Housekeeping After Having Kids

Before having kids I understood the vague notion that becoming a parent involved taking care of and cleaning up after my offspring. What I didn’t realize before having children was just how much cleaning I would have to do, and on top of that, how disgustingly filthy my household would become despite all of the continuous energy being directed towards scrubbing and sanitizing.

image

It all begins with the bodily fluids.

Anyone who has had an infant with a smidge of reflux can confirm that while you can valiantly combat the infant puke that threatens to cover every square inch of carpet, couch and human being nearby, you will lose every one of those battles. Trying to contain infant projectile vomit is like trying to stop an avalanche – there is really nothing to be done other than to stare in awe as the alabaster releases, blanketing everything in its path. There was a significant number of months during my life where I would regularly evaluate whether the quantity or location of the spit-up on my clothing warranted a wardrobe change or if I could get away with just rubbing it in.

Even past the baby stage, I’m on full-time puke patrol. Digestive tracts remain immature far longer than I imagined.  I’ve learned that a sudden cough, a bout of jumping, or eating too many french fries can result in immediate intestinal emission. There’s not usually much of a warning, there’s just vomit flowing out of faces. I once caught my daughter’s vomit in my hands before any of it hit the floor. I was ridiculously proud of that feat. I got a little cocky though and tried it again at a later point but it didn’t work out as well and I just ended up covered in puke along with the floor. A few weeks ago, my daughter threw up all over herself, and her car seat, in the church parking lot a moment before we were about to go in. When adults puke, we puke maybe a cup or two into the toilet. When a child pukes, they puke up enough liquid to cover the approximate volume of an African elephant, and it goes everywhere.

My husband is one of those people who pukes when he smells puke so for the entire hour plus car ride home after church he held a cup of coffee near his nose in an effort to block out the stench.  He pulled through the McDonald’s drive-thru to get a coffee, not to drink, but to sniff.

husbandcoffee

The car seat was so fully covered with puke, every inch of fabric strap and every crevice soaked completely,  that he seriously contemplated stopping at the store to get a new one and just throwing the old one away.  He mentioned this to me, and I just looked at the seat and shrugged my shoulders, because we can probably afford one, plus I knew I’d be the one who would have to clean up that puke and I loathe anything resembling manual labor.

Nothing can compare to what I did as a kid, though. I got sick while sleeping and leaned over the side of the bed and threw up straight into the heat vent (during winter, of course). I still remember the sound of my mom dry-heaving while cleaning up the stinking, steaming magma, equivalent in bulk to that of an enormous safari animal.

What puts us over the edge is the dirty dishes and the laundry.

I didn’t even talk about poop or pee but even without going there I think you are starting to understand why my laundry baskets fill up so quickly. While I consider the laundry to be a somewhat taxing chore, it’s the dishes that really kill me. From day one the bottles and baby food bowls caused the sink to overflow. In our household, we started cooking at home quite a bit more after having kids, which meant our own pots and pans were added to the already growing number of items getting thrown in the dishwasher each day. I take clean dishes out and put clean dishes into that damn dishwasher at least two or three times each day. And the dishes still pile up.  I try to alleviate the stress and make one-pot recipes or quick fix type meals. I sort of hate it when my husband cooks because even though his food creations are restaurant quality, the clean up also requires a full-time dishwasher, and guess who that is?  I love him when I eat his food, and curse him when I clean up later.

In my relentless pursuit to provide my family with clean sippy cups, I find myself abandoning the scrubbing of the actual sink itself. In my eternal exertion lugging loads of puke-soaked laundry up and down the stairs I find myself ignoring the spider webs that hang from the ceilings and that somehow manage to invade the window of the oven door. Ensuring that my family at least begins each day using sanitary utensils and wearing unsoiled clothing means I have no choice but to dismiss the dust bunnies in the corners of the rooms and forget about wiping down the baseboards.

Oh yeah.  Then there are the cracker crumbs.

I distinctly remember a moment when I hopped into my friend’s car to head to lunch.  Pre-Kid Me was appalled and disgusted by the amount of cracker crumbs that littered her vehicle.  It looked like someone had crushed up a bag of Goldfish into minuscule pieces and then opened the bag and just sprayed the bits everywhere.  I wondered what could actually have happened to cause such a mess. I swore that no matter what, my car would never look like that when I became a parent.

Hahahahahahaha.

That’s all I can really say about that. I don’t have time to elaborate. I have to go do the dishes.

image

This is Why Car Seats Are So Panic-Inducing

I distinctly remember the first time I was forced to interact with a car seat.  I’ve teamed up with Tesco this week to share what it is about car seats that I find so harrowing.  My nephew was an infant and I was pregnant with my first child.  My sister-in-law, a seasoned mother of two, was getting out of her car, deftly juggling her iced tea, a couple of diaper bags, her purse and her toddler, and I asked if there was anything I could do to help.  She quickly responded that I could, “Get Leo out of his car seat” and then smiled as she added, “It’ll be good practice”.  I quickly regretted offering my assistance.

I panicked.  

Then I remembered that I would soon become a mother and have to do hard things like this so I took a deep breath and opened his door, determined that I, a woman who had successfully four-pointed her Master’s program, could retrieve him out of the car.  I ogled the harnesses and clamps and straps and I (remembered) realized I had no clue what I was doing.  I had no clue how to begin to unbuckle  this car seat and no clue how I would ever survive the demands associated with being a parent.  I could blame my terror on hormones, but I’m pretty sure I felt this way pre-pregnancy as well.

I backed away from the car seat and told her I would just carry her bags into the house instead.

Now, two children later, I’m a car seat pro.  Sort of. Okay, maybe I’m not a pro, but I at least buckle in, tighten straps, unbuckle straps, loosen straps, heave a kid in, and heave a kid out what feels like a thousand times each day.  I’m at least car seat experienced and car seat comfortable.

I still panic.  Car seats are intimidating, yo.  

I panic about whether or not I buckled the car seat straps together (even if I know I already buckled the car seat straps together).  I panic about when I should move my children from rear-facing to front-facing.  I panic about the financial costs related to ensuring my children are in the correct type of car seat during each growth stage, about whether the fabric of their coats protects them from the climate while preventing them from being too puffy.  I panic about whether or not the straps are tight enough and sometimes I worry about whether or not the car seat has reached it’s expiration date.

I worry about whether or not I’m worrying enough about whether or not the car seats are expired.   

I panic about keeping my children safe in the car, even if I did manage to worry enough to do all of those things correctly.

Sometimes I just panic about the amount of energy I need to expend in order to get my kids in and out of the car, regardless of where it is I even need to take them.  There are many days that I do not take a trip to the store because the thought of taking my kids in and out of the car sounds like too much effort.  Because it IS too much effort.  Carrying, lifting, pulling, strapping, unstrapping, lifting, carrying.  Those are the steps of taking my toddler in and out of the car, and sometimes those steps seem insurmountable.  At the very least, inconvenient.

Sometimes in a moment of clarity, I reflect on the fact that our kids are so much safer than they were back in the day.  It wasn’t too long ago when kids literally swung from seatbelts in the backseat or played with their dolls on the floor of the car, their parents up front, unbelted.  In these moments, I attempt, again, to take a deep breath and let go of the fears.  
As it turns out, letting go of the fears is one of the most difficult demands associated with parenting.  Even harder than pulling that car seat strap tight.

carseat

Marriage: It's All About Teamwork (With a Dash of Competition)

There’s so much work involved in just pretending to look like being a functional adult, it’s common to feel over-worked and under-appreciated.   There’s a lot of aspects to adult life that really suck.  Taking care of the bills, the trash, the dirty dishes, the piles of laundry. Cleaning up messes, picking up toys, and wiping up spills.  Filling out the never-ending-Godforsaken work forms, the relentless (and often pointless) data collection sheets, the before-work and after-work and lunchtime meetings.  Dealing with the idiot co-workers and the idiot bosses and the idiot customers and doing all of these things without losing your shit.  Day. After. Day.

Being a successful grown-up person requires a crapload of work.  But, being a successful married individual requires even more.

Each person has their own way of doing things and their own viewpoints about what things are high priority and what is completely and utterly unimportant (generally there is an inverse relationship between Partner A’s List of All Things Important compared with Partner B’s).  Negotiating with each other, without compromising your values and sense of self, requires a delicate balance and a lot of alcohol patience.  It’s worth it, though, when we’ve found The One.  Having a companion who we cherish and admire, who loves and adores us right back, flaws and all, is one of the best things on the planet. Out of everyone on this Earth, the one person we most want to appreciate us, and all of our hard work, is our spouse.

Successful Marriage Formula = Love > Annoyance

Successful Marriage Formula = Love > Annoyance

 

Which often leads us to conversations like these:

 

SCENARIO 1: As I’m changing my daughter’s diaper I say to my spouse, “Oh my God, I just got poop on my hand! Quick, hand me a wipe!”

TEAMWORK: Spouse jumps up deftly and passes me a baby wipe faster than you can say, “Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew” five times fast.

COMPETITIVE EDGE:  After handing me the wipe, Spouse casually mentions, “I had WAY more poop on me yesterday morning.  She pooped on me, explosively, when I took off her diaper”.

 

SCENARIO 2: My spouse wakes up in the morning and complains, “I’m so tired”.

TEAMWORK:  I feel badly about the fact that Spouse’s day is already starting out so rough, so I go downstairs and make a protein shake for Spouse to take for breakfast.

COMPETITIVE EDGE:  …but not before I letting Spouse know how much more tired I am first, “I’m soooooo tired.  The kids got up three times and I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I’ve been up since 2:30 a.m.”.

 

SCENARIO 3:  After the birth of our second child (and nine solid months of reflux) I told my spouse, “I’m so glad I don’t have heartburn anymore!”

TEAMWORK:  “Yeah.  Heartburn really sucks,” spouse says, nodding in support.

COMPETITIVE EDGE:  Spouse then adds, “especially when it’s so bad you have to go to the E.R.” (spouse did). “By yourself” (spouse did).  “I know, I feel badly about that,” I concede.  It doesn’t stop there.  “You went out to coffee with your friends” (I did….ok maybe I really met them for a beer. But, shhh don’t tell him). (Spouse’s heart was just fine).

 

SCENARIO 4: A lot of things need to be taken care of in a household.  Yard work. Cleaning.  Finances.  Blah blah blah. Boring stuff that makes you sometimes wish you were a kid again, until you remember that as an adult you can purchase alcohol and no one can stop you from eating nothing but nacho cheese Doritos for dinner, if you really want to.  Adulthood means Freedom!  Unfortunately the road to freedom is paved with endless chores.

TEAMWORK: We each have “our” jobs we do around house.  We divide and conquer, and we do so quite well.  We each have our own things we care about – so that means that everything gets cared for.  For example, I care about the kitchen (dishes put away, counters clean, everything in its place) and the laundry (everything clean and folded and put away each week) and the family fun factor (fun, silly and engaging interactions).  My spouse cares about the finances (long term savings, how much we spend on the electric bill), safety of us and our possessions (doors locked, garage door shut) and the yard.

COMPETITIVE EDGE:  I’m quite sure we subconsciously sabotage each other’s efforts at times,  Spouse leaves 700 (give or take) dirty dishes on the counter directly above the dishwasher each week and always leaves the hand towel on the counter, instead of hanging it back up on the towel rack.  I leave the lights on, in every room, you can retrace my path by following the lit bulbs. Spouse insists (wrongly) that watching television is an interactive event.  I spend hundreds of dollars over budget on frivolous things, then complain that I don’t make enough money. He leaves his folded laundry piled up on the folding table until it reaches the ceiling.  I may or may not sometimes leave the front door unlocked (and possibly gaping open).  This type of subversive competition is the ultimate test of marriage strength: can we, as a couple, deal with the other’s laxity without cracking?

 

SCENARIO 5:  At a certain point in a marriage, there are no secrets left.  Personal grooming that used to happen behind closed doors becomes more of a shared experience.  Over time, people just get more comfortable with one another. And, at least for people like us, we also tend to get more hairy.

TEAMWORK:  One spouse shaves the other’s neck, and back, and fields the question, “Is my back getting really hairy?” with, “Oh, it doesn’t matter”.  One spouse plucks the other’s eyebrow(s).  One spouse gets pregnant and the other needs to help shave her legs ….and stuff…that can no longer be reached. One spouse clogs every drain with the constant shedding of Chewbacca-like tresses, while the other spouse cleans the clogs out on a regular basis.

COMPETITIVE EDGE:  No solid couple can resist letting the other know, “Your moustache needs to be waxed”, or “Your eyebrows are starting to connect to your back hair”.

 

The ultimate measure of a good marriage is whether or not you love the person you are united with more than you are annoyed by them.  If you happen to have that much affection for the one you spend almost all of your personal time with, you are really a lucky duck.  I’m one of those luckies.

 
“I love you”, my spouse always says.  So naturally my usual reply is, “I love you more”.

 

 

Marriage:  It takes teamwork. And, apparently, an underlying competitive edge.

Marriage: It takes teamwork. And, apparently, an underlying competitive edge.

 

You know I want to hear your marriage teamwork/competition scenarios. Let me hear ’em!

5 Things Spouses of Runners Need to Know

1.  Yes, they really need all of that gear.  You don’t realize all of the places that chafe and rub until you’re starting to rack up the miles.  Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  Rubbing that’s not even noticed at mile three can turn into a deep red burning patch of inflamed skin by mile eight.  Depending on the temperature, different weights and layers are needed to keep your spouse warm, but not over-heated.  As the runs get longer, water or gels need to be carried, along with GPS equipment for tracking location and pace, and reflective clothing and head lamps for running before the Sun wakes up. Compression gear and shoes are necessary splurges, as are socks, seemingly simple garments that can be appallingly expensive, yet shockingly effective (or ineffective, if you get the cheapies).  The accouterments make a significant impact when it comes to keeping your spouse’s body comfortable and healthy.

2.  Beware of their running gloves.  For spouses of cold-weather runners:  I advise utilizing pliers, disposable chopsticks or some other utensil if you need to pick up their running gloves. The gloves are used just as much for soaking up sweat and wiping off snot as they are for keeping hands warm.

5 Things Spouses of Runners Need to Know

5 Things Spouses of Runners Need to Know

3.  Just because your spouse is running out the door (maybe with a buddy) don’t think this means they are running away from you.   Your spouse might want to hang out with their running partner every Saturday morning instead of staying in bed and cuddling with you. Don’t take this as a personal affront. The running buddy is needed not only for companionship and stress-relieving purposes (we’ll concede that they might hear how annoying it is when you keep nagging about turning off the lights), but also to help keep them accountable, to keep them from walking, to keep them on track for meeting their running goals, and to keep them safer – running alone can be a dangerous act.  Oh, and don’t worry, the running buddy hears about your good qualities too, it’s not all negative talk, in fact the longer the run, the more those happy brain chemicals produced are likely to make your spouse feel like singing your praises. Don’t be jealous of the running buddy, and don’t be mad that your spouse is leaving your side – trust me it has nothing to do with your spouse not wanting to spend time with you and everything to do with them wanting to spend more quality time with you.  Running makes your spouse a better spouse.

4.  Pre-run and post-run rituals are all part of the long run.  You can’t expect your spouse to skip out on either one for the sake of time.. Fueling up with peanut butter on toast and a cup of coffee at least a half an hour before the run is essential for sustaining energy throughout the trot.  The pre-run shit is often not openly discussed, but is always needed. Post-run foam-rolling is another must-do, as well as possibly icing. And, of course, one of the most important post-run rituals is the consumption of eggs with crispy bacon, washed down with more coffee (but this cup should be spiked with Kahlua). BONUS:  You can join your spouse for this last bit.

5.  Their long run is truly in your best interest.  I’m sure you realize by now that if you are married to a runner you are married to someone who is at least slightly crazy.  Even though you might have to change extra diapers or cope with whining from the kids on your own while your spouse is off on a leisurely jaunt for hours at a time, trust me, they are doing this to be a better person, which equates to being a better parent and partner. Runners, as a whole, they have a deep-seated, primal aching, a visceral need to release pent-up energy.  The healthy manifestation of this exists in the form of a long run, but if that’s not an option, it could potentially transpire in a seemingly unprovoked raging incident that involves flying objects chucked across the room, aimed at your head.  It’s really better for you if they go for that jog. Look out for yourself.

 

Your spouse is a little bit crazy.  That's why he/she needs to run.

Your spouse is a little bit crazy. That’s why he/she needs to run.

 

 

 

Singing Off-Key (And Loving It): A Small Collection of Remixes For Parents of Toddlers

You know how when you sing, sometimes you can’t hear when you’re off-key? It seems like a lot of people tend to think they are better at singing than they actually are (especially after imbibing adult beverages) but, not me.  I can hear my off-key-ness LOUD and CLEAR and you know if YOU can hear it, it must be really bad.  Really really.

So, it was a surprise to me after Baby Grouch Numero Uno was born that I found myself singing to her, often.  As she has grown, she loves to sing, and we are constantly singing, all of the traditional nursery rhymes we hear on Pandora (Nursery Rhyme Radio) or YouTube (Have you checked out Super Simple Songs yet? If not, you MUST) or that she has learned at daycare, and of course the Michigan State Fight Song (gotta brainwash ’em early).  But more often than not we are making up lyrics on the spot, using the same beat to sing different versions of songs, or making up lyrics to describe what we are doing at the moment, or to just have fun and be silly.

Case in point:

Happy and Sad ABC’s

We always sing the ABC’s while washing hands. Somehow Toddler Grouch started singing bits of the song in a frenetic and goofy tone, “aybeceedee eeeeffGEE!” while smiling and bobbing her head and rubbing her hands back and forth vigorously, and singing other bits super slowly, with a mournful tone, slowly swaying from side to side, the corners of her mouth turned down, faking a sad version of the tune, “ayyyyy beee ceeeee deeee eeeee eeefff geeeeeeeeeee”. If I don’t make my fake-frown frowny enough, she stops me, “Mom, sing it with your mouth!”  It’s hilarious. We giggle.

Case in point 2:

Silly Word Pattern ABC’s

I have no idea why, but ever since Toddler Grouch could speak “tunu” meant ABC’s.  I have no explanation for this, and it took us a looooong time to figure out what she wanted when she said, “tunu” but we eventually figured out that this meant the ABC song.  Every now and again we sing the ABC’s like this:

A-b-c-d-e-f tunu,

h-i-j-k-l-m-n-o tunu,

q-r-s-t-u tunu,

w-x-y and tunu.

Now I know my a-b tunus,

next time won’t you tunu with me?

 

One of our favorite Super Simple songs is the Good Morning, Mr. Rooster song, which I realize might seem ridiculous coming from the Morning Grouch, but maybe I sing it just as much for me as for her.  It’s really cute.

Good Morning Mr. Rooster Lyrics – by Super Simple Songs

Good morning.  Good morning.  Good morning to you.

Good morning, Mr. Rooster,

Cock-a-doodle-doo.

 

Sometimes we sing the original version, but we often remix it up a bit:

The Good Morning Song

Good Morning.  Good morning. Good morning to you.

Good morning, Little Grouchy,

Mama loves you.

 

(Repeat as needed)

Remix for two kids:  Replace “mama loves you” with “and (insert kid’s name here) too!”

 

Sometimes we use the same beat to get her moving towards the bathroom:

The Potty Song

Good morning. Good morning.  Good morning to you.

Let’s go pee on the potty.

And, maybe poo.

 

*Remix: replace poo with toot.  Farts are always funny.

 


Songs just make everything easier.  And happier.

Here are a few that are sung to the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb:

The Nap Song

Now it’s time to
take a nap, take a nap, take a nap,
Now it’s time to take a nap,
It’s time to lay in bed.

Lay your head on
the pillow, the pillow, the pillow,
Lay your head on the pillow
It’s time to get some rest

Do you want to
read a book, read a book, read a book?
Do you want to read a book
Read a book with me?

 

The Let’s Change Your Poopy Diaper Song

It’s time to change your

diaper now, diaper now, diaper now,

It’s time to change your diaper now,

let’s clean up your pooooooooop.

* The longer you draw out the word poop, the louder the giggle

** Can easily be modified to accommodate a strictly pee diaper

 

Toddler Grouch’s favorite rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb is the one I bust out when she’s acting all toddler-like.  “No! No! I don’t wannnnnt to!” You know what I’m talking about. This helps lighten almost any mood:

 The No Song

Toddler Grouch says no no no,
No no no,
No no no,
Toddler Grouch says no no no,
No no no no no!

Trust me, sounds too simple, but goes over very well with the target demographic.

 

The Brush Our Teeth Rap  

This must be performed in rap version, swaying from side to side, bouncing the knees a bit up and down, with a sassy scowl on the face.  Bonus points if you can do this dressed in a hoodie, or with a rasta hat on.

*Every “Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!” is accompanied with a hand gesture, mimicking brushing teeth.

 

We brush our teeth.

Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!

We brush our teeth

Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!

 

We get the bottom.

We get the top.

We go in circles.

We do not stop.

 

Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!

Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!

 

We get the front.

We get the back.

We keep them healthy.

We do not slack.

 

Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!

(Sung in theatrical high pitch): Do you have to spit in the siiiiiiink?

Eeeeee eeee eee ee ee eee eeeeeeeeeeeeee (spin the discs – don’t forget the hand motions)

We brush our teeth.

We brush our teeth.

We’re almost done.  (remix version = let’s have some fun)

(Sung in theatrical high pitch): Do you want to brush your tongue?

 

Eeeeee eeee eee ee ee eee eeeeeeeeeeeeee (spin the discs – don’t forget the hand motions)

Repeat.

Pro tip: Stop singing when the kid stops brushing.  Tell them you need them to keep the beat.

Songs for toddlers. Toddlers love to sing!

Songs for toddlers. Toddlers love to sing!

What are your favorite songs to sing with your toddler? Please, let me siphon your ideas.

The Gratitude Muscle

Building strength can be hard.

The first part is deciding to get stronger.  That’s really the hardest part, even though it doesn’t even involve a workout regime.  It’s just a mindset, at first, a determination to make improvements to who we are.

Until it becomes habit, reminders are needed.  Sticky notes that say, “go work out!” and a calendar on the fridge with the workout plan on display, demanding to be seen.  Smiley faces are drawn on the days the plan is followed through and frowny faces are drawn on the days that aren’t.  Until it is second nature, strict discipline and careful planning are needed.

Over time, the body starts to crave the good feeling it gets from the workouts on its own. There is less reliance on the sticky notes and the calendars and more just listening to the muscles, noticing when they need to rest and recoup, and when they ache to be used.

It doesn’t take long for changes in the body to be noticed.  At first by you, and then by those around you.  Energy pervades, even when the muscles are tired, or sore, because they are stronger.  Healthier.  Everyone has slumps, but those who are determined find motivators: workout buddies or personal trainers, or bigger calendars on the fridge.  Even with a downward slide here or there, a fit person generally keeps getting fitter.

There are 206 bones and several hundreds of muscles that make up the adult body, but one of the most important, yet overlooked, piece of human anatomy is the Gratitude Muscle.

Just as the heart must be strong enough to pump oxygen and nutrients, and our bones must to be strong enough to carry our weight, the Gratitude Muscle is on par with those anatomical necessities – it must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile.

Children have bodies with natural strength, they exercise daily, through exploration and play, but over time sedentary lifestyles and self-neglect can cause atrophy to all of the muscles, including the Gratitude Muscle.  Even though the importance of staying fit is always recognized, we can easily become set in our ways and make excuses for why we don’t have time to learn, to play, to be grateful.  People without healthy Gratitude Muscles, can technically survive, but they.tend to live horribly dreary, unhappy existences.

The good news is that even if we’ve neglected our Gratitude Muscle in the past, we can always start strengthening it now, no matter how weak it may be.  If we have the desire, we can bolster our thankfulness, even if it is currently grey and mushy from extended disuse.  It is worth penciling in Gratitude Workouts, forcing ourselves to focus on what we have, and what is good.  Working to find gratitude in everything and everyone means pushing ourselves to new limits, which might tire us out, might sometimes cause temporary strain.  It can be uncomfortable at times, practicing gratitude.  The end result is worth it , no pain, no gain, as they say, and a little bit of tenderness can feel good, in this case, loving what we have so much it hurts.

The Gratitude Muscle is an anatomical necessity that must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The Gratitude Muscle is on par with those anatomical necessities – it must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

 

Depression ≠ Sadness

Not too long ago, one of my friends, who reads many of my blog posts, said to me that she was always, “reading about how sad you always are”.  Her words rocked me back on my heels for a second, catching me off guard, for a number of reasons (it also made me think that all of those truly anonymous bloggers are really smart cookies). Even though I have a decent number of posts about depression and mental health, here’s the thing:  I’m not always sad.

Not even close.  

If you ask me how life is going or how I’m doing, I’d (honestly) say that life is AMAZING! WONDERFUL! and that I am SO GRATEFUL for all of the good things I’ve got going on. Life is so good, folks! I think I express this on the blog as evidenced here and here and here. But, that’s the misconception surrounding depression, that the term is synonymous with sadness.  I suppose the misunderstanding exists because everyone grasps sadness, but not very many seem to get what depression is all about.  Today I heard two people discussing a recent suicide, “I think she’d been depressed for a while”, one person said, and the other person responded with, “What did she have to be sad about anyway?  She had kids!” I wanted to jump in and clarify some terms for them: She wasn’t sad.  She was depressed.

There’s a big difference.

Chronic depression doesn’t go away like sadness does.  And it doesn’t necessarily feel like sadness does either, even if we are feeling “down”. That’s part of the issue – it’s hard to explain what it feels like. Even when life is at its best, and there is nothing to be sad about, and we’re on an upswing, we are never “cured”.  The depression is still there, a part of us, though it might be barely noticeable, or easy to forget about, temporarily.

I usually use the analogy of treading water, but another way to think of depression is like carrying an added weight around all the time.

For many of us functionally depressive people, who can maintain relationships and hold a job and engage in fun activities, depression can be thought of like a heavy backpack. Most of the time, the weight of the backpack is relatively stable, so we’re able to remain relatively even-keeled.  We can still do everything that everyone else does, backpacks are pretty ergonomic and carrying an extra twenty-five pounds isn’t too hard.  During the good times, the weight is easily managed, and a lot of us make it look effortless.  The bags are hardly noticed.

Sometimes, the backpack gets heavier. This could be due to some sad occurrence it could be due to increased stress or it could be due to nothing.  Either way, instead of twenty-five pounds, the bag weight multiplies, turns into forty.  Or more. And instead of just the backpack, sometimes we’ve also got ankle weights on and a million grocery bags on our arms. You know how you don’t want to make one more trip back to the car, so you load up six bags on the left arm and five bags on the right?  It’s sort of like that, except we are carrying them around constantly, not just from the car to the house. And of course, the bags are invisible, so no one else can see why the hell we are struggling to just walk from the car to the house.  We just look like weaklings.

During big dips, it’s like having to carry all those extra bags around when you have the flu. Same bags, but so much harder to manage.  We fumble over seemingly easy tasks and we can’t hold on to one more thing, so when we’re asked to do so, even if it is something we’ve held before, we might protest and it might look like we’re overreacting. “Just hold it. It isn’t even heavy,” you might think. And it’s not, by itself, but it is too much when you factor in our compromised immune systems and the combined weight of the invisible bags. We can’t just drop the bags, that isn’t possible, so when we’re at our weakest, we just can’t move.  We might not be able to talk to our friends or family, we might not be able to leave the house, or even to get out of bed.  We can’t. We’re too tired.  We don’t make very good load-bearing animals.  Since the bags are invisible, people really get pissy about this one.  “Just get up!” they say, wondering why the hell we are just laying there or why we are being so lazy.

Sometimes when we feel an impending depressive episode coming on, we try tactics to prevent getting pinned down, because we don’t want to be immobilized by the weight. Maybe it’s a med change. Maybe it’s meditation or therapy, maybe it’s drinking, maybe it’s exercise.  Maybe it’s continuously moving, doing All The Things!

Continuous movement is a strategy I employ from time to time.  Sometimes it’s easier to just keep moving because stopping to rest means that getting started again would require dead-lifting the invisible heavy load, and that would just be too much.

For a lot of us, this land of functional-depressiveness is where we live most of our lives. And, it’s where many of us hope to stay, knowing that with just a bit too much weight piled on we could lose the “functional” tag at the beginning.

But, remember this: if expressing the depressive part of ourselves makes you think we’re constantly morose, know that you’re still not getting it. Keep in mind that the other parts of ourselves laugh and enjoy and are grateful for all in our life that is amazingly good.  We’re not always sad.

Even when we’re depressed.

There’s a difference.

So for those of you who are sick of hearing the sad-sounding posts – stop reading them. They really aren’t for you, anyway.  But, for those of you carrying around invisible baggage of your own, they are for you. Because I know that just realizing you aren’t the only one with a heavy load can make your backpack feel a little bit lighter.

We're Full of Bull

My daughters come from a long line of strong-willed individuals.  Before they were born Mr. Grouch and I wondered what our kids would look like, or what they would be interested in, but one thing we knew for sure.  They’d be headstrong.  Our girls have aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, and, lucky for them, great-grandparents too, who are full of strength, who say to themselves, “I will be brave, I will not give up, I will not be stopped”, and who say to others, “I will be heard, I will follow my dreams, I will not be knocked down”.  There is wicked strength within each individual and we, as a family, are a formidable force when our energy is corralled in the same direction. An unstoppable herd.

We are bulls.

Toddler Grouch is at the age where her bullheadedness can sometimes be frustrating.   Like when she won’t put on her shoes, or brush her teeth, even when I say to her, “C’mon girl, we’ve gotta go!  We can’t be late!”  When she digs her heels in, asserting her independence and demonstrating her strong will, sometimes I call her my Little Bull. I place my hands by my ears, point my fingers up like horns, while I huff and shuffle my feet on the floor.  She laughs and mimics the gestures, repeating the phrase, “C’mon, Little Bull!”   Even when she doesn’t listen right away or when she blatantly disobeys, and I have to pull out my discipliny-mama voice, I’m secretly proud that she’s hard-nosed. There’s a lot of positive attributes to being a bull.

Mr. Grouch and I are both bovine in nature, both of us capable of being bullish to the max.  Our individual ability to persist, to push on, to persevere has, for the most part, served us both well, and when we join forces, we are unstoppable.  But, with any strength, comes complementing weakness. Bulls can lack grace. Bulls sometimes charge into situations, with their eyes on the prize, not thinking about the damage they may be inflicting upon anything in their periphery, with their bucking and banging, incapable of slowing themselves down. They can have difficulty seeing something from someone else’s perspective, seeing only the path that leads them towards their own passions. Bulls can be ornery and selfish. When Mr. Grouch and I are heading in opposite directions, the results can be brutal. We charge and we crash and when we’re back on track again, we have to sort through the debris, putting together the pieces that we unceremoniously smashed to smithereens.

As a family unit, we can not all be bulls. At least, not all at the same time.  Four bulls in a house, all traveling down their own paths, means inevitable, even if inadvertent, trampling, wrecking emotional havoc and/or physical destruction.  At any given moment, one of us needs to balance some of that brute force with a bit of softness.

So, how do we do that?  How does a bull not act like a bull?  Neither one of us can dramatically change who we are, but sometimes we can temporarily morph.  We fill ourselves up, taking in all of the happiness and joy and light-heartedness that comes along with being happily married, and rearing young children.  We swell with parent-pride, and transform ourselves into beings that are a little more graceful, a little lighter on our feet, with a little more bounce in our steps.  Figurative bulloons, if you will. Kinder, stretched-out-smooth, versions of ourselves that make it easier to wipe off the shit-storms that emerge in marriage and parenthood, allowing us to more easily clear away unpleasantness and filth with a simple swipe, instead of allowing it to fester, stuck in our fur.  Our bulloon selves are gentle to the touch, are buoyant enough to rise above our usual space of constant clamor, and are highly unlikely to cause any damage, even if we are to ricochet around the room.  It works, for a while, until we deflate, landing on the ground with a thud, the floorboards creaking under our weight.  Back to our regular punchy selves, we charge into action in our typical fashion until we need to fill ourselves up once again.

Dear General Education Teacher: Surprise! You're A Special Ed Teacher!

resource

My first job out of college was working as a general ed high school biology teacher.  On day one, during second period, a woman I had never met before walked into my room, alongside the kids.  She introduced herself as a special education teacher in the building and informed me she was assigned to work with me during that hour.  At first I thought she meant for the day, but she meant for the entire school year.  I had no idea why.

Turns out, I had a high percentage of special ed students in my class that hour, and the model utilized at this school to help address those individualized needs was co-teaching.  I didn’t have any special education training, I didn’t know the best practices of teaching with another teacher in my room. No one, it seemed, had bothered to inform me ahead of time that this is what my job as a high school science teacher would entail.

I suppose they didn’t need to: it might not have been emphasized during teacher training, but a large part of general ed teaching is teaching special ed students.

It worked out well, for the most part.  I just taught the kids who were in my room, and did the best I could to help them succeed, and she did the same, complementing my actions and responses with her own.  Each year I taught, I ended up adding a section of co-taught classes.  Eventually I taught a biology class that was made up entirely of special education students, a course that had previously been taught by a special ed teacher with no biology background.  I’m not sure if other biology teachers had tried teaching this class in the past, and it didn’t work out, or if the special ed department had never even considered asking any of the other teachers to teach it. Eventually I got my masters in special ed, and then I was the co-teacher, in someone else’s science room, and now I work mostly with students on the autism spectrum in a resource room setting.

For me, teaching a diverse set of learners was never easy.  But it made sense.  I had kids in my classroom. Some got it.  Some sort of got it.  Some struggled.

This was true for both academics and social/emotional regulation.  It was easiest to teach the kids who got it. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to “teach” students who are readily teachable, who can basically teach themselves, who have maturity and coping mechanisms solidly in place.  It takes a lot more patience, more time, more creativity, more ability, to help the kids who struggle. It took me awhile to figure out where I needed to be firm and rigid, and where I could bend, molding myself into the teacher that each particular student needed me to be.

resource2

It was difficult, and sometimes impossible, to find the time to plan lessons for the “easy” kids and also creatively change the plan for the ones who didn’t get it, or the ones who seemed unruly.  I could not meet all of their needs.

But I tried.

I went to conferences, and I collaborated with peers, and I spent a lot of time working, well after that sixth hour bell rang.  I asked my co-teachers for help and I took them up on every opportunity offered to present a concept to the class in a different way, or to adapt a worksheet to make it more accessible.  I kept learning the content, and more importantly, I kept learning about the kids, because I knew there was really no point in me learning additional facts, if I was unable to help pass this along, in any sort of relevant fashion, to the people placed into my classroom.

It never surprised me when I learned that seated in the front row was a student with Prader-Willi Syndrome, or a student with ADHD, or a student with a significant attitude problem.  It surprises me that this surprises other teachers.  Doesn’t everyone know about the bell curve?  That there are always points outside of the average range (and a lot of them!), and it’s impossible for everyone to be A students, for everyone to complete each task in the same way, or in the same amount of time, or for everyone to be at the exact same point of social/emotional awareness and ability?  Doesn’t everyone get that we are still responsible for teaching the kid who is that data point, waaaaaaaaaaaay out there, far to the left?

I have certainly had days when my students drove me crazy, or puzzled me and put me in positions where I didn’t know what I was going to do to help them become successful adults.  I have often felt frustrated and worn out and exasperated.  But, I’ve never looked at a student name on my roster and literally thought to myself, “I shouldn’t have to teach that kid”, or “That kid isn’t good enough to belong in my room”. That is a very dangerous mentality. Especially considering the fact that the problem isn’t the kid. The problem is that I just don’t know how to reach him or her. That’s my shortcoming, not theirs.

 In the public school setting, we don’t get to pick and choose who we get to teach, but we do get to decide, in many ways, how we will support them, how we will help them improve their knowledge of the subject matter, their confidence levels, and their strategies for dealing with stress.  Even when I know I can’t meet every need, I know I can still do something.

 I am constantly asking myself, “What can I do to help support these kids?”.and “What do these kids need?”  And I mean all of them.  Not just the ones that make my job easy.

resource3

Maybe we need a separate sign that starts with Dear Teachers…..