Thursday, October 15, 2009

stepping up

There's a new movie out called The Stepfather. It's a thriller-slash-horror film about Mom's new man who is perfect in every way except that he just may have murdered his previous stepfamily. It's a remake of a 1987 film by the same name. In 1987 I had my very own evil stepfather. He and my mother met and got married within 2 years of my parent's divorce. His name was Daniel. My younger brother's name was Daniel, so people assumed he was his dad. This infuriated me. Daniel (jr) didn't mind. He seemed to understand that having a dad-type guy around on a daily basis when your own couldn't be was a pretty good deal. He gave us rides. He had a big family that immediately included us in all its big-family activities. He took us skiing. He worked with people with developmental disabilities and took them skiing. He was kind of clumsy and goofy in real-life, but on the ski slope he was pure grace, and would practically dance down that mountain, poles swinging with elegant efficiency, a permanent grin under his frost-crusted moustache.

He didn't have a mysterious lock-box full of body parts in the basement. He didn't molest anyone. He wasn't an alcoholic. He was kind and affectionate with our mother. I don't remember him raising as much as his voice to her, or to us, though I asked for it. He chewed with his mouth open and was a bit of a slob and sometimes lacked what might be considered common sense, like the time he left my 6-year-old brother and our stepcousins at a mall by themselves for hours. I forget the circumstances. It was probably a dumb call, but he had no prior experience with kids. He probably wanted kids of his own, but instead got a teenage girl with a rotten disposition who resented him for breathing (never mind chewing with his mouth open).

Dan and my mother split up while I was in college. It was a big loss for my little brother, and for myself, too. I'd recently realized what a great person Dan was -- and how poorly I'd treated him -- and we were getting along for once. (He'd been willing all along.) Years later we met for coffee and I apologized. He teared up and gave me a big hug. Evil man, I tell you.

This psycho stepparent stereotype has got to go. I had an extraordinary stepmother as well, and am so grateful for them both, especially now. I recall their kindness, humor and patience as I stumble along my own stepparenting path with my partner's 12-year-old son, in an only moderately evil manner.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stop, Drop and Meditate

When I was pregnant I bought a set of meditation cushions -- a zafu (the round, buckwheat -filled one you perch upon) and a zabuton (the flat one for under your zafu to make meditation a little friendlier on ankles and knees). Until then, having "props" always seemed superfluous and silly. Any pillow would do, and I'd also meditated in my car (not while driving), on boulders and benches and beaches and subways and planes, sitting up in bed, anywhere I could be still and close my eyes for a few minutes. But I had a hunch I'd need some reminding about my meditation practice, postpartum, so I shopped for bright-colored gear that would snag my eye. I ended up with orange and raspberry pillows (or "sweet potato" and "plum"), which I placed where I suspected I'd be spending most of my time early on -- in the room of my baby-to-be. I'd settle my spherical self on down, cross my sapling-size ankles, clasp my hands under my belly and make like Mother Earth for a half hour most mornings.

Once Stellina resided on the other side of my skin, things weren't quite so routine, of course. For one thing, despite all that deep breathing I'd done, she was a less-than-serene newborn. I was in pretty much constant motion for the first three months, mostly while straddling an exercise ball, as this was what she demanded in order to not holler her head off. I'd bounce so hard we'd catch air, then she'd calm down, and sometimes doze off. I'd plan to meditate once I had taken a shower and thrown in a load of which point, of course, she'd wake up and it was back to the ball...or time to breastfeed, and this I could do on the cushions. We'd sit in a stack -- the baby on the Boppy on my lap on the two layers of padding. In hindsight I think these "medilactation" sessions were beneficial for us both in establishing our longterm nursing relationship (17 months so far). I was mindfully feeding my baby and spirit simultaneously. When faced with breastfeeding challenges like engorgement, plugged ducts or just feeling plain "touched out," I'd remember that uncomfortable sensations that arise during meditation, both physical and emotional, eventually pass -- if I can just stay seated and focus back on my breath, and now, on the breath of my baby, as well.

I also learned to "stop, drop and meditate" when she was napping (if I wasn't sleeping at the same time). Housework, e-mails, paying the bills, phone calls, Facebook, freelance work could all wait. Sometimes I'd open my eyes every couple minutes, watching the clock, practically having to clutch the cushion to stay put. I had never felt both so tired and wired at once. Plenty of times I gave in to the five little monkeys jumping on my brain and cut the session short.

These days I try to plant my butt on the buckwheat tuffet every night after getting Stellina to bed. It's a quiet corridor of time between my day as a mom and evening as a partner (and writer and e-mailer and dishwasher and watcher of TV and payer of bills...). I will also, when feeling frazzled, drop to the pillows and take the position no matter what else is going on in the room -- what electronic gizmo is trilling, what CD is playing, what toddler is lurching the length of the house, pushing the wooden clackety long-handled toy in front of her like a landscaper in her cups. I'm not there for long before I hear, "Hi!" in front of me, or feel a stuffed animal or bongo drum or board book being stuffed into the bends of my elbows or knees. But even just putting myself in timeout for that minute or three seems to create the necessary space between my feelings and my reactions.

And here's the whole point of this long-winded post. I've meditated in order to remain somewhat sane in the membrane, not to model meditation. But just as Stellina mimics the good (teeth-brushing, hugging the dog) and not-so-good (door slamming, scolding the dog) habits of her housemates, she's caught on to this contemplation thing -- or the mimicry of such. The other day she purposefully lowered her tiny heiney onto the zafu, crossed her legs and grinned. She inhaled and exhaled three long times. Then -- and this was when I wished we'd installed that nanny spy cam, despite not having a nanny -- she propped her babydoll next to her on a little pillow (an herb-filled sachet she'd found while ransacking my bureau and had toted around all afternoon). So, not only is my kid learning to meditate literally as she is learning to walk, but she's showing HER baby how to do so as well. Let's just say the relaxation habits I inherited from my parents involved altering one's mind in an entirely different way. Holy proud parenting moment.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Baby New Year

It's 2009 and I'm writing from my favorite place -- bed. Wifi and a laptop top my year-end gratitude list of 2008. Here are the other eight:

8) Heat when it's 15 degrees outside.

7) Healthy kids. Stellina had a mystery petechial rash last month, tiny bright-red freckles everywhere. That's the rash about which the baby books and websites say, "Rush to the ER," unlike the other 99% of no-need-to-panic infant skin eruptions. After a round of bloodwork and two visits to her perplexed pediatrician, we were referred to the scariest of specialists -- the pediatric oncologist. Cancer is an awful enough condition, but put "cancer" and "baby" together in the same sentence and it's double-up on the Prozac time for Mommy. Which I wasn't able to do at the moment, as I'd just gone off of said medication due to it's remote, remote possible side effect of said rash. I'd only been on it for 10 days when she had her first outbreak, so I was sure it was the cause and also a little heartbroken. By day four I'd felt better than I had in, geez, a year and a half? Two years? 14 plus 10 months. I knew I was depressed, but that's the thing about depression -- one doesn't realize how low they've gone until they get a leg up. I'd gutted it out without meds since getting pregnant, despite all the assurances that SSRIs are perfectly safe for the lil belly-dwellers and breastfeeders because...well, how do they know? Long-term-like? This particular class of medication has only been around since the mid-80s, right? And I was already on two other medications that weren't optional. I don't know how optional antidepressants really were, either, in the scheme of things. I've been graced with total patience with Stellina, through colic, even. It's bizarre, really -- I have not lost my patience or heart-filled sense of humor toward her even once. BUT...oh, her poor father, half-brother and the dog. Yes, even the dog. I've lost my shit on them all, too many times to count, not to mention the self-haranguing harridan in my head. She's not a nice woman. No one I'd be friends with, and she's me.

So it was back to Prozac, the first and favorite of ADs I ever tried (after two years on it, starting 14 years ago, it up and stopped working, but I guess it's been long enough of a break that it's again doing the trick). So, anyway, I went off after 10 days but the butterbean had another rashy outbreak a week later. Which was when we went to the baby cancer doctor -- the baby, her freaked-out father and freaked-out-and-unmedicated mother. And you want to see a freak out, try taking blood for the second time in a week from a baby with no apparent veins. It took three nurses and me to hold her down, all 21-pounds of her. (Her father was busy out of hearing range doing paperwork.) Where she didn't already have petechiae before the visit, she did afterwards from all the thrashing and screaming. Well, two weeks, a battery of blood-disorder tests and no new rash later, she's been given a clean bill o' health. Thank god/dess/hp/powersthatbe. And I hurried up and got well, as the junkies like to say, resuming Prozac about 30 seconds after getting off the phone with the doctor. And no more rash to date.

And, the stepkid is steadily, ridiculously healthy, despite his curious refusal to wear a winter jacket. Drive by any middle-school bus stop and you'll see what I mean. At least he's not wearing Uggs and a miniskirt.

6) Obama.

5) Baby-daddy and I became engaged. You'd think raising children together was engaging enough. But truthfully, as cart- before-the-horse/load, fire, aim as our relationship's been, though I've felt unwaveringly committed to the kids, I've been ambivalent at moments about their sire. Or at least to the notion of getting formally hitched. In large part, I think, because my queer brethren couldn't. But now they can, in the Nutmeg State, at least, and we are, too. And the ring's reeal purty, too. High-conflict diamonds for our high-conflict coupling.

4) CT legalized gay marriage. Because, as Bill Maher said, gay folks deserve to be as miserable as heterosexuals.

3) Unemployment's been extended again. Thanks, recession!

2) My freelance job(s), and having a babysitter who's as flexible as my part-time work schedule. And I only have to give her half, not all, of what I earn!

1) Healthy kids, and Prozac, and Obama.
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr