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October 13, 2013

The second day

creation_of_adam_detail

“For I, the Lord God, created all things . . . spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.” (Moses 3:5)

Almost exactly ten years ago I was endowed in one of the many temples of the LDS Church. The very first day I went through the temple was all joy and good feeling and . . . well, feeling, that’s the best way to describe it. I had just spent a solid year in a temple preparation class (a story for another day) thinking about everything, so it was a wonderful experience to just feel for awhile.

washington-mormon-temple2

But the second time I went, I launched into a textual analysis of the creation as depicted in Genesis 1, Moses 2, Abraham 4, and the temple endowment session, just as I’d been trained to do in college literature classes. Spreadsheets were made, my friends, in order to identify every minute difference in language or imagery and garner whatever insight I could from it. For several weeks, I would spend my non-working hours reading and re-reading those creation accounts, refining my spreadsheets as I did. By the time I was done, I knew the language and sequence of the creation account like the back of my hand (don’t ask for a recitation now, however). But surprisingly, the most significant element for me was just seeing the stages of the creation depicted visually. It gave new meaning to the concept of a spiritual or mental creation preceding any physical creation. (I suddenly wished I could go back to a previous philosophy test and interpret Plato’s theory of Forms with some new-found clarity.)

When I first started writing this, my intent was to share the single greatest piece of inspiration I have ever had at the temple. It was only in the starting, and stopping, and being unsure how to proceed, that I realized how foundational all that study of the creation was, a necessary prologue to that most significant experience I had when I went by myself one day in early 2011. I was seeking some comfort and direction for all that ailed me: namely, chronic illness, the last remnants of my postpartum depression, an insanely stressful work situation, a stalled thesis, family issues, marital discord. Things were looking grim.

Ever since Addison had been born, I’d had these passing thoughts of leaving her and Neal (or just Neal, or just her) and going to Canada (or Denny’s).* Those thoughts had always seemed like the insane rantings of a lunatic, but right around the beginning of 2011, I thought maybe they had been sane all along. Maybe our family just wasn’t going to pull through this rough patch.

So, I’m sitting in the temple alone, waiting for something, anything to help. The creation film starts: they’re separating the light from the darkness, and calling it good, and ending the first day, and BAM!

This is the end of the first day of your marriage.

It’s kind of electric just typing that. The impression came so clearly, strongly, undoubtedly from God (and in case you don’t know, I’m a doubter, so that undoubtedly is a BIG-freaking-DEAL to me). On the one hand, you don’t like to hear “end” and “marriage” in the same sentence. On the other hand, it was as if this simple metaphor flooded my mind with understanding. This is the end of the first day of your marriage. There will be more. Most of the first day (4 years) of our marriage was wonderful. It was good. Most of it was almost effortless, separating light from darkness and helping me to choose light instead of the darkness I had been so fond of in my earlier years. But there are six creative periods, and the first day has to end if you want to create something more beautiful and complex.

I went to the temple perplexed and sorrowful. But I came out resolute. BRING IT, second day. But after I get us a therapist, obviously.

Over the days that followed, I went to the creation accounts again and again. It was only through this lens that I noticed that one of my many angsty, middle-of-the-night blog posts was actually the beginning of the spiritual creation of the second day of our marriage. When I wrote about becoming strong, a theme that obviously remained with me for the few years afterward, I had glimpsed a teeny, tiny vision of what my life could look like in the future if I was willing to face some hard realities and put my blood, sweat, and tears into making changes.

Off to marriage counseling we went to talk about abstract concepts like the meaning of the word love and minuscule details like who would clean up Addison’s high chair after dinner and how long an acceptable goodnight kiss should last (no, I’m not kidding; I’m sure our therapist wishes I were). All the while we were engaged in a spiritual creation, mentally deciding how our future should look and what we would have to do to get there. Although we never quite agreed on the length of goodnight kisses, we did make some big decisions then: No more big consulting contracts. No full-time jobs after graduation (up to this point, we had been considering Neal pursuing a teaching career). More hours of babysitting for Addison and more dinners out for us.

The week after we had our last therapy session, we moved to California to live with my parents (because what else are you gonna do when you’ve decided on no full-time jobs?). During the subsequent two years, we continued this spiritual creation, trying to sketch out the vision I had glimpsed. In our future life, we would cook and eat dinner as a family every night at 6:00; read scriptures and have prayer with Addison just before her bedtime, couple prayer before ours; do chores together on Saturdays; have family reading time every Sunday after church; eliminate TV (not movies, of course; heaven forbid we have nothing to keep Addison from talking to us for at least two minutes at a time!).

Once we got our house in the National Forest, the vision started to take even clearer shape: we would walk to the park or library every day, sometimes hike “the mountain;” Neal would paint in his new studio (the garage) while Addison played in the dirt; when the snow came, she could sled down the small hill in our backyard; while Addison brushed her teeth at night, I would write a growth-mindset message on her whiteboard for us to read together.

Sometimes the level of specificity of the life that we have been mentally creating feels downright ridiculous to me, coming from a more free-flowing, often unscheduled (vacuuming at midnight, why not?) household and having a natural affinity for novelty and surprises. But I’ve come to accept that if I want that vision, especially with Neal, lover of routine, I have to be intentional and vigilant. I’m just glad that after two and half years of the spiritual creation, we’ve finally moved on to the physical creation (which Neal is doing a better job chronicling than I am) and that it looks like this:

Morning light

and this:

Slide

(Although Addison sliding into a hole in the ground wasn’t necessarily my vision.)

Just as Plato taught that the physical manifestation will never perfectly match the Form, we’re finding that our physical creation doesn’t yet match our mental vision. Our leisurely 6 o’ clock family dinners often start with “Crap, it’s 6:20, what do you want to have for dinner?” and end with Addison in time-out for once again scaling the kitchen table, but we’re all starting to get into our new habits. In fact the other day Addison told us that in exchange for trying to stay seated through the entire meal, she wanted to create a “new habit too, that we are going to eat food every day!” (Clearly, this hasn’t been our strong suit as parents — who can remember lunch every day?) Despite these imperfections, the second day of our marriage has proven wonderful. Every once in a while, I feel wistful for the first day, but it had to end if we were going to create something even more complex and beautiful.

* You should know that it was very hard for me to write that sentence. Thinking about leaving my little girl, a defenseless infant, is probably the most shame-inducing thing I’ve ever experienced. How could I even contemplate that after spending so long dreaming of her existence, not to mention the difficulty of getting her here? But I wanted to say it because my friend Rachel once told me that she thought about doing that too and it made me feel so much better.

May 9, 2012

Flashback: My thoughts on April 2

This morning I had a conversation with two of my good friends, a conversation about new babies and first children and postpartum depression. And then quite by accident, I stumbled on this post that I never published. I wrote it on 2 April 2010 (hence the very creative title I picked) when Addison was just about 6 weeks old. I’m not exactly sure why I never published it but I suspect that there was some element of not being completely ready to discuss how I was feeling. I know I did blog about some of my experiences with PPD, but I also know there were some things that I wanted to say but I just could not bring myself to do it. Revisiting those times through conversation with a few friends over the last several months has been surprisingly healing. I’ve told them things without fear or shame (and often with laughter) that I remember feeling so horrible about at the time. I just want to hug them and tell them that we’re good people and good mothers and in the whole scheme of our lives these difficult feelings will be so fleeting and inconsequential and no reflection on whom we really are and what we are capable of. And while I’m telling them all that, I want to tell myself too.

For a little over a week now, Addison has been smiling directly at us, in response to us.  I think this actually started much earlier, but Neal says I was deceived by motherly-wishful thinking (the more I think about it, the more I believe that “motherly-wishful thinking” may be a sort of mental condition — anyone know if it’s in the DSM?).

This new turn of events has made getting her in the morning my favorite part of the day.  She will be rooting around, flailing her arms, making little frustrated squeaks, still partially asleep.  As I walk in the room and start speaking, she calms down a bit and starts to tentatively open her eyes.  By the time I’m in front of her swing looking at her, she has her eyes open and breaks into a smile.  She doesn’t stare at me for long because she still wants to make it clear that she is hungry, but she is very sweet and smiley in the first few moments of her day.

I have yet to get a picture of her wide eyed and smiling, simply because it is so adorable, I can’t pull myself away long enough to get the camera.

***

Speaking of beautiful moments, I used to have so many sacred thoughts and feelings about this baby girl while I was pregnant.  Impressions about her character and personality, about our pre-existing relationship, and my role as her mother.  So it’s been interesting that since she was born those have been fewer and farther between.  There is something so in-the-moment about being with a child.  When they need something, they need it now.  When they are unhappy, they want to be soothed now.  It doesn’t leave me with the kind of contemplative time to which I am so accustomed from years of bedrest and ill health.

Couple this lack of time with exhaustion and add in more mixed feelings than I could have foreseen, and this has been an interesting experiment thus far.  A lot of people talked to me about how hard the first while would be and about postpartum depression and baby blues, but I don’t remember people talking about the mixed feelings.  How you would never go back to life before her, but you will also grieve for the things that you must leave behind.

Why can we not acknowledge that we are losing things too?  Things we would want to grieve.

“Something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.” [From this Joni Mitchell song I love.]

September 13, 2010

Mommy update: Almost 31 years

I planned to write an update about myself whenever I wrote one about baby, but I’m having a difficult time formulating a proper update.  Perhaps I should go to Denny’s and talk to one of the waitresses? 😉

Things actually did get somewhat better after that crazy night that Denny’s seemed like the solution to all my problems.  Looking back, I’m not sure if I was actually feeling a lot better or if it just seemed that way because I was being taken care of by my excellent mom and dad.  But one thing’s for certain, I’m not feeling too good now.  What seemed like just a cold a few weeks ago triggered a flare-up of my fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, insomnia, etc., etc.  What can I say?  It’s been a real bummer!

And that bummer has created some other situations, which are bummers too.  But apparently I’m not ready to explain that any further because I keep typing and then erasing.  (And I know some of my long-time readers are mightily confused right now, asking themselves, Wait, she has a filter for what she writes on this blog?  WHAT?! I know it doesn’t seem like it, but even I have boundaries at times. :))

Despite the ill health, I can say that my postpartum depression has improved quite a bit.  I don’t feel that it’s all behind me, but more and more, I’m just enjoying being with my baby girl without so many complex emotions springing up all the time.  She really is a joyful baby, in love with interacting with people and the world, and that is a joy to watch.  Neal wishes she would take life a bit more mellowly (he really wanted his own personal mini-me), but she is all exuberance!

Wait a second . . . I thought this update was about me . . . oh well, I guess we know who makes the world turn around here.

P.S. Can you believe I’ll be 31 soon?!  Is it too soon to start telling people I’m almost 40?

June 2, 2010

Happiness Project Wednesday: Do what needs to be done

Every Wednesday I’m recording how The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin has influenced my daily life.  To read my introductory post, click here.

I have searched in vain for the blog post (or maybe it was in the book?) where Gretchen talks about how her mom taught her this:  do what needs to be done.  Don’t procrastinate, don’t hem-and-haw, just do it.  For the most part, this is not the time in my life where I get to do this very often.  I’ve got a pile of medical bills for which I need to write dispute letters.  We’ve got what I’ve affectionately termed “junk alley” in the hallway, stuff that needs to be put away, sold, or donated.  Our car needs new tires.  But I’ve also got a three-month-old who’s becoming a bit of rebel when it comes to napping.  Not exactly a recipe for getting stuff done.

Lately I’ve realized this sentiment is about more than these nagging tasks; it’s also about prioritizing.  Do what needs to be done.  And be honest and realistic about what those needs are, and what has to slide for the moment.

In that vein, I’ve decided to prioritize two things.  First, scripture study.  This is a need that’s taken a huge hit since Addison was born.  See, my norm with scripture study in my pre-baby life was heavy on the study.  I’m the type of person that would have about five books out, looking at cross-references and commentary.  I was in the middle of studying Isaiah when baby arrived, and it has taken me some time to accept that, at least for now, there will be no more heavy Isaiah studying.  Luckily, I’ve found an alternative.  My friend Anne from D.C. gave me a book by her father, 101 Powerful Promises from the Book of Mormon, quite a while ago and I’m using it now to scale back my expectations and instead focus on consistency.  No matter how crazy a day feels to me, I can always find a few minutes to read two pages devoted to a specific promise from The Book of Mormon.

Second, therapy.  On my post about how I was still dealing with postpartum depression, another D.C. friend, Linsey, assured me that I was self-aware enough to know if I needed to do something more aggressive to deal with my depression.  I definitely felt that was true, but at the same time realized that I was avoiding making the decision to go back to counseling.  Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE therapy.  I will sing its praises all day long.  I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t want a captive audience for an hour a week?!  But I was really fighting it simply because time feels so precious to me.  I felt like there were so many other things (e.g., medical bills, junk alley, and the like) I needed to do during the time I get away from Addison.  I finally decided that I needed to start counseling again when I realized that even when I had free time, I couldn’t figure out what to do that would really rejuvenate me.  Neal would tell me to do something fun, and it was getting to the point where I couldn’t remember what I do for fun because nothing felt fun anymore.  That’s when I knew I needed to see a therapist again.

That, and Neal telling me that I needed to see a therapist again.

Sometimes we need other people to remind us to do what needs to be done.

May 12, 2010

Mommy update: 30 years, 6 months

I just had my half-birthday on May 3.  Exciting, right?

As obsessed as I am with my birthday, I’m not actually devoting  a post to my half-birthday.  But I decided I should give a proper update post about me if I was going to do one about Addison.  Minus the height-weight percentiles.

Unfortunately, just a couple of days after I triumphantly wrote about how much housework I was doing and how healthy I was feeling, I got sick.  And I’ve been sick off and on for about three weeks now.  Mostly with UTI problems that have never seemed to completely clear up since the birth.

Speaking of illness, I’m also a little sick in the head still . . . but at least I can laugh about it!  No, seriously, when I wrote about the baby blues two weeks after Addison arrived, I was really hopeful that it would be short-lived.  But I am still having some postpartum depression issues.  Sometimes I’ll be feeling upbeat for a couple of days and I think it’s behind me, but then, WHAM! it will really hit me all over again.  Feelings that I can’t do this, I’m too sick, I’m too tired, I’m too neurotic.  I’m struggling a lot with issues of autonomy.  Since I was raised by quite hands-off, empowering, respectful parents, I started to feel much like an autonomous adult at a young age.  And nothing has so challenged that feeling as this whole motherhood thing.  I have always said that marriage really wasn’t much of an adjustment for us; it seemed to flow so naturally and did not curtail my habits or plans very much at all.  I know just how true that was now that I am facing this adjustment and I can hardly make heads or tails of my life.  It feels chaotic and unsteady.  I have no time for the hours of contemplation that I have come to depend on every day.  And I have no snappy conclusion for this paragraph . . . that’s how lost I feel most of the time :).

But like I said, at least I can laugh at myself . . . and I give myself plenty of good fodder.  Like this, for example.  Saturday was pretty much a terrible day.  We had a big issue with one of Neal’s school assignments, and I was really sick, and Addison would not give me a break, and basically, the whole world felt like it was crashing down.  So naturally, I couldn’t sleep that night and I was in that crazy frame of mind that happens to me in the middle of the night.  I was crying and crying but I didn’t want to wake Neal up since he had stayed up the night before.  I was making plans for him to drop out of school.  And then rethinking that.  I was considering erasing all his computer games.  But that would kill him; he would literally die inside.  I planned for Addison and I to drive to Arizona.  Even my crazed midnight self realized that was a ridiculous idea.  Finally, after a lot of concerted effort, I realized the obvious solution to all my loneliness and angst: Denny’s.  As in:

I could go to the nearby restaurant because it’s open 24 hours and I could just talk to the waitress.  I’m not sure where I got the idea that a Denny’s waitress would become my critical confidante, kind of like the pithy bartender role in so many movies, but by about 2 am, I was absolutely convinced that this was going to change my life.

And then I fell asleep.  Probably saving myself from a really embarrassing moment.

So if that narrative about my frame of mind seems messy or convoluted, then you’ve got the basic idea. Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of help from ward friends like Meghan, Rachael, Kjell, and Lindsey as well as my grandparents and cousin Emily.  I also got some sweet surprises for Mother’s Day from my mom and mother-in-law and cousin Audrey, who made us a smashing dinner and then held Addison so that I could eat uninterrupted.  What a treat!

And my long-distance girlfriends keep reminding me via well-timed phone calls that things will get easier and I’m not actually going insane.  Maybe.

I have also managed to do a few productive things.  Like baking cupcakes:

She loves licking the beater, can’t you tell?

Our sweet handiwork

Only about the third cake I’ve ever baked in my life.  Not too shabby.  I felt like a superhero doing it with a baby strapped to me.

We’ve also been going for some walks:

(I cut my hair off since Addison was starting to get an iron grip on it)

I was hoping to raise a homebody of a child, but she loves to see the world — and she won’t be held back by some old shut-in.  I wouldn’t even mind getting out of the house, if Utah would just decide whether we’re in winter or spring!

This spring/summer holds the promise of a lot of fun things too, starting with a great visit from Robin-Elise and Diane yesterday:

Robin, the doting aunt

Sunday we are heading to Salt Lake for a quick visit with one of Addison’s honorary aunties, Andrea.  Then a week after that, we’ll be graced with a visit from Brandon, a die-hard Addison fan.  May is turning out to be a real ego booster for our little girl!

June and July will be real blockbusters as we spend a month in California meeting Baby Evie, attending the Larson reunion, and going to the best Fourth of July party around at Anne’s house.  Oh right, and working on my thesis.  Thesis.  Thesis.  Thesis.  I have to keep reminding myself, that’s the purpose of the trip.

Then we’ll head back to P-town for a Call reunion, or two.

Promising, indeed.

March 2, 2010

“But I know the heart of life is good”

Can I just say I never thought I would be pimping a John Mayer song?  Never.  But my friend posted this video of her son’s first year of life and the song just hit me.  Hard.

I wish I could say that I just have a case of the Mondays, but in fact, it is something more than that.  The “baby blues” sounds so quaint, but it sure doesn’t feel quaint.  I am doing pretty well during the days, but when we get to about 9 or 10 at night, I’m a bit of a weepy mess.  I think we always knew that we would have to be on the look-out for postpartum depression because a history of depression is a big risk factor, but I was sort of hoping that the joy of seeing her, holding her would just gloss over everything else.

Not so much.  We have this terrifically good baby who basically only cries when she is really hungry or has bad gas, and still hearing her cry just tears me up inside.  She sleeps well (though her days and nights are a little mixed up) and eats well, and still I feel tortured by the thought that I am too sick and tired to care for her the way I should.  With the help of Neal and my parents, I have been able to sleep a lot more than most new moms, and still I wake up panicked over crushing her or losing her or some painful experience she might have when she’s a teenager.

It’s part of the plan of life that this girl of mine will have sad times, experience hard things.  But wow, the feeling that I will have to witness some of these and that there will be even more that I won’t see — how do I do that?  And how do I stop playing out all the possibilities years in advance?

While we sort these questions out, I’ll keep playing this refrain in my mind:

No, it won’t all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good

 
 

Poor Neal, his two babies get these mournful looks at night.   Addison’s is more endearing than mine.

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