Saturday, December 29, 2012

I Suck, Part 2. Now with less humor.

"I'm going for a walk!" I shout at my husband, who pops up out of his ballgame-watching chair, startled but cooperative.  "He's in the bath!  His orders are to wash and get out!  She's in her room!  Her orders are to get her pajamas on!"  I put it that way on purpose.  Since giving orders is hardly a parenting goal of ours, he'll know how steamed I am.  Probably overkill, in retrospect. I storm out the door, remembering shoes and coat, but not worrying about hat and gloves.  I have my rage to keep me warm.

I push up the hill, knowing the faster I walk, the quicker the rage will burn away.   It takes longer than usual, and it's not until I'm on the leg of our block that swings onto a busier street that I loosen enough to start crying.  Ugly crying, so I immediately assign myself a second go-round of the block.  I cry steadily the whole time, harder or softer depending on which scene I'm replaying for myself, which words of self-loathing I'm focusing on.  It occurs to me that I can no longer judge bad guys.  A guy I knew for years, a dear friend's teddy bear of a husband, is in jail for molesting her daughter.  His step-daughter, raised by him from age three.  Did he feel this same sickening shame?  Did it start out with stuff he knew was wrong, but not illegal?  Did he vow to stop, only to find himself doing the same thing a few days later? 

I'm not molesting my kids. My sexuality is not mixed up in this, thank God.  It's my rage that terrifies me.   I'm not beating them, starving them, burning them, calling them names, swearing at them, neglecting them.  But I feel it inside me, the poisonous meanness.  My son, whom you can tell in pictures is a rapscallion of the first degree, doesn't elicit it.  Sure, I get pissed off sometimes, but I keep it in check, and the things that make me mad are things that are supposed to make me mad.  Someone asks you, "What would you do if I threw yogurt at the window?" and then does so, a certain testiness is, if not desireable, at least normal. 

But my sweet, winning, sparkling little girl can find a crazy witch where her Mama used to be.  We have a name for it, "Scary Mean Mama."  As in "I know you felt like you had to lie, because I was being Scary Mean Mama, and no matter what you said, I was going to be mad, so you were trying to pick the safest possible thing to say instead of the truest thing."  This is what SMM does.  No, I don't want to refer to myself in 3rd person, because I'm disassociating to avoid taking the blame.  What I do, is I push her buttons, very intentionally and methodically, until I provoke rebellion, which I then squash with Scary Meanness.  I'm rough, I'm unfair, I ignore tears.  I push, I prod, I shame, I twist the blame back at her.  "Mama wouldn't have to brush these snarls out of your hair if you brushed your hair yourself," I snap as I drag the hairbrush through her hair, clamping her between my legs because she keep trying to wiggle away.  I'm perfectly capable of brushing hair gently, which is a truth far more important than the ones I tell myself in the moment: that brushing hair briskly doesn't hurt nearly as bad as all this whining would imply, and, yes, that I wouldn't be brushing her hair at all if she did it herself. 

Why?  I've been thinking about this a lot, most recently on that tearful walk.  What I've really been thinking about is How do I stop? but I figure the answer might hide in the Why.  I have theories, but no answers.

a) Unresolved SMM issues of my own.  My mom was not physically threatening, but she didn't need to be--I lived in fear of her words.  90% of the time, she was a great and loving mother.  10% of the time she was Scary Mean.  When I grew up, the 10% faded away, and we were each other's biggest fans.  When she died, I was berift.  But just as when I became a wife, I realized I had unconsciously learned some really underhanded methods for bullying a husband, maybe I picked up how to be unpredictably emotionally dangerous as a mom. 

b) Subconscious fears about my connection to Linden.  In all the adoption literature I've read, they say that kids may push you away just when you're starting to feel close, because they are so afraid of you leaving them that they'd rather control when it happens.  Couldn't this be flipped?  This child that fell into my life, so sweet, so lovely, so smart, so desperate to be close to me--do I push her away in case it's all not real?  Am I afraid that her sweetness is mere manipulative orphanage survival skills, and if I let her crack my heart wide open, I'll regret it?  Or do I subconsciously feel that I don't deserve to be a parent, so I'm setting out to prove it by being the shittiest parent I can be?

c) I'm a sicko, and never knew it because I never had anyone vulnerable to me before.  I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this one.  "I'm just evil" is not only deeply disturbing, it's also kind of a cop-out, since it implies I can't get better.

d) I can't quite articulate this, but something to do with becoming the mama of a six year old. I don't know how to respond to her when's she naughty.  Is she a little girl testing limits, or is this some horrible sign of horrible damage due to her horrible past?  I don't know how to repsond to her when she's sweet and loving.  Is she just naturally adorable and already smitten with me, or is she working hard to keep her position as cutest kid in the orphanage?  Unlike her brother, the toddler in her is still so visible, all rounded cheeks and bottom, clumsy little fingers, and infectious belly laughs.  She pushes against me, murmurs, "I wish I came from your tummy.  I wish I drank your milk."  Then she tells me, matter-of-factly "If I love you a hundred hugs, I love my other mommy a million hugs."  I tell her "I know, honey, I know" to both of these things, and they both break my heart.  I feel like I would not ever find the scary meanness in myself if I'd raised her from babyhood, whether or not she was biologically mine.  If I'd gazed into her newborn eyes, I wouldn't be all messed up, like a cat who purrs for you to cuddle up, and then draws blood with quick claws when you try to pet him.  Or would I?  I can't know. 

I need help, this much is clear.  I have vowed, both in my own heart and out loud to Linden, that I will stop doing this.  And then I do it again.  My shame is so deep that I gloss over details with my husband.  Since going back to work, I haven't been able to see our therapist.  I've decided to take a few half-days off and make that happen, to see if I can make this better. 

Wish me luck. 

Six Months: Trying to get Perspective

A friend's almost two-year-old has been diagnosed with brain cancer.  The school we both work at was conducting a fundraiser for the family before winter break started.  One of my students, new to me as all of them are, due to my family bonding leave this fall, looked at the sign in my room and said, "My dad died of cancer."

"I'm so sorry.  It is hard enough as an adult to lose a parent; it must be so hard as a kid."

"It was June 29th."

"Oh."  Things falling into place.  "That was the day my kids came home.  Ms. H. did a whole bunch of freezer cooking for both our families that week, didn't she?"  So that's the family another friend and colleague was supporting right when we got back, and part of that was stuffing both of our freezers with pre-cooked dinners.  Tomorrow marks a very solemn half-year mark for that family.  We just had our first Christmas playing Santa, while our friends counted themselves lucky that the holiday fell between their daughter's brain surgery and the start of her radiation treatments.  My parenting concerns seem petty, my irrational rages exponentially more heinous, in light of these family's burdens. 

How's it going?  I ask myself.  Huge progress in some areas.  I see our notes from an early visit to our therapist, and on my to-do list, I'd written, "Make eye contact with Oak.  Hug him."  He falls readily into my hugs now, begging to be picked up, reminding me he needs a kiss when I head out the door.  I stroke his face, pat his back absently. tickle him when he raises his arm to point at something.  It's still new, to both of us, but it's no longer forced or mechanical. 

There's been no random peeing in months, and both beds have stayed dry.  I wake Linden up a few hours after she's fallen asleep and take her in for one last pee, leaning drowsily against my leg, confused about what to do with the toilet paper I hand her.  Now that I'm on vacation, I'm experimenting with not doing this, to see if she can make it through the night for two weeks.  (The covers remain on the mattresses.)  So far it's worked, but I find I almost miss the nightly chance to baby her, to hover protectively over her sleepy confusion, to sneak one last kiss on her round, rosy cheek as I lay her back down.  Tonight we got home so late and rushed them both to bed, so we didn't do a last call trip to the bathroom, so I'll take her in as soon as I finish this. 

On the down side, they both suddenly stopped flushing the toilet, especially first thing in the morning.  The Winemaker, now our SAHD, was the first to discover this, and assigned them a chore each time they "forgot."  When I caught Oak trying to set Linden up to take the fall ("It wasn't me, it was Linden!  I haven't even gotten up yet!  And there was toilet paper in the bowl!"  Really?  How did you know that if you haven't gotten up yet?)  I announced that the next person who didn't flush would be wearing pampers, since they obviously hadn't fully worked out how to use the toilet. Then on Christmas Day, at my sister's house, Linden didn't flush, so I put her in pull-ups overnight.  This, in case you haven't read anything on attachment parenting, is Bad and Shaming. However, I believe that there are some circumstances in which, "It works" is sufficient justification.   And yes,they both have flushed every single time since then, and rush out to announce it to me.  I am sure that whatever issue inspired this bit of nonconformity will pop out somewhere else, but I am prepared to handle that more graciously as long as the toilets are flushed.

Our great triumph was on Christmas Eve.  As we drove to my in-laws for our first serious bit of gift opening, we filled them in on expected behavior.  Take turns.  Read the tag first.  After it's opened, look at the person it came from and thank them, even if you don't actually like it.  When others thank you, say 'you're welcome.'  Oh, and no running in the house.  I wish it pained me to say this, but it is actually with great glee that I announce that their NON-ADOPTED COUSIN apparantly did not get this pep talk in the car, because SHE wound up looking like a brat compared to our polite and appropriately enthusiastic kids.  Since I overheard her at Thanksgiving whining, "I wish I were still the only grandchild," I felt especially pleased with our kids' success.  (Very mature of me, I realize.)  We were successful too, in anticipating a new situation and spelling out the process for our kids.  Straight out of the books, man.  (The books that specifically ban shaming techniques...)

It's late.  I have much to confess about what's not going so well, but I need to get to sleep.  I guess "confess" says it all, really.  The kids are doing as well as or better than I ever could have hoped.  I am doing seriously crappy in some really weird and disturbing ways, and my husband's mellow kindness is begin to fray now that he's the main caregiver.  Yay us.  People respond to our family situation kind of like they respond to me being a middle school teacher, only more so.  "Oh, you guys are wonderful!  What a great thing you are doing!  They are so lucky!  You must be having so much fun!  Bless your pointy little heads!" etc.  It makes me queasy.  I know the stock answer is, "No, WE are so lucky to have them!" but that makes me queasy in a different way.  They're our kids.  We're a family.  They're not used to being our kids; we're not used to being a family.  We're all trying, except for the times when we get f'ing sick of trying and lash out instead.  We're all lucky to be together now, but our luck comes out of phenomenol bad luck and tragedy (theirs) and some unfortunate physical glitches (ours).  So...ease up.  Ask me when they're grown.  And keep reminding me to find out if my doctor will give me a little something to ease my moods. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

No Greater Love

The single greatest act of love I'm performing this holiday season is that when I opened the box of chocolate my husband got me and realized he'd inadvertantly given me the box he'd picked out for my sister-in-law instead, I did NOT point this out.  A few years ago she gave us some candy from See's and said, "I wasn't sure what you like, so I picked out all my favorites."  We chuckled all the way home that next time we wanted to get her candy, we'd just pick all the gross ones, since that seemed to be her preference.  I was so going to say, "Oh man, does she have all the caramel and almondy ones while I'm stuck with pineapple and white chocolate?!?"  Then it occurred to me that all that would accomplish is making the Winemaker feel bad.  I am SO PROUD of myself for this act of great maturity.  Normally, I'd brag on myself to my husband, but in this case, I'll do it here.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Twenty Things About Me (That Don't Directly Relate to my Kids)

1.  When I was about 10, my best friend and I could juggle (a little), walk on stilts (short ones) and ride a unicycle (for about 50 feet at a time).  We were ready to join the circus.

2.  Sometime in college I stopped shaving my legs, using a blow dryer or curling iron, and wearing a bra.  Twenty years later, due to weight gain and gravity, I started wearing a bra again.  The other two--no way.

3.  I never get enough: summer weather, reading time, sleep, coffee dates with friends, or hikes per year.

4.  My husband and I were at the same high school (he was two years behind me).  He was my first boyfriend.  Unlike my sister, who's been married 30 years to her high school sweetheart, I didn't actually meet my husband until I was 31. 

5.  We got married eleven months later, after a 7 week engagement.

6.  A few months later, my boss casually asked me when I was due.  She was mortified to find out that the person who'd told her I was pregnant was merely rumor mongering.  This was a dozen years ago, and I'm still torn between hilarity and rage that someone would leap to that conclusion, and then pass it on as fact. 

7.  And isn't it ironic that it turned out I'm infertile?  Add to that the irony of time and money spent on birth control, and that one frustrating camping trip when our tent was at this incredibly romantic remote mountain lake and we couldn't Do It because we'd neglected to pack condoms? 

8.  I haven't told any friends or family about this blog.  I think I just ensured I never will.

9.  I still fantasize about writing a book.  I no longer fantasize about becoming a ballerina or orthodontist.

10.  I was raised with no TV, and didn't own one until I got married at age 31.

11.  Since then, I've become a fan of watching entire TV series on DVD.  Alias, La Femme Nikita, Lost, Firefly, Veronnica Mars, Battlestar Galactica, and currently Buffy the Vampire Slayer have all taken over my life for awhile.

12.  Being married to my husband has showed me that I'm relutant to admit when I'm to blame, that I'm overly judgemental of people who aren't all granola crunchy liberal like me, and I have a slapdash approach to repair projects.  It's also showed me that I'm capable of being more organized than I ever knew, that learning things outside my comfort zone is fun, and that telling people the specific things you appreciate about them is powerful. 

13.  I used to play the piano and viola, and although I don't have a lovely voice, I love to sing and know hundreds of songs by heart.

14.  I am passionately in support of gay marriage. and tear up every time I hear a news story on this topic.  I think it's in part because my marriage is so important to me, and it really breaks my heart to think of others being denied this right. 

15.  I am the youngest child, by 11 years.  If you offer me a favor, I accept.  I don't ask for or expect it, but I see no reason to deny people the pleasure of doing good by me. 

16.  Speaking of family, my mom died almost two years ago.  I miss her.  A lot. 

17. I'm one of four daughters.  Boys still puzzle me.

18.  I am addicted to chocolate.  No, really.  It's not a figure of speech.  The only plus I see is the empathy it gives me for people addicted to more harmful substances.  I'm eating a piece of English toffee with chocolate coating as I write this.

19.   I am the fastest reader you know. I tell my students it's my super power.  I had a college roommate who reads like I do, but usually I'm kind of  a freak to people who notice.  This is probably related to point #10. 

20.  I speak English, Latvian, some Spanish, and a tad bit of Lithuanian.  Plus I know some nasty words in Danish. 


I suck.

Caution:  I'm gonna cuss. That was the kind of day I had.  It was the first time I almost cussed at the kids.  I've been horrible and mean in all sorts of ways, but I have never been tempted to swear before.  I managed not to for them, but I'm gonna fucking let loose now, okay?

So over on the Family and Friends Blog, I should post about how we got our tree today, and how great it was, and how the kids also got their first ever candy canes, and how thrilled they were.

But here's where we keep it real.  All of that is real, but today, the primary lesson was--I suck.  It started at 8:05 this morning when Oak came into our bedroom all despondent because the tooth fairy didn't come last night.  He had fucking ORAL SURGERY yesterday, and the dentist pulled SIX TEETH, and I forgot to tooth fairy him, because I suck.

So I was feeling guilty for awhile, but he was being all whiny, and somehow blaming his sister for the tooth fairy's failure to deliver, then blaming his dad, and I started getting annoyed.  Next thing you know, I'm dragging him down the street in just sweatpants, because he refused to get dressed for a walk.  I'm pretty sure the neighbors are going to call DHS on me, because I suck.

 Hours later I was dragging him down the street in socks with no shoes, in miserable, wet weather, because he wouldn't put shoes on the first five times I told him to.  He was weeping and begging me to go home, and I just kept dragging him, because I suck.  I wanted to shout at all the neighbors, "He had five chances!  And cold feet won't kill him!  I'm going to let him take a hot bath when we get home!  And c'mon, how will he ever learn I mean it if I cave now!"

That was the day.  Oak being bratty, me overrreacting, and then us out in the rain going around the block in various states of walking/dragging/carrying.  I've decided that two reasons why I favor "go for a walk" when things are really shitty are because a) I need the walk to calm MYSELF down and b) if I'm walking down the street, I probably won't slap him, or do anything that would really necessitate that DHS call.  The neighbors on the second half of the block probably don't think I'm a maniac, because after we schlepp up the hill, we both lose some of our fire, and that's when we start communicating, and talking to each other about how we want our day to go, or sometimes about how cars leak oil, or the way pine trees grow new needles, and suddenly we're just a mother and son out on a walk, instead of a crazy lady and a brat having a fight in public.  But our nearest neighbors know that I suck.  And I hate that. 

Tonight grandma came over and babysat, so the Winemaker and I could go to a big raucous holiday party with no kids and inappropriate White Elephant gifts.  (We came home with a bottle of vodka and a pink purse for LindenIt was suggested to me that I trade the vodka for an additional present for the kids, and I was all, what, are you nuts? since I suck.  At least I didn't get Bam! the 13 inch...marital aid, or the bag of medical marijuana.)  The kids were assholes for grandma.  But she was very zen about it, because she's cool like that.  At the party, a friend of mine who's hung out with us a few times was super understanding.  It amazes me when people who know what it's really like, what Oak really does, how Linden overdoes the cutsiness to get by, HOW MUCH I SUCK, forgive me, forgive them, give all of us a giant pass to fuck up and keep trying.