Thursday, September 27, 2018

Don't Stop

A few years back, we got a pool as a way to help manage the kids' sensory issues and to cope with the long summers of disrupted routines. Of course, the kids have loved it, and Ren and I have enjoyed having a place to contain them during hot summer days. But, it wasn't until about a month ago that I started swimming.

Swimming at daybreak.
When I was younger, you know, before kids, I swam a lot. I also hiked and biked and played tennis. But then I started a PhD program and found a job and got pregnant, and I couldn't figure out how to do everything. So, I stopped exercising and sleeping and eating well. Very easily, I convinced myself that parenting babies and toddlers and writing a dissertation and being on the tenure track and supporting kids on the spectrum and dealing with food allergies and getting Ren through spine surgeries were all perfectly good reasons to put myself last.

Then I started swimming again. First, I swam late at night and early in the morning, still trying to accommodate everyone else's needs.

Night swimming
Eventually I started swimming during the day whenever I could squeeze it in--after work before carting kids around town, in between meetings, instead of going to church. And, soon, everyone seemed to understand that when Mom needs to swim, Mom needs to swim. I still can't take a shower or go to the bathroom or talk on the phone without someone barging in or causing a mini catastrophe, but, for whatever reason, I can swim.

Maybe I started swimming as a way to get exercise. Now, though, I swim because I realize that only when I swim can I quiet the noise in my head. The depression, it's not going away. And, things aren't getting any easier with the spectrummy behavior at our house. So many problems, I just can't seem to solve. But, when I am in the pool, the twenty to thirty minutes it takes me to knock off 1000 meters are the most peaceful moments of my day. When I swim, I don't have to think about the lies my brain is telling me or how terribly exhausted the depression makes my body feel. I don't have to worry about whether I'll get tenure or whether my book will be published or whether the class plan I have for tomorrow will succeed or fail. I don't have to physically intervene with a meltdown or restrain a small body out of control. I can't hear when the kids are fighting or someone is crying. And, I can't tune into the news. When I swim, it's just me in this body gliding through the water, breathing rhythmically, methodically counting my laps.

After a mile. Photo credit: Stow.
Watching the news this week (and especially today), seeing and hearing women scream their truths into the void of a society run by wealthy white men who don't understand or care what it is like to grow up female or poor or disenfranchised in this country, I finally realized why I'm so driven. I also understood why I need to keep swimming. Like most (all?) of the women around me, I have spent my entire life fighting to be heard, to be taken seriously. And, from that experience, I have internalized the belief that I am only worth being heard if I am stronger, fighting harder, and working longer than everyone around (while also, of course, being a wife and mother who is willing to sacrifice everything for my family). This belief is a fundamental part of my existence. It is a completely impossible ask, but it's one I've striven to achieve my entire life.

No wonder I'm so damn tired.

Today, when I got home from work, Ren had the pool ready for me to swim. Likely he hasn't paid attention to the Ford hearings and, even if he did, the ramifications of this turn of events wouldn't necessarily register with him. Still, he knew I needed to swim and didn't even protest when I walked into the house, put my work stuff on the desk, and changed into my suit without saying a word. As I neared the end of my 100 laps, I wondered how many more laps I would need to swim to approximate the emotional, physical, and existential exhaustion that have plagued me these last several months, and it occurred to me, that to achieve that, perhaps I might need to swim forever. So, I kept swimming. At lap 138, Stow came out to ask me to do something for him. "Wait for 22 more laps," I said. "I'm almost done." So, he sat and paced and crawled, and when I reached the mile mark, I climbed out of the pool and we came inside for a shower and a craft before dinner.

I can't possibly out-swim the patriarchy, and I'm not sure how to make any of this better. Most days I can’t even make measurable change in my own tiny corner of the world.

All I can do is keep swimming.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Days Like This

It's 10 pm, and I didn't manage to have dinner so the lone beer I drank is hitting me a littler harder than it normally would. My day started before 6 am when I heard the youngest drop the toilet seat and lid in the guest bathroom right next to our bedroom. Since the last conversation we had before he went to sleep the night before was about the importance sitting as a way of avoiding a major mess (I know, I know, it's weird, but nothing else works), the sound of him dropping the lid jarred me from my sleep and into a state of instant irritation. I didn't want to start my day mad, though, so I just tried to pretend I hadn't heard. The next noise that interrupted my already interrupted slumber was the creaking of the door to the basement. This one was harder to ignore because I knew that meant Stow was going down to play with Taro. My exhaustion helped me stay in bed a little longer as I prayed the kitten would safely endure Stow's excessive cuddling while I squeezed in just a bit more sleep. At 6:30, I got up and noticed that Ren was in no way fit for the day. He could barely make it from the bed to the bathroom three feet away, and he was grumbling under his breath in considerable detail about the horrid state of all the things. When Ren slips into this kind of existential despair, especially if the slip is paired with an obvious increase in pain or a sudden inability to walk well, it's hard not to panic. Normally, those two things together almost always mean something is seriously wrong with the spine.

"You can sleep more," I tell him. "I'll handle the morning routine."

Our lives are HARD when Ren and I are both in decent form. When one of us is falling apart things become virtually impossible. By the time I got out of bed, Stow had eaten half a bowl of cereal that included leftover stale GFDF vanilla Oreo cookies and that might have also included syrup if Pink hadn't intervened when she did. Pink was in the middle of making some kind of lemonade concoction that included pure lemon juice and honey. Because Stow was so engrossed in his LEGO creation AND the kitten, nothing I did could pull him back to the kitchen table for the rest of his cereal, not to mention the fresh fruit. And, of course, nothing could persuade him to brush his teeth, put on some socks, or make sure his swim suit was in his bag and ready for camp. As I cut fruit and made lunches, I also called out orders that went entirely unheeded. At 8, when we needed to be walking out the door, Pink hadn't combed her hair or taken her asthma medicine, and Stow still didn't have socks or a swim suit. I ran up to grab a brush, socks, and suit, and then down to grab my work stuff before heading out to the car to wait. By this time, Ren was upright and on the couch, but he clearly wasn't ready to take on any of what was happening.

Somehow I managed to get the kids to camp on time and with lunches and water bottles in hand. From there, I headed straight to a teaching seminar that would take up every single minute that the kids were in camp. I went straight from the seminar to pick them up, and the moment Pink saw me, she told me about a peanut-throwing food fight that happened during lunch. Since the participants were all friends of hers, she couldn't believe they didn't understand about her allergies. And, because they were her friends, she also didn't want me to tell the camp leader about it.  When Stow made his way to me, his camp counselor was in close pursuit. She wanted to make sure I knew that he "tackled a girl and it wasn't even like he was playing" and that "it took him a long time to agree to apologize." I knew Stow was feeling overwhelmed and that he normally doesn't attack his peers, so for the life of me, I couldn't figure out the right response to the college kid who was giving me such meaningful looks as she told me all of this. So, I ended up talking to the camp leader about Stow (but not Pink per her specific request--ugh, teaching them agency and independence is HARD). He was much kinder about the Stow situation. "He'll get it," he assured me. "Besides, these counselors need to start to understand that there is big world out there with many different ways to think about and do things." It'd be great if 7 year-old Stow could help some of the counselors learn this, but I doubt he's the appropriate messenger. Besides, I really just want him to make it through the day without too much drama or too many blows to his already cracked and fragile self-esteem.

We rushed home from camp to make dinner to eat in the car on the way to karate. During the hour or so that I was home, every single member of the family needed to talk to me about every single thing all at once. My phone call with the vet's office about our sneezing kitten went long, so we barely made it out the door in time to go pick up Stow's friend who I'd agreed to take to karate. We managed to forget juice boxes, seaweed, and hand wipes. Pink, Stow, and Stow's friend ate rice balls as I navigated the construction between our house and karate. After thirty minutes of driving, five minutes of waiting, and forty minutes of karate, we were back in the car and headed home. Stow's friend's mom was running late, but given the how the day had gone and how tired Stow was, I decided to drop Stow and Pink off at our house before running Stow's friend across town. I called Ren, and he agreed to this plan, which I then communicated to Pink and Stow. Looking back, I should have just kept them in the car, but in my brain's version of how this would go, Stow and Pink walked calmly into the house, took showers, brushed teeth, and got into bed.  Of course, that's not how things went. As soon as he walked into the house, Stow offered Ren a fake news version of what would happen next. His version included no shower and lots of TV.  Ren knew Stow's version was fake, but when he pushed back on Stow's story, Stow lost it. His degree of tiredness PLUS his degree of out-of-sync-ness, which has been the bane of our existence this summer, triggered a kicking and hitting fit that included forceful shoves to Ren's head. Stow doesn't get how seriously he could hurt his dad.

When I was about fifteen minutes away from the house, I started getting texts from Sky detailing the meltdown and phone calls from Pink. Eventually, Ren called to tell me I needed to be home RIGHT NOW, only he didn't say these things calmly or nicely or indicate in any way that he understood why I wasn't currently there. None of these exchanges made the problem look solvable without some kind of space travel and a dry martini. And, I don't even drink martinis. By the time I got back home from dropping off Stow's friend, it was almost 9. Everyone was mad and no one seemed capable of providing anything close to a coherent narrative, much less a sense of perspective. Apparently, Pink and Sky didn't hear when their dad called for help in keeping the kitten out of the fray when Stow was melting down. I grounded Stow and relocated everyone's devices to the kitchen so at least we know they can hear and respond to us if we need them.  I also cleaned up the kitchen, picked up the living room, and started the laundry. Ren is sleeping on the couch and doesn't seem to be speaking to me. I suppose that's ONE way to deal with a day like this.

Maybe I'll have another beer.