The Man Is More Interesting

As someone who is about to give the IRS all of her money for therapy, I’m delighted couples’ counseling has gone so well. Couples’, isn’t it? Even though we are a singular couple? So many people have told me that it’s helpful, that everyone should have it, that it would help, and I’m relieved they were right.

PS – I’m sitting in a coffee shop right now and the man across from me is quite obviously listening to a phone call on speaker wherein a bank is talking to a customer about his need for a loan. The man is not the customer. The loan is not his. Is this what it means when it says “this call may be recorded for training purposes”? It’s actually a man in a Panera listening in to make sure customer service is what it should be?

Anyway, it seems as though we might be winding counseling down. We’re certainly communicating better and the missing pieces are beginning to resolve. I’m worried that in time we’ll slip back into old habits. I’m worried that the things that were broken are only patched over but, as the therapist would say, whose to say they aren’t healing up instead of patched? She’s probably right, she often is.

PPS – I have just now coughed loudly, thanks allergies, and the man looked alarmed. Considering he has had speaker phone on in this busy, noisy place, the bank probably can’t hear me so perhaps the man is worried for my health. He doesn’t seem worried about the lack of income of the person requesting the loan.

So we will taper the therapy til it’s gone and see if we can get past the visit with my mother and make sure the patches are scars and the kind that make you more interesting – not bandaids on wounds that needed stitching.

PPPS – I think you should know that the bank lady just said “there’s a lot of static on this line” and the man is referring to a lot of paperwork he has spread in the chairs around him. I wonder if the man is legally listening in on this conversation. This is clearly a heist in action.

Besides, I love my wife and I think it’s likely we’re recovering. You’ve been hanging in there with us, for some of you ten years (or more). I thought you’d welcome a happy update.

PPPPS – The man ran out and left his laptop. I assume he’ll be back, richer, but we’ll never know.

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Hey Google, Can You Die From Anxiety?

“The truth is you will not die from a panic attack.”

We have Google devices in our home. They tell us the weather, play music, read recipes, and remind us of practically everything. In the morning, I greet it and it answers with the forecast, a recap of my schedule, and switches to my favorite DC morning show. We don’t have any fancy lights or doorbells or connected appliances because we are not made of money but we do get reminded to take out the cat litter ever Tuesday morning so it makes up for it, don’t you think?

The devices also answer our endless questions:
How do you spell naive?
What’s a zip gun?
What’s a three letter word for prevarication?
Can I use FSA to buy toothpaste?
How long do I roast broccoli?

They cannot tell me why I’m arguing with my wife or dreading waking up in the morning. They can’t explain why my stomach is constantly in knots whether I’m going to work or coming home. They don’t know why sometimes I lay in bed and plug my ears just to try to shut out the noise in my head. They are about as effective as I am in dealing with anxiety over everything. Even something so minor as what to make for supper churns into a 10 minute long, heart pounding, teeth gritting, decision process. When you ask a Google something they don’t know they say, Sorry, I can’t help with that right now. That’s how I have been feeling for months.

Back to a therapist (in addition to the couples’ counselor because that’s not over yet), off to a psychiatrist, who is quirky and not in a good way. However, both my doctor and therapist say she’s a chemist, as if that’s supposed to explain her patronizing weirdness. However, she explained perfectly what the medications that I’m on do, how they interact, why they work together and, in particular, why the one I stopped taking a few years ago was really, really important. I didn’t notice, you see, because I thought the terrible anxiety was because my father was dying. Well, then.

I say all that to say that things are better now. More even than I expected. It’s wonderful not to feel as if you are stuck in quicksand because every possible option will probably kill you. I suspect it’s the reason why couples’ therapy is going better and why there has been more laughter at home lately. I wish my brain chemistry weren’t what it is but, when I asked Google, all they said was Sorry, I can’t help with that right now. But my weird, quirky psychiatrist can and I suppose that’s enough.

Disrespect, Right?

My mom moved last July and we haven’t seen her since. We talk about once a month and send postcards in the meantime. None of us are big fans of the phone and video chats usually are focused on RR and how big/fast/strong she has gotten. We knew a visit was coming and it looks like the time is nigh.

I’ve been nervous about a visit since she announced she was moving, yes actually, and now that it’s imminent I don’t feel any better. We host a fair number of guests and I’m a firm believer in the Three Days adage. For my sister and close friends, I’m willing to go a week but we have one full bathroom and you can extend your arms in it and touch the walls. It’s also in the main hallway which, you know.

Back and forth we went. Here are RR’s camp dates, maybe you could come on one of the weeks we don’t have child care. Nope. This day is her end of school ceremony to move up to the next classroom, she’d love it if you came for that. No. If you come these days, you would be here for her birthday. Meh. Consider the fall, we’d love to have you for Halloween, it’s our favorite family holiday. Noooo. Yes, I understand you want to come for three weeks. We think 10 days is best for the first visit.

I suppose you can imagine where this is going.

We have two dogs, two birds, and one very bad cat. We also have one disrespectful houseguest who, when she gets here, will stay three weeks. She also will not be coming at a time that is beautiful (spring), has lots to do (fall), or is convenient to us (RR has camp the entire time). No, she’ll be coming in the middle of summer so that she can complain about the heat and humidity to its fullest extent. She will also be overwhelmed by the aforementioned animals. Especially when she finds out that Debra and I plan to go out of town for a long weekend while she’s here to babysit.

Two Wheels

There are a few things I want my child to be able to do. I want her to know how to drive so that she can get to and from a job when she’s not near a bus stop. Or, deliver pizzas, or papers, or people. I want her to know how to swim so when she gets invited on the once in a lifetime trip to explore a remote island she’s not the only one sunning instead of snorkeling. I also want her to not drown. I want her to know how to read, cook, and be gracious so that when she cooks for her future mother-in-law from one of my old cookbooks, she’ll be able to handle both compliments and grimaces with grace. I want her to know how to ride a bike for those two years in the Peace Corps where it’s the fastest, easiest mode of transportation to the next village. If she never does any of these things, she’ll still be able to rent a bike with her sweetheart and pedal through a park, take a dip with her kids in the city pool, read a trashy novel or five, feed herself, know how to say thank you, and have the most typical sort of photo id.

I did not think she was going to swim and she did. I certainly didn’t think I’d be able to watch her confidently mix a blueberry pie and crimp the edges. I knew she could read and she’s undeniably charming most of the time. Biking, though. I was pretty sure it was never going to happen.

First she couldn’t figure out how to pedal. She went backward when she meant to go forward. She braked when she meant to fly. Her feet, nearly always on tiptoe, were bent back to push but the push never happened. Meanwhile, she couldn’t steer. Her eyes were glued to her stubborn feet and she teetered into cars and trees at agonizingly slow speed. Even equipped with training wheels, she couldn’t balance. This child, who can cartwheel off of a balance beam and scramble down a tree limb with abandon. The pedal scraped her leg when she pushed the bike. The front wheel spun around and bit her hand. Last summer she gave up. I would have, too.

We tried it again recently and it went much better. As an almost nine year old, she’s acutely aware that her peers can ride while she’s just (very fast) on a scooter. The balance was better. The pedaling still eluded her. She got another scrape and the front wheel waggled at her. She braked when she wanted to go and went when she wanted to brake. We called in her Fake Uncle and put him to the task. Maybe it was me. Maybe she would ride for someone else.

It took 30 minutes. I watched while he ran with her and pushed her. I watched as she flew out of his hands and pedaled around the parking lot as if she had done it her whole life. She never once fell over, although she did crash into a curb requiring one bandaid to certify the crash happened. She might not have needed the bandaid but she was so happy to get the first one out of the way, she threw out our favorite phrase*.

It was so easy for her once she got a glimpse of what it would take. And so, we can check off another Life Skill.

*I suppose I didn’t mention that we bought a car (a brand new, never been driven car) in December and, having had it 5 days, someone hit it in a parking lot. It was parked at the time and the hitter, Kim, left a note (thank goodness). Her insurance covered the whole thing, the car looks like new, we’re still very wounded about the it, but we have spent the better part of the last three months saying well, at least we got the first one out of the way.

Holidays With

Since at least 1973, there’s a place in town that has been serving two grilled doughnuts with a scoop of ice cream called a Grills With. I have a love/hate relationship with insider language like this. The dish itself sounds amazing – I have not had it – but it implies so much. What is grilled? What comes with? Can you order it without? Then is it just called a Grills? But it’s historical, you say, and of course the menu tells you! And there are other hidden features like bacon! And chocolate sauce if only you ask! You clearly do not experience restaurant ordering anxiety but I don’t hold it against you.

The winter holidays are the Grills With of my life and maybe yours, too. There’s the basic units, in our case, me, my wife, and RR and the holiday events themselves which evolve and change over time but which have been core ingredients. They are loaded with insider knowledge, for instance, there’s no way for you to know that my family always had tamales on the Eves, on New Year’s Eve we ate pizza rolls and watched 1959’s House on Haunted Hill, cinnamon rolls dethroned overnight french toast on Christmas morning in 1986, and 11pm church services were non-negotiable for everyone. There’s also no way to know that Debra and I ban family and friends prior to 10am on Christmas morning (if not longer), that I get to hang the six tiny glass ornaments, and that we do all of our shopping for each other on Christmas Eve.

That’s the Grills With for us. Then there’s all the other things you can have with it, family, new traditions, travel, weather, etc. For the last several years, my family has been adding random ingredients into our recipe. Barring the Christmas my parents lived with us, we managed to keep Christmas morning to ourselves. But, they brought with them a load of other add-ons, some of which were their Grills With, no doubt. It made for a complicated set of holidays trimmed with anxiety over unspoken requirements and unknowable “givens”. This year, my dad is gone, my mom has moved away, my sisters aren’t traveling, many of our friends are out of town, and it looks like we will be back to basics again.

Perhaps my Grills With analogy is hard to follow, but it sticks in my head as the thing that is so simple but so complicated to actually have, much like the holidays. There are many assumptions and a coded language. There’s anxiety but also enjoyment if you can just manage it. And so, happiest of holidays to you. Enjoys your own Grills With and don’t try to explain it, just dig in and savor it. I will be.

Wait Stop

Lately, I’m spending a lot of time reminding myself to remember this moment. I’m taking mental photographs of everything and searing the remaining babyisms in my brain (the latest, and newest, clubhammer: the ending of the movie that leaves you wondering what will happen in the next movie. See: Mama, I can tell we’re going to get a clubhammer in this movie. What will Spiderman do next?! Also, if you haven’t seen Into the Spiderverse, it was great). If I get the chance to cuddle, I’m cuddling. And even though last week’s solo bedtimes were hard, I reminded myself overandoverandover that this prolonged reading/rocking/holding time was nearly past.

This is the time of year where one of the biggest growing up milestones happens. Santa. We’ve established here (and can you BELIEVE the oldest post is from 2009? You guys, we’ve been together nearly 10 years. I love you, too.) that Santa is alive and well and, no, I’m not willing to entertain your “beliefs” about the matter. After ten years, it’s like you don’t even know me. And we are not going to couples counseling. To the point, we’re fully committed to Santa. We read the books (this one, in particular, is wonderful), we make the calls and get the videos, and we discuss the vagaries of chimney negotiation and “helpers.”

I imagine this will be the last year she visits and sits next to him. Some of her friends are already too grown-up for this activity and I imagine she’ll be one of the older ones visiting him this weekend. I don’t have any particular attachment to that moment because it’s not a part of my own childhood. Santa, my father explained, is far too busy to sit around listening to kids make their case right before Christmas. No, those are just guys in suits doing good deeds. So we’re done with “lap sitting” (there are not actual laps involved, thank goodness) and I’m probably not going to tear up. Probably.

Once she says she doesn’t believe anymore we’ll have a choice. Do we go the route my family took or do we go the popular route: Yes darling, you’re right, but now you get to be the Santa Claus for other people. I mean, I’m obviously buying the Santa gifts here. It will break my heart to say it. It looks like I won’t have to make the choice this year (we’re already picking the kind of cookies to leave out) and thank goodness for that. I’m still grieving my dad, I’m not ready to lose Santa.

Remember The Nanny?

You might want to start here. In 2012. Basically, nothing is different now. 

But you’re still reading, I guess, and so I should probably clarify again that there are no actual nannies. None. No nannies. Pity. Why aren’t there nannies?

Well, I am the nanny*. This week, anyway. Debra is away living her musician dreams and RR and I are spending the week together and trying not to catch the house on fire. I was actually prepared to not be the nanny this time. Who cares if she plays games on the iPad on a school night? So we eat McDonald’s for dinner, whatever. Bedtime? What’s that? She’s not going to suffer long-term because I’m only up to so-so parenting for five days. 

Apparently though, I’m not actually capable of dialing it back. During yesterday’s snow day we read books, practiced math, and made a gingerbread house from scratch. She had chicken, homemade buttermilk biscuits, and spinach for supper (which was delivered on time and arranged in a pleasingly fun face), wrote a sweet note to mail to her grandmother, and went to bed early after a story and lullabies. I did have one point of failure. Rather than going out to build a snowman with her, I just helped her make the face and then, when she came in cold and rosy-cheeked, gave her hot cocoa that I mixed up from a delicious recipe.

This morning I walked her to school, after using Debra’s guidelines to pack her the world’s most perfect lunch. I have no idea what this evening will hold but I’m willing to bet the nanny will have everything under control. Kidding, I’m not so crazy that I refer to myself in the third person. Yet.

I’m pretty sure we can blame this one on my mom so there’s something. When she mothered, she was over-the top wonderful. It always came with an equally over-the-top crash at the end and, as I got older and less cute, stopped happening at all. I was relieved, actually. The hills and valleys were exhausting. I don’t think she ever pretended to be the nanny so I’m not sure I’m on the side of right here. But RR is happy and I’m amazing, even if I am maybe, a little, pretending to be something I’m not. 

*For those that don’t click links: Since RR has been alive, during lengthy times of being the sole caregiver, I’ve pretended I was the nanny. Nannies get paid to be awesome and patient and perfect and I’m a much better mother when I pretend I get to go home at the end of the night. I swear I’m not as crazy as this makes me sound. Go read the post.