Monday 21 November 2011

The Second Year of Motherhood; Or, How I Served Up Two-And-A-Half-Year-Old Pie

It is no secret that I have struggled a lot this year.  I have found the second year of motherhood so, so much harder than the first. Mothering two babies is intense, but I managed it by staying in the house a lot and taking on absolutely no extra commitments. This year, that hasn't felt like an option. 

I don't know. I find toddlers much harder to handle than babies, but the expectation seems to be that my life should be getting back to 'normal', now. People are asking me to do stuff again, stuff it's impossible to say no to. The expectation seems to be that after having kids for two years, I should be able to manage normal human responsibilities again. I should have hit my stride. And I did, I guess, but this year I feel like my stride sort of hit me back. 

This seems to have all started about the time I went back to work (two days a week, people, two days a week). I feel like that was the milestone that meant I had to start carrying my load again - socially, in the extended family, at church and yeah, just in my own head. I feel like I can no longer say 'no, I can't do that totally reasonable thing you've just asked me to because I am TOO OVERWHELMED by my life' when I'm also saying 'please relate to me as a serious, professional woman'. 

I feel like I somehow just should be able to manage my life now: get myself places on time; cook for the sick; all the stuff I joked about here. But that doesn't seem to be how things are. This is partly because work -  previously an annoying hum in the background of my life - has suddenly gone crazy. I was working hard before, but now I can feel it taking me over. It has never stopped been a significant aspect of my life, obviously, but it feels very front and centre now, even when I'm not physically there. If work is the shark swimming around in my subconscious, it has gone from feeling like this: 

it's there, but I can sort of ignore it when I'm not looking directly at it 
 to this:

and I'm trying to figure out how to make it fit in with everything else I have to do without getting eaten alive.

I'm not doing so well.

Last week, every single minute of every single day was scheduled. I don't mean scheduled activities like Toddler Yoga (don't you know me at all?) but we had friends over every day and we were busy every evening and on Saturday too, and this introvert does not cope well with that much contact with other humans and by the end of it I was pretty much in dissociative fugue

Speaking of having friends over, can I please digress here? I have no idea how everyone else manages to do friendship at this point in their lives.  I get it in my head - theoretically, I can see that having a close-knit group of local friends who are fighting the Poop Wars along with me would be by far the best way to survive with my sanity intact. But how am I supposed to make that work, timewise? This is a non-rhetorical question. I really want to know. We have free time in the morning. We can do stuff between about 10 and 12:30; 1 at the latest. The afternoons are a write-off because of naps and dinner and baths (when they're lucky) and some struggles with evening  behaviour.  I'm at work Wednesdays and Fridays. We always see my good friend H and her son and go to the library on Thursdays. This leaves me with 5 other hours in the week when I can see people or run errands. I used all 5 of them last week to do friend-y things. The total wall-to-wall scheduling of my days at home nearly killed me, even though I was extremely glad to be able to invest the time in those friendships. 

I guess I just kind of wonder - those of you who have that kind of close-knit local support group, how do you make that work, timewise? How do you find the hours in the day to put in that kind of commitment? None of my friends are friends with each other. So I try and I try, but I'm putting things into my diary four weeks in advance because I just can't seem to make the numbers add up to do it any other way. Or is that kind of thing (where you are always at each others' houses, cooking each other meals and putting each others' kids to bed so that you can all have frequent date nights) just an urban (okay, suburban) legend? Because it feel like it is the way motherhood is supposed to workand I feel like the only one who doesn't have it.  Do people really have that, or are lots and lots of people just lying about their village?  Curious minds want to know. Okay, digression over. 

So. Last week. Part of the reason I was so busy was that one of my friends had been scheduled to speak at a church prayer meeting but was sick and asked me to fill in for her. I'm going to be honest - I really didn't want to do it. It wasn't our church, I didn't know anybody and even though it was just a short slot about the school we're trying to start, it was a commitment I didn't really want. When she asked me to do it, I thought straw, meet camel's back. I wrestled and wrestled with my conscience about whether I should just say no way! and in the end I decided that no, I really had to do this, there was no other option. My conscience won.  

In the argument with my conscience, what I neglected to do was actually check my diary for that evening.  That is how I forgot that we had invited my sister's mother-in-law (henceforth MSMIL, who is visiting the UK at the moment, and whom I like very much) over for dinner on Tuesday night.  So. At 10:05 am Tuesday, I was racing around the kitchen, finishing up the breakfast cleanup in preparation for a visit from my new friend F at 10, ie five minutes ago.  I then had to race out to the lounge in response to a bellow of rage from Blue that always, always means that Pink has bitten him. Sure enough, his little hand had teeth marks. I drew him into me and he cried and cried next to my ear while I patted him. For thirty seconds, because then the phone rang. I would have left it, except I thought it was probably F, lost and asking for directions. With Blue bellowing in one ear, I was then rather surprised to hear MSMIL's voice asking me 'so, I was wondering what time you are going to come and pick me up this evening'. Indeed. 

I felt terrible - terrible. By that stage, I absolutely couldn't cancel the night's engagement. I also couldn't really hear her because of the screaming. I also couldn't ask her to phone back because F was due five minutes ago.  So I apologised profusely and... rescheduled. For Thursday. 

I enjoyed the time with F and got through the thing in the evening. Wednesday was definitely a shark-attack day at work. All the time there's a nagging voice in my head saying 'you have to make something suitably apologetically nice for dinner tomorrow!' but I mostly ignored it.  Got home late. Rummaged through the freezer. Found a box labelled 'pie insides' and I realised that it was this delicious thing - chicken, wine, rosemary, tarragon - just waiting to be put under a pastry lid. (Pastry from the shop, okay? Pastry from the shop). Definitely apologetic enough. I rejoiced.  

Thursday morning came, and I took it out of the freezer to thaw before its date with a pie dish and a hot oven.  At this point, I thought 'hmmm, I wonder when I made this?' and realised - I don't think I've made this recipe since before the babies. We used to have a regular weekly Thursday Pie Night - not always actually pie, but each week I would try a new recipe and John would attempt to get home before it congealed. This, an actual pie, was the dish for which pie night was named and it was both of our favourites. And I was pretty sure that I hadn't made it once since we became parents. That meant that I was standing and looking at two-and-a-half-year-old pie insides, unable to think of any other options for dinner, torn between potential botulism and a walk of shame to the supermarket chiller cabinet for something ready made. And really, I didn't want either. I just wanted to sit on the sofa and eat Doritos. I looked and looked at it, trying to make up my mind and feeling like a big pile of poo. Iwanted to cry great big heaving sobs at the tragedy of this frozen lump of food. 

How did I get to this point? I wondered. How can I be so utterly unable to manage my life that one dinner guest and one unexpected evening engagement is enough to tip me over the edge? I still don't have the answer to that question. I just know that it is enough to tip me over the edge. As I get older, I'm becoming more aware of my own limitations, and losing hope that I will ever become any sort of person than the one I am. What I haven't figured out is how to make it all work, or failing that, how to say 'I'm glad you can cope with preschoolers and work and still have energy left over for other social stuff but I cannot'.  

I struggle with understanding my own motivations for saying yes and saying no, too. Am I saying no because I'm lazy? Am I saying yes because I want other people to think that I'm on top of things, even when I'm not? There's a fine line, somewhere, between being real and being lazy. I don't know where that line is, but I always feel like I'm on the wrong side of it, no matter where I fall.  Usually it feels like I'm saying yes because I have no other choice, and then I hate myself for not miraculously finding some other way of getting out of stuff while not letting anybody down. Yeah, that's really going to happen. 

I do know that the busier I am, the harder it is to just relax and enjoy being with my kids. And the more I enjoy them, the better mother I am. No kidding, Claudia. Toddlers are hard work, obviously, but they are also uniquely delightful. There's something incredible about being there alongside two children while they wake up from the long sleep of infancy, as their gaze starts to turn outwards, as they begin to notice and narrate their strange and fabulous little world. I can finally start to see what is going on in their tiny little heads, see what is important to them, and it's both hilarious and a revelation. Mostly, they are thinking about animals, it seems, or their grandmothers. Pink put three words together for the first time a few months ago, saying bye-bye, big raaaah! to the lion sculpture at our local park. Blue's speech has been a bit slower, and he only did three words together for the first time last week. At first, I thought it was just toddler word salad - he came up with bath cat swimming! But then I looked and realised that he was tummy-down in his bath, thrashing his arms and legs and saying Miaaaoooowww! over and over again. Bath cat swimming, indeed. I love that crazy boy. 

I want to spend my time with them. But I've got to live in this world, too, I've got to go to work so that they can see their father on Wednesdays and Fridays, I've got to care about people outside of my own nuclear family even when I don't know how. I'm always glad I did it later, I just never want to do it right now

So, in the end, I hacked off a bit of the frozen pie insides with a wooden spoon and ate the chunk, ice crystals and all.  Food poisoning takes about six to nine hours to kick in, and it was still ten hours until dinner, so I figured that if I was still okay by the time I was pre-heating the oven, well, so was the pie. I was fine. The pie was delicious, and we all cleaned our plates. None of us got so much as a twinge (well, if MSMIL did, she never told me). It made me think: we should really institute Thursday Pie Night again. And we should invite friends.  We should do it every week! And then we can swap around to different people's houses! It will be such a great way to get to know people! Okay, I'll start thinking about babysitters - right, who will we invite? 

.... Um, yeah. Balance. Not going to find it that way, Claudia. Which is a shame, because it really would be fun; you know, if I was someone utterly different from the person I actually am.  Maybe we can do it later. Maybe life won't always feel this busy. Maybe I'll get my work under control. Maybe the tantrums will stop. Maybe I'll suddenly find that I'm sliding along in a groove after all. Maybe things will feel manageable again soon, and we can start it up in what, six months time? Right now, that feels like a great idea. But then I look at everything, and realise that nothing is going to change any time soon. This stage, this second-year-of-motherhood feeling, is already well into my third year. Maybe it's not the stage; maybe it's just me. Which is fine, I guess - if I can work out how to slow down enough to enjoy the wonderful parts of toddler-ing and not be chafing after a different sort of life, after being a different version of myself who would somehow manage all of this better. There is a lot about this time of life that is hard, but I want to enjoy the good parts as much as I can. 

So don't take it personally, but I won't be inviting you over for regular group dinners. Or, if I do, pre-book an appointment to see a gastrointestinal specialist.  You'll probably be eating two-and-a-half-year-old pie. 

Thursday 17 November 2011

Today's The Day....

...Adoption Bloggers Interview Project Day, that is! Heather, over at Production Not Reproduction, has been hard at work pairing about 120 (gulp) people who blog about adoption so that we can interview each other. I signed up for the first time this year and it's been great fun getting to know someone in the blogosphere who I had never 'met' before. My interview partner is Andy from Today's The Day. Grab a cup of tea, get to know her and say hello! If you want to read Andy's interview with me, hop on over to her blog.

And don't forget to check out the rest of the participants: here's the list of pairs, and here's a clue about what each of those bloggers is interested in, and a bit more about the whole project. Thank you so much to Heather for organising this (it must have been a MAMMOTH task) and to Andy for being such an interesting and open interview partner. (How could I not love a person who uses the word 'dichotomy' in one of her answers?) Now, let's dive in with a very serious issue....

 Claudia: How did you manage to start Pride and Prejudice and not finish it? What didn't you like about it? I have to know!

Andy: I have always loved to read but have always leaned towards the quick and easy reads vs the classics.  I tried reading Pride and Prejudice when I was a teenager, and could never get into it.  Maybe it’s time to try again, though I’ve seen a few versions of the movie and haven’t enjoyed those either.... I guess it’s just not my cup of tea.

Your little boy recently had eye surgery (he looked very cute in that hospital gown). How is he recovering? How are YOU recovering? Any tips for helping kids to get through a trip to hospital?

His recovery is REMARKABLE!  Oh to be young again.  Just the thought of his surgery nearly had me down for the count, but he was doing back flips on the trampoline within 4 days.  My poor nerves!  He is fully recovered, back to school, not having any vision problems or pain.  Other then some redness in the corners where the cuts were made, you would never be able to tell that he had anything done. I think it took me a bit longer to fully feel “recovered” and not stressed out by the “what-if’s” that parents go through when their child is sick or injured.  Even though it was “routine” surgery according to the doctors, there is nothing “routine” about watching your child walk off to a room with strangers, knowing that someone is going to stick a knife in him and cut open his eyeball.  GAH!

This was actually Liam’s 3rd trip to the OR with full anesthetic, though all 3 were “routine” (see above for my thoughts on that!)  The best tip I could give anyone is to have your child prepared.  Visit the hospital if you can, read about surgeries and recovery, have them know what an IV is and that they will likely have one and why. I’m a firm believer of being honest and truthful with children and that knowledge is power.

I've been thinking a bit lately about how easy it is for those of us who experience adoption from different angles often misunderstand each other (and make each other angry), especially online. You have the unusual perspective of being both an adopted adult and an adoptive mother. I wonder what your take is on this phenomenon?

It is a position that I find I have to be careful with.  I have 40 years of adoption baggage that I don’t want to impart onto Liam.  I have to remember that my issues may not be his issues and that not everything is about adoption.  But at the same time it does give me the unique insight to be able to sympathize with him when adoption topics do come up.  I think that it has made me be much more open as an adoptive parent and more comfortable with talking about adoption.  And I’ve never felt threatened by Liam’s first family or how he feels about them.  I can understand the dichotomy of having 2 separate families and loving them both because I too grew up with that as a reality. (as an aside, I honestly believe that adoptees can love and miss their first families even when, like Liam and I, we have never met them).
As an adopted adult, what are the top three things that you would like adoptive parents to know about adoption from the adoptee's point of view?
1)  Know that your child can love and miss their first family and that this has no reflection on you or your relationship with your child.  Just as parents can can love many children, children can love many parents. 

2) Don’t be threatened by your child’s first family. Stop watching “Hallmark” adoption specials.... they are so far from the norm, but since they are the only stories being put out there to the public, people believe them to be true. No one is going to try and “steal” your baby back. When you are threatened by your child’s family, your child will pick up on that.  That then leads to your child being resentful of you for not letting them have the relationship that they could have with their first family.

3) Be willing to talk about adoption.  But don’t always wait for your child to bring it up.  No matter how great a relationship the adoptee has with their parents, we will still try to protect their feelings when it comes to adoption.  When I was 13 I asked my mom to send away for my non-identifying info.  She was great about it and sent it off right away. But once it arrived she waited for me to ask for it before she gave it to me.  It took me 17 years to bring it up again!  Mainly because I had trusted that my mom knew that it was important to me and that she would give it to me right away.  My mom never initiated conversations with me about my adoption, and that made me feel like the topic was taboo.

As an adoptive mother, what are the top things you would like other adopted adults to know about how it feels to be on the other side of the fence? 

1) Most adoptive parents are not the bad guys.  I see so many angry adoptees online that blame adoptive parents, calling them baby stealers and much worse.  If you want to blame anyone, blame the adoption industry for wanting to make money; blame social services for not having supports in place to keep families together; blame society as a whole for pressuring mothers into placing their babies for adoption in the first place.

2)  Remember that it is not your job to protect us. If you want to search or are struggling, be honest with us.  We are hardier then you think.

How does being a mother (particularly by adoption) make you reassess how your a-mom mothered you? (You can skip this question if your mother reads your blog, or if it's too private). 

One of the first things I decided when I started blogging was that I would never publish something that I didn’t want my mother to read, even though the internet is a strange and mysterious place for her that she has never been to.  So no worries on the question!  Being a mother has really made me appreciate my own mother more.  Even though there are many societal differences from how I was raised in the ‘70s to how kids are today, it has made me much more aware of how involved my Mom was in my life, and how I was her priority.  And while I haven’t really been affected by infertility, I did go through a period of mourning knowing that I would never be pregnant and carry and deliver a child.  Going through that made me much more aware of what my Mom must have gone through with her infertility issues and has allowed us to talk more openly about it.

You are obviously a big advocate for open adoption. I was really struck by the intensity of this post, right back when you started writing.  I was hoping to follow your relationship with Iris [Andy's mother] becoming more open, and felt so sad to read your post called The End.  If you had known, when you were 30, what you know now, what advice would you give to the Andy that was just starting out towards reunion?  Would you have done anything differently (pushed harder for contact, or not pushed at all) if you had known how difficult things would become?

I think I would have pushed Iris a little bit harder back then for more contact.  With the hindsight of Madelaine [Iris's other daughter] losing her job a few years after my initial contact with Iris,  those early years may have been a better time to try and get things out in the open.  I would also have pushed Iris for more information on my father and his family. I have 4 ½ siblings from his side that I know absolutely nothing about.   I would have also reassured myself that some information is better then none and that life will go on if/when I lose contact with Iris again.

On a much more prosaic note - you write about food quite a bit and your blog made me hungry! It seems that Liam struggles with eating (a familiar scene in our house too, unfortunately). As someone who does like food, what is your advice for handing food 'issues' in your kid? What has been the best thing you've done to help him? What's the worst? Believe me, I'm taking notes on this one! 

Ahhh food.  We have such a love/hate relationship with it!  We (my partner and I) love it and Liam hates it.  I’m not sure I should be giving out any advice, since we don’t seem to have solved our own issues.  The one thing that we try, which of course is the hardest to do, is to not let food become an issue.  The fighting, crying and tears (both his and ours) are not worth it and were just making us all resentful.  So if Liam wants to eat Penne with butter 6 nights a week and garlic fingers on the other night, so be it.  [from Claudia - penne with butter is the thing in our house, too!] Our saving grace is that he does love fruit, and will eat lots of it, so there is some nutrition getting into him.  Have you seen our fruit bowl?  [yes - I'm extremely impressed!]

And for those of us who do appreciate a good plateful - what's your favourite family dinner that we all NEED to make TONIGHT?

I have so many favorites!  But here is one we had recently, that is quick, easy and delicious.  Greek-Spiced Baked Shrimp.[I am totally making that this week!]


Thanks again to Andy and to Heather!

Thursday 10 November 2011

Over My Shoulder

It's an interesting thing, being an adoptive parent in the internet age. 

I'm so grateful for the internet. Lately, I have been working on putting together an 'Adoption 101' - a collection of some of my favourite blog posts from all around the adopt-o-sphere. I'm hoping to put a whole bunch of links together - the kind of thing that I would like to send back in time to the Me that was thinking about maybe possibly adopting, way back when. A semester at the college of collective knowledge, if you like - otherwise known as 'I spent lots of time on the internet neglecting my housework so you don't have to™'. I'll let you know when it's done. 

I hope it will be useful. But then there is a part of me that thinks - is this such a good idea? I wonder, sometimes, about the effect that all of my adoption-related reading has had on me. I'm an overthinker by nature - if I was living in a cave and my only source of information was campfire stories, I'd be the one left at the end of the evening asking the storyteller 'why did you say the mammoth reared its head? Why not raised its head? Do you think you are expressing your own feelings about the way the mammoth was nurtured?' You get the point. I'm not ever going to be the person who just chills out and says 'I'm going to let love guide me', and I'm not sorry about that.  But the internet is a black hole, a vortex, a maelstrom of information. There's too much there. Even on this one topic (adoption) it's never really possible to keep up, to be on top of the latest article, to know the latest thinking, to have read the most recent personal outpouring so that I can know exactly what is the right thing to do so my kids won't be messed up because of my culpably bad adoption parenting.

And here's the thing: People have always thought that they were doing the right thing. They thought they were doing the right thing when they told adoptive parents to take their babies home, deny all differences and and seal their birth certificates. [Oh, hang on, OBCs are still mostly sealed in the US. That's insane, by the way. See, I wouldn't know about that if it wasn't for the internet!] We think we're doing the right thing now by acknowledging loss and reading I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla and by golly I hope we are, but what if we're not? We've got to do the best we can with the knowledge we've got, I suppose, although I am in no doubt that the next generation of adult adoptees will let us know what it was that we collectively messed up.

Here's the other thing. As an adoptive parent, I write for the free therapy. I read widely so that I can learn, (and hopefully parent my kids better). I comment so that I can connect. (and I've stunk at this lately - I'm sorry). All of this makes sense to me. It feels worthwhile - probably not as worthwhile as cleaning my kitchen - but overall I think being here (and by 'here', I mean the internet, rather than 'here' typing in my hallway, slowly being covered in falling dust from our attic renovation) is a worthwhile thing. But sometimes I'm not so sure because of how much self-doubt it sows. I've been reading a really wide range of stuff recently (see above) and I feel like some bloggers mainly blog so that they can point out what other people are doing wrong. And by other people, I guess I mean adoptive parents. 

What motivates some of the nastiness that goes on? I understand that adoption is not all about unicorns and rainbows. And believe me, I do not want an award for adopting my kids. Do you want to know what I wanted when I adopted my kids? My kids. That's all. I don't want or need anybody to tell me that I did a great thing - I didn't. I don't think most of us want that. But I don't want to spend my entire life looking over my shoulder, either, trying to pretend to be someone that I'm not in order to satisfy every other member of every adoption triad since the beginning of time, trying to satisfy the self-appointed adoption thought police. I'm sorry if this all sounds vague and paranoid. It's just that I'm rapidly losing patience with a few people I have interacted with recently; people who are bothering online friends (no, sisters) of mine, people who do a lot of criticism and not a lot of anything else. 

I guess there's a good reason for that. Criticising other people is fun. It makes us the writer feel superior, and who doesn't like feeling superior? I suppose that is the true motivation for some of the nasties - self-congratulation by comparison. So, I think that my new internet rule is: Nobody should be allowed to saying critical things about a person (or a group of people) without saying two critical things about themselves, too. From now on, I refuse to take adoptive-parent critics seriously unless they can show a similar level of self-criticism. Not on their own blogs, not in comments, not anywhere. And, since that statement implies (critically) that a lot of people do not do that, here's me practising what I preach: firstly: right now I am questioning my own motivations for writing. Am I really writing through an issue that I think is important, or am I just feeding my own need for drama? And number two: we ordered pizza tonight because I was too lazy to cook. 

Back to looking over my shoulder. I don't want to be emotionally dependent on what the adoption thought police think of me. Periodically (eg, now) I make these resolutions where I say to myself "I am NOT going to let other people's bile get to me any more!" and I stick to it for a while, and then I slide back into caring again. And of course, I am not beyond the occasional bout of Internet Rage myself - sometimes I read things that make me so angry I can barely see. I want to write really, really mean things in reply. I don't do it. Then I wonder - the people whose mean writing upsets me - are they feeling that same feeling of Internet Rage when they read the lovely words my friend writes? Is that what makes them spill vitriol from their keyboard? Or are they just so used to being critical that their fingers are set to 'auto-nasty?' 

I don't really understand it. And I find it really difficult to hold some of these internet things in tension. The information, the knowledge, the scrutiny, the paranoia, the occasional outbreaks of unexpected nastiness. You need to be tough in the head to get through it all unscathed. I'm not sure that I am that tough. And I don't really have any answers about this. I think what I'm trying to say is: Sometimes I find this really hard.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Almost-Wordless Almost-Wednesday

I can't resist posting this:
 Fourteen seconds of my two - friends for once - rocking out to a bit of Belle and Sebastian on the kitchen counter.