December 2015

The Cousin Experience

They’re on every young child’s holiday wish list. Our house certainly doesn’t need more of them. Toys are quickly forgotten, broken, outgrown or sucked up by the vacuum. Instead of giving in to their trendy toy desires, our extended family has created the Cousin Experience.

There are eight young cousins in our family. They range in age from five to thirteen years old. Every year we parents would frantically communicate with each other about our child’s top toy picks. Kids’ lists would include a wide variety of materialistic junk. We’d stress over ideas, race to stores, wrap the gifts and then haul the whole mess over to the celebration.

Family Christmas gatherings would yield a towering mountain of plastic packaging and heaps of shredded wrapping paper. Was there a way to improve upon the cousin Christmas? There had to be. We put our heads together and hatched a plan. I’m no Grinch, but limiting the amount of stuff our kids received sounded like a worthy idea.

More stuff.

More stuff.

With parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents and Santa delivering presents a plenty, kids were ending up with sleigh loads of stuff. Stuff is fun for a while. But, I can’t recall a single gift any of my kids received from a cousin over the years. It’s all mass produced, forgettable paraphernalia. Stuff is only special for a short while. When I asked them, there was a long awkward pause before my kids said simply they too couldn’t quite remember cousin gifts from Christmases past.

When the kids were younger we did allow them to exchange gifts. Cousins picked names from a hat and got a present for that person. In the early days, that route was easier than embarking on an experience. A few years ago we switched it up. What a great decision that was. We’ve never looked back.

Vivid memories of our day at CHILL at the Queen Mary last year are alive and well at family gatherings. Ice-skating with eight wobbly skaters rendered many screeches and plenty of hearty laughter. We narrowly avoided disaster when my daughter carelessly formed an arabesque on ice and nearly beheaded a nearby skater. Flying down the indoor ice hill on a sled, frigid wind blowing through their hair, beside cousins is priceless. Soaring through the air on swings from Neverland Ranch together twenty times in a row is a memory they’re sure to savor for years.

MJ's swings.

MJ’s swings.

Not the best place to strike a pose.

Not the best place to strike a pose.

A little help from a friend.

A little help from a friend.

Cousins on ice.

Cousins on ice.

This epic picture was taken while yours truly was in the restroom.

This epic picture was taken while yours truly was in the restroom.

One year we experienced an interactive pirate dinner theatre show together. Although the meal was barely fit for humans, the cousins bonded over watching skilled dancers fling themselves around on a giant pirate ship. They even braved the stage together at the show’s finale. It’s fun rehashing those pirate memories.

This year we’re planning a day trip on the train. We haven’t quite decided where our final destination lies. Maybe we’ll journey to San Diego for the day or possibly up to the City of Angels. It doesn’t matter where we go. It matters that we’ll all be together. One big loud, laughing bunch of cousins hanging out.

It’s not always easy to carve out quality cousin time. With everyone’s hectic schedules and busy lives, it gets tough to coordinate. We make the time though. The Cousin Experience allows us to bypass plastic stuff and have fun while creating crazy, happy memories together instead.

All the cousins with Grandma.

All the cousins with Grandma.

‘Tis the Season: How I Survived Postpartum Depression

As my over active toddler yanked the sparkly ornament hanging on our Christmas tree, I frantically shouted “NO!” at him from upstairs.

Too late.

Our glimmering six foot live evergreen had already come crashing down onto the hardwood floor.

Precious ornaments in all shapes and sizes lay shattered all around the overturned tree. Water pooled on the floor, threatening to ruin that too. Hot, angry tears streamed down my face as I stared down at the mess below. Somehow I gathered myself together and hoisted the tree upright. Again it fell, breaking more ornaments and causing extra unwelcome stress and chaos.

Somehow, through my veil of tears, I captured the fallen tree.

Through my veil of tears, I captured a picture of the  fallen tree.

 

I’d given birth to our fourth child only two weeks before. Christmas was in full swing. My husband had already left on an international business trip and I was alone with our four children, all under the age of five. My life felt like it had spiraled out of control. For the first time ever, I knew that postpartum depression had sunken its ugly claws into my life.

Our first child shocked us all when she arrived six weeks early. It was unbearably difficult to leave my first born baby in the arms of strangers for two weeks in the NICU. Despite the frustration and sadness of leaving my baby, I never exprienced any postpartum depression. We welcomed two more babies over the next couple of years. Another premature delivery landed our baby in the NICU. Still, no depression. Life with three young kids was crazy and chaotic, but happy. I’d wanted to be a mom my entire life. I was living my dream.

But with the arrival of #4, things changed. I’d lost my rhythm. My toddler was the most challenging of all my kids and he was relentless. He fought me on everything from changing his diaper to afternoon naps. He’d take off running out the front door, buck naked, as I’d sit nursing the baby on the couch. As I’d change his brother’s diaper, he’d climb into the fridge, pull down all the glass jars and watch as they’d roll into the ground and explode. Things that had been somewhat easy with the first two kids, were exhausting and impossible with my tireless toddler.

I cried every single day. Sometimes my husband would come home from work, look at me, and I’d begin weeping again. I felt trapped. Friends and strangers would cheerfully tell me they had “no idea how I did it all”. Or, say “you’re amazing”.

I felt like a total fraud.

I was definitely not amazing at this mom gig anymore. The sad truth was I did not feel like I was doing any of it right. At all. I was barely scraping by. I wanted desperately to snap out of it. But, I couldn’t. Day after day, I endured.

There was no spare time to see a doctor of any kind for help. I didn’t feel that I could burden even my closest confidants with these innermost sorrows. After all, we’d planned all four of our children. We’d purposely had them close together too. I didn’t want anyone to think I was searching for sympathy by unloading my deep, dark struggles. My oldest was in preschool, but only for a few hours a week. I was shackled with young kids all day every day. My days were confining.image

I thought about the mom suffering from postpartum depression I’d heard of on the news who’d drowned all three of her children in the tub during their evening bath. I could relate.

And that terrified me.

That first year of life with four very young children is mostly a blur. I finally saw a doctor who, after I broke down sobbing in her office, prescribed antidepressants for me. Although I knew I wouldn’t be able to follow through, she made me agree to see a therapist.

Time passed. I religiously swallowed the magical little pill daily. I could feel myself regaining control and confidence. Although I was steadily returning to my normal self, I worried about what would happen when I stopped taking the antidepressant.

Would my life once again begin imploding?

After nearly a year, I slowly weaned myself from the medicine. It was scary. Uncertain. With four children and a husband, who relied on me, there was no time for a relapse. I didn’t know if I was up for the challenge.

But, I did it.

I completely stopped taking the antidepressant. Life slowly resumed a new normal. I haven’t had any intense, long-term depression since. I’ve experienced normal days of gloomy sadness. But, I always come out the other side fairly quickly.

Any type of depression carries a social stigma. It’s not entirely acceptable to admit to having depression; being faulty. Imperfect. As a new mom of four, I’d felt immense pressure to publicly perform. I was constantly watched and judged by others wherever I went. At the grocery store, I’d have three little ones crammed into a shopping cart, and the baby strapped to my abdomen. I was a traveling circus and a sight to behold.

My advice to the mamas who are experiencing postpartum depression is: keep going. Put one foot in front of the other. Reach out to other moms. When I had a smaller batch of kids I was involved in various mommy groups. It’s helpful to have a play date at the park with a group of moms sharing many of your struggles. Despite the impossible schedule that a quad of young kids imposes, I wish I’d forced myself to attend playgroups and Mom’s nights outs.

Seek counseling. It’s difficult to find a regular daytime babysitter who will babysit very limited hours. But, they’re out there. Swap babysitting with another mom. Fully unleashing my anxiety, grief and nonstop sadness onto someone whom I didn’t need to impress with my Mom skills would’ve been blissful. Get out of the house. Visit the park and soak in the fresh air and sunshine. Walk the mall if it’s rainy or cold.

I’m not sure my road out of the depths of postpartum depression was the ideal exit strategy. But, it worked for me. Those dark days are now only a memory from five years ago. My baby turned five years old today. Remembering how it was then brings up emotions I buried years ago.

I no longer have excessive anxiety surrounding messing up as a mom. I’m learning alongside my kids. I’m exploring uncharted territory with my ten year old that I only knew to be true in movies. Made for Hollywood sassiness, off the charts hormones and the ability to keep loving her, even after she screams “I hate you” at me.

In other words, I still generally have no clue what I’m doing. But, I’m figuring it out as I go. And I’m not afraid to laugh about my mistakes, and keep going.image

Yoga Pants or Heels?

Yoga pants are my mom uniform. I throw on a tank top, pull on my trusty stretchy and oh so comfy yoga pants and I’m ready to go in under five minutes. They hold everything securely in place. I’m no eye shadow blending, hair curling, accessorizing daily diva. But, being ready in under 5 could never happen without yoga pants involved. Workout wear is the socially acceptable way to look like we slept under a bus. It says “I’m sporty and active and maybe even just exercised”.image

There are moms who look jaw dropping amazing every day. I am not one of them. I belong to the get ready as fast as possible, without looking 100% homeless in the end, club. If I’ve showered, blow dried and have slathered on under eye concealer, to hide evidence of my sleep deprivation, I’ve gone to great lengths to prepare myself.

You know about those moms. They look like they’re ready for date night all day, every day. They’re perfectly polished. Coifed. Manicured. They appear drop dead gorgeous. How do they have the time to dress up like runway models every single day? Their hair perfectly curled in those long, loose ringlets. I’ve never mastered that tress technique. Their outfits look like they’re straight out of a glossy fashion magazine.

Those heels. Women everywhere know that heels are not our friends. Heels, after a few kids is miserable. Heels, post-kids, hiking into the elementary school for an hour of helping in junior’s class, or enduring a PTA meeting, is sheer hell. At school pick up time, I watch as they float along in their teetering heels. The sidewalk is their runway, as they strut their stuff. Hand in hand with ‘Lil Susie, their hair blowing ever so slightly in the gentle breeze, not a trace of the uncomfortable misery on their faces. But I know. I know they’re suffering. Extreme effort and sometimes even pain is required to uphold the latest trends.

As I sneak glances at them, I try to not to feel shame. Should’ve taken the time to blow dry my hair. It’s crazy frizzy and I look like I’m channeling Tina Turner. Not cool. I’m now on the three week plan at my hair salon. Unwelcome grey roots shoot up every three weeks. Seriously? I’m not ready to look 76 years old quite yet. No way can I get in there every three weeks to have them painted into oblivion though. Shoot. Forgot to wipe off all those smears off my black yoga pants. What is that all over them, anyway? No make-up. I’m officially organic today. Teeth. I’ll brush extra carefully at bedtime. No close talking for me.

No matter how we’re packaged on the outside, we all share similar mom struggles. Our toddlers throw their spaghetti on the dog and our mouthy tweens complain about pretty much everything. Laundry is the enemy. Coffee and wine are our cohorts. We endlessly remind kids to clean up their messes. We spend too much money at Target and forget what even prompted us to stop there in the first place. We lie awake in bed at night worrying about if we’re doing it all right. We over schedule and undercook. We try to strike just the right balance within our traveling circus act. We love our little monsters so much it hurts, and who make the title, “Mom” possible.

What I’ve learned about fancy moms and frizzy moms, is that we’re all doing the best we know how. (And sincerely hoping we don’t lose our marbles trying).
Yoga pants are my mom uniform. I throw on a tank top, pull on my trusty stretchy and oh so comfy yoga pants and I’m ready to go in under five minutes. They hold everything securely in place. I’m no eye shadow blending, hair curling, accessorizing daily diva. But, being ready in under 5 could never happen without yoga pants involved. Workout wear is the socially acceptable way to look like we slept under a bus. It says “I’m sporty and active and maybe even just exercised”.

There are moms who look jaw dropping amazing every day. I am not one of them. I belong to the get ready as fast as possible, without looking 100% homeless in the end, club. If I’ve showered, blow dried and have slathered on under eye concealer, to hide evidence of my sleep deprivation, I’ve gone to great lengths to prepare myself.

You know about those moms. They look like they’re ready for date night all day, every day. They’re perfectly polished. Coifed. Manicured. They appear drop dead gorgeous. How do they have the time to dress up like runway models every single day? Their hair perfectly curled in those long, loose ringlets. I’ve never mastered that tress technique. Their outfits look like they’re straight out of a glossy fashion magazine.

Those heels. Women everywhere know that heels are not our friends. Heels, after a few kids is miserable. Heels, post-kids, hiking into the elementary school for an hour of helping in junior’s class, or enduring a PTA meeting, is sheer hell. At school pick up time, I watch as they float along in their teetering heels. The sidewalk is their runway, as they strut their stuff. Hand in hand with ‘Lil Susie, their hair blowing ever so slightly in the gentle breeze, not a trace of the uncomfortable misery on their faces. But I know. I know they’re suffering. Extreme effort and sometimes even pain is required to uphold the latest trends.

As I sneak glances at them, I try to not to feel shame. Should’ve taken the time to blow dry my hair. It’s crazy frizzy and I look like white girl Tina Turner. Not cool. I’m now on the three week plan at my hair salon. Unwelcome grey roots shoot up every three weeks. Seriously? I’m not ready to look 76 years old quite yet. No way can I get in there every three weeks to have them painted into oblivion though. Shoot. Forgot to wipe off all those smears off my black yoga pants. What is that all over them, anyway? No make-up. I’m officially organic today. Teeth. I’ll brush extra carefully at bedtime. No close talking for me.

No matter how we’re packaged on the outside, we all share similar mom struggles. Our toddlers throw their spaghetti on the dog and our mouthy tweens complain about pretty much everything. Laundry is the enemy. Coffee and wine are our cohorts. We endlessly remind kids to clean up their messes. We spend too much money at Target and forget what even prompted us to stop there in the first place. We lie awake in bed at night worrying about if we’re doing it all right. We over schedule and undercook. We try to strike just the right balance within our traveling circus act. We love our little monsters so much it hurts, and who make the title, “Mom” possible.

What I’ve learned about fancy moms and frizzy moms, is that we’re all doing the best we know how. (And sincerely hoping we don’t lose our marbles trying).