Sunday, December 28, 2014
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Clearly, I am not a monkey.
And as I watched the coffee spill all over the counter and swirl all around the bottom and outside of my cup and nowhere near the inside of my mug which would allow me to pick it up and consume it in all if its caffeinated glory, it occurred to me that I am really, really tired.
For many years I have argued that it is my young children and motherhood that is in fact making me tired. Runny noses, restless sleepers, early risers and tiny toes making their way into my rib cage at pre-dawn hours have certainly not helped my REM. Without question, this has made me quite physically tired. But there is a different kind of mental fatigue that I have been unable to articulate until recently, that is most certainly tied to my day in and day out experience as a mother and is likely exhausting so many of us in so many different ways. I am mentally tired, and what is driving this mental exhaustion is something I’ve been reading more about lately, something described as “decision fatigue.”
As described in a recent Elite Daily article, “…decision fatigue … is a real psychological concept where a person’s productivity suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.” Indeed even when the decisions are not substantial, it is the sheer volume of them that sometimes overwhelms me, mentally. I short circuit. I can’t even remember to put the coffee cup under whatever the thing is that the coffee pours out of. What is the name of that thing? You see?
The article talks more specifically about how powerful leaders like President Obama tend to wear the same thing every day to avoid making minimally impactful decisions in daily lives already so overcrowded with big things to decide. This makes sense to me. In a mind so cluttered with mindless choices that I can’t even seem to summon the cognitive energy needed to determine what kind of coffee machine to buy, I worry how I’ll ever make space for the big things. I worry that I am so exhausted sweating minutiae that it is sucking me of the strength to do the big things, the important things I need to do to be the leader of this family. Things like love them, and teach them kindness, and prepare them to learn how to decide stuff for themselves anyway.
I think of how most mornings begin - with coos and cries and running feet and then, the questions:
5:59AM: Can I play Mario?
6:02AM: Baby cries. What does she need?
6:03AM: Mommy where are my Legos?
6:12AM: Can I play Mario?
6:15AM: Do I have school today?
6:22AM: Can I play Mario?
6:29AM: Did I brush my teeth yet? Should I brush them again?
6:30AM: Can I play Mario?
6:37AM: Baby again – diaper. Did I change the diaper before?
6:45AM: When is breakfast?
6:46AM: What is breakfast?
6:49AM: What are we doing today?
6:51AM: What is the weather today?
6:53AM: Where are my shoes?
6:54AM: Where is my coat?
6:59AM: Why is Mario not working?
In my best guestimates, in that first hour of the day I make decisions for 4 different people every 4 minutes. This gives me enough time to do things in between each question and subsequent decision like, pee, put on pants, maybe turn the coffee maker on, and contemplate the larger questions in life like seriously, why the hell isn’t Mario working?
I grab three different dish towels and soak up precious coffee as it drips and runs all over the counter and in between the crack next to the stove. I am not doing this right. I am tired for all the wrong reasons. I think about my mommy uniform, one that reflects simplicity, one less decision to make. The call to arms and yoga pants makes sense in the context of decision fatigue. But more than excessive amounts of stretchy cotton and spandex, I need to be cloaked in rubber. I need their questions to bounce off me and reflect back to them. I need to teach them about choices and decision making, about how to find their own way. My job is not to make their choices for them but to teach them about how to sift through the noise of life to decide for yourself what is relevant and what matters. And as is the case with most teachable moments in parenting, perhaps I too can even learn something along the way.
And just like that I make my first, last, and easily most loving decision of the day: I decide to love them enough to let them figure all of it (whatever it is) out. So that we'll have the strength to conquer the really important stuff together that still lies ahead. I do not know where the pajamas are, you know the answer to Mario, go make a choice for snack. And when you're done come find me. It's Chanukah and we're making latkes and memories over here. And I've got just enough strength saved up for that.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Monday, November 17, 2014
When the people we love are gone, these bread crumbs are the tiny little glimpses into the lives they led when they were here. And we follow them as they lead a trail back to our heart. They lead back to a place in time, in our mind’s eye when we were together and healthy and happy. I’m quite certain this is that space they’re referring to, when folks so often long for simpler times.
Sometimes when I am in the pharmacy by myself waiting for a prescription, I find them. As I wait, I wander over to the skincare aisle and there on the shelf is a tiny crumb disguised as a jar of Ponds Cold Cream. I pick it up and carefully unscrew the top and inhale. Instantly, I am in my childhood bathroom. It is nighttime and my mother is getting herself ready for bed. In one whiff, I am there and she is here.
There is something different about handwriting that makes it in some ways the most prized breadcrumb of all. Perhaps it is the idea of knowing that no one ever has and will ever again make anything that looks exactly like this. We can be alike in so many ways, but our signature is always and truly our own. Maybe because when you pick up something that was written by someone you loved and lost, you can imagine them holding that very same letter or recipe card in their hand, pressing pen to paper. She was there and now you are. You both touched it. You can’t reach out to each other. But you can travel the same space.
Indeed writing something down, regardless of what it is, is a transformative experience. Science increasingly proves that it is the writing of information, not the typing, that promotes a space in our brain that lends more to the processing and interpretation of information, not just the recording of it. In a recent study, researchers proved in three different clinical trials that when students typed the information in class on their laptop versus physically putting pen to paper, the students with laptops effectively transcribed the information. This is drastically different from the students who wrote it down. There wasn’t enough time to write it all down so they had to actively interpret what they heard. These students retained the information overall far better, and outperformed their typing peers on follow up examinations.
And perhaps this is why the words on these cards matter so much. I’m not just reading letters on a page. I know that tucked within the spaces of that card are pieces of my mother’s heart and mind. When there is nothing to hold on to, I can still find a trail back to her in the way that she interpreted and extrapolated meaning from even the most mundane parts of her world. I can still find her in these tiny crumbs tucked between the lines.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Remember, these are just general stages. Each phase for you will be your own special brand of hell, truly individualized. Maybe you’ll outwardly begin to look like The Walking Dead, or your children will begin to think of Tylenol as a healthy snack. And in the end, only the strong will survive. So prepare yourself now for whatever is inevitably going to visit your house this cold and flu season. Stock up on your wine, Netflix, bleach spray and microwaveable mac n cheese. Buckle up and thank me later.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Indeed as is often the case, the pictures tell a story I did not realize was unfolding or fully appreciate when I was taking them, and living them. For this gift of perspective and hindsight, I am so grateful for each of these shots, in each of their blurry imperfectness.
I love how she’s looking at me here.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
I serve Dylan his dinner and he
gives me his signature glare: “Mom! It’s touching!”
Dylan hates when his food touches on his plate. Everything needs its own neat and tidy space, as if life and all of its gastronomic pleasures should forever be served in a Bento-esque container so that the ketchup never EVER touches the salad. Never. But that’s not life and sometimes the ketchup is going to touch the salad. Just sometimes. “Deal with it,” I perhaps too hastily snap. “Sometimes you just can’t separate it all neatly.” Which is entirely true about dinner and sometimes true about life.
Over the past week or so, everything has seemed to collide and touch: the messy, the uncomfortable, and the wonderful. Life’s ketchup made its way all over that salad. It was Rosh Hoshana and the whole family came together from near and far to celebrate a sweet new year. Ruby lost her first tooth. We celebrated my 37th birthday. We finally got around to giving Hope her Hebrew name just a few days shy of her 8 month birthday. And through all of these wonderful events I have just been waiting, waiting for the phone to ring, enjoying myself but with an asterisk: what if?
Two weeks ago I went for my first ever baseline mammogram. By most standards, I have zero risk factors for breast cancer. I am 37 years old. I have no family history of breast cancer. I don’t smoke. But I do have two very important things that put me at risk. I have breasts: two of them in fact. And the reality of what’s happening here is that if you have breasts, there is risk.
Everyone assured me that the spot that showed up on my mammogram was “friendly” looking but the doctors acknowledged they had nothing scientific to back up this friendly vibe they were getting from the symmetric looking circled spot on the images. They couldn’t find it on the ultrasound to investigate further. And the general wisdom was to just wait and see, to come back in six months and see if anything changed. But they acknowledged that it might not be friendly. That they really just didn’t know. And I couldn’t live six months in the gray of not knowing. I’d lived six days in the gray and I’d eaten my own weight in tater tots out of stress. For a variety of health reasons, I needed more information.
For me, more information meant a sterotactic biopsy. So right before the Jewish new year and the birthday and the baby naming and just after Ruby lost her tooth, I lay on a table last week with a hole cut out of the middle and my right breast dangling through. The whole thing took about 90 minutes. My breast looked like it had been run over by a truck. And then I waited.
All of this waiting and wondering for more information gives you lots of time to think and it made me wonder how in all of the things I manage to do for everyone else on any given day, I have never in all of my 37 years found the time to check my own breasts. The process of doing this, of carefully or not so carefully running my fingers in a circular motion over each breast would probably take approximately 45 seconds. Perhaps 60 if I’m trying to be particularly thorough. But there was always a reason I couldn’t. I had to rush in the shower before the kids’ show ended, I had to send this email, make this dinner, this lunch, shop, read, write, breathe, watch, talk, do anything but prioritize my own health.
This idea is turning over in my mind this morning as I pull into the pre-school parking lot where throngs of adorable children dressed in coordinated rain gear carefully make their way into the building. Ladybugs, dinosaurs, butterflies and fireman, all with their raincoats, rain boots and umbrellas, all selected to ensure that our little ones make their way inside in the safest, driest, and apparently most fashionable way possible. I look at the mothers accompanying them. Most (not all) look like me. They look wet, bedraggled, with babies on their hips and flip flops on their feet and up to their knees in puddles and not a raincoat or umbrella in sight. Of course this makes sense, right? That we should stand there completely soaking wet while we protect and care for our children? At what point did we make the conscious choice to put their needs entirely above our own? That the caring of them means we stop caring for ourselves?
We need to do this. And not for our children’s sake either. Women are often fed a number of messages of why they need to prioritize their own health, to do it for their children, their husbands and partners and jobs and families and a whole list of people and reasons but the truth is that women need to prioritize their health. Full stop. End of sentence. There is no because or for. Women just do because they matter, they are important, not in relation to other people, places or things but just because they have dignity and that means they take care of themselves for themselves. Because nothing and no one else matters on the list if they don’t start here.
So as I begin this 37th year, I hope you’ll indulge me by granting a few belated birthday wishes:
- · Give yourself a breast exam today. You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to look for changes. Mammograms are annual and while useful, generally don’t start until you are 40. A lot happens before then. And bad stuff can grow fast. The best way to protect yourself is to check yourself.
- · If you are 40 or older, make sure you’ve got your mammogram scheduled. If you are under 40, ask your doctor about the potential of getting a “baseline” mammogram.
- · Make a donation to help support research for a cure. I am giving money to my sister who is walking in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Give what you can. Just give.
- · Finally, share this post with anyone you know with breasts. Share it because you love them and you want to remind them that nothing else matters if they don’t start by prioritizing themselves and their health. This is important for no other reason other than the fact that they are important. Women matter not because they are sisters or mothers or wives or daughters but just because. They matter. Their health matters and it always needs to be the first thing on that seemingly never ending to-do list.
As for me? After six ridiculously long days I got the call yesterday from my doctor: just a lymphnode and nothing to worry about. I’ll be back in six months for a recheck. I don’t feel as though I dodged a bullet. I feel like someone opened my eyes, and an umbrella and reminded me to take care, and stay dry. I’m full of love and hope and some sort of titanium clip that now lives in my breast to mark where the doctors have been. I’m literally a marked woman now. But in truth, we all are.
So grab a boob, don’t be one. Take charge of your health today because you matter.