I've been (mostly) silent much of the fall and now going through the winter. I have tons of things on my mind, but I've been thinking a lot about how much I share about my kids on the interwebs. Even though much of what I share is about my daily life, my life is so inextricably bound up in their lives at this stage, that it is hard to talk about what is on my mind without sharing the struggles or challenges they are facing. While it may not matter now while they are toddlers, perhaps in 15 or 20 years, it will matter. (Or perhaps not; it is hard to know how privacy in the digital age is going to evolve, especially for our children's generation). On the other hand, I gain a lot of solace and parenting tips from other mom bloggers who detail much of their children's daily lives in fairly intense detail. What I keep coming back to is the basic reason I started writing this blog: a friend asked me to write about the ways we were coping with raising a largish family in a small house in an urban setting. While I still go round and round in my head about how much to say in a public space about the nitty gritty of our lives, I hope that what I share here is helpful to someone else, as mothering in the 21st century is such a disconnected, isolated affair.
I will say that I'm struggling with lots of things lately. The chaos of three (soon to be four) small children, with all their various challenges, has intensified greatly of late. I find myself waking up feeling that I've failed before I even get out of bed. I keep thinking to myself, "I'm failing at this. I'm a failure as a parent. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know how to parent these children well." I drag in the morning and drift through my days as a result. Five years into this parenting gig, I find I'm not the parent I thought I would be. I'm not the Crafty Pinterest Mom--I strongly dislike crafting with my kids while they are this young and I find the whole Martha Stewart approach to life exhausting. I'm not the efficient domestic housewife I'd hoped to become--most days I'm happy that dinner is on the table and it usually didn't come out of a can or from the take-out guy. I'm not homeschooling as we'd planned because our children have too many challenges for me to teach them at home. I get frustrated, they get frustrated, no one learns. I'm not even very good at supervising H's homework. (And I'm trained as an educator, for Pete's sake! I went to graduate school and everything. But then, I never intended to teach little people). I'm nervous of how the dynamic of our household is going to change with the addition of another (probably high-needs/high-intensity) child. I dread the whole fiasco that breastfeeding always is for me, and wonder how I'm going to juggle it all, especially for the first few months when I'm glued to a chair for eighteen hours a day with a nursing baby.
I feel very let down by the system that was supposed to help my children with their various issues. We recently pulled H out of services because of the consistent mismanagement of his therapy and the basic ineptitude of the agency. He still needs occupational therapy and we can't afford private therapy or manage the logistics of it, even if we could afford it. I pulled M from therapy in December for much the same reason as H and we are still frustrated every day all day with his tantrums, transition issues, and difficult behavior. We've had some issues with E's occupational therapy, but we are getting a new therapist in March, so hopefully that will resolve itself soon. I have no complaints about her physical therapy (her PT is wonderful and integrates a lot of OT into her PT sessions).
I'm struggling with body issues as I'm starting to put on the weight that comes with a 24 week pregnancy. I'm scared of gaining too much and then having to work so hard again to get it all off. I'm struggling more with food as I'm hungry much of the time, but am easily put off by strong food smells (and hence drawn to simple carbs like cereal and bread). My weight gain so far has been completely appropriate and even a little on the slow side, but after fighting so hard to get the weight off, and feeling like I had traversed a mountain of food-related issues to get there, to watch the scale going in the other direction is dispiriting. I do find myself sliding just a little into some bad habits, but I also find that I'm better able to pull myself back from the brink; managing my gastroparesis over the last year has taught me to pay more attention to my body's signals so I don't overindulge and feel terrible for days. So I suppose that is something. But I'm physically tired and mentally/emotionally discouraged, so I know that I'm in a vulnerable place to revisit bad habits. Sometimes the effort to scale the food-issue mountain every day, on top of everything else, is so hard.
Preschool pick up is currently the bane of my daily existence, as it involves getting two cranky/tantrum-y children up from naps, getting out the door and down the mile to the school and back without losing my mind. I'm too big now to wear E (and have too many pelvic floor issues to carry her); she isn't steady enough on her feet to walk that far outside without falling down constantly, even if we take the bus part way, so we are taking a loads of cabs or driving, which involves lots of in-and-out of car seats in a short amount of time. Plus the whole reparking hassle. (On the upside: we are very close to hiring a high school student to walk H home every day; if all her references come through and we can agree on terms, this small change will ease my daily routine considerably.)
While I don't actively worry so much about my children's physical health issues at this point, I do find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop much of the time. E is still quite prone to infection (she only narrowly avoided a hospital stay for pneumonia in December). She still throws up at least once a week (usually in her bed, and almost always in the evening, which is just loads of fun), although overall she is doing better. H has the same airway issue as E, and while he is doing much better now on medication, he too is prone to difficult respiratory illness. I avoid most play dates and group play situations because I'm always afraid E will get something that will land her in the hospital. (Plus M is at a pretty tough age for group play situations). As most of the avenues for in-person socialization as a mom take place in these sorts of venues, I find myself in a pretty isolated place these days.
Church is fairly excruciating with E because of her sensory issues. She cannot bear to be confined for any length of time, has trouble eating enough in one go to be satisfied for very long, and the combination of an hour-long drive each way with a two hour service in a relatively small space is enough to drive me mad most weeks. It is true that my husband spends more of the service chasing her around than I do, but we share the pain as best we can, and I almost always spend about 30 minutes in the car with her while she screams and has a fit. Fortunately, the boys are finally at an age where they need less than constant supervision during the service. I dread Sundays and keep her home from weekday services. I went to a liturgy last weekend by myself for the first in time probably five years and it was just lovely. The service seemed to fly by (even in Slavonic!) and I was able to be present in that moment in a way that has eluded me for years. I realized then how long I've lived in the desert, how parched and wounded I am, and how much I long for a cool oasis and salve for my soul.
These days, I'm mostly just putting one foot in front of the other, doing what needs to be done, and reminding myself at the end of the day that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it. I'm trying to keep our lives as uncomplicated as possible and to keep my spirits up and my mind focused on present reality instead of on future possibility. I'm finding a well-timed cup of instant hot cocoa does me a world of good. In a certain way, while I dread Lent* for all the troubles that arise during the season, I also anticipate the opportunity to slow down, reset our routines, revisit the habits of mind and body, to refresh the soul, and to breathe in and out.
In the meantime, pray for me, a sinner.
*Orthodox do not begin Lent until March 18 this year.