Falling down

This fall has been a whirlwind.

I started teaching elementary school. Third grade. I did this without any training or background in education. I did this with only a certificate from the state that said I could and my own belief that this had to be better than what I was doing.

I have cried and given up and lost my temper and continued to show up every day, because at the very least that’s the best I can do. I owe those 8- and 9-year-olds in my care at least that. My presence.

Teaching reminds me of the first time I was pregnant. I had no idea what it would actually be like to be somebody’s mom, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Life will be different, sure, I’d thought. But I can handle that; we’ll figure it out without too much trouble.

Flash forward to two weeks after my son was born and I was thinking,¬†“What did I do to my life?”

He wouldn’t sleep unless he was nursing, and “nursing” for him meant snacking and pacifying until he fell asleep. It was an endless, thankless cycle. He was also tongue-tied, so nursing was a lot of work, and he was never full. There is a photograph of 25-year-old me and 4-week-old him, and he looks like a skeleton with taut, pale skin. I can barely look at it.

So teaching has been that. It has been the false confidence that I could figure it out without too much struggle, without so much exhaustion, without the roller coaster of emotions. It has been that I was wrong about everything.

In reality, it has been an overdrawn checking account and generic food from the grocery store.

It has been resilience so many times, if only in the fact that I haven’t quit.

I love the kids I teach. I do not love much else. Picture any job you’ve ever had and the drama that came with it. Then, put 500 elementary-school-aged children into that picture with you.

Yeah.

That.

However, one boy told me he wants to go to Stanford when he grows up. This is the same boy who reaches out to the autistic child in my room to make sure he’s OK, the same one who quickly goes to help a classmate who accidentally knocked over the caddy full of crayons and glue sticks.

Another girl found out she was receiving an award at school yesterday and came to school in her best white satin dress and high white heels. She had curled her own hair.

During work time in writing yesterday, she came to me and said, “Mrs. Harvey, I can’t believe I forgot to shave my arms!”

She brushed her hand over her forearm, and I said,” Your arms? No, sweet pea, don’t shave your arms!”

Then she told me her mom does, and so I showed her my forearm and told her most women don’t shave the top of their arms (“just their armpits,” I whispered).

She just smiled at me, like I simply wasn’t in on the way real grown-up women (and third-graders) do things.

She is one of my favorites.

Another boy is a foster child with the most charismatic smile ever.

Another boy sobbed yesterday because two classmates wouldn’t let him join their math game. But when I pressed him, he said it was really because he hasn’t seen his dad in a year.

A girl in another class, to whom I teach writing, chose her family as the topic of an informational text she is writing. Her first chapter is about her mom. Her second is about her dad. Yesterday, she said, “I don’t really know much about my dad. He’s never been in my life. How do I write about him?”

Maybe you don’t, sweet pea. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe there is so much I don’t know.

At home, we are sometimes good and many times stressed. Lila has figured out that she’s 2 and that there is a phrase that rhymes with “Merrible Moos.” She has discovered her voice. That one that sounds really loud and shriek-like whenever she doesn’t get her way. This week, she learned that she can pull the keys off the MacBook Pro when left unattended with our family’s only computer. I am now typing on a keyboard that’s missing the M, D, Z and other non-letter buttons.

Fantastic.

Lila, though, has also learned to say, “I love you,” and give Eskimo kisses and talk regularly in full, complete sentences and dance and laugh and twirl and make us laugh more than anything else. She is the sun.

Rye tried out for a competitive boys basketball team the other night. It was courage in action. It was him knowing other boys are better than he is but deciding to show up anyway. It was a round robin of layups, dribbling, jump shots and scrimmaging while the coaches with clipboards circulated, quietly talking to each other. It was the way the world is; it was the haves and have-nots, the who you know and who you don’t; the who knows you or your husband; the who has the right basketball shoes and Under Armour technical t-shirts and who doesn’t; whose mom has the cutest tall leather boots, expensive jeans and straightened hair; whose mom knows the other moms.

I had to leave the gym a couple times to go outside and run because I was suffocating from it all.

Rye did not make the team. He choked back tears as the coach on the other end of the phone told him he hadn’t made it, that he should keep practicing, working on his skills, blah, blah, blah. Sitting next to him in the living room, I could tell he just wanted to hide, to pull himself into a ball and tuck himself into cushion of the oversized chair.

I cried for him; he moved on. The next day, he told me most of the kids who tried out hadn’t made it and he’d just play in the recreational league. He is OK. And I hope he is as proud of himself as I am of him.

I also hope I can let go of the Mama Bear inside who is raging at the way the world works, the way rejection feels and wishing my Wonder Woman bracelets could keep that pain away from my babies.

Lots of work to do.

Onward.

Advertisements

A million terrifying questions

I spent yesterday afternoon visiting a house for sale with my husband and then lamenting the fact the yard was too small, the neighborhood was too cookie-cutter, the HOA was likely too ridiculous and, most of all, the price was too high.

I was obsessed with this, all of this. After the showing, I engaged the husband in a long conversation about homes and what I didn’t like about ours and what I did like about the interior of the one we’d seen, why we needed a house like that, why it would make us happier. He countered with all the reasons it would not make him happier. Very reasonable reasons. The yard is awful, tiny, small, an open book to not only neighbors but also anyone and everyone driving past on the busy street it borders. No chickens, no vintage travel trailer turned office. No coffee outside in the backyard because, well, it blows.

But the house, babe. The house is amazing. The inside of the house is perfect. It has four bedrooms! And a kitchen with an island! And the kitchen opens up into a family room! And it has an upstairs! And a master bedroom with a walk-in closet and a bathroom! And the kids would have their own bathroom! Upstairs! Away from us!

Etc.

While this was happening, this exhausting, laborious, neurotic examination of needs vs. wants, gimmes, shiny objects, etc., my two older babies were in a car accident.

They are spending the week with their dad and his fiance, who live in Denver, and they were on their way to Estes Park to celebrate Christmas with grandparents.

I got a text from my ex-husband while walking into yoga class late yesterday afternoon.

“Hey,” it said. “Just wanted you to know I got in a car accident with the kids in the back. Everyone is perfectly fine. It was just scary.”

Apparently, a lady ran a stop sign and my ex-husband swerved to miss her, skidding into a telephone pole. The airbags deployed.

The airbags deployed.

The airbags deployed.

The car is in rough shape.

They were back on the road in their second car by the time he texted to let me know.

They were back on the road.

Back on the road.

I had a million questions. Did anyone hit their head? (no) Is everyone OK? (yes) Did the airbags in the backseat deploy? (no) Did Paige cry? Did Rye? What were they doing when the accident happened? Talking? Using their iPads? Sleeping? What side of the car got banged up? Could the kids open their doors to get out? Where did they wait while they waited for the police and paperwork and all that? How did they get back home to get the other car? Did either of them have nightmares last night?

I did not ask all those questions, though they keep running through my mind. Let them be OK is the mantra of every parent, and it seems somehow even more important when someone else is in charge, when you have absolutely zero control. Please. Let them be OK.

They are in high spirits, the text said, and so, well, I’m playing the role of part-time parent this week, hoping they truly are OK, waiting six more days to ask them about it myself, to hug them, touch them, see their faces.

Today, part of me is still thinking about our home and other prospects. My intent is noble (or a less dramatic version of that word): I want us all to be comfortable in our home. I want a space that feels positive and warm and can be the brick and mortar behind the memories for the next 18 years. If I had a magic wand, that would be in a neighborhood with kids everywhere, close to the elementary school, with a huge yard, some character indoors and a price tag we could afford.

But I am also thinking about my babies, scared, cold, in a cracked-up car. Accidents happen every single day, and when it happens to you, the frailty of life sinks in even more.

It’s terrifying and perspective-buying. All I can do is be thankful no one was hurt, be grateful the husband and I weren’t packing a bag to race to a hospital in Denver last night, be oh-so-satisfied with the wonders we already own.

Laughter as often as it comes

The babies are back and the new one is growing and, whew, where does all this life go so fast?

Six weeks until my due date with this little creature inside of my belly. The way she turns or pokes or prods or whatever it is exactly she’s doing sometimes startles me. Like last night, curled in bed next to the rock star, little pieces of feet or something¬†began protruding just underneath the thin skin of what was once the inside of my bellybutton.

I could feel the body parts, someone else’s body parts, under my skin. It’s unsettling. And amazing. Sort of at the same time.

This hasn’t been the pregnancy I envisioned, and it’s been difficult for me to not compare this experience with my last go-round at growing a baby. Then, my life basically on the brink of imploding, the pregnancy was second string to the emotional mess I’d made of so much else. I ate very little, I cried all the time, I exercised a lot … consequently, I gained only 25 pounds and was back in my pre-pregnancy clothes within two weeks.

That part – the appearance part – was lovely. So was the labor and delivery, which was fairly quick and easy and uncomplicated. And, of course, the sweet, sweet baby girl, who along with her brother, continues to make my world go round.

That was all good, despite the mess of the rest of my life (those dark days, of course, would eventually lead to where my life was supposed to be all along, and for that, I am thankful). But at the time, I wasn’t sure where we would all land.

So this time around, happily married to a supportive, gentle, trusting man, I gave up exercising months ago and I’ve pretty much been eating whatever I want. I’ve already gained 33 pounds.

(Which, yes, does freak me out, and if anyone follows me on Pinterest explains the numerous workout pins of late).

But the baby is growing as she should, and I’m rolling myself out of bed each morning as I should and ignoring the swollen stumps my legs and feet have turned into as best I can and getting on with it all, enduring, moving forward, with anticipation and hope and laughter as often as it comes.

Isn’t that, at the end of the day, the best we can do anyway?

Looking forward with laughter and love and hope that tastes like sun just might be the answer to it all.

For every reason

Last spring, I started taking an antidepressant.

It very literally changed me, saved me, rescued my family, my marriage from a place that no one liked, from a depth so deep I didn’t recognize how far down it was until I was out of it.

I went to the doctor back then under the guise of wanting a physical. Really, I wanted a buoy. I wanted to be brave enough to tell someone who might be able to help how bad things were. I wanted to no longer lay in my bed and cry for no reason. I wanted to be tolerant, patient, calm all the time with my sweet children. I wanted my husband to continue to love me. I no longer wanted to be that thing everyone tiptoed past, in case she lost it. For no reason.

For me, of course, it wasn’t no reason. It was every reason. It was the pancakes I made that didn’t turn out. It was my husband, who is amazingly great, not putting his hand on my knee while we watched TV at night even though I had touched his arm. It was that dream job I used to have but lost because I made a stupid, ego-driven decision. Because I didn’t listen. Because I was dumb. It was everything. It was nothing.

So I talked to the doctor. I was brave. I cried for about half an hour. She listened like a girlfriend. I told her I missed Omaha. I told her about that job. I told her about my kids and my husband and my I’m-not-ever-enough fear. She told me to take the medication.

I didn’t. I filled the prescription and let it sit in our medicine cabinet for about a month and a half. The little things that were nothing things continued to grow in my mind. I continued to not handle life very well.

I continued to feel bad about myself, about my behaviors, about my emotions. I continued to unintentionally damage my marriage and my family.

Finally, I decided: What do I have to lose? Take the pills.

And I did and within three weeks, that hole became shallower, that low became higher. By summer, I felt what I suspected normal must feel like. I no longer fixated on things that didn’t really exist. I suddenly had an ability to let things go that I’d never had before. I still sobbed til the point I couldn’t speak when I dropped my kids off with their dad for his month-long visit last summer. But I recovered quickly. Within 15 minutes, I felt stable. My mind was clear.

Life was good. Even my husband will tell you, the past seven months have been as close to what he hopes our lives will feel like as they’ve ever been.

It’s OK to take medication, if you need it. It’s OK to ask for help. Don’t be a hero, my friend back home reminds me.

But then I got pregnant and then I googled “Celexa and pregnancy” and then I panicked. Cleft lips, cleft palates, withdrawal symptoms in the newborn, persistent pulmonary hypertension (a serious lung condition), heart defects … they’ve all been linked to Celexa use in pregnancy.

I asked my OB, who said, “Yes, those risks exist, but your baby might suffer those birth defects anyway.” I asked my OB, who said, “I’d recommend you stay on the medication.”

Well. I didn’t. I stopped taking those pills that saved my family from myself. And now, about a month later, I’m back down in that hole in the corner of my bedroom in the dark. Those thoughts about things that don’t matter take up too much space in my head. I cry like I used to. I’m a mess. It has not been fair on my husband or my children.

Once again, I miss Omaha, I miss momaha, I miss my friends like I can’t breathe. Kyle says, “Take the medicine. I’m worried about you. This is our affecting our family.”

So today I went back to that doctor, that medical therapist almost, who so kindly listened to me cry in her office last year. She said, “Take the medicine.”

And so this afternoon, on Valentine’s Day, I’m trying to remember how clear it all feels when I’m on the medication, how better our lives are, how it’s OK to accept the help that fixes the chemical imbalance in my brain, the one that isn’t my fault, the one I can’t control on my own no matter how much I tell myself to suck it up and be strong and get through it.

I’m trying to trust in the universe that if I take the pills I need to be who I truly am, my babies will be OK. Please, let them be OK. Let us all.

The doctor gave me a lower dosage of the antidepressants. Those pills are waiting for me at the pharmacy.

I am going to pick them up… probably tomorrow.

As I left the doctor’s office this afternoon, I took off my winter coat. The sun was shining, and though the streets and yards are still muddy and dirty and wet, I can tell spring is coming.

It’s just around the bend.