs are good for building a morally superior society.