Brought to you by the letter D

Hello.

It’s been a Time, let me tell you. Two weeks since I last wrote, and everything is happening so much.

Drugs. I’m not talking the ones that you were warned against in the fifth grade (aside: when we had D.A.R.E., it was before there were any mascots or anything, and all we had was this… “music video,” if you can even call it that, of what we were supposed to believe were police officers singing, “Dare! For keeping kids off drugs!” and then this guy in the background would radically wail, “KIIIIIDS OFFFFF DRUUUUUGS,” and I will tell you that I do not remember anything about the program besides that specific snippet), but the ones that you get prescribed from your doctor. 

When I went to my OB-GYN for my crisis of intrusive thoughts, he had me talk with a behavioral health specialist (which is the new name for a shrink), and said specialist both prescribed me counselling and called my primary care doctor to request an increase in my dosage of my current antidepressant, Effexor. I had been taking 75 mg (the lowest possible therapeutic dosage), so now I’m up to 112.5 mg, which means two little capsules every day instead of one. About a week after that, I had a psychiatric medication review with a nurse whose job is doing only that ever to see if I should continue with the Effexor or if I should switch to a different antidepressant and/or take something else as well. This was a lot like my therapy intake appointment, where you just go through alllll of your issues, realize how long they’ve been issues, and feel like somebody’s just peeled your emotional skin off for a minute. 

Like. Normal therapy gets into these issues, but it’s a slower and more gradual process. Intake appointments get to the heart of things all at once. No slow, gentle “so what was it like during that one specific afternoon when you were eleven and those five boys in your class called you ‘ugly’ while you waited for the school bus?” but more of an “OKAY SO YOU’VE EXPERIENCED INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS SINCE YOU WERE ELEVEN AND HAVE HAD SUICIDAL THOUGHTS SINCE YOU WERE A TEENAGER, SOUNDS LIKE CHRONIC SUICIDAL IDEATION, NEXT TOPIC.” 

Anyway, the nurse (who was excellent; very to-the-point, and also very practical) ended up prescribing me a sleep aid called Trazodone to theoretically cut down on my bedtime insomnia from 2ish hours to 0ish hours, and I’ve been on that for about a week. I want to say that it’s working (especially in conjunction with Kyle and my decision to start taking melatonin at bedtime every night in very tasty cherry gummy form), but I honestly don’t know. I’m forcing myself to be more well-rested, by which I mean that I’m refusing to take afternoon naps even when circumstances would allow me to (read: no appointments for anyone, either virtual or physical), but I can’t tell if anything is working well because Sam’s in an anxious streak and has woken us up one way or another basically every night for a couple of weeks now. 

(more on that in a minute)

So that’ll be fun to talk to my therapist about. Meanwhile, I’ve also had an appointment with an endocrinologist (not a reproductive endocrinologist, because while I’m 100% for snagging one more girl out of our freezies, we need to pay the $3500 to have them tested and have Kyle actually employed before we strike on down that path) to try and start getting my PCOS better under control. Last October, I spent a day in the ER with agonizing pain in my lower left abdomen, which the ER diagnosed as constipation (even though, and this is TMI, I was and am regular for basically the first time in my entire life) but which my OB-GYN figured was probably related to my PCOS. We went down a path there of trying progesterone-only hormonal birth control (review: too much breakthrough bleeding, too much depression, nowhere near enough pain reduction) because I’m prone to migraine with aura, which makes me a poor candidate for estrogen usage; and I got a referral to the endocrinologist to see if we could make my hormones start behaving. 

That appointment was supposed to happen in either February or March, but either I was sick as hell or it was during the Great Cancellation Of Things, so the appointment proper didn’t happen until this month. After we talked about my symptoms (I am quite fat, I have wonky periods, I am very hairy, acne is my constant companion, getting pregnant was a pain in the ass, and my ovaries have the distinct “string of pearls” cysts on them), my endocrinologist ordered about six sprillion blood tests to check how my hormones were doing overall. Everything is consistent with PCOS (absurdly high testosterone, which I wish I could donate to some trans men out there, and hallmarks of insulin resistance though not diabetes), so she’s starting me on metformin (500mg to start, gradually increasing to 2000mg/day) to combat the insulin resistance, and I’m adding that to my daily regimen.

Basically, I’ve reached a point in my life where everything is measured in various pills; and that’s not even counting my migraine meds (because I only really take those when I manage to catch a migraine starting). And honestly, I don’t mind it much. There’s some faux wisdom about blah blah blah, being medicated is bad, makes you conform, something something 5G Bill Gates QAnon bullshit (or, on the other side of things, “all you need is fresh air and a positive outlook, plus maybe some crystals and essential oils!” Or both. Silliness has no boundary), but it’s like. Maybe I like not feeling like garbage. Maybe I like it when I’m able to spend an afternoon writing a blog instead of sleeping. Maybe I want to treat my body’s hormonal wackiness. Maybe I want to have the ability to feel genuinely happy, because depression has stolen that from me, and if I need medication to get that back, I will literally take all the pills

Like not to feel happy all the time. That isn’t how things work. I just want to be able to look at the days and weeks to come and not feel like I’m drowning. 

BUT ANYWAY.

Dads. This weekend was both Father’s Day on Sunday and Kyle’s birthday on Monday. I’ve spent a decent amount of time, therefore, baking and also organizing gifts and cards and the like. 

The baking was the fun part. I love baking; it’s one of those things that, if you know a few tricks and are very precise with what you do, people will love you for it. Kyle’s cake, catering to the things he adores in a dessert, was a red velvet layer cake with a s’mores filling (marshmallow fluff mixed with crushed graham crackers and mini chocolate chips) and decorated with rich chocolate buttercream, marshmallows, graham crackers, and candy bars. I don’t like to say that I’ve outdone myself when I bake something, but this time, I absolutely outdid myself. 

I also outdid myself showering Kyle with multitudinous gifts, each designed to remind him of one of his kids when he used it. From Sammy, he got the game of Sorry, because we pretty much just play board games with Sammy (Sorry is… not anyone’s favorite right now because it’s really frustrating independent of anyone taking revenge on anyone else, and we’re all learning valuable lessons about not trying to stack the deck, because the game Knows). From Isaac, he got what’s called a dice tower; it’s basically a better way of rolling dice that resembles a marble game…

…and makes satisfying “click clack” noises as the colorful math rocks descend. Isaac loves putting things in things, especially if that act creates a Noise, so the idea of him giving a dice tower was just irresistible. And from Carrie, Kyle received some of those colorful math rocks, specifically a dice set with pink and purple butterflies because that’s just who she is. Sparkles, pink and purple, butterflies, rainbows… that may change in the coming years, but for now, she’s my girly girl. 

Lockdown has been easing in a good way here in Massachusetts–at least out in our neck of the woods, people have remained compliant with mask orders, so some things are somewhat back to normal, and we’ve felt comfortable enough the past couple of weekends to go and visit my parents at their house (even though our house is now visitable with its delightful couches, we wanted the twins to get some time at their grandparents’ house, since they haven’t had much time there at all). We went there for Father’s Day on Sunday and enjoyed some takeout from Outback Steakhouse and some good visiting. My dad and Kyle both got cards signed by all three kids (some more legibly than others), and I got my dad a book of Dad Jokes, because he is the absolute master of them. 

So it was a good weekend with a lot of normalcy, and that was really good for my mental state. Yesterday, for the first time in I don’t even know how long, I felt wide awake without having to go and take a nap when the twins did (I try not to nap when the twins do, but usually when that happens, I end up so tired throughout the afternoon that I can’t function; that I’ve been able to go several days without feeling like I need a nap–today excluded for being a migraine day–has been really nice). I also managed to go out and run some errands like the world was back to something resembling normalcy and not just. Chaotic.

Problems have even started being more normal, too, specifically where Sam is concerned. He’s had a loose tooth for several months, as you do when you are five, and it got really loose the other day, probably earlier than it should have. I guess he bit down too hard on a piece of bacon, and that pulled his tooth away from the gum and, apparently, exposed a nerve. The dentist told us there’s nothing for it except to give him Tylenol or Motrin and Orajel, because pulling it before it’s ready would cause more problems than it would solve.

The trouble is that this small adventure has caused a lot of anxiety for Sam. He’s understandably wary about eating now, because his tooth hurts–last night, despite us having his favorite noodles for dinner, he sobbed hysterically and refused to eat them because he was afraid. And then tonight, he sneaked down to snuggle with me when he was supposed to be in bed and told me, “I know I’m supposed to be happy about my loose tooth, but it hurts so much, and I’m really kind of mad at that bacon.”

I told him that the only way he’s supposed to feel is how he does feel–that it’s alright and even makes sense for him to be angry about this happening, because losing your first tooth should be exciting, fun, and painless, not scary and painful. 

And then he wanted to talk about spiders, because he’s six.

His pediatrician recommended us to a therapist to try and help him cope with anxiety better–I think his is worse than it should be because he’s got parents who are prone to anxiety, so there’s that natural tendency to pick up on it, and since the two of us are only just learning healthy coping skills, it’s hard for us to teach him. With any luck, speaking with a therapist will give him tools to use now so that he can grow up and have a handle on this instead of growing up like we Millennials do. 

So we’ll see where it all goes. But hopefully, it’ll go good places. Until then…

The Gremlins

Hey, guess what, here’s a TRIGGER WARNING, because I’m going to talk about my depression, and it’s going to be raw and real, so if you have a hard time reading about suicidal ideation or depressive psychosis, please click the little X on your tab. Please also click the little X on your tab if you’re the type of person to make “lol triggered” jokes because fuck you.

Right, so anyway.

I know I’ve talked about depression a lot, but not in a while, because for a really long time, I was doing really well. My meds (Effexor, specifically) were doing their job, I was feeling pretty good about life, even my hormones weren’t stopping me from being healthy. Ish. I still don’t have the high levels of serotonin required to make a cutesy Zoom video (and, in fact, the handful of video collabs I’ve been invited to participate in since quarantine started have whooshed right by me, for which I sorely apologize), and my energy levels have stayed steadily somewhere around “engages kids in play but only if it doesn’t require a lot of frolicking on my part.” I’d been mercifully free from downswings for years, even in the postpartum times, and I’ve been feeling genuinely optimistic, despite the world being a dumpster fire in a lot of ways. 

And then 2020 happened.

I felt the first hints of a downswing in January, when the president decided that starting World War III over Twitter was a great idea. It wasn’t anything severe at the time, more of a few nights panicking while trying to fall asleep and thinking, “Really. Fucking really. I cannot emphasize enough how little I and everyone else in existence want this, and yet it is happening, and it might result in massive casualties on all sides and nuclear winter. Yayyyyy.” 

But it passed. 

And I might’ve gotten through the year without a downswing, despite everything. The nonstop rush of everything happening so much that’s the modern newscycle has actually been good training for me at getting righteously angry while also being able to distance myself when I need a mental health break. We donated to help Australia recover from its wildfires, I spent most of the winter in bed because of bronchitis or norovirus, and once I’d recovered, I went into Sammy’s class twice to read him books. When I wasn’t sick, I went to the twins’ playgroup every week, and as exhausting as it was, it was good for me, because it was getting out of the house and doing a thing. 

But then Covid-19 came. 

And I hate talking about it as a catalyst for my depression getting worse, because it’s not like I’ve really suffered all that much from it. I have a dear college friend who’s an ICU nurse, and the fact that she’s not just rolling over into a ball of nope every day astounds me. I know people who’ve gotten sick themselves or lost friends and family members. By comparison with all of the above, I should be fine: I’m just homebound. That’s all. 

But depression doesn’t work that way. Instead, it sees patterns and recognizes those patterns as itself. For me, the pattern that pushes me into a downswing is monotony. If there’s little to no change in my day-to-day life, it gets hard for my brain to produce serotonin, no matter what good things are happening, like birthdays and new couches and D&D on the weekends. And I knew the second the Commonwealth started locking down that things were going to get ugly. I hoped that maybe, just maybe, the fact that I’m still on my antidepressant might keep things from getting too ugly, that maybe I might be able to come out of this with the lack of depression that makes sense for someone who’s not really suffering from the situation, just bearing emotional weight for the people around her.

I pushed through it as much as I could. I put off talking to someone as long as I could. What were they going to do, give me medication? Tell me that I could start therapy as soon as things were over? I didn’t leave the house because I’m prone to illness induced asthma and got bronchitis just a few months ago. My days fell into the same routine, even once Isaac’s ABA started and we had people coming into the house. The added pressure of keeping up with the twins’ Zoom call therapies didn’t help things at all, especially when I kept missing therapy sessions because I lost track of who was meeting when. Our poor services coordinator texts me at least once a week asking, “Are you still able to meet today?” when I’m 10 minutes late for our Zoom meeting because of basically no reason. 

I got through half of March. April passed by. We had Easter. We stayed in our routine. We were good. We didn’t leave the house to do anything but get groceries once a week. We washed our hands all the time. We made Isaac’s ABA therapists wash their hands the second they came into the house. We wore masks. Kyle worked twelve hour days, seven days a week, to keep up with a new project his old company was doing to help with Covid. 

And then, on April 30, he was laid off. 

Maybe that was the catalyst for the spiral; or maybe it’s that March, April, May, and June are usually my busiest months, spent obsessively organizing birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, and this year, I’m basically just sitting on my butt, doing nothing. I don’t really know. 

I just know that one night, I was sitting on my new couch, watching my kids play, and suddenly, it was like a little gremlin in the back of my head, saying, “Isn’t it a shame that you can’t want to die because of your kids?”

I should’ve seen it coming, probably. All of my previous hobbies have gotten kind of lackluster to me. I can’t disappear into writing anything anymore. None of my video games are fun anymore. I can’t make myself get up and read a book anymore. Even looking around at the mess in my house that needs cleaning makes me feel frustrated and empty, like why even bother when we can’t get it done while the kids are here anyway?

But there it was, that first intrusive thought, something I haven’t had since I started Effexor. More followed, usually late at night when I was trying to fall asleep. They really were like little gremlins sitting in the back of my head, saying things I didn’t like. “You know,” they said one night, “if you told Kyle you were going to take a nap, you could sneak up here and do it in a way you can’t sneak away any other time.” 

And the rest of my brain was screaming, “But I don’t want to die!”

Another time: “Let’s google ways of doing it painlessly, because pain isn’t fun.”

And the rest of my brain was screaming, “Dying in general isn’t fun either!”

I’m not a self-sacrificing idiot. I did some googling, not of painless ways to die, but rather of potential side effects of all the medications I’m taking. My birth control pill had listed under its name, “Contact your doctor if you experience new or worsening depression,” so that was the first step I took, calling my OB-GYN and saying, “hey, I don’t know if this is because of the progesterone or anything, but…”

And in a heartbeat, although Covid still mattered, it didn’t matter. Immediately, my doctor set up appointments for me to come in and see him. At the same time, he set up an emergency triage with the mental health department, which made the appointments kind of weird: I sat in his office having a pelvic exam, PAP smear, endometrial biopsy, and polyp removal (owwww), and then I went into another room and had a phone call with someone from behavioral health to make sure I wasn’t in any immediate danger.

And I wasn’t, because the gremlins aren’t terribly convincing, but they’re still present, so the mental health provider set me up with one of her colleagues, and we spoke on Friday.

The first appointment with any new doctor is an adventure, because you have to go through your medical history with a stranger and talk about how you’ve only ever smoked tobacco once and it was a pipe in college and it was terrible, and how having three kids and taking progesterone to help with PCOS means that your sex life is a craps shoot as to whether or not it exists and so on. 

The first appointment with a therapist, though, is basically an emotional debridement. You don’t just talk about your physical health and history, oh no. You have to go through the history of your mental health, which means delicately going into your background and realizing, as you talk things through, that maybe you haven’t been as okay all along as you previously thought. Like for example, your therapist asks, “How long have you had intrusive thoughts like these?” and you start to answer that it’s just been in the last couple of years, but no wait, you remember them in college, and no, they went back farther than that, and suddenly, you realize that you were having intrusive thoughts as a kid, and you were so scared of them because you grew up in a church that preached demonic possession and didn’t want your parents to think that you were possessed, so you kept it all to yourself. 

“What were they like as a kid?” the therapist asks, and at first you think you don’t remember, but then you do remember the thought of wouldn’t it be nice to get hit by a car or be sick in the hospital so that everyone would feel sorry for you. “What a weird thought!” you say laughingly, and the therapist says, “It sounds like you subconsciously wanted to ask for help but didn’t know how.” 

So you have to absorb that while also chatting about yes, things were better for a long time after you started meds, but now they inexplicably are not better anymore.

It’s a lot. And as you’re raw from letting this all sink in, the therapist remarks, “I think you’ve got severe depression and depressive psychosis, and also your meds don’t seem to be cutting it anymore. I’m ordering a medication review with your PCP and one of our prescribing RNs to see if we can’t find something that will work better for you. And you and I are going to talk again next week. In the meantime, here are some crisis numbers. Please make sure you’ve got them on hand and make sure your husband has them in case there’s ever an emergency.”

And you’re like, oh, I guess it’s worse than I thought.

I’ve got a lot to unpack over the coming weeks and months, on a lot of levels–judging by that, more than I probably realize. Having therapy to look forward to is helping in the short term, but in the long term… I don’t know. I just want to feel hopeful again, you know? 

Anyway. I didn’t write any of this as a ploy for sympathy or to try and divert attention from infinitely more important causes (and if we’re friends on Facebook, you know where my mind’s been this past week), but just because I want to be honest on this blog, as I always have wanted, and that means sometimes telling some hard stories. So there you go.

Pandemic Dreams

These are stressful times, friends, and stressful times mean weird dreams.

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I’m already prone to weird and vivid dreams. Effexor, my antidepressant, tends to make weird dreams a Thing, and in the five years I’ve been on it, I’ve had some real doozies. Sometimes, they relate to what I’m dealing with in my waking life, but more frequently, they’re just really weird. They’re occasionally good, rarely bad (and when they’re bad, they’re really bad), but mostly just vivid, to the point where they embed themselves in my psyche for years and years. 

So. Combine my innate tendency towards weird, vivid dreams with these weird and stressful times, and let’s just say that my nights have been… fun lately.

*

At first, my dreams weren’t bad at all. In fact, they were very reassuring and heavily thematic. Every night, I had a slightly different dream about moving with my parents and siblings (and sometimes Kyle and the kids) into an old house in my hometown. Now, when I say “old” I don’t mean “I used to live here!” old but rather “wow, I think George Washington may have lived here” old. Old, as in “this is about as old as a white person’s house can be in this country.” Old as balls.

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As houses that are old as balls tend to be around here, these houses were severely haunted, none more so than the one built beside a CVS and just down the street from my favorite pizza place. It was within walking distance of the high school (which I still attended in my dream), and the ground around it was stark and dusty, like the house had drained the land of its very life. The house itself was solid, dark brown, with a front door as vibrant red as ripe strawberries. 

Inside, the house made its hauntedness more than apparent. Ghosts lurked around every corner of its twisted interior, an interior that kept changing shape to suit the house’s moods. Getting upstairs was a challenge, because you never knew where the stairs would turn up. One minute, the stairs would begin in the kitchen and lead to the back yard. The next, the stairs would start right inside the front door and lead to the roof. 

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The door to the basement remained static, though, ominously so. It didn’t move because it didn’t have to move, you see. It radiated an ominous energy that should have threatened away anyone curious about what was in the basement. The darkness wasn’t visible; it was palpable. Whatever lurked behind that door seethed malevolence. It needed the world to know that nobody was welcome inside.

Nobody, that is, except me. 

In my dream, I went through the door without the slightest bit of fright, and when I did, the house rearranged itself for me specifically. It created a sanctuary for me with a huge writing desk, lively green plants, and soft amber lights all around, as if the desk on its pedestal was situated in a field of stars. Perhaps the house was haunted, and perhaps the presence haunting it was malicious, but that old house (built in 1716, I remember clearly) accepted and embraced me. Even if it rejected everyone else that came inside, it wanted me to know that I was home within its walls.

*

Travel has been common in each stage of pandemic dream series. This first series transitioned with a dream about touring the world with a subset of my college choir, all girls. We took a ship from various ports, but then had to drive from China to Russia in the middle of the night, escorted by the mafia. We passed at lightning speed through a forest of impossibly tall trees, so dark and enormous that their tops melted into the black sky above. 

Once we arrived, we were given quarter in another old house, this one renovated within and not at all haunted. “I’d like to live here someday,” I remarked to the old house’s owner, who spoke with a British accent (apparently, the actors in my dreams can’t do Russian accents). “It’s a little odd, but it’s a very nice house.”

“Perhaps you shall someday,” he answered. “Perhaps you shall.”

*

As the pandemic has continued, and we’ve all coped with Schrodinger’s virus (which we must all act as if we have, so that we cannot contaminate others, but simultaneously as if we’ve never had so that we cannot be contaminated ourselves), my dreams started to change shape. Everything remained haunted, but the comforting feeling of the old house vanished to be replaced with malevolent haunted dolls.

Haunted dolls have always fascinated me. I’ve never had a fear of dolls like a lot of people; in fact, I’ve always loved dolls, and haunted dolls just added a layer of fun to the whole idea. My best friend in the third grade had a whole room full of dolls, those porcelain ones that are always possessed in the movies, and I loved them and the delicious shiver of fear I felt when she’d tell me scary stories about the ghosts she saw moving outside of her window. 

Most of the haunted doll dreams have blurred together, save for the first and the last. The first involved a doll my mother and I found about twenty years ago while we were on vacation in Maine (because of course; there’s a reason all of Stephen King’s stories take place in Maine, and it’s not because he’s lived there most of his life. It’s because Maine is scary). My mom and I used to go antiquing during our annual family trip to the lakes region, and on this particular trip, we found an ancient doll that had obviously been very loved but looked very deeply cursed. We agreed that it was probably possessed by something and left the store, never to return.

Well. In the first haunted doll dream, that very doll started following me around, and I couldn’t get rid of it. It didn’t do anything to me; no Chucky-esque murder sprees here. It just followed me around and delighted in popping up whenever it knew its presence would shock me the most. 

It was, in short, an asshole.

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There were a few more haunted doll dreams, and then, earlier this week, the last haunted doll dream. 

This dream took place in London, which I’ve visited about five times in my entire life, never long enough to really get a sense of its vibe beyond the neon tourist glow of Piccadilly Circus and the double decker buses pointing out where the king used to have people beheaded. Based on my dreams, though, London is very dark with amber lighting, except near the airport, where the dark sky gives way to white clouds and surreal glowing interiors.

In this particular dream, I was trapped in a market–not the covered market I knew from my days in Oxford, but a hybrid of a ballet school and a supermarket (don’t ask me, I don’t write these things). I didn’t want to be trapped there; I knew that I wouldn’t be able to leave London if I stayed much longer, because of the pandemic, and I knew the last flight out of Heathrow was leaving soon. 

But I was trapped, and I was trapped alongside a boy and another girl (we were all young at the time), all of us in the bodies of dolls. People passed us by and we silently screamed at them to break us free, but they never listened. I don’t know where my real body was.

Night fell, and it soon became apparent that the other girl doll was behind the boy and my entrapment. The boy and I were from modern times and very much alive; the spirit possessing the girl doll was far older, far angrier, far more dangerous. Perhaps she’d trapped us within the dolls because she wanted company in her curse, or perhaps it was just aimless maliciousness. Whatever the case, we struggled with her atop a flight of stairs and through a hallway with doors leading to a candy shop and a cafe. Her fate, we agreed, was horrible, but that didn’t allow her to condemn us to the same miserable future.

Rain began to fall. It looked as if the girl might have the upper hand, but she slipped on the stairs and fell screaming to the cobblestone pavement below, her face shattering as she landed in a shallow puddle. As our porcelain skin reverted to flesh, the boy and I could see her spirit lying in the puddle as well, defeated and destroyed, growing slowly mistier and mistier until it faded away.

But I still had to catch my flight, doll or no doll. I raced through London; the streets went from black to grey to white, and  I finally reached Heathrow airport. The last flight out was leaving the next morning, and they offered me a room in the glowing hostel nearby. As I checked in, stowing my luggage behind the front desk, the desk clerk remarked that I looked terrible. I laughed. 

“You have no idea,” I told her.

*

I took a nap yesterday (because I didn’t sleep the night before for reasons that are far beyond my comprehension), and I knew my dreams were shifting theme again because I had a travel dream. 

I went to Disney World, as we’re planning to do this fall with my parents (assuming the Rona calms its tits before then), and I’d arrived before anyone else, including Kyle and the kids. 

(don’t ask me how that happened)

I waited for everyone in the lobby of our hotel, which was enormous–miles and miles of carpet and lacy white walls and enormous windows showing the warmth outside. Terminals every few yards listed the arrival times  of various modes of transportation alongside the park hours; each terminal had a circle of seats around it, and one even had a stage in front of it. 

I mention the stage because it was home to, of all things, the entire cast of Lord of the Rings, or at least the Fellowship. They were as beautiful in my dream as they’d been in the theaters 20 years ago, but they also glowed silver, which I assume none of them do in real life (maybe; I’m not really sure. If anyone knows anyone who was in Lord of the Rings, could you let me know if they glow in real life?). I hugged them all, and I lingered in Aragorn’s arms a bit longer than I probably should have.

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(wouldn’t you?)

Afterwards, I grew tired of waiting for my family and settled down in a gondola. I didn’t want to go to a park; I just wanted to ride in the gondola, and I did, around and around, enjoying the views of Disney World from my moving room in the sky.

*

And then there was last night, the only truly thematic pandemic dream.

Things started logically enough. Kyle and I had the kids in the van, and my mom was with us. We were rushing to get Kyle to a commuter rail station so that he could get to work on time; despite the pandemic still being a thing in the dream, he had to go into work, so maybe this dream was about the future.

But the commuter rail station was closer than we thought it would be, and it was right next door to my favorite local supermarket, Wegmans. “We might as well do some grocery shopping while we’re here,” Kyle remarked, and added, “Why don’t you go in? You haven’t been shopping in a while.”

(I haven’t been shopping in a while, it’s true)

So I went in. I was bolstered, emotionally, by the things I saw as I walked into the store: entire pallets of Charmin and Angel Soft toilet paper being brought into the store! Was this really happening? Was the earth really healing?

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Yes! I got inside and found that, while the store’s shelves weren’t full, it still had a far more robust selection than most stores I’ve seen and heard about in the last several weeks. I got stuck in the pasta aisle, dumbfounded by the wide selection, thrilled at the idea of buying as much parmesan cheese as my cart could carry. I guess I’d been there too long, though, because Kyle and my mom came inside with the kids and another cart to get me back on track.

We bought everything. Candy, soda, pasta, so much toilet paper. And not just toilet paper, two ply! Really good, cushy toilet paper! We bought fresh fruits and veggies, canned fruits and veggies, frozen fruits and veggies, and food for Easter. The only blip came when we were checking out and Kyle pulled six pounds of ground beef out of my cart.

“They were on sale!” I told him, pleased with myself for finding such a deal.

He clucked his tongue at me. “This,” he said, “is ground chuck. It comes from the chuck truck. I don’t like chuck truck chuck.” 

And then he went and put the chuck from the chuck truck back on the chuck truck chuck shelf. 

*

Anyway. There’s no point to this entry beyond that (a) this was a really fun writing exercise, and I hope that you really got a sense of these dreams the way I experienced them, and (b) these were some really weird dreams, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of this weird time brings me while I’m sleeping. 

Clinging

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words-
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
(Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers (314)”)

I was initially doing okay with all of this, and ultimately, it was the thought of a longterm social distancing adventure that drove me to snap with rage that disappeared as quickly as it had come. 

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(this happened, like, a week and a half ago)

I can’t remember what set me off, but I think it was Kyle saying the words “…if Disney World is even open by then” about our trip that’s coming up in November. The idea of living life like this the entire rest of the year just made something break a little in me, and I sort of snapped at him in that way moms do when we’ve been carrying it all inside to keep the rest of the family from seeing, because it’s fine to vent to your partner when they’re available, but the emotions show up whenever anyway, and you tamp them down because you don’t want your kids to be scared or pick up on you freaking out.

But eventually, the dam breaks a little.

I snapped, and then it was gone, and I’ve been about as fine as I can be, considering the circumstances, ever since.

That sounds like I’m dismissing things, and I’m not trying to. I’m feeling the emotions everyone’s feeling: grief over the world changing overnight into something unrecognizable. Rage about politics. Fear about what’s coming next. But I feel like I’ve got a better handle on it than I did before, when I was still hovering in the “denial” stage of grief about everything. 

(and anyway, I will eat my hat if Disney isn’t open in November)

Which is all good, because we’re kind of floundering a lot with many bizarre emotions in this house.

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Anxiety is, understandably, the big one. I think I’ve got an okay handle on that because yay, antidepressants. Venlafaxine will probably be the reason I go crazy if the world ever does end properly, but for now, I’ve got a healthy supply of it, and it turns my anxiety into either really vivid crazy dreams or just really pleasant but unrelated dreams. Last night, I dreamed about characters from the soap opera One Life to Live, which I never even watched when it was a thing that was on often. The dream also took place in a therapist’s office, but that’s it. Nothing otherwise notable about it. No portentous 19 crows or anything like that.

Nobody else in this house is on antidepressants, which creates some interesting situations, most of them with Sam. He doesn’t have a completely firm grasp of what’s going on, but he knows that he can’t go to school, he knows that his school year is probably over as he knew it (they’re saying schools are closed until May 4, but I’ll be very surprised if they reopen before summer break), and he knows he misses his friends and teachers.

So, of course, he’s scared.

It mostly comes out at night, and he’s too old for the magic jar of dirt stuff I did when he was younger. Too smart, too. He doesn’t believe it when I rub lotion on his hands and tell him it will protect him from bad dreams, because his anxieties are too big to be vanquished with some love and lotion. He knows that the world isn’t the same, and will never be the same again, and it scares him. 

He gets out of bed every night after he’s been tucked in. We talk to him, we hold him on the couch, we tell him the truth, but we sprinkle it with generous doses of hope, because he needs that. Still, he’s scared. 

He’s kind of shut down about homeschooling, and I’m not sure what to do about it; worse, I’m sort of limited in what I can do about it. He’s in kindergarten, and he’s covered most of the basics he’ll need before first grade in the fall (this will have reached some sort of equilibrium by fall or I am punching this virus in the face myself), so I’m not terribly worried about him falling behind… but I still want to try and help him learn things while he’s at home. 

He does alright for about two days when we give him a new routine, but then on day three, he decides he doesn’t like this anymore and has a meltdown. Which… okay, fair. Maybe he should just have Wednesdays off or something? The routine was, briefly, some yoga and then a video about a subject he liked, writing a sentence about the subject, then doing math. And, of course, forever checking his messages on Facebook’s messenger for kids (he’s got a long distance friendship blossoming with my friend’s daughter, and it’s basically destroying me with cute). 

I feel bad. I wish that I could be 100% there for Sam, but the twins are another adventure during this, my everyday adventure that hasn’t changed in the slightest, except that Kyle is home for that adventure all the time now, so lunch and naptime are both easier.

But the twins seem to sense that something’s amiss as well. They don’t like to not be on my lap, which makes trying to help Sam with literally anything a struggle, particularly because the twins are not small anymore. They’re two now, had their birthday less than a day after the state started shutting down altogether. Our plans to take them to the aquarium were dashed.

Everyone senses that something’s up, and nobody can really parse their feelings on it. I can’t either, but I’m trying to at least throw positive shit out into the world to see whatever glimmers of hope will stick. 

That mostly happens outside. When the weather permits, we throw jackets on the kids and take them out to the front lawn to run around for a little bit after dinner (the backyard is a disaster area, and before all of this, we were going to see about hiring someone to clean it all up for us).

The twins like to run to the edges of the yard and get caught. Carrie especially likes to look at our crocuses nosing up through the dead leaves and greening grass, and Isaac likes to watch trucks rush past on their way to the farms up the street. 

Sam likes to run, just run. He runs from the porch to our big oak tree back to the porch then to the mailbox and back to the porch and to the lilac bushes and back to the porch. Being able to run with abandon helps him, I think, because our house is not a jungle gym, no matter what he thinks.

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I try to plan for Easter, such as it is. We have candy from the Easter Bunny, or at least half of what we’ll need (the other half I need to order from our local candy shop, which is taking orders but not in store shopping). The kids need nice Easter shoes, because even if we’re not DOING anything, I want them to look cute. It’s the twins’ first Easter able to do anything besides be confused about “why is this basket on my desk?” 

I mean, they’ll still be confused, just about more things than “why is this basket on my desk?”

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Nothing is normal, but it’s the new normal for at least the next month, probably longer, at least if people are smart about this. I’m still working through my feelings about everything, kind of picking at them a little bit day by day and seeing how my dreams/nightmares play them out. I think the only real waking fear I have is not about famine or a lack of toilet paper or anything like that but of getting sick myself, knowing that my lungs are kind of crap and that, at the very least, I’d likely be one of the young people ending up in the hospital and on a ventilator, away from my husband and kids for weeks on end. Without the kids, I think I could stand it, but just knowing what it would do to them…

I have a friend who’s an RN in an ICU, and even though I don’t really pray, I pray for her, to anyone or anything that might be listening. She has three kids, just like I do, two boys and a girl. She can’t even snuggle with them anymore, not until this has all passed, and it breaks my heart for her. 

Basically, I just want everyone to hurry up and stay home and behave. I saw a post earlier about this whole thing being like when you were in elementary school and some kids just wouldn’t stop acting up, so you kept losing more and more recess time, even though you weren’t doing anything wrong. Maybe it wasn’t fair, but the teacher couldn’t let the kids who were behaving outside while she stayed inside with the kids who weren’t behaving. So you watched as the bright spot in your day was gradually eaten away because people didn’t know how to act. 

Maybe it’s because I tend autistic, or maybe it’s because it’s in the nature of the oldest child to loathe getting in trouble for something not your fault more than for other kids (like we all hate it, but I think we oldest children hate it the most; I can see the loathing building in Sam’s mind every time we scold him for something the babies are doing too, and I have to remind him that he’s older and knows better), but GOD did I resent those kids. I don’t resent the dumbasses still going out and being Typhoid Marys around the world nowadays, but I do wish that someone would throw dirty diapers at their heads.

I think about them, and I think, “This stupid thing is just going to keep going, and it’s going to be 2021 before anything is over, and we’re going to just have this long, miserable time because people don’t know how to act. There goes everyone’s recess. There go people’s lives. Womp womp.”

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I let myself think that, and then I take a deep breath.

And I say, the first thing I’m doing when this is over is packing the kids up in the van and going to spend a day with my parents. 

I plan for going back to group with Isaac and Carrie and letting them play with all the plastic toys and watching them do more art and wreak more havoc, but this time, it’ll be slightly different havoc because Isaac will have his ABA therapist by then (let’s not get into that can of worms right now, I’m so tired). 

I imagine having a weekend day again where I go up to Michael’s and get whatever craft stuff I want for whatever dumb project I’ll never finish. Like maybe I’ll get photo albums or start scrapbooking or something, or at least think about it. And wandering through Barnes & Noble, enjoying the smell of ink on paper and coffee. And going to see a movie, taking all the kids to whatever crappy kids’ movie is out because we’re free to do so. 

And eventually going out to the mall, walking those long stretches of gleaming tile and popping my head into my favorite stores. Getting a free chocolate from Godiva. Setting the kids loose in the indoor playground after patiently wandering the Lego Store with Sam. Eating something that’s wretched for me from the food court and just not even caring. 

We’ll go to the beach this summer, plan it out a little more than our last trip. We’ll bring quilts and set up a full little camp on the sand, and take off a weekday to go (after all, Kyle has been working 7 days a week the past two weeks; who knows what it is about tech companies that drives them to think, “Ah, you’re working from home, that means all your hours are mine!”) so things will be less crowded and we can get a spot closer to the water.

(probably not Hampton Beach this time, though)

And we’ll have our road trip, in the fall or next fall, one or the other. We’ll pack the kids up in a rented van, we’ll see the roads, we’ll stop for gas and goodies. We’ll take 95 all the way down. We’ll stop at South of the Border, because I’ve always wanted to go but never have. We’ll see enormous fields of cotton and black eyed susans on the sides of the road. We’ll stay on the beach and then we’ll drive to Disney and we’ll be in that delightful bubble for a blissful week. 

This will happen, it will all happen eventually. This is what I think about to keep myself sane, because things are really hard and really scary right now, but it’s not forever, and in the end, we’re all in this together.

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Can I be blamed if I’m angry?
Can I be saved if I’m barely clinging to hope?
I’m clinging to hope

When I say oh, oh
Rain don’t change the sun
Jealous is the night when the morning comes
But it always comes
(Delta Rae, “Morning Comes”)

 

Beds and Screenings

When you’ve got three kids, you pretty much feel like most of your Big Adulting milestones are far behind you, especially if you’ve got three kids, a spouse, and a house. You’ve finished whatever schooling was expected of you, you’ve got married, you’ve signed papers for a mortgage, you’ve done your taxes, you’ve had a job or two or ten, you’ve had kids, you’ve ticked so many things off the list that it’s easy to forget other smaller milestones that come along the way.

Like buying appliances. We bought appliances for the first time when we bought our house, as the previous owners planned to take the fridge with them and the dishwasher had a color scheme and serial number that suggested it had been manufactured in the 1970s. In those halcyon days before Sears became a memory, we wandered through the Kenmore section and chose our appliances in black, not because we had an affinity for black appliances (honestly, stainless steel hasn’t gone anywhere for years, so that would have made more sense) but because the one remaining appliance–the stove–was black and we wanted things to match.

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(this is literally what our old dishwasher looked like)

That was nearly four years ago, and this week, Kyle and I checked another milestone off the list that we didn’t realize was a milestone: we bought a bed.

It’s not our first bed, obviously. We started our married life with an inflatable mattress that lasted three months and was perfectly fine for sleeping and marital activities until one night in August. We’d been sleeping soundly until very, very early in the morning when Kyle shook me awake and asked, “Do you ever have that sinking feeling?” And lo and behold, we were in the process of descending to the floor as our inflatable mattress ceased to be so inflated. We discovered, once morning came, that the mattress had somehow acquired insurmountable holes and was no longer suitable for use by anyone. 

SO we eventually shuffled off to Big Lots and bought the cheapest possible queen mattress and the cheapest possible frame and, like the very talented young marrieds we were, didn’t even bother with a box spring. And for the next eight years, that mattress worked very well for us! Or… mostly well. In the last year, the bed has begun to show the strain of belonging to two fat people (one of whom, we discovered this week, has gone down 6 pant sizes–not me, but one of whom!). 

(it’s Kyle, he’s down six pant sizes)

And admittedly, a lot of the recent strain on the bed, at least on my side, came from the twin pregnancy making me enormous, which put pressure on the springs and turned the bed from delightful and comfortable to misery. The springs had reached a point where they were poking my hip violently throughout the night, and poor Kyle has been dealing with lower back pain for ages, which made everything harder than usual. 

So a new bed. We’ve had a recent windfall of money, thanks to Kyle’s family, and while they were up visiting this week, we wanted to actually shop for a bed, not just go to Big Lots and buy the cheapest and easiest thing in the store. Fortunately for us, my cousin works at a Mattress Firm and was able to give us the Sleep System Experience (I don’t know if it’s actually called that, but it is now). 

And, you know, it really felt like an adult thing because the consideration was less ‘we need this, let’s just get whatever we can afford’ and more ‘what will last us and ensure that we have a good night’s sleep for years to come?’ That, really, was the adult part, where yes, affordability was a concern, but we could afford to consider quality as well. 

We tried out beds like a pair of lumbering Goldilockses, and in the end, we walked away with a pretty nice mattress and an adjustable frame (which I wasn’t sold on until my cousin put it in the “zero gravity” position for us and we both kind of groaned in relief like “ah yes, I remember being 18 and not having back problems”). Both were delivered on Saturday, along with lavender sheets (Kyle’s color choice, and I’m not complaining, purple is awesome) and a comforter that was listed on Amazon as being steel grey but is really one of the many shades of poop we’ve encountered over the last five years of being parents. And I’ve added to my “must buy” list a headboard (preferably one with a bookshelf) and a less poop colored comforter and maybe some throw pillows BECAUSE we got a king-sized bed. 

I never thought we’d need a king-sized bed, even though Kyle and I are both generously sized. We’ve slept in king-sized beds while traveling before, and though we’d start the night spread out and on different sides and laughing about how much space we had, we’d inevitably end the night wrapped around each other in the middle of the bed because I guess we like each other or something? And even with Kyle’s height (he’s 6’4”), a queen seemed to suit our needs perfectly. 

And then we had kids. 

More specifically, we had one kid grow old enough to leave his own room in the middle of the night and come into ours for, oh, any number of reasons. Lately, it’s because he’s just lonely, because my son is nothing if not a people person (he’s going to do so well in kindergarten… I hope), but it can be anything from nightmares to a stomach ache to he suddenly thought of a story to tell us. When he was smaller, I didn’t mind him in our bed because he could easily snuggle between the two of us, and we could all sleep comfortably. 

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Now, though, Sam is creeping ever closer to the four-foot mark, and having him in bed with us had become… well, difficult, we’ll say. It was the worst when I was pregnant with the twins, because of course, I was a small moose and Sam was clingy, but there was just no space in the bed for Kyle AND Sam AND me AND the planet that was my huge belly. We brought him back to his own bed most nights, but that wasn’t an ideal solution because he’d need a long discussion to get him back in the mood for sleeping in his own room, which meant that one or both of us would miss out on a lot of sleep. If we’d had the space, we’d have just let him sleep in the bed with us, but…

Well. I’m no longer pregnant with twins (a fact I’m grateful for every day), but Sam is even larger than he was before, and his midnight jaunts to our room haven’t slowed down in the least. For a while, with our bed being the disaster it was, we set up a little nest next to the bed, and he’d just hunker down there, content to be in the room with us, even if not in the bed; but that always gave me “wow, I’m a shitty mom” vibes–me in my comfortable bed and my son on the floor in my room, as if he didn’t have his own bed.

(his own bed, despite having a kind of cheap mattress, is very nice–it’s a sleigh bed, even, which has me envious as I click through pages of headboards on Wayfair)

The bed invasions won’t stop, and I don’t really want them to. I’d read an article a while ago about a woman who’d bedshared with her son and how people would always snidely remark about how “you don’t want him in your bed when he’s a teenager” and while she no longer bedshared with him once he’d reached his teen years, she made it clear to him that her room and her arms were always open to him, without judgement or condition. And he heard her and she was the one he came to when he had a broken heart or a difficult time at school or any number of myriad things teenagers deal with.

We didn’t really bedshare with Sam when he was a baby (both of us are paranoid about rolling over in our sleep), but at the same time, I want him to know that he’s always safe with us, whether it’s sleeping in our bed or sitting on the couch between us or buckled in the back seat of our car. I want that for the twins, too, when they’re old enough, whether it’s because of a bad dream or a bad thunderstorm. That they feel safe and comfortable with us is absolutely paramount for me. 

SO! King-sized bed it is. Maybe, eventually, if we ever transfer another embryo and get a dog and more cats and who knows what else, we’ll get another king and push them together like some sort of magical giant frankenbed, but for now, we’re enjoying the HELL out of this adjustable king-sized bed.

*

On the other side of things is Isaac.

Isaac, my beautiful smiley little boy, my unexpected middle child who’s cuddled his way into my heart so deeply and irrevocably, my adventurous snugglebug whose smile could cure cancer. He’s been developmentally delayed–and officially labeled as such–since he was about four months old, most of that coming from (a) some torticollis and (b) that he was born six weeks early. We’ve had him in Early Intervention for that since about that time, and for a while, he was progressing by leaps and bounds, going from a potato who could only look over his right shoulder to a rocket baby zooming around the living room at the speed of sound. 

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But lately he’s kind of stalled. It’s not a big deal, honestly, because babies do that. They go through a developmental leap and they stall, they gain 15,000 skills over the course of one (long, sleepless) weekend and they pause. It’s more noticeable when you have twins because they never stall at the same time (and this stall happened while Carrie busily learned to stand on her own and take small, uncertain steps), but stalls still aren’t unexpected. At worst, I figured, we could just speak with the Early Intervention team and see about getting him some physical therapy or occupational therapy so that he’d keep up with his sister in terms of walking and talking.

He’s also a rocker and a bouncer, constantly moving himself in almost violent back and forth movements, sometimes mashing his face against something and other times mashing the back of his head against something. He can’t fall asleep unless he spends a decent amount of time on his hands and knees, rocking back and forth while dutifully sucking on his Wubbanub. And to be clear, babies rock and stim a lot, because the world is new and they need to experience it from all angles. Rocking is soothing for babies, too, and for the most part, it didn’t worry me. 

But something in my brain pinged that maybe I should worry, just a little. After all, we have Early Intervention anyway, and they’ve always told us that any evaluation the twins need, they’ll do for free. With that in mind, I asked the twins’ caseworker to bring an ASQ, or Autism Screening Questionnaire, with her when she came to our house next.

The ASQ is a series of what felt like six billion questions that you answer “always/often” or “sometimes” or “never” and your kid gets scored based on your answers. I don’t remember the scoring specifically, but I do remember that 65 was the cutoff for further testing. Carrie, who had her six month evaluation today, took the test first and got a 30, which is numerically the equivalent of “might possibly be the inverse of autistic, like citsitua” and that surprises exactly no one who’s ever spent time with her. She lives for sensory stimulation of all kinds and is about as neurotypical as a sixteen-month-old baby can be. 

Isaac, on the other hand, scored a 95, which is numerically the equivalent of “at least two autisms, possibly even three.” 

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Fortunately, our caseworker and our physical therapist (who was there for Carrie’s evaluation) also had a copy of the M-CHAT, which is the next step in autism screening. Its proper name is the “Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers” and it’s basically the exact same thing as the ASQ, only with fewer and more streamlined questions. With that one, a score below 8 suggests a mild or moderate concern, while 8 and higher suggests that further evaluation is warranted. 

Annnnnnd Isaac scored an 8.

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So we’re moving forward with his autism screening, with our EI office’s autism specialist coming in the next couple of weeks to have a playtime evaluation with him, just 10-15 minutes to see if he should be fast-tracked to an evaluation program, a process that can otherwise take months or even years (which I think is absolutely ridiculous BUT there’s probably an enormous backlog). And I have feelings.

I was pretty weirded out (in a good way) by the questionnaires hitting on questions I wouldn’t have even thought to associate with autism, like questions about constipation or increased muscle tone or “have you ever wondered if your baby was deaf” among the more typical ones like “does your baby have good eye contact” or “does your baby perform repetitive motions?” And I’m relieved for those questions because at the end of the day, you don’t have to be a completely nonverbal Rain Man type to be autistic. Isaac has great eye contact and likes people… but he also has no sense of stranger danger, doesn’t have any real words, and is often very stiff like he can’t stand to be positioned any way that’s different from his current position (which makes diaper changes a blast). 

The idea of one of my kids being autistic is also unsurprising to me; it runs in my family as much as brown eyes, enormous knockers, and astigmatism do. Though my younger sister is the only one in my immediate family with an official diagnosis, the rest of us easily fall into the category of “had current diagnostic criteria been used when I was six, I’d have a diagnosis and a half.” Kyle’s been telling me for ages that I should see a doctor to be officially diagnosed, and honestly, if things move in a more autistic direction with Isaac, I probably will. 

I mean, there’s a lot to it, and so much of treatment and diagnosis nowadays focuses less on what it’s like to actually be autistic and more on how autistic people interact with the world around them. In my experience, and from what I’ve read, a lot of it relates to the usual filters in your brain just… not working the way they do in neurotypical brains. A neurotypical person might easily be able to filter out things like the scratch of a shirt tag, the sound of the air conditioner, the flickering light in the corner, the smell of a long since cleaned spill, the taste of dry mouth, but it’s honest effort to filter those things out when your brain works autistically, and so you’re always on the verge of reaching a level of overstimulation that doesn’t much come for the neurotypical brain outside of the throbbing, psychedelic dance floor of a local club or Disney World on Christmas Eve.

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It’s exhausting. Some days, I reach the end of the day and just need to zone out completely, sit in a dark room and breathe. I have a hard time socializing outside a quiet or one-on-one setting because trying to figure out which voices matter and which ones don’t is really hard. Online or when it’s just with another person–especially someone I know well–I follow conversations very easily, but beyond that, I tend to spend my socializing time towards the edge of a room, counting down the seconds until I can leave.

But anyway. The point of all that is to say that if Isaac is autistic, I’m glad that he’s got me to advocate for him. This sounds really smug and haughty like “ha ha, my autistic child could not have a better parent than I, for I am the best of the parentals!” but it’s really more like “how fortunate to have been born to a mom who understands exactly how his brain works because it’s how her brain works.” It means I’ll be able to help him recognize when he’s getting overstimulated before it ends in a meltdown and help him find ways to cope with the loud, brilliant world that won’t lead to his complete ostracization. It’s like a vision impaired or hearing impaired parent having a child with a similar situation: they’re able to help better because they’re in the thick of it with their child. They know how to navigate a world that’s going to be harsh for their child because of the situation of their birth, in the same way that all parents teach their kids certain things about functioning in the wide world.

So overall, I’m pretty chill about it, but I do have two fears: therapy and Autism Moms ™.

They tie into each other, really. With therapy, I fear therapeutic approaches that, instead of teaching Isaac to cope with the world, will instead train him to appear neurotypical while ignoring what’s going on in his brain that causes the atypical behaviors. I’m not interested in tweaking his behavior; if he needs to stim, I want him to feel confident enough in himself that he can do so. I am, however, interested in teaching him coping mechanisms so that the world isn’t too much for him. 

Related to that… the Autism Moms ™.

Not every mom of an autistic kid falls into the category of Autism Moms ™. When I think Autism Moms ™ I think of the Jenny McCarthy type, the type wailing about autism stealing their child away from them, the one who will try bleach enemas and raw diets and anything to “”””cure”””” their child’s autism. 

I never have good encounters with these types (and they are incredibly common on parenting websites and forums). Things usually start off calmly enough but end with me trying to get it through their thick skulls that kids who have autism are STILL PEOPLE and THEY STILL HAVE EMOTIONS and maybe saying “I wouldn’t wish my autistic son on my worst enemy” IS A SHITTY THING TO SAY. 

Fortunately, the vast majority of autism moms I know are not this type; they’re fantastic advocates for their kids and respect that their children are PEOPLE, that autism is less tragedy and more “well, I just have to adjust my style and expectations like you do with every kid.” But I still fear the Autism Moms ™ because I know my feelings on autism aren’t super popular with them, and I think I’d probably get torn a new one for being really calm about my son potentially being autistic (like… ?? am I supposed to freak out and cry and sob? What is that going to change?). I want to have a village, but I do not want THAT village. 

So I focus on things like the Autism Self Advocacy Network and the #ActuallyAutistic tag on Twitter, and I’ll keep doing so as we all move forward with this. Fingers and toes crossed that we’ll be able to have Isaac evaluated soon and know one way or another, but either way…

Well, he’s my sweet little baby elephant, exactly as he is, no matter how he is.

What you don’t know

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Hi, it’s me, a big huge TRIGGER WARNING because this post describes sexual assault and discusses it. Viewer discretion is advised.

Additionally, if you’re going to read this and comment about how any of this was my own fault or any sort of awful defenses, just do yourself a favor and go stare in the mirror until you manage to grow anything resembling a conscience.

*

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher was a substitute the entire year, as the teacher I should have had was out on maternity leave. Mrs. C. was my teacher, and she was really nice, skinny and willowy, kind of looked like Monica from Touched by an Angel. She did a really good job, but a lot of times, she felt somewhat out of her depth, and I was frequently one of those times: one of the brightest kids in the class, who finished all of her work twenty minutes before everyone else and was so bored she resorted to drawing on her desk to keep entertained while everyone else finished their work.

But Mrs. C.’s heart was in the right place, at least. She tried really hard to find ways to keep me engaged, even when everyone else had finished their work, even when I was losing my mind because of how bored I was. I remember making a cardboard robot once with some of the other smart kids (it was supposed to be a boy robot, but I guess I was woke or something because I was adamant that it be a girl). I remember going and recording a chapter from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in a cold corridor with my best friend. I remember pulling together a miniature model of the Niña for our Columbus Day parade.

I also remember how control of the class was often evasive for poor Mrs. C. One of the kids in the class would’ve been diagnosed with ADHD in a heartbeat today, and have been much better off for it, but back then, nobody got diagnosed with anything unless things were stereotypical and severe. I remember one day, he just sat in the front of the class with his pants off, not making a scene, not drawing attention, just pantsless. Mrs. C., when she discovered it, sent him straight to the principal’s office, and correctly so.

I like to think she did that with R, but I don’t remember.

R was a troublemaker, but not of the severe sort like the boy with ADHD. A lot of his behavior could be chalked up to that loathsome phrase, “boys will be boys” more than anything else (a phrase that I use to mean, “boys will do really ridiculously stupid things because they can” and not “boys are exempt from consequences for being awful because that’s just how boys are”). I hated him from the get-go; something about him rubbed me wrong, like a cat setting off sparks on a dry winter day.

I only had to endure him for a short time that year, though, and here’s why.

Mrs. C. always arranged our desks in groups of four, all facing each other. R was in my group the first part of the year, diagonal from me. We couldn’t do anything without arguing, bickering, whatever you want to call it. He annoyed me so much, and not in the “ooh, someone’s got a crush!” sort of way, but in the “there is a hornet buzzing around my head, make it stop” sort of way.

One day, we were arguing as usual, but we were doing it via notecard because Mrs. C. was trying to teach a lesson. Back and forth we passed the notecard, writing the worst insults we knew at each other (but it was fourth grade, so I don’t think we knew anything very good). Eventually, R stopped passing the notecard to me, and I felt a gleam of triumph, like I’d won. That triumph was short-lived, though: he handed it back, and it was half soaked in yellow liquid. He looked so smug, even as I put the pieces together and shrieked, without raising my hand, “Ew! Mrs. C., R gave me pee!”

I don’t remember the specifics of what happened after that. R was never in my group again in that class; I don’t think I interacted with him again that year. I like to imagine that Mrs. C. reported the whole incident to the principal and found it disturbing enough that she did what she could, but ultimately, R was in my class again in both fifth and sixth grade, still annoying me, but now somewhat under my skin. I remember kicking him in the shins really hard once, and I remember not getting in a lick of trouble for it.

*

Back in the day, I called the first semester of my freshman year of college my “slutty year.” I’d lived a pretty sheltered life to that point, and I’d had a boyfriend all through high school, so the idea of multiple people being interested in me was really new, and rather than stopping to think or be rational about things, I flitted from guy to guy for the entire back half of 2001.

…no, flitted isn’t dramatic enough. It was very dramatic, my flitting. Breakups were loud and sobbing and angry, with slammed phones and huge boxes of tissues wasted and the like.

I was kind of an idiot, truth be told.

Anyway, one of these guys was actively the worst, the worst possible guy you could date. His AIM handle, to give an idea of how much the worst he was, was something along the lines of “Darkest Angel.”

Oh yeah. One of those.

He’d dated one of my friends earlier in the year and, as the worst guys usually do, seemed amazing from a distance. He’d perform these grand romantic gestures that all the girls in our dorm would swoon over, and we’d all wish we had a boyfriend like him, not really knowing what he was like.

You know. The worst.

And so it happened that his attention turned to me after he saw me wearing my prettiest, gothiest outfit on my birthday. He spent a good couple of weeks on me, telling me about how girls were evil and he’d always be alone because his heart always got broken because girls were evil and telling me about all these grand romantic gestures he performed that didn’t pan out (because girls were evil), and for some reason, I missed every last red flag that should have given me.

Like I said, I was kind of an idiot.

I believed, as many women do when confronted with a guy who is the actual worst, that I could fix him or prove to him that NOT ALL WOMEN ARE EVIL! LOOK AT ME, I WILL SAVE YOU FROM YOUR BROKEN HEART! or something similarly idiotic. Which was, of course, exactly what he wanted me to think.

The relationship turned physical pretty quickly for reasons mostly related to us being two twenty-somethings with hormones. The trouble with those hormones lay in that we attended a very conservative Christian college that wasn’t too keen on the whole “horny young folks” bit. Men and women were forbidden from entering each other’s rooms except during move-in and the designated weekly visiting hours, and even then, the door had to be open, so anything beyond some sitting and chatting was completely off the menu.

So we did as other couples did back then and improvised, and here’s where things start to get sticky.

Improvisation with this guy, the worst guy, mostly involved long walks to a nature preserve park type place about a mile away from the campus. It was a warmish fall, so the walks were pleasant and through nice neighborhoods. The park itself was all fields of tall grass and old trees with little peeks of marshland here and there; pleasant during the day and delightful at night. The worst guy led me to the park twice, and twice, the same thing happened.

We sat down, and we started making out, and the worst guy started to undress me, as horny young people do. He never got the least bit undressed, at least not in a way that would cause any shame if we were to be caught. And honestly, I knew there was a chance of being caught, but who goes to a nature preserve park type place at night in late fall? Or at least that was my way of thinking.

The first time, he must have seen them coming, though they didn’t see us until they were right on top of us, and I didn’t see them until that moment either. He didn’t forcibly hold me in place, but the way he had me, I couldn’t have covered myself as I desperately wanted to, and I was somewhat on display for a pair of hunters that walked by. They said nothing to us, and I stared at the ground, trying to process what was happening. He murmured gross things at me, how they probably thought he was so lucky to have such a hot girl with him, and I eventually dressed again and let him escort me back to campus.

And idiotic me, I went there with him again, this time at the base of an old, gnarled tree, and this time, far nakeder than I was the first time. Once again, he must have seen them coming, but once again, I didn’t realize anyone was approaching until they were right on top of us, and I couldn’t cover up. I stared at the ground, displayed, as the interlopers passed, and once they were out of earshot, he told me with breathless excitement, “You didn’t realize it, but we both know them.”

I don’t know who they were. I didn’t look. Whoever they were, they never said anything, for which I’m grateful. When I told Kyle the story last night, he pointed out that they probably didn’t even look or realize or even recognize me. I hope he was right, even though it probably doesn’t matter much overall.

Eventually, the worst guy cheated on me, and that was that. I dodged a bullet; things could’ve been much worse. Still, things bring it back: the weird smell of his hair product, the memory of that breathy excited whisper…

*

Sexual assault is such a weird, wriggly thing. Even when it’s as clear-cut as someone shoving things where things ought not be shoved, it turns into victim-blaming bullshit far too often. People caught in the act are given slaps on the wrist because “we don’t want to ruin his future for one bad decision.” Never mind that she has to live with that bad decision the rest of her life. Never mind that she’ll not speak about it at all until one day, she can’t keep it in, and she tells her half asleep husband what happened, and then he spends the rest of the night lying awake and thinking of ways to flay a person alive.

(I love you, honey)

I was never raped, let’s get that out of the way. Nobody put their penis or anything resembling a penis anywhere in me when I didn’t want them to. Looking back, I’m fortunate that was the case.

But sexually assaulted? Yeah.

In one case, it was a troubled kid doing what troubled kids do. I don’t know what happened to R. He wasn’t in the same school I was after sixth grade. I hope someone got to him and helped him by doing more than kicking him in the shins. I hope nobody else got an index card covered in pee.

In the other case, it was a manipulative and controlling creep who took delight in my shame. I consented to everything he did to me until the second he held me on display for passers-by, both familiar and unfamiliar. I have nothing good to hope for him, but I hope that every other woman he ever encounters is safe and well.

Recent political events made me think more of the second event than the first, though I wanted to tell the first story to illustrate how pervasive sexual assault actually is, how if you know a woman, odds are you know someone who’s been sexually assaulted in some way. I was maybe eight or nine when I got that notecard; I didn’t understand any of the implications of what happened, but I understood that it made me feel icky and wrong.

And it happened.

The second event is such a hard story to tell simply because so much of it was consensual. I agreed to the walk. I agreed to making out. I agreed to my clothes being removed, even though it was technically a public place. I did not agree to be displayed like a centerfold. If I’d been in charge, I’d have found something to cover myself, jerked away from the embrace, hidden better, anything. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t, and I couldn’t.

It’s not a prosecutable thing, what happened, and I had nobody really to tell about it. Most of the authority figures in my life–family, campus officials–would’ve raked me across the coals for being in that compromising position in the first place, a sort of “well, what did you expect?” scolding. My campus had a history of expelling unmarried women who got pregnant while letting the men continue to study; how could I go to them, admit that I was doing this, and then expect them to back me up on anything?

What could I have said? The worst guy never would’ve served jail time for what he did to me, never would’ve suffered any measurable consequences, and I’d been stuck telling this story, reliving that shame again and again, having people pick me apart again and again, and for no reason.

So I didn’t tell anybody until I told Kyle last night.

But I think about it now, and I think that I would bring it up if, by some weird twist of stupidity, the worst guy were in a position where people were publicly judging his character and integrity. And maybe he’s changed. Maybe he’s reached adulthood, real adulthood, and realized how awful he was (and maybe I’ll win the lottery next week!). But regardless, his actions were evidence of his poor character; I wouldn’t publicly name him before that point, wanting to avoid all the bullshit that comes with that, but.

But.

LIVE

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(hi, consider this a HUGE TRIGGER WARNING because I’m talking about depression and being suicidal in here, so if that’s going to trigger you, stop reading NOW)

(also, if you’re going to make a comment or joke about “lol hashtag triggered” you can go run a marathon barefoot over a course of wet food while seaweed tentacle monsters caress you and whisper “moist” in your ear over and over)

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I love the Travel Channel, and when I stayed home with Sam–past the point where he needed constant attention and holding every hour or so–I watched a lot of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Between him and Andrew Zimmern, I fell even more in love with travel than I had when it was a regular part of life for me, years and years ago (read: before I had to pick up the tab, thanks Mom and Dad).

They had two disparate styles when it came to approaching the same thing: engaging with the culture of a place in a way that American tourists rarely do. Andrew Zimmern, whose shows still take up a LOT of Travel Channel real estate (I think he’s got three at the moment: Bizarre Foods, Delicious Destinations, and The Zimmern List), tends to respond to 99% of what he encounters with a desperate attempt to be nice about it (the 1% includes some pretty mundane foods, like I think oatmeal is one of them). He’ll say things like “this has an earthy flavor” and I’m 110% convinced that he means “this tastes like poop, but you’ll never catch me saying that.”

Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand, had a delightful snark about him that made him so relatable, never really with a cruelty behind it but rather with an undeniable love for the foods and cultures he met. Sometimes, it sounded like he was less punching down or up but rather punching a mirror, which is… honestly, way too relatable from the position of someone with depression and a snarky sense of humor. Self-deprecation is a good suit of armor, I think.

So the weird thing about being suicidal is that until you hit a moment of crisis, it’s not sitting there with a gun in your hand all the time or a bottle of pills just waiting to be swallowed. A lot of the time–most of the time–you just live with it until something pushes you over the edge and you either get help or die. That’s why so many times, when someone kills themselves, the people around them are shocked and talk about how they never saw it coming: being suicidal becomes such a part of the big knotted lie that is depression that you end up just seeing it as background radiation.

Because until you reach a moment of crisis, it’s not a desire for something active so much as it’s just a passive thing; you don’t so much want to die or kill yourself as you want to just stop. Depression isn’t misery, at least not in the sense that most people understand it…

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(much less Kathy Bates, for one thing)

…it’s nothingness. It’s like those foggy, overcast days when the clouds are white and the fog is white and you can’t see 50 feet in front of you or behind you or above you. It feels like neverending bleakness, like all the excitement and happiness and even sadness and anger have just been drained out of everything, and all you really want is for it to stop. It’s relentless, and my god, relentless nothingness is its own special kind of torture. Sometimes, you nominally look forward to things, like woo, yay, going to the beach today, but because depression is an actual chemical imbalance and disorder, even those rare changes don’t really break the monotony, because your brain is too broken to see it.

When I was first coming out of it, I described it to my therapist as wishing I could take a vacation from life overall. Not just my life but life overall, because I couldn’t see things being better or different anywhere I went. And the trouble was, of course, that while I’d have been fine with a temporary vacation, the only way to escape life overall is to die, and that’s a permanent thing.

When that’s your mindset, it doesn’t take a lot to push you from passively not wanting to live anymore to actively wanting to die. I remember for me, it was just one really shitty weekend that pushed me into the crisis where Kyle stepped in and sat there while I made the call to my doctor for an increased dosage of my medication and the call to my therapist for an appointment. That weekend, it was things that were stressful and sad, but in retrospect, really not worth wanting to die over: my grandmother was nearing the end of her life, we were in a tight spot financially, and I think I was having trouble finding a pair of jeans that fit.

Silly things, but I was in a really bad place, and when I was getting dressed to go and say good-bye to my grandmother for the last time, all I could think about was how hey, I have a life insurance policy, so if I died, all of Kyle’s financial problems would be solved, and he and Sam would be okay. Like some wicked little Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life was whispering in my ear, “You’re worth more dead than alive.”

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(WE DO, IN FACT, HATE YOU, MR. POTTER)

Which is, of course, the nature of depression. It’s a liar and it fucks with your perception of reality. Everything gets filtered through a brain that’s starving for serotonin and, because of that, can’t conceive of a positive world. It may be true that a person is loved and appreciated and adored, but their brain can’t hear or understand that, because the way it’s been warped and changed keeps it from seeing truths.

That’s why depression doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor, black and white, male and female, gay and straight, trans and cis, old and young. Certain populations may have higher rates of dying from depression, but I’m pretty sure that’s because certain populations are more likely to experience those moments of crisis without having a way out than others. And that said, even the most privileged person of all can be lost if they don’t reach out when that moment of crisis hits.

And that’s another danger of it: depression’s absolute deadliest effect is that it prevents you from reaching out for, oh, any number of reasons. I imagine that, in the case of the many celebrities it’s stolen from us, it gave them the lie that they had no reason to be depressed, that they had everything and that it wasn’t worth bothering someone over, and that fed into the larger and louder lies that depression feeds you all the time: you’re worthless, you’re terrible, you don’t deserve, you can’t, you won’t, you aren’t.

A friend of mine posted, in light of all the talk about depression and suicide, that it’s important to keep that deadliest lie in mind. It’s SUPER important for people with depression to know that they can reach out and get help at any time, that they aren’t weak for doing so, that resources exist to help them; but it’s also important, in light of that deadliest lie, to check in on your friends and make sure they know that they can be honest with you if they’re in a bad spot, because that bad spot is telling them that they’re worth more dead than alive, that their loved ones will be happier without them, that things are always going to be this way.

It’s what saved me, honestly. I’m terrible at acting happy when I’m in a downswing, and when I had that worst downswing, I was almost never alone: Kat lived with us, Sam was always with me, Kyle worked from home one day a week and was home all weekend, and my mom stopped by regularly. The three adults in the picture noticed I was acting worse than usual and intervened; Kyle stepped in and made me get help, knowing that depression lies, and I would have tried to go it on my own without him. And as for Sam, he helped me stay alive to the point where Kyle could intervene, because for however else I felt, I couldn’t let my baby deal with losing me (in that way or any other… the latter of which gave me anxiety, but hey, good news, the medication that treats my depression also treats anxiety!).

What should you glean from this?

As well-intentioned as it is to say “talk to me, reach out to someone, if you’re in that place of crisis,” sometimes, you have to be the one to do the work. Sometimes, a person is so lost that they can’t even conceive of reaching out for help, so it’s important to check on people, if you know they have depression or have struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past. Even something as simple as sending someone a message on Facebook or a text saying, “Hey, I just wanted to see how you’re doing?” can help.

Handle those moments of crises delicately. You don’t need to have on kiddy gloves or to beg them to live, but give them something to look forward to out of that moment, something tangible with a definite time frame, something that will pull them out of that moment of crisis long enough to get the help they need, whether it’s because you hold their hand as they make the call or not. I remember reading one story about someone who was pulled out of a moment of crisis because a friend messaged them to talk about the new Star Wars movie coming out (this back before The Force Awakens, when the last thing we had was “I love you like I’m blind” and its ilk).

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(very dark times)

(I can’t 100% guarantee that this works, but it’s a strategy I’ve seen touted pretty often. And awesomely enough, Deadpool–the comic book–did a really great bit about this sort of strategy a little while back)

The big point is getting someone out of that moment of crisis, throwing them a life float so that they can get into the boat and get to dry land. It’s a mental health CPR, if you will, that doesn’t necessarily solve the underlying problem, but rather gets a person stable so that they underlying problem can be solved. And sometimes, you do need to help them take those next steps and make them call people and do what they must to get well again.

So reach out to your friends, and if you, yourself feel like you can’t go on, take it from someone who’s been where you are right now: there is hope. There is a tomorrow. You can be well. You can find joy again. You can see the fog roll away to reveal sunshine and rain and thunderstorms and snow and everything in between. You will have sunny days again. I promise.

SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-8255

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/

It’s been one week…

In the end, the twins were in the special care nursery for exactly two weeks. Two days before they were sent home, the hospital had us come and stay in a room and care for them throughout the night, which was an honest help overall. Kyle and I were able to get a feel for the newborn care thing again–the overnight, the feeding schedules, our shifts. It wasn’t a true one-to-one experience, as we’d learn in the next couple of days, but it was a reminder of the way things would go, of the way things went four years ago when Sam was this young.

It’s different, of course, because the twins are already on a schedule, which has been weird for having newborns. With Sam, there was no real schedule until he was 3-4 months old, something that had at least a little to do with the full switch over to formula feeding. That’s really a kind of hidden benefit of formula feeding–you have a lot more control over feedings, ensuring that your baby is getting enough food while also ensuring that they’re getting enough sleep. The special care nursery had the twins on such a regimented schedule from the get-go that they’ve just sort of stuck to it since getting home as well.

 

Anyway, we passed the overnight with flying colors, which… honestly, unless you’re some kind of wretched and completely ignoring your baby, I’m not sure how you wouldn’t pass. The most difficult part of the entire experience was getting a teaching from one of our nurses at the start of the night, pushing the overall start of Kyle and my shifts later by about an hour. I enjoyed our talk, mostly because she confirmed our decision to formula feed exclusively and even applauded it; I just wish it had happened earlier in the night.

The only difficult part of the night was entirely my fault. I caught Isaac mid-poo and had to clean up his clothes and change his diaper a couple of times before I got it all. Carrie was crying all the while, so it was an adventure, to say the least. Thankfully, that didn’t happen again the rest of the night and hasn’t happened again since, though I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

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We’d heard a rumor that we’d be bringing the twins home immediately after the overnight, but the nurses were all quick to reassure us that wasn’t true. In the end, they came home the day after the overnight, and both of them have been doing well since. We’ve been doing well since, for the most part, but the adjustment… well, that’s been more difficult than the actual baby care, if that makes sense.

And by “adjustment,” I mean that Sam is having a hard time adjusting to not being the only child anymore. It’s more than that; I think that, were it just the “oldest, not only” thing, it would be a lot easier, but we’ve added onto it all the time I spent in the hospital and Kyle and I went back and forth to the hospital and how unsettled his life was the last several weeks, and the poor kid just can’t cope very well. He’s only three, after all, and that many life changes are hard even for an adult.

He’s regressed in a lot of ways–undone all his potty training when he’s at home, stopped really sleeping through the night, demanding cuddles and carrying at all times–and it all makes sense from an emotional perspective. He feels like he’s not getting enough attention, and he’s told us so in many ways and as many words. Not coincidentally, everything he’s doing to act out is something that requires us to pay attention to him. If he pees or poops his pants, we have to clean up after him. If he has a nightmare and comes into our room, we have to take care of him. If he demands cuddles or carrying, we either have to tell him no or pick him up.

It’s become an awkward sort of balancing act, between enacting consequences when he does act out (for the record: I don’t consider demanding attention in general to be acting out, but when the kid purposely runs to the dining room to drop a deuce like he’s forgotten what bathrooms are, you kind of have to do something in response) and trying to help him cope with the emotions he has. But he’s three, so it’s just a really weird situation. There’s only so much we can do to help him figure things out, and we’re of two minds about it, Kyle and I. Kyle’s a little stressed out about things, so he leans towards more consequences; I am also stressed out, but I’m all like “feelings” about it, so I lean more towards talking things out.

And, well, neither option is working terribly well. Some days are better than others, and Sam does a LOT better mornings than he does nights, but ultimately, even though we know that this is temporary, it’s still probably the hardest part of this process.

The worst night so far involved Sam waking up at around 11 p.m. with nightmares about me dying and nobody helping me (OH OKAY). Initially, he came into our bedroom with Kyle because it was my shift to be up with the twins (more on that in a minute), and when Kyle came downstairs to get a clean Pull-Up for Sam, I suggested that he bring Sam down to rest on the couch so that he (meaning Kyle) could get some decent sleep before his next shift. This ended up being a huge mistake; Sam didn’t sleep the entire time he was downstairs, instead spending the rest of the time he was downstairs with me patiently waiting for me to finish taking care of the babies before snuggling up on my lap and chatting with me about three-year-old things (e.g., “I think the babies like chocolate” or “Mommy, what’s bigger, thirteen or a lot?”).

So, well. It’s a work in progress. He’s got his grandparents on both sides giving him relentless affirmation of how loved he still is, and he’s very slowly coming around to the babies (he even kissed their–mittened–hands today!), but he’s getting there.

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Newborns-wise, I’m going to knock on wood, but things are going really well so far.

Back when Sam was a newborn, the first couple of months were the hell that everyone describes and expects. Neither Kyle nor I got any sleep, and we were both on the verge of insanity all the time. Kyle actually fell asleep mid-sentence when he was at lunch with some co-workers, and they felt so bad for him that they let him keep sleeping with someone there to chaperone him. We had no sense of order or schedule, and I have zero doubt that the chaos contributed to my postpartum depression.

BUT eventually, we figured out a system that made life easier. We took shifts, each of us sleeping for three hours straight and sitting up with baby Sam for three hours straight (which meant getting a lot of Netflix in). Once we figured that schedule out, life got SO much easier, and we remained comfortable and sensible until Sam hit the 3-4 month mark and started sleeping through the night.

(dear any new parents reading my blog for whatever reason: really, the exhaustion is temporary. No, your sleep schedule will never be the same, but the newborn phase ends soon, and you’ll sleep again, I promise)

With the twins, they’re already on a four-hour schedule, and so we’ve adjusted our shifts: Kyle sleeps from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., and I sleep from 2 a.m. until 7 a.m. (ish). It’s proven surprisingly doable. We’re both exhausted, and I do miss sleeping more, but I don’t feel overwhelmed or like I’m going to die from sleep deprivation. The only hiccup so far came the other day, when a really strong low pressure system moved through and gave me an incredible migraine. By around 2 p.m., I couldn’t function, so Kyle was sweet enough to let me run upstairs and take a nap while he hung out with the kids.

As babies, the biggest challenge with the twins is just that there are two of them, but even that isn’t too much of a challenge. It just means that feedings and changings are two for the price of one, and that’s not too difficult. We’ve staggered their feedings enough that we’re easily able to finish the first feed/change before the second baby even wakes up. And that, overall, makes life a thousand and one times easier, and I’m super grateful to the NICU for getting them in that practice.

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And one way or another, we’re succeeding on some level. Both twins have reached and surpassed their birth weights, three weeks in, which is great for premature babies. They’re starting to focus their eyes on us, which is awesome, and their growth is remaining right on track. Their doctor has even mentioned that if they continue on this path, he’ll have a hard time thinking of them as preemies by as soon as four to six months along. He expects they’ll start hitting their milestones right on target in about that time period, and that’s pretty awesome.

Kids are great, I’m feeling great. I think pregnancy just had me feeling so awful that my C-section recovery has been a breeze by comparison. I’ve been off the prescription meds since about a week after delivery, and I’m not even taking pain medication for any surgery stuff at all any longer. I still occasionally feel some tension and tightness when I bend over a certain way or twist a certain way, but beyond that, I feel mostly healed. I’m avoiding driving and carrying Sam and the baby carriers around out of an abundance of caution, but my energy is up, my motivation is up, and I’m loving life.

It’s even wilder because I don’t have PPD this time (thank you Effexor), so I’m genuinely enjoying the newborn phase. The twins are sweet and good babies, Sam does well when we respond to him with empathy and understanding, and I feel… content. And that’s good.

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Concerning Boobies

So I’m going to write about boobs, specifically about breastfeeding. If you’re weirded out by that, (a) might be good to talk to someone about why breastfeeding weirds you out; and (b) you may want to skip this blog.

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I’ve always been on the Bigger Boobs side of things when it comes to my own development. For a long time, I still fit into the “big but can still shop at Victoria’s Secret” category, a category that ends with the letter D; but weight gain and eventually pregnancy showed me a whole new set of letters to describe my chest flesh. At the moment, I’m squeezed into an older bra that’s a bit too small for my “pregnant with twins, what’s your excuse?” chest because I really don’t want to get measured and refitted when I’ve still got a while to go yet in this pregnancy.

People talk a good game about wanting gazongas like mine, but they aren’t fun. On the most pragmatic scale of all, affordability, they’re a nightmare. Some maternity stores do go up to my size for cheap(ish), but if I really want to wear something that’s cuter than beige, I have to go online to find it, and it always costs ~$50-60, which is why I own three bras and three bras only. Objectively cuter bras that exist to make me feel good about myself don’t really come in my size, or if they do, they don’t come easily (though I will say that once the twins are born, I’m totally getting a galaxy bra from Torrid and you can’t stop me).

Less pragmatically, my back hurts. A lot. Contrary to what animes would have you believe, big boobs do not function like helium balloons. They consist of fat and sinuses and chest flesh and thus actually weigh something, and that weight must be supported by something, namely your back muscles. Consequently, I’ve noticed that since I went from my high school size of “appropriate” to my postpartum size of “even turtlenecks give me cleavage,” my upper back hurts a lot more. It’s not excruciating, but it’s enough that, when lying in bed at the end of the day, I pray for the funds to get a breast reduction sooner rather than later so that I don’t develop a hunchback before I’m 40.

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(no offense Quasimodo)

Now, you’d think with these gazongas, I’d be an enthusiastic heifer, udderly producing way too much milk for one baby, let alone two.

And you would be wrong.

I felt encouraged in this direction towards the end of my pregnancy with Sam. Nobody mentions this, but you leak a lot the further along your pregnancy gets, and I kept developing stains on my favorite shirts and bras (which were more numerous then). It was frustrating, but I felt like it was a good sign: if I’m producing enough to leak right now, I’ll surely be a dairy farm for this kid, and we’ll never have to spend a cent on formula.

Ha.

Fast forward to Sam’s birthday, the day of his actual birth. After 45 minutes of pushing, the nurses lifted my child with his enormous head and baby slime to my chest, and it was time to breastfeed for the first time. This practice is encouraged for understandable reasons: breastfeeding causes your body to release oxytocin, which causes your uterus to contract, which helps expel the placenta and slow your bleeding. If, for whatever reason, you can’t breastfeed or your uterus isn’t contracting, you’ll get a dose of synthetic oxytocin (known as pitocin) to speed the process along and hopefully prevent your delivery room from turning into that scene from The Shining.

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So anyway, I tried to breastfeed. I’d read all the videos, knew all the tips, and figured it couldn’t be that difficult. I held my boy tenderly against me and gently guided my huge freaking gazonga titty towards his face and his face towards the huge freaking gazonga titty. For about half a second, he put in a valiant effort of latching onto the bulbous orb that was suddenly coming towards him… but then that second ended and he decided that no, he did not want the orb.

In the moment, it wasn’t a big deal. I was still on an IV that gave me a steady drip of pitocin because of my induction. The placenta came out, and I didn’t die of too much bleeding, and Sam and I had those moments of bonding together–albeit minus the breastfeeding.

But it’s cool, it’s cool, I told myself. I’ve been in labor for 24 hours, Sam is brand new to breathing, we’ll just keep trying until we get it.

Back in those days, hospitals didn’t really go for the baby-friendly hospital movement thing, so we had the option to let Sam spend the night in the nursery and get some sleep. Exhausted from having been pregnant for what felt like 18 years and going through 24 hours of labor without having slept at all in the 36 hours beforehand, I gladly took advantage of this program. The nurses fed Sam formula while I slept and recovered, about six hours a night.

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During the day, we worked on breastfeeding. A steady stream of lactation consultants came in with various tools to help Sam realize that breastfeeding was awesome, but nothing doing. Our most elaborate attempt involved a syringe with a long tube attached that went into Sam’s mouth at the same time as my boob. The idea was that he theoretically wasn’t getting into breastfeeding because my boob wasn’t producing immediate results, which I still think is true, but the syringe didn’t help with that at all. Sam just got angry when the syringe stopped and screamed instead of trying harder, a strategy I can definitely relate to.

But we went home, and I tried to put Sam on the boob every time he needed food. These sessions were, to put it gently, miserable. They lasted at least an hour and a half apiece and needed to start all over again when they ended.

See. First, I’d put Sam on the boob with the mindset of “maybe he’ll get it this time.” Breastfeeding involves a LOT of moving parts, and trying to get your infant to understand which moving parts are which is an exercise in having the patience of a saint and the stamina of a tank. And I did everything the lactation consultants suggested. I used the syringe. I avoided pacifiers at the very start and used breast-shaped bottles to avoid “nipple confusion.” I massaged and focused and switched boobs and did what I could, but even after 45 minutes of wrestling, Sam was screaming with hunger and I was exhausted.

But we still weren’t done, or well. I wasn’t done.

For the first couple of weeks, I had Kyle with me to help, since he had a week of paid paternity leave and then worked from home, returning to work in gradual steps. He would go and mix up a bottle of formula for us, and I’d get out the pump. Breast pumps are kind of weird machines, and it’s impossible to use one and NOT feel like you’ve devolved into some sort of human-bovine hybrid. Even with the most modern and discreet models, you’re being milked, and there’s no way for that to NOT be awkward.

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(sorry to shatter any illusions; it’s exactly like this)

So Kyle would take Sam and sit on the couch with pillows and give Sam a bottle so that the poor child would stop being so hungry. I would get myself hooked up to the milk machine, which was… an adventure, to say the least. I’m not sure if it’s easier for people whose breasts don’t fall into the huge freaking gazongas category, but getting everything aligned properly was always a Process for me. After that, I’d sit and pump for a total of 45 minutes, half on the left and half on the right. I couldn’t do anything else during these pumping sessions, because I had to hold the cups in place or else they’d just be trying to milk air, and that’s not very good. And the end product was always roughly 15 drops of milk–a generous amount for, say, a pet mouse, but not very useful for keeping a child alive.

It was exhausting. And by the time I was done pumping and Sam was done eating, we’d have a reprieve of maybe half an hour before it was time again.

I hated it.

What’s more, I hated myself for hating it. Breastfeeding, feeding in general, was supposed to be this wonderful bonding time with the two of us, but I dreaded the very thought. The best part for me was when Kyle would give Sam back to me, after all the pumping and eating and wrestling and angst, and my baby boy would curl up against me and fall asleep to the sound of my heartbeat. The worst part was literally everything else about it. I was miserable.

If I’m honest, the beginning of the end came about 3 days after Sam was born. Maybe four. Our hospital had a policy that if you left before the 48 hours you were allowed to stay following your child’s birth were up, you could have a nurse visit you at home. Sam was born at around 5:45 p.m., which gave us a solid two nights in the hospital, and we didn’t want to deal with rush hour traffic on the ride home, so we left a good four hours before we had to… and two days later, the nurse came.

She brought a scale with her and blood pressure monitors and all sorts of portable tools to measure Sam and measure me and make sure that we weren’t secretly dying. Sam went first; she took his blood pressure, checked out his jaundice (a lot of babies are jaundiced when born, but most end up better after getting some sunlight), and then weighed him. “That’s really impressive!” she remarked. “He’s gained back all of the weight he lost after birth. He’s back to his birth weight. Whatever you’re doing to keep him growing like this, keep it up!”

The remarks were both flattering and embarrassing. We were about 50/50 formula and breast-wrestling at that point, and even Sam’s pediatrician said at the one week mark, “If you want to start starving him a little so that he’ll take to the boob easier, he’s got more than enough weight on him.” But for my own sanity, I couldn’t do that, knowing what it took to get him to even breastfeed for a solid ten minutes.

I don’t remember the specific day I decided to quit breastfeeding entirely, only that Kyle was there and asked if I even wanted to try to put Sam on the boob. And I took a deep breath and I said, “You know what, I think I don’t. Let’s just give him formula.” The breast pump parts started to gather dust, and although my ginormous freaking gazongas still leaked like a haunted faucet (leading to at least one incident of which Kyle has said he learned a valuable lesson about not honking your wife’s boob affectionately while she’s lactating), things started to look up.

Sam kept up his pace of growth, and he was a much happier baby now that he was able to actually eat and not have to deal with having a boob thrust in his face whenever he got hungry. Kyle and I were actually able to function better as well, especially once we discovered various charts describing how much formula we could give Sam based on how big he was and how long we wanted to go between feedings. We were able to take shifts at night, so we both got about six hours of sleep, which wasn’t great but was a huge improvement over the three we’d been getting before.

formula-feeding-chart

And, blissfully, Sam started sleeping through the night around three months old. That night is burned into my brain: Kyle and I both decided to crash around 10 p.m., and when Sam woke us up fussing at 5 a.m., we both looked at each other and asked, “Did you get up last night? No, did you?” And then came the realization of what had transpired and life was good.

Four years later, and Sam’s a healthy, happy kid whom his teachers describe as “scary smart.” He is absolutely average in terms of height and weight, and aside from a bout with ear infections well after I would have weaned him anyway, he’s been fantastic all along. I have zero regrets.

And I could go into all of the other things that contributed to the zero regrets: how I had to have gallbladder surgery when he was three months old, how I started antidepressants shortly after that, how scientifically speaking, babies who are formula fed and babies who are breastfed have negligible differences, but… why? What matters here was that breastfeeding was making us both miserable, and everyone was much happier when we stopped.

It’s all making me lean towards not breastfeeding the twins, which is a horrifying prospect when you consider the cost of formula for two babies, but at the same time…

Well, I look at my boobs. They’re still enormous. They could have their own gravitational pulls. I look at how hard it was to convince Sam to even try the boob and imagine doing that, with all its moving parts, for two babies. I look at Kyle and Sam, with their incredible bond that I don’t believe would be nearly as strong if Kyle hadn’t been able to be so involved with Sam’s care in those early days. I look at the almost certain chaos of those early days with two newborns instead of one.

And then I go to the store and buy a dozen more bottles (20% off at Babies R Us!) and say, you know, I think they’ll be alright.

In your head

If I’m being completely honest, I don’t remember hearing about it. It wasn’t an event like 9/11, where the shock and growing horror you feel as you watch events unfold in real time burn everything about that moment into your memory: where you were, what you were doing, what happened before and after, how you felt.

It was the spring of 1999, and I was a sophomore in high school, watching all of my friends who were born earlier in the year getting their learners’ permits and getting our first tastes of that irresponsible freedom that comes with being a teenager. I used to tell my mom that people called them “LPs” for short, but nobody called them that, learners’ permits, I mean. And anyway, I wasn’t really focused on world events at that point in time, except for when I had to be, like in AP U.S. History.

Most of my attention was focused all over the place, because I was a very busy high school sophomore, fifteen and not-quite-sixteen. I had a pretty big supporting role in the school musical that year (stepmother in Cinderella), I had a boyfriend who was in college (automatic cool points and elimination of dating as a distraction in anything ever), I sat state standardized tests (the MCAS exam, which is highly mockable and always has been), I was miserably failing Algebra II, life was busy overall.

I wasn’t thinking at all, of course, about school shootings.

They were on everyone’s radar, sort of, not like they really are today. We all knew about Paducah, we all knew vaguely that this was a Thing That Happened, but it wasn’t something that anyone thought about. School shootings seemed like flukes, like something you’d say “damn that was crazy!” about but then move on with your life, assuming that the perpetrator was bullied or had some sort of vendetta or something.

Somehow, Columbine changed that.

I don’t really remember hearing about it, but I remember the impacts. Not long after Columbine, we had something that was like 50% fire drill but really more of a school shooter drill. This was before you had lockdown practices, of course, because we thought it was a fluke. We all wandered aimlessly out of the buildings, accompanied by our teachers, and hung out on the front lawn until we got the all-clear. It may have been a real threat; I heard rumors that someone had left notes somewhere about shooting up the school, bombing the school, but nobody was really scared by it. Columbine was a fluke, after all.

I remember about six sprillion 20/20 esque programs dedicated to Why This Happened, and everyone had a different thought process. Violent video games! Bullying! The goth subculture! And therefore Satanism (Satanic Panic 2.0?)! Marilyn Manson! Trenchcoats (I’m not kidding)! My boyfriend at the time wore a trenchcoat like it was his job and played Resident Evil almost religiously, so I got a kick out of those theories. I think the newspeople eventually settled on bullying as The Reason, and after that, everything faded… but then later research revealed that the perpetrators were actually more often the bullies than the bullied, so that’s probably not it.

I remember the weird capitalization on certain victims’ lives and deaths. Cassie Bernall was the big one. The story went that she was asked, “Do you believe in God?” and said yes before being murdered. It was a great narrative from a Christian perspective; it turned her into a martyr of sorts, ostensibly killed because she said yes (which was the name of the book her parents wrote about her). Christian recording artists wrote songs about the incident, it was this great wonder and beautiful tragedy and… it didn’t even happen. Students who were with Cassie when she died reported that the shooter only said, “Peek-a-boo!” before murdering her.

But it was still some good music.

And it kind of… went away. Not completely, of course, and certainly not for the victims and their loved ones, but school shootings just anywhere near as common back then as they are now. Oh, they happened. Thirteen shootings happened between Columbine and my graduation from high school two years later. That seems like a lot, but then you realize that 2018 is so far 46 days old and there have already been 18 school shooting-style incidents, and suddenly, 13 over two years doesn’t seem as high of a number.

Next year, it will have been 20 years since Columbine. A lot has changed since then. The weirdest thing to me is that if you go to certain places on the internet, you’ll find pockets of people who are huge fans of the Columbine shooters. I don’t mean assholes who say, “Man, I wish I could shoot up a school!” I mean people who look at the shooters, say they were well within their rights to massacre people or that they did nothing wrong, coo over how attractive they were, and so on and so forth.

It’s… strange.

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I always talk to Kyle about meta-fears I have for our kid(s). I call them meta-fears because the likelihood of them ever happening is statistically small, but as a parent, you still sometimes lie awake at night and wonder, “but what if…?” But they’re fears that you have to put on the back burner because if you let them, you’ll become irrational and incapable of functioning because they’re fears of such HUGE things that you have so little control over.

Meta-fears are things like “what if some random person grabs my kid off the street?” Statistically, this isn’t very likely to happen. The vast majority of kidnappings are perpetrated by members of the victim’s family, and while you have some pretty famous stories where that was not the case, they’re famous because they’re so rare. So you hold your kid’s hand and watch them when you’re out of the house, but you can’t let this fear consume you or else you’ll end up locking your kid in a tower, growing out their hair to about 70 feet, and only visiting them on weekends and bank holidays.

Things like “what if my kid gets cancer?” Statistically, this isn’t very likely to happen, even though we all know someone or know someone who knows someone whose kid got cancer. We’ve all contributed to fundraisers and all watched hashtags. One of the towns around here had a big rally for a kid that had one of the worst forms of childhood cancer, DIPG. Their hashtag was #whynotdevin, and it was HUGE around here. And it was heartbreaking, and of course, it made me wonder in my parental way, what if Sam contracted DIPG? 100% fatal, a disease that deteriorates who you are, and the only thing you can do is try and make your kid comfortable until they slip away in less than a year. It’s ridiculously rare (200 cases a year worldwide kind of rare), and you theoretically worry, but you have to put it on the back burner or you’re going to end up losing your mind because it’s not something you can predict or protect against.

Things like “what if this plane we’re on crashes?” Things like “what if there’s a drunk driver?” Things like “what if an asteroid crashes through our roof spontaneously?” Things like “what if nuclear war?”

Things like “what if my child’s school gets shot up?”

This wasn’t a worry when I was a kid. We had fire drills, of course, and those were usually pretty chill. One time, we had a fire drill while we were watching a video about volcanoes, and everybody thought that was hilarious. Another time, some kids brought a ouija board to recess and apparently, the ~spirits~ told them that the school would burn down that afternoon, and when we had a fire drill that afternoon, they all freaked out and that was also hilarious.

But it’s a worry now.

One of the things I’ve had the hardest time reading lately is the swath of accounts from teachers, telling the world who’s never experienced such a thing what it’s like to have a lockdown drill. They talk about kids not knowing it’s a drill, big and tough kids bursting into tears of absolute terror when the assistant principal rattles the doorknob to make sure it’s locked. They talk about teachers not knowing it’s a drill and screaming at their students in a panic, telling them to be quiet and stop talking and giggling, because if there is an active shooter, their silence could be their lifeline.

Fearing that your child’s school could be shot up should be a statistically rare meta-fear, like cancer or a plane crash or nuclear war. It should be something that you can just put in the back of your mind and worry about that bridge if you ever come to it, but it’s not.

Lockdown drills are pretty standard across the board nowadays. I don’t know if our town’s schools do them, or how early they start, but I imagine that they do and that they start very early. It adds a new layer to the meta-fear. It adds a thousand new layers to the meta-fear. I imagine, without wanting to, my sweet little boy with big hazel eyes and blonde hair having to hide in a closet behind locked doors. I imagine him being so terrified that he can’t fall asleep for weeks. Worse, I imagine him having a hard time comprehending what’s going on, being the loud and silly voice, and it not being a drill, and suddenly, I’m planning a funeral for my first baby.

I don’t want to imagine this. I don’t want this to be a fear that we have to take logical preventative measures about, like choking hazards and SIDS and batteries in smoke alarms and car seats.

But here we are.

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Of course I have opinions about the whole thing. Anyone who’s known me for more than five minutes knows what those opinions are, but I’m not throwing them out here because I don’t want to attract That Crowd, if you know what I mean. I’m also not throwing them out here because I don’t want to sit around and debate and throw statistics back and forth and scream ceaselessly into the void at a group of people who just will. not. care.

I do want to scream into the void. But I’m tired.

So instead, I take a deep breath. I take comfort in the people I love. I hug Sam extra tight, even when he’s spent the entire day being a little shit (true story: this blog was initially going to be about the emotional weirdness of being angry with a toddler over something they don’t know any better, and it was going to be about poop). I listen to the Cranberries singing, “But you see, it’s not me, it’s not my family,” and wonder what happens to That Crowd when it is their family.

Sorry about the lack of entertaining or diverting gifs; they seemed inappropriate.