Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

I have decided to put  by blogging on hold to start writing greeting cards. I am going to start writing cards for Father's Day for the dad  who we once had a restraining order against, who I didn't have any contact with for 15 years of my life and is now in a mental institution.

To say that my relationship with my dad is atypical is a gross understatement.  My parents split up when I was 10 years old after several years of inappropriate behavior on my dad's part.  He acted recklessly, was abusive, unreliable and down-right crazy.  I could go into greater detail, but once I complete my greeting card line, I plan on writing a memoir chronicling my childhood and I certainly wouldn't want to spoil that.  For a long time, I didn't realize my dad wasn't like all the other dad's.  I thought his behavior was normal until I got older and got to know some of my friend's dads.  They all had jobs, dressed nicely, didn't take them to homes for the mentally retarded and nursing homes "for fun." 

My mom worked weekends, so we spent a large portion of our time with him.  Not everything we did was bizarre.  He worked for a travel agency for awhile and was responsible for delivering airline tickets at the airport back before e-Tickets and computerized check-in.  It was also at a time when we could go to the terminals without having to be frisked by the TSA.  We spent hours looking at planes and I used to pretend that I was taking a flight somewhere fun like Disney World.  Of course after our field trip my dad would claim his blood pressure was really high and as most professionals will tell you, the best remedy for that is to go have a beer.  I spent many a Saturday afternoon at a bar with my dad while he treated his acute blood pressure problem.

Due to my dad's lack of "focus," he had a hard time holding down a steady job, which meant we had to live with my grandparents from the time I was 2-years old.  My mom's parents were a godsend and made sure we were taken care of.  It was my grandpa's ultimate way of taking care of us when he told my mom that my dad needed to move out.  We had suffered through so much turbulence between my dad's crazy antics and the fighting that went on, it was almost a relief when he left. However, just because he didn't physically live with us, the abuse and erratic behavior continued.  When my parents first divorced my middle brother Mark and I had a choice of whether or not we wanted to continue to see my dad, but it always had to be in the presence of my mom.  These meetings were usually torture and ended in someone crying.  We finally decided that it wasn't worth it to see him anymore.

My dad made several efforts to try and "track us down," but that usually involved stalking us and had laws been stronger then, we would have had a real case against him.  As time went on, we never saw him unless he showed up somewhere uninvited.

Like I said, I could go on and on with the details of what we went through growing up, but it literally will take a book to accomplish this.  The bottom line is that it took me a really long time and for my dad to be officially put into a facility for both his physical and mental illness where I could forgive him and have some sort of relationship with him.  I decided to finally see him when I was 25-years old and working through a lot in my life.  Seeing him made me realize that regardless of his past, he was ill and was still my dad.

 I continue to struggle with my relationship with him and at have visited him about half a dozen times over the last several years.  I feel guilty when  don't visit him more or call him more, but I can only feel so much for him especially after having my own children.  I also think about how much my mom took on and how much she struggled to make a good life for us.  It is hard to make my dad a priority when I have so many other people in my life who have given me so much more than he has.

I also try to explain him to Maddie, who now understands that her grandparents are her parents' mommy and daddy. She sometimes gets confused about my dad as to whether or not he is heaven or not.  She has never met him and I honestly don't know when that day will come.  He is not exactly grandpa material in his current state and seeing as how she is scared of pretty much everything right now, I don't think taking her to a coo-coo's nest of crazy people is the best idea.

Father's Day is a tough day for me.  I'm not gonna lie.  I see people posting pictures of their dad's on Facebook and I know full well I could never do that.  I still send my dad a Father's Day card, but it is hard to read all the cards with jokes about all the things kids learned from their dad or pictures of a dad lifting his little girl in the air, etc., etc.  I have to find a non-discript, sometimes the one's labeled "For Anyone" or "Simply Stated," because I can't thank him for being a good role model or always being there when I needed him.  I can't say he supported us or laugh about funny jokes.  What I did learn was to be a stronger person.  I learned that every family is not perfect and there are a lot of people out there who don't fit the Hallmark vision of a family.

What I have learned is that while I lost the presence of one dad, I gained a bunch more.  So, today I am thankful for all the "stand-in dads" that I had in my life.  First and foremost is my grandfather.  He was my rock.  He supported us.  He was strict, but loving and kind.  He taught us about hard work and discipline.  The second person is my mom.  I try to remember to wish her a "Happy Father's Day" each year because she was both mom and dad to my brothers and I.  Then there are my brothers who were the one's who walked me down the isle at my wedding.  They were my protectors and my friends.  They explained what life was about and made me suck it up and not be weak.  They made sure I was O.K. no matter what.

Then there are the countless men in my life who have taken me under their wing when they knew I needed a father figure.  Those people know who they are and I am eternally grateful for them.  And finally, last but certainly not least is my husband.  He is the dad to my kids that I never had.  He truly is was Hallmark cards are made of.  They say that women marry men just like their dad's.  Well, in this case this couldn't be farther from the case unless Tom snaps and contracts a nasty case of Schizophrenia.  All joking aside, he is rock and support that I always longed for.  He is the person who holds a mirror up to me and shows me who I truly am.  When I really think about it, he is most like my grandpa.  I guess I took the closest thing to my dad and found a guy just like him.  For that, I can truly say, "Happy Father's Day."

Friday, June 10, 2011

What's Up, Doc?

I have a really funny joke for you.  A mother with two small children walks into a doctors office.  Get it?  A mother with two small children? Oh, no punch line you say? Well let me explain.

I took Maddie to her four-year old checkup earlier this week.  I always get a little anxious when I have take the kids to the doctor because we have to be in enclosed room for a considerable amount of time.  I also get a little nervous because taking the kids to the doctor is like being put on the proverbial parenting hot seat.  I guess you could say I have White coat Syndrome by proxy.  I don't only fear the shots, but the questioning, especially when it comes to how they are eating and sleeping.  As you may have learned from my previous posts on these subjects, you know that my kids have issues in these areas and I don't always follow the rules.  I get worried that I will get a slap on the hand for my lack of parenting skills.

First step is for the nurse to come in and weight and measure Maddie.  For all my worrying about her eating habits, she has gained four pounds and grown four inches.  Then the nurse instructs her to strip down to her underwear and put on an ill-fitting paper hospital gown.  This does not sit well with Maddie because she has never had to do this and because she has an ounce of fashion sense.  The gown also immediately reminds her that she could be getting shots.  She asks for the first of several times if she can go home.  While I am waiting for the doctor to come in, I have to fill out a questionnaire asking some basic questions about Maddie since her last visit.  Any questions and concerns?  Just her sleeping habits and some bouts of constipation.  How many hours a day does she watch television, under two hours, 2-3 hours or 3 or more hours.  It says under two is recommended, so of course that is what I circle.  Then asks how many servings of fruits and vegetable, and recommends 5 combined. Yeah, sure on a good day that is true.  I circle 5.  I finish up the paperwork answering as honestly as possible.

In the meantime, Colin is spinning the doctor's school around, crawling under the desk, climbing up and down the examining room table, playing with the scale, opening cabinets and pulling out supplies.  I had brought in a toy from the waiting room, but he had already grown bored of the garage sale bus that probably would have been more entertaining if it actually had batteries in it.  He is ready to escape out of the examining room and he opens the door to the pediatrician walking in.

I purposely have started seeing the doctor in the group that has three boys of his own because I figure he has the highest tolerance for psycho children.  He starts in with the usual round of questions, some to me and some to Maddie.  I get even more nervous when Maddie is asked to sing her ABC's.  She gets a little stage fright and while she is saying them perfectly, you can barely hear her.  I assure him she know them and we move on.  He asks about eating and I mention she is "improving" on her variety of food choices.  He brings up sleeping habits and I mention she is starting to drop her nap and it has caused some other sleeping issues like showing up in our room in the middle of the night.  I don't divulge any information on how I've been handling it, but he tells me I just need to get up and walk her directly back to her bed and do not let her in bed with us.  "Yes, sir," I reply.

I am trying to have a very serious conversation with the doctor about Maddie's constipation and at this point, the kids are literally climbing the walls.  Colin is trying to crawl on his lap and type on his laptop and as I promptly remove him, the doctor just says, "That's OK."  Then, Colin starts turning the lights on and off and Maddie begins charging after him to turn the lights back on.  With the strobe light effect that they are creating, I am concerned someone is going to have a seizure.   I finally locate a Lightning McQueen car in my purse and hope to occupy him long enough finish the poop conversation.  Maddie tries stealing the car from Colin and he promptly bites her.  Luckily I had already discussed Colin's biting issue with the doctor at Colin's two year old checkup a few weeks prior.  This was my chance to show I could handle the situation as I was instructed.  I took the car away from Colin (as to not reward him for biting) and then remove him from the situation.  Since I couldn't make him leave the room, I could only put him in another part of the examining room.  He began to scream and cry and promptly walked over to my purse and get his car back.  I let him have the car, but made sure I noted out loud that what I was doing was not the appropriate way of handling the situation, but in the interest of moving on, I was breaking the rules.  

The doctor always remains stoic as the chaos swirls around him and I have to wonder what is going through his mind.  Is he thinking, "Holy, shit the inmates are really running the asylum at the Stien

The doctor continues the exam and then went through the shots she needed.  I could feel Maddie's anxiety reaching a fever pitch and soon the nurse was on her way in to give her three shots and take some blood.  Before this could happen, the doctor said I needed to have her provide a urine sample.  Maddie was able to do this last year without any issues, but I think she was just clueless enough and I was lucky she had to go at that time and I could just slip the cup in there before she knew what was going on.

This time was a little different.  She was already stressed about getting shots and had stage fright when I ordered her to pee on command.  I also had knuckle head running in and out of the bathroom.  Every time I would run out to catch him, Maddie would follow me with her drawers dropped to the ground.  I finally bribed her with chocolate and she was able to provide me with a sample.  Just when she thought she was in the clear, she had to endure her shots.  I told the nurse to hold on a second while I slipped Maddie a Hershey Kiss. I got her up on the table and she was ready to jump off  in a single bound, but between the nurse and I, we were able to pin her down and she got her shots.  Needles don't usually make me queasy as long as I don't look at them, but when all was said and done I was ready to throw up.  I showered her with stickers and we were on our way.

I decided that this doctor's visit warranted going out to lunch.  I asked Maddie where she wanted to go and she immediately said, "Red Robin."  This is normally not where we would go for lunch unless it was a special occasion or I need to seriously bribe her, but I figured the fact that we all survived this doctor's visit, was special occasion enough for me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We've Come A Long Way Since Baby

Last week I went to visit my best friend from college who had her first baby and was quickly reminded of what those first few days and weeks after having a baby looked and felt like. DISCLAIMER: FOR THE DUDES AND THOSE WHO HAVE NO DESIRE TO HEAR DETAILS ABOUT "WOMANLY THINGS," DON'T READ THIS BLOG. (But I highly recommend it so you have more respect for women!)

I had gotten an "SOS" text from her the day before double checking what time I would be there. We agreed that I would come to see her the first day her husband went back to work. Of course, I had forgotten to follow up with her once I secured plans to have my mother-in-law watch the kids because I only have 3 working brain cells at this point; One to dress and feed my children, one to dress and feed my husband and one to write this blog.

I dropped my kids off at my in-laws and headed to the city where my friend lives. Yeah, I know I'm a little crazy spending a day without kids helping take care of someone elses. However, I also think of going to the gynecologist, wakes and getting my taxes done as "days out," so it's cool.

First stop, Starbucks. She and I are infamous for our Starbucks rendezvous and that was what she brought me right after I had Maddie. I got her a Skinny Dolce de Leche, decadent but decaf and made with skim milk. Then I headed to Subway to get her a foot long turkey without any gas producing veggies and had them include packets of mustard and mayo so my friend could decide if she wanted them on her sandwich or not. Details, details, details. Here's why.

1) After nine months of pregnancy and long stretches without any sleep, you long for caffeine. If you are lucky, you were able to drink coffee (decaf with the occasional regular) without vomiting or getting severe heartburn. However, if you are nursing, you learn quickly that caffeine can affect your milk and the last thing you want is a wired baby.
2) While nursing requires you to eat enough to produce milk, you still have an extra 20+ lbs. weight you gained during pregnancy to compete with, hence the skim milk and avoiding mayo on your sandwich.
3) Since lunch meat is a no-no during pregnancy, having a turkey sandwich is like "eating lobster" as my friend put it.

I also brought her a bottle of Cuervo Gold Margarita Mix. I remember my friend saying that she never missed drinking during her pregnancy, but towards the end she was at a Mexican Restaurant on a warm spring day and a Margarita actually sounded good. I figured once she got a good nursing schedule down, some milk on reserve and could function properly without being under the influence of alcohol let alone under the influence, she could probably use a drink.

I got to her place and when she opened the door, I saw "the look." It was a look I knew well. I had seen it so many times when I looked in the mirror after having both my kids, but especially after having Maddie. It is that look where every bit of color is drained from your face and only makes the dark circles under your eyes look that much darker. Your eyes are sunken and there is a blank stare that indicates that there is a good chance if someone asked you your name, you wouldn't be able to answer.

I know very well, that the right thing to do when you see a woman who has just had a baby is to greet her and pay attention to her before you rush off to see the baby. NEVER brush past the mommy like she was merely an oven baking the cake to be enjoyed on the baby’s birthday. Despite her haggard and exhausted look she has a sense of peace and tranquility about her. You tell her she looks wonderful. In my friend's case, all things considered, she really did.

My job while I was there was to listen to her tell her story of how her labor and delivery was, answer her questions that she may have now that the baby is home and most importantly allow her to take a shower. Once she had the opportunity to feel human again, I stole the baby and took her for a walk. I hoped my friend would take a nap, but when I returned an hour later she had been on the phone since I left. She was dealing with all the "business" of having a baby including FMLA paperwork, follow up doctor's appointments, talking to the lactation consultant and general life issues like getting her laptop fixed.

I remember very well all the times people would send me to take a nap, and despite the fact I was running on 2 hours of sleep over a 24 hour period, I chose to do things that didn't involve sleeping. I did laundry, I made phone calls, I showered, cleaned the kitchen and went to Target. I learned that somehow mommies are able to muster up this super human energy right after they have a baby. Like me, my friend had a long labor so even before the baby was born, she lost a whole night of sleep.

Despite this super human energy to keep going, it also comes with super crazy hormone flux. You think pregnancy is a roller coaster ride, but it is nothing compared to post partum emotions. As happy as you are that you have this wonderful, beautiful new baby, you are shell-shocked. I can't speak for women who had c-sections, but when you give birth vaginally, (sorry, can't write a posting about giving birth and not use the "v" word.) most of your post traumatic stress syndrome is based on the trauma your who-ha went through and the pain you feel afterwards. If you had it really rough and tore or had an episiotomy, you walk around with a crotch Popsicle for several days. Then, you bleed like a stuffed pig for several weeks after you give birth. And when I say bleed, I mean worst period in the world time 100. You need to wear SUPER DUPER ULTRA absorbent pads and despite all the advances in medical technology, the pads they give you in the hospital are classic "Are You There God It's Me, Margaret" pillows circa 1970.

You think that is the extent of the ridiculous amount of pain and agony your body can endure until you realize you now are one of the millions suffering from hemorrhoids. Then, you get constipated which is always a nice addition to all of the above mentioned details of your nether region. You take something to alleviate this problem only to have the opposite problem. At some point all you can do is stop and think, "WTF!" How and why does this have to be the way children are brought into this world? So, when you start crying and your husband looks at you like you have seven heads and you tell him you don't know why, and he can't understand why; well, there's your answer. Did I mention that you will still look 4 months pregnant, your feet will STILL be swollen, your not supposed to be lifting or driving or going up and down stairs and they expect you to rest while taking care of a very needy newborn all on NO sleep? Can you say overwhelming? And your husband will get frustrated because there really isn't a whole lot he can do. Even if there is something he can do, you don't even know enough to ask him what he can do to help. He will feel guilty, get frustrated with himself and you and the best you can do is send him to get Buffalo Wild Wings where he can drink a beer at the bar while waiting for carryout. At least he will come back refreshed, maybe a little buzzed and most importantly with food in-hand since making dinner is out of the question.

As much as you wish he could get up in the middle of the night and feed the baby, if you are nursing this isn't much of an option. You might be able to if you pump and hand the bottle to your husband and go back to bed. But then you have pump parts and bottles to clean up and then both of you and maybe even the baby are up and then everyone is tired and everyone is crabby. The only thing worse than one sleepless and crabby parent is two sleepless and crabby parents. Tell your husband to sleep, especially when he has to go back to work. Throw all your feminist views out the window. That is what maternity leave is for. I will say that if you hit your wits end in the middle of the night and you are at the point where the baby won't go back to sleep and the baby won't stop crying and you think, "One of the two of us is going to go in the shed to sleep," and your first vote is for the baby to be that person, that the point you should get your husband to take over.

In addition to the physical aspect of giving birth, like I said, there is the emotional aspect. For me, I suffered from depression long before I had children and take medication for it. I weaned off of it to get pregnant and didn't go back on it until right after I gave birth. It was just another loop-d-loop in my emotional roller coaster. I knew I was a high risk for post-partum depression, and even after starting on my medication right after giving birth, I flunked my post partum depression questionnaire at my 6 week doctor's appointment. In my case, I was glad I was already riding the crazy train, because it made me more aware and proactive when it came to my post-partum depression. For other women who experience it, they don't know what hit them. While most women experience "the blues" after they have a baby, there are still a good number who need treatment. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding depression and taking medication prevents people from taking anything or even admitting that they aren't in baby bliss. It is easy to beat yourself up for not being over-the-moon happy about your new bundle of joy, and that denial that something is wrong can set you back even further.

I made sure I told my doctor immediately that I didn't feel right and requested that I go back to my full dose of antidepressants that I had taken prior to getting pregnant. Once I did that, it didn't make me totally sane, but I was able to cope with things much easier and knew that happy mommy is the best for happy baby and happy daddy.

As I held my friend's baby and for a brief moment considered having my husband go and get his vasectomy reversed, I was quickly reminded that as cute and wonderful as this baby was, I arrived with a full night of sleep, I didn't have to feed her, wake up with her, sooth her, bath her, etc. Then I remembered I already had two kids waiting for me at home and promptly handed the baby back to my friend. I worry about my friend, but I know she is a strong, capable woman. I know that she has the love and support of her husband and family and she will eventually get a good night's sleep and she and the baby will fall into a routine making life more manageable.

I left there feeling proud. Proud thinking back at what I have accomplished over the last 4 years of being a mom. Proud of how mature, strong and centered I’d become. I felt confident giving my friend advice. I felt a sense of accomplishment for overcoming all the pain, agony, depression and uncertainty. I felt proud of how selfless I have become and that my priorities are mainly focused on my family. I was happy that my husband and I, despite the challenges becoming a parent presents you with as a couple, were able to communicate with each other in order to make it through the early days, weeks and months. I also know that we have a long road of parenting yet to travel and know we already have the necessary tools to take whatever life throws at us. I felt blessed to have a partner who understands me and when he doesn't understand me he know to just take a step back or simply give me a hug.

Whenever I feel sorry for myself as if I am the only woman on earth who has had to go through what I've gone through and continue to go through as a mother. I remind myself that millions of women give birth and millions of women have to raise children. If they can do it, so can I. However, I am also reminded that despite this, women really do deserve respect and to be put on a pedestal for their responsibilities as mothers, if not from men, then at least from each other.

I watch all of these "Housewives" reality shows and see these women behaving badly and treating each other like crap, and I think these women should be supporting each other, not tearing each other down. I think about my own life and how I've wasted too much time comparing myself to other people and worrying about what people think of me.  It reminds me that none of that matters. Women should really band together and make each other feel good and confident about themselves for what they have accomplished whether they are mothers or not. We should wear our stretch marks, momma pooches, varicose veins and saggy boobs from nursing like badges of honor.

So, my gift to my friend, besides a bottle of Cuervo Gold Margarita, is love, support, respect and the ability to sneak off and take a shower. A few days after I visited my friend, she sent me a text thanking me for helping her and then apologizing for not being there when I had my kids. I told her she should not apologize. There are probably plenty of my friends or family who had kids before me that I didn't help out as much as I probably should have because until you have your own, you just cannot fathom how hard it is. I told her all she can do is pay it forward.  I know that every minute she'll learn something new and with that comes confidence so that someday she can help another mommy out and share her experiences.