Working mom, constantly interrupted

That about sums it up.

My delightful friend, Jennifer, reminded me over the weekend that I hadn’t blogged in awhile. That’s not entirely true. I haven’t blogged for free in awhile, but I’ve been blogging like it’s my job since April. Because it is my job. In April, I started a contract gig as a communications consultant for a super-cool nonprofit organization.  I blog, and do social media, and edit things and write things. I work from home.

Working at home has its advantages, particularly when your awesome nanny cleans and does laundry and empties the dishwasher. I don’t have to commute anywhere. I can sit around in my pajamas all day. I don’t have to take a shower. (I do take a shower. Usually.)

The big issue I find is keeping my head in the game. Being at home, it’s easy to get distracted by laundry that needs to be folded, counters that could be wiped and clumps of fur on the carpet from my mangy cat. I’m also the one who’s taking the kids to their dentist appointments, organizing the play dates, doing the grocery shopping and planning the social schedule. I’m still the stay-at-home parent, trying to do most of what I used to do. And mostly, failing.

It’s possible for me to fit in 20 hours a week. But my chock-a-block schedule makes it hard to get — and stay — in the zone.

Here, I’ve outlined today, an average day. I’m expecting sympathy, FYI:

7:15: Awakened by two children crawling on me, and an aggressively purring cat.

7:20: Realize that I still have a toothache. Also, that I way overdid my workout yesterday, and my left hip hurts like a bitch.

7:22: Hobble downstairs.

8:00: Call my dentist. Confer about toothache. Schedule root canal for Friday, when I was hoping to be working. Fix lunches, clean up kitchen. “We’re out of compost bags,” says Steve. Add to mental list.

9:15: Put on a baseball hat that says “Grumpy,” throw on clothes, brush teeth and drive Evan to camp. (Bini has been delivered to his camp by Steve.)

9:30: Stop at Walgreen’s to buy compost bags, batteries and Sharpies.

9:45: Work.

10:30: Notice that Kona is filthy and needs her nails trimmed. Call grooming place and book appointment for noon.

10:35: Work.

11:45: Leash up Kona and walk to the groomers. Feel virtuous about getting some exercise, spending quality time with dog, and doing an errand. (Win-win-win!)

12:10: Realized I am unshowered, and hungry. Turn on oven with the intention of roasting beets that have been in the crisper for a week.

12:15: Answer e-mail.

12:25: Shower and do minimum grooming.

12:55: Make sad lunch and carry it up my office.

1:00: Conference call.

1:25: Notice that my battery is at 17 percent, and that the charger for my new MacBook isn’t working.

1:33: Log off, race to Apple store.

1:45: Arrive at Apple Store. Informed by idiot Apple employee that I have to wait an hour to see a “Genius.” Reply in a way that could be characterized as hostile. Receive new charger, for free.

2:00 Kona is done being bathed. Remember, as I’m driving, that the groomer does not accept credit cards. Pull into grocery store to buy something and get cash.

2:10 Grocery store does not have flank steak, the only thing I need. Buy skirt steak instead.

2:15 Park in loading zone to pick up Kona.

2:20: Get yelled at by meter maid.

2:25 Arrive home.

2:30: Work.

3:05: Bini comes home from art camp. I take a break to say hello and make him a snack.

3:15: Work.

4:00: Realize that I left the oven on. And forgot to roast the beets.

4:15: Mangy cat vomits on carpet, because she hasn’t been brushed since April. Clean up vomit. While doing that, realize that I’ve had damp clothes in the washing machine since Monday, and they smell a bit off. Rewash clothes.

4:35: Work.

5:50: Walk downstairs to listen to last 10 minutes of Bini’s piano lesson.

5:55: Bini says: “I never see you, Mom.” Heart breaks.

6:00: Release the nanny, begin dinner/bath/bedtime routine.

8:30: Yell at Evan for requesting water for the 50th time.

8:40: Write blog, sulking.

8:45: Realize that I need to update my blog image to include Evan, who we adopted over a year ago.

9:11: Work.

Hey, thanks for listening.



Four days ’til China: Bini’s Big Feelings

So, Bini has been quite mercurial of late. Very emotional, very wired. Some of that, apparently, is characteristic of a 6-turning-7 kid. But much of it is due to his apprehension about the trip, about having a sibling, and about his own adoption.

This morning, Bini climbed into my lap for a snuggle. Then he told me that he didn’t want a brother from China — that he wanted a brother from Ethiopia. I explained that the wait times for a child, even an older child, were very long in Ethiopia. And though it had made us very sad, we’d switched from Ethiopia to the Waiting Child program in China so that we didn’t have to wait so long to add to our family.

“How come you already love him?” Bini asked. “I don’t even know him yet. What if I don’t love him?”

“We all have to get to know him,” I explained. “But Daddy and I love him already because he’s our son. We felt the same way about you when we first saw your picture.”

“Really?” he asked, hugging me tighter.


Then, Bini started asking about his birth mom. That led to tears. After those abated, he asked about his birth dad. More tears. All I can do at those moments is hug him. I don’t even tell him that it’s going to be OK, because what do I know about it? But I did tell him that he could always talk to me, no matter what. That it was OK for him to love and miss his birth parents. That it was OK to be sad, or angry, but important to let the feelings come out sometimes, like he just had.

"I'm sorry for being bad. Love, Bini."
“I’m sorry for being bad. From, Bini.”

These are all things I’ve said many times before, and will probably say many times in the future. Times two.

A little later, he was tossing his yellow Nerf basketball in my bathroom while I got ready. He asked where his little brother would sleep when we went to my parents’ house in California.

“That’s a good question,” I said. “Grandma and Grandpa only have the one race car bed. What do you think we should do?”

“I think I’ll sit up in bed and he can sleep with his head on my lap,” he said.

“That’s really sweet, honey.” I was surprised — but pleased — by this expression of brotherly love. “Do you think you might sometimes let him sleep in your trundle when we get home?”

“No, I want him to sleep in my bed with me,” Bini replied, like he’d decided after weeks of thinking it over.

“There’s not a lot of room in your bed,” I reminded him.

“I’ll go make room, then,” he said, and scurried off to make room. Along the way, he got distracted by Pokemon cards.

After the morning of Big Feelings and sweet declarations, things went steeply downhill. It was the usual: backtalk, defiance and mini-tantrums, bookended by sudden bursts of crazy energy and extremely loud and annoying noises. Under normal circumstances, this would be irritating. But Steve and I have so much to do before the trip that we were at the end of our respective tethers by about 11:30 a.m. Thankfully, our friends offered to take him for a sleepover tonight, and another friend is having him for a play date tomorrow afternoon.

I gotta go to bed. More tomorrow.

Seven days ’til China: Chaos, panic and horrible cats

You know how I’ve been all calm and stuff about going to China and becoming a mom again? Yeah. We leave in a week and I’m FREAKING OUT.

There’s the little issue of my house. As I mentioned yesterday, we’re having new hardwoods put in one room, can lights going in in our crypt-like basement family room, painting in said family room, and built-ins for the same room, so that we can, nine months after we moved in, completely unpack.

This is my downstairs room, with fans running. I should mention that this house is about 18 months old.
This is my downstairs room, with fans running. I should mention that this house is about 18 months old.

Hardwood guy gets here this morning after flaking on Monday, rips up the carpet and calls me in. The subfloor is wet, from my most recent pet-stain-removal effort. He can’t put hardwoods on a wet subfloor, so he brings in two fans to run overnight. We also discover little patches of black mold, which I immediately want to scrub with bleach (except that I’m out of bleach).

“Don’t even bother,” he assures me. “There’s this product called Killz and it’s an anti-bacterial. It kills everything. I’ll just roll it over the spots tomorrow.” He goes on to tell me that this product is often used in dilapidated houses where the previous owner was perhaps a heavy smoker, or a crazy cat lady.

Awesome. These are apparently my people.

While this was going on, the electricians came, and installed the six can lights and a dimmer. Indeed, that room looks decidedly less funereal, but in order to get past the duct work, they had to cut out five additional holes. Or I think that’s what they said. I kind of stopped listening when I saw the five extra holes.

Deep, cleansing breaths.
Why yes, those are holes in my ceiling.

ANYway. On the kid front, I’ve been torturing myself about preschools for Kid X. I have two choices: First, there’s the rather sterile Montessori that I visited a few weeks ago. It was sparkling clean, beautiful facility where no fun seemed to be happening. Still, their schedule works for me — two days, 8:45-3. I could go back to doing freelance, or even do a part-time job somewhere. They also have a two-week summer school thing, so X could start getting acclimated.

Or, there’s the sweet preschool that’s about a 1-minute walk from my house. The teachers are warm and nurturing and it’s in a house, so it’s a little cramped. But the stuff the kids were doing the day I visited looked super fun — lots of options with clay and dress-up and awesome toys. However, it’s a co-op, and I’d need to volunteer once a month. Also, the school year starts later. And, it’s only 9-11:30 am, although there’s an option to extend to 2:00.

You’re probably catching the strong sense that I want some semblance of “me time” once we become the parents of two. Yes. That is true. I could make excuses and say that I didn’t become a mom until I was in my late 30s, so “me time” was all I had (I’m thinking maybe this shouldn’t be in quotes). And, that I’ve gotten used to having time now that Bini’s in school. But really, I just remember that I had a really hard time adjusting from having full-on me time to having none when Bini came home. I got used to it, but it was a rough re-entry.

My cats' bowls, defiantly full. Little shitheads.
My cats’ bowls, defiantly full. Little shitheads.

OK, non-sequitur of the day: My cats are on a hunger strike. We bought this food one night because the fancy pet store that sells their goddamned Royal Canin was closed, and they hate it. It’s three weeks later and they still stand next to their full bowls and yowl. This is not a battle I’m going to fight right now. You win, horrible cats.

Other non-sequitur (kind of): I like to vacuum. I’ve been popping Rescue Remedy pastilles like an addict today, but after I got a look at our growing to-do list tonight, I went and got the Dyson. I vacuumed the areas of my downstairs that aren’t covered in drop cloths and hardwood flooring. I vacuumed even though there will be more people tramping through my house tomorrow. It calms me, vacuuming. I wonder if I can get my hands on a vacuum in China.


Eight days ’til China: Summer camp and selfie sticks

You may have noticed that I’ve titled this post similarly to yesterday’s post. That’s because I realized I was counting wrong. I never have figured out the definitive way to count days until a specific event. Do you count the day you’re on? Or is the next day when you start counting? Of course, I turned to the internet for help, and of course, the internet was wrong. We leave for China on March 4, which is next Wednesday. Today is Tuesday. Eight days.

I'm not really good at taking selfies. Keep reading.
I’m not really good at taking selfies. Keep reading.

Anyhoo, I spent much of today planning for things in the future. We have a house project coming together this week, in fact. Today, I paid a guy to install sprinklers so our new yard doesn’t die because of global warming. Tomorrow, an electrician comes to put in can lights, and another guy is coming to put hardwoods in a carpeted room that the pets decided was a good place to vomit, pee and poop. Thursday and Friday, paint. Saturday and Sunday, built-ins installed in our basement. Did I mention we’re leaving for China next week?

I’ve also been driving my friends crazy by asking them if they have their summer camp schedules squared away yet. It’s late February, I know. But I DO HAVE MY REASONS. Summer swim signups start while we’re in China, and they sell out faster than Radiohead tickets. I asked the nice woman at parks and rec if I could get a gander at the program guide before it went to print, and she said sure. I’ve sent a list of barcodes to a friend and asked her if she’ll sign us up. I’ve pestered two other friends about which weeks they want to do the wilderness camp? And the basketball camp? August 3rd through the 7th? July 20th through the 24th? WHY DON’T YOU KNOW YET?

To their credit, my friends have been remarkably patient with my persistent requests. Sort of like how you’re patient with someone who’s had a traumatic brain injury.

Bini selfie
Bini, taking one of several dozen selfies. By the time he’s a teenager, he can go pro.

It’s like planning for your own death, all this months-ahead scheduling. I’m assuming that I’ll be a half-wit when we get back from China, so I’m making sure that Bini has things to do when I’m sitting in the corner, rocking repeatedly. Also, I don’t want him home all summer long begging for iPad time or trying to hit his brother.

I’m a little freaked out about how Bini and Kid X are going to get along. Or not get along. People tell me to expect jealousy and tears and fighting, but I have a skewed view of the whole sibling thing. I was the oldest and I loved my younger siblings and was a model sister. Kind of a lot like the Julie Andrews character from “The Sound of Music.” (Really. My mom says so.) Bini is a wild card. And obviously, I don’t know this other kid yet. It could be a disaster.

OK. Ready for the non sequitur? I now have a selfie stick, which, ostensibly, I bought for China. Mainly, it’s being used so that I can try to master the whole selfie thing (not working), and also, so my kid can don his pretend safety glasses and take 52 pictures of himself. Incidentally, this study says men who post a lot of selfies may be psychopaths. Good thing I’m not a dude.

My tiny little pill

Mother's little helper.
Mother’s little helper.

It is January 23 in the Pacific Northwest. And I am happy.

Traditionally, these two things did not go hand-in-hand for me. Seattle is, from November to April, quite chilly, damp and gray. It took a couple of winters to figure out that my February blues could be attributed to the lousy weather. I thought I was way too tough for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I was wrong. I bought a happy light and upped my Vitamin D significantly.

I know that my current happiness is partly due to our impending adoption. In six weeks or so, our family of three will board a plane to Shanghai, and then another plane to Xi’an, where we’ll become a family of four. Our soon-to-be new son is almost three. He’s adorable. And I can’t wait to get over there and become his mom. I just can’t wait.

But I also know that my happiness, or at least my ability to focus on the happy parts of our upcoming adventure, has much to do with the little pill that I started taking in November. An antidepressant. A teeny, tiny dose that my doc calls a “therapeutic” dose. A dose I could stop taking whenever without any taper. A dose that has radically altered my mood.

Before this pill came into my life, I was kind of a mess. Even the tiniest bumps in the road would activate my emotional airbags. I radiated stress. I was always ready to do battle.  I snapped at my loved ones and friends. And I couldn’t sleep.

I don’t know how I got that way, which was another source of anxiety and self recrimination. I was totally aware that I was touchy, reactionary and unhappy, but I couldn’t right the ship. When my insomnia flared up, in August, my anxiety found fertile ground in my exhausted brain. I felt like my nerves were tightly wound violin strings. I found it impossible to relax.

On the rare night when I did sleep, I had a recurring nightmare where Bini was hit by a car, and I was too late to prevent it. I would wake up gasping, my heart pounding so hard I thought for sure I’d wake Steve. I’d stumble from my bed and into Bini’s room, just to make sure he was OK. Then I’d spend the rest of the long night thinking stuff like: It’s a sign. It’s a message. I’m not fit to parent. I need to stop this second adoption.

I started spiraling downward. I felt like I was at the bottom of a muddy, slippery hole, and I couldn’t find my footing. I was scared.

There were reasons for this. The adoption process, this time around, was really hard. We said no to five deserving little boys before we were matched with our soon-to-be son. I tried to go cold turkey off my Lorazepam sleep meds and it made my insomnia much worse — a side effect I wasn’t aware of. We got some bad news, which I won’t go into. And I got into a terrible argument with a close family member, who still won’t talk to me.  But people go through difficult times, all the time, and they don’t fall to pieces. Why was I so different?

I tried everything, really I did. I went to counseling, and did neurofeedback. I went to acupuncture twice a week. I started meditating, thanks to a handy iPhone app which featured a nice man with a soothing British accent. I cut out alcohol. I took L-Theanine. I went to see a sleep-specific naturopath. I started tapering off the Lorazepam, very slowly. Still, I was off-the-charts anxious. So I went to my doctor, for some blood work.

“Have you considered going on a low dose of antidepressants?” she asked.

“No. No way.” I replied.

“Why not?”

Why not? Because I’d been on a low-dose of antidepressants before, when I had a terrible job and wasn’t sleeping at all. I have Paxil to thank for helping me crawl out of that muddy hole, get my resume together and get a kick-ass job that I loved. But the tapering process off that stuff was brutal, even though the dose was small.

I went on them again when Steve and I were going through infertility, and they helped. But I went off them after I sought treatment for my decades-long eating disorder, and that weaning process had also been brutal. Why do that again?

Because. Because my doctor pointed out that anorexic and bulimic brains have shown to be permanently altered after decades of endless punishment-reward cycles. I was an expert at both severe food restriction and hard-core exercise bulimia, which I camouflaged quite successfully as “training” for many years.

Because. When my doctor asked me how long it had been since I was happy, I really had to think. I knew what she was after, so I wanted to tell her “yesterday,” but in fact, the best I could come up with was October 2013, when Steve and I were in Paris.

Everything was a chore to me, even good things. A relaxing massage appointment was just another thing on my to-do list. Making cut-out snowflakes with Bini was just another thing for me to clean up. A night out with Steve was a temporary reprieve from the stressors of parenting, four pets and a house that always needed cleaning. Give me something good, and I would squash it under my Mighty Foot of Doom. It’s my gift.

“That’s not normal,” she told me. “That tells me that there’s a chemical imbalance in your brain.”

I made some sort of dismissive noise. “Chemical imbalance? Everyone I know is on antidepressants. Does EVERYONE have a chemical imbalance?” I went on to point out that great art, great music and great literature would have never been created if people were never sad. Anger and anxiety were normal emotions. They were part of the deal.

“Happiness is also part of the deal,” she said gently. “And you’re telling me that you haven’t been genuinely happy in a year. That’s not good. It’s not healthy.”

So I took the prescription. A week later, I got it filled. And a week after that, I started taking my therapeutic dose. I felt better almost instantly. (I’m very sensitive to medication. I took Vicodin once, and it made me sneeze uncontrollably.) Taking my tiny pill was like entering a warm, cozy house after trudging through the frozen tundra. I felt relaxed. Relieved.

Two months later, my hard edges are smoother. I absorb bumps in the road better. I am much more patient and kind to my son. I’ve quieted my savage inner critic, which was as relentless as CNN’s news ticker. I still feel anxious and sad and overwhelmed at times, but those feelings don’t dominate me anymore.

I’d be lying if I said that writing about this isn’t itself causing me apprehension. Once I hit “publish,” this goes public. Maybe three people will read it, maybe 3,000 will. It’s probably not great for my “brand” as a freelance writer to acknowledge my anxiety, and my little happy pill. There were be people who judge me.

To paraphrase Veronica Sawyer from the movie “Heathers,” I’m a human being, not a game show host. Writing authentically and transparently, at least in my personal writing, is all I know how to do. And throughout my career as a journalist and now, a blogger, I’ve heard from hundreds of people who’ve told me that my honesty was helpful to them. It certainly helps me. If someone doesn’t want to be my friend or hire me because of it, they can quite cheerfully bugger off.

We have a huge unknown entering our lives any day: A child that we don’t know, who doesn’t know us, and who’s lived in an orphanage his whole life. At best, it will be difficult, and at worst, it will be a disaster. But we’ve sought counsel from doctors, fellow adoptive parents and therapists who work with adoptive families. Steve and I have made the best decision that we can, given the information that we have. The rest is a leap of faith, of love, and of hope.

I know for certain that my tiny little pill is helping me handle the uncertainty. I feel clear-eyed, I feel strong. I feel ready, damn it. I am ready. I know we’re tempting fate. I know there will be dark days when I wonder what the hell we’ve done. But Steve and I are experienced adoptive parents. We have an extraordinary son. We can bring up another one. I know we can.

I do feel a little strange about my happiness, knowing that it’s due to a little tiny pill. It’s like winning a medal that I didn’t entirely earn. But I’ll take it. I’m choosing to look on the bright side, for once. It comes much easier now.