Family

Parenting in a Time of Existential Dread

We held the fifth and final Listen to Your Mother:Raleigh-Durham on Friday. It was a magical evening. Great, responsive audience. Amazing pieces. Lots of emotion and laughs. It was very bittersweet. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the final show and this final season, but I need a few more days to unpack it all.  The biggest change for this year’s shows is that there was no requirement to video them. Each city could hire a videographer if they wished, but there would be no possibility of sharing or distributing the videos. As a result, we chose not to video our show.

So here is my piece.  I know that my few posts on my blog this year have been political or a response to the situation in which the USA is in, but I can’t help it.  It took over my LTYM piece this year, and the show overall had a decidedly political tone as readers shared going to their first protest, parenting children of a different race and keeping them safe, helping children cope, etc. I was a little nervous to read the piece and was afraid I would be heckled, even in fairly blue Raleigh.

I guess this is our reality now.  So, here is my final LTYM piece: “Parenting in a Time of Existential Dread.”

***

I’m sitting at my laptop, trying to write my piece for the show. I had planned to write about being a working mom. Well, a working-outside-the-house mom, because as mothers, we all work and work damn hard.

The problem is that I can’t focus on writing about the difficulties of registering for summer camp, and my experience of being a working mom seems trivial.

Because the world is fucked up right now. Do you feel it?  I do. It is the anxiety that gnaws at my gut every day. It is the existential dread when I wake up in the morning and wonder what has happened over night, what tweets have been sent. What new revelations have come to light.

And it bleeds into everything. My job is in jeopardy. My organization is funded by the government to help manufacturers stay competitive, profitable and most importantly, in business. And POTUS wants to cut us.

We are in crisis mode, and I’m also trying to hire for my team. Imagine how fun it is to tell candidates, “oh, by the way, the grant you will be supporting has been targeted to be obliterated. Don’t you want to come work with us?”

Yeah, that goes over well.

And then we come home and listen to the news, dumbfounded at the amount of corruption and the horror story unfolding that is even more horrible than the horror story we thought we had already.

And my son hears all this.  He’s 7. He’s very black and white in his view of the world. You either like or hate someone. So simple. He asks us, “Do you wish someone would hurt the president?” and exclaims, “I hate him!” We have to answer those questions, address his feelings to make sure he knows that we don’t wish harm on anyone. We have to explain that it is one thing not to like a person and another to want them to come to some sort of harm.

He’s only 7, and he is already more involved in politics than I was at his age.  Before the election, a classmate told him that if Trump didn’t win, Mexicans were going to take our house from us. This is also the same classmate that terrified him by telling him that those damn clowns were all around, so yeah, I’m a big fan of hers.

On Election Day, he sighed, “I think Trump is going to win.” When he woke up the next day, I had to tell him he was right. He replied, resigned, “I knew it.” We had to have the same conversation about the Atlanta Falcons and the Super Bowl. I’m beginning to worry that he believes he can’t trust the positions his family holds because they never come true.

We listen to the news in the car, and he asked exasperatedly, “Russia! Why is it always about Russia?”

Why indeed.

These are difficult conversations to have. I can’t even have these conversations with family members who are several times his age.  How can I explain it to him?

On quiet news days, I want to exhale and think that it will all be OK.  Maybe we’re just hyper aware of everything in 2017 thanks to social media and the Internet.  On other days, I feel like that poor guy in Munch’s painting, screaming into the void.

On those days, I want to lock all the doors, grab my son and never leave.  Maybe those preppers have the right idea.

And I want to apologize to him.  What kind of world are we making for him? What is he growing up in? Will there be a world for him to grow up in?

I always dismissed the Cold War-era fatalism as quaint and something that could never happen again. We know better.  Instead, here we are again.

My son is still rather innocent. We’ve sheltered him more than we should probably. In his world, the Lego cops always catch the Lego bad guys. He has been watching Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter recently, and to him, the president, Voldemort and Sauron are the same things.

The difference is that Voldemort and Sauron are fictional characters. The good guys win.

I don’t know how to explain to him that in the real world, that doesn’t always happen.

15 Years

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary. What? 15 years already?!?! But it is true. Fifteen years ago on a similarly unseasonably warm day, I walked down the aisle, almost caught my dress on a pew and gripped Jimmy’s hands so hard that he joked the imprint of his ring would be visible on his bone.

You might think we spent this milestone anniversary having a nice dinner out or doing something special.

We did. Sort of.

First, I picked up takeout hibachi for about the zillionth time this year. Who needs the teppanyaki show when you can get the same food to go without the time commitment?

Then, we had normal nightly chores to do. School papers to sign for Daniel and practice for the next day’s spelling test. Lunches to make and kitty cats to be fed and treated.

Finally came the main task of the evening. We are having AT&T fiber installed tomorrow. Jimmy is very excited about it and we needed to do some wiring before the installer comes out tomorrow.  And I use “we” throughout because I helped (not always graciously).

Our living room is in disarray because we took apart the entertainment center earlier in the week for the fiber installation. Our bonus room is filled with pieces from the entertainment center. The TV is in front of our coffee table. And in the middle of it all is our Christmas tree, begging, hoping to be decorated soon.

Tonight, though, was devoted to wiring. Tonight Jimmy was in the crawl space underneath the house after drilling a hole in the wall to the crawl space. I fed him 50 feet of a bundle of wires with only a tiny bit of discord (we don’t do projects like this well).

It felt like that scene in Poltergeist in which Jo Beth Williams is preparing to go into the other side to get Carol Ann, and the scientists see the rope and tennis balls coming through the ceiling covered in ectoplasm.

As I was feeding the wires to Jimmy, it took all my restraint not to start chanting, “Cross over, children. All are welcome.”

The wiring is ready, and even though the house is still a wreck, we will fix it this weekend. The tree will be decorated.

It may not have been the anniversary night one sees in movies or reads in books, but it was certainly real.

Happy 15th to us. We got shit done.

Plans in Pencil

This was the post I read for the 2016 Listen to Your Mother: Raleigh-Durham show last week.  Can’t believe the show is over already!

Last week on the way home from school, my son, my sweet 6-year-old, my baby told me he had a girlfriend.  This girlfriend is an older woman, having turned 8.

He broke this news to me by telling me that he and this girl, Rose, were going to get married (what????), they would work as a veterinarian (her) and a doctor (him), and that Rose was afraid of having babies cut out of her. He then asked me if he had been cut out of me.

Deep breaths.

I had no labor and delivery with him myself, vaginal or otherwise.  My son was the result of gestational surrogacy. I was able to sit back and observe calmly while our surrogate delivered him. If you believe that sentence, well, I have a few other things I can sell you.

It was time. It was time to have the talk with him about how he came to be.  We hadn’t intended on keeping it a secret – absolutely not at all – but sometimes there isn’t a simple opening or Hallmark card for this type of conversation.  We had blown it up in our minds to take on epic qualities; how would he react?

Later that evening, we brought up the topic again. I gently told him – trying to use simple language – that he had not been in my belly because it didn’t work and that another, wonderful woman had carried him for us. We waited for his reaction.

“Oh, OK, “ he replied. “Can I have ice cream now?”

I asked him how he felt about this information.  He placed his still baby-soft hand on my stomach. “Mommy, are you still broken?”

Broken.  Yes, I am still broken. My reproductive organs don’t work and never will. My son is our miracle child, made possible by the kindness of a stranger who carried him.

I never wanted only one child. I grew up as an only child. I didn’t have a miserable childhood, but I felt lonely, and I was envious of my friends with siblings. Maybe I would have been more socially competent with a sibling. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so alone in the world. Maybe I would be a different person. The possibilities of what might have been are endless.

While I have one child, I also have five frozen siblings for him. Siblings isn’t quite the correct word.  We have five frozen embryos, five bits of potential. In the infertility community, we call them frosties, or my personal favorite, “totsicles.” It is amazing to have any embryos to freeze, and I have five after a horrible IVF cycle in which it seemed I’d be fortunate to create any embryos. These are embryos created from barely 31-year-old me and gave us our son. Our only son.

I’m very close to 39 now.

We receive the bill for cryopreservation of our embryos annually. We don’t talk about it but pay it automatically every year. Our other options are to destroy them, to donate or adopt them out to other families or to allow them to be used for research. We can’t do any of that. Yet.

We always wanted more than one child, but circumstances made that difficult.  Having a second child would require a major financial outlay as well as significant changes in our lives. Are we too old for that? Are we too old for bottles and nightly feedings? For daycare costs? For potty training? For all the energy and money infancy and toddlerhood require?  And what about my career and increasing responsibility? What about the child we already have and his needs, his future?

I’d like to say we could swing it, but I FEEL tired. I AM tired. We are in a groove, and our sweet boy is more independent every day.

We know the answer, but we keep kicking the can further down the road.

When I let myself think about it, I get angry. I feel like I was robbed of choices when it came to family building and the choices we did have were difficult and came with heavy implications.  There is a part of me that still simmers with resentment and anger: WHY US? WHY did this have to be our reality?

Very few of us realize the lives we hoped to have. Regardless of what our dreams were, reality slaps us in the face.  We are obligated nothing, and our notion of control is an illusion. I need to bottle my resentment and anger, my caustic bitterness, and put it away.  Yes, we were dealt a shitty hand reproductively, but what can you do? We did what we could. We rolled the dice and won once. Nothing guarantees we would win again.

I have one son, and he is wonderful. He is sweet, bright, energetic, and sentimental. He is exhausting, argumentative, and stubborn. He is everything I wished and hoped for and so much more.

Instead of lingering on what I can’t change, I need to focus on what I do have. My son tells me he and his future wife plan to name my future grandchild “Sprinkle”. I smile. It’s nice to have plans, but I have learned it is wise to plan in pencil.

NIAW: The Ebb and Flow of Grief

There has been a lot of discussion recently on social media about infertility and the resolution of grief. I’m not going to summarize the many opinions and points of view, but I did want to offer my own perspective. There is no right answer to the question of whether the grief and pain of infertility goes away. For some it does; for others it doesn’t. For others it is omnipresent. For others it is a tiny footnote in their history. There is NO right response.

This year’s theme of National Infertility Awareness Week was “Start Asking.” I don’t think post is going to be on topic per se, but I guess it is my contribution to the topic. I don’t think we talk a lot about how it feels years after “resolving” infertility.

I have a child. He is almost 7-years-old. He delights us, makes us laugh AND infuriates us (don’t ask me about the entire bottle of glue on the floor this morning). I suspect our experiences and feelings are similar to many parents with a similarly-aged child. The thing is, I am still infertile.

I still have stage 4 endometriosis and a congenital uterine anomaly. Having a child cured none of that. I am reminded of it when I can no longer take BCPs to control my endometriosis because after 20+ years, they started to cause major pain and I must switch to progesterone pills which have their own delightful side effects.

I am reminded of it as I age and start to enter the “preventative exam” stage of life. I have none of the benefits that pregnancy and breast feeding are supposed to provide. I have all of the fears about what consuming and injecting fertility drugs for years may result in. What is yet to come?

As the mother of a tiny human well into childhood as opposed to babyhood, I should be over all this infertility stuff, right?

I’m not.

When Daniel was a baby, probably until he was a toddler, life was blissful. I was blissful. I had my long-awaited child and was happy. So happy. I knew I was still infertile; I knew I would never forget my journey or scars, but I was happy. Fulfilled. Delighted. Tired. I felt normal. Like a typical parent. I could pass. Siblings and our vision of our family were still possibilities.

Then, as he reached age two and three, my parent friends starting having their second or third children. And the grief returned. Life happened and we didn’t return to treatment – too busy mourning unexpected deaths in the family, job upheavals and other life issues.

And now Daniel is almost 7, and I feel – we both feel – too old to tackle the journey to have another child or the energy to parent. Opportunity passed. And the old grief is back. And the old bitterness. Because even if we did decide to go for it, it’s not like it is simple or inexpensive for us.

So it is an interesting dichotomy of seeing my beautiful miracle child and loving him and thinking of all the possibilities we had dreamed of and mourning them.

And I’m almost 39 and when I look in the mirror and see an older woman with wrinkles, eye bags and rapidly-proliferating grey hair, a less desirable woman, I wonder how infertility contributed to my perception of myself. When I think about not feeling much like a legitimate woman, I wonder about how those years of infertility contributed to that.

Maybe this post reads like someone choking on bitterness and unable to savor her blessings. Maybe that is true. I’ve always been more on the “glass half empty” side of things. I think my point is that what I have discovered is that infertility remains. It is possible to be resolved and suffering, happy and sad at the same time.  You can look forward and back, mourn and enjoy. The real point of this is YMMV (your mileage may vary). Maybe you achieve your child and never look back. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you do and remember how hard it is. Maybe you have miracle children after the long fight for the first one. All of those scenarios and feelings are valid.

My experience, my feelings,  happen to be different.

14 Years of Wedded Bliss

Yes, let’s all have a good laugh now because no marriage has constant bliss. 

But. Today, December 1, Jimmy and I celebrate our 14th anniversary. 

It hasn’t been perfect. It hasn’t been all rainbows and roses – that’s for damn sure!

But it has been good. Very good. The years of infertility acted as a crucible and fortunately, we came out stronger on the other side. Don’t get me wrong: we aren’t perfect. We argue. We disagree. Vehemently at times. But we are closer in ways hard to describe.

And currently we face chaos from work, Legos proliferating madly and constantly underfoot, the homework grind and a thousand other daily dramas.

It’s not perfect, but it’s good. Very good. Happy Anniversary, J. 

Thanksgiving: the Aftermath

  
And then after a delightful dinner, you are left with the detritus.

I was surprised how exhausted I felt by 8PM last night, considering that our day was low key and we were cooking for only the 3 of us. However, a friend reminded me that whether we are cooking for 3 or 30 (heaven forbid), the amount of work is the same. True that.

At least we have a refrigerator full of yummy leftovers.

Thanksgiving 2015

Today should be the type of holiday I hate: 

  • It’s only the three of us
  • It’s 70 degrees
  • My house is a wreck

But I don’t. Instead, I love it. I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner in my PJs. Actually, we are all still in our PJs.  I typically love chilly weather for Thanksgiving, but Jimmy and I cannot stop telling each other how much we love the bright blue sky and warm day. It’s beautiful.

I love that we are keeping Thanksgiving simple and just cooking for the three of us this year. Ordinarily, I love having a crowd around to celebrate, but not this year.

We will eat when the food is ready. We will likely still be in our PJs and will eat around Legos at the kitchen table instead of a beautifully-decorated dining room table. The house will still be a wreck, but that’s OK because the Christmas decorations come out tomorrow.

Sometimes it is good to be low key.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.