Category Archives: updates

Mothering, Multi-tasking, and Buddha: Part 1

So. It’s been, what, nine months since I last blogged? Nine months. One explanation for the extended radio silence is probably that I’ve been blogging in one place or another since 2004, for chrissake, and it was time for a little sabbatical. The other explanation is that, mentally at any rate, this last year was pretty much the bottom of the barrel, in this Squab’s experience. I have really been struggling, and the horrible, dreary, never-ending winter we had this year sent me into a bit of a tailspin. I mean, man: this was a rough winter. Rough enough that I think it deserves its own special name. Let’s call it the WINTER FROM HELL, shall we? That has an appropriately evil ring to it. So the WINTER FROMĀ  HELL came along and brought with it a fog of depression that simply refused to disperse. Here’s a fun thing about depression and blogging: Just when you could probably benefit most from the support of your lovely blog readers, you’re too fucking tired to write. Or do anything, really, except lie on the couch eating junk food, fending off your children, feeling guilty about fending off your children, and counting the minutes until your partner gets home to cope with things. (See? It’s even depressing to READ about it!)

So. There was depression and the WINTER FROM HELL and lack-of-coping. And then there were anti-depressants and beginning-to-cope. And then there were even more anti-depressants and thawing temperatures, and now we’re coping at basically normal levels, which means there’s still considerable room for improvement but Mr. Squab is no longer responsible for literally every household task and I can look toward the future with reactions other than “meh” or “I cannot DO THIS.”

Except that, actually, I’m trying not to look towards the future so much, because I’m working on living in the moment. And that’s because I’ve had the white over-educated middle-class middle-aged liberal agnostic version of a spiritual awakening. That’s right, folks: I’ve found Buddha. I mean, it’s not like I’d never encountered Buddhism before. There was a family friend who joined a buddhist monastery and would tell funny stories about it, for example. And my acting teacher in college both engaged in and taught a lot of Buddhist and Daoist practices, which for a while I also engaged in regularly. In a mostly uneducated way, I thought Buddhism was “cool,” sort of like yoga and vegetarianism and non-violent protests were “cool.” But it was never something I looked to for spiritual satisfaction.

And then I had kids, and I obscurely felt like I should have some formal approach to their spiritual and moral education, but I couldn’t find anything that felt like the right fit. In past eras I’ve been a practicing Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopalian (not, obviously, at the same time), so I thought of re-entering those communities first. As a child and even through college I was quite firmly christian in my beliefs, if a bit denominationally vague, but since then I’ve gotten more and more agnostic about the whole thing, and attending a christian church seemed like it would tax my sense of moral honesty. In grad school I regularly attended a lovely Unitarian church, which worked in part because you can pretty much believe whatever the hell you want and still be Unitarian. It’s a good haven for the ex-faithful who like the community aspect of religion but are a bit iffy on the dogma. So I thought about checking out my local UU congregation, which would be a handy place of worship (do you worship at a UU church? Seems more like a place of ponder. Or maybe a place of discuss? But I digress), since it’s attended by approximately 65% of my circle of friends. But that didn’t feel quite right either. It looked good on paper, but I couldn’t seem to summon the wherewithal to herd my family there of a Sunday morning. So I let the spiritual education issue slide onto my mental back burner and hummed happily along, until the WINTER FROM HELL hit and suddenly it wasn’t my kids who needed a community of faith so much as it was me, desperate for some kind of spiritual rope to cling to so I wouldn’t drown in my own sea of malaise. (Note to self: Sea of Malaise would be a great name for an Emo band.)

Where was I? Oh, right: drowning. Well, as none of you will probably remember, a couple of years ago I was discussing Asian religions with my kids’ pediatrician, like you do, and he offered up the Zen phrase “expect nothing” as a good mantra for parents of young children. “Expect Nothing” as in, don’t go projecting into the future about what will happen to your children, who they’ll become, how you’ll fail them or not fail them or ANY of it because the truth is, you have no goddamn idea what’s going to happen and thinking about it is just making you crazy. Sort of the Zen version of not borrowing trouble and crossing that bridge when you come to it. This phrase really resonated with me, probably because it’s a concept almost totally foreign to my nature. I expect shit, you know? All kiiiiiiiiiinds of shit. Good shit, bad shit, and every kind of shit in between: I expect it. But I can also really see, especially since I’ve had kids, how much trouble – how much needless trouble – that expectation causes, and how much better off I’d be if I could get a little more Zen. So I started trying to catch myself when the expectation mode kicked in, and remind myself to “Expect Nothing.” Round about the same time, I discovered John Muth’s wonderful children’s book Zen Shorts, about a Zen panda named Stillwater who moves in next door to three kids and becomes a beloved friend and companion. Muth based the book around a series of classic Zen parables, and, like the phrase from our pediatrician, these stories kept coming back to me. You know how people talk about the universe giving you signals? I don’t know if I believe in that, but … looking back, I can also kind of see what they mean.

OK, so fast forward to the WINTER FROM HELL, the struggling, the drowning, etc. In an effort to do something – anything – to claw my way out of the morass, I started meditating now and then. It’s something I used to do semi-regularly in college and grad school, and I thought it might be a way to get some much-needed mental space. Wanting to find techniques for more effective meditation, I dug out some old comparative religion books from school and flipped to the eastern philosophies section. I started getting more and more interested in Buddhism. What was the philosophy? The history? What differentiated the various schools of Buddhism? I approached it like the scholar I’ve been trained to be. I sought out more comparative religion books, bought some Buddhist magazines to see what the contemporary literature was, got some of that literature – I basically went on a Buddhism reading orgy, and y’all: it made a lot of freaking sense. I dunno exactly what it was, but something about the combination of having kids and trying to survive the WINTER FROM HELL made me, like, the perfect receptacle for Buddhist wisdom. Life is suffering? YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT IT IS. Suffering is caused by attachment? I FINALLY GET WHAT THAT MEANS. Suffering can be eliminated? YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW HAPPY THAT MAKES ME. The means of relief is following the teachings of the Buddha? SIGN ME THE FUCK UP!

And that’s where we’ll leave it for tonight. Tune in Friday for Part 2, in which I will actually address the first two-thirds of the post title: Mothering and Multi-tasking.

Vacation, eh?

So I can FINALLY tell you that I’m up in Canada this week, a trip that’s been months in the making. My family has a cottage on Lake Erie about an hour north of Buffalo, NY, and every year some portion of us makes the trip for a week or two to enjoy the beach life. The Squab family hasn’t been for the last couple of years, because I don’t know if you know this but toddlers and babies are CRAP travelling companions, but this year Mr. Squab decided it would be fun to surprise my mom by showing up even though she thought we couldn’t make it. So we rented a whole ‘nother cottage (that way we can have a baby-friendly shut-up-at-8pm kind of space and an adult-friendly stay-up-and-drink-and-play-cards kind of space), and rented a van, and loaded it up, and drove out the entire 18 hour trip. With a four-year-old and a one-year-old. I’m not going to lie to you, I was a little out of my mind anxious about it. We took the trip in two days, driving a whopping 13 hours (thanks, rush hour in Chicago) the first day, and a jaunty 5 1/2 hours the second, and I have to say, the kids were total troupers about the whole thing. And it was really, really fun to see the look on Mom’s face when we showed up. It’s a fine line between overwhelmingly surprised and coronary arrest, but we walked it and everyone is good. We’re now ensconsed in our rental cottage with an AMAZING lake view, and the kids have been having the time of their lives playing on the beach. We have absolutely no internet access, so I’m posting this from the public library in town, but I’ll post some pix if I get a chance. Anyway, for all of you whose playdate invitations I’ve ignored, or who’ve moved into new housing with no help and/or housewarming gifts from me, etc, etc, this is why and I’m very sorry. Mom is on Facebook and reads this blog and all so I had to keep it a secret. Right – gotta go hit the beach!

The London Bridge is NOT falling down

OK, I can’t upload any pictures, but I thought I’d pop on while we have wifi and wax lyrical about the trip so far. You know, just so you can be maximally jealous. I’m nice like that.

So the plane ride was totally uneventful, except that I’ve apparently lost the ability to sleep on a plane. Which sucks, because I used to pass out pretty much as soon as I’d fastened my seatbelt. I have regularly slept through take-offs that had other passengers using their barf bags, but on this flight … not so much. I blame my kids. Or George Bush. Or possibly that large caffeinated latte I got right before the flight. Anybody’s guess.

Anyhoodle, we made it, crusty but triumphant, to the flat where my Mom has been staying for the last month, where we were greeted with smiles and hugs and extremely large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. This is a good way to be greeted. Once our wine was consumed, we just had time to shower off our travel crud, change into nicer, less wrinkled clothes, and hop on the tube to Covent Garden. Mom had made reservations for pre-theatre dinner at Le Deuxieme restaurant, which is one of those places you dream of going until your bank balance jerks you back into reality. This is reason number one why I loooooooove traveling with my Mom. We ate amazing food (srsly. Unbelievably good lamb curry) and drank more lovely wine and between the alcohol and the jet lag I’m a little surprised they didn’t kick us out for irresponsible giggling. After coffee and dessert, we strolled down to the New London Theatre and saw Warhorse, which was one of the best shows I have seen in years. Really inspiring theatricality, beautiful music, incredible technical effects, moving emotion – just top notch. Also we had wonderful seats, which is reason number two why I loooooooooove traveling with my mom. By the time the show was over, we were like zombies (except for the brain-eating part), so we caught a cab with an awesome driver who told us all about his dog and his grandkids. Stumbled into the flat and passed out cold on our beds.

This morning we slept in and then met a friend at the Tate Modern when it opened at 10, to see their special exhibit on Voyeurism (stopping by St. Paul’s cathedral and the Millenium Bridge on the way). The exhibit was really interesting, but frankly being that hip is damned tiring, so after the Tate and a quick lunch we got our cheesy tourist hats on and went on the guided tour of the Tower of London. Which I am not ashamed to say I freaking love. Cockney Beefeaters telling you all about Elizabethan beheadings? SIGN ME UP. Then we visited the Crown Jewels (bling!), looked in the gift shop (kitsch!), and headed over to the Courtauld Museum, which was our favorite stop today. It’s just a tiny gallery, but it’s completely filled with the good stuff. Monet, Degas, Seurat, Rubens, Van Gogh – just delightful. By the time we were done there, our feet were about to FALL OFF, so we headed back to the flat to rest a little (rest = drink wine), and now we’re headed off to a local Thai restaurant for dinner. Tonight we pack up our stuff and tomorrow morning we’re off to Inverness! So far it’s been superlatively fabulous, which is good, because I miss Mr. Squab, the Hatchling and the Sprout like crazy so this trip has to be good enough to make that worthwhile. Not sure what our internet situation will be in Scotland, but I’ll update again when I can. Ta!

‘Allo, ‘allo

So have I mentioned that I’m going to London and Scotland for the next 10 days?

Oh, I’m sorry – what? Where the hell have I been? I should let a person know if I’m going to be gone that long? This relationship is a two way street?

Geez, I know. What can I say? Life happens, and lately I’ve been either cleaning the damn house or saying fuck it and napping rather than blogging. Now do you wanna hear about the trip or what?

OK. So, about five years ago (maybe longer), my mom took me and my next youngest sister on a trip to Italy. She just got it in her head that she wanted to go, and she had the means to take us, and so we went. Visited Bellagio, Venice, and Florence over the course of 10 days, and discovered that we travel extremely well together. It was a total blast, and ever since then we’ve been trying to figure out a way to do it again in a different locale. But, you know, I had two kids, and my sister had a kid and between that and jobs and other life-related-crap it kept getting pushed to the back burner. But now the kids are old enough to leave them for a little while with their fathers, and their fathers are insane nice enough to take their own vacation time to watch the kids, and Mom is once again flush enough and Lady Bountiful enough to foot the bill, so: voila! UK, here we come. Sis and I will fly into London, where we’ll meet up with Mom, who’s been there teaching for the last month. We’ll do a few days in London, then fly up to Inverness and explore the highlands for a few days, then train it to Edinburgh for another few days, then fly back to Heathrow to get back home. Emotions I am currently experiencing:

  1. Gratitude that I have such a lovely mother and such an extremely lovely husband.
  2. Queasiness at how much I’ll miss my girls while I’m gone. Oh, man. Really going to miss them. Despite their best efforts this week to ensure that I feel no qualms about leaving them with their father/friends/neighbors/gypsies/whoever will take them off my hands.
  3. Excitement to get that passport working – it’s been too long.
  4. Fear that my MomBrain will make me forget to pack something crucial. Like my camera. Or my sanity.
  5. Hope that I can still sleep on planes, because I may not be able to sleep until then.

Anyway. Wish me good travel tomorrow night tonight (I gotta go to bed …). I’ll post travel notes while I’m there if I can. And please send good vibes to Mr. Squab – I’m hoping he’ll still want to BE Mr. Squab when I get back.

This week is kicking my ass and it’s only Monday

Hi. How are things? Long time no see. Look, so here’s the deal: last Friday I went in to the doctor’s office to get some drugs for my seasonal allergies. It was a new doctor, recommended by a friend, and I thought a standard allergy visit would be a good way to break in the relationship. Then they took my blood pressure, and it was 171/110. That’s BAD, in case you were wondering. Bad enough that the rest of my visit was spent doing things like getting an EKG and hearing things like “high potential for stroke.” Left the office with blood pressure meds and a return ticket for this morning. Spent the weekend trying not to panic about high BP (panic = not good for blood pressure), got to doc’s office around noon, and found out two things right off the bat: 1) my blood pressure was exactly the same as it had been on Friday, despite the meds, and 2) the blood test they had previously done indicated that I have type two diabetes.

TO RECAP:

  1. HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
  2. DIABETES

Or, perhaps more accurately:

  1. AAAAACKK! HIGH FUCKING BLOOD PRESSURE!
  2. BUGGERY BLOODY FUCKBALLS! DIAFUCKINGBETES! FUCKING FUCK!

Only with less shouting and more crying. Ahem.

Those of you who have followed this here blog for a while will recall that I had high blood pressure and gestational diabetes with both pregnancies. AND IT SUCKED. And, I’m not gonna lie to you, one of the reasons I haven’t been to a doctor since my last postnatal checkup was that I was so goddamn tired of being a high-risk medical case. SO SICK OF IT. So happy to rejoin the ranks of the relatively healthy. So ready not to have to *think* about my health or lack thereof all the goddamn time. At the same time, the last couple of months have been kind of really totally rough, mentally speaking (you know how I haven’t been posting so much? Yeah. That.) Not the kind of thing you can put a finger on, but, you know: stressing about money, not having a career path, feeling isolated, lack of identity outside parenting, feeling angry and frustrated all the time, feeling like the anger and frustration are making you a horrible parent and wife, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. Call it “stay-at-home-parent-malaise.”And I was just getting myself psyched up to deal with THAT problem when, whammo: blood pressure and diabetes. For fuck’s sake. Just to contextualize my mental state, I will tell you that my first reaction to the diabetes news was, “Great. Everyone I tell about this is going to think it happened because I’m fat.” Healthy, no? Really, totally balanced. Because I definitely have friends like that. Sigh.

Anyway. The good news is that my new doctor so far seems really awesome (thanks for the recommendation, Scott!), and not only did she NOT tell me I needed to lose some weight (and if you want to know why that’s a big deal, go here or here), she also told me with great confidence that we would get me back to pre-diabetic health and lifestyle by October. “Both of these conditions are totally treatable. We are just going to be aggressive about this.” I’m trying to take this in stride, focus on the positive – it’s good that they found this early, it’s a motivation for the whole family to be healthier, it’s not a life sentence – but I’m also Just. So. Tired of it.

Any words of wisdom on getting over life hurdles would be appreciated. Except the ones that tell me to think of all the other people in the world who have it worse than I do, because goddammit, I already DO that and it just makes me feel even WORSE.

Screemed

Today the Hatchling had her mandatory pre-K screening at a local school in our neighborhood. You know, where they test your hearing and vision, observe you interacting with other kids and adults, check your developmental skills, and so on. It’s a way to catch certain developmental disorders and learning issues before kids are in the school system, and – in Minneapolis, anyway – it’s a time where school reps can reach out to local parents with information on all kinds of resources for their families. Great public service, totally one of the reasons I never complain about paying taxes, just generally A Good Thing.

So why, you may be wondering, was I feeling increasingly anxious and tense in my stomachular regions as the appointment loomed ever closer? Well, the short answer to that question is: BECAUSE I AM INSANE. Which is true. But also: I was kind of scared about this appointment. See, the Hatchling, while she is an amazing, joyful, imaginative, artistic, funny, lovable kid, also is, uh, not the clearest speaker in the known universe. She’s always been a babbler, but it took her longer than a lot of her friends to emerge from that awesome pre-verbal “talk” into actual words, and it’s really only in the last 6 months that she’s started speaking clearly enough that even non-family and friends can understand her. Part of the problem is that many of the kids we hang out with are preternaturally verbal, so it’s hard to know if the Hatchling is actually behind or just normal. And then, you know, sometimes when you talk to her or ask her questions it seems like she doesn’t understand you, but it’s hard to know if that’s real lack of understanding or just being three and paying attention to other (often imaginary) things. And then I read my friend Christopher’s post and thought, god, I’d *love* to have a super verbal, into-words and reading kind of kid, because *I’m* super verbal and into words and I’d know how to navigate that! And of course the Hatchling may very well end up that way, but that’s not how she is now and so I worry.

Except of course she did just great at the screening. “We’re gonna go get some screems,” she announced to her father as we left. “See ya later.” And she was awesome. Walked right off holding the hand of the screener and came back 1/2 hour later trailing clouds of glory. NO language problems; she’s right on track. Average or above average at all the verbal and math stuff. Good social adjustment, good motor skills – she’s good! Also: 45 inches tall and 56 pounds. So good and BIG. Which, as the supervisor noted, makes it tough sometimes to remember that she’s only almost four. And for an only almost four-year-old, she’s right where she should be. And what I have to remember is, while it’s good to know she’s on track, even if she weren’t, she would still be A (damn) Good Thing.

An earful

Mr. Squab and I both had chronic ear infections as children. When I was three I even had my adenoids taken out, and I think I had tubes in my ears more than once. So I just sort of assumed that our kids would be equally susceptible, and was pleasantly surprised when the Hatchling made it through the first three years of her life with only two mild ear infections to show for it.

Then we had the Sprout, and the Hatchling started preschool, and I don’t know if either of those facts are relevant, but LORD, we cannot escape the ear infections this year. If it’s not one kid, it’s the other, and often both at the same time, and while the Sprout just gets kind of cranky and doesn’t sleep well with hers, the Hatchling just completely disintegrates. She won’t show the first sign of being ill until the pain is so bad she can’t cope, and then she has a complete and total meltdown. The first time it happened was on a weekend, so the Hatchling was able to parasitically attach herself to me until the antibiotics kicked in. This time, no such luck. She started melting down yesterday afternoon and kept pathetically asking me to “sit wight here and snuggle wif me,” which I mostly could not do because the Sprout is, you know, a BABY, and has not yet mastered the art of self-entertainment.

But the real pathos kicked in today. After an early doctor’s appointment this morning, we went to Target to fill her prescriptions. She immediately requested to ride in the cart (unusual); did not want to get out to peruse the toy section (uncommon); did not want to get a treat while the prescription was getting filled (unprecedented); did not want to get McDonald’s for lunch (unheard of); and then ASKED to go “night-night” at 11:45 am, after only about 15 minutes of Return of the Jedi (completely wackadoo). She didn’t even stir when I went in to put the Sprout down for her nap a few minutes ago. She is, in fact, a pathetic specimen of a Hatchling, and I wish we could win the lottery or something so we *could* both be home and I *could* just hang out with her in the rocking chair all day. (Also, because: LOTTERY! FREE MONEY!) But alas, that winning ticket eludes us and I can only be thankful that she’s passed out in her bed and not wailing for me to comfort her while I’m trying to change the baby’s diaper. Speaking of which, I believe I’ll go try to pass out on my own bed for a few minutes while both kids are unconscious. Here’s hoping those antibiotics kick in soon!