Wednesday, July 30, 2008

ISO... sleep

It's 10:15. I'm greedily consuming my last few minutes of alone time much like my daughter eats ice cream. I should be in bed considering that I've been blurry eyed and sleep deprived for so long that... well... for so long that I can't even find a clever phrase to compare it to. In case you don't believe me, allow me to demonstrate. This morning I dropped off a book that I had borrowed from my professor. He wasn't in his office so I left it on his desk. A few hours later I received an e-mail...

"thanks for returning the book... I was surprised to find a rather large sum of money tucked into the book when I picked it up to return it to the shelf. I can't imagine anyone would want to give me a tip (ha, ha), and even if one did so wish, I could not, in good conscience, accept."

I seriously think he thought I was trying to pay him off (though I don't know why... I swear I got a good grade!). I must have tucked the money for our bills inside the cover on my way out the door. The sad thing is that I didn't even notice it... mostly because things got so hectic this morning that I never got around to paying them... for yet another day...

But onto my reason for this reoccurrence in the battle over sleep. After a year and a half of no sleep by my very strong-willed darling, I had finally achieved the unimaginable. She began sleeping through the night... in her own bed. After several months of her wonderful new sleeping habits, I began thinking she was big enough for her big girl bed. So about a month ago, I turned her crib into a toddler bed. BIG MISTAKE. For instance, the other night, around this same time I hear this muffled choking sort of sound and peak into the hall to see my bewildered daughter blinking in the light... in her arms are her blanket, pillow, cuppa, baby eliza, one dress-up shoe, and a pacifier that she has never used but insists on keeping in bed with her. Her cry is one of confusion- not completely formed and a little spastic- most likely because she is still trying to figure out what is going on. She had fallen asleep in my bed... I had sneaked her back into her own... she HATES that. She drops her cup and as she bends to pick it up loses eliza. It all goes down hill from there. I usher her back into her room which results in a full on foot stomping tantrum. So we go through the whole bedtime routine (short version) and I leave the room. Approximately 30 min later I return to shut off her music, assuming by the silence that my daughter is sleeping peacefully in her bed... which I quickly realize is completely empty. I glance around the room... almost panicked... has my 2 year old resorted to running away already? I peak into the hall... empty. And then it occurs to me... yep... there she is... sleeping peacefully in MY bed (surrounded by blankie, pillow, cuppa, shoe, eliza, and pacie of course). I sneak her back to her bed again. Hhmmm.... a few hours later... I'm finally sleeping... deeply... when I here that same chokey sort of cry. She's stumbling into my room. I can hear objects thudding to the ground as she progresses. I can't think at this hour, better yet go through the whole deal again so I do what every determined mother would do... I drag her into my bed and immediately fall back asleep. Of course, when she's in my bed she wakes up almost hourly for misc causes. Sometimes it's to beg a nurse, sometimes she needs MY pillow (her's no longer being good enough), or cheerios (is she really hungry?) and sometimes simply to have a detailed conversation about her friend Lilly moving to CO or the peas that the real baby Eliza ate for lunch. Sometimes she is simply convinced that it is morning and time for me to "getoutbed mama"... at which point I do have to get out of bed and take her to the window to prove it is still night though it still takes another 1/2 hr to get her back to sleep.

It's quite hard to tell if this is due to the pain in her body or her mere two-ness. But she's certainly learned quite rapidly how to use this disease to her advantage. This morning when I informed her that she could not have fudge bars and licorice for breakfast she let out this perfect Audrey Hepburn wail, grabbed her right leg and squealed "ow ow ow". Absolutely convincing ... except that the disease is in her left leg. Ooops.

I honestly think that the real cause is the simple fact that MY DAUGHTER IS A MANIAC!!! Can I just sum it up to her insatiable love of life... at ALL hours? We are both suffering the effects so horridly that come late afternoon we can be found huddled in a heap on the living room floor sobbing out our miseries amid the mess that becomes my house when I am too exhausted to tidy it up. Which tells me that I am going to have to stick this out and get her back in her bed sometime soon if I want to have any hope of returning to normalcy.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Two year olds can't really tell you when they're in chronic pain. At two, reality is changing so frequently that anything lasting more than a few days is quickly assimilated into the norm. It becomes a fact and they simply adjust and keep moving. I feel a little foolish now to have so easily assumed that my child's frequent melt-downs were merely a part of the terrible two's... something we had managed so well until recently. I attributed it to the summer heat and starting pre-school and not getting enough sleep. Sleep was definitely an issue but what I didn't realize was that the thing keeping my daughter up at night, tossing and turning and calling out my name, was the slowly disintegrating bone in her left leg.
Legg-Calve Perthes Syndrome is a form of necrosis in the hip. The blood supply to the joint becomes interrupted, eventually causing the bone to die. There is no way to stop it and not much to be done to fix it. Once the bone dies, new cartiledge will grow and hopefully, eventaully reform comfortably in the hip socket. The doctor says that if all goes well there will be a good hip one day... not a great hip but a good hip. Little is known about the disease. The duration of each phase is unpredictable, lasting anywhere from months to years. My daughter didn't start limping until a week ago but by then the entire head of her femur had already dissipated. The doctors actually seemed pretty impressed by how little she limped or even complained.
I had watched her three days before the diagnosis, trying to keep up with her friends as they ran around at a birthday party. It was the end of the day and she was tired and her leg seemed to be out of communication with the rest of her body. My stomach had butterflies... the kind moms get when they know something isn't quite right. People were talking to me but all I could do was watch my little girl as the realization that something was terribly wrong took hold. She had started complaining of pain a few months previous but I had concluded it was probably just growing pains. I had actually been proud of myself for not over-reacting and calling the doctor right away. That is the last time I will ignore my instinct just because the doctor makes me feel a little silly every time I call.
A few days later I would be standing in the x-ray room blowing up rubber gloves and trying to convince S that it really is fun to have pictures taken of our bones... no matter how still the strange people make us hold. I'm no x-ray technician but even I could tell that something was amiss as they stuck the film over the light. The right bone was a solid chalk white color, just like the ones I had shown S a week earlier in the mock doctor's office at her birthday party. The left one however was much darker, giving it the feeling of being hollow and the top was blunted and didn't match the right leg. At that moment I was sure it was leaukemia or some other deadly disease. In this respect I am incredibly thankful. All in all, it's not very bad. My daughter will live. My daughter will be healthy. My daughter will even continue to walk. She just won't do it as well as she might have otherwise. This isn't really the part that bothers me.
What bothers me is the idea of something inside of her dying; the idea of a pain that I can't reach and a disease that I can't stop... not for any amount of medicine or exercise.
Before her leg will get better it will inevitably get worse and there is nothing I can do to prevent that. I will not be able to predict how the bone and cartilage will reform. There is no way of knowing whether she will limp for the rest of her life. Suddenly the limitless sky of the future seems to have become a tiny bit... limited. And not that I don't believe she can overcome anything or become whatever she chooses; I'm sure that she can. But suddenly it's a consideration. The vagueness of the disease combined with her young age leaves me feeling a bit under-prepared. There is simply no plan of action.
It's interesting beginning to understand the permanence of a thing like this. My initial reaction was to feel the tender sort of fulfillment that a mother feels when her child falls ill. Not that we are happy to see them sick but we are happy to be the one to console them. It is the part of mothering that re-asserts they are our own and this is our role. We are needed. We slow down, we snuggle up, we make them smile, we are reminded of how grateful we are for them. The first day I popped in a movie and made us a nest. I cooked favorite foods and read favorite books (it didn't help that she simultaneously developed an ear infection). I wanted her to rest. I wanted her to be off her feet. I imagined her hip taking a break and breathing a sigh of relief.
Then I realized that we couldn't stay in bed everyday for the next 5 years. She would eventually grow sick of chicken soup and ice cream (at least the soup)... and I didn't know what to do. How do I step out into the world with this little bird and her broken wing? Suddenly everything seemed frightening again, like the day I brought her home from the hospital... fragile and precarious. Dropping her off at school meant I couldn't watch her every action. What if she fell off the slide? The fragile bone was very susceptible to breaks. What if someone knocked her over? What if she simply falls? And today she insisted on walking nearly a mile, pushing her "Baby Eliza" in her mini stroller all the way. Part of me wanted to insist she stop and carry her the whole way. But part of me knows that growing her spirit is just as vital as growing her body. I do not want to make her feel weak, disabled, sick. I do not want to constantly remind her of her limitations. I do not know which of the two is the lesser evil.
Tonight at I watch her toss and turn in bed, asking me to hold her every five minutes (which she rarely wants once asleep) I wonder if I didn't make the wrong choice.. She moves her leg constantly, trying to alleviate the ache and find a comfortable spot for it, and I suddenly realize how long she has been doing this. How long has she been in pain while I've been putting her in time-out for acting up? Gggrrrrr....!!!
It's funny, but she hit her head last week and I had in that moment been completely convinced that I am not at all equipped to handle any sort of physical crises. I mean... I've never taken a class on this stuff (ok... being first aid certified doesn't count... it only works on other people's kids). It's the decisions that actually get me... I simply shouldn't be making them on my own. To hospital or not... to call dr or not... ice or heat... etc. I'm a mess! I'm simply not ok with choosing the wrong one. Not when the thing that matters most in the world rides on the outcome. To let her run, walk, leave my sight? Frankly, the idea of staying in bed for the next 5 years is sounding more appealing by the minute!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What's all the fuss about?...

... is exactly what the look seemed to say that my daughter gave me this morning... as I squealed at the top of my lungs "guess who's birthday it is?" It is 8 in the morning and I am practically shouting. I can understand her perplexement as excitement is rarely an emotion expressed in the AM... except when my daughter helpfully hands me my bedside glass of water and ends up dowsing my head or the bed. This generally illicits a bit of shouting... among other things... But to the birthday question she looks at me blankly. She has no clue what a birthday is though I've been trying my darndest to get the message across all week. "Ja-Ja?" she responds. Ja-Ja is what she calls her cousin Jayden, who is 5 weeks older and knows exactly what a birthday is. Jayden actually hasn't stopped talking about my daughter's upcoming party for the last 3 weeks. She rattles through her list of expectations... cake, presents, ice cream, as though she is an expert on the subject (2 year old party crasher perhaps?). Sephira however is content enough with having pancakes for breakfast.

Suddenly I feel like a fool. It's a growing suspicion that will be continually re-affirmed throughout the day. I'm really beginning to realize how little 2 yr olds actually care about birthdays... and how silly parents are to not realize it. I feel even sillier as I am rushing her out of the house with threats and bribes simply to get her to attend her own party- which as she has no concept of the word, she may possibly be starting to believe that it is a sort of purgatory 2 yr olds are sent to as atonement for all their previous 24 months worth of misbehavior.

Oh the party...

"B" has let me know that she is headed to location 1/2 hour early to decorate. There is not much more I can even say on this point... just know that I am rolling my eyes... much like a 12 yr old. And this is where things get a little awkward for me. Upon arrival to the "party room", I feel completely assured that I have made the right decision for our particular family. The party table is neatly set with individual place settings, craft materials in place and ready to go. Another table is neatly arrayed in misc juice box flavors, snacks, undecorated cupcakes, party hats (construction hats for boys, crowns for girls), presents, party favors... it goes on and on. A very odd sensation comes over me... sort of how you feel in 11th grade when you're looking at the popular girls at school, and though you're certain that you would never want to be like them, you strangely find yourself feeling like you're missing out on something you're supposed to be a part of. This is how I felt as I quietly placed our humble bag in the corner and slunked (slank? slunk?) out of the room. And though "B" was all smiles, graciously greeting me and wishing my daughter a happy day, I couldn't help but feel there was something more I was not quite catching onto. I had however observed that while party mom was busily preparing party room, party girl was nowhere in sight.? But onto it the party... my child played and played and played and even though I had never managed to convince her of that nap before we came... played some more. At this point I feel like a complete idiot. Why had I EVER thought it would be a good idea to shell out $60 (out of $120) for a party room? I could have spent $8 for 2 kids to play and we could have eaten our cake on the sidewalk! Outside on Main St. , the streets were closed for "chalk it up" ... a day where everyone in the town decorates the sidewalk with chalk. Bands were playing and I was certain she'd have been just as thrilled. Not to mention that she had spent the morning begging me to take her to the "wa-wa" which means the river where she loves to play. But NO... mommy had already paid a deposit.

An hour and 15 minutes later it was our turn for the "party room." Out shuffled "B's" group, decorated totes and hats in hand as they headed off to play. Meanwhile, I am dragging my child into the room, trying my best to convince her that she really does want cake (actually I made peach pie... peaches were on sale... SHE'S TWO!... leave me alone!) and that it will only take a few minutes. And this is where the afore-mentioned awkwardness turns to a straight up nausea though not by anything I am able to directly put my finger on. On the table in the corner are 3 goody bags- one with my daughter's name and 2 with her name and the word "guest" below it. For her guests? Ok... thoughtful... kind. Behind that, a polished silver pie cutter has been placed atop my little peach pie. Hhhmm... And in the corner, a pile of presents... with my daughter's name on them... I say presentS... as in plural... as in many. At this point "B" enters the room to retrieve some forgotten item. I ask her "did other people get Sephira presents? That was really unecessary." She looks at me with a triumphant smile on her face, "no" she replies, "We did. She's just so SPECIAL to us, we couldn't help it" and she whisks out of the room. I am nauseated. My happy thoughts are are fighting to be heard. Did she think I was depriving my child? Does she consider me a bad mom for not heaping "stuff" all over my daughter? If there's anything that irks me more than mean people who are outrightly rude, it's passively mean people who never actually say what they think but spend countless hours contriving ways to let you know how they really feel. But they're always smiling when you talk to them, making it very hard to ever pinpoint if actual meanness is taking place or if it's all in your head!!! I'm so seething mad at this moment that I'm having a hard time remembering all the good lessons I just learned. I'm having trouble caring whether I can be civil to B later in public.

Of course my daughter loved the pink princess dress-up costume that "B" got her and refused to take the silver high heels off for nearly the rest of the day. I'm grateful that she at least held off on the tiara and the wand. Those who know me know how hard I've tried to stave off the pink and the princesses in my house. It may be an inevitable part her future... I don't know... but I"m not trying to set her up to think that it is her mandatory role as a little girl. But what can I do. My sister bought her play make-up and she spent at least 1/2 hour standing quietly by herself applying it to her forehead, hair, and arms (also pictures to come.) She actually growled if anyone came near her. Oh, and she didn't even touch her homeade organic peach pie.

By the end of the day, I had a very happy but very tired 2 yr old. I was out $60 but I had learned enough to (hopefully) get through the next 16 birthdays. I packed up my little girl, with her orange and pink face and her fluffy new skirt and headed to dinner. As we were seated at the pizza place I finally relaxed and breathed a sigh that we had made it through the whole experience. It was then that I heard a familiar laugh and looked up to realize that we had been seated across from none other than..... B.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lesson Learned

Whew... unbelievable. I never really imagined a peaceful resolution could actually take place. I was prepared for the worst. I had expected to meet major resistance, anger, maybe even be told off and hung up on. I realize now that though I may not have been sub-consciously looking for a fight, the way that I consciously chose to let it affect me was the fight. So I called B... after much forethought over what I would say and how I would say it. I was prepared to say goodbye when things got tense.... write her a letter and leave it at that. But it all went so much better. Though I think B was ready for a fight... I think this is what she's used to... how she operates... her way or the highway. And old me would have taken the bait. Old me would have drenched the conversation with criticism and accusations. Old me would have turned into a power of wills. Old me would have ended up grumpy and pissed off for a week. But I had set my goal towards peace in advance and it was amazing the difference it made. I really did feel that I could see where B was coming from... as extreme and irrational as it may have been (um.. at least in my opinion), So I did something I never did... I started the conversation with praise... affirmation of her viewpoint and opinion.. which I genuinely felt... even more so as I said it. It was like disarming a nuclear bomb. I could literally feel her deactivate as I talked. In the end, we amicably agreed to do our own thing and we will still be able to be cordial to each other. Our daughters might still be able to play together! I have never resolved an issue this peacefully. I have NEVER communicated so clearly and decisively and without being attached to her reaction. I feel like I just climbed to the top of Mt Everest. I am starting to truly believe in this change.

But I realized something even greater. I mean... this whole thing really wasn't over crafts, right? It was one mother trying to be in control and another feeling voiceless and unheard. If I look a closer look at this situation I realize it is a classic replay of my childhood. So I get it... now that I've stepped back... I get it. This whole thing was only partially about what I thought was or wasn't best for my daughter. But that couldn't possibly have been enough to send me into such a tizz for 2 days and keep me awake until 3 in the morning. There was something much bigger happening here. There was another part me confronting the way my own mother made me feel growing up... small and unsure/confused of the validity of my own opinion. I still battle these feelings when I encounter other dominant women. I crawl inside myself and seem to get all upside down about my emotions and thoughts. I get small and insecure. And that's exactly what was happening in this situation. I was feeling powerless and lost. I was unsure of what I deserved and whether it was ok for me to speak up. I am SO grateful for the amazing women (go Asheville Mamas) who shared different perspectives and lent encouragement throughout the day. I found the strength to believe in my own voice. It wasn't about being right or wrong... though I think the old me kept trying to take it there. It was so much more about learning how to communicate, how to see this for what it is, how to react.

So score 1 point for communication. Now if I can only do this for the next 9,999,999 predicaments that are bound to present themselves throughout a lifetime I'll be golden. I'm bound to fall off the bike a few more times though so please be graceful with me when I do. Hhhmm.... maybe we can initiate "code B" as a reminder....

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Birthday Battle

It's sad, but of all the struggles I thought I would have to endure on my child's birthday, I hadn't really expected the major one to be against another parent. But so it goes that I find myself on my daughter's 2nd birthday ready to pull my hair out... and scream at the top of my lungs! It all began when I met another mother... we'll call her B... who's own daughter is 5 days younger than mine. The girls became fast friends and we mothers made awkward attempts. The friendship never really took flight though, due to differences in personalities, etc, but we remained social and continued our awkward attempts for the girl's sakes. At the beginning of this friendship, before all the red flags became apparent and the general awkwardness appeared, we decided to plan the girls' birthdays together at a local child's play gallery. Reservations for the party room were a bit steep so naturally it made sense to split it. It seemed a brilliant idea at the time... no set-up, no clean-up, no planning entertainment, etc. It would be well worth the cost and hopefully save us money in the long run.

This line of thinking was dreadfully wrong. Let me preface this by stating that B works in a morning care program for preschoolers... and is used to being in charge of the classroom. As the day of the party (or month rather) loomed closer, the calls became more frequent. "We need to plan, list, discuss" B said. Plan? List?

Ok... let's list. Cups , plates, cake. Got it. Good?

But the calls persisted. "Colors... balloons... crafts..." CRAFTS? It had all seemed so cut and dry. Herd kids into play gallery... kids play, have fun, go crazy.... herd kids into birthday room... sing... blow out candles... open presents.... herd kids back out to play where they will eventually disperse and go home... take happy toddler home where she will sleep very well until 9 the next morning. Right?

I tried to remain neutral (looking back... big mistake). "We (being myself and my 2 yr old) are impartial to colors, themes, or flavor of cake. You go ahead and choose what you like best" I mean... they're 2. Purple? Green? Blue's Clues? Dora? All fine.

If I had only known. Gift bags were purchased... cloth... to be decorated and filled (with bubbles, stickers, playdough, candy) during party. Crowns & "construction hats" purchased... also to be decorated at party... Cupcake stands/holders purchased... cupcakes to be decorated at time of party... t-shirts... to be decorated at party.

I need to also insert at this point that B has been "temporarily" living with her mom since her daughter was born. Her mom, also a single mom, with B as her only child, completely backs B up on everything so that it seems it is constantly the 2 of them against the world. It is B's mom who has come up with the cupcake idea and who gives B the feeling of being so right all the time that she doesn't need to consider anyone else or compromise on any matter.

Now, I am learning a new way of communicating. It is all a part of the new me. So I take several deep breathes as this itinerary is being delivered to me and as gently but firmly as possible voice my general concerns over cost, time, and energy involved in this process. I am wondering why we paid $120 for this location if we plan on spending all the time in the party room . These are all wonderful party ideas... for a party at home, where there is need for entertainment. Am thinking time of all this crafting may consume play time. B of course, had already thought of that. "To give us more time for crafts, they can open presents at home... after the party!" WHAT? Isn't that half the reason people buy presents.... for the gluttonous self-satisfaction that they're gift was the best and most beloved (as they all are of course)?

Because as I understand that B is not going to concede on the crafting at this point, I seek compromise. The next time B calls me... reminding me not to buy apple juice but mixed juice in case of allergies... (isn't there apple in the mixed?) I suggest that perhaps kids could craft while girls open presents. B seems rather irritated. "Don't you think the girls will want to craft as well?" Hmmm... have you met my daughter? But then she replies... "That's fine... you don't have to... maybe it will be best is if we use the room half the time and you can use it the other half ".

Pause... how did we get here? I've been so careful to be so laid back and the one time I finally voice an opinion I get ousted? Isn't this about the girls having fun? What is the appropriate response at this point? While personally I would be more than happy not being involved with B anymore at this point, wouldn't I be depriving my daughter of the fun? And to make matters worse, 3 out of the 6 kids I invited for Sephira have all taken their vacations THIS WEEKEND. I don't know that I've found replacements yet (if you have a toddler... let me know). Thus I feel sort of obligated to give Sephira the full party. But I think the numbers thing also makes B feel that she has more control. Which now that I think of it... maybe that's what it really boils down to. Maybe she thinks that her daughter having more friends makes it more her party... with us attending as well? BAH! I responded with... "ok... that's something to consider. Let me think about things and get back to you". I didn't know what to say. I felt sideswiped... I needed time to think.

I'm at a loss. I'm trying maintain my zen but really? I'm half tempted to let her pay the rest of the cost (we've paid the deposit) and not even show up. I'm trying to remember what this is about. I'm trying not to be petty. Maybe I'm just being stubborn and wanting my way? Which is of course simplicity but am I disregarding that B operates a different way and lacking respect for her vision of her daughter's grand day? Should we simply split the room (this was offered much less as a suggestion and much more as an insult)? Do I stick to my guns... I mean all I"m asking for at this point is that we open presents while crafting? Is that really so much? Or do I do what the old me would do and pay the rest of the fee for the room, but not show up for the birthday business? Just take my "kids" to the coffee shop next door for cookies later? ...And never talk to B again.

I don't want my daughter's childhood to be like mine... a series of dramas... especially birthdays and holidays. It's why I was so very cautious to remain neutral going into this. Did I subconsciously pick this fight anyway? Or subconsciously pick a person who would? I'm over it. All that is important is that my daughter understands that I appreciate the fact that she exists in this world. Regardless of the flavor of the damn cake.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What's in a Name?

About a year ago I decided that I was going to change my name. It was something I had thought about for a long time. I never felt comfortable with the one I was given at birth. For starters, I was named after my father, even though my parents were in the middle of a divorce when I was born. I thought it an odd choice for my mother, although in her own way, I think she was trying to make amends for the situation. I didn't grow up with my dad. Sometimes it would be more than a year between visits, and yet every morning I woke up with his name stuck on me like a tattoo.
Years later, as an adolescent, I literally had a recurring nightmare about my name. My mother and I had a horrible time living under the same roof after I began to develop (and voice) my own opinion. When she was mad at me (which was often), she had a way of saying my name that would send chills down my spine. She would spit out my name, enshrouded in bitterness and hatred, so that I began to detest the sound of it altogether. As I would fall asleep at night, I would be jolted awake, heart pounding to the sound of one single word uttered in my mother's enraged voice. Just one word and I would find myself awake in my bed, shaking from head to toe. She wasn't actually in my room saying my name. It was just a dream but it was horrible.
There is an even greater reason that I feel the pressing desire to make this change. I had a baby two years ago, a beautiful, innocent, joyful, little girl. Before my pregnancy I had been an art student in the process of "finding myself", with a side-career that consisted of dating musicians and getting drunk. Even this was a vast improvement over what I call "The Lost Years". Those are the years I spent hovering right above the bottom of a very tall and very dark barrel. The moment I found out I was pregnant, I ran straight to the nearest therapist to whom I cried for the following 8 months. I was desperate to leave behind the person I had been all those years, the person I detested, and never had wanted to be to begin with.
Nearly two years after I found out I was pregnant, I would look back on that person as a complete stranger. I no longer found her in myself. I had almost completely metamorphosed into the person I had always wanted to be but never believed I could. I had faith and I had strength. I was a new person. And yet I was still called the same. I cringed when people called me by my name. I hesitated when signing letters and papers. It was almost like an insult. When spoken out loud, it sounded sharp and hard and no matter how innocently it was spoken, I almost always felt a sort of chastisement when hearing it. It simply wasn't who I was anymore.
I first broached the idea of a name change to my family and friends about a year ago. I was greeted by a general sense of "we love you but you're crazy". The most common response was laughter followed by, "oh, you're serious!" Apparently, not everyone followed my train of thought. I admit I've never been an easy person to follow. The only thing about changing one's name is that it only works if people agree to change with it. I was asking everyone who knew me to know me as something different. In my mind, this was not difficult, but I could see their point and I dropped the idea, tail between my legs.
That was a year ago. Last weekend, I sat down at a bar while waiting to meet a friend for dinner. It was just a simple question, but it changed everything- I asked the bartender her name. She responded with something obscure that didn't quite ring as a name a parent might choose. I asked if it was short for something else and that's when it happened; a gleam sprang into her eye, joy spread over her face, and she began to recount her own journey of finding a name for herself. I was elated, thrilled, ecstatic, and most of all inspired. I walked away with new determination.
I know that it might still be hard for some to swallow. I can understand the inclination to hold onto something because it has always been. Perhaps, though, I may point out a few other instances where name changing was a common affair. Peter and Paul of the Bible started out as Simon and Saul, their new names given to separate them from their old lives. Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha, Sojourner Truth as Isabella Baumfree, and Calamity Jane as Martha Burke (although I'm not sure she chose that one). The point is: it is possible to change, both internally and externally. Changing within myself was one of the most difficult and challenging things I've ever done and will continue to do. Shouldn't changing the name that I go by be just a little easier? I mean, it's just a name…

My dark night- the long journey to peace...

(and even longer letter to share it)

It has been a whirlwind few weeks. Travels reminded me of what I have left behind and what I am walking towards. I find myself home... and happy to be here... though I thought I would not. I had expected to find myself bathing in a tub of depression, confronted with all that I am missing and the interminable loneliness of my small town college life... so much so that I may have actually duped myself into feeling those exact feelings for a moment.

This year has been a loooonnnng and hard year... perhaps the hardest of them all though the easiest to endure as the pain this time serves a purpose. It has been a very necessary and good year of growth. Twice in this last year I have left this place and each time I found myself tripping all over my old insecurities... suffering from a terrible lack of confidence that I am and will continue to be this new person that I am in the midst of becoming. Earlier this Spring I returned to PA after a week in DC and found myself completely lost and confused as to how to be when I was there. I found myself face to face with old friends... old family... old streets... and all those old feelings of darkness. I did not know how to act to those people who knew me last as a bit of a mess... a bit irresponsible... a bit of a drunk... a bit of (in my eyes) a failure. I wanted so badly to prove that I was differen,.. that I have changed and moved on... that I found myself tripping all over myself trying to figure out how to act. I came home wondering why it was so important for me to have the approval of all the people that I had spent years rebelling against. Even worst, I came home battling all those things I had felt at 15, 16, 17. Insecurity, despair, judgement, self-condemnation, a failure. I wanted to open a bottle of something and smoke a pack of cigarettes and simply go wild. My therapist (yes, I have one) says that I was having flashbacks. That the emotions were being felt presently though not from the present. She said I was grieving. I thought I might want to die. I was so afraid that maybe I hadn't really changed. That maybe I would wake up and be that person again and that person is/was/would not be fit to be Sephira's mother.

After a few days of confusing aggression, anxiety, fear and many tears (and even more frantic phone calls to far away friends), the feelings did pass... though I believed they were stuck there forever. I had literally been waking up every night in a sweat of fear that I was back to the same old me. It was horrifying. But it did pass. And wounds born years ago finally healed.

But this trip was different. This trip forced me to face the loneliness that I was beginning to convince myself as being unbearable. I was becoming afraid of it... afraid that it had become a permanent fixture in my life. Loneliness, if not assessed correctly, can be equated to insufficiency, to being unlovable, unwanted, and so broken beyond repair. Loneliness, if one gets lost in it, is despair. It is easy to believe when one is alone, that one will always be alone and therefore that something is very very wrong with yourself. In this case, me. The thing is, I've known all along, and still know, that I am where I am supposed to be. That this season is a time of shaping and healing and I have never doubted that this is where God has put me. I also know that this season is not over. But I lose sight of that... often... very often. When I got to CA, it was probably the 3rd sentence out of my mouth. (For those of you who don't know, I went to CA to visit my incredibly patient and enduring friend, Joey, whom I met in Africa, and who listens to my late night rants and raves of insecurity and then reminds me that God loves me and everything is going to be ok). Throughout the whole trip I struggled with what I wanted, where I thought I needed or should be, who I was going to be. All of this being such a great indication that God is not done doing what he is doing. If I am at a place in my life where I can literally wake up in the morning and decide who I am going to be that day, then I have not let God finish making me who I am. I wondered if I wanted/needed to be back in CA, surrounded by friends who know me and understand me. I wondered about school, about a job, about marriage, about drinking, about smoking, about sex. I debated and debated and talked my head off about it all. And then I came home and talked some more.

My first night home I was angry at God. Very angry. I felt like giving up. I felt like all this striving and working and pain of change had been in vain. I felt that I was only a breathe away from the old me and that I wasn't really any different and that if being different means being alone then there is no point to it anyway. I felt that I had hit a roadblock and didn't know how to move foward from here. I've been seeking and searching and trying to find a place, a church, a teacher, anyone to show me, teach me... how to pray... how to get closer to God... how to hear his voice... how to surrender. Because at the moment, I felt like it was me doing all the work and that is pointless, because that is striving in vain and won't create permanent change. I asked God to please just show me anything/anyone that I could trust to teach me, to take me to the next step.

And then....

Joey told me to shutup and read The Celebration of Discipline. That was yesterday. Today I know I will be ok. As we all know, I talk... a lot. Ok, I really talk a lot and when I can't talk, I write. And the more anxious I get, the more I talk. I could never lie to my mom growing up because the anxiety of the lie forced me to talk it out until I felt better. It's still the same. Somehow I think that I can talk sense into things. That if I talk about it enough, it will be forced to make sense.... or maybe I can just talk it into making sense. But I never knew that was what I was doing until last night. And then I read...

"One reason that we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silent, who will take control? God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust...
When God lovingly draws us into a DARK NIGHT of the soul, there is often a temptation to seek release from it and to blame everyone and everything for our inner dullness... This is a serious mistake. Recognize the dark night for what it is. Be grateful that God is lovingly drawing you away from every distraction so that you can see him clearly. Rather than chafing and fighting, become still and wait."

I instantly realized how hard I have been fighting this dark night. My dark season. Frantically calling friends every five minutes for reassurance that I am ok... that this is ok... all a part of the fight. My therapist keeps telling me that my issues with God are my issues with trust. So my issues with silence are my issues with God. I have been exiled into this year of silence... just me and a toddler and a tv.... fighting nearly every single second of it.

I am ready... finally. I am ready to sit still.

Because what I realized most on this trip is that my frantic fighting, my inability to surrender... the ongoing conversation, and my inability to shut-up... forever keep the spotlight on me. I cannot hear or see anything else around me. I do not hear it in the voices of my friends when they are tired or themselves in pain. I cannot see where I need to step in and lend a hand. I do not pause to ask how someone else is doing. I am forever focused on me. I am lost to my sickness and pain and useless to the rest of the world. And that should be the only thing that I fear.

So if I call you... remind me that it I am ok... and to find a chair and sit down and take a deep breath and be silent. And then hang up... but make sure I've asked how your day was before you do.

I'm a Grandma Already

For those of you who don't know, my daughter proudly welcomed a daughter of her own into the world this week. Weighing a scant 12 and 1/2 ounces and measuring 9 inches, Sephira has thoughtfully named her first born "baby baby". The unwrapping of the package started in the late afternoon and was an enviously quick and painless delivery.

"Baby Baby" accompanies Sephira everywhere. Sephira demands a diaper change first thing in the morning, not for herself but for her tiny infant. When she gets into her high chair, "Baby Baby" is right there next to her and yes, she gets a plate of her own. "Baby Baby sits on the potty after Sephira, brushes her teeth with Sephira, reads books, takes rides in her new baby stroller (and Sephira will push her around for MILES... I'm the only mom on campus walking a baby who's pushing a baby).

But here's my problem. When baby was first born, she had this adorable little habit of saying "mama" whenever you squeezed her tummy. But not long after, that all changed. Sephira managed to push or pull or twist something (or the devil is playing games with me) but one morning when baby woke up she did not say "mama". Baby said "dada". Now I have pushed, prodded, poked and disassembled baby but have not been able to convince her to say anything else. "Dada" she says cheerfully as I stand at the sink doing dishes. "Where" I ask, excitedly looking around the room. Oh, you were kidding... thanks baby. "Dada" she calls as I drag the garbage out the door. "Keep calling kid", I reply. "Maybe he'll hear you. "Dada" she hollers as I blindly reach into the fuse box, trying to figure out why there aren't any lights on in the house. "Dada, dada, dada!", baby is relentless. She's mocking me, I'm sure of it. What more does she want? Why is she doing this to me? WHY? I am tempted at moments to "accidentally forget" baby while we are playing outside or maybe she could just "accidentally" take a fall out the window. But Sephira loves baby. And there is this very strange ironic twist that just as I am mommy and daddy for my little girl, she is now addressed as mama and dada herself. She doesn't know the difference, just that baby loves her very much. I think about this as I open up a box of crackers for her. "Pease" she asks as she holds out a hand. I fill it "Baby" she asks holding out her other hand. I oblige and give her a smaller cracker for baby. "Tade-u" she says as she runs off to feed her baby. In her excitement, she forgets and pops both crackers in her mouth... it's a good thing baby's tummy is only pretend.

Good Morning... or is it?

Our first morning back from spring break quickly reminded me of why I went away in the first place. In case anyone is debating having children... read this first (just so you can make an educated decision).

6:15 am... Sephira is crying. This is not abnormal... hopefully she'll fall back asleep for a few more minutes. Except, here she is, at the side of my bed. I quickly remember (and regret) that I turned her crib into a "big girl" bed last night. She can now come and go as she pleases... what was I thinking! I pull her into bed with me for a quick snuggle before she worms her way back onto the floor and begins bringing me misc items from my nightstand. Phone... glasses... candles. Then she begins dumping out the baskets that hold my belts and jewelry. What was a clean and organized room 2 minutes ago now looks like a war zone. Time to get up.

... a few minutes later. I am brushing my teeth (with the same toothbrush that Sephira chewed on for most of the ride home yesterday) when Sephira insists that she too "teeth teeth". I ask her where her toothbrush is and she heads to the living room, the last place of sighting. She returns, carefully carrying a half empty mug of tea. "HHHHOT" she says very seriously as she hands me the cup. I wonder what this situation might have looked like if the tea were fresh and not a day old. She heads back into the hallway as I continue to get ready. She is very quiet... too quiet. I call her... no response. I duck my head around the door. She has a tissue in her hand. I immediately know what this means and it is bad. She has recently developed a fascination with sticking things up her nose and in her ears... something that produces an endless amount of horror on my end. "Sephira?"... I use my sternest voice. She looks up and me and grins her biggest grin, confirming my suspicions. I get down on her level. "Blow" I command. She obediently obliges and a small piece of tissue shoots out of her left nostril and lands on the floor. "Again" I say. She repeats, this time launching a snotty wad of tissue down the sleeve of my shirt. "No, no" I say. She looks up at me... "no no" she repeats, waving her finger back and forth at me. I head to the shower.
Any mother who has had to shower with a toddler in the house is very familiar with the rinse and run. This is the quick version of showering that probably doesn't do much as far as getting one clean but certainly makes the mother feel like she has given her personal hygiene a moment of attention before heading into public. I close the curtain and say a prayer. One minute and forty seconds later I step out onto the bath mat... the bath mat that is normally purple but has suddenly turned white.... a very powdery white. My eyes follow the trail of white a few steps further to where Sephira sits, also white... from head to toe. In her hands is a box of baking soda. "kean kean mama" (clean clean mama) she says very proudly. She must have grown another inch in the last week which means that everything on the counter will need to be pushed back another inch... away from her little fingers. I make my best effort to de-powder her before throwing on my clothes. We head to breakfast.

... it really starts to fall apart at this point. "Baby!" she commands. Baby is what Sephira calls the infant rice cereal that she has been eating about 5 times a day lately. We ran across a box at nonna's house last week and she has been insisting on it ever since. I stir her "baby" and set it on her tray. I pack her bag for the morning with the sitter and then move to put on her shoes. Her socks are no longer on her feet. "Sephira... where are your socks?" They were the last clean pair, as I have yet to unpack or do laundry from our trip. "No know" she says, wide eyed, with her palms held up in the air. I retrace our steps. I locate the missing socks and head back to the high chair, only to find the contents of Sephira's bowl have now been relocated to the top of her head. I proceed with the socks, unable to think about the cereal. The socks are wet. "Sephira.. why are the socks wet?", I ask. "No know mama" she replies again, palms out. I put them on anyway. They will dry... I hope. I pull her out of the high chair and dunk her head under the sink and then quickly change her clothes (that are still white). It's time to go... we are late. Coats and hats are donned and I open the door. There is a sudden horrible screeching behind me. "Aaaahhh! Maaaaammmmmaaa! Baaaaaaaaag! Mama! Bag! Aaaaaahhhh!" Sephira's beloved pink backpack on wheels is stuck under the coffee table. If you understood her love affair with this bag, you would understand the agony of this moment. The screaming and yanking continues, and tears are about to flow. She cannot go to the sitters without this bag, which she wheels down the walk to the car and from the car to the sitter's house everyday. "MAAAAMMMAAAAA! BAAAAAAAAG!!!!! AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!" I rescue the bag with a sigh and move the child towards the door. It is 8:00.... only 12 more hours to go.


Everyone knows how much I love my daughter. It’s not exactly a secret. But for me, at this moment, it’s a sort of revelation. I’ve just spent my first time away from her... I mean really away from her... as in more than a few hours with the sitter. I’ve been away for nearly 5 days. They have been some of the best five days of my life but they’ve been tainted by the ever looming shadow of her absence. I’m simutaneously filled with the overwhelming feeling of being able to breathe for the first time in 2 years and the feeling of absolute suffocation. I keep looking around me, constantly plagued with the nagging suspicion that I’ve lost a wallet or umbrella or perhaps, a baby. I hear her voice and want to jump through the phone.

And yet, I find myself smiling in gluttonous pleasure as I gleefully sip my coffee, by myself, with nowhere to go and no one to be. The thought of bills and groceries and laundry and runny noses are far from my mind. I leave for the day without having to check my shoulders 4 times for traces of snot or oatmeal. I don’t have to pack 3 different bags, a blanket, an "elli", a change of clothes, and a million snacks. I simply walk out the door without a thought. I’m having conversations... real conversations... about things that matter, things that make a difference... about anything but diapers and naptimes and temper tantrums. I feel for the first time in a long time that I am a part of something. I feel that people are speaking my language, with words that are beautiful and big and long with multiple syllables. I can stay out late, talk a little longer, eat a little slower. I feed myself... and only myself. I take 30 minute showers during which I even shave my legs. I walk... I stroll... without a stroller, without intermittent stops to pick up tossed toys or to supply snacks.

I feel... just feel. Alive. Awake. I’m clear headed and in the moment. I’m not under water. I can think. I remember myself, like a long lost stranger intoduced for the second time. I remember what I like, what I love, what I want. I’m almost overwhelmed by my sudden ability to hear and think and taste and move. I wonder where all these things have gone for such a time... how they have managed to hibernate inside of me, undetected and unnoticed for so very long.... so long that I have completely forgotten. It’s almost frightening the absolute immensity of simply feeling these feelings. I’ve been so lost in a love that is synonymous with worry and fear and guilt... to call it all-consuming cannot be adequate. Love as a mother is a love with a pleasure that is so singular, so telescopic, that you must step back from it in order to focus on anything else.

Just to be able to sit up late and write these words without the nagging guilt that I’ve got to get up early and put on my happy face... is a gift... a euphoric pleasure. I felt pretty today... in my new black dress and my long forgotten leather boots... actually pretty, for the very first time since the 7th month of my pregnancy. I had a 2nd glass of wine without a 2nd thought. It was lovely.

I took a walk tonight... a walk... at night... outside. It’s a rare occasion these days to see the night sky for more than a moment. I’ve long forgotten that lovely feeling of feeling so small under the vastness of a night sky. The wind was kind enough to participate in the magic and was so wonderful and warm and yummy.

This week I have stood inside a senator’s office, helped to schedule his week, sent out his mail. I walked the halls of the capitol building... without a tour guide and throngs of people. I attended meetings that will change the lives of hundreds of children. I had dinner with the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO. I was offered an internship and promised a job. It was breathtaking and fulfilling and felt like home.

And yet I find myself packing my bags 2 days early to leave. Because today, on the phone, a very small voice said "mama" in such a way that all of it... the walks, the coffee, the wind, the conversation, seemed like a very small sacrifice. My heart aches in a way that I have never before known. And I know that the night sky will wait, the leather boots will wait, the conversations... will wait. But my baby... she will grow. Her face will change, her words will get bigger, her hands will no longer find themselves so often around my neck. So I too... will wait.