Apathy · family fun · Kids · parenting · The COVID files

Day 15: Make Your Own Fun

If I hear “Eema?” one more time today, I’ll lose it.

Unless it’s immediately followed by “I made you brownie in a mug” — that would be fine.

You know how I say that happiness is a simple equation of reality minus expectations? Yeah, I decided to lower my expectations. Like, reeeeally lower them. How low, you ask?

My kids probably had 8 hours of screen time today. When they were outside, they were climbing all over my car. I did not play with them. And all of that was okay.

Actually, I try not to play with my kids if I can help it. I truly believe that kids need to play with each other, learn problem solving and risk taking, and negotiate the terms of their own games, without adult intervention. Adults seem to have a knack for interrupting children’s play and putting the focus back on themselves. But I digress.

One of the beautiful side effects of this quarantine experience is that my children are playing — the kind of play psychologists rhapsodize about. They spent four days playing Pirates; They were running all over the house, laughing and shrieking, while I drank my morning coffee; This afternoon they went out into the backyard (aka the Mud Pit) and busied themselves with some garden tools, an old blue recycling box, and some mud. Later I discovered that they had decided to create a vermicomposting bin. They dug up the worms, gave them a bit of mud, and then took a bag of compostable garbage out of the green bin (yes, really) and emptied its contents into the box. They mixed it all together and added some pieces of plants, and then they dragged the bin over to the back door so I could see what they’d done. They were filthy, tired, and proud of themselves.

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(For my part, I was glad that we haven’t managed to landscape the yard since we finished the renovation. It’s ugly, but the Mud Pit obviously has greater scope for messy play.)

The one thing I actually made an effort to do today was a front-porch sing-along. I set up a zoom meeting, sent the link to all my Facebook friends, and sang and played my heart out for 45 minutes. You’d think the kids would have enjoyed that, right? But no, after about two minutes they left to hang out on the roof of our car. Some passers-by really enjoyed it, though. So did all three people who joined us on Zoom.

And the rest of the day was just what I said above. The kids played together or watched Netflix. Dinner was whatever leftovers were in the fridge. Mr. December watched Jurassic Park with K and N in the attic while E, R, and I snuggled up on the couch to watch Sugar Rush.

So, another day of really lazy parenting. Everyone is still alive and everybody got fed. N even changed his underwear, which pushes our day into the category of “exceeds expectations”. According to that math, I’m pretty happy.

Apathy · Just the two of us · Kids · parenting · snarky · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day Fourteen: There’s a Crack in Everything

So… today happened.

Mr. December and I awoke to a screaming match between R and K. I have no idea what the problem was, but this was actual angry screaming. I decided to ignore it. I think Mr. December got up and intervened. I’m not sure.

After that rude awakening, I slept in while the kids enjoyed copious amounts of screen time. Some academic work got done at Mr. December’s insistence, while I sat near N and tried to write a cute Passover-themed parody of Hamilton. It was mostly garbage; the one song that wasn’t awful was pretty much the original song with a few words swapped out. Who knew Pharaoh and King George III had so much in common?

Inspired by that, I moved on to recording a parody of Closer to Fine that a friend of mine wrote about the COVID-19 crisis. I recorded guitar and then two vocal tracks, and it came together beautifully. Then I spent another half an hour cursing because I couldn’t get the format right to be able to share it with its author.

In between recording attempts, I made the kids quesadillas for lunch. After that I felt like I was pretty much done parenting for the day. Unfortunately, there was an awful lot of the day left.

Things always feel better after we’ve been outside, so I was relieved when the sun finally came out this afternoon. E and I went outside with the sidewalk chalk and coloured part of our cracked walkway: the cracks formed diamonds and triangles, which we filled in with different colours. The way the cracks dictated the design made me think of a Leonard Cohen song, and so I wrote the lyrics on the concrete curb in front of our house in candy colours:

RING THE BELLS THAT STILL CAN RING/ FORGET YOUR PERFECT OFFERING/

THERE IS A CRACK IN EVERYTHING/ THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN

Reading those words, looking at our artwork, I suddenly felt a rush of hope and purpose. The world is completely cracked right now. Nothing is right, and yet we have these perfect beautiful moments amidst the chaos. Maybe, I thought, if I embraced the cracks instead of fighting them, we’d have more good days.

Then I came inside, saw my kids’ antics, and snapped.

“DUDE!” I shouted, “What GIVES? Why can’t you sit on that hammock like a NORMAL PERSON? Why is it all lopsided and uneven EVERY TIME you get out of it?!?”

Meanwhile R was pestering us to watch Ghostbusters with her. The thing about R is this: she’s a sweetheart and empathetic and wonderfully thoughtful much of the time. The rest of the time she’s a nudnik – she’ll push and push and push until we explode. She won’t take no for an answer.

“Can you just STOP. TALKING. Please?” Mr. December voiced what both of us were thinking.

Turns out she could not.

I decided to put on my own oxygen mask, so to speak. I took my laptop up to the bedroom and closed the door. Mr. December came in shortly after that, swiftly shutting the door and then locking it.

“What are the kids doing?” I asked him.

“Don’t know. Don’t care.”

I shrugged and invited him to my personal Netflix party. We watched the first episode of Unorthodox, and I only reluctantly agreed not to watch the next episode without him. It was definitely binge-worthy.

I got through the rest of the evening with the help of YouTube. Does it count as parenting if I was sitting with the kids while we watched music videos? It felt like maybe we were bonding… incidentally, if you’re bored, type “Holderness Family” into the search bar on YouTube. You can thank me later.

While the kids were sitting on my lap I realized that something (or someone) smelled pretty rank. Turns out it was E, who had no compunctions about eating pizza and garlic bread and chewing her hair at the same time. She would only bathe if I showered with her, which is why I smell so sweet and clean right now. Trust me, it’s WAAAY better than the stench of desperation I was throwing off earlier.

I tried to salvage the day by reading to my kids. It started off on shaky ground: “This is boring,” said one. “I don’t care,” I answered, “Just be quiet and listen. Or don’t listen. But be quiet!” The book turned out to be interesting enough that Mr. December joined us (total number of people in the loft bed: 5) and I read seven chapters. It was a lovely feeling, with everybody cozying up to listen. I’m glad I did it. Then I tucked in the kids, who persisted in asking for more and more hugs until I got fed up and raised my voice. Way to salvage the evening and end on a positive note.

As I’m blogging, R comes downstairs:

“I can’t sleep.”

I hear this refrain every night. I’ve taken to saying, “I don’t care. That’s a you problem. Go figure it out.”

She’s still here, though, making kissy noises near my ear. Is it possible to feel a bit TOO loved?

“No. Well yeah, probably.” R says after reading over my shoulder. And yet she doesn’t take the hint. As usual, she doesn’t leave until the sixth time I say “Please. Go. Now.” — and by the sixth time, as those of you who are parents well know, I’ve lost my patience and my volume control.

It’s almost 10 p.m. There’s a shot of Amaretto in my tea and a cute guy waiting for me to watch the next episode of Unorthodox with him. And so… good night.

Apathy · education · Kids · mental health · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Social Distancing, Day 3: Keeping it real.

Mr. December woke me this morning with, “Your parents made the front cover of the Post!” Technically they didn’t, but their cruise ship did. Their trip has turned from a 3-week cruise to a stranded-at-sea scenario. (Is anyone else humming “a three hour tour… a three hour tour…”? No? Just me? OK then.)

Here at home, we’ve descended into squalor a little too quickly. I expected to maintain a slightly cleaner kitchen at this point. Then again, it was The Boy’s turn on kitchen cleanup today and if his attitude toward personal cleanliness is any indication, I should have anticipated this.

Actual conversation this morning:

Me: Please go put some pants on.

Boy: I don’t want to. Why should I?

Me: Because otherwise I can clearly tell that you haven’t changed your underwear yet today.

Five minutes later he was back downstairs, wearing pants.

 

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I sold my children’s souls to Netflix this morning. I just couldn’t get up the motivation to push them to do any work yet. Look, some days are just less productive than others. I’m acutely aware that this isolation is a marathon, not a sprint. I have to pace myself.

We had two doctor appointments today, one online and one by phone. I wonder whether everyone will clue in to how useful and efficient video meetings with the doctor can be. When this whole COVID thing is over, will our provincial health plan keep the billing code for remote consultations?

I went to pick up our online grocery order, and by “pick up” I mean that I parked in the designated spot, called the store from my car, and waited as they brought out the groceries and loaded them into my trunk. I got plenty of fresh produce, a couple of treats, bread, and baking supplies. What I didn’t get was milk and eggs. Apparently there weren’t any.

I’m adjusting to the reality that we just can’t get around to doing everything every single day. Hair brushing, for example. We’re on an every-other-day schedule. On the first day I detangle their hair and braid it tightly in a French braid. On the second day we do nothing and their braids loosen and generally look unkempt. I’ve made my peace with it.

I was pretty impressed that The Boy (aka N) gamely sat down with me to practice his Hebrew reading. He tells everyone who listens that he hates Hebrew, so I expected more of a battle. I suppose he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to snuggle with me in the comfy chair with a cozy blanket for twenty minutes. The book is a very basic primer and it’s slow going, but at least he’s practicing.

R did her novel study homework without being prompted. K did two hours of math. E begged me to “Please pretend you’re my Montessori teacher and you’re teaching me how to work with Magna Tiles!”

By 4:00 p.m. I was frazzled. Too much noise, too much talking, too much neediness. The kids, the house, everything was just too much. K was screaming at the others to pipe down so she could focus on her work. I was waiting for the doctor to call me for my appointment. Finally I gave up waiting and took the kids outside. Of course, that’s when the phone rang.

I suspect the doctor could hear my kids screaming in the background. Something about somebody’s scooter… I don’t know. It was probably the fastest appointment I’ve ever had. It was over in about 6 minutes and I found myself following the kids down the block only to have E tell me that she needed to pee (of course she did) and N said that he did too. Back to the house. When the bathroom had been used and hands washed, I took us out to the backyard.

Meanwhile, R was suffering from social withdrawal. She started to FaceTime everyone she could think of. When she hung up after 40 minutes of video calling, she immediately said, “Well, now I’m bored.”

“That sounds like a you problem, not a me problem,” I intoned sagely. “Go find something to do, or go scrub the toilets.”

Dinner was fine, if difficult to prepare because of the lack of clear counter space (it was N’s turn to clean, remember?). And then I set up our new family laptop so that R would be ready to start her online schooling tomorrow. Then I hid until bedtime.

As I write this, the kids are (finally!) in bed and quiet. The kitchen is still a mess — guess who won’t have privileges tomorrow — and I can feel the anxiety in my chest. I still don’t know how I’m going to deal with that but I have to figure out something fast, because this is the “new normal”.

Those of you who know me in “real life” (what is this internet thing? Imaginary?) have probably heard me say that happiness is a simple equation of reality minus expectations. Hence, the key to happiness is lowering your expectations until reality exceeds them. One day I’ll only expect that by day’s end everyone is still alive and the house hasn’t burned down, and then I’ll be perfectly, incandescently happy.

Apathy · crafty · DIY · goodbye clutter! · whine and cheese

Frustration!

Remember that TV commercial for the board game Frustration? “Frustration can be fun!” No, no it can’t.

I’ve been working on a very intricate quilt for the last couple of weeks. It’s been the bane of my existence. Anyhow, I finally got the top pieced and I spray-basted the whole thing together with the batting and the back. I started quilting. And then…

CLUNK.

Ugh. Really? the thread started bunching up under the quilt like little multicoloured bird nests. I sighed, took the machine apart, cleaned, re-threaded, changed the needle, and started to quilt anew.

CLUNK.

Grrrr. Maybe I missed a small piece of thread that’s stuck between two metal pieces? I repeated the whole cleaning and re-threading process. Now to fire the machine up again…

CLUNK.

I’m stuck. I’ll have to take the machine into the shop on Monday and hope that it doesn’t take them long to fix the timing (I’m pretty sure that’s the issue.) I suppose this is what a backup machine is good for… although I’m not sure if my darning foot will fit on the IKEA machine, so I might be out of luck as far as the quilting goes. Maybe I can work on some of my smaller projects.

Or maybe I should turn my attention to the clutter-pit that is my house. First up – the calendar area.

(Can I maybe just go back to bed and hope for de-cluttering elves to show up tonight while I sleep?)

Apathy · mental health · parenting · whine and cheese

I upped my medication, so up yours.

Those of you who have just started reading my blog might have missed or glossed over the fact that I struggle with clinical depression.

There’s something I have to get out of the way first, before I can get to the point:

Clinical depression is not the same thing as “feeling depressed” (aka “sad”). Although it can be triggered by a sad event, it can also be triggered by nothing at all. A comment such as, “What do you have to feel sad about? You have a charmed life!” completely misses the point. Depression isn’t about sadness, not really. It’s about:

  • A lack of motivation. The lack of motivation in depression isn’t laziness, and it’s very difficult to think your way out of. It’s sort of like losing your appetite: you still need to eat, but you have no inner urges making you do so, so you have to force yourself. When the motivational drive is malfunctioning, absolutely everything becomes an uphill battle: I’ve had to give myself a pep talk just to get up and empty the dishwasher. And lest you say, “hmm, still sounds like laziness,” I’ll tell you that during depressive episodes I’m also unable and unmotivated to get any of my creative projects done.
  • Faulty reasoning/attribution of causality. I’m having a hard time thinking of an example, actually, but I know depressive thinking when I find myself doing it. I’ll add a proper example when I have one. The attribution of causality thing has me blaming myself for being unmotivated (“lazy!”) and saying things like, “I’m a terrible mother. A good mother wouldn’t lie in bed staring at the wall while the baby cries his heart out. I don’t deserve my kids. Why am I such a bad mother? I thought I’d be good at parenting, but I hate it. My kids are a burden.”
  • Fatigue. Yes, you’re right, everything is blamed for fatigue these days. But now that I’m on the right dosage of the right medication, I see the difference between fatigue from depression and regular old tiredness. When I’m in a depressive episode, fatigue is an emotional and cognitive tiredness in addition to the normal physical need for rest. I need to sleep because I can’t cope. You know how you can be exhausted but happy, like at the end of a great party? Well, depression precludes that kind of tiredness.
  • Social avoidance. During a depressive episode, I don’t call my friends. I assume that they don’t want to be with me or help me because I’m such a leech and never help them (see faulty reasoning, above.) At the same time, I need my friends even more. With other people around, I find it easier to get the little things done (dishes, cooking dinner, etc.) Also, having people over forces me to take a shower and get dressed.

Skeptics will say that the above symptoms could just be personality flaws, and if depressed people would just “snap out of it” or “work harder” or “change their thinking” none of those things would be a problem any longer. To them, I say that there is a marked difference in how I feel on the proper medication, even in ways I didn’t anticipate (and therefore couldn’t just be a placebo effect):

  • Motivation. I’m able to get things done without having to work myself up for it. I feel like I want the kitchen to be clean, and I get up and clean it. I see a dust bunny on the floor and I get a broom and sweep. I don’t have to overthink these things in order to start doing them. Creative projects come to mind, and I’m able to plan and execute them. There is not enough time in the day for everything I want or need to do (when I’m depressed, the opposite is true – bedtime can’t come soon enough.) When I’m not depressed I have a reduced tolerance for things like aimless web surfing.
  • Reasoning, logic, and attribution. Even when I contemplate the possibility of bad things happening, I don’t have a sense of doom about them that would push me to fear the worst. I can correctly attribute negative outcomes, and I don’t resort to attacks on my own personality or value as a human being. For example, I might say, “This table I built is uneven and wobbly. I didn’t have the right tools and decided to go ahead anyway, and I valued quick work over quality work. Next time I’ll get the right tools and give myself enough time to do it well.” Normal thinking, right? Right. But it only happens for me when I’m medicated. No matter how hard I try, I can’t think that way when I’m depressed.
  • Higher energy and no fatigue. I wake up in the morning and I’m ready to get up and do things. I may be physically tired, but it’s not a struggle to move myself out of the bed. As the day wears on, I might choose to nap because I’m physically tired, but it’s often a tough choice because there are other things I need and want to do. At bedtime I’m physically exhausted, but I’m still thinking straight and able to cope. Most significantly, I’m able to be tired and happy at the same time. Until several months ago I didn’t realize that was possible.
  • Social participation. I get in touch with my friends and initiate plans to see them. I notice when people around me need help and I’m able to offer it. I find it easy to host people for shabbat dinner without getting overwhelmed.

Right. So that’s my take on clinical depression. Back to my intended post for today:

So about two months ago we (my shrink and I) upped my meds. Since then I’ve had all kinds of epiphanies: it’s normal to wake up in the morning and feel somewhat refreshed and ready to start the day! It’s normal to be able to do daily tasks without needing a motivational speech! It’s not normal to assume that everything is my fault and that I’m a bad person!

After five years of either deep or mild depression, these realizations have been so liberating. I finally, finally feel like I’m meeting my potential as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. I finally am able to do all the things I envisioned myself doing –  preparing breakfast for my family, playing with my kids, creating things with my hands – and truly loving my life, rather than just going through the motions. It’s amazing and wonderful. As I told my shrink at our last appointment, they’re going to have to pry the meds out of my cold, dead hands. There’s no way I would consent to go back to the way things were.

There are naysayers. You might be one of them. There are people who like to tell me that with exercise/cognitive behavioural therapy/nutritional supplements/meditation/yoga I can eliminate my depression without drugs. To those people I say, “read the title of this post.” To the rest of you, a question:

Has this post changed how you think of depression? How? Why? I want to know. Leave comments here please, instead of on Facebook.