What Being A Mother Gets You

Insert wry comment about stretch marks and a huge butt. Add in comical image of inedible, kid-made breakfast in bed followed by mom cleaning the trashed kitchen. Rim shot. Canned laughter.

Yes, the ragged, run-down mom image is hilarious and often true. But today I want to talk about the other real benefits mothers get. Because though motherhood gets rough sometimes, it has added so much to my life.

I’ve got my boys, my sweet Buddies. They are so fun to be around, and it’s a treat to watch them turn into people. They have great senses of humor, and they laugh at my jokes, which we all know is my favorite thing. It’s really hard to be grumpy for too long around them. They just create joy wherever they are. And I can’t adequately describe the calming feeling of their touch, the sweet little boy head tucked under my chin as they sit on my lap.

I was the definition of content watching my boys' first musical with them. They had to sit on my lap, and I got to hear all the murmurs of wonder they expressed.

I was the definition of content watching my boys’ first musical with them. They had to sit on my lap, and I got to hear all the murmurs of wonder.

I’ve gained inspiration as a mother because my boys inspire me. I watch them learn something new and not give up, and I’m reminded that you have to keep trying when something’s hard. When they overcome an obstacle, I am reminded that it only takes the will to do it to make things better. They inspire me to be a better teacher for all the other mothers’ babies. And they always inspire to be a better mother. For one, they forgive my frequent missteps. I look at them and know they deserve the best mom. I want to do right by them, and they let me try again and again.

Jack overcame stage fright and Alex has learned it's okay to make mistakes. Their t-ball team has been so great.

Jack overcame stage fright, and Alex has learned it’s okay to make mistakes. Their t-ball team has been so great.

Being a mother has also gotten me a tribe of women to count on and look to for advice. One of the hardest things after losing Carter was this feeling that I had been kicked out of the Mom Club. I looked at moms and their kids at the store and felt like a creepy stalker. I had no kids with me nor was I buying family things, so why the hell was I staring? But my friends who had kids knew that I was a mother and were good about making me feel welcome. And now the other mothers I know are an invaluable part of my life. They support my parenting and my personal needs. They offer a shoulder to cry on and reassurance that I’m not doing it all wrong.

Thanks friends for dinner and laughs.

Thanks friends for dinner and laughs.

And my mom friends send me pictures of beautiful Carter skies on Mother's Day.

And my mom friends send me pictures of beautiful Carter skies on Mother’s Day.

This Mother’s Day I just want to thank my sweet boys for bringing me all these gifts. I wish you’d have skipped the stretch marks, but I know they were given with love.

Is This Normal?

My brain, as you well know if you read here often, is like a carnival, a really scary and frenetically-paced carnival. Worries and ideas fly about like cries from carnies. (And yes, carnies do terrify me. Obviously.) It’s hard to focus on one thing because there is so much to see and do. It’s exciting but overwhelming.

Since our move home to Texas, I’ve been waiting for normal to set in. I would like the carnival to close up and be replaced by a lovely cafe with tea and books and deep conversation. First, we had to get our own place to live. Being with my parents upon first landing back in the States was great. There really is not much you can’t conquer when you are backed by John and Suzanne Karmann.

But, to feel settled, we needed to be living in a space of our own. We found and moved into a nice apartment about 300 yards from where we’d like to build a house. We can’t start building the house until the lots are prepared and a contract is signed. Also, we really need me to have a job so we know what we can afford to build. We would like to live within our means; we’re crazy like that. To that end, I’ve been tutoring two times a week since the end of February. I was hoping that work would turn into a permanent, full-time job next fall. I expected to be hired the minute the principal saw my awesome teaching skills. That hasn’t happened and probably won’t. That means I need to fill out applications in other districts, get transcripts sent, and try to find references. I need to update my resume.

Oh God, somehow I got on the tilt-a-whirl. I’m feeling sick to my stomach.

Suddenly I find myself living back at my parents’ house while they are in California visiting my brother and his family. They needed me to care for Lucy, the cocker spaniel they inherited from me when we moved to Poland. That poor dog has lived a very Stephanie-like life. She was born in Austin, and has lived in El Paso, my parents’ house in McKinney, my first apartment in Plano, Michael and I’s first apartment together where she got a brother cat, our house in McKinney, and then back at my parents’ house sans her family and cat. We decided it would be easiest on everyone if the boys and I slept at my parents’ house to care for her.

This meant we hauled stuff over (not all the right stuff) and have not seen Michael more than an hour or two a day. But that was going to be okay in the initial planning. We could make good use of my parents’ yard and nearby park. It would be totally fine! And it was until after the t-ball game Tuesday night. The game rocked because the boys got to play a ton and each hit a pitched ball. They didn’t even care about the cold wind that blew in during the game.

But that cold wind blew in rain and illness. We have not played in the yard since the first day, and no one is very rested. The boys are pretty sick of each other and me. The house is a wreck.

Michael took the boys to the apartment Friday night so I could get a break. I waited for the calm to rush over me, and it did at first. I used that evening to vacuum and get frantic because we still have until Tuesday afternoon at my parents’ house. And Alex is still sick. And for some reason we don’t have a thermometer at the apartment. And I didn’t bring enough clothes nor have I washed enough. And the boys won’t eat what I want to make, and I didn’t shop well enough to offer good options.

I’m afraid no normal pattern will emerge, or if it does, it’ll be long after my brain has ceased to function, and my family will be in tatters. I want to go on a date-night with my husband which hasn’t happened yet. I’d like to see some friends and have my time off from being parent-in-charge not be filled with grocery shopping or work. I need a job to look forward to and to assure us we can get a house. The boys need to play with other kids. I have boxes I need to get rid of at the apartment.

Seriously, who turned on the Zipper? I am petrified of that thing. Why am I still on it? Can you help me turn off this crazy ride?

I get clammy and jittery just looking at this thing.

A Better Mom

I’m not what people would call a calm person. In fact, I’ve been called a hummingbird on speed. I am in constant motion and full of a constant stream of thoughts, very few left unsaid. It sounds funny, and sometimes it is. I’m a hit at parties and a bringer of levity at meetings and conferences. But when I’m just living my daily life as a stay-at-home-mom, it’s exhausting and scary. And it is a problem that is stigmatized and misunderstood as evidenced by the reactions to this article on Parenting.com and the ensuing talk shows like Anderson Live and Katie where wine drinking and mood-stabilizing drugs prescribed by a psychiatrist are lumped in the same category.

I have generalized anxiety disorder, and after the twins were born, it became postpartum anxiety and depression. This meant that before treatment my mind was my worst enemy. My ability to imagine turned ordinary new-parent worries into disasters of epic proportions. It was imperative that I give the boys the exact same amount of formula. If I didn’t get them to take good naps now, they would never sleep well. Having pears on Monday meant not even looking at pears Tuesday so that they had a nice variety in their diet. To get to the living room from our master bedroom, you had to pass the mantle which had a corner that stuck out almost into the hall. Every time I passed that corner, I imagined accidentally knocking a baby’s head into it. I saw the blood gushing and heard the screams and cries. I never accidentally hit that corner, but it haunted me every time I passed it. When I went to take the boys to meet Michael, my husband, for lunch, I would pack three meals’ worth of formula in case there was a massive traffic jam, and I had to be with them in the car for hours. Seriously.

It only got worse when the boys got mobile, and I ventured outside to normal places like the park and the mall. My brain saw the germs on the play structures. I could imagine them jumping onto my sons and sending them to the hospital. Stairs were my mortal enemy. No matter how much the boys improved at navigating them, I still imagined them falling down them. My brain played out the whole scene. They fall screaming. I drop what’s in my arms and run to them. There is a lot of blood, and I tell the other twin to call Daddy on my phone. I grab band-aids and calmly apply pressure to the wound even as I know in my heart the injured child would need surgery and would never be the same. And it was all my fault for not holding their hand or telling them to slow down or being late and in a hurry. And the park? Play the stairs scene over for every piece of equipment. I tried to have play dates there and enjoy the company of friends and their kids, but I was always on alert and ready to run after a child heading for traffic or falling to his death from the slides. These things never happened, but I was sure they would.

The stairs at our Poland apartment had to be faced every day. And every day I imagined the boys tumbling down.

The stairs at our Poland apartment had to be faced every day. And every day I imagined the boys tumbling down.

I’m shaking, and my heart is racing right now just writing this. I can’t stop thinking of all the examples of this behavior.

The only way I’m able to get through the day and be out among the people is with therapy and medication. And even with that I still have the thoughts. They just don’t paralyze me or send me into an anxiety-induced crabby-fest. My anxiety manifests as anger; the anger is that things are out of my control. But I have coping skills, and I have support.

In other words, my medication makes me a better mom. My medication and techniques I’ve learned in therapy. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group at ppdchat. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding, superpartner spouse.  My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group at ppdchat and my fantastic spouse and my involved parents. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding spouse and my caring parents and exercise. My medication and my coping techniques and my online support group and my understanding spouse and my involved parents and exercise and having a hobby.

My point? Yes, I’m medicated, but no, I’m not using it as a crutch. I work hard to be a good mom. It’s an obsession that can lead me down a rocky road. So I use all the tools I can find to find that balance between striving to be what my kids need and keeping my spirit intact. It’s not easy, and anyone who tells you medication is the easy way out has never been where I am-at the top of the stairs facing another day of shutting off the horror show in my brain.