Thursday, May 28

Identity in check

For as long as I can remember writing has been my outlet, my private time, a moment to reflect and sort my thoughts.

It's therapeutic. At times it is poetic, and others it is just plain psychobabble. But it's there for me whenever I need to use it which has always been a comfort, and since I've been home with the munchkins I've found moments of solace when I'm able to retrace through steps of time transforming into a person of another moment as I reflect on my journals, all eleven of them to date.

I picked up my tenth journal a week ago and thumbed through pages documenting my pregnancy with Mason and shortly after he was born. It was a pile of endearing transcrptions about the newfound love I had for my first child. Suddenly when he was about four months old the newness and wonderment tapered off.

Maybe it was post-holiday blues. Maybe it was the encroaching Spring track season when I knew Jason would be gone for 60+ hours a week. Maybe it was both.

Maybe I was also beginning to struggle with a new identity. Women don't talk about how hard that is- to go from professional extraordinaire to diaper changing guru. It is a change. To go from water cooler talk to goo-goo-ga-ga one sided conversation is equally different.

Sometime in February 2007 I honed in on an urge to reconnect with old friends. So me and Google became good partners and I managed to track down a few. I was home with a baby who I loved so unconditionally, yet I felt so alone in every sense. I yearned for connections, and starved for good conversation that so lacked in my daily life.

"Yet more than finding these connections [with old friends], I desperately yearn more than anything to find myself," I wrote.

Those words made me ache inside because although I know it's something I still struggle with, I'm doing much better. But that initial shock of... loss, I suppose, was a feat to overcome. I have since acknowledged this identity issue in the same regard as an ongoing acne problem. It's there. It's not very attractive, but it comes and goes as it pleases. I know it's an inherant problem that constantly remains. I just deal with it.

I reconnected with friends.
I became a huge fan of Rachael Ray cooking. And that's a delicious reward itself.
I took up the position of chief landscaper at my house.
I dove into books. Good ones. Not parenting magazines. Good plot thickening books.
I gave birth to this here blog.
I succumbed to the relaxation of power yoga.
I commit to my 5am gym compadres five days a week.
I take pride in being the photographer of the family.
I enrolled in an art class at our local musuem.

Just last week, I picked up my brand new pack of charcoals and put my fears aside that this new sketch would NOT turn into a stick drawing of my kids but something decent. After two mediocre attempts I got something down that was workable and I went with it. Unforgiving and challenging, charcoal is something that is truly difficult to work with but when I finished this morning it felt amazing.

Do I still struggle with who in the hell I am? Absolutely. I shared drinks with some good friends from high school last month and one of my fellow moms shared a quote with us about just this topic.

"Motherhood brings as much joy as ever, but it still
brings boredom, exhaustion, and sorrow too. Nothing else ever will make you as happy or as sad, as proud or as tired. For nothing is quite as hard as helping a person develop his own individuality
especially while you struggle to keep your own." [Marguerite Kelly & Elia Parsons]
Whatever length of time it is before you arrive at the conclusion that you don't know who you are anymore besides Mom, I can say that finding some well-deserved time for you is both priceless but necessary.

It might keep things in check for some of you, but for me it's been a saving grace.
Your husband and your kids will thank you for it. And more importantly you'll thank yourself.

Tuesday, May 26

Just in case you forgot

I am a Jon & Kate Plus 8 naysayer.

Most of the time when a friend asks if I watch it, I groan. I have three of those things I call offspring and so no, I steer away from shows devoted to the chaos "they" bring after they are in bed.

But yes, I have seen the above show. Sometimes in desperation I watched for a mere two minutes until Kate mouthed off to her husband or snapped at her kids then passed a knowing eye-roll to the camera crew. I avoid it because they've created a brand out of their family. Don't misunderstand that I just have a vengence for Jon & Kate, because I also scrutinize the Duggar's and other crazy Octomom type charades blasted over the vicious channels of media these days.

But last night I shamefully sat on my chair watching the overly publicized season opener of Jon & Kate Plus 8 which may have been the kiss of death for the show. And rightfully so.

The parents are just like me and Jason. No, well, not really. I just mean that they are a mom and a dad trying to raise their kids who are just numerically beyond the norms of society. And they've been taped by a camera crew, coached by a producer, and assisted by publicists but otherwise they are just parents.

And so to people like me, who mostly live under a rock when it comes to reality television, I understood in advance that there was some type of speculation of adultery going on off-camera as I watched last night while they danced around "the topic". If you've shopped at a grocery store in the past six months you could not have avoided their pictures plastered across the tabloids in the check out aisle. It was out of the question to avoid this topic on their own show.

I watched the train wreck as their premiere went from happy-awkward children's birthday party to estranged Barbara Walters style interviews focusing on each parent separately who discussed their point of view on the demise of their marriage currently dissolving before American family room TVs.

At one point, Kate pondered how their marriage got to this point, and how to fix it. You've got to be kidding me.

This is what gets me. As a mom and a wife, I completely understand how things can get skewed in a marriage making life at home a bit uneasy. I totally get that.

But to be baffled after signing over the privacy of your life to mainstream media that one day it crumbles at your feet? This is basic decision making 101. Pros and cons weigh our every day decisions, and if it was an afterthought that maybe turning family into celebrity may be a hefty con then at least while you're tumbling down hill in a hurry with your marriage and kids in the crux of the fall make a daunting escape to salvage what you may.

Before having kids I think we are all misled a bit. Friends and family promise you that the parenting gig is a priceless but difficult one. It's exhausting, but if you knew now what you knew then you would still do it all over again. And so I know that the peaks, valleys and mountains that me and Jason have faced already is only a picture of what's to come in our hopefully long journey together. But those are quasi-normal difficulties without the added influx of fame, money and media overexposure in our lives.

But I certainly hope and damn near expect that if a decision we made as a couple began to unravel our family I would make a graceful exit. Pronto.

It comes down to our priorities. Like I said, I know things get clouded when you're parenting. But turn off the damn cameras and focus on your family. My heart bleeds for these kids who are in the center of this mess. It's a sick twist in irony to see how a show that began because of the multiples, all eight of them, are now going to ultimately suffer as a result of it.

And any parent no matter how clouded their vision can plainly see that.

Thursday, May 14

Don't step on my toes

"Maaaa-meeee! Watch me slide all by myself!"

Little blond curls blurred in between the railings and feet in motion paced over the grid lined stairs to the top of a winding slide at the park behind our house. Looking for my eyes, Mason yelled for me again.

"Mommy, are you coming?"

I snuck around the side of the slide out of his eye sight and I jumped up in the air where he quickly looked over, his eyes lit up and he began squealing in laughter.

His laugh has always been one of my most favorite attributes, and when it's a genuine giggle, his cheeks round like apples causing his blue eyes to squint just so. Like most parents, I am susceptible to a fit of laughter when I hear him, and it's a sound that I love.

I continue playing this age appropriate peek-a-boo game with him each time his laughter getting louder and more intense. I hide and bang on the slide which he finds amusing and hilarious that a thunderous sound is coming from his mom without the slightest idea where I would appear.

While I continued this game with him, suddenly everything around me was slowing in motion as my mind flooded with two and a half years of memories. The laugh, his sparkling eyes. My little boy standing before me who is quickly becoming the master of the playground seems like only yesterday showered me with the same contagious laughter at four months of age laying under his hippo play gym while I played a more traditional peek-a-boo for the same amusement. I was befuddled. Stunned. The laughter remains but my God he has grown up.

A knot briefly formed in my throat and I quickly chased it away by just absorbing the moment of fun exploring with Mason and discovering new levels of our relationship. It becomes obvious that my kids continue to reinforce the simple notion that motherhood is a priceless yet bittersweet journey; it is joy and love, but it is sadness and heartache.

Finally after another minute or so Mason takes a plunge down the slide and proudly sits at the bottom. When I offer a hand to help his feet reach the mulch he reminds me, "No, Mommy. I can do it by myself."

Sorry to impede, little man. Sometimes I just try to ignore how quickly you're growing up.

Tuesday, May 12

The trivial Mother's Day confession

I wish I could inject some humor into today's writing.
But it's not here.

I haven't, in fact, been here for a bit. This spring has been hectic in the most modest of terms. I have a love-hate relationship with this season as it is finally an end to cabin fever, but it also resumes to the craziest time of year because Jason is a track coach and spends 86% of the week away from home which I realize is still less than some.

With the toddler boys and a teenage lady of the house it makes my world spin on its side a little longer. Coincidentally I also find that I tend to appreciate my kids much less these three months out of the year which only furthers my bittersweet sentiments toward spring.

To add to this Jason has been going through a whirlwind of sorts too. Nine years ago, he met various doctors and underwent second opinions of a diagnosis doctors conceived was Multiple Sclerosis.

Jason at his very core, is an intense athlete and exudes the physique of an Olympic runner, in my very bias opinion. He's very inward about his diagnosis, and rarely talks about it to people mostly because I think he wants to avoid the very stereotype associated with MS-- disability. After trying two different medicines over the past nine years and without any physical episodes since the original in 2000 and his MRIs only showing improvement we decided to speak with a neurologist closely focused on MS instead of a doctor dealing with a dozen different neurological ailments.

The search to find someone at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital was not difficult. So about a month and a half ago we set out on a new journey with a doctor who is on the cutting edge and directing the neurology department at UPenn. His resident who spoke with us for 45 minutes even seemed to allude to a misdiagnosis.

"Most people I see in here are female, or unfortunately overweight. You seem to miss both of those characteristics, I see," he said making light of the situation.

We even spoke with Jason's doctor for another half an hour but his feelings seemed to be more realistic I suppose. "Your father has MS, too, correct?" he said grimly. We nodded in agreement and he resumed to order more MRIs, an eye scan, and a lumbar puncture [LP] which Jason never opted to do nine years ago which also happens to be the most critical diagnostic test used in pinpointing MS. I could see Jason cringe in his seat squirming at the thought of a nine inch needle entering his spine.

What Jason feared most ended up happening... probably in most senses of what he imagined being the worst. He never complains. He never appears to be scared of anything. He leads the optimistic conversation in our home and in his classroom, yet I knew he was scared of the possible migraines to follow the LP. He was in the 3% who earned the god-awful migraines that tapered off after two weeks.

I never wavered in my support. For the first time in years I mowed the lawn- several times, in fact. With a freaking reel push mower. On a half acre. After a week of rain. Complaints were out of question when I would think of what Jason was going through. The boys were out of control as we were stuck inside while all the rain in our backyards kept them caged, and with Jason in such pain he had no "Daddy Energy" for them either and I come nowhere close to that level. I have a new found respect for single moms who do it all and do it well. Because I was exhausted.

Then last week we met with the neurologist who confirmed the second fear.
"You still have MS, Jason."
I don't think I remember so much of the smaller details of that conversation. Eye scan was great. MRIs showed growth in lesion quantities in the brain and the spine. The LP was positive for MS.

"But isn't there a benign MS," I retorted. "Because I've read about this new category of MS," just in case he missed that on the latest Google searches.
"Jason hasn't relapsed in nine years, so couldn't stay in remission--"

"His MS is active. His brain is just keeping up with the growth and he doesn't show the physical affects of it," the doctor said cutting me off.

The hour and a half drive home was pretty quiet. I'm pretty sure that those words were chilling to me. They burned in my mind as we drove home. What does this mean? It means he is back on the shots and continues training and fighting it like hell. Because it means he doesn't know if and when it will show up again and if it does how strong it will be or if it will go away quite as easily as it did nine years ago.

That night I retold the facts of the appointment to family repeatedly as Jason tried to relax for the night probably running the months' events over in his mind without mentioning it to me.

A few days later I was looking forward to a day. Selfishly enough I was looking forward to Mother's Day. I'm a believer in age old selfish events like my birthday and new indulgent ones celebrating my new found love of being a mom.

The embarrassed part of me admits now how hurt I was when I walked out to the kitchen on Sunday only to find two cards from my kids. They were sweet and endearing, and Jason printed pictures on the outside of the envelopes which I carefully opened with a steak knife for safekeeping. I secretly hoped that my card from Jason was hiding somewhere in the house with a bouquet of flowers or something. As the day wore on, it became more obvious it just wasn't happening.

It was a huge conflict of emotions. A part of me felt so hurt that I didn't even get a "Hey, Wifey, I love you for all that you do and what you've been through with me this past month and all those before... and for everything you do at home 24/7. Oh and enjoy the wildflowers too."
The other part was thinking, "You idiot, how can you expect that? Your husband is in a tornado right now! You can't be in the forefront of his world, when he doesn't even know what end is up."

So there, I admit it. I was swindled by Hallmark, 1-800-Flowers, and the five-star hotel down the road a bit who hosts a lavish Mother's Day brunch. So when the kids napped, I painted our bathroom with Jason and then I prepared the grilled feast I was serving to my in-laws for the occasion. A drained mother I was, and I felt resentful for it. Our evening ended on a more dramatic note than I had hoped as all of my emotions guiltily surfaced. It was what it was.

But this husband of mine is the same one who took inspiration from my favorite book, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, for Christmas this year and built me my very own art easel, purchased some canvas, a set of brushes, and oil-based paints. He also accompanied all of this with the movie.

So he gets a free pass for this Mother's Day because I know it was certainly out of character for him to bypass a holiday attributed to his hormonal emotionally-charged wife. In the end, I realize to appreciate what I have as he suggested. To him, he meant the cards with my kids' pictures printed on the envelopes.

To me, I realize that I've been given much more in these past five years of marriage, and much more than what could be wrapped up in a holiday. He's okay, right now. I certainly hope the MS continues to avoid being physically present in my husband's nervous system, but for the nine years it abstained from harming him and the many more years I hope it continues in that same manner... that I've realized, is exactly what we need.