School Blues

Tomorrow begins the fifth week of school for Sunshine. She has been doing well. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I began drafting a post about how her teacher was sensitive to her anxiety. It was going so well. When Sunshine forgot her “getting to know me” project after Saint Daddy spent a night in the hospital and we rushed around to get everything together in the morning, I expected her to spend our entire drive home from school hysterically yelling at me, something she does when she feels anxious. She did not. Her teacher said that it was okay and that other kids also forgot theirs. However she had handled the situation with Sunshine was the right way. A week later, her teacher emailed Saint Daddy and me to tell us that Sunshine seemed anxious about time limits because she wanted to be perfect and time limits sometimes prevented perfection. She said she talked to Sunshine about it. I told her about Sunshine’s anxiety diagnosis and thanked her for taking such good care of our girl.

Tomorrow begins the fifth week of school for Sunshine, and I wrote down the supply list for first grade at another school today.

Sunshine will be starting the sixth week of school somewhere else with a new teacher and new friends and new school supplies.

The last week moved quickly in a whirlwind of what should we do and how should we proceed and what if we are making a mistake. It is hard to believe that it all happened in a week. For some, our reasons might not be enough. For us, they are everything.

Sunshine is happy enough at school. We are happy enough with her school. Yet…

Last Monday, Sunshine came home from school with a nearly full lunch box. She takes the bus to and from school on Mondays at her own request. She is gone from 7:30 am to nearly 5:30 pm on Mondays. Her official drop off time, according to the bus company and the school, is 4:41 pm. She has never been home that early. In that amount of time, nearly ten hours, Sunshine ate one cheese stick and two graham crackers. She returned home with pita chips, hummus, blackberries, crackers, a bite-sized Kit-Kat, and a pre-packaged rice crispy treat in her school bag. We send more than enough food so she will never go hungry. We questioned her about this. She said she was not allowed to eat her rice crispy treat because it was too sugary. No alternative was provided. No note came home. She said they were late getting to lunch, a scheduled twenty minute daily activity that takes place in another building. She said that she only had time to eat her cheese stick. My six year old consumed one cheese stick and two graham crackers all day. We received no adult communication. We received a hungry child.

Hungry kids are not learning kids.

We had an issue last year with lunch. We learned that the kids were being made to stand quietly in the hall until they were all silent before they would move on to lunch. We cried out against these group punishments that prevented Sunshine from eating a balanced meal. The teacher swore it was not what Sunshine claimed. It happened again and again.

We had enough.

We know nothing about what Sunshine is doing at school. We know that group punishments are regular occurrences. We know that naughty kids can lose recess and other privileges for their whole class. We know that Sunshine is not a naughty kid. At least we assume so because no communication comes home to the contrary.

Sunshine’s headphones broke at school. Sunshine said she needed new ones. I said, “Is there a note from your teacher?” No, but I need them by Monday because we use them every day.

The hunger, though, that was the final straw. The nail that wrecked that camel’s coffin.

We had enough.

Saint Daddy looked into rentals to move into so we could send Sunshine to another school district. He found one and even sent a message to a realtor.

We contacted a charter school that we had considered when Sunshine was four years old. Saint Daddy wanted to know if they had space for a first grader. They did.

We applied immediately. We toured the school. We provided notarized copies of paperwork. Saint Daddy called the bus company about changing Sunshine’s pick up and drop off routines.

This has not been an easy week for me. I was confronted by an unknown that I could not tackle easily.

At Sunshine’s therapy on Tuesday, her therapist questioned why we decided to move her. And I said, “my heart tells me she’s not in the right place.”

And that was it. My heart said that Sunshine needed more that what we were giving her. I could feel it deeply. Sunshine’s school is not right for her or for our family. I could feel it every time something came home with her name spelled incorrectly on it. Her name is not Sunshyne. It is a common name with a common spelling, and not caring enough to know it shouts lack of care clearly and effectively.

My best friend asked if I had considered the impact that Sunshine’s school had on her mental health. She said that she knew that Sunshine was always a little worried but that school seemed to exasperate it. That something about her school kicked her anxiety into overdrive. As her year progressed, her struggles became more pronounced.

Had I considered?

I knew. Sunshine’s school boasts a long school day and a long school year. Those things are lovely on paper, but by the time she returns home after a long day at school, she has time to eat dinner, take a bath, and go to bed. If there is homework, her time is even more stretched.

She is six.

It is too much.

I knew all of that. I knew it in my heart and I tried not to focus on it because I was not sure of the alternatives.

I fretted. I lost sleep. I felt agitated and overwhelmed.

Even when Sunshine was accepted to the new school, I worried. She would go, but honestly, I had never been to the school. Could I put my six year old on a bus to a place I had never seen? What kind of mother would do that? I was not that mother.

What if I was making the wrong call? What if her new school was more wrong for her than her current school? What if I do this and she hates it? What if she does not want to go? She already has anxiety. What if I set her off by forcing her to do something she would never want, could never want? Her best friend in the whole world is at her current school, and while they are no longer in the same class, they see each other in the hall. How would she feel if I took that away from her?

So I asked. “How would you feel if Daddy and I put you in a different school?”

She did not hesitate. That sounds fun!

I was astounded. I expected more trepidation.

Her excitement over the prospect did much to assuage my fears. If Sunshine felt ready, maybe it really was right.

We did tour the school. They have a butterfly garden and sensory pathway; an outdoor classroom and grandparent luncheons. Their programs are on point. Sunshine will participate in a pageant at the end of this year. They offer piano and drama lessons after school for a small fee. And Sunshine was thrilled to learn that there are not any uniforms. I was thrilled to learn that she would be home from school earlier than she is now, even by taking the bus. Lunch and recess are also longer, despite the shorter school day.

There are still so many questions for which I do not have any answers. I spent this week with my mind racing, hoping that I would somehow find the right answers to know that we were making the choice that would save Sunshine.

There is no way to know.

For now, we move forward.

Sunshine has one week left at her current school. Her new school would have taken her tomorrow, but we decided to give her a week to ease into it. Plus, Saint Daddy will take her to Back to School Night to meet her new teacher this week. An event that Sunshine’s current teacher did not notify us about at her current school, besides when Sunshine mentioned we were supposed to be at the school at 6:00 that day.

How can a mother know that she is making the right decision for her children? Is there a way to feel fully safe that you chose correctly?

I suppose there is not. When anxiety is at play, that brings hours of struggle, hours of worry, over sometimes the simplest decisions.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am right. Whatever it is, Sunshine is at the foreground of my thoughts, and that, I feel, is the best that I can do for her.

When Sunshine Was Diagnosed With Mental Illness

Sunshine was sick for December. Not just sick in December. She spent the month in various stages of sickness. She said, “I don’t feel like myself” on our Nutcracker date, prompting us to leave a little before the end of the second act. She did not eat much for days at a time. She vomited without having a fever. She seemed better for a day or two. Then, she vomited again. She missed four days of school during the two and a half weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. At one point, she even developed a limp because she was experiencing leg pain that I at first attributed to growing pains.

She saw the pediatrician four times. She did not have the flu. She did not have strep throat. She did not have a fever, but she definitely had a virus. Viruses, Saint Daddy and I learned, can sometimes cause pain in the major joints, like the hips. No one else appeared sick until Sleepy vomited for twenty minutes and we celebrated the fact that Sunshine was contagious. Being contagious meant she would recover, even if it was taking a long time.

Shortly after this illness passed, we noticed that Sunshine felt sick regularly. At least three days a week, she did not want to go to school because she felt sick. Sunshine felt sick while we ate dinner. Sunshine felt sick as we prepared to leave the house. Sunshine felt sick around bedtime. Sunshine felt sick.

Then the nightmares came. Sunshine had a terrible dream that someone tried to kill her. It kept her up for a couple of nights with horrific “maginations.” She imagined that a man with a gun crawled into her bedroom window and took her away before Saint Daddy or I could stop him. She wanted to know how Daddy could save her if he was all the way across the hall. She imagined that someone was hiding under her bed, waiting to kill her. She imagined that no one would be able to protect her.

We bought her a new nightlight that projected beautiful stars across her ceiling. We gave her a sound machine. We even let her pick out a scary demon statue that she said would scare anyone away. It was her suggestion. He faces the window she is most afraid of. She calls him Mr. Scarypants.

These things helped for brief amounts of time. Inevitably, their usefulness would wear off and she would be imagining something even more horrific.

Sunshine’s fears increased as the year continued to progress. She stopped eating some of her favorite foods after she felt sick shortly after their consumption. Bananas, an absolute favorite, are a no-go for her now. She became afraid of the dark, of corners where spiders may lurk, of water being poured over her head, of walking within a foot of grates in the street. She refused to let us leave her room at night without a fight.

She associated “Sucker” by the Jonas Brothers with a particular magination about her swim instructor being a zombie and required that it be turned off if it ever played, and I do not know if you have noticed, but that gets played a lot.

About six weeks ago, Sunshine came to the living room where Saint Daddy and I were watching television after getting our babies in bed. She had a magination that she did not want to tell me about. She said it would make me scared too, and she did not want me to be scared. She was crying and wanted me to cuddle with her some more.

I followed Sunshine to her room. With her sound machine going and her stars projected on the ceiling, Sunshine gripped me and told me her magination. Someone had come into the house and had lined us up by age and had killed Daddy and then Mommy and they were going to kill her next and each of the brothers. She ran to me.

I felt grateful because she knew that she could come to me. I stayed with her that night, letting her feel my presence and know that I would always be there, choking on my tears, aware of my shortcomings.

It was that night that I knew, without any doubt in my mind, that Sunshine needed help. She was not going to get better going the way that we were going. She had spent eight months getting progressively worse, and I needed to do something. I needed to help her in ways I was never really helped.

Sunshine was formally diagnosed with anxiety in a therapist’s office on July 8. Her therapist noted that Sunshine is particularly afraid of being separated from me and that these fears manifest in recurring intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and a growing number of fears.

In my last post, I wrote about my diagnosis, but it was not that easy as a mother to admit that I could not save Sunshine on my own. I had tried. I knew what it was. I saw in her so many of the same issues that I saw in myself. The recurring belly aches, the incessant fears, the sleeplessness, the hesitation. I knew I had passed these to her in my blood. I wanted so badly to be the one who could help her figure out how to manage them.

But Sunshine and I are different people. She is an extrovert. She thrives on social interaction. She spends much less time in self-reflection that I did, even at her age. Sunshine needed help, and I, her mother who wanted to save her, got it for her. In many ways, my personal experience with anxiety helped me to know that the only way that I could help my daughter was to find someone else who could do it for me.

Sunshine did not let me out of the room for her first two sessions with her therapist. She was worried about where I might go while she was in this strange new place with this strange new adult who asked so many questions.

During the third session, Sunshine relinquished her grip on me and let me sit in the waiting room.

Her therapist has been amazing. She has helped Sunshine to evaluate good and bad emotions. She has her focusing on ways to lessen her fears as they happen. They talked about making scary things funny, like Harry Potter does in Prisoner of Azkaban.¬†She taught Sunshine belly breathing, which Sunshine asked to do while listening to “Sucker” play on her therapist’s phone. Sunshine imagined that her swim instructor was a smiling zombie that was going to save the world, not hurt people.

They have worked through so much in so little time.

Today, on the way home from therapy, “Sucker” came on the radio. I did not realize what song it was until the chorus began to play. Sunshine did not yell about the song. In fact, she sang along with it and yelled at me when I changed the station when I realized what we were listening to. When we stopped at the store to pick up a few things, Sunshine walked on a grate. In fact, she stood on it long enough for me to snap a picture for Saint Daddy. “It’s not even scary, Mom!” she said.

Sunshine’s bedtime routine has also improved. She sleeps with a picture of the two of us nearby in case she feels lonely. She keeps a large book to use to practice belly breathing if the maginations come, but they are not coming, not like they were. We play lullabies instead of white noise (this was actually a friend’s suggestion, but her therapist said it was a suggestion that she often gives herself).

Sunshine is still afraid. I do not count her as cured or anything, but I am so grateful for her diagnosis. In many ways, Sunshine’s diagnosis has changed her life.

I pray that this experience helps Sunshine to understand her mental health in ways that I never could at her age.

As we were leaving her appointment today, her therapist told Sunshine, “Remember, you can’t make all your fears go away, but you can learn to not be afraid of the ones you can’t control.”

I am so happy to have found this woman who has helped my baby to learn what to do about the fears that she cannot control.

When I Was Diagnosed With Mental Illness

As a child, I was often sick on major holidays. I felt nauseated as we prepared for Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house. I was not quite myself on Easter Sunday. It was a pattern that I had come to accept. Sometimes, I would power through. Holidays were special, important, not-to-be-missed. Sometimes, I spent Thanksgiving afternoon napping in Grandma’s bed, surrounded by my extended family members’ coats.

Remarkably, I often felt much better by the evening. We would go home, the guests would leave, and I would be ready to enjoy what remained of the day.

As a child, I often felt sick on my birthday. I often felt sick when my family made their once yearly trip to my dad’s favorite restaurant for a big family dinner. I often felt sick in the days leading up to vacation. I often felt sick on the first day of school. I often felt sick when we went to the theater on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for a family movie. I often felt sick when Grandma picked me up for a night at the symphony. I often felt sick.

I felt sick. My belly hurt. I felt sick.

Many years would pass before I knew why that pattern existed for me. As a child, though, I just felt sick.

I rested my head on the coolness of the glass in the backseat of my mom’s mini-van. I wanted to lay down. I wanted to sleep. I felt sick.

In an effort to not be a bother, sometimes I told my mom, but I usually kept quiet. I have spent much of my life going out of my way to not be a nuisance to those whose affections I crave.

I did not know why it was, but I felt sick.

I suffered from recurring nightmares that I never spoke about either. I dreamed that my parents, surrounded by their multitudes of children, would take us somewhere fun. A festival, a fair, an amusement park, the mall. And when it was time to go, they rounded everyone up, put them in the car, and drove home. I was left behind. I believed they would come back, but time would pass and they would not. I would be there on my own, entirely forgotten, because I was easy to forget, to ignore.

I would wake from these dreams in a panic. They were so real. I could not quiet my brain. In an effort to not be a bother, I told no one, not even my mom. Instead, I went to my brothers’ room, their floor covered in linoleum, crawled under their bunkbed and let the cool floor take some of the edge off my fears. I would lay there like that until the grayness of morning began to spread throughout their room, and I would go about my day, pretending that I did not believe that I was so easily forgotten, so easily left behind.

I had terrible thoughts. I once imagined biting my little brother’s ear off. Not maliciously. It was an accident. We were playing. I did not know what to do. I was afraid of how my mom would react, so I took his little ear, placed it in the bathroom waste basket, covered it with toilet paper, and hoped my mom would not notice.

This vision comes to me still, even though that baby brother is now a grown man with children of his own. I am haunted by it and others like it. Some worse, some better. Always constantly with me.

I dealt with my first “prolonged illness” when I was fifteen years old. It began in the summer. I was reading eight different books for Honors English 11. I was overwhelmed because school would begin in four weeks, and I had three books left to read. I went to a friend’s birthday party, and of course, I felt sick. Because that is what I do. I feel sick. I had decided that I was dying. This was no ordinary sickness. This one would probably kill me.

I stopped sleeping at night. I ate poorly. I was sick for months. I suffered from constant tension headaches, my thoughts raced, I felt I was always no the verge of vomiting. I needed to escape, but there was nowhere to go. Wherever I went, this illness came with me.

I told my parents that I needed help, and they told me it was all in my head. They told me it would be fine. They told me that I was just a kid and kids have nothing at all to worry about. They told me it was nothing. Nothing at all.

Just feel better.

And it went away. Not quickly. Slowly, over time, I felt better.

I dealt with my second “prolonged illness” when I was seventeen years old. I did not believe that I was dying, but I did believe that I would never recover. I believed that the way I felt was the way that I would always feel. Sleep came in fits and spurts. I ate only what appealed to me, which was mostly potato chips. I cried a lot. I cried often. I was irritable, moody, and completely wrecked.

I told my mom that I was afraid, and she sent me to my pastor’s wife for comfort. It was the best she could do for me.

Saint Daddy was there that time. He held me through it. It was hard, but I knew, because of that experience, that he would always be the one for me. Who else would love me through a complete mental breakdown?

These prolonged illnesses came a few more times.

About two months after Saint Daddy and I got married, one began. My boss had told me that he had received a complaint after someone did not get me to agree to her terms. He did not believe the complaint, but he wanted me to be on my best behavior to prove that I was not what the complainer had said. When I entered my first meeting the next day, I felt sick.

I had to go home.

I left for the day and rested on the couch. Miraculously, I felt almost entirely recovered as soon as I walked into the sanctuary of my home.

Weeks went by as I suffered daily with frequent runs to the bathroom in case I vomited, which I never did. I slept less. I felt like I could not find my footing. I was drowning. I could not rise above it.

By this point, at the age of 22, I knew what I had. It was not a prolonged illness. It was panic disorder. I was not physically sick so much as I was experiencing physical responses to being mentally sick. I knew by this point that all along I had been dealing with anxiety. That I had a disorder that made me susceptible to panic disorder. I knew then that I could have been helped, that I needed help, and that it is okay to not suffer through it in silence.

I did not have a diagnosis, but I knew.

After a month, Saint Daddy urged me to call my doctor and talk about getting myself some help.

Within a few days, I had been formally diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder.

My treatment was to take up exercise, to give up caffeine, to cut back on alcohol, to talk about it, and to take a little pill once a day.

I took up running. I gave up coffee. I held onto my wine. I became so much more open about my experiences. And I took that little pill every day for a year.

Thank God for that little pill. It helped me to set myself to rights. It was not a miracle, but it was like someone had thrown me a life preserver as I tossed in the turbulent sea of mental illness.

And suddenly, with that diagnosis, I felt that it could be okay. For the first time in my life, someone with real knowledge in that sphere said, “This is a real thing you are dealing with.” It was not “all in my head,” even if it was in my head.

I was sick, but I was not actually sick.

In the last ten years, I have had other bouts of panic disorder. But I have talked about them. I have learned to cope better so that they last less time. I experience symptoms of my GAD almost every day.

But one of the best things that happened to me was being given a name for why I felt sick on special occasions and why I could not push aside visions of terrible things that came to my mind.

My mental illness was normal for me, even if it is not normal for the world.

My diagnosis changed my life.

Sunshine’s Summer Swimming Sessions

Sunshine is taking swim lessons right now. She has always been terrified of the water. Absolutely. 100%. No doubt about it. Terrified.

We have been swimming, and even with her trusty Puddle Jumper there to protect her, she would cling to me or simply choose to sit on the steps. She has always been content to watch her friends have fun frolicking in the water.

Saint Daddy and I recognized that she needed lessons a few years ago, and we signed her up for lessons at a new area swim school a few months after her brothers were born.

The lessons were okay, I suppose. After a few weeks of twice weekly lessons, Sunshine was not terrified but she was also no more willing to move away from the steps of the pool at her best friend’s house.

Now that she is six, we knew it was time to try again. So we signed her up for the best lessons to be had. Everyone says so. People come from counties around for these swim lessons. This method was developed here and has been imitated throughout the region.

Sunshine’s lessons began on Monday morning. They last for an hour and occur every morning.

She was nervous on Monday morning. She did not eat much breakfast because her belly hurt, which she often says when her anxiety is piqued. It is the only way she knows how to describe her feelings. I hear her clearly when she says it. She is really saying, “I’m scared.”

I convinced her to put on her bathing suit, and we drove over to the local college’s pool together.

She sat next to me on their bleachers, pretending to not be scared. But I knew. Her fear was palpable, and I was nervous for her. When they called her name, I squeazed her hand and promised her that she would be okay.

Sunshine followed the other children down to the pool, away from their parents. I knew that many of those children had more experience than Sunshine, but I also knew we were in the right place.

I watched from afar as Sunshine was evaluated and then shifted to another area of the pool. She was not ready for whatever they had put her in initially. I was not surprised to see that. She hates even getting her face wet during bathtime.

I watched her, and each time her instructor turned his back on her, she climbed out of the pool. I watched her pull away from him as he tried to bring her back in and another instructor had to pick her up and hand her to him. I watched as she gripped his neck when he tried to have her bob into the water. I watched as he pried Sunshine’s tiny arms from his own so he could give another kid his time.

When that first lesson was over, Sunshine came to me in tears. It was too hard. She was too scared. She did not want to go back.

We walked out to the car. I opened the back hatch and placed Sunshine in the trunk space. “Tell me about it,” I said.

Sunshine said that swim lessons are a big thumbs down. The other kids were better. She was so scared. Her instructor was nice, but he kept asking her to float and she did not know how and she would never know how. I held her cold, wet self for a few minutes and we got into the car.

“I don’t want to go back tomorrow,” she announced a few miles into our drive home.

You have to…

I turned down the radio, rolled up the windows, and slowed down the car.

“Listen, baby,” I began. “I know it’s hard, but… Do you remember the first time you read Big Pig on a Dig? Do you remember how hard you thought that was? Do you remember how you yelled because you didn’t think ‘ground’ made any sense? Do you remember?”

Yeah…

“Do you remember how it felt when you figured it out? You read the whole book and you felt awesome?”

Silence.

“There are going to be thousands of things in your life that you think are too hard. Things that seem impossible or really scary. Things you are convinced you can’t do. But you’re going to work at those things. You’re going to practice. And one day, you’ll do them and you will realize that they are not so bad. Because you can do that scary thing, and just like reading Big Pig on a Dig, you’re going to be so happy with yourself once you see what you can do.”

But…

“This happens to everyone, baby. We all get scared sometimes. Mommy has this thing. I have never really named it for you. It’s called anxiety. It tells me that things will be too hard and that they won’t be worth it and that I can’t do them anyway. But I can. I just have to tell my head to let me do it. That’s what I want you to do, baby. I want you to tell your head that you can do this. Because I know you can. I know it’s not too hard for you. Your teacher won’t let it be too hard for you. You’ll do it. So will you go back tomorrow and try?”

Okay…

She did not seem entirely convinced, but she did not fuss in the morning when we returned.

It took her instructor a few minutes to convince Sunshine to get into the water, but he did. Somehow. And once she was in, she stayed in there with her group for the remainder of the class.

After class was over, there were no tears.

I again sat her in the trunk. She said that she hated bobs but that class was a thumb to the side. Maybe it would be a diagonal up tomorrow, she said.

On day three, she was the first member of her group to get into the pool.

On day four, she began to practice bobbing with her group members while they waited for their instructor, who was working with other students.

When she joined me on the bleachers she announced that class was “finally fun today.”

When I sat her in the trunk on day four for our post-swim class ritual, she told me that her instructor told her he was proud of her and that she thinks she could probably bob for five (seconds) during the next class.

Outside of class, Sunshine’s baths have become much more pleasant. She puts her face in the water. She does not scream when the water runs down her face. She told Saint Daddy that she wished our tub was deeper so she could swim in it like she can swim at swim class.

Within class, she has become far more confident. She bobbed up and down enough times for me to get a video for Saint Daddy. She laughed with the other kids. She put herself into the pool.

She will most likely never request to join a swim team, but she is not terrified of the water. Maybe, just maybe, she will play with the other kids the next time we go to a pool.

Sunshine’s swim lessons are a great example of how facing the scary thing makes us better versions of ourselves.

My anxiety has told me thousands of times that it would be better to not go again tomorrow than to keep trying. My anxiety has told me to quit and stop making a fool of myself. My anxiety has told me that I am not worth the improvement.

But I am. Sunshine is. We all are.

I know I gave Sunshine my mental illness. I passed it to her in my breastmilk. I did not mean to, but I did.

I hope that she hears the lessons that I have learned and can learn from some of them so she does not have to spend so much time figuring it all out on her own. If she cannot learn from me, at least I can say that I will always be there to love her though it.

I disappoint Sunshine a few times a week. That is a conservative estimate. Sometimes, I disappoint her multiple times in a single day.

She yells at me.

She tells me I am rude and that I am ruining her life and that I obviously do not love her.

I let her yell as best as I can. I do not let her get a rise out of me.

Most importantly, I do not bend.

That is what all of the yelling is for. She wants me to bend, and I never do.

Growing up, my mom often said, “If I’m making you happy all of the time, I’m not doing my job right.”

I think of that every time I anger Sunshine with my “no” or my “not today.

My Timehop Story

There is a story that Timehop tells this time of year that makes me remember that I never really told it. Two years ago today, I posted pictures of my sons to Facebook. They were a couple of weeks old, and I posted a couple of weeks’ worth of pictures. I had not posted them previously. There was a reason. A dirty truth. One of those things that mothers rarely speak of but that many of them feel.

For the first few weeks after my sons were born, I was not happy. I was the precise opposite of happy. I was overwhelmed and broken. I felt that I had disappointed me and them and Saint Daddy and Sunshine.

I was not sure what I felt for them was love. In fact, I was not sure at the time that I would ever feel love for them.

It was something. It was awe at their existence. It was longing to feel something for them. It was responsibility for their lives. It was commitment to their protection.

But love? I do not think it was love.

That was strange for me. When Sunshine was born, I held her close and felt that immediate connection.

When Grumpy’s first cries filled the room, I cried real tears because he was real and alive and safe. I had done that.

But it was harder. Delivery was less painful but more difficult. The effects lasted for a while. I could not get out of bed. I could not hold both of them easily but I wanted to.

Feeding them was hard.

It was that last point that changed on this day two years ago. It actually changed the day before. That is the story that Timehop tells.

Neither Grumpy nor Sleepy was very good at eating. Of course I was going to breastfeed my sons. That is what good mothers do. That is what I did for Sunshine until she was eighteen months old and weaned herself.

As soon as I left the operating room and was wheeled across the hall to recovery, I was handed two absolutely perfect miracles and Grumpy latched on. Sleepy, of course, was too sleepy, but he rested his little head on my chest and we all knew that he would do it soon.

He did.

But he never did it well. It was really Sleepy that was the issue, but I did not know that. I would not know that for weeks.

Everyone told me to feed them individually at first. I was not ready to tandem feed them. But when you have two crying newborns and you are the source of comfort, the creator of the food, the pacifier, the only thing that they have every known, that is easier said than done. So I tandem fed from day one. When they cried, Saint Daddy brought me one at a time, I latched them on and waited, trying to enjoy these sweet moments with them as I had with their sister.

But they were not sweet, they were stressful. Only one position worked and I needed a million pillows. And I was sore. And I was tired. And I could not help thinking that I probably would not be able to tandem feed in public so we were stuck together in the house for the next four months or so until they could figure out how to wait their turns or could help me in the process of latching them on. And I would be sore until then because that is how long the vasospasms lasted with Sunshine.

They ate every 2.5 hours around the clock for 20-30 minutes at a time. That is what my Facebook status said two years ago yesterday, according to the story that Timehop tells.

I remember their cries waking Saint Daddy and I as we set about the process of changing and comforting, feeding and swaddling. Saint Daddy did diapers while I set up my nursing pillow in bed. I was sore from my incision and bone tired. He handed me a baby, letting me know which one he was based solely on the nail polish on his big toe. I recalled which side he had the last time and offered him the other side. Saint Daddy brought me another baby, and I latched him on too. Saint Daddy fell asleep for thirty minutes. I swaddled the first one, handed him to Saint Daddy to return to his cradle, and moved onto the second one.

That was just at night. While Sunshine slept, and I felt overwhelmed. I felt exhaustion in my soul.

During the day, this pattern took place on the couch. Except I would let them sleep on me in whichever position they landed after they stopped nursing.

Timehop showed me the picture I sent to my mom, who was in Florida at the time. Both boys curled in a ball on my lap, my shirt a little disheveled still from being quickly pulled down to cover my twin mom body.

And here is the thing, despite the constancy of it all, despite the exhaustion, despite the fact that it was all that I seemed to be doing, both boys were losing weight. Both boys were struggling with lethargy. Both boys were not eating well enough.

The nurse practitioner at the pediatrician’s office said she knew I was working hard. She held me as I cried. She told me she knew it would work. She sent me home with two formula samples and said to consider an ounce or two twice a day, just until they get up to birthweight. Then they would do it, she said. She knew they would.

I had seen lactation consultants. That is what Timehop tells me. I had seen five different ones before that tearful meeting with the nurse practitioner. They all said the same things: “They’re both latched so well. They’re little champs. Just keep doing what your doing. They’ll get it. Then it will be so easy.”

But it was not easy. If it was going to get easy, I wanted it to get there much more quickly than it was because I was suffocating under the weight of it all.

When we left the pediatrician’s office that day, I called another lactation consultant. I begged to be seen as soon as possible. It was not an emergency, but it was an emergency. I had twins. I wanted them to eat. I wanted to feed them. I wanted them to live.

And under these circumstances, how can the word be called love? Responsibility for their lives is not the same as love. I did not feel love. I felt weighed down by the responsibility of being the one who gave them life.

That lactation consultant worked with me for two hours the next morning, according to Timehop. She weighed my sons before and after a feeding. She watched me latch them (perfectly) and watched them suck. She checked for ties and felt their little sucks with her pinky.

“This one doesn’t have a very strong suck. That’s probably the issue. I bet this one is working really hard to make enough milk for both of them to eat, and it’s not working. That’s the problem. He’ll get better when he gets stronger. Birthweight will change him. But you’ve got to get him there first.”

She asked me what I wanted.

“To sleep. I want to sleep. I want to breastfeed my sons for as long as I possibly can. But right now, I want to sleep.”

Saint Daddy came back and she told him that she wanted him to let me nap. As soon as we got home, he was to let me go to our bedroom and let me nap.

She handed him formula. She said that if they needed to eat during my nap, to give them the formula but not to wake me until I woke on my own.

Then I was to pump. I should pump every three hours or so and bottle feed them when they were hungry. She told me how much they should eat at a feeding and we should supplement with the formula until my supply met their demand and in a week, if they were at birthweight, I could try to latch them or I could pump forever until I felt I had met my goal but nipple confusion is a myth and babies will latch and she knew I could do it. I was in the right mindset.

She hugged me. She gave me her personal cell number if I needed her for anything.

She sent us home, and I… I napped.

I woke up and I pumped. I fed my babies, who were finally getting enough milk during a feeding that they also slept. We slept.

And the weight, almost immediately, lifted off of my shoulders.

We did not sleep long stretches, they were newborns after all. And I needed to pump regularly. If that was the thing I intended to do, I needed to pump every three hours around the clock. Eight times a day for the first twelve weeks.

The lactation consultant did not tell me that. My sister in law, who was pumping for my niece at the time, added me to a Facebook group where I learned that. I learned all about exclusive pumping. I learned about what supplements might help and about water intake. What I really learned from that group was that there were thousands of women out there breastfeeding their babies through bottles. It was not easy, but they were doing it.

And the next day after that nap and the feeding and the sleeping? That very next day? I posted pictures of my sons to Facebook. Not because that is what new mothers do, which was the case with every picture I had posted previously, but because I felt that maybe I could love them. Maybe I did love them.

The next year of my life was filled with ups and downs when it came to breastfeeding. Saint Daddy and I bought a chest freezer to store my milk because I was overproducing by more than fifteen ounces a day for a while, but then their demand went up and I watched that supply dwindle. They needed more some days than others and I became nervous that I might not keep up. The stress of returning to work hurt my supply, and I had to give up middle of the night pumps and running and the very notion of losing weight. I pumped on work breaks and lunch breaks. I missed meetings. I pumped in my car in many parking lots. I pumped in a restaurant booth. I was a pumping mom and that meant battery backs and sanitation and labeled bags.

But the year went quickly. And exactly one year after that meeting with the final lactation consultant, I fed my sons the last bag of frozen milk. I had stopped pumping a month prior to that bag being used, but we made it to more than a year of breastfeeding.

I never thought we would. When I met with that lactation consultant, I had already told myself that if I made it to six weeks, I was a winner. But I made it a full year.

And you know what? I love my sons.

I love them with every fiber of my being.

I love the way they like to tickle my toes. I love the way that they call my name. I love the way that they stare out the window at the cars. I love the way that they laugh at each other when they should be sleeping.

I am glad to see this Timehop story each year. It reminds me of how far we have come. It also reminds me that new motherhood is harder than any of us can imagine sometimes. It is not just soft blankets and warm snuggles. It is sometimes desperation and hopelessness. It is anxiety and fear.

One of the comments that I make in my Timehop story is that my pressure was both internal and external. I wanted to breastfeed my sons because it mattered to me. But it was so necessary for me to not look like a failure to those witnessing my motherhood from the outside.

Motherhood is full of judgment. It is full of people who know how to do it better than we do. People who have never experienced our struggles but insist that they would know how to handle them if they did. People who are forthcoming with their criticism masked as support. People who think they have the solution.

Sometimes the solution is not the one we had hoped for, but it is the one we need. Timehop tells me that. I am glad that it does.

Celebrating the One Hundredth Day of School

I was raised one of many children in a poor household. Money was a concern at all times. We did not take extended vacations. I have not been to Disney World. My clothes were hand-me-downs and second hand. My resources were limited at times. We lived in a fairly wealthy area, and my teachers assumed that we would have internet access at home, even in 2001. We did not.

Much of my clothing fit poorly. I was acutely aware of that.

I got my first job at fourteen. I worked for a butcher on Saturdays from 8-6. I babysat on Mondays from 4-9. I cleaned the neighbor’s house on Tuesdays for two hours after school. I got a full-time babysitting job in the summer. I used that money to pay for trips to the movies and clothing so I felt better about me.

This is not a complaint, I assure you. I was raised poor but loved. My parents had little, but they gave everything. We did not travel far, but we spent at least one day at the shore every summer. Sometimes that was literally a day. We would wake before 6:00 and cram into a single minivan, children illegally sitting on the floor to fit. We would drive the three hours to the ocean, spend the morning in the sun, eat sandy sandwiches for lunch, shower off in the locker rooms of the public park, eat pizza at Dad’s favorite place, hit up the boardwalk for cheap rides and kitschy stores, and pile our sunburned selves back into the van just as the sun began to set for the ride back home. My parents could not afford much, but they could do that. There was always cake on birthdays and presents under the Christmas tree.

They had little to give, and they gave it.

We were lucky. We were loved. Other kids had things and parents who fought bitterly. Not all, of course. But we knew what we had.

We had each other. We had laughter and song and built-in friends. We had playing school on the back porch. We had an exercise trampoline in the basement. We had fires in the backyard. We had everything we needed and just enough of what we could want. Tastes of wants. Not enough to be gorged on our wants, but enough to be satisfied in knowing what they tasted like.

My parents are the working poor. They work hard. They instilled in me the value of hard work. But their hard work will not result in their getting ahead.

Saint Daddy and I are not part of the working poor. Our children wear mostly hand-me-downs, but I am more selective about what is acceptably secondhand. They also have access to more of their wants than I did as a child.

Part of this is because of my awareness as a child of not having what the other kids had. I want my kids to have everything and to feel no shame.

Sunshine is in kindergarten, and I recently became acquainted with this event known as the One Hundredth Day of School. I did not know this was a thing until this year. Specifically, I did not know that this was a thing until the Tuesday before the Monday that marked the One Hundredth Day of School when Sunshine came home with a letter from her teacher letting me know that she could wear a special homemade shirt to mark the occasion.

I took the letter to Saint Daddy where he sat in his office, finishing his work for the day. “Look! A project for me!” Because Sunshine is five, she is unlikely to be able to figure out a way to put one hundred items on a shirt. Not to mention the fact that Sunshine cannot drive herself to the store for materials. Oh yes, we had plans for both Saturday and Sunday that weekend. And, oh yes, I had two assignments due for my grad class that same Monday.

Piece of cake!

Sometimes, I think about my mom with her multitudes of children, her night shift job, her limited means, and her exhaustion. She would not have made me a shirt. She may have stopped at AC Moore to pick up a $3 t-shirt for me to decorate, but it most likely would have been puffy paint polka dots that I did myself.

But Sunshine’s teacher sent a link to a Pinterest album for ideas.

A Pinterest album!

Have you seen Pinterest?!?

Puffy paint polka dots would stick out like a sore thumb in 2019.

What would people think?

What if I am that mom? What if Sunshine is that kid?

No, I could not allow it.

“Sunshine, what would you like on your special shirt?”

Bows. Like JoJo.

Saint Daddy took to Amazon as I put Grumpy and Sleepy to bed that night. I told him to look for craft bows. He ordered them along with special fabric glue for my hot glue gun and a white shirt.

Sunshine and I discussed design. She wanted her shirt to say 100, which is one of her favorite numbers. The other being her current age.

I told Saint Daddy that I would figure out how to make it when the weekend arrived. I always figure it out. I would spend part of a morning doing it. Maybe Saturday. Although Sunshine has ballet. Or Sunday. Although I run six miles on Sunday mornings. I would figure it out.

I always do.

And I did. Sunshine loved it.

Over the next week or so, I watched other moms figure out the One Hundredth Day of School. There were capes and costumes, children dressed as their one hundred year old selves. Stress and questions. Where to buy? What do do? How much to spend?

Why?

To not be that mom. To not let our kids be those kids.

Which mom?

The mom who does not care enough to buy craft bows and hot glue. The mom who forgot. The mom who does not have it together for her kids. The mom who is not able to figure it out.

What kids?

The ones whose parents are not paying attention. The poor ones. The misfits. The struggling ones. The ones who are different. The ones who have to sit around feeling self-conscious in their regular clothes on a special day.

And, like, what does it matter?

Would Sunshine be any less wonderful on the One Hundredth Day if I sent her in her usual uniform?

Who is to say?

I cannot answer this question.

But I see you, momma. I see you with your hot glue gun and your Cricut machine, working long hours, with no need for one more thing, but doing it anyway. I see you with paint under your fingernails and a smiling kid. I see what you did when you post your pictures to your Instagram. Your kids are happy because they did the thing, but I know. I know you are the one who really did the thing.

Congratulations, momma.

You would not be less of an amazing momma without that cape on your baby’s back, but you still pulled it off and I am impressed.

Until the next time you will decide to be supermom to not be that mom.

We are in this together.