survivingmyboyz

tales from a stay-at-home mom of four boys

Confession: everything is not ok

I have a confession to make: I do not like myself, I never really have. In fact, I pretty much despise myself the majority of time. I detest my existence so much that I’ve attempted suicide more times than I can count. The only thing that keeps me going are my boys. My boys have been my saving grace for the past 11years.

I live with depression. Everyday, every hour. I have all my life. I was finally diagnosed when I was 19 and put on medicine, which for the most part helps. That doesn’t mean though that the depression is gone, it is still there. I feel it everyday. Some days more than others. There are many days when I almost forget about it, but it is always there, lurking in the back of my brain.

I’ve always known I wanted to be a mom, more than anything else in the world. When I got pregnant, my life became about someone else, someone who needed me. Being a mom gave me purpose. I knew that little baby needed me even if I didn’t need me. I was no longer disposable and I knew I had to keep going no matter what for the sake of that little boy. Now I have four little boys and they count on me more than anyone else in this world, so I soldier on, no matter how bad things get sometime. I even pride myself on my strength to keep going. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some days I just want to check out completely, I just know that I’m not allowed to anymore, at least not right now. There are many days that I cry in the shower, binge on tv shows in attempts to escape being me, or try to sleep more so I can be someone else in my dreams (unfortunately, the hate I feel for myself follows me into my dreams and everyone in my dreams hate me). When things get really bad and I feel like I just can’t do it anymore, I lock myself in the bathroom with a razor blade and cut myself in hopes that the physical pain will relieve some of the emotional pain. Of course, most people that know me have no clue about this.

I don’t hide that I have depression, I’m very open and honest about that, but I’m less open about when I’m suffering from depression. Like most depressed people, I have a very hard time expressing that I’m struggling or asking for help. In fact, I’ll probably never even post this despite my desire to be frank and honest about things no one likes to talk about. When famous people commit suicide, people often say that they had no idea it was coming and that the person seemed happy and fine. That’s because that is the act depressed people put on everyday. We live our lives stuck inside of our own heads, which is a nightmare. Our brains are dark and evil and feed us images of ourselves that are distorted like a fun house mirror reflection. I’m sure many depressed people learn, as I did early on that no one likes depressed people. When I was first diagnosed, I lost many friends and was literally told by a few that they didn’t like when I wasn’t happy and couldn’t be around me if I wasn’t going to be happy. I’ve also discovered over time that if you show your weakness to someone and ask for help, they will punish you for being weak. Yet another reason this will probably never get posted. Depression isn’t something people want to talk about or be around, so we put on an act. The thing is, we aren’t trying to fool others as much as we are trying to fool ourselves. Maybe if we act happy and pretend to be ok then the monster in our minds that wants to devour our souls will stay quietly caged in the back of our minds a little longer. So each day becomes a battle. Most days we win, we hold back the monster, we live life. But doing battle everyday is exhausting and eventually cracks start to form in the cage and the monster gets free. Over time, you figure out ways to push the monster back into the cage (a good cry, cutting, small self destructive behaviors, upping meds, etc) . Sometimes it is over quick and other times it takes a few days or weeks. This is often when depressed friends will be MIA, but people don’t tend to notice because everyone is busy with their own lives. The problem is, it only takes the monster getting out once to become too much for a person who struggles everyday and for them to finally give up. That’s where these suicides that people think came out of no where come from.

When people do kill themselves the response is often that the person was selfish or weak or took the easy way out. All of that is bull shit though. Many times a person commits suicide because they feel like the world doesn’t need them or would be better off without them. They want to save their loved ones from having to deal with them. Even famous people who are remembered as “beloved”feel this way. Their brain doesn’t allow them to see reality, it distorts everything. That person certainly wasn’t weak either. I guarantee that they suffered with depression for years before they took their own life whether they were diagnosed or not. People don’t kill themselves on a whim. It is something they have repeatedly thought about and fought many times before. It isn’t an “ease out” either. Like I said, this person has thought about it many times before, thought about their loved ones, thought about what comes after death if anything, thought about nonexistence, and still decided that this was the better alternative. There is no easy way to kill yourself either. Before I had kids, I attempted several different ways. Pills aren’t painful, but they give you lots of time to think and possibly change your mind before they take affect. Slitting your wrists is painful and takes a lot of pressure on the blade, making it difficult to work against your bodies reaction to the pain. In fact, the body’s natural desire to survive is so strong that it makes just about any choice extremely hard to follow through on, it takes real determination to be successful. Only one of my attempts was successful. I flat lined, but I’d already confessed to taking too many pills to someone, my self-perseverance instincts kicking in, and they sought help. It only takes one successful attempt without interventions to be the end of someone. One missed sign that a person needed help. One person too scared or unable to ask for help.

So why am I writing this? It isn’t a suicide note or anything, but it is a cry for help. A cry for help for all people who are suffering from depression. After a couple of recent famous suicides there was a lot of talk about suicide and prevention. It got me a little angry because people kill themselves everyday. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Statistics say that 123 people commit suicide everyday in America and for every successful attempt, there are 25 failed attempts. That means that 3,075 people attempt suicide in America everyday. More than likely, someone you know was one of those failed attempts at some point in time and you probably don’t even know it. If you know me, then you know someone who has tried to commit suicide. So why is it that suicide and depression are only really talked about when someone famous dies from it? Why are the 1,122,375 suicide attempts each year never discussed? For the same reason that people suffering from depression don’t tend to share that they are suffering from depression, because of the stigma, because no one wants to be around the person with depression. According to the APA, “one in four primary care patients suffer from depression,” but only a third get diagnosed. If that is the case, we are all surrounded by people suffering from some type of depression so it is time we start being ok with talking about it. I’ve always been honest about my depression because I don’t want others suffering to feel like they are alone, but I haven’t been as open about my past suicide attempts. However, I’ve decided it is time to be open about them and my still daily struggle with depression, despite the risk of rejection, punishment, or ostracization I might face, because I’m not ok and neither are a lot of people and we shouldn’t be afraid to say that.

Am I suicidal? No. Have I been struggling with depression? Everyday, all my life. I tell people I was diagnosed with depression at 19 and many assume that means I’m ok now, but that isn’t how it works. I constantly struggle with it whether I show signs of it or not. Should that make people worried? Not really, but it should make people aware. You can go online and look up signs of depression and suicidal behavior, but in reality, that isn’t going to help as much as being open and honest and willing to talk about depression. Someone you know is suffering from depression right now and afraid to talk about it. Open up a dialogue, normalize it, make it no big deal to talk about depression, then maybe people will feel safe enough to get help or you might find out who needs it. If nothing else, people who are suffering from the isolating effects of depression might feel less isolated and stigmatized.

It is ok to not be ok! I’m not ok most days, but I’m still here.

Disclaimer to my mom and loved ones: please don’t call all worried and asking if I’m ok. I’m not struggling anymore than any other day. This isn’t about my current state, it is about the message that no one should be depressed alone. I love you and promise I’m taking care of myself.

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depression: a dirty little secret no more

This is a preciously unpublished piece from a few months back.

Tonight I received a text from a friend who is a mom and who is really struggling. She was feeling like I myself have many times in my journey through motherhood and even just life. She was feeling overwhelmed, like she was drowning, and she was trying to stay afloat while keeping her family afloat as well. She was afraid to ask for a life preserver or to even call attention to herself struggling for fear of judgement or appearing weak to others. She told me she felt like she had to do it on her but she could unravel a little to me because I’d been through it and I wouldn’t judge. This really pissed  me off. Not what she said, but the fact that she felt so all alone. I felt pissed off because I remember feeling the same way, alone and shamed. I remember feeling like I was falling to pieces, but that I had to pretend like everything was fine in order to be strong for everyone around me. I’m temporarily on the other side right now though and know that well hidden secret that so many of us carry;the secret that she isn’t alone. The secret that many of us feel the same way, but society has taught us to be shameful of it and not to speak of it. The secret of depression.

This isn’t something that I necessarily write about here, but I’ve decided that it is time that I add a new category and start to write about it. The topic of depression and mental health is a big part of my story on a very personal level in so many ways and I know it is a big part of a lot of people’s lives whether they are a parent or not. Whether you even realize it or not, some one you know is dealing with depression or other mental health issues right now. Maybe it is you who is dealing with it. If you are, I’m here to say you aren’t alone.  Eithe way, I want to break down these walls of shame and secrecy. I want to stop these lies that we tell ourselves that we have to be strong and can’t ask for help. I don’t want my friend or anyone else to feel like they are drowning but can’t ask for help. I want discussing mental health and depression to be an everyday conversation held loud and proud by people at every Starbucks or Jamba Juice or wherever people normally hang out and discuss the latest episode of The Bachelor or The Voice. I want the stigma to be lost and help to be found. So, I starting with my story.
Depression runs in my family, but I didn’t know that until it had me full in its grip and was crushing my soul. I’d always felt great bouts of sadness, despair, and emptiness, but I just assumed that everyone felt this way sometimes or that it was just “teenaged angst”. I’d bounce around from therapist to therapist since I was about five, but I just figure it was because I was strange and unlikeable. I had no idea that I had a medical condition that I could get help for and that I didn’t have to live feeling this way all the time. I had no idea because no body wanted to talk about it or the many others in my family who had struggled with it. It wasn’t until I was 19 years old and locked up in a state mental institution for attempted suicide that I received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and was finally given some help in the form of medication. This was one of the darkest times of my life, so dark that there are still pieces of that time period that my mind has blocked out and I don’t completely remember until something triggers it in my mind. It is like someone ripped pages from that chapter in my life and every once in awhile I find one of those pages and am reminded of writing it.  One thing that helped me to make it through this time was reading about other people’s stories about their struggles with depression and bipolar. I felt less alone and more hope that I could get through this because they had. I vowed that one day I’d write about my own experience in hopes of helping someone else make it through their dark times. Maybe this is my chance.

Still counting my blessing

In one month my youngest will turn four. I find it so hard to believe this. In some ways I can’t believe that my little guy is getting so big already, but at the same time I can’t believe there was ever a time without this little guy in our lives. Even harder to believe are all the pictures of this little guy, so tiny and struggling in his first six months of life. I can’t believe that this is the same kid we worried about surviving four years ago.

Right now my little guy is sick. He has a cold and a temperature, something that would have scared me to death only three years ago. However, now I am able to hold him in my arms, cuddle him, and enjoy the rare still moments with him. A typical day with him at this age includes lots of jumping, demanding, climbing, getting into things he shouldn’t be into, making concoctions and messes, being adamant that he do things himself, him telling me what’s what, and lots of laughter and smiles. He is a spunky one for sure. Even now, while sick, he still emanates spunkiness. Earlier today he passed out on my lap downstairs, as I carried him up the stairs he groggily looked up at me an asked where we were going, I answered “upstairs”. He blinked, looked around himself, and whispered “wee,” as if flying, then closed his eyes again. Even when sick, you can’t keep this kid’s spirit down.

That spirit is what kept him going those first six months. I can remember being in the NICU with him and him giving me that big smile of his. We have videos of him rolling over and trying to scoot himself into trouble even as he wheezed and struggled to breath at home. I remember him in the hospital the second time around, hooked up to multiple machines, labored breathing, and I still needing to send down for toys to keep him entertained. Within hours of his surgery to remove his cyst, he was sitting up in a bouncy seat, kicking his feet so hard I thought he’d bounce himself over. By the time we left the hospital, he had captured all he nurses’s hearts with his laugh and his smile. Some even came to his room in recovery just to see his smile again and hear his laugh without all the rasping. Once he was fully healthy, he started crawling and was into anything he could reach. Then he started cruising and began climbing before he was walking. From that point on there was no stopping him and no keeping things out of his reach. If my littlest guy sees something he wants, it doesn’t matter how high up you put it, what you put in front of it, or what door or cabinet you lock to keep him away from it, he will find a way to get it. This spunk, which can be so dangerous at times, is also the reason he is alive today, I’m sure of it.

Those days of worry feel so long ago. These days my biggest worries about him are how bad of a mess he made while I was in a different room and will we make it through the day without breaking a bone with the way he plays (stitches, or glue rather, have already happened). He is like a different kid now, though I know he always had that spunk, that spirit, that unbreakable will, from the moment he came out. Lord help anyone who tries to stand in his way because this child is going to do great things and nothing is going to stop him.

When chaos becomes the norm

“This week was super busy, but it was an off week. We had stuff going on that normal isn’t going on. Next week will be better, it will calm down and get back to normal.” I find myself saying this almost every week. I plan out my week on my dry erase calendar, all marked in color-coded activities for each kid, and something always seems to pop up that normally isn’t there. It might be a doctor’s appointment (we all need flu shots), something at school (I gave up PTSA, but am now art docent for two kids’ classes),  a meeting for homeschooling (did I mention I’m homeschooling the oldest now? That will have to be a whole other post), or some emergency (one of our puppies just spent a week in and out of veterinary hospitals needing two surgeries. Again, a whole other post.), but whatever it is, something always seems to work its way into our schedule each week, making it an atypical week. The problem is, that means there is no atypical week. Either that or, every week is atypical and chaos has just become our new norm.

I get it, I have five kids and people just assume my house is ruled by chaos, and to a certain point it is, but the chaos shouldn’t be in our weekly schedule every week. Yes, there will be some madness in the schedule, but it should be predictable madness. There is always that one day a week where you spend your entire day in the car shuttling everyone around because all kids happen to have some weekly activity on that same day. That is a predictable crazy day that you dread each week, but then it is over and the schedule is a little lighter the rest of the week. My problem is, the rest of my week never seems to be lighter. No matter what my monthly dry erase board says the week is suppose to look like, by the time I write out the weekly schedule on it’s own, sperate, color-coded weekly dry erase board (are you starting to get a picture here of what it is like to manage all these schedules?) something has popped up to be added to the schedule. When something doesn’t pop up to add as I write out the week’s schedule, then it is almost certain that some sickness or emergency will find it’s way into our week and completely throw it off. We are just in a constant state of flux and chaos. This means that every time I think I’m going to have a day to get stuff done or work on some home project that I’ve been trying to find time to do, those plans will inevitably be derailed by whatever pop up event/situation happens that week. I feel like I’m constantly spinning my wheels and never moving because, it is next to impossible to get anything more than the bare minimum done and some weeks  even that is more than I can handle. I know I’m not the only one, because I constantly talk to other busy moms who complain about similar issues. I also know that my case isn’t one of over scheduling my kids either, because I limit my kids to one activity at a time and I count therapies as activities, so that’s only 5 activities a week and three are done during the school day. So why can’t I get a grip on my life and rein in this chaos?

The truth is, I have no answer. I’m not sure that I ever can get out from under the chaos.  After all, I can’t predict nor completely prevent sickness or emergencies.  Things are always going to pop up on my schedule and many of those things will need to be done. What I can do though is, I can except life the way it is, chaos and all. I can learn that life is many moments of chaos strung together, ocassionally broken up by a calm. I can find away to work with the chaos instead of against it and use wisely the occasional down time I am granted. I’d encourage all the moms out there who are dealing with weekly chaos to do the same, because life really never is still or perfect so embrace the chaos and except it as your new norm.

And then there were five

I’ve never claimed to be a smart woman and I’m definitely not a sane one, but my heart is bigger than the piles of laundry my kids leave behind for me each week. That’s why when the good lord presented us with the opportunity to expand our family I said yes before ever even asking my husband. I’m just lucky that my husband knows me and loves me anyway, because he fully supported my decision.

It all started a little more than three months ago. I was reading a book called The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands (the words “endless demands” really seemed to sum up my life), when I received an email from a pastor at our church who was looking for some temporary housing for a teenaged boy who was going through the emancipation process. I have always wanted to take in older kids who are aging out or have aged out of foster care and have no family to go to for holidays or to share life celebrations with, but I didn’t expect to do it until my boys were a lot older or possibly out of the house. This opportunity spoke to me though and it was only temporary, so I saw it as God calling me to say yes and make a difference in someone’s life while trying out something I’d thought about doing. I figured we already had 4 boys, what was one more? So I emailed the pastor back and told him our not so ideal situation of too many kids and not enough room, but that we would be happy to help if no one else could. I didn’t really expect that this would work out and hadn’t had time to mention my offer to my husband when I heard back from the pastor the next day that they were happy to take me up on the offer. I was excited, but terrified that my husband would kill me when I told him. You know you’ve found your soul mate though when you tell them about some crazy scheme you’ve committed them to and they just look at you lovingly and say “Ok, I know this is something you’ve always wanted to do.” And with that we welcomed a teenager into our home.

Upon arrive at our home, the goals were to help our new teenager to become emancipated, get a job, and set him up with a place to live. The job thing and emancipation were surprisingly easy, but it isn’t easy to find a place for a 16 year old boy to rent and it become increasingly clear that the bigger problem was that this 16 year old boy wasn’t ready to live on his own. I think the idea of him living on his own really started to scare me when I had to stop him from eating fried chicken that he’d bought half a day earlier and had left out on the counter for multiple hours. I started to picture this boy in his own apartment dead on the floor from food poisoning.  I knew he needed more guidance. Aside from my concern over this boys safety and well being if left on his own, I started to enjoy having him around and really didn’t want him to leave. Behind closed doors, my husband and I would talk about how we really wanted to just keep him. So finally I just asked him if he was happy here and he said yes, so asked if he wanted to stay here and he said yes. I responded “good, you are one of us now.” 

That was more than three months ago and I don’t think any of us regrets the decision. He might not be legally or officially ours, but as far as we are concerned, he is our teenager. So now I have five boys and they continue to keep me as busy and happy as ever.

Mom, her four boys, and the heinous, horrible, no good, very bad day

Of course there is poop on your shorts. Somehow, magically, there is poop on your shorts in my freshly cleaned bathroom, even though you are nearly 7 and haven’t had an accident of any sort in about 4 years. That’s just the kind of day I’m having. The kind of day where everything goes wrong from the moment you wake up. The kind of day in which you question why you had kids, let alone four of them. The kind of day you just want to be over, but everyone refuses to go to sleep despite being beyond tired. The kind of day you want to forget, but feel compelled to write about.

The heinousness of this day had been foreshadowing for at least two days prior to its arrival. That’s not to say that the two days leading up to it were anywhere near as heinous as today was, but it was definitely a “well, what did you expect?! You should have known this was going to happen!” kind of day. I had set my alarm earlish this morning, but it was a rare morning in which the kids didn’t actually both me for the hour leading up to my alarm and I was enjoying a blissful dream in which I had a totally different life, one way less stressful and kidcentric, one in which I actually got to make decisions for myself and eat warm meals. Apparently, immersed in this blissful dream, I’d managed to hit my snooze button not once, but twice, waking me 20 minutes later than I’d planned. I came downstairs to find the mess of toys I’d been yelling about needing to be picked up for two days now, still all over the floor. The boys were in different stages of undress and completely engrossed in a show that had more time left to it than we could sit in watch. They ignored me as I gave them the same two commands over and over while trying to get breakfast made for the four of them (despite the fact that two of them are perfectly capable of making their own). After about the 30th time of being ignored, I flipped the TV off and gave them the same two commands another 30 times. No one was listening and I felt like I was a ghost in the room that they couldn’t see or hear. I had a 10:30 class at the gym this morning and I’d missed every class I tried to get to so far this week because of the kids and last week we were on vacation, so I missed the gym completely, I wasn’t going to miss class today even if I had to leave to kids home to fend for themselves (okay, fine, I couldn’t do that, I’m pretty sure it isn’t legal).  We had about 30 minutes to get those who weren’t dressed yet dressed, brush everyone’s teeth, get the toys picked up enough for the cleaners to come today (yes I have cleaners, I couldn’t possibly keep up with the disastrous mess my four boys make all on my own. Don’t judge!), get four kids and myself fed, load the car for the day, and get out the door. This would be doable if my kids didn’t sabotage my efforts at every turn. There was the kid who didn’t like the breakfast he asked for and wanted something new, that same kid also peed on his shirt while going to the bathroom (personally I’ve never had that problem, but somehow it happened) ,the kid who kept returning to the trampoline to bounce after each toy he picked up, the kid who couldn’t tie his shoes, but wouldn’t wear his flip flops, and the kid who spilled his bag of Kix all over the carpet in front of the door just as I was about to walk out it.

Fortunately, we made it to the gym and I managed to get everyone into day care so that I was only 2 minutes late for class and there was still room in the corner for me to squeeze into class. I thought maybe this meant that my day was going to turn around, but boy was I wrong. After the gym, we had some time to kill before it was our time to swim at the pool. I needed to get the boys lunch, which you’d think would be a nice thing that they’d appreciate, but instead they just whined and complained because two of them wanted Panda Express and two of them wanted Taco Time. I took them to a local sandwich shop I’d been wanting to try. They all whined and complained that they wanted brownies and cookies and chocolate milk. Then the oldest messed with everything he could get his hands on to make a mess while my youngest darted for the open door and attempted to kill himself in the parking lot. We sat outside to eat where it was “too sunny,” “too windy,” and “too cold.” My youngest tried to kill himself in the parking lot again while the older ones chased him and encouraged him to run to his death. There were also food issues, crow issues, and sticky issues. I should’ve just loaded them in the van and taken them home right then, but no, I was determined to make this a better day.

So, stupid me, I took them back to the gym after lunch to get bands so we could swim. I’ve been promising to take them swimming at the gym for two months and we hadn’t gone yet, so today as going to be the day. We had a half hour to kill, so I brought mad libs to do with the boys, only I didn’t have a sharpened pencil with me. So the boys entertained themselves by running around like idiots, climbing on things, and the youngest tried to go up the stairs every time I looked away. When it was finally our time to swim, I told everyone to go to the bathroom before going to the pool. My four year old refused because he had gone after lunch. My two year old attempted to flush himself down the handicap toilet after escaping under the door of the stall I was in. I took the two older boys to do their deep water test so they could go down the water slide and play in the more fun section of the pool. Unfortunately, they wanted to boys to swim a lot further than their swim instructor had made them, so they couldn’t pass the test. I was then informed that you are only allowed to have two kids per adult that are “non-swimmers” and since my older two boys couldn’t pass the test, they really weren’t supposed to let us in the pool (despite the fact that both older boys could touch in all parts of the pool and were going to be required to wear life jackets too – I think it is a racket to get people to sign up for more swim lessons). I must have given her a “you’ve got to be shitting me!” look, so she allowed us to do it just this once, but we had to stay in the toddler section of the pool. Well that went over like a ton of bricks with my older boys who have been eyeing the water slide for two months now. I was instructed to stay within arms-reach of all four boys at all times while in the pool. Let me tell you how easy that wasn’t, especially since I only have two arms. It didn’t help that we had just returned from vacation where the two older boys swam all around the pool at the hotel and went down the waterslide without me needing for be arms-length away. Even my four year old was swimming all around the pool with his life jacket by the end of the trip. So these restrictions naturally lead my oldest to melt down and cry, partly out of frustration and partly out of embarrassment that they didn’t think he was as good a swimmer as we knew him to be (I’m sure he felt disappointed after working so hard at his swim lessons the beginning of the summer too). While he melted down, my two year old decided that he wanted to jump in unassisted, and my four year old decided that he suddenly needed to poop…NOW! I had to get all four boys out of the pool, but couldn’t convince the two older ones to come into the bathroom with me so I told them to wait outside the bathroom and not to go near the water. Of course, none of this was quick enough and my four year old and he crapped himself just before I could get him on the toilet. Luckily, my boys have a fear of wearing swim suits without underwear, so all the crap landed in his underwear, not his bathing suit, so I just threw them out. As I dealt with that crappy situation, my two year old decided that it would be fun to play with the soap dispenser in the bathroom and get it all over himself and wouldn’t stay away from it no matter how many times I pulled him away or yelled at him. When we were finished in the bathroom, I came out to find that my older two hadn’t changed their usual behavior of not listening to me and were in the pool. That was it for me! I told my younger two that they had three minutes and then were out of there, vowing to never bring them back. My oldest ran off to the locker room without his dry clothes, so I had to herd him back out and the three others into a private changing room so I could get them all showered off and changed. That was a fun experience, said no mother ever.

We left the gym all unhappy and angry. I looked at the clock and realized that we still had an hour and a half until the farmer’s market opened and it was too late in the day to drive home without kids falling asleep. I also felt bad that the pool had been such a disaster, so, still determined to turn this day around, I decided to take my kids over to the library for a bit because, you know, that’s where you take four, rowdy, pissed off, tired boys. That went over better than I expected. My oldest was actually good and took a real interest in researching computers and technology, take many books out on the subject. My six year old also found some good books and practiced his reading. I only had to yell at my four year old a handful of times not to run or scream in the library and my two year old only had two or three full on screaming melt downs.

Thinking this might be a turning point, I took the boys to the park for a bit before the farmer’s market opened. I was feeling renewed hope by the time we walked up to the market. “This is it! We are finally going to have the nice day I’ve been striving for all day. We’ll get food, have fun, make good memories that will overshadow the rest of the day, and then head home for an early bedtime.” I mistakenly thought. It quickly became apparent though that these kids desperately needed food because they had only pretend eaten at lunch. So as I waited in line for quesadillas for some of the kids and then walked my six year old to every food stand trying to convince him to pick something, my other kids dug ice cubes out of the drink coolers at the food stands and threw them at people. Once my six year old finally decided to get dumplings (which were only supposed to take 5 minutes, but took 20 to cook), I got my kids seated to eat their quesadillas, only now they all wanted dumplings. As I went back and forth to the various food stands we had bought our food at, picking up the food, my kids sat quietly in the grass. No, that didn’t happen at all. What happened was, they chased each other, threw shoes at each other, and eventually my four year old threw a container of soy sauce at my six year old and got it all in his eye. I’m sure the people who were sitting not so close to us were all thinking that my kids had just escaped from some wild zoo exhibit. My oldest, who ate most of his own quesadilla, then circled the six year old like a vulture once he finally got his dumplings. The cries for dumplings from those who got quesadillas began again, so I ordered more dumplings for them to split. When they were finally finished eating, they all acted surprised and indignant that I wouldn’t let them get some Hawaiian shaved ice, like their shoe and soy sauce throwing behavior shouldn’t be held against them.  Despite everything, I still braved more of the farmer’s market with the goal of being there late enough that it would be okay for the littler ones to fall asleep on the care ride home. So we wandered the venders while the kids touched things they weren’t supposed to, ran off on me, whined more, fought over popcorn (yes I bought more food), and were just generally exhausting and irritating. I knew it was time to go when the two year old melted down for the 97th time that day. We made one last stop at the bathroom, which I had to force my four year old into and good thing too because he clearly needed to pee, braved the gauntlet of the parking lot, and made it to the car. The kids were given strict instructions that it would be a quiet ride home. Knowing I had them all at least temporarily contained, I took the long way hope and silently prayed that at least two would fall asleep and stay asleep once we got home.

Two kids did fall asleep before we got home, but fate was not kind enough to me to allow them to stay asleep for me so we could have an easy bedtime.  Instead, my six year old began talking loudly the minute we got hope and then the UPS truck made a loud noise as it put out a ramp to deliver several packages to a neighbor. I finally managed to get the youngest back to sleep and sneak out of the room so I could deal with the other three, but by then, the other child who was sleeping was awake and hungry. Then the other boys were hungry too despite eating their weight in food from the different food stands at the market! It was as I doled out snacks to those awake that I heard the six year old call me from the bathroom to inform me of the mysterious poop smear on his shorts. At that point I about completely lost it, but I held it together just long enough to herd the boys upstairs and hear the youngest wake up.  Perfect, just perfect!

My Dad’s Legacy

While sick with cancer, my father once expressed concern about how his kids would remember him when he was gone. I think he thought that some of the things we give him a hard time about were the things we were going to remember the most about him after he died. In our family the rule tends to be, if we love you, we give you a hard time. Well my dad has live 69 years and I have known him for almost 40 now which means I’ve had plenty of time to give him a hard time, but those jokes and razzings aren’t the things I’m going to remember most about my dad when he’s gone because there is so much more to him.

I’ll remember my dad traveling for work a lot when I was little and always anxiously waiting for him to get home. He’d bring me treasures like giant pencils or cheap plastic wallets purchased at airport gift shops in exotic locations like Dallas and Denver.

I’ll remember my dad for the times he’d sit on the couch watching Saturday morning cartoons with us. He’d laugh louder at Bugs Bunny’s shenanigans than any of us.

I’ll remember his obsession with cleaning his car. Sometimes he’d let us help him wash it in the driveway on the weekends. Other times he’d let us ride through the local car wash with him, always waiting until we were at the sprayers and then cracking our windows just enough to get us wet. He never failed to get us, even when we knew it as coming. He’d always keep paper towels and Windex in his trunk and before any long car ride he would be sure to pull them out and clean his windows.

I’ll remember him as a fire buff. He was a member of the Boston Sparks Association and was even president at one time. He had a fire scanner blasting in almost every room of the house (it drove my mom nuts). He’d turn the volume way up to listen if there was a fire. If the fire was big enough, he’d race out the door to go to it. Sometimes he’d go with the BSA and bring their canteen truck to serve food and beverages to the fire fighters on the job (if I was lucky, I got to go with him). Other times he’d just go to watch and talk with the people there. It often seemed like my dad would talk to just about anybody. He was like a little kid when it came to the fire department. He even owned an antique fire truck with a couple of friends for several years. I loved it because we got to ride on it in parades. Plus not many kids could say their dad owned a fire truck! I’m sure it was his love for all things fire department that led to my brother becoming a fire fighter and my dad couldn’t be prouder.

I’ll remember my dad’s love for all things Boston, the city in which he grew up in. My dad would take us for special days into the city and teach us about the city’s history. He took us to places like the Boston Tea Party ship, the top of the John Hancock Building, Bunker Hill, Copps Hill, to see Old Iron Side, to walk around Castle Island, and Faneuil Hall. He made me love the city and sparked a keen interest in the revolutionary war. He also took me to my first Red Sox Game at Fenway Park when I was about 3 or 4 years old. Most of my life he had season tickets just behind third base. I spent many summer evenings there with him. We’d always park kind of far away and walk in past the Fens, grab some peanuts from the old singing peanuts and pistachio guy, enjoy some Fenway Franks and a large pretzel inside the park, and he’d tell me about all the players. He taught me that, up until the past decade or so, the one thing you could count on the Red Sox for (and all Boston area sports teams) was to get your hopes up and then let you down hard. He’d get mad when they were losing, changing to channel temporally if we were watching the game on TV at home, but he’d always come back to them.  He took me to Celtics Games too as a kid, back when Bird and Parrish played and their shorts were short. We’d sit a few rows back from the Celtic’s bench and my siblings and I would get all the players’ autographs. Despite my begging, he wouldn’t take me to a Patriot’s game (he said the crowd was too rowdy), but he taught me to love them too. Every Sunday in the fall was dedicated to football. I still remember watching most of the Patriots-Bears Super Bowl in ’86 with my dad. I knew they had lost by my dad’s disappointed shouts echoing up the stairs as I lay in bed trying to sleep.

I’ll remember my dad as the man who was known by everybody. Like I said before, he loved to talk and would talk to just about anybody. He was a member of several social groups including the BSA and the local Rotary Club. Almost every place we went my dad saw someone he knew. At the baseball games he’d always run into several people he knew, having a lobster roll up in Maine he’d run into someone he hadn’t seen in years, even all the way down in Florida at Disney World he’d run into people he knew. I will never forget the time we were parking our car in a parking garage several stories up on our way to a Celtics game, he got out of the car, looked out at the building across the way from us and there, hanging out a window trying to talk on a phone while the smoke alarm was going off in his apartment was a guy my dad knew waving at him. He knew people everywhere!

I’ll remember my dad as the man who worked hard to take care of his family. He worked hard to give us a beautiful house in which we each had our own room and a large beautiful backyard which he spent days every summer mulching. He provided us with family trips to amusement parks, Lake George, Disney World, and even a winter break at a hotel with a pool just so we could swim even though he didn’t know how to. He worked multiple jobs while I was in college to help keep me from having enormous debt in the form of student loans when I finished. He also took on the traditional role of father of the bride, despite it being an outdated custom, and paid for my amazing wedding.

I’ll remember my dad as the doting grandpa we call “Papi.” He might not have the energy to play for very long with the kids, but he loves to watch them play. He will swoop in, grab them, flip them upside-down, and tickle them, and they love it. Whenever he visits he brings them fire shirts to pass along his love for the profession. He’s also notorious for buying his grandkids donuts, even though they don’t need the extra sugar. He just loves to spoil them.

I’ll remember my dad for a lot of things after he is gone; for all the things he taught me, all the things he instilled in me, for all the traits I get from him, for all the things he did with and for me, and for all the love he gave me. So Dad, you don’t have to worry about the legacy you are leaving behind or how we will remember you when you are gone, because you have given us a lifetime of memories and hopefully we will have many more years to make new ones too.

Parenting my parents

When you are a kid your parents seem invincible. They are like superheroes, always there when you need them, seem to have eyes in the back of their head, have an answer for everything, and are strong enough to help you get through anything life can throw at you. As you get older though, you start to notice the cracks in their armor and begin to realize that your parents are people too. As a teen you might question whether your parents really know what is best and you begin to challenge their authority. When you become a parent, you see your parents in a new light, gaining a new sense of understanding and respect for your parents as well as for all they did for you growing up. Still, your parents seem pretty invincible, like they will always be there. Unfortunately, parents aren’t invincible superheroes and we all learn that at some point. The weight of this truth can feel crushing.

I can still remember the first time I saw my dad as vulnerable. I was in eighth grade, sitting upstairs in my brother’s room attempting to beat one of the early Mario brother games when I heard a strange noise downstairs. My brother and I ran downstairs to the kitchen to find my dad doing something we had never seen before, he was crying. My dad had just learned that his best friend had died of a heart attack and was grieving openly in our kitchen. We had no idea what to do or how to react. Here was our strong, unmovable father, crumpled and heart broken. This was the first time it occurred to me that my dad was human and that he too felt emotions other than joy and anger (the two most commonly expressed by him). It was hard to see and it left me with a deep sadness, but also a new view of my dad.

My view of my dad changed again, many years later, when I was an adult and a parent myself. We were at my grandfather’s wake, my father’s father, and my last living grandparent. I wasn’t super close with my dad’s parent and they had lived very long full lives, so I mostly just felt really sad for my dad because he had lost both of his parents now. The thought that struck me in that moment of standing there, watching my dad grieve again, this time for his own father, was one for panic and sadness. All my life I’d had grandparents around me, growing older, getting sick, and dying, but now there was no longer a generation between my parents and death, they were now the ones that would be getting older, sick, and dying. I felt like a clock had been started, like a countdown to their expiration date. I realized that there was only a finite amount of years left before they would be gone and I’d have to figure out how to live in a world without the two people who had always been a part of my life. This thought formed a pit in my stomach that I pushed deep down inside of me.

Years have passed since my last living grandparent died and my parents have become grandparents several more times since then. There have been health scares with my parents since then, my mom fought breast cancer, dad’s got diabetes and had a pacemaker put in, but nothing that has truly worried us about their age and mortality, until now. At the beginning of this year my dad was diagnosed with esophageal and stomach cancer. He was classified as stage 2-B and had radiation and chemo for a few months. At the beginning of last month he had part of his stomach removed in an attempt to take out whatever cancer was left. He spent two weeks in the hospital and came home on a feeding tube. I flew out to help my mom with caring for him and to give her moral support after he came home. I was able to stay and help out for a week. While I was there they found out that he has been reclassified as stage 3-B and would need to undergo 4 ½ more month of chemo, this time a much heavier duty type of chemo (the killing kind as they call it).

The week I spent at my parent’s house was very different from anything I’d ever experienced, but it seems to be an all too common experience shared by many adults around my age that I know. I was no longer the child my parent’s cared for back for a visit, instead, I had become the care taker. My parents were both in vulnerable positons, my father due to illness and my mother due to stress and exhaustion from caring for my sick father. They both needed me in a way I had never experienced before. My father was physically weak, unable to do much for himself, he was thinner than any recent memory of him, and he expressed his concern over needing more chemo almost the first moment I talked to him. He was not the dad I had known all my life. My mom was emotionally zapped. In the days leading up to my visit, she called multiple times, expressing how anxious she was for me to get there; I felt like the countdown to my arrival couldn’t move fast enough for her. She was so relieved to have help and company when I got there. Her exhaustion showed and the worry was visible on her face. I just hugged her hard and long, wanting to somehow convey that feeling that everything was going to be alright that she used to make me feel during tough situations.

Seeing my father so sick also hit home the mortality of my parents. That pit that first formed at my grandfather’s wake grew larger and began to feel more overwhelming. Despite anything my family may say about my dad and his lack of caring for his own health over the years, no matter how unhealthy or sick he might get, we are not ready to say goodbye to him. Losing a parent just isn’t something I’m ready to deal with yet, I’m not sure I’ll ever be, but it is something we all have to deal with eventually.

As our parents get older our roles tend to switch. We go from our parents caring for us, worrying about our health and safety, and planning for our future, to us being the ones taking caring of our parents in their old age, calling to check-in after ever doctor’s appointment, and worrying about a future without them. We, in a sense, become our parents’ parent.

My dad is doing better now, though still recovering. He recently had his feeding tube out, but is still on a liquid diet and he has been getting out of the house more, though he tires very easily. He has also recently made a decision about his future. After weighing his options and all the possible outcomes with his doctor, my father has made the decision that he will not undergo more chemo. So, like a good parent always does, I am supporting my father’s decision, because I only want what is best for him, but I still worry about his future. For now I will relinquish my role as parent back to him and I pray that we will get many more good years before I have to become my parents’ parent again.

Looking back, two year later

Two years ago tonight, I layed awake in a hospital bed, hooked up to a multitude of wires. The wires were not only to monitor me and my extremely high blood pressure, but also to monitor my baby and his constantly dipping heart rate. I laid there listening for those dips, praying that they would fix themselves, and that my baby would stay strong enough to make it to the morning, when I was to have a csection to bring my baby boy into the world nine weeks ahead of schedule. It was much too early for my baby to come, but the doctors hoped that they’d be able to better care for him on the outside than inside me. I laid in that bed terrified, knowing that we were in for a long journey that I just hoped my baby would be able to survive.

Our stay in the NICU lasted 77 days, but our journey did not end when we came home. My son left the hospital with a feeding tube and we struggled for two months with feeding schedules, reinserting tubes, doctors visits,  pumping, attempting to breast feed, wheezing, and problems with breathing before we found ourselves back in the hospital. We spent another two weeks in the hospital being told to prepare for multiple hospital stays and surgeries. This child’s life had not started the way we had hoped and it was looking like it wasn’t going to get better anytime soon, but as the saying goes, it is always darkest before dawn. We received miracle news the day of surgery that my son had an easily treatable cyst and that the bleak future we had been preparing for was not going to happen. Two days later, we were back home and my son was eating like a champ, no more feeding tube.

That chapter in our lives feels like it was forever ago. When I look at my son now, it is hard to believe that he is the same kid who went through all of this. Aside from how skinny and small he is, no one would ever look at my son and guess that this was the story of his first six months. My son is turning two tomorrow and he has already been practicing for the part of the troublesome two year old. He is into everything, moving furniture, climbing on chairs, figuring out how to open things he shouldn’t, and making messes faster than I can clean them. I’m pretty sure his thinks his job each day is to mess up as much stuff as he can before he gets put to bed each night. He is very good at his job. As much as he loves to be near his mommy, he is very fiercely independent and insists that he do many things on his own and to be treated like his older brothers. He insists on big boy cups and forks. He wants to sit on the potty when his brothers do. He likes to play whatever his brothers play. In his mind, he is already a big boy. When he doesn’t get his way though, watch out, because he has been practicing his terrible two tantrums, complete with laying on the floor, kicking and screaming, and pushing his body about on his back. Luckily for him he has the cutest smile, the sweetest little curls, the prettiest blue eyes, and a contagious laugh that all allow him to get away with acting like a brat or making a giant mess. One look at him and your heart just melts.

Watching my youngest son sleep, cuddled into my bed with his brothers for his last night as a baby, it seems impossible that just two years ago he was my smallest baby. Just two years ago, that 18 pound ball of trouble was my 2lb 12 oz miracle baby. Two years ago, he was struggle to survive this journey, now I’m struggle to keep up. Happy birthday baby boy.

Let’s try this again

Okay, so it has been awhile since I’ve posted and I’ve  totaly slacked off, but raising four boys takes a lot of time and effort and the few hours a day that I’m not doing that, I’m usually sleeping (or trying to). A few months ago, my husband gave me a Surface with a little key board and everything and I thought ” I’m totally going to get back to writing my blog and crank it out with this awesome keyboard!” Except, the Surface doesn’t come with the most important thing I needed, child care. So I wasn’t too successful at getting going on my blog again. I’ve missed writing dearly, just like my sanity, so I decided that, since I can’t do anything to get my sanity back, I’m going to try to get back one of the few hobbies I have and love. I’ve made a New Years resolution (for lack of a better term that doesn’t doom me to failure), I’m going to write at least one blog entry every month (baby steps, I want to succeed after all) and I’m starting with this one.

I figured I should reintroduce myself and update my situation. Hi, I’m Survivingmyboyz (barely). I currently live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband who often widows me for long hours at his big name tech company, our 4 rambunctious boys who are aged 8, 6, 4, and almost 2, and a dog who enjoys eating garbage far more than seems health for any animal other than a goat. I live this way because sanity is over rated.

My youngest was born 9 weeks early and spent 77 days in the NICU, followed by other issues that are all resolved now. He started causing trouble before he was born and hasn’t slowed down since. His main goal in life right now is to fuck up as much shit as he can before bedtime and he is definitely suceeding at that goal.

My four year old has finally successfully potty trained without daily accidents as of last month. I’m so happy. It only took him a year and a half to finally get it, but he no longer stands in front of the toilet and craps his pants as I’m handling raw chicken in attempts to get dinner in the oven. Now if only he would work on his aim, I’m sure my floors, walls, and everything else in the general area of the toilet would appreciate it. Baby steps right?

My six year old is in kindergarten and I’m super proud of how hard he is working and how well he is doing in school. He’s such a sweet, wonderful kid, that I might actually agree to his requests to marry him when he is older. Of course, that is dependent on whether or not he is still most proud of being the best farter  and most gassiest because I kind of feel like a husband should have loftier goals that aren’t related to his farting abilities.

My oldest son is a good kid, but a handful. He is the kid of kid that teachers enjoy when they aren’t in their classroom. If I’d known what we were in for with him, he’d probably have been an only child. However, by the time his true colors shined through, we were already into the making of a third kid, so I just doubled down and went for four. Makes sense right? He was diagnosed with SPD (sensory processing disorder) last summer, so we are learning what the means and how to deal with his issues. It is exhausting dealing with it, but I love him (and not just because I have to).

I spend most of my life running kids where they need to be and arriving late, picking up dirty socks to wash but never pair and put away, making meals that no one will eat, cleaning things that immediately become dirty again, losing my mind in constant chaos, and really enjoy it all (ok, not all, but most of it). 

I guess what I’m saying is, this is why I haven’t written in awhile. But here I am, totally confident that, despite life not getting any easier or slowing down, I’m totally going to be better about writing my blog. I mean, I guess I could always just stay up at night to do my writing like I am now. Besides, five hours of sleep a night was starting feel like too much and I’m sure that just like sanity, sleep is overrated.

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