These times, they do try us.

When my office started working remotely, a colleague started sending us weekly emails to keep us connected. Usually asking us an engaging question that conjures a quick response. Last weeks was a doozy. She asked us to send in a brief summary of a situation that’s been made difficult by the pandemic. No sugar coating. No filters. She called it “Truth telling Tuesday”. Below was my response.

To: Sarah

Subject: Your timing is impeccable

When I saw this come across my email yesterday, I wasn’t sure what truth to tell.  The Petrov household has had its fair share of trials and tribulations during the pandemic, but once the moment passes, they all seem a bit insignificant.  We move on.  Checking for scars, collecting our new “triggers.” And we as parents start mentally preparing for the next, inevitable, $hit show.  

My dear, sweet Nikola, sensing my dilemma of not knowing what to write about, wanted to help.  So, at 7pm, during our first reading of “Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus”, he looked at me, and I swear, it was like a telepathic exchange. With his eyes, he employed the widely Meme’d idiom “hold my beer”.  And that’s when things went South. Which, in turn, forced us North – To Maine Med ER.

The scream crying came fast and strong.  An ear ache was the instigator.  The medicinal properties of children’s Tylenol were no match for the ailment. And thus, a trip to urgent care was required.  Looking at the clock and knowing that time was not on our side, I scooped up Nikola, and ran as fast as an out of shape woman carrying a 35-pound wailing toddler can.  No time to change out of slippers.  A sacrifice was made.  

A frantic phone call to the urgent care imploring them to please wait for us was to no avail.  We arrived at 8:02 to a dark and locked building.  An additional phone call to his pediatrician and a turn of the heal.  We were off for the 45-minute ride to Portland.  The ER nurses and doctors made quick work of our visit.  For which I am eternally grateful.  

A prescription for an antibiotic would be the cure.  And all I’d need to do, because of the hospital pandemic rules, would be to exit the building, go back to the garage, get myself and cranky toddler back in my car, drive to the main entrance, find parking, get out, get my child out, walk in that entrance, sign in, a left and then a right, and alas our pharmaceutical refuge awaits. 

We purchased the healing, bubblegum smelling concoction, without insurance.  My new insurance card wouldn’t work.   Because, well, Its 2020.  A quick late evening jaunt in a foggy, super shady Portland neighborhood to return to our car. And an end to the adventure was in sight.  I could smell it.  But first, I thought it best to give Nikola his first dose of medicine before we started home.  He looked at me and said “I feel good, mama” I assured him we should take it anyway.  Just to be safe. And then he puked everywhere…. And then that was what I smelled.

Please. Do not tell me what self-care is and what it is not.

There are a few posts going around that have inevitably infiltrated my social media newsfeed, seemingly dozens of times over. They all talk about how going to the grocery store or target, by yourself doesn’t count as “Self-Care.”And I tried to get on board with it. I did. But something just didn’t sit right with me.

And I figured out why…Because it does count. If you want it to, it does. If it makes you feel good and rejuvenated….It does. Stop telling me it doesn’t. Stop forcing the idea that it isn’t enough. Stop telling me that I’m not doing “self-care” right.

With that being said, I’m not you. Everyone is different. Everyone has different needs to be fulfilled. None more or less valid than the other. So, if it doesn’t do it for you; bring you peace contentment..than by all means, pursue other endeavors. No judgement. You do you. But leave me out of it.

Now, the basis of the posts I’ve read is that these tasks are chores. And performing a chore for your family doesn’t count. And if you do take time for yourself you feel guilty for leaving your family.

I feel guilt for everything. I say “I’m sorry” more often than your average Canadian. And I’ve closely, introspectively thought about this for days. And when I think of the “guilt” they are referencing, in context, to me, it more closely resembles empathy. It is a weird, cross-breed of two traits that humans can possess. And it deserves a word in and of itself. We’ll it guiltathy.

I don’t feel guilt for leaving my children to be by myself for a little while, necessarily. I more so feel empathy for the person watching my children. Not that they are a couple of heathens, but watching children is hard. Two kids, ages 2 and 5 months is tricky. I know! I’ve been there. Every day. And that’s where the empathy comes from, right? You pray that they are good. You hope that they take their naps. And use their nice words and listening ears. You will them to be the little angels you know they are when you’re not around. Because you know how hard it is when they aren’t.

The other day, both kids went to daycare for the first time. We just started sending our 5 month old a couple of days a week. After dropping them off I came home sat down, enjoyed a cup of coffee and watched the Today show. I then had the most leisurely shower I have taken in, perhaps a year. And it was incredible. I came out feeling like a new woman. It may have been the fact that I shaved my legs unhurriedly and didn’t miss nearly as many spots as I normally do. It may have been the fact that I was able to think up some creative writing things that had been floating around my head. It may have been the loud singing echoing through the upstairs. It was me.. I was singing… It doesn’t matter what it was, all that matters is that it was enough. For me.

And perhaps tomorrow it won’t be. And I’ll have to find something new. Maybe I’ll come back to those posts and try and get some ideas. Regardless of how this parenting/self-care thing pans out, I don’t think mothers should be told “you’re doing it wrong” right now. We’re all trying our damnedest here.

Enough is as good as a feast

What is enough? It’s an age old question that seems to be having a revival these days. These times of pandemic pandemonium have sent parents and people alike careening towards self-reflection and perhaps more aptly, uncertainty.

While I certainly considered myself to have been wading in those worried waters. I have come out of it on the other side. Because of my good friend Mary Poppins.

Nikola loves Mary Poppins. Watching it no less than 3 times a day while his daycare was closed. Mostly just during the song and dance numbers. During the the toughest weeks of isolation, it was on a constant loop in our house. We have all made deviations from the “plan.” The grandiose visions of healthy daily meal plans, perfectly structured socially distant outings, vision boards of pristine schedules adhered to down to the minute. The invariable feast of almost constant stimulation. All of the things that social media projects that inevitably makes you feel less than when the plan collapses around you. As it almost always does. It doesn’t matter if you have children or not: The above was just an example. This is most everyone these days.

Everyone is dealing with some form of a question in which the repercussions of their answer or choice is unknowable. And while life itself tends to trend similarly – The questions seem bigger now. The impact of our choices seems larger. Looming over us like an ominous storm cloud. A storm we’re not sure we’ll survive.

The question I’m hearing the most from all around me is “is it enough?”

“It” is so many things. To different people. “It” can be:

  • My abilities
  • My patience
  • My concern
  • My time
  • My adaptibily
  • My skill
  • My moral compass
  • My beliefs
  • My faith

I could go on for days, as I’m sure most of you could too.

During this time of isolation, we as humans have gone through periods of trying to provide those around us and ourselves with a feast when “enough” will do. At times draining ourselves dry of energy, clarity, motivation. All of the things we need in order to feel fulfilled. We can’t do that to ourselves. We need to feel good about our day. What we did or chose not to do. Being comfortable with decisions we’ve made, because it was enough. I think we owe it to ourselves to at least try.

And speaking from a parenting perspective: I am absolutely certain that there is no such thing as an “expert” in the realm of parenting. I don’t believe it for a second. All I am sure of is that if you are an active parent who has their child’s well-being at heart than I have no doubt what you’re doing is enough. And I’d be willing to bet that more often than not, it more closely resembles a feast. I hope some people can find comfort in that.

A call to action lends itself to tough conversations

I don’t usually comment on issues such as the ones plaguing our country lately. However, the above image called to me so furiously, I simply have to.

When I watched the video of George Floyd being murdered, my eyes filled with tears. I shook my head, and silently begged for the cop to take his knee of Mr. Floyds neck. Even though I knew the outcome. The headline said it all. But when he cried out “Mama,” my heart imploded. The tears came and didn’t stop. It was my call to action.

I am a white woman from Calais, Maine. The second whitest state in our nation and the 9th whitest city in that state. When I say, I know not of what I speak, that is an understatement. I have no idea how Black people feel right now. I couldn’t begin to fathom. But I do know how I feel. And that feeling compels something in me that I have never experienced with such urgency. I must start speaking up.

I did yesterday. For the first time, with someone I love very much. Someone who I don’t talk about things like this with. Our views differ greatly on most hot button issues. When I called, this person was upset. While it wasn’t about George Floyds death; somehow, the conversation digressed. I remained calm and quiet for a long time. I listened to them go on a diatribe filled with ignorance and hate. And while they were unraveling, I took a moment to plot. Plot the absolute best way to rebuke their sentiments.

Throughout my life I’ve always taken great pride in my ability to connect with people. I don’t know a lot about many things, but I know enough about enough things that I’m able to talk with just about anyone. I’ve always found that speaking to a subject that resonates with someone creates a bond. A lasting connection that will carry through to whatever type of relationship becomes of it. I’ve also found that it may be the best way to have people hear what you’re saying when differences in opinion occur.

So, when they were finished, I told this person that they were one of the most compassionate people I knew. Something I knew they are proud of. But the feelings that they had just expressed didn’t reflect that. I reminded them of the conversation we had the other day about how lucky we were to be born in such a beautiful state. And then I brought them into the present. I said that that when god was handing out straws the day we were born, we drew the long one. We were born white Americans. And if it hadn’t gone in our favor. If we had drawn the short straw. Been born a minority, or in a war-torn country; that I knew they would’ve done whatever it takes for their family to feel safe. To know that they were equal. To not have to live in fear. Things got quiet after that. I don’t know if what I said had an impact. I suspect it did a little. But I do know that I will continue to speak up. To whomever may be challenging me.

With all that being said; the most difficult conversation I had, was the one with myself. Telling myself that it was time to start talking. That being silent and not standing up for what was right was just as bad as the racist population. As I mentioned at the beginning, I don’t talk about these sorts of things often. And that is simply because of ignorance on my part. I worry that the words I use to articulate these thoughts and feelings may not be right or respectful. I do not know any black people well. And I am ashamed of that. If you are a POC and are reading this; I truly welcome any and all feedback. More than anything these events have taught me that I need to educate myself better. Please feel free to reach out to me in any way.

Pregnancy and a Pandemic

We had a bit of a scare last week. Aside from the pandemic itself. At 34 weeks pregnant I started having contractions. Which coincided with some other preterm labor symptoms. I shall spare you all the specifics of my cervix. But thankfully, things have settled down a little bit.

When I got pregnant, I was faced with an ominous feeling that I hadn’t really prepared for. My first son was born at 35 weeks 0 days. And because of that had a required stay in the NICU. That turned out to be an incredibly traumatic experience. I hesitate to use the term “PTSD” simply because I think that it is perhaps a bit too dramatic for what I’m experiencing. But it may be close. In a previous post I wrote about the hysterical crying I experienced throughout my first and second trimester. Every time I thought about going back to that hospital, about delivering my baby, about what “could be” it sent me into a spiral of fear and dread the likes of which I’ve never felt. And while I’ve stopped crying because of those fears, some new ones have taken their place.

As the news spreads and the cases in the US grow, the Covid-19 pandemic has started to takes its toll on my psyche. The past couple of weeks have been worry on top of worry. It has been formidable. It’s such a futile thing, isn’t it? Worry. But, we can’t help it. I think some of us are more susceptible to it than others. Predisposed perhaps. Whether by upbringing, or anxiety disorders. Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t really make a difference. It is just as futile.

So, the catch 22 here is..

We needed to get to 35 weeks and 1 day. That has been the goal for a long time. About 9 months to be exact. 35 weeks and 1 day is the cut off for a mandatory NICU stay. Wednesday, April 1st was that precipose. I even had a premonition that the baby would be born on that day. Last week when the contractions and other things started, I tried to will it to not happen. I needed more time. I needed April 1st. I know that I can’t control things with my mind, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. “If I don’t pack my hospital bag, he won’t come.” It sounded logical, and so it became a theory I put into practice. Needless to say, it worked. Coincidentally….

And here we are on the other side of it by 2 days. Now, I found myself, not necessarily hoping I’ll go into labor, but kind of. The cases of Covid -19 in the state of Maine are growing steadily. There was a large spike today. I live in the most populated county, with the most cases, and will be delivering at the biggest hospital in the state. I’ve been going to the doctor at least once or twice a week, each time asking for status updates on the hospital. The most unsettling thing I think is hearing the answer ” I don’t know” when asking a seemingly easy questions. And it being followed by “it changes every day” as to a policy or procedure.

My worries are that my husband won’t be allowed in. That if we wait too long, that I’ll have to deliver this baby alone. Obviously doctors will be there, but… You know what I mean. The thought of that is hard enough. But if push came to shove (hah!), I’d manage it. The real worry; the deep down, bowl me over fear I have is everything after delivery. What if the baby has to go to the NICU? Will my husband and I be able to see him together? Will only one of us be able to? Can we take turns or is it only one of us for his entire stay? Or better yet – Will we be able to see him at all? Several people in my office building have confirmed cases. The two week self-quarantine period we were on has passed, but is that up to their ever changing standards? What will happen between now and whenever this baby comes that could change the policies of Maine Medical Center and stop us from seeing our baby. And there are so, so many other questions… See? Futile.

So, This is where I’m at. These are the things thoughts that have kept me restless lately. We’re all going to come out of this with our own Pandemic story. And I think mine will be a lot like many others. There’s nothing extraordinary about it. But I find it helpful to write it down.

I’m going to go pack my hospital bag.

Toddlers are the ultimate influencers

While their audience is small it is a captivated one. Parents, day care providers, immediate family. “He loves trucks” I’ll say, and without hesitation, a new truck will promptly find its way into our home.

We are left hanging on their every like and more often than not, dislike. Their trends tend to be fleeting and impulsive. Sometimes lasting no more than a week. We are held captive by their giggles of delight or their screams of displeasure.

My husband and I are lucky though. We have yet to hit the stage where a trip to the store results in a meltdown over an unpurchased toy. Currently his most passionate trends tend to be of the edible nature. He is food motivated. Consistently in the 97th percentile for height and weight. He just wants a banana when we go to the grocery store. But we know it’s coming. We catch glimpses of it from time to time. Usually when a nap is missed.

Its inevitable. The LEGO trend, or Minecraft, or whatever the commercials are hocking. Whatever the other kids have (see? Influencers…) We’ll cross that miserable bridge when we get to it. Like so many before us. And with just as much grace. Absolutely none.

Anticipation.

What an odd thing, antipacation. It has so many different connotations. The anticipation of Christmas morning as a kid, and even now as a parent. It evokes a sense of excitement, something magical. But anticipating news from a doctor’s office comes with a certain sense of dread. It can be good or bad, and either way it feels just about the same physically. But no matter what, I can’t say the word without hearing Carly Simon’s voice. Antici -pay -ay -tion.

My husband and I are expecting our second child in May. Our first son, Nikola, was 5 weeks early. And because he was so early he had a mandatory stay in the NICU. Couple that experience with a tough couple of days in the maternity unit and it has led to an unexpected reaction on my part.

This second pregnancy wasn’t planned necessarily. While my husband and I wanted a second child, this one came a bit sooner than we had discussed. And at the first hint of those telling symptoms, I started to feel something emotionally that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. At first, I was in denial. I didn’t take a pregnancy test for days even though it was clear I was expecting. That should’ve been my first clue that something was up. Eventually I did, and while there was certainly excitement, it came with an overwhelming sense of trepidation.

Every mother has a birth story. And most love to tell theirs. I do not. If I try, I leave parts out. Either because of modesty, or because I’m already crying too hard. At our first doctors appointment, I cried hysterically. And then at our second, and third. I tried so hard to communicate to my doctor what I was feeling. He would try to assure me that it wouldn’t be the same this time. But to no avail. My crying continued far beyond the doctors appointment. It was every night, and throughout most days. People would want to talk about the baby, and I’d stop them. Just the thought of going through what we did last time overwhelmed me more than I could have ever fathomed. The anticipation of it all….

And so that’s where I’ve been mentally. Trying to turn the anticipation of this momentous event that will forever change and shape our lives, from bad to good. It’s been a long road, 6 months to be exact, but I think I am almost there. And because of that, the fog I’ve been walking in has seemingly cleared, and I was able to do this post. It’s incredible how much weight an emotion like that can carry. And you only truly realize it once its lifted.

Grieving For Two

When you have a child, you think about all the little things that will change. You try and mentally prepare yourself for different situations. Think about how you might handle them. But there are so many to prepare for. You can’t possibly think of them all. And you only realize it when you find yourself faced with one.

We lost a family member yesterday. My step-father. He fought a battle that not many could have endured. But somehow, he did. His desire to keep going was always because of his grandchildren. He had big plans for them. He was going to take them places, or plant a garden, or start an orchard. Something. But thats, without a doubt, why he persevered the way that he did. For as long as he did. He didn’t want to miss an opportunity with any of them. And maybe it’s just me, but he seemed to have a special bond with my son. His pal.

I think that’s why his death is so hard. You never want your loved ones to suffer. You never want them to live a life less than. And as his health declined rapidly over the last few weeks, those around him started the grieving process. But, for me, it was different this time.

Not only am I grieving for myself. For the man I had known all my life. A man who was kind, generous, and a constant dreamer. But I grieving for my son.

Nikola loved his Pa. He loved him so so much. I have never known a baby to sit so contently for hours on someone’s lap, but he did. He loved it. Nikola would sit an listen to his Pa talk about all the adventures they were going to go on since he was born. He would look up at him, eyes wide, and just take it all in. Never wiggling, never crying. Just sitting and watching.

I think that what’s making this so hard. Knowing how much Nikola loved him. And while he is just a baby.- Only 14 months, I know that he knows something is different. We were at my mom’s on Sunday, Barry was already in hospice, and Nikola looked at her and said “Papa.” And he said it again this morning when he was playing with a toy Barry had gotten him. He’s a smart little boy.

And so, this is one of the things. One of the things that is different now. I didn’t see it coming, I didn’t think about it. But, here we are. Barry didn’t want people to be sad. He said many times in the last couple weeks that he had lived an incredible life and did all the things he wanted to do. And I think we can find comfort in that.

Extra-Ordinary Love, part 2

Nikola has always been an affectionate baby but lately he seems to have an agenda when dolling out kisses. He has learned that if he gives you a kiss and then asks or points to something, he’s more apt to get it. Whether it be a set of keys you’re fairly certain he’ll lose or if he wants you to play Baby Shark for the umteenth time. With his chubby little hands, knuckle dimples and all, he’ll grab either side of your face and pull you towards his. His mouth open as wide as a largemouth bass. And then, there it is. The kiss that makes you melt, over and over again.

He knows exactly how to manipulate your heart strings. He is smart and perfectly mischievous in the most adorable way. And it’s one of the things I love most about him.

The most masterful linguist, the most articulate wordsmith, wouldn’t be able to scratch the surface of the feeling that is loving your child. It is indescribable in every way. What it means. How it feels. It’s depth, It’s reach. It’s pull. All of it. It is entirely different from every other kind of love that exists. And I understand how incredibly lucky I am to feel it all day, every day.

You don’t know what unconditional love is. You may say you do, but if you don’t have a child, you don’t know what that is. But when you experience it, it is the most fulfilling ever. ”    Regina King

Time Management for Mothers: How to include time for Self-Care?

To be very clear, this is not your traditional “how-to” post. I am looking for an answer, not providing one. This is a question that I am sending out into the void hoping for some insight. This concept is something I’m having a hard time getting my head around. I’m not trying to be a martyr. I’m not trying to convince myself or others of what a selfless mother I am. I simply can not figure out what it means and how to do it.

Is getting a haircut self-care? I think it might be. I haven’t one in almost a year. And I DESPERATELY need one. And when I go over the excuses in my head as to why, it really boils down to time. And perhaps a smidge of laziness.

Is going to the doctor considered self-care? Perhaps. If so, I have indulged in that twice this week. I put it off last week and my illness got worse. Why didn’t I go when I first started feeling under the weather? Nikola had been sick and it was inevitable that I was going to get it. As a mom, I think it may just be commonplace that your primary focus is “I’ll be fine. Let’s get baby healthy.” And now, here I am. sick with a virus that has wreaked havoc on my respiratory and digestive system the likes of which I have never seen or experienced. And due to the contagiousness of the virus my mother had to come and pick up Nikola and take him to her house for a couple of days. This is the first time I haven’t been with him overnight and it has been hard. Is having a “night off” from your baby in order to recuperate self-care?

A few months ago, I posted about some terrible migraines I was having. I received messages from friends with helpful tips and one in particular from an accomplished Yoga Therapist with an offer to come in for an appointment. It was so kind and generous of her to reach out. And I wanted to go. I wanted to make an appointment so badly. But I just couldn’t figure out how to move that appointment to the top of my priority list. For whatever reason.

Time management as a mother has got to be one of trickiest parts of the title. Am I willing to sacrifice time with my son on Saturday to go get a haircut, or to go get a massage, maybe go to the movies? There has been this meme floating around that says something like “Society expects women to mother like they don’t work and work like they’re not a mother.” I have a full-time job that I love. By the time I pick up Nikola at daycare and get home its 5:30pm. Nikola has imposed on himself a strict bedtime of 7:00pm. He just passes out, every night, at that time. So Monday through Friday, I get one and half hours with him. That ain’t a lot. I miss him all day long, and then I miss him when he goes to bed. So, when Saturday and Sunday come along, I just don’t want to NOT be with him. There have been so so many weeks where I’ve said “I’m going to go to the movies this weekend. Have some alone time.” but when the weekend rolls around, those plans have gone out the window. I no longer want to go.

Today, there is such an emphasis on self-care. The importance of it, and I believe it is important. This blog is my main source of it. And even then, I can’t find the time or energy to write a post. While I have 23 posts saved to my “draft” folder. The time and energy it takes to complete, edit and post seems daunting. Even impossible. So, how do you all do it? How do you make time for yourself? What kind of priority do you put on your own self-care? I’m looking forward to reading your comments.