I still get angry

Q: What is the easiest, fastest way to make something change?
A: Blog about it.

When I wrote the babble piece about my decision to take anti-depressants last winter, I was still working on accepting this dark part of me. I was also feeling just a tad bit high from feeling better, especially the change in my ability to tolerate the type of frustration that is an inevitable part of parenting. My longer fuse was the best, most high-inducing result of my medication.

I have come down just a bit now.

I still feel like the medication I take has helped me immensely. I believe it is a huge part of why my life, my marriage, my parenting and my psyche are so much better today than this time last year. Pr0zac brought my mood up enough that the community building, self care and therapy I've been working so hard on actually made a difference. But sure enough, as soon as I blogged about it, extra-publicly, a harsh reality set in: I still get angry and I still don't know how to deal with it.

Being home with the girls this summer was not easy for me. Their intense interactions, while often heartbreakingly loving and sweet, are just as often loud and combative. My days are filled with high drama, even higher decibel levels, and constant mediation. This week has its own challenges: CG's away and Z started full day school, with our usual collective issues in transitioning.

In the past few weeks, I've found myself gritting my teeth again, yelling when I should have walked away, apologizing later. It was a particularly ironic time to also fielding comments on a public piece about Feeling Better. There have been moments I felt like a fraud.

On the whole, I am feeling so much better. On the whole, I am happier, more patient on this medication.

And I am still a deeply imperfect person. I still get frustrated and angry with my children and medication has softened that but can't fundamentally change that.

When talking to my mom last night, I lamented a scene earlier in the day, when the girls repeatedly interrupted a phone conversation I was having and then followed me while I tried to get away from them to calm myself down. "But I was yelling and stomping around and felt so angry and out of control," I said to her.

"That's what anger looks like," she said kindly. "It's okay to get angry."

I know it's okay to get angry - theoretically. I know it's supposed to be healthy to let it out. But I hate the way it feels: the muscular tension, the burning desire to destroy something, the momentary lapse of my relative sanity. And I hate that my children, who look to me as an example of how to behave, who are so small and vulnerable, see me like that.

Z and I talk a lot about what to do with our "bad" feelings, because she's an emotional, intense, sensitive person, too. We talk about how it feels to be sad or angry or frustrated, what we want to do when we feel that way but shouldn't because it might hurt other people or ourselves, what we can do to help ourselves that is healthy and reasonable.

I just wish I was more than a step ahead of her on this journey.


On the brink

Last summer, Z struggled with swimming. Getting her face wet, her hair wet, her ears, mouth, eyes, any of it, all of it, was unbearable. She loved to play in the water and to swim with her swim vest, but only if water never touched anything north of her neck. She clung to me sometimes, taking cover, wanting protection.

This was a bit trying and I fought a vague, deep, familiar worry that this would never pass. That this time, this struggle would be permanent.

My ability to worry that things won't change knows no bounds; it repeatedly trumps all evidence to the contrary. That every moment of life is change is evident in every breath. I ignore this clear truth, I dig in my heels and fight it, even when it doesn't serve me or the people I love.

As this summer began, Z swam a lot, but always with her swim vest on. She slowly, imperceptibly grew more comfortable in the water. Her face got splashed and she miraculously survived. Her ears filled with water and then drained fully, none the worse for wear.

Still, though, the swim vest.

Two weeks ago, after lamenting to us that the summer was almost over and she still didn't know how to really swim, she started a "swim camp": thirty minutes a day every day, three students, one teacher. And within two days, she had herself a fully submerged doggy paddle.

I was astonished, though I knew, if I actually thought about it like a normal person, that this day would come eventually.

But here it was, she was swimming. And it felt like a victory, a miracle.

Last week, at the end of the camp, they were working on jumping into the water. By this point, she could slide into the water and submerge herself slowly but jumping in - fast, high, deep - was new. She couldn't quite bring herself to do it.

She sat on the edge of the pool and said, "It's like I'm ready to jump in and I'm not, all at the same time."

"I understand that feeling," I told her. "And it's okay. Keep enjoying your time in the pool and you'll get there. Look at how far you've gotten already!"

She nodded and smiled and a new confidence shone in her eyes as she slipped into the pool, and splashed away from me.

She no longer clings to me in the water. I only watch her as she floats and spins and splashes beyond my grasp.

She starts kindergarten tomorrow. I feel like I'm ready to jump in and I'm not, all at the same time.


Our unlived lives

Saturday night, we had dinner with a couple I've never met before. They are co-workers of my husband's, meaning they are both highly educated scientists, meaning I would be completely and totally outnumbered by PhDs.

I go into these dinners knowing full well that I will be lost several times in the midst of the conversation; I accept this. My husband is supportive and does all he can to ease my discomfort. I remind myself that I'm happy with what I've done with my life so far, and that no matter how many degrees they have, I am not inferior.

But I do still have to remind myself of this, every time.

This couple was very nice, friendly, warm and they were interested and able to talk about a lot of things besides science. They asked me about myself and steered the conversation back to topics I could participate in when it turned inevitably to the science, gossip and acronyms of their workplace.

Then, after I mentioned that the girls start school next week, Z for full day kindergarten and E for three mornings a week, the husband asked me: "So, after taking five years off to raise your kids, are you happy with that decision?"


I paused, blinked a few times and said, "Well, that's the $25,000 question now isn't it?" and we all laughed, me uncomfortably, while I silently begged for someone to change the subject.

I wish I had had the presence of mind to answer our dinner guest - a childless, highly esteemed scientist, who had no idea how prickily I would respond to his question - with a proud, confident, quick answer: "Yes, I am happy with the decision I made. And I can't wait to see what I do next."

Instead my ambivalence ruled and I went to bed with his question still ringing in my head. Have I taken "five years off"? Off of what? How many more years will I "take off"? Am I happy with this decision?

When I woke up, I read the Lives column of today's Sunday New York Times, which is tied with the Modern Love column as my biggest NYT obsession, and this quote jumped out at me. "She even threw Carl Yung at me: 'Nothing has a stronger influence.... on their children than the unlived lives of their parents."

I believe that many parents, perhaps all, have "unlived lives", the shadow hopes and identities and plans that are repressed or simply set aside as the pressures and obligations of parenthood take over. That this happens seems a natural component of parenthood, moms and dads, employed and staying at home. Perhaps it is even an inevitable part of growing up, whether you become parent or chose childlessness.

The danger for SAHMs seems deeper to me, though maybe this is just because it's where I am, right now. Those of us who chose to - or must - spend our time at home for large portions of our kids' childhoods run the risk of investing ourselves so deeply in our children that we cannot see past them. Or we interrupt our own job development and momentum at a time when others are just picking up steam in their self-discovery. We leave - or never enter- the world of outside work, where achievement and advancement are overt, measurable, and - in some segments of society - deeply valued above all else.

Among the many things I wish I had had the fortitude to tell our dinner guests, the first was that I have not really taken time off of anything. My dancing "career", which I really must put in quotes as I barely earned any money ever, was naturally coming to an end when I got pregnant, and all the various other ways I filled in my gaping financial gaps never really amounted to a "career" without quotes either. In the circles that he and my husband run in, most couples meet when they both are in graduate school, support each other through dissertation writing, and coordinate two job searches in the hope of arriving in the same general vicinity as one another as they juggle the demands of two high level academic positions.

That was not our story.

There is little question that my "unlived life" is an intellectual one. When I decided, in my twenties, not to go to graduate school but instead to dance and wait tables and become a massage therapist and write grants and etc. etc. etc.... it was with the naive thought that I could always go to graduate school "later". But as open as life can seem to a twenty year old, it sure feels different to this almost forty year old. The daily choices that you make dig grooves, slowly, imperceptibly, until one day you wake up and realize that your groove is so deep you can't see out of it and that you haven't used your brain in any majorly intellectual way in so long you're pretty sure you can no longer count as high as the number of IQ points you have lost.

The thought of going back to graduate school at this point in my life seems impossible, for lots of reasons, the first of which is that I'm no longer sure what I would study in the first place. Perhaps it seems impossible because of where we live, far out from a major city. Or maybe it's due to the creep of middle-aged mental rigidity; the neurons that once held statistics and vocabulary and the square root of the hypotenuse surely have withered irreparably, that ship has clearly sailed. Drawing another ship into this harbor seems naive, a hazy daydream, to be quickly set aside as soon as the clothes dryer beeps.

Or maybe this is just the remnants of my depression, a habit of negative thinking that keeps me from experiencing joyful possibility.

I know this: I hold inside me an "unlived life', one about graduate school, the promise of in depth study of something that fascinates me, that I want to recover or discover or possibly take a good look at and finally, fully, put to rest.

Do you have an "unlived life"?


Free time! It's coming!

In just a few weeks, Z will be in full day kindergarten and E will be in preschool for three mornings a week. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around all the kid-free time I'm about to have. It is currently a mirage in the distance. One which I fantasize about regularly as it ever so slowly approaches. Oh, all the glorious free time I will have!

In reality, of course, it will be far too easy for me to fill the 9 hours a week of kid-free time. Our house alone could use that attention and then some. Organizing, cleaning, decorating: none of these things come naturally to me and there are a handful of rooms in our home that could use 9 hours a week - EACH - for many months.

I have a list of doctor appointments I've put off making for months or, in some cases, years. Basic self-care seems like a good use of the time, doesn't it?

I want to write more. I don't know what that means yet, but I am thinking of setting aside at least one of the mornings that E's in preschool to find out. Writing is, to be honest, another form of self-care for me, though it often feels selfish, I hope to find a way to make some money at it, too.

In general, I know I want to use the time in a way that benefits both me and my family. I want to do things that will ease the load on all of us when we are together. That is, after all, a major benefit of me not working, one of the biggest gifts that I give my family: nights and weekends are for relaxing, being together, seeing friends, exploring, and sometimes tackling major house projects. I can do the shopping, cleaning, laundry, and general housekeeping on weekdays.

I want to use the time in a way that opens my world up, instead of closes it further. I have relished the closing of focus that comes with a beloved child's birth. I have spend the better portion of the last five years focused so much on the minutiae of what happens inside our little home, my gaze narrowed even further to two faces and two bottoms, that I have barely registered the world at large. I am now ready for a wider horizon.

This clearly means that I need to seriously limit the amount of time that I spend in the house during my kid-free time. I fantasize about really cleaning and organizing our pantry so that it will no longer look like we are preparing - sloppily- for Armageddon. Our garden needs dedicated attention. The closets all need to be rejiggered in a major way. But as much as I dream of all those places being shiny and organized, I know that I desperately need to extend my gaze past my pantry, my garden, my closets.

I want to reach out more into the community. About as often as I fantasize about cleaning out our pantry, I fantasize about walking into the Habitat for Humanity offices around the corner from my house and offering them three hours a week of whatever they deem me capable. Or finding other volunteer opportunities to take me out of my tiny world, if only for a few hours.

I realize I am getting ahead of myself. I think I'll start with a few doctor's appointments and maybe give myself one morning a week to just write for three hours straight and see what happens.

And there is always that pantry.


Love and care

Reading Oprah magazine can be a dangerous thing, especially when one is prone to adopting all self-help spiels within a ten yard radius. I have to gently remind myself that these articles are not direct personal missives that I must immediately employ.

I have a great idea for a memoir! I'll follow all the advice ever given by Oprah and her minions for a year and .... oh wait.

Martha Beck's work, though, often speaks to me. I loved her memoir about the birth of her child, "Expecting Adam", and her monthly Oprah columns always seem to highlight something I struggle with.

This latest one- about the difference between loving someone and caring for them- is no exception. In it, Ms. Beck recounts telling a client of hers: "I love you. I don't care what happens to you."

Now I think Ms. Beck is clearly going for shock value here. To the overly sincere among us, the thought of saying "I don't care what you do" to someone we love is incomprehensible. Of course we care what they do. We care about everything.

Caring, Ms. Beck says, "with it's shades of sadness, fear and insistence on specific outcomes- is not love. In fact, when care appears, unconditional love often vanishes."

She is not talking about parenting here, clearly. As parents we need to care, do we not? I care whether my kids brush their teeth, act safely, treat others respectfully. I believe it is my job to do so. How else will they become healthy, loving, productive members of society? Aren't we supposed to keep our eyes, at least partially, on "specific outcomes", if only of the "don't wind up an axe-murderer" variety?

Or maybe this reveals an inherently cynical, Calvinist, pessimistic view of humanity on my part. On some level, I assume that if parents loosen their grip on their child's every behavior, the next generation will fall into a pit of depravity.

I know this is an essential part of my work as a mother: to detach just enough, to give my kids the space to be their own imperfectly perfect snowflake selves. As Ms. Beck tells us: "Real healing, real love comes from people who are both totally committed to helping- and able to emotionally detach."

This has long been my problem. This is why I didn't go into social work when I graduated from college: I had no ability to emotionally detach from the people I met when working in my social work internships. I cried into my pillow every night about the kids I worked with in the special ed classroom. I overextended myself when working as an advocate for battered women, taking their calls late at night in my dorm room, never saying no. I have always been committed to helping- and completely unable to emotionally detach.

Is emotional detachment, on some level, a healthy thing for a mother to have? And if so, how the heck can I get some?

I get invested in the people I love. So invested that I begin to think that I know best how they should be living. So invested that I think if they would just do xyz....

I've been noticing this since I read the article: when I have an internal reaction to the behavior of someone I love, am I trying to control their behavior? Can I let go of what I think they should be doing and how I think they should be doing it and just let them be? Can I do all that and still love them, unconditionally? This has been so helpful in dealing with the adults in my life. I believe this bit of Ms. Beck's advice is deeply useful.

But, of course, as a mother of young children, I immediately come back to my relationship with my girls. I am struck by how much time and effort and CARE I put into mothering them. So much so that I care deeply about what they do and how they do it. That investment is part of mothering, in these younger years, isn't it? They are still learning so much and it is my job as a parent to teach them what is expected of them.

So how and when do I move to loving them unconditionally, emotionally detaching from what exactly they are doing? How and when do I know to relax the reigns of correcting and structuring and teaching and just let them be who they are?

It seems obvious that we as parents will get this balance wrong at some point. We will not care enough about what our kids are doing, not give them enough structure or high enough expectations and they will never learn manners or self protection or the satisfaction of achievement.

And if we care too much for too long? We will surely foster dependence and resentment, stunting their self-awareness and our own lives in the process.

I do not want to be a mother who lives for her kids. I do not want to be so invested in their lives that I fall apart at their eventual departure from this nest. I do not want to care so much what they do and how they do it that I forget to just love them.


My mom took Pr0zac and all I got was this lousy blog post

Today, an essay I wrote over six months ago went up on babble.com. When I wrote it, the admission of my depression was still a new one to me, a recent discovery after a difficult year filled with several of the top stressors one can face. I was not a catatonic, softly weepy sylph like I imagined depressed people would be. I was, in short, a bitch.

Today I don't think about being depressed much, because I'm not. I mean, I DO still have depression, I guess, but having been on this medication for almost a year now, I don't experience the worst of those feelings any more. In fact, after blogging about depression a bunch last winter, I haven't written about it at all since then. Whether it's the magic of Pr0zac or time healing these wounds, depression just hasn't been on my mind. Can I get an AMEN?

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me is that I'm still myself while taking this little pill. I was so worried medication would change my personality in ways I could never recover and it just hasn't, I'm still me. Pr0zac took the edge off of some pretty awful feelings and set free the parts of myself so tramped down by negativity that I couldn't see the forest for all the m-f-ing trees. People told me it was possible to feel lighter, happier, but in the depths of my depression, I wouldn't let myself believe them.

Every time friends and loved ones tried to throw me a life preserver, I was sure they were trying to hit me on the head with a hard, white doughnut.

I have been unbelievably lucky with my medication so far. I'm on a low dose of the very first medication I've ever tried, with side effects that are minor and debatable. I know this is the not the case for many, many people. Reading about the trials of anti-depressant medication over at dooce or finslippy is not for the faint of heart.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do think there have been some effects besides the desired disappearance of my darkest moods. Though I was far from organized perfection, before I started taking Pr0zac, I was perpetually on time, remembered to mail things a week before they were due, kept on top of my kids' whereabouts at all times. Now, it's not unusual for me to be 10 minutes late, to forget to mail birthday cards till the day of the birthday, to let my kids wander just a little further from me. Sometimes this relaxation of vigilance feels foreign, unsafe. Mostly it feels like a long, slow exhale.

I'm also not sleeping as much as I used to, or maybe I'm just waking up more easily, more refreshed and ready to tackle my day. Since I'm no longer plagued by late night insomnia or early morning fantasies of running away, good sleep is easier to come by. At first I was so concerned about my new-found positive energy that I convinced myself that I must be bipolar. Yep, I almost didn't let myself enjoy feeling better.

There's been a lot in the news lately about anti-depressants being no more effective than a placebo. To that I say this: I don't really care. I know how I felt before I started taking this medication and I know how I feel now. I don't care if the pills are full of brain enhancing medication or simple sugar or bee spit. I'm forever grateful for the change they've given me.

One of my biggest fears in starting this medication was how I would eventually get off of it. (Way to put the cart before the horse, depressed lady!) I'm not worried about that at the moment. Maybe I will need to continue taking medication for the rest of my life. That thought, which used to terrify me, seems reasonable to me today, given how I currently feel. I want to feel this way, like a normal person with a balance of good days and bad days, for the rest of my life. And if medication is what I need for that to be true, then so be it.

Making the decision to take that first Pr0zac pill was a deeply scary leap for me. After years of talking and crying and talking some more, I swallowed and waited and hoped. I gave up control, admitted I needed help and let go of my deepest preconceived notions about myself.

Making the decision to become even more public with this decision, to publish the babble piece, is another scary leap. While my maiden name is the same as several actresses and at least one TV character, it is still the name that most people who've known me would Google.

Well, here I am, friend from sixth grade. Yes, I do now need to wear a bra every day, but not for the reasons I'd always hoped.

Now, would you go over to the babble piece and say hi?


The Hair

Z wants to grow her hair long.

I'm surprised by this request, as she has hated having her hair washed, brushed, combed, pony-tailed, TOUCHED since birth. She emerged from my undercarriage with a thick, full head of hair and never looked back. As it grew in unwieldy, scraggly tufts, my every attempt at brushing, barrettes or ponytails, no matter how benignly gentle, were met with angry rebukes. I was not interested in fighting with her about her hair. So another Dorothy Hammill was born.

Z, age TINY.

This short haircut of Z's was so easy, for all of us. We took her to get her hair cut every six weeks, where she could zone out to Dora while the scissors flew around her head. We washed it once a week, we brushed it maybe twice as often. The rest of the time, her hair was just there.

I look at little girls with long, smooth ponytails or complicated braids and wonder how much effort goes into that style and whether it was their idea or their parents'? I know some girls love having their hair fussed over, and maybe some really enjoy sitting still while their mothers pull a brush through tangled knots and OKAY, REALLY? DO ANY LITTLE GIRLS LIKE THIS??

I've really loved Z's short hair, not only because it minimizes the number of minutes I have to listen to whining, screaming or "YOU'RE PULLING OUT MY SCALP!" but also because it's so darn spunky. I liked that it set her apart from all the girls with long hair in ponytails. I liked thinking she was doing her own thing.

Though, I realize as I write this, it was most likely entirely MY thing.

Is our girls' hair, and what we do with it, really all about us?


When I was about five, my mother took me to a hairdresser, whispered a request and sat back to watch as the hairdresser proceeded to slice off many inches of thick, tangled hair that I refused to brush. I was shocked, and deeply unhappy with what was deemed a "pixie cut" by the hairdresser and a "boy cut" by every kid in our neighborhood. Gone was the wrangling over hair brushing but also gone was the clearest marker of my femininity. I did NOT approve.

I grew my hair long as fast as I could and kept it long for the rest of my childhood.

I remind my mother of this moment as often as possible for maximum guilt inducement.


Sometime this Spring, Z began asking us to let her grow her hair long. I reminded her that if she had long hair, we'd have to wash it more often, put it up out of her face sometimes, and brush it much more often, figuring that this undesirable list would quickly put the kibosh on her plans. It did, for about a month, but then the requests began again in earnest.

"Just cut my bangs, Mommy, let the rest grow LONG."

She doesn't seem to have a specific reason for wanting long hair- she's not desperate for a ponytail, she doesn't have favorite barrettes she's just dying to wear, in fact she still hates those things most of the time. With nothing else clearly forming her opinion, I can't help but wonder if the dominant cultural imperative of Pretty Women Have Long Hair has made it through to her brain.


When I was a sophomore in college, I spent a session at a summer dance festival in Massachusetts. Something magical and deeply adolescent happens at these summer programs: you imagine you are changing in some radical way. I was still convinced I could shed parts of myself like a snakeskin, becoming someone slippery, daring, new.

The culmination of this summer's transformation was a very short haircut from a pricey Boston hairdresser. A bunch of hot, sticky days spent in un-airconditioned dance studios with hair stuck all over my face and a little encouragement from my best friend gave me the push I needed for a drastic cut. I walked out of there feeling like a million spunky bucks. For the last week of the dance festival, I swear I danced a little sassier, like I left some of my reserve along with my hair on the salon floor.

But then I got back to my little college town, where no one was capable of cutting my wavy hair in any style but "ten year old boy" and "blue haired granny". I felt I had to wear dangly earrings and makeup every day to counteract the neutering combination of my butchered hair and curve-less figure.

I quickly grew it long again.


Z is about to start kindergarten, and the gravitational pull of peer influence is getting stronger by the day. I see her carefully watching her friends, trying out what they say on her own lips, seeing if it fits. I can only assume that being one of the few five year old girls she knows with short hair is starting to feel uncomfortable.

I know I have consciously made her hair low fuss because I myself am low fuss about my hair. I use my blow dryer only for special occasions, like when icicles might form on it if I walk out with it dripping wet in February. My flat iron gets dusted off maybe twice a year. I once got in a raging fight with a boyfriend who complimented me on "brushing" my hair, after I had spent an hour blowing it dry, applying four different products and flat-ironing it. If it looked like this when I brushed it, IT WOULD LOOK LIKE THIS EVERY DAY, BUDDY.

Wow. I could still get into that fight TODAY.

I like to think that how I spend my time, every minute, counts. And my girls are paying attention. When CG and I have date nights, I spend time dressing up, putting on makeup, BRUSHING MY HAIR (Anyone want to have this fight with me? I'M READY.). I make an effort to celebrate our dates, to mark them as special, with a little extra effort. I feel good when I'm making these preparations and I think this is a fine message to send to my girls.

But day to day? I've got better things to do than fuss over my hair for an hour. I think this is a GREAT message to send to my girls.

However, I do have long hair. Yes, I've had short, spunky haircuts before. But they never worked for me. I like having long(ish) hair. I feel naked without a ponytail. I've figured out what works for me and I'm sticking to it. I no longer believe that a haircut can change my life.

Sometimes I worry Z will be at a disadvantage socially because I haven't taught her all the girly things she might need to know to fit in with her peers. It is my inner teenager that worries this, of course. I know that what I really want for her is the self-confidence to create her own sense of style and beauty and comfort.

We are going to try this idea of hers, letting her grow her hair long. She needs to be allowed to figure out what works for her. I'm not sure how this'll go but it is her body, and as she gets older, she's going to want to experiment and own every part of it.

Even the dead parts that need to be brushed. Daily.


Postcard from Vermont: I could tell you

I could tell you about the morning I spent sitting on our screen porch watching the sun sparkle on the lake while my two girls played on the floor of their bedroom, shared books from my mother's childhood and giggled.

Or I could tell you about the morning it was rainy and we'd all been up since 6 and the kids were bored with the toys here and I'd lost my temper with the whining several times and it was only 9:20 am.

I could tell you about swimming twice a day in the lake and how deeply joyful it is to watch the girls come to love it as much as I do.

Or I could tell you about how Z shrieks every time she sees algae or snails or dragonflies and how E is completely fearless of the water and gives me an anxiety attack every time she jumps at me from the dock with no warning, a tiny twenty-six pound missile.

I'm struggling in writing, as in life, with where to focus my eyes. There is so much fullness here, so much beauty. And there is so much challenge and frustration and imbalance. And somehow, on vacation, it all seems that much more acute.

I don't want to write arching platitudes, projecting into the world only the best, most polished parts of myself and my life.

Nor do I want to write only of the challenges, the darkness, leaving only evidence of my every misstep.

Maybe I could just tell you that I have returned from a two and a half week summer vacation with my kids at my parents lake houses and that would be enough.

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