Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Four Stages of Good Grief: Gingerbread Edition

Before this holiday season I had never baked cookies before, ever. Not once. It's not that I have anything against baking cookies, it just never rose to the level of something I wanted to do enough to actually do it.

But kids are magical like that.

Both Judah and Noah heard a lot about the gingerbread man at their respective schools and kept asking if we could make some. So we did.

And I found out there are 4 stages of gingerbread cookie making.

Stage 1: Rolling out the dough and cutting the cookies. It's just like play-doh!

Stage 2: Decorating the cookies. Ridiculously messy. And sprinkles are from hell.

Stage 3: Eating the cookies. Mmmm high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Cancer tastes delicious.

Stage 4: Recreating the experience with play-doh! Noah actually ripped up pieces of paper-gingerbread men to put on his play-doh. Adorable example of art imitating life. Except they were Judah's paper-gingerbread men. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth.

And there you have it! A tradition is born.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Did Thanksgiving Happen?

How is it possible that we're in the middle of December already?!?!

It honestly felt like we just celebrated Thanksgiving last weekend...or did we?

Every year I'm amazed by the speeding bullet train that carries us along after the week of Thanksgiving break. Every weekend in December is chock full of holiday parties and gatherings, visits from relatives, on top of the USUAL baby showers and birthday parties because people don't stop being born just because it's the holidays.

And of course I love it. I am a Christmas fanatic and nothing lights me up like holiday cheer. In your head, just picture Will Ferrell from Elf.

But seriously, what happened to Thanksgiving?

I remember vaguely, on the day of Thanksgiving, I combed through the internet looking for a good article on giving thanks. I would have loved to see something in the New York Times or Huffington Post about the science behind cultivating gratitude.

It could have read: Thanks Giving: how not to suck so much at being grateful.

The intro paragraphs would cite multiple well known positive psychologists and how they all agree that being thankful is one of the most important, if not THE most important traits for human flourishing and mental well-being.

Then the body of the article would explore all the reasons why humans are prone to discount what they already have, take things for granted, and have gratitude-amnesia when it comes to the good things in their life.

And finally it would conclude with tips on how to cultivate gratitude. Not just some rote recounting of things that we OUGHT to be grateful for - but some real heart-hitting activities that make us feel truly, truly, truly grateful.

Because I needed an article like that. I still need an article like that.

I want my thanksgiving to move beyond an academic acknowledgement of my relative position of privilege as compared to 99% of the world, and into a real, genuine, emotion-filled out pouring of wonder and awe that I should be so lucky. So blessed. So unbelievably blessed.

On thanksgiving day we went to a soup kitchen to serve food to the homeless. I felt like it was high-time for Judah to actually see people who were in need. I always tell him how lucky he is to have an abundance of food and shelter, but it's all theoretical to him when we live in a nice secluded suburb, far away from any kind of real material lack.

Mommy, you always say there are poor people, but how come I never see them?

That's a good point son.

Judah happily serves himself at the soup kitchen.

And so we went to witness poverty. Within 10 minutes of entering the soup kitchen Judah announces that he's bored to death and pleads fervently to go home.

I'm not sure what was going on in his head, but I think Judah was underwhelmed by poverty. Homeless people look just like us. They seemed just like regular people and there was nothing particularly exciting or entertaining about serving food to them and interacting with them. In fact, it was pretty hard to pick out the indigent from other people who were just there to help.

And therein lies the truth -- but for grace, there go we.

What separates us from those who have no shelter, no human capital, no possessions and no reasonable opportunities for advancement? Who have little executive control, resilience, optimism, and grit? Who have not the means to obtain means?

Gifts. Many, many good gifts.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

We Can Save Each Others Lives

This month is "mental health" month on Buzzfeed, or something like that.

Which means I get to see a lot of articles on FB about postpartum depression. Like these:
An Honest Conversation with Women of Color About Postpartum Mood Disorders
Is Postpartum Depression Really Postpartum Neglect?

Which means I get to reminisce about those crazy early months of motherhood and relive the horror and exhaustion in my mind.

When my first baby was born he was extremely colicky, sensitive and had horrible reflux. He would NEVER nap unless he was strapped to my body and I was IN MOTION the entire time. He would throw up rivers of breast milk all throughout the day to the point where, after changing my shirt 4 times in an hour, I just gave up and wore spit-up clothes the rest of the day. Hey, it's the "tie-dye" look!

But the worst thing about his reflux was how he would arch his back and wail in pain while he was frantically trying to nurse - crazed with hunger, but burning with acid when he swallowed. The entire nursing experience was a Catch-22 nightmare.

Often in his distress, he would scratch and pull behind his ears until it was a bloody mess.

To say I was stressed is an absurd understatement. I frankly marvel that I didn't develop some kind of horrific autoimmune disease from all the prolonged stress.

Looking back, it is obvious I had PPD or something like it. What kind of mental health toll does it take on a person when he/she has no idea how to take care of or comfort his/her baby who needs 24-7 care (waking up 3-5 times every night and constant holding during the day)?

It doesn't really matter if there's a label/diagnosis slapped on it or not. If you are getting less than 4 hours of quality sleep per day for months on end and you have about 25 minutes of self-care time per day (in which you triage showering, eating, napping, and socializing), your mental health is going to be pretty much shot to hell - diagnosis or not.

But what makes it even worse? The feeling that no one else is failing and flailing quite like you. Far from it. Why are all the other moms looking and sounding so normal?

I remember visiting a "new moms" support group when Judah was 10 weeks old thinking - all these women look so NORMAL. WHY AM I SUCH A FREAK?!

And then a few months later I looked at photos of myself during that period and realized, oh, I looked normal too. Even cheerful. Ha! What a load of crock.

Me during one of the lowest and darkest moments of my life, seriously.

But truly, there are undoubtedly new moms who take it all in stride.

Maybe they have a really good friend/family support structure.

Maybe they're just really good at asking for help when they need it.

Maybe they have the means to hire excellent child care.

Maybe they have one of those legendary "angel" babies who nap without assistance for 18 hours a day like all the books say they're supposed to.

Maybe they are just temperamentally comfortable with chaos and lack of structure/routine.

Maybe they are perennial optimists with strong can-do attitudes (I've actually met a new mom like that and I've never been more envious in my life).

All this to say, my number one advice to new moms is always this - if/when you're feeling "blue", seek help. If you're not ready or comfortable getting medical help, at least join a new mom support group in which women truly open up and share. (These are everywhere - in almost every hospital and even an online community is better than nothing.) You will feel less like a freak and a failure.

You will realize the struggles are real. And common.

You will get lots of sympathetic "hmms" and "ahhhs" when you share about clueless partners and callous in-laws.

You will feel informed and validated no matter if you choose to breast-feed or bottle-feed, baby-wear or not, sleep-train or co-sleep, stay-at-home or work full-time, etc.

It's jarring to realize that we are not self-sufficient (especially in our highly individualistic culture). Indeed, even the prototypical "mom and dad" are usually not enough. Now I realize why those with means always had extensive, full-time childcare employees - nannies, governesses, etc.

But there you have it.

Parents are the opposite of self-sufficient.

Especially new moms.