Saturday, July 28, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me

It's a little weird to write this a week before my birthday, but that's what I have to do this year. When my 35th birthday comes (today to you readers), I will be returning from my honeymoon, and will of course be completely disconnected from all things electronic. So I have to guess now what I will be feeling in a week, which is weird and fun.

When 35 breaks, I will be a married woman. I will have had a wonderful wedding celebration and an amazing honeymoon. I will have started a whole new chapter in my journey, with the man who is everything to me by my side. I'll be returning home to my sweet boy, whom I know I will have missed like crazy.

Thirty-five already promises to be one incredible year. I am so filled with love and feel so loved that it's overwhelming and awesome and more than I could have ever asked for. I have nothing but gratitude and joy and hope in me today. 

It gets better every year. And for that, I welcome 35 with arms open wide.

Posted by Tere @ 7/28/2012   | | | links to this post

Sunday, July 15, 2012

When You Get Everything You've Ever Wanted, It's Time to Panic

I keep wishing my brain would stop. I have been roiling in anxiety and it's becoming unbearable.

It's not the wedding. Please. No event is worth deep levels of anxiety. Actually, on that front, it's all excitement and flurry and joy. All I want is for it to get here already because I've got a marriage I want to dive into.

It's life things. Things about the future and needing to look ahead and plan and all that overwhelming stuff. Life lately has been moving at a pace I can barely keep up with, and it's brought to the forefront all these BIG IMPORTANT THINGS that require thought and planning and plain old coping. But for me, these things initially bring up only huge levels of anxiety, all my fears (pertinent to the specific things) bubbling up and slamming me, so that I go from, well, I should be aware of these potential problems, to, omgomgomg these problems are REAL and we're DOOMED and HOW ON EARTH will we resolve this?? It takes a lot for me to keep these feelings at bay.

The truth is, though, that a lot of things are going on and I feel inside this collision of emotions that I realize I'm trying to sort through and understand and live with even as life keeps moving moving moving.

The crux of it all is the terrible feeling I have that - because life is in such a beautiful place right now - tragedy is looming around the corner. The extent to which I am convinced this is true is the heart of everything I'm struggling with right now.

(Before I start trying to dissect this, I have to note that this feeling is a hallmark of generalized anxiety disorder, which I was diagnosed with eons ago and which I expect to battle in one way or another for the rest of my life.)

I'll start with the fact that I feel like the luckiest woman on earth, save for one thing that is the cloud that forever hangs over me but which I try very hard to handle in as positive a way as possible. I've counted here many times my many blessings, and while I won't go into all of them again, I will say that I finally have the life I've always wanted, most especially from an emotional perspective. This is of course mainly due to finding such incredible happiness with a wonderful man, and the way our relationship has positively affected every other aspect of my life, but there are other factors, too, things having to do with the benefits of therapy and true self-honesty and learning from experiences. It is far from a problem-free or pain-free life, but it is the very best that my life has ever been.

Except, of course, for my ongoing pain over not having my son with me all the time. This will never change. As much as I am glad he gets to build a real relationship with his dad and as much as I believe in both their rights to have that relationship (including the time it takes to do so), it nonetheless comes at a huge cost to me, to my heart. My life will always have the hole of his absence every week that he goes to his dad. On the bad days, when I'm depressed and miserable or emotionally vulnerable, I feel like this situation is my punishment for every mean thought or word I ever had or said, for every hurt I've caused another. I worry that my son will liken joint custody to my abandoning him, or not being there for him, because there are times when gets sick at his dad's house (minor stuff), and I'm not there to handle it, or when he misses me and can only deal with the fact that this is his life, and half the time, he's going to be missing one of his parents. I worry - more than is healthy or normal - that my son will hate me for this and not understand the bigger, deeper picture.

Usually, though, it's not like this. There are facts about this situation that show it is actually not tragic, the most significant one being that my son is a happy, well-adjusted child who is always well-cared-for, no matter which parent he's with. My terrible feelings are about me. They're about my anxieties and fears and pain. It helps a bit to recognize that, but still. It sucks. It wears on me every time somebody hears about my arrangement and tsk tsks me. Living like this for just over four years now, I understand that however uncommon this arrangement is, it's normal. It is my son's idea of normal, and his father and I and our families have had to make it ours, too. It requires a lot of coordination and flexibility, but it works. It works from the most important perspective, which is my son's emotional health. On the logistics end, we'll see what the years bring, but I am hyper-vigilant about my son and his emotional well-being. So about this, I know he's o.k. 

I remind myself of these things, laying out these facts when my own sadness knocks me back. And in this way, I try to find balance.

The problem now is that - this pain aside - I am so unbelievably happy that I'm convinced some force is going to sweep it all away. I feel like the universe can't and won't allow this level of completeness and fulfillment and deep contentment. Between my anxiety, the heapings of both Cuban and Catholic guilt I was buried under for so many (important) years and the fact that any other time I was in a good place some crazy shit has happened to kill it, it's no wonder I feel this. I've never known sustained happiness. As an adult, I'd say a lot of that was due to my own poor choices, and certainly, once I started making the big changes that got me to where I am today, things have been very different (and better), but this is one mother of a feeling.

I'm going on three years of what have been the happiest, best years of my life (though I did have that awful jobless period there, but even that felt not-heinous thanks to simply being in a better emotional place), and all along, I've been like, what's the catch? What's the universe going to exact from me for this? My son's hatred? Jevo betraying me? A life-ending tragedy for a loved one?

And now, with marriage and a beautiful future stretching out before me, these feelings have doubled. It's not just that I'm terrified of losing my son or husband, or something terrible happening to my loved ones, it's that I also am compelled to imagine it all happening in the most unsuspecting (and therefore doubly terrifying) ways. I think of Jevo and imagine that our plane will crash to or from our honeymoon, thereby killing the promise before it truly started. I imagine my son doing something completely normal, riding in the car with someone else, and a terrible accident takes him from me. I imagine myself getting cancer (and dying, of course) before even turning 40. Between my Jevo and my son, I more than ever want to keep tragedy at bay (you get that I'm dealing only in horrific situations and death, right?), which is precisely why this feels so agonizing. As my happiness and overall sense of awesomeness grows, so does this monster.

Before I continue sounding utterly unhinged, I reiterate that I get that this is the manifestation of very bad anxiety. Which is what I have. But part of the shittyness of anxiety disorder is that it's a beast that only grows the more you think about it. I can easily reason with myself through these things. But when I do, the problem becomes the persistent voice that says, "but any of these things technically can happen, and why not to you?" Sigh. It's a twisted beast.

It occurs to me as I write that it might seem like I somehow believe I deserve terrible things should happen to me or that I'm unworthy of the happiness I feel. But it's not about that to me. I just feel that that's how the universe works, meting out tragedy as indiscriminately as it does happiness. And while I could tell myself, "man, I've been through so much crap in my life, I finally get a break," another part of me feels that in so many ways, ways that really matter to me, I am so blessed and fortunate that why wouldn't some awful thing happen?

Jevo - who in this regard is vastly different from me - gets what I feel but also thinks it's completely illogical and therefore, to him, untrue. In his view of life, things don't happen as I think they do and so there is nothing to worry about. Having him try to show me another view of things is something I'm grateful for, but it also exacerbates the anxiety at times, because it just makes me feel like I've got someone who's thumbing his nose at the universe and so he too will be smacked down eventually. Yeah, I know it's insane. He, meanwhile, insists he'll wipe my doom-filled views away.

As always, this wave of anxiety will pass soon enough, I know. But these last couple of weeks have been rough as I've tried to deal with it. Thankfully, life is moving so steadily on, leaving little room for me to dive too deeply into this stuff, and I take a measure of comfort in that. 


Posted by Tere @ 7/15/2012   | | | links to this post

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

On that Recent New Yorker Parenting Piece, and Others Like It

My friend suggested I cross-post this here, and I think it’s a good idea. He posted this article from The New Yorker on FB and asked me (and a couple other moms) my thoughts. I suggest you read the piece to understand this post, but be warned, it’s long.  

I read the piece, and this was my take on it, as posted on FB: 

“My first thought reading this was that its general themes are true, but at the same time, I genuinely wonder how much of it is mostly true for higher-class, white people. I don't know that studies like this are socioeconomically or culturally inclusive. That said, I do feel like the culture in this country is geared toward making life easy (too easy, IMO) for children. Parents have to be sensitive to everything about their kids; parents have to resolve everything; parents have to think 18 years down the road and be prepared for every. possible. scenario. It's overwhelming and exhausting and I personally struggle with it because it clashes with a lot of my values - be they values I've developed through experience, or the values ingrained in me by my Cuban upbringing. I find I straddle a line - in some ways I want to be a "modern, American" parent, and in others, "old-school Cuban" is the way to go. Meaning, I don't want to live by threatening my kid with the chancleta for everything, but I also don't want to chew his food and practically swallow it for him, either. I think it boils down to really and truly thinking about what kind of parent you want to be - both big-picture and in the day-to-day - and actually carrying it out. It's not easy when you have work, bills and other responsibilities hanging on you, but you have to do it if you don't want to end like some of the parents described here, or your kids, either. For example, I in no way feel like it's my job to rescue my child, and so I don't. He breaks a toy, too bad. It's not replaced, I don't buy something new. He misbehaves in school, he has my wrath to deal with. He does something wrong to another, he has to face the person and apologize to them. As he gets deeper into school, I will be available to answer questions, to expose him to as many different things as possible, to help as best as I can, but I will in no way do his work for him, or plead with his teachers to go easy on him, or save his butt when he forgets things. On the other hand, I absolutely want my child to know - every day, no matter what - that I accept him for who he is, and that my love is unconditional. I overdo it with affection, but that's due to how friggin' adorable he is, combined with how deprived of affection I was as a kid. So, whatever. I know he'll start to pull back from that eventually. I think this article fails to account for individual personalities, and what parenting can be like when you really pay attention to the kind of kid you have and work it to your advantage. Max LOVES being helpful. He will come ask to help me when I'm cleaning or cooking and then do whatever I ask him to do (he is now being assigned chores and learning how our family is a team and everyone plays a role). At the same time, he's easily distracted and inattentive. So I have to work with that. I give him tasks that are done in a short amount of time, and I don't give him anything to do that will triple my work if he messes up. I make a game of it so that we both enjoy it and get it done quickly. I think a big problem in our society is that *real* parenting is very, very hard work, and many parents just bag out even as they think they're doing the right thing. Helicoptering, stepping in to rescue them, giving them whatever they want - those things are actually EASY compared to the hard work of having a long view, of identifying the core values you want to impart and seeking ways to do so, of being strict and demanding, of pushing them to do or be on their own when you know you have to. I don't know if you wanted something this long-winded, but there it is, my thoughts on the article.”

Later, I added: 

“For the most part, conversations of this nature are really only taking place in forums where the readers/commenters/writers are white and/or upper-middle-class to high-class. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, per se, but I think it shows that that's the only segment of the population who has the real luxury of ruminating and angsting over this stuff.”

And clarified, when it seemed someone else thought I was saying non-white parents are bad parents: 

“There's no question that good parents come in all colors and from all financial backgrounds. What I'm saying is, look at where these discussions are taking place: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, TIME -- who's their main demographic? The people who have the time, maybe the money (therefore, the luxury) to do so. I would actually say that it's these very people most in need of some real soul-searching in regards to their parenting, but that seems too general and unfair.”

A few days later (today, actually) I stumbled upon this piece in The Atlantic (this one's a lot shorter), and I again found myself thinking about these articles, and why they rankle me so.

These two articles hit upon something that I confront everywhere on the Internet: minority voices (here I’ll just focus on parenting) remain few and far between, especially when you consider that minorities exist in far greater numbers than the white “majority.” And it’s not that they don’t exist – there are so many black, Hispanic, Asian, gay, etc. parent bloggers, sites, forums, etc. But when you get to mainstream articles like this, and the sites/publications behind them, it’s largely white voices. White, upper-middle-class to high-class voices. In and of itself, there might be nothing wrong with that, but I feel it doesn’t offer a full, accurate representation of parenting in the U.S. That's the funny thing about these pieces: I get the sense that they're trying to be universal, and they are anything but. I always end up thinking, at some point, who the hell can actually, really relate to this? (side note: I've felt this way before, and felt it for a long time)

Articles like this mess with my head. I read all the articles that come out like those referenced here. I visit (not every day, but frequently enough) so many news/commentary websites that it boggles the mind. I do so by choice, because I enjoy reading and learning and and seeing what’s out there (though I have zero time to do more than read and move on). And consistently, just about everywhere I go, I find myself at once understanding but not really relating to all these pieces on parenting today. They tap into anxieties and worries I carry with me, but they speak nothing of my life experiences, not as me, and not as a parent - not really, anyway. I typically consider this yet another consequence of being a hyphenated individual, but the more I read stuff like this (aware, on some level, about the general cultural tendency to fan the good-parenting vs. bad-parenting flames), the more I feel like this has to be more about how a very small, specific segment of the population parents today, and little else. 

I could be completely wrong. Part of my frustration is simply not knowing. It's not like minority parent bloggers are out there responding to these articles, offering their take. I don't know if the stuff that baffles the hell out of me - parents who edit their kids college papers?? parents who schedule 12 activities for a four-year-old?? - is a white people thing, a rich people thing, a rich white people thing, or none of these. I only know that that kind of stuff doesn't exist in my world. I am neither Anglo nor rich (though I am privileged enough to be able to blog as much much as I want, and to read these articles and ponder over them, luxuries that the great majority of parents in this country don't have, and I am fully aware of this), but I certainly am not immune to all the pressures I've been told I should feel. Do I expose my son to enough things? Am I properly planning for his future? Am I being present enough? Attentive enough? 

And heavens knows, I devote a ridiculous amount of time to feeling all kinds of anxiety over my child. The thing is, I don't stress over any of the examples given. I don't get insomnia because my kid did a poor job on a project and it'll ruin his chances of later success; I get it because I fear that he won't be able to overcome his personal challenges and develop into an emotionally stable person. So it's like I can get the anxieties about wanting your kid to succeed, about wanting the best for them, but the details are worlds apart. Moreover, so is the methodology. I don't believe in rescuing my child - in fighting his battles or intervening on his behalf if he messed up and has to learn from it. And generally speaking, my culture - or at the very least, the very small world I inhabit - falls more along these lines than those constantly splayed across the Internet. I am more Tiger Mother than the Western kind. I try to expose him to lots of things and be present and attentive and forward-thinking, but not at the expense of our defined roles: I am the parent. He is the child. Period - and all that comes with that.

Ultimately, I think articles like these reek of such an utter lack of true self-awareness. They completely fail to acknowledge that their points of reference include little to no minorities, and that as it is, the great, great majority of parents are too worried about losing their homes and being unable to pay bills and put food on the table to be the kind of helicopter parents that are always trotted out as examples. They are small snapshots that I don't believe capture the complete picture of parenting in the U.S. today. 

I go back to what I said on FB: “For the most part, conversations of this nature are really only taking place in forums where the readers/commenters/writers are white and/or upper-middle-class to high-class. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, per se, but I think it shows that that's the only segment of the population who has the real luxury of ruminating and angsting over this stuff.” That's what it boils down to for me. And if that's the case, like I said, there's nothing wrong with that, but I can't truly buy any of this as legitimate universal statements on parenting. They simply aren't.

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Posted by Tere @ 7/04/2012   | | | links to this post