Momiversary and other thoughts

Today is my anniversary of motherhood. Eleven years ago I drove through a torrential rainstorm, waited for hours in the JFK airport, and at around 11:30 pm I met my son. A happy moment (and also slightly terrifying) and one that we regularly reminisce.

But the moments leading up to it were painful. And this morning, as I sat in the waiting room of my gynecologist, I was reminded of that pain as pregnant women made a seemingly endless trek toward the exam rooms. Today happened to be the office’s outreach to at-risk expectant mothers. Not great timing.

I used to spend a lot of time in waiting rooms, back in the days of fertility treatments. Waiting rooms that overflowed with pregnant women, many of whom were young, alone, and frustrated about their situation. You could see it in their eyes, and I used to wonder if they could read mine. Read the unhappiness and desperation. I would sit in the waiting room and keep myself together – keep my emotions steady – until I crossed the threshold into the exam room. Then I would break down and sob.

Thankfully, I am not in that place anymore. I have two amazing sons and have made peace with my path to motherhood. But there are moments when I can’t escape the rush of sadness that refuses to let go of my heart. Moments like this morning, as I watched each belly full of life and rested a hand on my own, full of scar tissue.

A few months ago we were guests at a church, and a couple had filmed their testimony. When the story began, I knew what would come next: Struggling to conceive, praying to God for a miracle – I spotted the trajectory right away, knew the meteor would land right in my gut. I left the room in time before tears came, and thankfully they never did. But I realized that I would never be able to fully let this go. The tears may no longer flow, but the ache creeps in, when I’m reminded of the painful journey that ended eleven years ago.

That’s the thing. Our pain never fully ends. Because no matter how much we heal, the scars remain a part of who we are. And that’s okay. The scars remind us of where we’ve been, of who we struggled to become, and the amazing things that came out on the other side.

Like my boy. I can’t believe it’s been eleven years. It feels like yesterday I carried him in his little green sling and sang endless rounds of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Let somebody blow it out?

No way.  I’m gonna let it shine.

Row, row, row your boat…

…not so gently into the swimming area.

I spent this past weekend at cub scout camp with my youngest son and a handful of other scouts and their parents. The weather was great, our boys had a blast, and I thoroughly enjoyed having someone else cook, serve, and clean up after me at every meal. Despite my fear of various living things (snakes, bees, giant hairy spiders, etc), I love being outdoors and feel a renewed energy after spending time in nature.

The weekend was a lot of fun with one minor exception, which from this point forward will be known as the great rowboat debacle of 2017. Let me back up. Last year at camp my husband and oldest son were enjoying a lovely time canoeing when the boy decided to make a quick shift from one side to the other in an attempt to get away from some antagonistic boaters and promptly tipped the boat and its human contents into the lake. Later that day I overheard a bunch of parents laughing about “The dad and his kid who fell into the lake” and I proudly declared them as my family. Because why not. They are the type that can laugh about these sorts of things.

I am not. At least, not right away. In the moment, I panic. And usually cry.

During open boating time, youngest and I decided to take a lovely spin in the paddle boats. He could reach the pedals this year! Success! Then I suggested a different vessel. Canoe perhaps? No way, daddy and brother tipped over last year he announced. As if I had forgotten. Kayak? Yeah, they don’t look quite as steady as our never-before-tipped-over inflatables back home. How about a row boat? Yeah, great idea.

Or not.

During lunch the staff members sit with various packs and visit, and that afternoon we had a silver sunglassed lifeguard at our table. He seemed witty and relatable and laughed at my jokes. So I was pleased to see him at the boat station and felt comfortable announcing that I had no experience on a rowboat and could he please give me some tips? Sure. Don’t let your son make any sudden moves and if he does, make sure you’re sitting in the middle of the boat. Yup, we figured that one out after what happened last year. Anything else? I asked as I clumsily slipped the oar pins into their holes. Nope. Just a shove out into the lake.

Yeah, I’m not very good at rowing. Something about the going backward thing, coupled with the fact that I’m pretty sure our boat or oars or something wasn’t even because it appeared as though my one arm had super human strength and I could not for the life of me get the boat to travel in a straight line and every time the boy tried to help me correct it from his perch at the front of the boat it just made us travel in circles and eventually I heard this: “STAY OUT OF THE SWIMMING AREA.”

And that’s about when the panic set in. Because each time I tried to correct our course I spun the boat in more circles and continued my path toward all the unsuspecting swimmers like that horrible scene in JAWS. The yelling continued, to which I responded “CAN SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME?!?” And a guy on the dock tried to explain that I needed to pull my arms toward me and not away from me like that was my only problem, and some of my friends stood near him laughing at my complete inability to navigate small craft, and all of this just made me panic more and I felt the tears build up, and oh shit.

I cannot panic in front of my child.

Moms are supposed to be strong in the face of adversity, and parenting with anxiety means that not only do I need to figure out how to stay calm for my own well being, but also for my kids’. Thankfully one of the lifeguards guided me toward the swimming pier and then another one swam the boat back. I felt terrible that she had to swim through the tangling seaweed that surrounded the boat dock, but at least it made for an interesting story to tell her friends. The boy and I waited for her to complete the task (she had borrowed my life jacket for the swim over), and I tried to maintain composure and a sense of dignity despite wanting to break down and bawl right there on the beach.

It was a simple mishap, silly really, but sometimes things like that aren’t easy for me to process, and when they are coupled with a lack of sleep and being away from home I have a hard time maintaining a steady emotional state. Later, when my friends returned to the campsite and jokingly told me the video was already posted to YouTube (I was on the phone with my mom who actually tried to find said video… Lord knows what she typed into the search engine: cub scout mom adrift on rowboat?) I told them I had legitimately panicked and had to keep myself from crying (again) while they laughed. Not meanly. Innocently. Like, it’s funny when something stupid happens, don’t take yourself so seriously kind of laughter.

And so I did my best to embrace the incident, to brush off the ripples of panic and fear that try to imprison me on a daily basis. Because what else could I do? And when I told my husband the story, he nodded, and didn’t seem surprised at my reaction. He gets me. Has come to understand what it means to live with someone with anxiety. I can laugh about it now, but in the moment, only dread. But I’ve learned to recognize the triggers and how to get myself out of a situation and find calm. The boy and I left the beach and went to the camp store to buy some gum. He held my hand and we talked about frogs.

Tonight, my friends will come over for drinks on the deck and maybe it will come up, and we’ll laugh about it, and it will all be good. Until next year, when back at camp, we visit the boats again. Perhaps the kayaks? I’ll wear my swimsuit just in case.

Living in Infamy

One way my social anxiety manifests its ugly self is the fear of small talk. That whole – what to say, how long to stay in the conversation, is my face doing something ridiculous right now that makes it seem like I have no idea what the other person is talking about – thing regularly sends me into a tailspin of panic. And no matter how many times I plead with my brain to not say anything stupid, it regularly does. The problem is, unless I run away to live in a secluded cabin in the woods (ah, someday…), small talk is a life necessity. And my new job requires that I be somewhat good at it. So I persevere. Take baby steps to being a better communicator and remind my face and brain to behave themselves.

I’m attempting to overcome this aspect of anxiety by making small talk with strangers. That way, if I say something stupid it won’t matter. Much. Maybe they’ll share it with their partner over dinner and laugh at my word diarrhea. But chances are we’ll all go about our day and everything will be grand and maybe eventually it won’t scare me as much to talk about life’s insignificant details. Sometimes it works out well. I made a joke! The cashier laughed! I did not make an ass of myself! Sometimes, I’m recognized. And then I panic.

I taught for four years as a long term substitute at a local high school, and many of my lovely former students are out in the community working and doing productive things with their lives. And me? I disappeared. Okay, not exactly. But leaving the school was a difficult transition for me, one that I did not choose but eventually led to new opportunities in both my writing journey and career. It took a while to fully accept that transition, to give myself time to wallow in regret and what-ifs before I accepted life’s new path. So when I come across someone from that former life, I’m always a little thrown. Last night I was having a lovely conversation with a cashier about the trials of being petite (why oh why can’t they make maxi dresses for people under 5’5″?) and I was so proud of my brain for not messing it up. I used an ID for a discount and when she saw my name asked if I used to teach. Turns out she was in one of my co-taught freshman classes, but I didn’t recognize her until she said her full name.

Then, the panic. No, how have you been since then, what are you up to? (Working at this store, obviously.) No memory of something interesting she had done way back then. My brain just turned off. Wandered into the black hole of that time period and refused to come out. Insert embarrassing exit and that feeling of, why can’t I interact like a normal human? How are we supposed to work past our fears and anxiety when they constantly battle for our submission? I want to be the sort of person who can face my past head-on and not be afraid. This girl had no idea what happened to me after our year together. I’m the one who wears the stone around my neck. But I’m tired of it weighing me down.

Normally I’m not one to give advice about letting go. But I am getting better about facing demons. Gradually. Old me would avoid the store for all of eternity for fear of seeing my former student again. New me says, that chapter is over. Go forth and continue your quest to be friendly. Reality says, wow, what you said this morning to the other parent at camp drop off was really stupid. Try harder next time not to sound like a complete dork.

It’s a never ending struggle.