Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Members Only

May 30, 2013
A secret club exists in this world, one of which you may or may not know some members.   Nobody really intends to be initiated into this club, it’s not one that you readily sign up for.  And once you find yourself submerged in the club, you feel confused and angry and guilty.  You did not ask to be here, at least, you don’t remember asking to join.  You momentarily feel isolated and alone and scared but when you open the door to the meeting room, you find friends and neighbors and family members greeting you at the door.  You had no idea they were members, afterall, this secret club is rarely discussed.  They rush to you, surround you, wrap their arms around you.  They tell you everything will be all right.  They tell you this is not your fault. They tell you you are a great mama. And you cling to these words, though they feel as hollow as a rotted tree.  You know they sincerely mean them, but you don’t believe them.  You know.  You know.

I joined this secret club in January, about two weeks after our sweet Maddy died.  We had just returned from an amazing family vacation and were so excited for a fresh start. The winter had already been long and 2013 was not off to a great start.  We couldn’t wait to share the news that Charlie was going to be a big brother in July.  Because of our travel plans, my twelve-week appointment was pushed back a couple weeks, but I was feeling fine and had no risk factors that we were aware of.  Three days before the heartbeat appointment, I started spotting… and though my midwives assured me this was sometimes normal (whatever that means), I knew.  I knew. 

And so began the longest weekend in my entire life:  knowing, comprehending, processing, asking, grieving, crying.  Lots and lots of crying.  I asked the Universe Why Me?  Why US? But of course, there were no answers.  I asked Why those people? Why that baby?  But again, there were no answers.  But through it all, there was hope.  I had hope.  I knew we would try again.  I knew Charlie would be a big brother.  He’ll be an amazing big brother.  I knew I’d be a mama to two.  I knew we’d have a fourth family member at the table.  And so, I tried not to dwell on the loss, and focused my energy on the future.   

Slowly, over the next few months, the emotional pain subsided and was gradually replaced with some kind of acceptance.  We focused on Charlie, we focused on work, we focused on the never-ending snow.  We focused on getting through winter.  Something “they” never tell you about miscarriage is that your body is tricked into thinking you just had a baby so you get the joy of experiencing all the crazy hormonal bouts—without a baby at the end of the day.  They don’t tell you that it’s physically painful and an incredibly emotional process.  They don’t tell you that your entire physical cycle is completely out of whack for months to a year--- and that’s normal.  So on top of the winter that never ended, I was dealing with the aftermath of this loss, and trying to focus on the future. 

I questioned everything and was easily infuriated.  Everywhere I looked, people were pregnant.  Everywhere we went, we saw babies and siblings.  My desire to have a baby was increased by ten thousand, and yet, so was my amazement with the child we have.  Every single day, I have looked at Charlie and wondered how each of his cells divided so perfectly into the little boy that he is.  How did we escape any problems the first time around?  

Work was particularly difficult for me as parents would come into my office and complain about their children, their living situations, their babies on the way.  One particular expectant mother came into my office complaining about her pregnancy, explained that it was unwanted and was going to put such a damper on their lives.  The next day, I drove by and saw her standing outside her house, seven months pregnant, smoking her cigarette and screaming at her other two children.  I drove on as tears streamed down my face. There are no reasons. It just is.

But through the spring, I continued to try to focus on the future. I wearily believed the snow would melt and that someday we would be proud parents to two chidren.  And on Mother’s Day, 2013, we focused on the beautiful HCG numbers we received from the lab.  How appropriate that on that day, I learned that I got to be a mama again!

Things were different the second time.  I was cautious about everything, even giving up my morning coffee and never ever missing a prenatal vitamin.  I put off getting highlights in my hair, never ate cold sandwich meat, bought latex gloves for cleaning, and even tried to eat a few more green veggies.  After having a miscarriage, I was privy to extra ultrasounds and early testing.  On May 30th, we saw the flicker of a perfect little heartbeat at seven weeks, and my anxieties lessened but were not completely gone.  In January, the baby had stopped developing around nine or ten weeks, so for me, I needed to see a heartbeat flickering at twelve weeks. 

On Monday, we went in for a second ultrasound—just to get a more accurate idea of a size and due date.  This was a routine check—there were no indications that anything was wrong.  However, as with the previous pregnancy, I had the tiniest inkling that something wasn’t right.  My nausea had all but disappeared, my exhaustion had significantly lessened, and I hadn’t had the urge to eat a bagful of gummy worms for weeks.  My previously tight shorts were not as tight, and I had lost a pound or two over the last week.  Something wasn’t right.  I hesitantly mentioned this to Mason on Sunday night, but yet, I still believed everything would be okay.

But Monday, I became a two-time member of the secret club.  The mood was light and casual as our doctor began the ultrasound, but within seconds I knew something was wrong.  There was no movement on the screen.  No beautiful flickering heartbeat.  The air suddenly became still, all chatter ceased.  My breathing became irregular and I caught Mason’s eye as he shook his head. 

The rest is sort of a blur.   Confirmation. Questions.  Lack of answers, and lack of reasons.  Realization.  More realization.  Tears.  And more tears.

And now we’re home.  The exact same place we were 48 hours ago, yet our place has shifted dramatically.  Everything surrounding us is the same, yet nothing is the same.

This time, I fooled myself into believing that if I stayed just a little disconnected from the pregnancy, if I didn’t quite believe it, then I’d be spared from any emotional toll if there a problem occurred. Mason said things like, “when the baby comes” and “in January”, but my vocabulary sounded more like, “if the baby comes” and “maybe in January”.  I never could make myself believe.  

Now, I find myself thinking that had I just stayed positive, had I really connected to the pregnancy, had I rubbed my belly every morning, things would have turned out differently.  Maybe if I had been more relaxed, maybe if I had created more positive energy, maybe if I was less anxious, maybe if I had said a few prayers, maybe if I hadn’t had terrible thoughts about my inability to parent two children, maybe if I hadn’t specifically asked the Universe to make this decision for me, maybe maybe maybe…. things would have been different. 

This time around, my grief is so different.  It’s so much more confusing and also more straight-forward.  Not only am I grieving the loss of this baby, but I’m grieving the look of my future family.  At one time, we thought about having only one child, but we eventually came to the conclusion that we really wanted a sibling for Charlie.  We wanted him to have that relationship, to share his childhood with someone else.  We wanted him to experience the lessons that come with having a brother or sister.  Not to mention the fact that Charlie adores babies, and dotes on them like crazy.  But now, the hope of having a sibling for Charlie is not present.  Both Mason and I are getting older, and while Hollywood minimizes this fact, it’s a very real issue for us.  And honestly, I’m not sure that I could physically and emotionally deal with this again.

So many people have texted me messages of kindness and support.  I’ve been sent virtual hugs and I feel those arms from friends and family wrapped tightly around me right now.  Deep down, in my heart of hearts, I know that things will be all right.  But right now, my heart is breaking into little pieces and I’m desperately trying to piece it back together.  Poor Charlie is asking why I’m sad and the best answer I can give him is that I lost something that I loved a lot.  He’s showered me with hugs and kisses and hasn’t left my side this morning.  I feel deeply guilty for not being able to bring this baby into the world for him to love with us.  I know that it is irrational to feel responsible, yet I will always wonder if my thoughts and doubts somehow affected this pregnancy.  Rationally, I understand that there are no answers and that whatever our family ends up looking like, it will be perfect for us.  But in the meantime, I’ll be hanging out with my irrational brain while I try to move on, a little more day by day. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Tantrum Tango

About a month ago, a friend of mine mentioned that this blog is just "so happy".  It's becoming like the mommy blogs that annoy me because their kids are darling, their problems are minescual, and their days all sunny.  And so my friend, I give you this post.  Don't worry, we're all good and normal and tantrum-ey here in Spahnville too.

While C is perhaps the most darling of darling children, he is also basically a shyster.  This is difficult for us because he's incredibly well behaved-- to the point where when we see other kids his age doing normal three year old stuff our jaws drop.  He doesn't poop on the floor or hit or bite or run out in the street.  He wouldn't take things from the fridge without asking or climb something without getting permission.  He waits to be excused at dinner.  He doesn't pour water out of the bathtub or spill his milk or cut his hair.  So what does he do?

He cries.  He cries a lot.

And he doesn't usually cry from about 7:00 am to 9:00 pm.  No, he chooses to cry before the coffee has kicked in and after the daily patience has worn off.

Let me paint you a few pictures to illustrate the point.

Last week:
Bedtime.  Bath, books, bed.  Something we have done consistently for 3 1/2 years.  And while bedtime was basically a breeze from about 6 months to 24 months, crying at bedtime became an issue again last summer and has continued to be a battle.  C will be a darling child right up until the moment where I exit his bedroom-- in which, he pours on the tears.  He cries, he screams, he asks for water.  He really wants me to cuddle him-- which, I would love to if he was a cuddly kid.  Unfortunately, he winds down like a kick boxer, and I'm the bag lying next to him.  "Cuddling" with Charlie is not exactly fun.  Last week when M was gone, I let C sleep in my bed.  (Note to self:  BIG HUGE MISTAKE.  What I thought would be "fun/ special/ vacation time" turned into us nearly killing each other.  Wait to attempt this again when the kid is at least ten.) Long story short-- bedtime was around 8:45 and around 10:15 I was tossing him (literally?) into his own bed.  By 10:30 we both were crying and around 11:00 we both had apologized and passed out in my bed.  Fun times, Karah.  Great idea.  Great mommy moment.

This morning:
I went for a walk while Mason was in the shower.  Roughly 40 minutes later, I came up our driveway and heard wailing from inside our house.  I walked in the front door, to discover C sitting on the couch with his puppy and blanket, sobbing.  M explained that he woke up in a great mood, then asked for Mommy.  When M couldn't produce Mommy on the spot, C started wailing-- and didn't stop.  He had been crying for about 25 minutes.  Once Mommy was there, things were better but not perfect.  He cried when I sat in his spot.  He cried when I didn't hold him during breakfast.  He cried when Daddy helped him in the bathroom instead of Mommy.  He cried and cried and cried.

And the grand finale example.  A few months ago:
A letter to Charlie from me:


Dear Charlie,

I'm not exactly sure where to begin this letter to you so I'll start right in with the epic tantrum that you threw yesterday and the terrible mom-fail that I had in response. 

First of all, I know that we've both apologized and said "I love you" a thousand times since "the incident" but I keep replaying it, knowing that I should try to learn and grow from it somehow. But I say that every time I screw up at parenting, and isn’t it getting old? I keep promising myself I'll do better and then keep not doing better.  Some days I try to remember that I have grown; I've taken little baby steps like not shouting as much but am I really passing if I keep failing?

Yesterday, when you cried incessantly for 25 minutes-- starting the moment we left Nicole's house-- I tried to rev up my Rational Brain.  Really, I did.  I know you were tired.  Honey, I was tired too.  Rationally, I understand that you're three and have just barely begun to sort out this huge wide world.  Hell, I'm the grown up and I still haven't sorted out much of this world thing. I did my best to channel my inner June Cleaver and say "Now Charlie...." and busy myself with tidying up the kitchen (all while wearing a fashionable dress with pumps).  But instead all I could muster was a deep breath on the way to my bedroom.  Once inside, I swiftly closed the door and snapped the lock into place.  My heart throbbed as you beat your little fists on the door, screaming something incomprehensible.  (It had to do with cereal?)  I pulled on my yoga pants and sweatshirt and went into the bathroom to wash my face (can you imagine June in yoga pants?).  

It would have been so easy to shout at you through that closed door.  I could have rattled off a hundred hurtful words in the blink of an eye.  But sweetie, I see the results of verbal abuse every day.  If school counseling has taught me anything about what to do as a parent, it’s keep your mouth shut when you're frustrated. I dried off my face, slid on my slippers, and unlatched the door.  You tumbled into my bedroom, still kicking the door and screaming.  I took your hand, and silently marched you out to the kitchen.  You were howling about the cereal being empty-- I had figured out that much—and I assured you that half a box is plenty remaining for a snack.  When you continued to tantrum, I stared back at you.  I focused on my breathing.  Inhale. Exhale.  Inhale.  I glanced out the window, wondering how hard it really could be to send children off to college.  You wailed another ear-piercing wail about that damn empty cereal box.  Now Honey, I'm not a fighter.  I'm a passive-aggressive-er.  So in that moment, I knew I wasn't going to fight with you.  Rather, I took the Chex box off the counter and silently, without saying a word, poured it out—right on top of you.  The box is not empty.  Point proven.  Boom.  

You howled like I had burned you with a match.  You screamed and went into hysterics, gasping for breath, flailing around on the floor.  Suddenly, at that moment, I was stunned into the present—what had I just done?  I had kept my mouth shut--but what was I doing?  I was joining in on the tantrum.  Who was the grown up?  Realizing what I had done, I silently picked you up and took you back to your room, where I explained that I just made a mess and needed to clean it up.  At that moment, my brain was getting fuzzy and blurry with frustration.  We were going on 25 minutes of continual screaming--full-blown-tantrum, and despite my deep breathing, I was nearing the end of my rope.  Where was my June Cleaver?  I'm sure she never poured cereal on Wally or Beaver.  

Eventually, the floor was spotless and I had grown weary.   My thoughts tumbled around my brains-- Rational Brain was thinking about the antecedent to this behavior and any possible patterns in frequency and duration.  Emotional Brain was thinking about how crazy hard this parent love stuff is.   As I rounded the corner into your bedroom and saw four little books piled neatly on your bed, my spirits soared.  I folded you into my lap, wordlessly rocking you and inhaling the scent of your sweaty hair.  You struggled to catch your breath and we talked about getting mad and sometimes not getting what we want.  We talked about how hard it is to live together as a family, especially when we make bad decisions-- like the cereal thing (for which I apologized).  We read the book “Marvin gets Mad” and I was again blown away by your comprehension of abstract topics.  When I asked you if you have something you could think about to make you happy, you looked up at me and said, “I could think about when someone gives me a hug.”  Oh my goodness buddy, you’ve so got this. 

For me, emotions are one of the trickiest parts of being human.  They have had a firm grip on my personality since I was a little tyke like you.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve wished that I wasn’t so emotional.  At times, having strong emotions can be a positive attribute, but many times they just get in the way.  They muddy perceptions and make everything personal. They make ordinary life experiences hard and heartbreaking and devastating.  They make me apt to cry in front of people and I hate that.

And here’s the kicker.  I already can tell that you and I are so much alike.  The emotional roller-coaster is one thing.  The crazy book-nerdiness is another.  The questioning of authority and changing the rules to make things better for you is something I understand all too well.  Oh baby, that is so me.  (Just ask Ama & Papa)  I have a feeling that our relationship is going to ebb and flow, some moments feeling like we are bound tighter than a steel coil, and other moments feeling like we share nothing more than a last name. But regardless of which moment we happen to be in, I promise you that I'll continue trying to keep my Emotional Brain in check and I'll try to use my Rational Brain a bit too.  And regardless of where you are in your Emotional roller coaster ride, I promise you that I'll  listen to you, I'll try to understand, and I'll try to act like the grown-up. I can't promise that I'll never screw up and I also can't promise that I'll ever look or sound like June Cleaver.


And there you have it folks.  Nice, normal (?), happy unhappiness here in Spahnville.  Enjoy the sunshine today friends.  It makes everything better if you ask me.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Magic Happens in St. Louis

Charlie & I just returned from what has become an annual trip to Missouri.  (You can read about our trips from 2011 here and 2012 here) As usual, C was a fantastic traveler-- enduring the nearly six hour drive beautifully. 

We headed down on Wednesday morning as M was spending a few days in the Gulf of Mexico on a chartered fishing trip.  It has become a bit of a tradition to stop in Donnellson, IA for a picnic and some park time.  I remember 2011 being so hot that we couldn't even play outside but this year the weather was gorgeous-- sunny and mid 70's.  We only come to this park on our way to St. Louis, so it seems to have shrunk since the last time we visited.  That white squirly-whirly slide was too big on previous trips, and this time C was at the top before I had the minivan door closed.  


Spending about an hour at the park gave us plenty of time to arrive at Mindy's house by late afternoon.  The sky was overcast, but that didn't stop the kids from playing outside-- good thing we always travel with C's trusty Thomas umbrella. 

After rounding the kids up from their rainy play, we headed inside for dinner.  Mindy is a fantastic chef and had whipped up an awesome chicken spaghetti recipe for dinner.  Paired with garlic bread and raspberry salad and the fact that I didn't have to cook anything-- it was nothing short of amazing.  The kids enjoyed playing together that night and once they were snuggled into bed, the two of us snuggled under cozy blankets in her living room and chatted the night away.

Thursday morning, we headed to St. Louis to visit The Magic House, a 1900's manor that has been renovated into a children's museum.  We arrived shortly after it opened, and were thankful we did because it was crazy busy by about 1:00pm.  If you have little (or medium size) kids and are in St. Louis, this is an awesome stop!  We mainly did the little kid stuff.  Charlie had a blast.

He climbed a three-story beanstalk.  (But once at the top, he stated: "Ders no giants up here!")

He identified letters-- his favorite was letter "C", which was orange in color and had a cupcake hiding behind the door.  What could be better?

He played with bubbles...

He played with sand...

He changed a tire and tightened the lug nuts.

He scooped and served up some ice cream before heading over to the construction sight where he mixed concrete, measured stuff, and built a house out of bricks.

The museum currently has a sand exhibit and one of their parking lots has been turned into a giant beach, complete with toys and umbrellas and chairs.  The kids thought it was great fun.  The moms thought it was great relaxation.  
That afternoon and evening, we played outside for hours.  I felt right at home among Min's neighbors and Charlie eventually felt comfortable enough wandering from yard to yard with the other kids.  (I never quite got over my anxiety when I looked up and couldn't find him-- but he was always happily playing with other neighborhood kids)  We ordered incredible St. Louis style pizza (thin and crispy!) and ate outside on the deck-- all seven of us crowded around the big table as nobody wanted to eat at the kid table.

On Friday, we spent the morning at a nearby park, where C continued to amaze me with his independence.  He climbed every ladder and tested out every slide, eventually choosing to do this slide close to a hundred times.  

When we got home, we set up the big blow-up waterslide in the backyard.  The weather wasn't really warm enough for a waterslide but kids don't believe the air temperature is a factor in water-related-activities.  They had a blast.  Actually, the "big kids" were finished with the slide after about 20 minutes, complaining that it was too cold.  The 'littles' could have stayed out there forever, insisting that "It warm! It warm!"

That night, we treated the kids to ice cream.  Charlie picked chocolate with sprinkles and all but licked the bowl clean.  I drank my entire chocolate/marshmallow shake because I am polite like that.


Our trip ended on Saturday after homemade pancakes and extra syrup.  There were tears and whimpers from Charlie, "I don't want to go home.  I want to stay here with my friends.  Can Harrison come home with us?"  It tugged at my heart a little because I would have loved to stay for weeks.  

We stopped again in Donnellson for another picnic and more squirly-whirly slide rides before heading back to GC.  We arrived home with enough time to make supper, wash up, and head to bed, already making plans for our next visit.