I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange bottle of prescription drugs.

When I hear or see the word “Prozac,” I see Christina Ricci, photographed nude, lying on her stomach, looking hollow-socketed, sickly thin and disaffected on the cover of “Prozac Nation,” a movie I’ve never seen based on a book I’ve never read. I know the cover because I worked in a movie rental store for eleven years and feel like I’ve seen the cover for nearly every movie ever made up until 2008. Looking at it then, I felt the same as I do now, which is a mix of disgust and disinterest in a film about bored youth who are so catered to and live such soft, comfy lives that we can find nothing to get excited about, and medicate ourselves with the hope of feeling something, anything, apart from anxiety over procuring a good job, paying the bills without drowning in debt, and moving through the stiff structure of modern American life with something to show for it.

Yu-uck.

So why is there a prescription bottle of Fluoxetine, a generic form of Prozac, on my kitchen counter?

There it is, that ugly color of a rotted tangerine, with my name and address on it—so there’s no doubt it’s mine. I’ve scrawled, in black sharpie, “Prozac” on the label so as to erase all possibility of it getting mixed up with the Tramadol, an opioid pain-killer, the Meloxicam, a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug, and Baclofen, a muscle relaxer. I had to make doubly sure, because taking Prozac along with any of these medications could be potentially fatal. I was prescribed all of these at the same time because I suffered a severe nerve impingement in the right side of my neck, radiating intense pain down my right arm, back in May, around the same time my mood took a steep dive.

I’d been passed over for a life-changing promotion in my workplace and felt humiliated. It was the second time in a calendar year that I, as the internal candidate, was bolstered by the support and optimism of my co-workers, and believed I had secured a position change that would take my finances from struggle to security, my future from uncertain to solid. My son’s future too—that was the hardest part. Getting either of these promotions would have given me the stability to make the changes I felt necessary to bettering his life and therefore mine and my husband’s. When it didn’t happen, I felt crushed. Destroyed, betrayed, and most of all, embarrassed. I had stood, like a fool, in front of my colleagues, dressed up in a suit and nylons like a big girl, given a presentation with confidence, and begun to really believe in myself, only to be told that after eight years of experience and devotion to the place, I wasn’t good enough. Not once, but twice. The position didn’t “apply to my skill set.” I started to wonder, what is my skill set? Will it ever translate to a job that gives me security and stability? No, it won’t. I’m nice, and funny, and people like me, but I am no go-getter. I’m not a high-powered, ambitious, driven career woman. I’m a timid child trying to wear grown-up shoes, at the age of forty, I still wasn’t boss material, and I’d been playing the boss as an interim place-holder for seven months.  I felt used.

I didn’t have a master’s degree. Why did I even try? As needlessly disparaging as all this sounds, it’s how I felt. I took almost a week off to work to cry and feel stupid. I could barely look people in eye.

At the same time, my right shoulder and arm were on fire.

I haven’t had a good relationship with my regular doctor. She always seemed annoyed with me, and had a habit of forgetting that I’d had a baby. One of the last times I was in her office, she pointed out a steep increase in my weight around 2013, expressing confusion. I had to remind her that I was eight months pregnant at the time.

Recently I’d seen a doctor on campus for a sinus infection, who’d looked into my eyes with genuine concern after I’d bled from the nostrils and vomited in her exam room (I had a sinus infection).  I went back to her and told her I was in so much pain I couldn’t sleep at night, and that I’d been depressed for most of my life and had finally decided I should do something about it, at this point where I felt lower than I ever had before. What followed was a long foray into x-rays, medications, referrals, and finally physical therapy, which I am still doing to this day and which has helped to the point of me abandoning all my inflammation and pain meds. I haven’t taken a single prescription pill for around 3 weeks now.

And she also prescribed Prozac.

Which I couldn’t take while I was on everything else.

But like I said, I’ve been off everything else now for nearly a month. But there it sits.

Printed on a yellow flag that sticks out from the rest of the label:

Caution: call your doctor immediately if you have mental/mood changes like confusion, new/worsening feelings of sadness/fear, thoughts of suicide, or unusual behavior.

You know, because taking Prozac can apparently cause all the shit that you’d take Prozac in order NOT TO HAVE. Makes perfect sense. I’m not a chemist so I don’t understand why drugs manufactured to treat depression can cause worse depression. But I get that it happens, and it scares the shit out of me.

A few weeks ago I sat down with a troubled student worker of mine whose co-workers were nervous about her recent behavior. I knew she’d been on various meds for anxiety and depression, so I told her I could relate and that she needn’t worry about me judging her. She told me she was on Prozac, for one.

I told her I’d just been prescribed Prozac.

“Don’t take Prozac,” she said, looking with glazed eyes into a space just beyond my face.

I know meds affect everyone in different ways. I wouldn’t NOT take Prozac because one person I know thought it was the devil, any more than I would willingly take it without pause after learning that one of my very best friends had recently started taking it with tremendously positive effects. It’s not like I’m a weary old soul who’s been through the wringer of anti-depressants. This is my first rodeo; apart from a brief, ineffectual stint with Zoloft in the mid-nineties, I was new to the world of mood-meds and was only meaning to dip a toe in the water and see what happened. To some, the water is too cold, to others, too hot or made of treacle or acid or what have you. I was perfectly willing to toss it if it made me worse, and try something else. I wasn’t married to Prozac.

As of yet, we haven’t even gone on a date. We haven’t even met or talked about our favorite books and movies.

The green-and-yellow capsules sit quietly at the bottom of the bottle, each printed with the legend E-91. I open the bottle, smell them, recap it. That’s all I’ve done so far is smell it.

I’m not ready. I thought I was. Maybe I am. I don’t know. For right now, it remains untouched.

The hiring committee chose a very nice, down-to-earth young woman to run our department. I get along with her well; she enjoys my sense of humor and swapping funny family stories. She is doing good things for us and I’m proving myself worthy of giving her counsel. She and her boss are advocating a promotion of sorts for me—a higher tier of pay and responsibility among my peers that isn’t guaranteed but is possible, and, coupled with my excellent benefits and comfort in my current position is enough to make me stay until I’m sure the next move needs to be made. I often find myself being asked for an opinion on major changes and projects, and willingly give them with a bit of a smirk that says, “I’m so glad this isn’t my problem anymore. Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

We’re buckled down for the time being, just trying to enjoy the little things. Our house, our son, our meals together, the snuggling after bath-time, our ritual nightly viewing of Survivor and sometimes Twin Peaks or Ghost Adventures or Catfish or whatever. A couple cold beers or a glass of wine, a bowl of popcorn or a plate of nachos. I like my life and I’m happy. Yes, I am still depressed. I still, like I have since the age of about eleven, feel a black cloud occasionally settle over my head, oppressive and heavy and awful, and it rains on me for no fucking reason whatsoever, making everything feel damp and ugly and hopeless and futile and stupid, and crazy, but it eventually moves on. I still have anxiety over the stupidest things; grime on the floor, what I eat or drink or don’t eat and drink, the constant worry about whether my son is OK—will he choke on the grapes I just gave him, will he suddenly decline in his speech or motor functions, will he be lonely and sad on the school-bus, am I wasting time, growing old every minute, will my husband get into an accident on the way home from work, will my parents be in good enough health to see their grandson graduate high school, college, get married? Am I too old for this–this hair color, this outfit, this job, this lifestyle choice, these ideas? I don’t know.

If there’s one thing I wish I could magically change about myself, it would be the way I handle being pushed out of my comfort zone. For so long, I’ve championed the idea that being forcibly popped out of one’s bubble is what makes one strong, interesting, distinct and ultimately a happy person.

But I bitch about bottle-neck traffic. I’m annoyed when my lunch is delayed an hour. I get pissed when Target is out of gluten-free soy-sauce.

I’m working on this. On all of it. What I do know for sure is that the Prozac is there, if I need it, but as every un-medicated day passes by, I don’t think I do.

I won’t downplay the severity of my depression; some days I feel like I could cry all day long. I feel like the things I want and need will never be mine and that I’m a fool for even courting hope.

But as I get older, even as my hair goes gray and my body gets more doughy and sleepy by the day, I think these days are getting fewer and farther in between. My son has a lot to do with that. Not only do I know I have to stay calm and connected for his sake, but I get such joy from the little things he does and says, and just from his existence and watching him grow and the love he brings to my life in general. Often, my husband and I revel in how we went from a couple to a family, and how fulfilling that is. And it’ll only continue.

I’m so lucky. I have a good relationship with a man who’s my best friend. A house and a car and a job and a baby boy. And we’re only just getting started.

I’ll let the Prozac sit there a little longer…maybe forever. We’ll see. I know there’s no shame in taking it. But for now, its presence, still capped and untouched, serves as a reminder that I’m doing it—going it alone and it’s going OK. That doesn’t mean I think that works for everyone. If you take meds for anxiety or depression, I hear you. I get you. Believe me…because I do too…just, not yet. Some day, I might. And that’s OK too.

For now, the only orange bottle I want to open is this one.

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I can’t think of a title and it doesn’t matter

Yoda said, “Do, or Do Not.  There is no try.”

I’m choosing Do Not today. The sky is fluctuating between sunny blue skies and a cloak of grey gloom, but I’m choosing to keep my disposition clear and bright. Because today, I’m so not giving a shit that it’s not even funny. Let me take you on a tour of my house:

Week-old essential oil coagulates and spoils in an ignored diffuser on the shelf. My son’s crusty dishes pile up us he demands one thing after another. Bits of food dot my filthy area rug which is also home to discarded pajama bottoms and a balled-up blanket. One gardening glove lies under a crumpled napkin on the coffee table along with a giant binder clip, stacks of books, one of which is probably overdue, a toy space shuttle, a rumpled pair of 4T shorts that may or may not be clean, an opened box of berry Cheerios, one hair comb, a tiny astronaut’s helmet, a Luke Skywalker figurine, and a little purple creature called Molnar. Shoes, remotes, toys, pillows, random pieces of paper are everywhere. Dust collects. Dishes need to be done, surfaces are sticky, things are vaguely smelly, and my son doesn’t care, so why should I?

Normally, I would. My default state is not relaxed, or content. My default state is “I have to fix this.”

No matter what it is. A dirty floor, a TV screen smeared from peanut butter fingers, dirt under my nails, a friend who seems down, the state of the economy, global warming. My mind works like this: my skin feels rough. Get up, get some moisturizer. Ok, that’s done, sit back down. My coffee is cold. To the microwave. Sit back down. Someone just replied on Facebook to something I said. Reply back, then back to work. I’m pretty sure there’s a plant on the front porch that needs watering. I’ve got to buy conditioner. I have to hurry up and finish this paragraph because my son’s got to pee. Ugh, his face is filthy. I wonder if that toy dog is going to run out of batteries soon. I’ve got so much to do. Half the microwave buttons have stopped working. Will this sunshine last long enough for us to take a walk today? I should really fold that blanket. That candle should be lit—it’s just sitting there. Will my physical therapy work in time for our trip in August? I should put that broom away. Is the way I’m sitting making my neck worse? He’s going to get peanut butter on the couch. He’s going to beg me to play Star Wars and there’s nothing I hate more than playing Star Wars. I wish he had a sibling to play with. Oh, crap, I didn’t write a blog entry for the month of June. I shouldn’t be ignoring him to do this. This shirt has crud on it.

And I haven’t even had breakfast yet .

But there sits my son, eating his third breakfast already, happily watching Pocoyo and the Space Circus for the third time in a row—just enjoying life. He doesn’t see what I see, because he hasn’t lived long enough to start believing that stupid shit matters—and now he’s crawling on me with his peanut butter face, nuzzling my shoulder and leaving his mark as if to say, “now you’re one of us.”

So let go. I have to. If just for today.

And I want to listen to a record. I’m tired of the TV. Pocoyo is over. I go to my turntable.

“I’m going to play a record,” I say.

“No, no, no, no,” he says.

“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” I say. “It’s my house.”

“Let’s play David Bowie,” he concedes.

“Okay,” I say. “We’ll compromise.” As I flip through looking for the specific one he wants, he spots R.E.M.’s ‘Eponymous’ and says, “Let’s do Michael Stipe.”

I can definitely live with that. So here I sit, listening to “Driver 8, take a break, you’ve been on this shift too long,” underscored by the annoying bossa-nova sounds of an electronic game my son plays next to me on the couch. The TV is still on, mutely moving through a series of screen saver-photos of beautiful, exotic locations, and I should turn it off, but I won’t, not just yet. I have some more not caring to do first.

I will do not, and there is no try.

But I probably will vacuum at some point.

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Parenting is for suckers

(While I’m writing this, “Despicable Me” is playing just beyond my laptop screen, and my almost 4-year old son is attempting to tell me exactly how to sit on the bed, while munching dry cereal and crumbing the place up, kicking the bedclothes around and repeatedly interrupting my work to tell me he’s hungry, or thirsty, or asking me if I remember peanut butter.)
I always thought the whole “biological clock” thing was a myth created by the man to keep women down. Like our lives were just a trifle, a craft project if you will, until the REAL purpose kicked in and we started being useful members of society by popping out kids and ignoring our own needs until we became exhausted wallpaper—or that lady who speaks up only to tell somebody to put on a jacket and be back by suppertime. Maybe growing up Catholic had jaded me; I’d seen so many women, ferociously reproducing from the time they were able until it seemed like they were just having kids out of boredom, or because there was one last chore no one else liked to do.
Or maybe, because I was the youngest of two and didn’t have any little brothers or sisters, I had no interest in or experience with babies or children much younger than me. As a teen I had only one brief recurring babysitting gig, and apart from watching a younger cousin along with my brother from time to time, didn’t like kids enough to seek out more jobs. By the time I was a young adult, I could confidently say “I don’t like kids.” They were sticky, smelly, loud and obnoxious, rude, self-centered tyrants made of id and energy and rogue body fluids, who couldn’t hold an intelligent conversation, and around whom spicy food and spicy language both had to be made bland as the crap they ate out of squat little jars and squeezable packets.
In my twenties, they became something worse: life-ruiners. As people I knew began having kids, they became less available and no fun. It began with our best friend. When my husband and I first met and became close, our mutual best friend was always with us, almost at times making us feel like a 3-person couple. When we all moved into an apartment together in a Minneapolis suburb, we had visions of staying up until 4am every night downing beers, watching movies and playing video games—and it was like that for a while, until our buddy’s erstwhile girlfriend got pregnant. Our initial response to him, although facetious, was to point out how useless producing offspring was, because “babies don’t drink.” It became a running joke with us; a reminder of how absurd it was, and a way to laugh through the disappointment.
Our buddy began disappearing every weekend to be with his preggers ball-and-chain, and when she was there with us, they engaged in quiet whisper-fests on our sofa while my husband and I rolled our eyes at each other, mourning the loss of fun. Soon, we would move to Michigan and our 3-musketeer act would enjoy a once-a-year comeback. When our buddy insisted we should have kids, we figured he wanted somebody to share his misery with.

(My son is now “reading” my pocket thesaurus. He says it’s called “balloons.” On the TV screen, Gru is covered in scorched mud. He asks me “Is that chocolate?” when I say no, his next question is, “Is that poop?”)
Later, as we sped through our twenties and into our thirties, we knew more couples with kids. They couldn’t stay out late, they were often distracted and anxious or had just morphed into well, parents, and not people. The other parents I knew were single moms, struggling with money and their own sanity on an hour-to-hour basis.
All the while, I was glad we didn’t have that kind of baggage—that’s what kids represented to me. If we wanted to get up and move, we didn’t have to worry about kids changing schools or feeling displaced. We could take a vacation, go to a concert, stay up all night and sleep into the following afternoon. We could, as we had been trying to for years, get accepted into a Japanese teaching exchange program and more overseas and live out our lives riding the bullet train into Tokyo in the daytime, and drinking sake and gazing into Zen gardens at night. I had zero maternal feelings, and looked forward to someday having a dog, because everybody knows pets are superior to children, and basically told my parents to never expect grandkids, because they were yucky and boring and I was too smart to ruin my life like that. I told them to expect puppies, if anything. I carried almost a smug pride in not knowing “nothing ‘bout birthin’ babies.”
Part of our decision to be childless was money—my job had good benefits but didn’t pay much; my husband’s job had neither good pay nor benefits. There were other factors: He had school to finish. We might want to move again. We both had to work full-time to make ends meet, and knew we couldn’t afford daycare. It would have been outright dumb to have a kid. I was glad we didn’t.
But then—
(My son is asking for Chex. He has already plowed his way through a bowl of Rice Krispies and two plates full of dry Cheerios. On the TV, Pharrell is singing, “Fun, fun, fun.” I tap my fingers on the keys, along to the music. I’m lost in the song for a moment, until my son reminds me, “I want more Chex, Mama.” I oblige. This will be the fourth time in half an hour I’ve put my computer down and ran downstairs to fetch him something. When I come back up, he giggles and slams the bedroom door in my face.)
I can’t explain what changed. I knew it was a “bad idea,” but there was always a tiny seed of desire, deep within me, to have a child, because the very idea that two humans could do something as easy and enjoyable as “baby-making,” and all that genetic and biological stuff I know nothing about would swirl around in the microcosm of blood and guts and SHAZAM, a whole new human being, with attributes of both the mother and father, and then some all their own that came from who knows where, would emerge into the world and experience things in a completely different way from anyone else on Earth, yet in a similar way to everyone else on Earth, and I could not only watch it happen but be the guide for this brand new person as they encountered everything anew, as I once had, and been guided by my own parents, people who loved me as I would now love another brand new human being that we had effectively made ourselves. I mean, how cool is that? How could I look that opportunity in my eye and say, “no thanks, I’ll pass?”
And that seed? I don’t know. It split open and grew into a tree of longing. Ripe, green leaves unfurling and pushing into every part of my being. I suddenly wanted a child more than anything. A clock, a tree, whatever metaphor one wants to use—it went off, it sprouted, it happened to me. I don’t know why. I know it doesn’t happen to everyone—and sometimes it does happen to someone who can’t do a thing about it, and that makes me sad. I am very lucky. I know that.
(My son is burrowing his head into my arm and saying he’s cold. I’m going to get him a sweater. He says, “I love you so much.” He wants to go downstairs now.)
I was 35 years old when I brought this up to my husband. If we were going to do it, we’d have to do it soon. He was less than lukewarm to the idea. There were so many reasons not to. I knew them too, but I persisted. We talked. I wrote him a letter. I’ve always been better on paper. We talked some more. During all this talking and thinking, my father-in-law became terminally ill and passed away. My husband revisited his own childhood in his mind, his love for his Papa. We reflected on our aging and dwindling families. And, during this time, I became increasingly sick of myself. My own problems. My obsessions with my weight and my attempts at writing, my penchant for ruining shoes with my wide feet and drinking alone on the weekends and blathering on about old bands that nobody cared about. I was so sick of living with myself and having no one’s well-being to worry about but my own. I wanted to nurture something besides my own introversion and forays into existential dread. I was ready for my life to be about something other than me.
So we decided to start trying to conceive in the spring.
5 months of hope and subsequent disappointment went by. I had turned 36 and figured it was too late. We stopped thinking about it. We took a trip to Toronto that August. We stayed in a posh hotel, experienced the Caribana festival parade, went to an outdoor concert, and visited the Royal Ontario Museum. This was also the trip where I managed to get the worst sunburn of my life and spent most of the vacation sick and in pain. Still, I look back at that trip with nostalgia and warmth, because it was the last vacation my husband and I took as a childless couple.

The following October I found myself standing at the kitchen sink one morning, halfway through a round of dirty dishes, with a positive pregnancy test in my hand. I woke my husband up and told him. I’m not sure how we felt. It’s hard for me to remember even now. How do you describe a feeling you’ve never had before and haven’t had since? It’s like if someone walked through your door and handed you a penguin. Unless that’s happened to you, you might be at a loss for words.
(My son now wants to go back upstairs. I literally just sat down. I haven’t had breakfast yet, and am still in my pajamas. I can feel the crabby coming on. He’s spinning in a circle in the living room with a graham cracker in his hand. When he stops spinning, I look up from my writing to make sure he doesn’t crash his dizzy ass into the TV stand. I follow him back upstairs to watch “Peter Pan,” with my laptop in one hand and a cup of rapidly cooling coffee in the other, and at the top of the stairs, he slams the door in my face again. I suppress a swear word.)
My pregnancy was mostly easy except for the vomiting nine times a day. During my second trimester, I was so sick that I couldn’t eat anything but Gatorade, cold mashed potatoes, and popsicles. I craved spinach, walnuts, and lemons, but buying them and eating them seemed like too much work. The thought of frozen pizza and beer—a combo that used to be my favorite—set me to dry-heaving until I’d broken blood vessels in my face and looked like I’d broken out in chicken-pox. I couldn’t bear the sight of boxed food at Target; Thanksgiving was drawing near and the rows of boxed stuffing mix was absolute poison.
The sickness became so bad that I called my doctor at 2am, worried that I couldn’t nourish a growing baby if all I was doing was barfing. I turned down the offer to come in and have fluids pumped in intravenously, but did accept a prescription for Zofran, which helped a little but mostly made bowel movements feel like something akin to trying to pass a concrete elephant. I ate ginger candies and drank ginger ale for the nausea, and that was effective in nothing but making me hate ginger forever. At the same time this was going on, Duchess Kate Middleton was pregnant with Prince George and diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, and I couldn’t help but envy her for having what I imagined was a round-the-clock crew of popsicle-administers and barf-bucket busboys.
During my entire pregnancy, I gained a total of only 17 pounds; nearly 7 of which was baby. After my son was born and I began nursing, I lost the remaining 10 pounds and then an additional 10. I can honestly say becoming pregnant was the most successful weight-loss program I’ve ever undertaken.
Aside from the morning sickness, my long-forgotten old friend sciatica came marching back, demanding the money I owed it. I couldn’t stand up for more than a few minutes at a time. My ever-present acid reflux decided it was serious this time and I spent weeks at a time with an acrid taste in my mouth, constantly chewing on Rolaids from an economy-sized bottle in my desk drawer at work. And I always felt like I had to pee, even right after I peed. I was convinced my baby was moshing on my bladder.
Blah blah blah, I had a baby. Really, that’s about the way it went. One morning in early June as I lifted my foot in bed to put a sock on my cold foot, my water broke. I called the hospital, took a shower, and drove into Marquette at 5am. I was in labor for 27 hours and finally gave birth through Cesarean Section, after my body decided that it didn’t want to allow a baby to come out of it the normal way. I guess it preferred to kill both of us? I often wonder how many women died during childbirth before this type of surgery was invented or perfected, and think how lucky I am to be living in a time when it’s as normal and frequent as a root canal.
My son was born at 9:13 am on a Sunday, June 9th, 2013. He weighed 6 pounds and 15 ounces. First name Rowan; a name that came to my attention through Rowan Atkinson, star of my favorite British comedy, “Blackadder,” though most Americans know him as Mr. Bean. Middle name Jasper, after the nickname my husband’s father gave my husband as a little boy. And we just happened to find our first house, when I was 7 months pregnant, on Jasper Street. It seemed “meant to be.”
(During the time it’s taken me to write the last few paragraphs, I’ve brought my son back downstairs, situated him on the potty, made him a peanut butter sandwich, put Pocoyo on the TV, helped him off the potty, listened to him whine inaudibly about various things over and over, dumped and rinsed his potty, threw away a breadcrust he didn’t want, glanced at the absolute mess on the living room rug, and began making my own lunch, which is probably burning.)
So here we are with this kid. What are we doing with him? Most days we don’t know. And I can tell you that all those things I thought about children before I had one? They’re all true. Children are sticky, smelly, demanding, self-centered, exhausting, walking contradictions and disasters waiting to happen. But they’re also something else. They’re innocent.
I’ve heard childless women describe children as “little brats,” “snots,” and even “monsters.” It’s entirely possible I may have used those words in the past, too.
But it’s very easy to watch a child act out in public and think, alternately, “that kid is a spoiled brat,” or “those parents are failing big-time.” While I do think it’s possible for a kid to be a spoiled brat, and I do think parents fail all the time, I think those failings are not the same ones childless people perceive. I think you can fail your child by not loving them, protecting them, nurturing them, or treating them not like people but like extensions of your own personality or status. But if you do love, nurture, and respect your children, they will still act out in public, they will still cause an embarrassing scene, they will still suck your time and energy, simply because they’re children, and that’s what they do, and that’s what you did to your parents too. You can sit there and say, “I was a perfect kid, I never cried,” blah blah, and maybe you were a good kid—I know I was for the most part, but it doesn’t mean your parents didn’t go through agony at times trying to teach you right from wrong, trying to be good parents without smothering you, trying to let you find your independence without neglecting you…there’s so much potential for things to go awry with kids, but so much of that is borne of pressure we put on ourselves, pressure from other parents, pressure from non-parents. The whole world is watching us parent and despite appearances, none of us know what we’re doing, and while there might be right and wrong in a universal sense, in the finer details, there is only the way I do it, the way you do it, the way the mom or dad down the street does it. Just as our children are all individuals, so are we as parents.
I often think every move I make is going to be replayed in my son’s head someday as he sits in a therapist’s office. That’s just stupid. It won’t be every move. Maybe one in ten, tops.
Sure, there are tons of instruction manuals out there. And some of them have good tips, I’m sure. But ultimately, as I stand here and think about who I am and how my parents, as young 20-somethings with very little money and only a little practice with my older brother, raised me, and think about how some things will be the same and some will be different, I know I’m doing it right because my child is alive and relatively happy and healthy and so far has no addictions to speak of, unless you can count peanut butter. I have no idea how the rest of his life will pan out, and I know that in time I’ll have less and less control over that, but while my control, advice, input and help may be limited, my love is boundless and unconditional, so that ought to account for something.
I often hear people say, “I could never be a parent. I don’t have the patience, the calm,” whatever. “I know nothing about children.” Or “I can barely take care of a houseplant.” Well, I suck at houseplants too. I forget to water them. I don’t bother to find out what they are, how much sunlight they need, how to trim or re-pot them, etc. I buy them, stick them in the house, and hope they don’t die. But with kids, you become a parent because you don’t have a choice. If someone dumped a kid on you and said, “this is your baby,” unless you’re evil, you wouldn’t stick it in a closet and say, “I don’t have the patience for children, I don’t know anything about them,” and let them die. So when people say, “I don’t know how you do it,” my first thought is, “well….I HAVE to!”
And it’s not terrible. Believe it or not, kids are amazing. Oh, you already knew that because parents toss that kind of crap at you all day? Yeah, I know. But it’s true. So, sorry, not sorry.
So, I’m a mom. I never thought I would be, at least for the first 35 years of my life. I thought, “that stuff is for suckers.”
And it is. Parenting is for suckers. I’m a sucker. I’m a sucker for my family, who have come into existence by me doing nothing more than loving my husband, vomiting my guts out for months, having my belly sliced open and stitched back together, and now losing my mind on a daily basis. But when I’m not hating it, I absolutely love it.
But I don’t recommend it.
But I sort of do.
And for the record, I know plenty of self-centered, childish, demanding adults who are also sometimes sticky and smelly. I am one of them.

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How I predicted the death of Walter Cronkite and other crocks of hooey

At the turning of seasons—specifically when winter transitions to spring and summer into autumn, I get the distinct feeling that I’m remembering, or somehow feeling residual energy from, past lives.   Something hard to name comes over me. It’s in the feeling I get from the sound of wind rousing a chime through an open upstairs window while a crow caws in the distance. Or upon hearing the coo of a mourning dove just before the sun sets over a late summer lawn. Or the smell of wet leaves and the texture of a worn corduroy jacket. Though all these things can be tied to sense-memories of my own life, for reasons I can’t explain, I know it’s something beyond me, and it’s so close to supernatural that it’s somewhat disquieting. It’s like a combination of recalling a dream, having déjà vu, and leaving my body.  I’m not explaining this well, and I know what you’re thinking:

Ooooo-weeeeooooo-oooooo…put on the tinfoil hat, we’re steppin’ into the Twilight Zone.

I hate writing about anything abstract for fear of coming off melodramatic or maudlin, or just full of it. I’m that “down to Earth” person with a great bull-shit detector, right? But all this is part of who I am, whether I like it or not (I don’t, really). Bear with me.

The first time I can clearly remember having this eerie feeling of existential displacement (what?), I was somewhere between grade-school and junior high. Maybe on the cusp of puberty. Back then, school districts listed the bus-schedules in the newspaper, in a two-page spread, just before the beginning of the school year. I was on the love-seat in the living room with my mom, facing the front yard, and could see through a window onto the front enclosed porch. A sunny day lay beyond, and cars cruised up and down our street. After perusing the bus schedule, my mom handed it to me so I could check out which number Spanier (the local bus company) I’d be on that year.

The only way I can describe the feeling that came over me seconds after I lay the open newspaper on my knees was dread. It had nothing to do with school buses, as far as I knew, or the impending school year, or newspapers or anything that had to do with me, a still smallish, brown haired girl in St. Cloud Minnesota. It was beyond me.

My chest constricted, and my heart began beating faster. I felt faint. But more importantly, I felt a shift. Was it in my world, or someone else’s, or what? I couldn’t say. I only knew this: something was wrong. Something was bad. It was as if the biggest, blackest, heaviest cloud had just settled over…somewhere… and people were going to be suffer, get hurt, maybe die. Or perhaps, something was just irrevocably changing for the worse. Somewhere, something very bad was happening, and I was feeling it. I felt haunted. Although it was quiet, I’ve tried to imagine the sound that accompanied this feeling—and it’s something like the droning of broken bagpipes. My face was hot, and I felt I was going to cry.

“Something’s wrong,” I told my mom. I didn’t know how else to put it.

My mother, who was not excitable and considered most of my complaints baseless whining, seemed concerned. She must have known I really felt something.

“Put your head down,” she told me. “Put your head between your knees. Take a deep breath.”

I might’ve been shaking, or dizzy, or crying—I don’t remember. But I will remember that moment for as long as I live. It was the first time I felt what I can only call an aura of something completely beyond the periphery of my own life.

I know it sounds bizarre, and I would say the same to anyone who told me that story. And I’m not sure how it ties in to the rest of this—I only know it does.

I’m a skeptic. I’m an atheist. I don’t consider myself particularly “spiritual,” and mostly regard new-age beliefs as a load of shit. I scoff at ghost hunting-shows, (“dude, did you just hear that?”) but I watch them. Why? Because I’ve always been interested in the supernatural and paranormal, and that space between sleep and awake where you’re not sure anymore if you’re dreaming, and I’ve always, always been a dreamer, not in the “head in the clouds” sense, but literally. I dream almost every night, all night. Vividly, often lucidly. I always have. I dream so much that I often find myself wondering in the middle of the day if I might still be sleeping, and how little I’d actually be surprised if I suddenly woke up and laughed about how mundane it is to dream I’m at work or reading a book or watching a YouTube video. It’s not unusual for me to wake up yelling, or to believe I’ve heard something incredibly loud, like a gunshot, explosion or a scream, when in reality, the house is totally quiet. Turns out this isn’t uncommon—look up “exploding head syndrome.” Mine is often accompanied by what feels like a tautly wound cord snapping from one part of my body and audibly projecting through the top of my head, often with a “zing!” or an electric fizzling sound.

But what may not be as common, is that often, things I dream about will repeat themselves in the waking world shortly after. And dumb things—not necessarily events so important that I could label the experience “prophetic.”

For example, earlier this week, I fell asleep on the couch, waiting for my husband to get home from work. I dreamt that I was at his workplace (thought it had morphed from a liquor store to a department store of sorts) at closing time. The lights were off, but there was still a lone straggling customer roaming around. He wasn’t really looking for anything to buy; instead, he was antagonizing my husband, challenging his intellect. In the dream, I stood off to the side, not intervening, but thinking, “if this guy pulls anything, he’s going to feel my wrath.” I felt very protective of my husband in that moment, but the dream faded. Just a little later, I was woken by my husband coming in the door.

As I drowsily followed him around the kitchen, he told me about one of his last customers—a real jerk. Seems a young guy had come in and tried to buy booze. When Carl looked at the ID handed to him, he saw that the kid was born in 1997, and was therefore 20 years old, not 21. “I can’t sell to you,” he told the kid, who put the ID back in his wallet, smirking and nodding. “Very good,” the kid said. “You did the math.” My husband said he felt like the kid was testing him, challenging him. He told me the kid he was going to get someone in trouble, make someone lose their job, and he was right, and I was irritated that the kid would do that—but moreover I was a bit baffled that I was hearing Carl describe my dream.

Another time, a few years back, I dreamt that I drove into a very small town with crumbling stone bridges and aqueducts, but no people.  There were banners all over the town, some that had been torn at one corner and were flapping—that read, “Welcome, Walter Cronkite.” I drove all over this little town, not sure why I was there, but eventually pulled over, where I spoke to a lone man on the side of the street. He told me the town had been anticipating the arrival of the famous newsman, but the festivities had been abandoned and everyone had gone home, because Mr. Cronkite had died.

I woke from this dream bemused, and wandered into the living room to turn on the morning news. And the first words I heard uttered by the anchor was that Walter Cronkite had died at the age of 92.

Okay, this is the part where you’re like, “That’s the dumbest coincidence I’ve ever heard.”

Look, I know that sounds like a crock of crap but I don’t know what else to say. Why would I care about Walter Cronkite? He was of no special significance to me. Had I heard this somewhere before I went to bed? I guess it’s possible, but I believe it happened overnight, and I don’t recall hearing about it until that morning. I just know I can’t hear Walter Cronkite’s name without picturing about the crumbling town and the torn banners. It sounds so stupid! I think when I told my husband about this, he sputtered with laughter. I don’t blame him.

It wasn’t the first time—I had stayed at a new friend’s house in the late 90’s for the first time, and while I slept, I dreamt that a woman in a unique dress came to my room and thanked me for befriending her daughter, although she was still very wary of me being in her house. I knew that my friend’s mother had passed away years ago, so when I woke up, I told her about the dream. She seemed very comforted, and I was glad, and was sure there was no more to it than a contrivance of my sleeping brain. I told her about the dress too—because I thought it was so peculiar. That’s when she asked me to wait while she recovered a photo from a shelf in the bathroom, then showed it to me.

Yeah.

I’m sure you can guess what the woman was wearing in that photo.

Anyway—

What does this have to do with past lives, or sense-memory, or nostalgia or anything? I don’t know. Part of me wants to relate this all back growing up in what I believed to be a haunted house, and to an incident with my cousins and brother and a Ouija board, right around the same time of the bus-schedule meltdown. It’s something I’d rather forget and I’m sure my family doesn’t want to hear about again, so I digress. I’ve always believed that the onset of puberty brings a bunch of really weird, powerful energy into a person’s surroundings—if you think about it, the ability to conceive another human life is suddenly thrust upon a young girl, and that has to carry some sort of energy—and hasn’t a lot of documented “poltergeist” activity been attributed to the presence of a pubescent girl in the home? I know. It’s a ship-load of horse-shit, and can be so easily explained by the phenomena of our naïve minds trying to process things beyond our intellect—just look at how easily a magician (I hate magic—for the record, because I don’t understand how it works and magicians won’t tell you) like David Blaine or David Copperfield or Criss Angel can make us believe that they’ve levitated or can read your mind or made the statue of Liberty disappear or what have you. We are obviously incredibly impressionable. We love to believe in stuff like the Loch Ness Monster and ghosts and faeries and illuminati and Atlantis, because that stuff is so much more exciting than shopping for paper-towels and filing your taxes and fixing your furnace and going to the dentist and falling asleep in front of X-Files re-runs. I’ve believed in most of those things myself, along with a lot of other nonsense in the past, just because it’s fun and thrilling and life is so boring. But what I do believe in, without a doubt, is human energy.

As the most highly evolved species on Earth (at least we think we are because we can blather about it on the internet and dolphins can’t), humans are capable of such strong emotions—lust, greed, cruelty, affection, obsession, addiction, grief, ecstasy—that I imagine those feelings could manipulate the physical world, or at least leave behind such strong impressions that another person, whether somehow tied to that energy or not at all, could experience them. And couldn’t our own emotions create physical manifestations? Each person has so much within them—is one lifetime, one person, enough to carry it all, or does it spill over into other places and people, and dreams?

When I first moved into the house I live in now, I didn’t have much feeling for it beyond “this will feel like home soon enough” and “where should I hang this clock?” I was seven months pregnant at the time, and very caught up in myself and the life inside me that I didn’t notice much of anything else. But after my son was born, I started to feel uneasy. It was mostly just a feeling of unfamiliarity with the house and neighborhood once I finally had time to start noticing it. I was stressed out, sleep-deprived, suffering post-partum depression, and I hadn’t been in the house long enough to know that “this is what it sounds like just before the furnace kicks in” or that the topmost step always creaked or that sometimes wind currents would pull lightweight doors shut upstairs and slam others. Before I finished typing this sentence, a gust of wind came through the kitchen window and knocked a drying skillet off the dishrack into an aluminum can and they both went crashing onto the floor just feet behind me and I barely flinched. I’m used to the house now, and am calmer now that my son is almost four and not hanging off me like a suckling piglet.  But at the time, I began to see and hear things in the house.

Once, as I stood at the top of the stairs with my son in my arms, speaking to my husband at the bottom of the stairs, I stopped mid-sentence as three white blobs fell in succession from the ceiling to the floor, leaving no trace on the carpet. My son saw them too; I watched him jerk his head towards the globes as they moved. They were quarter-sized, and opaque, but like I said, when I looked down to the floor where they certainly must have landed, there was nothing. No white paint, no wetness, nothing. I couldn’t finish my thought and could hardly express to my husband what I’d seen—and what my son had seen as well.  A few nights later, as my husband and I watched TV in the living room, my eyes were drawn to the hallway outside of the kitchen. Two black shadows, about ankle-high, came from opposite sides of the hall, crossed over each other, and disappeared back into the wall, very quickly. We were watching the show “Once Upon a Time,” and since then, I have had no desire to watch it again, because I can’t separate it from what I saw. Plus it sort of jumped the shark.

I began to feel a sense of dread about the house, and wondered how I could have missed any bad energy when we first moved in—even though I don’t consider myself any kind of “energy empath.” But why was this stuff happening now?

Honestly, I think it was me. I think my anxiety and depression at that time were clouding my mind and creating visual representations of fears I had about parenting. I recall a period of about two months where I drove home at night, and again felt a sense of dread when approaching my new home. I even spoke to a friend who had dealt with odd happenings in her home and seemed somehow “tuned-in.” She asked me if I might want to smudge the house, to cleanse it. I said no, I didn’t think it was necessary, because 1. Again, I’m a skeptic and 2. I didn’t want anyone else to think I’d gone bat-shit.

The feeling was short-lived, though. It faded as I gained confidence and calm in my parenting. By the time my son was two and done nursing, I felt only affection and good energy in this house, and do to this day. There isn’t a trace of anything sinister or even mysterious. There isn’t a room or threshold that feels off.  The windows are open, the sun is streaming in, and the house is full of love.  I’ve stood in the same spot I saw the white orbs and the black shadows a thousand times, and even though I might recall the apparitions, if that’s even what they were, of my own mind, I don’t fear them, in the least. I think what I was fearing was myself. Becoming a mother is a very powerful thing. It carries a lot of energy, both elating, and frightening. You are suddenly the keeper of a life that is more important to you than your own. You can’t tell me there’s nothing supernatural there. Or maybe it’s completely natural. What do I know?

I write this now because spring has come. And with it, that old unexplainable feeling that first came to me as a kid on the cusp of adolescence. There’s something in the air, and it comes from somewhere very far away, that’s somehow found a home in me. Maybe it’s who I’ve been before, or who someone else still is but can’t contain in one body.

Or maybe my house is full of hallucinatory fungi-mold.

Here’s a little ditty to lighten the mood:

How to be the boss when you’re a llama on a bicycle

I am as professional as a dog wearing a helmet.
That’s the image that comes to mind when I think of myself; how I fit into a professional business setting, how I must look to the “un-dog” people wearing not helmets but business casual. Because I work in a library, let’s say cardigans. Okay, because there’s a wide variety of personalities around here, let’s say they’re wearing anything from power-suits to the same faded pair of sweatpants and thermal tee every single day. But, none of them is wearing a helmet. And they are people, not dogs.

I am a dog—a kind of scruffy one, on a skateboard, wearing a helmet. Wait. Now that I think of it, I’m sure you’ve seen dogs on skateboards, as I have, who are completely rocking that shit. Just the other day I saw a video of a bulldog riding a skateboard through a throng of human legs—and he owned it. He knew when to put his paw down to paddle up a bit of speed, and he knew how to lean into the subtle curves like he’d been doing it his whole life. This was like Tony Hawk on paws.
So scratch that image.

I’m a llama.

A llama in a helmet that has no bloody business being a skateboard. Or a bicycle. Let’s make it a bicycle because I’ve never felt quite comfortable one of those dealie-bobs either. A llama on a bicycle, wearing…a tutu.

Because, although that llama might be struggling something fierce to stay on that bicycle, it is undoubtedly making people laugh. Llamas are funny. And kind of endearing. People like llamas. People like me, too. That’s not the issue.

Dogs and llamas aside, up until recently, I’ve never thought of myself as someone who could, or should, be in charge of anything. Not a lemonade stand, not a timed shoelace-tying competition, and certainly not a department whose daily operations are essential to the academic success of 9,000 college students. Okay, let’s say one thousand. You know those other 8,000 aren’t stepping foot in the library when there are scores of “Which Disney Princess are You?” quizzes out there to be done.

I’m Mulan, by the way.

But, here I am. Whisked into an office vacated due to a swift and uncomfortable personnel change—I’m the boss of three full-time staff persons, two part-time temps, twenty student workers and one volunteer. Twenty-six people look to me for guidance five days a week for six to nine hours at a time. Not to mention those above me, and all the other heads of co-departments, as well as their staff, with whom I must collaborate with and report to on a daily basis.
That’s a lot of people who have to put some amount of faith in my judgement and ability to lead. And that’s a whole lot of scary for someone who not only considers herself the professional equivalent of a camelid on wheels, but also an introvert.

Let me back up.

I was a shy and anxious kid. In the 4th grade, I would break into spontaneous tears and soon was spending an hour each week drawing pictures of things that made me happy in a school-therapist’s office. I drew balloons. I didn’t give two shits about balloons, but how do you draw an intangible miracle that turns you into a charming, self-assured child with golden hair, name brand clothes, and an ability to make friends wherever she goes? I remember the therapist saying, “Oh, those are great! You even knew to draw the shiny marks where the light reflects!” Well, duh. Nobody likes dull, unreflective matte balloons.

She made me practice saying, “hello, Meredith!” Meredith was a girl with fluffy hair the color of Kraft cheese and macaroni whom I’d already befriended because she didn’t have many friends of her own—it was no big feat—but the therapist didn’t have to know that. I just wanted to get out of there and go back to crying in class.

Later, when I decided if I couldn’t be cute, small, impeccably dressed and outgoing (which, to a little girl, is the pinnacle of perfection, at least it was for me), I would be funny, things got a little easier. I had no trouble making friends through junior high and high school, but the awkwardness remained intact. Even with humor as my defense, I still felt hemmed in by my size. After puberty I got rather tall and solid, and am to this day typically the biggest person in any group photo, unless there are linebackers involved. This was a problem. Small and cute, AND funny? That’s gold. That’s a precious commodity that will sail you through life, picking up witty, intelligent boyfriends along the way. Big and funny? Forget it. Witty becomes aloof and weird, physical comedy takes on the feel of an oaf trying to tap-dance on a moving…skateboard. When a little girl falls down it’s cute. When a big girl falls down, her shirt comes untucked and you see her granny-panties. I wanted gamine. What I had was a big, pumpkin-shaped head and a tendency to trip over my own feet.
I held back. Physically and socially. I can’t tell you how many times I said “no,” when I wanted to say “yes” to something—but instead stepped aside and let the cute girls, the fearless girls, take their turn.

But here’s the thing. At some point, instead of saying, “no,” I started to say, “fuck it.” Because life is too short to let everyone else have all the fun. It might have been something that crept in with age—that’s a natural progression with a lot of people after the insecurity of adolescence wears off you become proud of what’s left of your dorkitude. Having a child 4 years ago might’ve helped too—who has time for modesty or reservation when you have to open the door to a bunch of clean, cookie-hawking girl scouts, wearing avocado stained pajamas and unwashed hair at 3 in the afternoon while your toddler dances naked from the waist down in the doorway behind you? Not I.

And here’s what I have to say about the INTROVERT thing:

I took the personality quiz on the “Quiet Revolution” website (there’s a whole revolution for being introverted! It’s normal! It’s acceptable! It can even be good!) and was not surprised to find that that yes, I am still an introvert, even after growing the hell up. After learning to say “fuck it.” After being the first one to volunteer to dress up in our university mascot’s outfit last spring and tromp around the LRC all sweaty and gross for a promotional event.

I am still an introvert because I prefer quiet over noise, thinking over talking, reading over socializing, sleeping over snowboarding, scraps of yellowed paper over people…whatever.
But, as far as putting myself out there and having confidence?

Being an introvert never got me anywhere. I’m sorry. I wasted a lot of my life; let’s say the first 30 years, holding back, saying no, letting someone else shine, feeling too silly, too big, too old, too Llama-on-a-bicycle to be a bird looking at the world from the topmost branch of a tree, a sleek fish gliding through open water, or even a goddamned balloon with the shiny marks and all, floating free in the sky.

That’s a bunch of shitty metaphors meant to illustrate what I’m really trying to say: That I’m over it. I do know what I’m doing, and I am fit to be in charge. Though, sometimes wish I was in charge of something more like a doodling contest than the circulation department of an academic library.
I have many introverted friends and I love them dearly. We have a lot in common. They are very extroverted about being introverts, at least on social media. Not only is introversion accepted, it’s veritably embraced and touted through scores of memes I see online on a daily basis. And I’m sure many of those introverted and/awkward people feel confident and sociable and communicative enough to hold down positions of authority. Introversion and upward mobility are by no means mutually exclusive. But some of them don’t, and that’s fine. Some of them don’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, and are completely at ease with that. I never really wanted to be the boss of anyone, always having felt more comfortable being an assistant something-or-other who was happy leaving the big decisions, and the hiring and firing, to someone else (I’ve tackled the hiring part, but am still a little scared about the firing part).

But being assistant something-or-other isn’t going to get me where I need to go. Right now, that’s into a position where I can make enough money to support my family and gather some security for the future. Of course, there are high-paying jobs with great benefits for hardcore introverts; I’m just not qualified for any of them. A lot of them involved computers. And I am by no means saying that introverts must be relegated to assistant type positions. I’m living proof of that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am, at my core, an introvert. I’m a goofy dork with an absurd sense of humor who would rather make you a really great cat-drawing and then take a nap than chair a public-services staff meeting. I’m not the typical personality that zooms up the ladder to the high-paying, go-getting job title. But I don’t have to be. I’m here, aren’t I?

And truth be told, being an introvert has gotten me somewhere. It means I’m a good listener, and can think about things before I say them (sometimes) and that I provide a calming presence…or so I’ve been told…in a hectic situation. It means that I have compassion for other vulnerable beings because I understand, and can maybe help them feel okay about where they are and what they’re doing. I think introverts are easier to be around. And introverts recognize when other introverts need to be alone, and don’t guilt-trip each other. And very rarely will you see find that an introvert is riding your ass in a big black pickup truck with a Monster energy drink sticker and a decal of Calvin pissing on a Chevy logo, blasting Kid Rock whilst thinking that mufflers are for pussies.

Soon, the position I currently hold will be transitioned into another position, one that requires a lot of social interaction and confidence and critical thinking and ambition—not things I have in great quantities. I will be competing with candidates with much more expertise in these fields. I might not get the job, and in turn, might ultimately be demoted back down to assistant something-or-other. But my own bosses have expressed that that’s not where they would ideally have me. And I agree with them—I’ve worked too hard and I’ve grown and I’ve accomplished too much to slide back down the latter into my old comfort zone. But it might happen.

If it does, it’s okay. But I will start looking outward. Extroverting as hard as possible. Looking and feeling out of place for as long as it takes, until I find my place. We can’t all be the bird in the tree or the fish in the sea. Some of us have to be a llama on a bicycle.

Speaking of things that are clearly not in places they belong, please enjoy this photo of a llama in a kiddie-pool. Notice how content he looks!

Gaming in a time of rhinopharyngitis

I have a confession to make. My son is dancing around on his tiptoes naked from the waist down, way too close to the television, going “pew, pew, pew!” while playing video games. He’ll be four in four months, and this scene is not anything I ever imagined.

If you’re like me, before you had kids, if you have any, or, if you don’t, but have ever entertained the idea of what kind of parent you’d be if you did, you might’ve envisioned yourself as the type who set strict limits on TV and devices (the only “device” we currently have besides our laptops is a PS4, but it’s THE device), and was so fully engaged with your child; reading, sculpting dinosaurs out of homemade dough, or playing in vats of quinoa, or what-have-you, that your child wouldn’t even know what the TV or console was, let alone have a desire to play with it.

I thought I’d be like that. But let me tell you, there are days. 

Like today. Like most of this weekend. I’ve been sick, and have told myself that in order to get the rest I need to recover for work on Monday, I have to let my son entertain himself and leave me the heck alone. The problem is, my son doesn’t like to entertain himself in the form of quietly contemplating vividly illustrated books of Grimm’s Fairy Tales or creating elaborate scenarios with his spaceships and aliens. He wants to play video games.

This is a habit we created. When we began potty-training, our son wasn’t big on sitting on his potty, even after we’d adorned the frog-shaped chair with his name and stickers, and christened it the “Michael Jackson Frog Prince Throne,” after his favorite singer (what person on Earth can’t get down to “mama se mama sa ma ma-coosa?”) My husband cleverly downloaded a few kid-friendly, easy-to-play games on the PS4 to lure him into long sitting sessions until he’d successfully deposited his business in the potty. We were amazed at how quickly he caught on to the games and was playing them as well as I might have when I first picked up a controller. The problem was, after he learned how to use the potty, he still wanted to play video games, so much so that he would tell us he had to potty when he didn’t, and proceed to throw a royal fit when we told him it was time to stop. After a month or two of this, we pulled the plug on the game system completely, even taking the system off the entertainment center and hiding it upstairs in our bedroom. His behavior changed, and he was able to use the potty without the games. He still insists, however, on using the potty only in front of the TV in the middle of the living room, often telling us he needs “privacy,” which, if my husband’s home, it means “go in the bathroom, Papa,” but if I’m around, privacy means, “sit directly behind me in the recliner while I make a big stinky poo, Mama.”

At the end of this week I was hit with a whopping bad cold that had been going around in various strains at my workplace. Because my husband and I work opposite shifts, having no outside childcare (too expensive, no family nearby), and because he doesn’t have the type of job that easily allows for time off, my husband has had to leave me here with my son all day while he pulls his usual double-shift. As any parent can tell you, the recovery process from even a small sickness really drags out when you’re expected to play with a toddler all day. It’s the dead of winter and we’re kept inside from the cold and snow, and because my husband and I share a vehicle and don’t live within walking distance of anything that interesting,  my son and I are home-bound.

I told myself I would get some writing done today. Having a child in the house, especially since I’m alone with him so much, has really diminished the time, energy and concentration I need to be able to write. Earlier this weekend, I caved to my son’s request and allowed him to play games while I got some much-needed rest. As expected, when it was time to quit, we had the mom-kid equivalent of a knock-down, drag-out fight that left both of us in tears. Was it worth it? In the short-term, it probably was. And it’s probably worth it right now, as my son, now in Marvel underpants, under a blanket on the couch, asks me questions about the game he’s playing in his angelic little voice that pitches up so high at the end, and I respond to him with monosyllabic affirmations. I know full-well that there is a fight coming, and it’s hard to imagine right now as I look as his sweet little face–bright blue eyes and shaggy dark-blonde hair, all contentment and immediacy.

Not only did I need to take it easy today, but I needed to get back to something that makes me feel human, and feel like myself–which is writing.  It’s something every parent has to do sometimes. We sacrifice so much time and energy, if we’re being the best parents we can be with the reserves and resources we have, on a daily basis, but at the end of the day, we’re people too. It’s difficult, striking a balance between self-preservation and devotion to our children. But right now, as I look across the sofa to him, him with his finger up his nose, and blow him a kiss, I know that the amount of time we’ve spent cuddling and being quiet together without a screen lit in the whole house, and the time we’ve yet to spend, is so much more significant and lasting than this small chunk of time I’m taking solely for myself today.

I want my son to grow up remembering me being an individual, with interests and pursuits. For now, it’s okay that he’s lying on the couch playing video games. Besides, he’s getting really good at using a carbon-powered mining beam.