Tuesday, August 19, 2014

mothering with OCD

When I was seven I would walk up and down the stairs, over and over again, until I just felt "right". My best friend would do the same, telling me how cool it was that I danced up and down the stairs. The "feeling right" would last for about 12 seconds. Then it would be bedtime and I'd be stuck switching the light switch on and off, on and off, on and off. I cried all of the time. My parents, not knowing what to do with me, took me to a psychologist. Hey. It was 1985, and Frasier Crane was all booked up.

I felt anxiety at every turn as a child. Whenever my mother was leaving to shop for groceries for her insatiable hoard of children, I would have very real images of her in a horrible, horrible accident, head severed. The reason she'd had the accident was always because I'd forgotten to tell her "I love you" exactly three times.

Two would have been negligent; four unimaginable.

It was agony.

The counselor soon after washed her hands of me, saying to my parents that I was simply a "sensitive child".

All was moderately OK until one day during my sophomore year of high school. I experienced a panic attack so intense I started smelling things that weren't there. There was my poor mother, yelling to the ER nurse over the phone, "She's smelling Cinnamon Rolls now, and before it was Chop Suey!! WHAT IS GOING ON?"

I spent the next several months having fits of anxiety so severe that the only way to describe them adequately would be to say that I wished someone would just put me out of my misery. Yes. Even that.

Again I was taken to the same counseling service; they grilled me on whether or not I had been abused, beaten, had a traumatic event in my life, etc. I said "no" to all of it and, this being ten years later and the mechanics of the brain being more easily understood, they recommended a psychiatrist. 

The psychiatrist immediately diagnosed me with OCD and clinical depression. It was the biggest relief I have ever felt to hear someone say, 

"This is why you count to three over and over again in your head." 

"This is the reason you are not able to read a sentence without re-reading the word "and" three times every time you come across it." 

"This is the reason you have painful/sad/violent images that enter your head randomly, and you feel powerless to get them out."

Today, as my two year old struggles to put a rotini noodle on a fork and yodels her frustration, as I look at the cottage cheese smashed into the floor and as I try to keep up with the demands of lunch time for a brood of five children, I feel a surge of adrenaline, of anxiety, niggling at the back of my mind. It always threatens to overtake me.

Depression and Anxiety are the Mean Girls in your PE class. They help each other through the obstacle course, but when it's your turn they laugh and point as you slog through water. They're the quicksand in the Princess Bride, only this time there's no prince to pull you out. 

I remember as that same little girl in the 1980s, visiting my grandmother in the psychiatric ward of our local hospital. She had just had shock treatments and visitors were finally allowed. My grandma was always sunny; she was the lady who would turn on the 80s equivalent to NCIS and spout out of her sweet little mouth, "Well! Doesn't this just look like a good family show!" She always saw the good in people, and she always had molasses cookies available; her offering of love for anyone entering her squeaky clean apartment with the ancient horse picture above the sofa.

It was terrible to see my grandmother, no makeup and sobbing, telling my dad she was just so, so sad. I remember her in still frames during that time, still frames of pain and checking and rechecking windows, locks and doors. 

There she was, sitting in that sterile environment: locked up and unreachable.

Today, as my two year old struggles to put a rotini noodle on a fork and yodels her frustration, as I look at the cottage cheese smashed into the floor and as I try to keep up with the demands of lunch time for a brood of five children, I feel a surge of adrenaline, of anxiety, niggling at the back of my mind. It always threatens to overtake me.

There's a lyric from a Mumford and Sons song that I adore: "If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won."

I feel this daily in my parenting. I feel there's always something I'm leaving undone; a box left unchecked or a door hanging open. I fear the judgement of my children when they are grown:

"Remember when mom would get sad and depressed and just send us outside? Remember when she'd wash her hands a lot or spend all of that time on the computer instead of making Pinterest crafts out of root beer bottles and hemp?"

and, let's be honest. The one we all fear:


These thoughts lead to more self-hate, and then the self-hate leads to me turning more inward. Friends wonder why I haven't called for weeks and then when I write on my blog that I'm lonely, they ask me why I didn't reach out.

I don't know? Is that an acceptable answer? 

When I was pregnant with my second child I decided to forego all anxiety medication. Our first child was born with her liver hanging out and no anus, so I figured (as all guilty mothers do) that my choosing to take the antidepressants was the reason my child was born so sick.

To say that this next pregnancy was hell would be to say that Oprah is bathing in hundred dollar bills at the time of this writing. I was so miserable. I was anxious. I fixated for hours each day upon the numerous ways he would die in utero, sometimes spending 4 - 5 hours on the computer "researching" other stories of parents who had given birth to stillborn babies. I would contact them and ask them for their stories, sure I could keep a stillbirth at bay if I only did the right things. 

Pregnancy was my prison.

When I was 37 weeks pregnant I was mopping our kitchen floor, something that hadn't been done for about two months. My 23 month old daughter was standing next to the mop bucket, looking up at me with these huge brown eyes, and all I could do was collapse next to her, gather her in my arms, and, sobbing, call the doctor.

I told her of my symptoms, spluttering, "I just know he's going to die. I just know it! There are so many rituals I have to perform and I can't sleep and I don't eat and my mind is so tired. So very tired! She delivered our son the next day. I'm telling you: as soon as that umbilicus was cut, my mind was clear again.

I've learned over the years that there are just going to be days where the OCD is worse than on others. There are days (especially when I'm tired) where I can't look at any amount of writing without re-reading every inch of what is written over three times. 

The only way I can describe dealing with OCD to someone who doesn't deal with it is that it is an itch that begs to be scratched. The more you ignore it, the louder it gets. 

There are times when the anxiety is so bad that I have to take three deep breaths and snuggle into the crook of my husband's warmth, imagining his body taking away some of my pain.

I am suddenly African American and TOTALLY look that good in my skivvies.
I've learned that, in mothering as in anything else, some mothers have a harder time simply getting up in the morning. Getting from point "A" to "B" is harder for me than it is for others. I've learned to stop comparing myself to the mom who packs her kids organic lunches, never raises her voice, and reads "Little House on the Prairie" aloud while I'm on the other side of town, thankful my kids are in their rooms, even if they're fighting.

Victory is in the little battles, and I have no idea what someone else's struggle may be. I've always known that. 

The freedom, though, has been in learning to be awake to my own depression and anxiety and move them from the shadows into the light. It's OK some days for me to be feeling anxious, to feel that I just "went through the motions" in caring for my children instead of beating myself up about it in sequences of threes.

Do you know, dear fellow mother-friend, whoever you are? Do you know what else I know? My fingers shake as I type these words and my mind releases a flood of fear as I think of the judgement I may receive in admitting these things.

I know something else, though, something else that holds a far greater and unmalleable truth:

There is such freedom in the telling.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Why we need to save the batteries

I am a BzzAgent, which means that I get to try stuff free and tell you all about it.

Up for Review today is the Littlest Pet Shop Style Set.

So, I'm not sure how these girls' mothers got their hair part that freakishly straight, but HOLY MOLY! Is there some kind of special comb that does that? Did these ladies do their own hair?

My child doesn't do her own hair. She tells me she wants braids and then I spend 10 minutes trying to find a comb. I imagine these girls swearing at their mothers for not using enough detangler offscreen, shooting everyone Firestarter looks, including the poor donut guy.

And then they smile the minute the camera starts clicking.

Moving on...

We were given the Littlest Pet Shop play set by Bzzagent. I told Scott that, when the package of goodies arrived, I was going out and he could let the kids open the toys ONLY after I had left the house. I wanted three hours of uninterrupted "by myself" time, so the clock started when the front door hit my butt.

Guess what, friends.


I handed out the loot in order of size. It's like the Three Little Bears, only without the annoying golden-haired home invader.

The other day my vacuum cleaner sucked up a panda, so I dug it out of the bag. (Did I mention my kids aren't so good at cleaning up after themselves?) Lucy saw it and screamed, 'Oh, PENNY!"


Yes. She is that attached. As tears streamed down her cherubic face and she murmured words of reassurance to her tiny pet, I thanked Hasbro for making a toy I could really get behind.

There is something about the Littlest Pet Shop that she loves, and other little girls, too. I remember loving little animal toys as a kid, and I suppose I have Littlest Pet Shop to thank for my daughter's ambition to be a "pet shop worker" when she is an adult. Aim for the moon, little lady.

I loved that the kids could put together this set on their own, even the "harder" parts like attaching stairs and backdrops.

Pheebs only threw three fits. See their parts? Just like the original picture, I swear it.

I loved the little stickers that came with the set. Adorable, and the kids enjoyed decorating the set as they played.

This set doesn't require any batteries, so there aren't any annoying noises. I LOVE this aspect of the toy. There are so many things you can do with the Littlest Pet Shop toys, including combining the sets, which makes me happy.

They don't have annoying clothing to put on that cannot be easily put back on once taken off. (Slinky Barbie dresses, anyone?)

Boys love these sets, too. The only thing I would change is for the sets to have a little less pink. What am I thinking, though? Then the girls wouldn't like them as much. Ok, scratch that. There's a reason I am not a toy marketer and don't play one on tv, either.

Ok, so admittedly, Scott took these pictures, which is why the pictures are blurry, there is a frog seat on the shelf and no other decorations visible.

I always want to try to pretend we have a perfect life and don't actually have a quote about my love for wine ON THE DINING ROOM WALL but, it is what it is. Does anyone else actually detest that saying?

Anyway, I give the LPS Style Set an A-. You will need a big bin in which to store all of the parts, but your children will thank you for hours, crowning you with laurels and describing all the ways they will honor you as you age. They will even fight over which one of them you will get to live with in your old age.

Thank you, Littlest Pet Shop, for giving my kids something to do that doesn't require batteries! We've got to save the batteries for...um...other things.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

for nurses everywhere (but especially you)

Three years ago today you held my hand.

I imagine you brushed your teeth that morning, not knowing that in just a few hours you would be front and center in someone else's drama.

My daughter turns three today. I hear her in the dining room playing with her new Play-Doh set.

I drink coffee with exactly one Tablespoon of International Delight.

How we take for granted those daily movements: the flip of a switch, the mother's finger lingering on a child's curl during hurried morning routine.

That day, with doctors shrugging at each other and other nurses scurrying around after the "Code Blue" had been issued, the levity of the situation began to hang over me like a hard, dark curtain.

You pulled up a chair and held my hand.

Your smile was so reassuring and I remember you saying over and over again, "Look at me. Just look at me."

You never told me I wasn't going to die.

I didn't want to ask.

For a long while after that day,  I thought you must have been an angel. You were married a few months later, so by the time I looked you up I could find no one with the last name you had given me.

You were an angel after all. An angel with eyes that crinkled when you smile and warm hands and blue scrubs.

An angel who held my hand as the pain in my side grew worse and I watched my mother look at me with fear in her eyes.

An angel who kept saying, in a human voice, "Look at me, look at me," as I watched my daughter's newborn hands, clenching and unclenching unfamiliar space in her bassinet.

You held my hand as I heard a nurse say, "We need to get the baby out of here."

You held my hand while I heard the pins that held together my carefully constructed life slowly dropping, one by one, onto cold hospital floor.


You held my hand as I wondered who else had died in this room.

Earlier that day as you prepared me for the c-section you asked me which names we were considering.


You told me we could always use your name.

Don't think I didn't consider it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

That's why I do foster care

Today I saw the foster daughters I hadn't seen for more than a year.

One, the one who sat on my curb and sobbed her little heart out 14 months ago, took the stairs two at a time, practically falling into my arms.

She's the one who wrote to me a few weeks back after I had given her a self-addressed stamped envelope before she left our home.

People often ask why we foster or how we can.

Our current foster daughter had court today and it was awful and hard and messy and that was only how I felt, the onlooker into another family's personal tragedy.

I spoke to the judge in court, telling him I wanted permanency for our sweet girl as soon as possible.

"That's my goal, too," he said, and it just felt good to know someone else wants that for her.

She is joy, and stubbornness, and sandy blond hair escaping her ponytail because she has done so many somersaults her hair just decided to give up.

I love that little girl. It's also very hard to navigate with her the waters of neglect, and longing, and jealousy over what my kids have and she doesn't: two parents who love each other.

Only a foster parent knows the ache and joy that comes with that sort of scenario. The frustrations of dealing with behavior in children who have been neglected and abused for so long that they have a hard time trusting. When that trust Is finally established, they move on.

Still, I see glimmery ribbons of hope.

Like my girl who was with us for only 3 weeks before Scott and I waved the white flag.

I told her my charge to her, my songover her life, was Fun's "Carry On". She says she brags to all of her friends about that.

"When you're lost and alone/
And sinking like a stone/
Carry on/
When the only sound/
Is your boots upon the ground/
Carry on

Our current little girl has had 11 months of constancy, the first long term experience like that in her short life.

That hug today from our previous foster daughter, that hug like she was HOME because I had carved out a little corner for her in my heart.

She will always remember, you know?

They all will.

That's why I do foster care.

That's why I do it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

what to do when you're locked out of your house and you have to pee

Today I dropped the three older kids off at camp at 10 AM. I was about to have SIX AND A HALF GLORIOUS HOURS by myself.

A friend who was dropping her kids off at the same camp went with me to kidnap another friend, who was turning 37 today. 

I have friends who are 37.

Isn't my mom 37?

Phoebe sneezed on everybody's cutlery and I ate an entire day's calories in one sitting. 

We came home, I held out my hand to open the door. 


Awesome! I have to go to the bathroom! Look, there's a bucket!

(Some things should just not be on a blog, KWIM?)

Phoebe cried about her bucket being used in such a profane way. Suck it up, kid. The closest beach is 2,382 miles away. You'll never use the thing for sand castles.

Death of a dream, baby. Death of a dream.

We were stuck in my garage. What's a girl supposed to do?

The loser owners before us never gave us a key with which to open the door going into the house. When I asked that they leave the window treatments the guy said, "What do these people want next? Our firstborn?"

Uh, no, not if she's as stingy as you are, dude.

an example of a very generous baby

So...we're sitting there, and I decide I will pick the lock. I start googling things on Youtube and am slightly disconcerted by the number of Youtube videos made by 13 year old boys dedicated to the objective of teaching someone how to pick a lock:

I think this is actually Justin Bieber before he was famous.

So, I'm sitting here in a garage that is the equivalent of MacGuyver's wet dream, and I can't for the life of me figure out how to get this door open.

"Take a crowbar to it and ask questions later," my husband advises me via email.


I do, and the door is surprisingly easy to open. For you criminals out there, rest assured that we took a trip to Home Depot this afternoon and now have a door like Fort Knox. There'll be no stealing of picture tube tvs from 1999 up in here, thanks.

The whole time I was so annoyed because I wasn't getting a nap and my time without four kids was being "wasted".

I then look down at Phoebe next to me, who is squealing and yelling, "Mommy! I'm having so much fun!" as she sticks a paint scraper into any crevice she can find, mimicking my crow bar antics.

Don't tell me I'm not a fun mother, and also don't tell me I need Pinterest projects for my kids to do. They're all overrated, especially when your kid is wired to have low expectations, like the time you told the oldest the tooth fairy was coming and she SAW YOU PUT THE MONEY UNDER HER PILLOW WHILE SHE WAS WIDE AWAKE.

Also, I'm teaching them life skills.

baby's first crowbar

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Anxiety Beast

The past few months have had me feeling The Anxiety Beast a little bit more than before. 

The Beast isn't rational, it doesn't like the meditation station on Pandora or my constant requests for him to go away as I motion toward the restraining order on my dirty refrigerator. The Beast is like that annoying Lifetime Movie Boyfriend who beats me up and then I come crawling back for more.

Every chore seems insurmountable, when the beast is talking. Requests for milk, picking up turds that didn't make it into the potty, the telephone ringing,

All of these just make the anxiety spike.

The Beast has been with me all of my life. I believe my father passed him onto me; my grandmother suffered from Him as well.

As a child, instead of playing Candyland with the babysitter, I'd sit crying by the front door, sniffing the remnants of my mother's perfume on the sleeve of my strawberry shortcake dress, just absolutely sure that my parents had been killed in a horrible car accident.

He followed me all throughout grade school but really flared when I entered young adulthood. "Maybe he will settle once the baby is born, brand new and bleating. Ok, not then? Maybe when the risk for SIDS is over? What about the first day of kindergarten and 3 o'clock arrived and there wasn't an active shooter in the building?

Some mornings I just wake up with the Beast lying over my chest. I have to take care in uncurling his iron claws from around my tender heart. I beat back the lies that I tell myself, that my children are suffering because of this.

REAL mothers do crafts with their children and Facebook the cute pictures. They don't sit in their anxiety and guilt themselves into a state of petty inertia.

I have to remind myself on those days that sometimes, the best thing is to just put one size 11 foot in front of the other, even if I'm anxious and scared and I don't feel like it. I can smile and get a new hair cut and pretend that I am not nervous or anxious. 

I can remember that, at one time in my life, as a friend said, having an orgasm wasn't as freaking complicated as solving a Rubix cube.

The hair cut I requested, which my hair dresser said would make me look like a mushroom

The Beast hates my resolve.

He can suck it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dear Grandma

Dear grandma,

I write you a letter every week and I started one this week and realized that you will not be in your little room to read it.

One of your nurses said that every time you received a letter from me you would just hold it in both hands and gaze at it, a pleased look on your face.

When I think of you, and my memories of you, it's an awful lot like that. I hold my package full of memories, and gaze at them through my tears, and thank my lucky stars that God picked you to be my grandmother.

You and I are opposites in personality. You were the queen of the kitchen and whenever you would come to visit us at our house in Cedar Rapids, you'd wonder where I went. There you and mom would be, slaving away over lefse or your famous rubbers or delicious homemade donuts, and I'd be upstairs, my nose in a good book.

My husband Scott's favorite memory of you is when he came downstairs, sleepy from the night, and you said, "Well! Where is Rachel? Hasn't she made you breakfast yet?" You were quite appalled that this young man's new wife was sleeping snugly in bed while her hungry husband was foraging for Cheerios.

About fifteen minutes later there he sat, a plate full of bacon, eggs, toast, oatmeal, and sausage in front of him.

Let me tell you: he's reminded me of that moment ever since, with a huge grin on his face.

"How did you miss the cooking gene, Rachel?" He'll say.

I've always been emotive and worn my heart on my sleeve. Like my Aunt Mary said, I don't know if it's losing your sister at such a young age and your  parents as well that caused you to be more reserved, or maybe it was just genes. If the world were full of crying people we wouldn't have the strong, stoic types like you and my mom, who leap into action and cook all of the criers a huge pot of soup that they can sob into while they lament their woes.

Your garden loved you, and so did the sun. Everything you touched bloomed into beauty. You saved a scrappy little farm kitten for me every summer when I was young, sending me a birth announcement and a message from the kitten that said, "Please name me when you come here this summer!"

You were faithful, even when old age crept into your bones and made you hurt. I can't ever remember a time in which you complained. 

You were a prayer warrior. I believe you had a direct line to God. When our daughter was diagnosed with difficult birth defects before she was born, you wrote every week to tell me you were praying for her,  and that God had big plans for that girl.

He did, Grandma. Even when I couldn't believe it, you did. Boy, did you believe it.i don't doubt that you spoke to our Heavenly Father every day on her behalf, and while I was busy researching possible outcomes on the internet and googling away, you took my daughter to the throne of heaven.

We call Lucy, 9 years old now and in wonderful health, "Lulu", which was your beloved mother's name. 

You took Aunt Mary to the throne of heaven, as well. She was given a cancer diagnosis and you prayed and prayed and prayed. She has proven the doctors wrong and you sat quietly, praying over and over again for her healing.

I'm 35 now, but the older I get, the more I realize that doing the mundane chores of daily life with a grateful and patient heart, not complaining but looking up to the father for guidance, is the only way to live.

You taught me that.

You also taught me how to crochet when I was seven, and the fine art of nodding and smiling when I don't agree with what my husband is telling me. It wasn't worth an argument.

You loved me.

I loved you.

I guess that's the price we pay for loving so deeply, isn't it? 

The pain we feel in the letting go. The pain I am feeling right now.

About five years ago I sent you a letter asking you if you were afraid to die.

"I'm not afraid to die," you wrote. "Why should I be, when I know exactly where I'm going?"

Another lesson learned from my grandmother, maybe the best lesson of all.

I believe, when it get to heaven, there you'll be, looking young and beautiful and wiping your hands on a well-worn apron just as you were when we were young and drove those long, mirage-filled roads to the Art and Mabel Ekstrom farm while all of us kids piled out of the car.

The sun will shine on your back, placing you in beautiful profile against the backdrop of heaven.

You will welcome me into your arms, and then you might ask,

"so, Rachel, did you ever learn to cook?"

I'm so happy for you, grandma. You are hearing "well done, good and faithful servant!" 

Like I said at the beginning, the pain of loving someone so deeply is the hurt in the letting go.

Thank you for being such a wonderful mom, grandmother and person.

I love you.

Your granddaughter forever,