Fallen Clowns

As fall creeps toward Halloween I am reminded of a time about eight years ago, when we were still living in the land of the perpetual sun.  Though, on this particular occasion the sun was nowhere to be found, or rather it was facing the other side of the planet.  Night parades are paramount in Florida.  Those and fireworks.  People can never get enough of them, although admittedly throwing candy and beads at people in the dark and shooting fireworks off on a residential street could result in someone losing an eye.  Or worse.

This night was fraught with parades, fireworks, and costumes, because Floridians also adore costumery.   Brian and I were both dressed like clowns, which might have foreshadowed our entire relationship.  My costume was purchased via the “world wide web” as it was probably called back then, to match his that was of course plucked from the seasonal Halloween rack at the Valrico Goodwill.

The moment Brian spotted that God-awful clown suit he proclaimed that it must be his, though it was a child’s large at best.  Still, he stuffed himself into that polka-dot nightmare that left him gasping for air as it squeezed his ribcage, also leaving him in the vulnerable state of needing someone else to unsnap him so he could use the toilet.

He tried it on right there in the aisle, next to the other used and abused costumes. As soon as the partially snagged, rainbow mess touched his skin he said it was magic.  The fabric of the arms and legs only came to mid-elbow and calf length, leaving him to look like an overgrown weed who happened to want to dress like a clown.  It was only fate at work when he found a bright red, ruggedly-used wig, and put that on too, because why shouldn’t he wear a wig that someone else’s head had already sweated into?

As we stood on the sidewalk watching the floats drift by, Brian smoking a cigar, me trying to avoid staring at the scantily clad, the unthinkable yet simultaneously hilarious happened.  He was there standing next to me, and all of a sudden he was gone.  I looked around wondering where he had wandered off to, yet again.  Then I heard it.  A cry for help.

I looked down to see him splayed out in the street gutter, trying to roll onto his side to get up, and failing epicly. His arms were outstretched, holding up his cigar in one hand and his miraculously un-spilled beer in the other, trying to keep those items out of the gutter while the rest of his body wallowed in it.

“My knee gave out!” he shouted.

I stopped then to watch the hilarity of a grown man unable to lift himself from a supine position on account of a too-tight clown suit that had him literally trapped in the gutter.  Even though I was sitting next to him, my arm outstretched in aid, I couldn’t help him because I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t stand up either. There we were, two clown who were trying and failing to not be “fallen and can’t get up.” Only now I know that we are still those same clowns all these years later, and God do I love it.

Gwen’s Way: Dealing with Sensory Processing Disorder Birth to Six Months

She’s screaming again.  She’s been screaming, one raging tantrum right into the next for the past three hours.  Maybe longer.  I lost count.  It’s easier when Brian is here because we can trade off.  We have this shared look that communicates our exasperation.  A look that says I can’t take it anymore, and so we take over for each other.  Trying to soothe, trying to understand, and never really succeeding.

We sleep with our running shoes on because that helps Gwen, holding this tiny baby up against our chests…and running.  We jog around our house until the one who is jogging is about to die and then we trade places.  If there weren’t two of us we couldn’t make it.

Besides running there are very few ways to soothe her, and believe me we try EVERYTHING; rockers, swings, strollers, about sixteen different baby carriers and she just keeps on screaming.  To get her to stop crying we cradle her in our arms so our limbs form a loop around her little body and then we swing her as high and as low as we can without dumping her out on her head.  We also bounce her on a yoga ball.  And I’m not talking about little jiggly bounces.  We bounce so high that our butts lift off the ball and then crash back down onto the thing, while we hope it hasn’t rolled out from under us.  It happened once and it wasn’t pretty. So we keep running, swinging, and bouncing because these are the ONLY ways to get her to sleep.  Needless to say, we are both skinny and exhausted.

Once she finally conks out she will only sleep when she is being held.  So we sit holding her until our entire bodies ache and then tingle as our bums and limbs fall asleep.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of holding an infant for two hours while she uses your body as a crib.  This might sound like a sweet time to spend with a darling baby, but it stops being sweet when you have held that baby through every last wink of sleep for the past three months.

I mean, we just want the kid to sleep…and anywhere but on us.  Sometimes if we are lucky she will sleep in her crib, but she has to be REALLY tired, to the point where she has nothing left to fight with.  If we put her down she will only stay asleep for fifteen minutes or so, and the only sound loud enough and shrill enough to sooth her is the hairdryer.  We burn out two of them letting them run on high in her bedroom.

Even though she loves to be held she can’t stand to be touched, strange, I know.  Rubbing lotion on her is like torture unless we have her wrapped tight in a towel and only touch one body part at a time.  We have to squeeze her fingernails almost to the point of exploding before trimming them, and she will only tolerate one or two being cut at a time, so she always has a hand full of long and scraggly nails that make her look like a tiny Edward Scissor Hands.

Baths probably make the neighbors think that we are killing her.  She screams as though the water is a toxic chemical that is burning her skin off, and maybe that’s how she feels, so she never really gets good and clean.  We just dip her in the sink or wipe her with a washcloth.  She is starting to stink.  Man the poor kid has it rough.  We are the ones complaining when she is the screaming, stinky kid.

On top of all of this her little body is always rigid.  She holds herself tight, like someone keeps poking her in the ribs.  Her tiny nose is always clogged and she projectile vomits all over everything.  We change her clothes at least eight or nine times a day, despite the rages that ensue from doing so.   She hates having her diapers changed too and there is no way that we are ever putting her into anything frilly or tight.  She will let us know when her clothing is uncomfortable by letting out a series of honking and aggressive wails that leave you scrambling to change her as fast as your bone tired hands will move.  When I say honking, I mean HONKING.  Her nickname isn’t Goose for nothing.

One night in particular she wakes up honking mad, and I change her soaking clothes and then feed her.  I just get her back to sleep when she craps explosively all over herself like a poop bazooka.  I seriously debate whether or not to just let her sleep covered in crap because it will take me over an hour to get her to go back to sleep.  Of course I can’t do that to her, so I change her, waking her up again.  (She always wakes up like someone has shot her full of adrenaline.  There is no easing between states of consciousness.  She is AWAKE or ASLEEP.  Nothing in between.)

I jog her around the house for about another hour and just when she is finally asleep she pukes all over herself.  I have been up for two hours and I see yet another hour of wakefulness looming in front of me if I dare to wake her up again.  No…not just another hour awake, another hour of running.  So I take a towel and dab it around her face and neck, soaking up most of the milk vomit.  Then I stuff a Kleenex into her pajamas so she won’t feel the puke soaked clothes while she sleeps.  I am also covered in various baby goo, but I can’t put her down or she will wake up yet again, so I crawl into bed and jiggle her to sleep for the rest of the night, trying not to wake her with my sobs, or with the tears that drip down my face and onto her head.

We take her to endless doctors grasping at any reason they can give to explain why she is so uncomfortable and so angry.  We get a diagnosis of GERD (acid reflux) and we think, “This is it!”  So we try medicine. Nothing. We try positioning. Nothing.  We try diet changes. Nothing.  We try a chiropractor.  Nothing.  I hope I am painting a picture here.  We want it to be GERD.  But it isn’t.  Oh sure she has reflux, but that isn’t the real problem.  The real problem is unfortunately much bigger.

We didn’t know about her diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder when she was an infant, but we probably should have. At least I should have, and I still feel terrible for not knowing because I have completed an entire training series in this area.  I can spot another kid who is suffering from this disorder from about a mile away.  So why couldn’t I see my own child’s suffering for what it actually was?   I wish I wouldn’t have been so blind.  But a parent is always too close to their own child to ever truly see all that they are.  I just wanted to help my hurting, tired, and overwhelmed baby, but I didn’t know how.

If you are a parent of an infant diagnosed with colic, or GERD, or just have a baby that isn’t helped by conventional methods of soothing please consider that it might be sensory related.  Current research is beginning to show that babies with severe colic may have SPD.  If people tell you to wait it out, or give it time, DON’T.  Get a referral to a pediatric occupational therapist.  The best case scenario will include an evaluation that simply tells you that your child is fine.  If your child does have SPD, at least you will know the cause and you will have a team of people who can help you.  Feel free to message me through the contact page at www.onlynowiknow.com if you would like more information or even if you just want to talk to another parent who understands this unique struggle.

The Anger Bomb

She is always anxious. Even when she is calm there is a buzzing edginess about her, a frantic fragility that can be seen in the way a part of her is always moving, trying to quiet the storm that lies somewhere under her skin. Of course I am always anxious when I am around her, because I have been blessed and cursed with an empathetic heart, one that reads and mirrors emotions like a real and actual mirror, especially the emotions of the people I love.

The “she” I am referring to is my daughter who has inherited this gift of empathy, which usually is something coveted. Something you want your children to emulate. But with Gwen and I there exists this constant exchange of nervous energy that hums back and forth between us, like a hallway full of mirrors. There is no determining where it begins or where it ends. In fact, the problem is that it is never ending.

Even during the many peaceful moments we share there is always anxiety, fear, dread boiling under the surface waiting to steal the day. My heart races. My palms sweat. My nervous system hitches up on its toes, ready for fight or flight. Then, when I have felt this ragging, wasting feeling for too long, the anger comes. For anger really is only secondary to another more harmless emotion, like nervousness, fear, or sadness. Anger only comes out of feeling too bad for too long.

I can usually make it through these horrible anger-filled moments without yelling. I can usually make it through without mumbling hurtful words under my breath. I can almost always make it through without throwing something, and if I do it is usually something soft, as if that makes it any better.  I get absolutely zero satisfaction out of hearing a stuffed animal make a floppy little puff against the wall. I may in fact get a negative level of satisfaction (-5 or something) because what I really need is a dangerously loud, brain-pounding clatter.  The sort of sound that comes from throwing a brick through a window, or smashing a chair against a jersey barrier. But, I digress, because despite the occasional stuffed-animal throwing, thankfully I can always make it through these moments without striking out at another person physically. Although my arms, hands, even my feet tingle in a rage that takes every ounce of self control to still.

When you first have a child everyone tells you about the love you will feel. The devotion. They even tell you about the exhaustion. The pain. The sadness. But no one mentions the anger. Aside from that little video that they make you watch in the hospital. You know, the one about shaken babies. And while you are watching it you and your spouse look over at each other like, “How could anyone ever do that? We would NEVER do that to OUR CHILD!” And the two of you go on in this blissful little bubble until one day when something explodes in your mind, like a bomb that was planted there by that very video you snubbed, and you finally admit, “Now, I get it. Only now.” And maybe it is just me that feels this way, but I severely doubt it.

I never recall feeling this level of anger before I had children. I will call it sanity-forsaking anger. Shit-spitting mad. A level of anger where everything around me takes on an amber glow, as though hot coals have replaced my eyes. My insides feel like they are external to my body. Like my heart and lungs have leapt out of my chest, my cardiac rhythm erratically beating like a toddler on a drum set, leaving my lungs aching for breath, smothering in the dense, angry air.  I can actually feel the cartoon steam whistling out of my ears as my brain fries in the pressure cooker that is now my skull. I can’t formulate logical thoughts. My mind is like a hole-punched sieve that only holds onto hurtful daggers of thought. So it is a good thing that I can’t speak; it is as though the fist of the devil himself has taken my throat up in his hot, evil clutches and twisted.

Once I have unraveled myself from that demonic anger, managed to calm down and hop out of that needley-nest of rage I always feel ashamed. Even if I have managed to follow all the rules. I always feel like I should have enough self control to calm myself before I reach that heightened level of nauseating emotion. But I don’t. And I probably never will.

When I think about it now I am not sure if I really want to stop feeling, even this lousy high-strung anger. There is something intrinsically indulgent in letting your emotions go, raging on to their fullest extent.  Something freeing about not constantly reigning yourself in. Allowing yourself to hurt, just for awhile because sometimes that is just what you need. Of course I also need to cease the so-mad Captain Insano behaviors, but stop the feeling, maybe not.

Needless to say I am continually working on changing my own response to anger to be a model for my daughter(s). This is something I know I will have to work on until my quick tempered heart stops beating. The whole exercise has been excruciatingly painful, frustrating, and seemingly impossible, like walking on hot coals while balancing an elephant on my forehead. But if I want my daughters to handle anger appropriately there is no possible way I can expect them to unless I do the same.

So I soldier on, knowing that we are all imitators and pattern-matchers biologically, and eventually if I give enough of my effort to practicing how to react to anger, how to notice the feeling when it is still just fear, or anxiety, or sadness, and how to be unafraid of feeling occasional stark-raving madness, they (and especially Gwen) will learn this difficult skill and be able to use it with their own children someday. That is all any parent really wants anyway, for our children to have the tough things go a little easier than we did, than we do.

Raccoons and Road Runners Beware

Summer steam rises off the pavement and I sense the oncoming stench that only road runners know. And I’m not talking about the tall desert bird. I am speaking about those of us crazy enough to jog on the shoulder of a highway as glorified passenger bullets speed toward us head on.

On this strikingly blazing day, where the sun actually feels like it is burning through all three layers of my skin, past the muscle, and into my very skeleton, the odor of a fully dead and partially decayed animal hits my brain.

Those tiny and disgusting particles invade and then float around in my head; itty-bitty parts of an animal that was struck hard by a vehicle are now striking my olfactory sense like a cobra. Assaulting my sense of smell with increasing ferocity because now I am oncoming and I have to decide whether I am going to jump over it, trying not to look and never succeeding, cross to the other side, or turn around and run home.

I am not the crossing over type, and neither am I the turning around sort. So I jump. Leaping over animal guts with glory as my legs lurch forward. I wonder how many dead animals I’ve jumped over in my lifetime as these legs carry me toward a sought after state of enlightenment I will likely never reach. But trying to reach it is better than sitting on my cold dead ass so I will keep running while trying not to be figuratively dead like the literal dead animal I just hurdled.

Strange to type, but even when they invade my running path I still feel sorry for those dead and furry little suckers. I didn’t used to feel such extreme empathy for those squashed-senseless life forms. In fact, once many years ago I hit a very abundant raccoon who left the front of my car in a disastrous state, and I recall cursing that dead beast as I tried in vain to buff out the dents and fur.

Only now, on this day as I am running past a little dead animal carcass I can’t help but wonder if it was a mama. Then I start feeling sad about the litter of helpless and wiry little animals it probably has left behind to starve. Feeling sad for the dead raccoon I am jumping over instead of feeling bad that my own brain has to smell it seems odd, even to me. It even sounds ludicrous typing this, the keys staring back at me like, “What is wrong with you, lady?” Yet as I say a silent prayer for the jumped-over road kill, all the while knowing it sounds insane, I will probably still do the same thing tomorrow. It’s the damn momming. It got me again.

Missing the Momming

I am standing in the blistering lava hot shower thinking that this is the temperature of water only reserved for stark raving lunatics. And that is precisely how I feel with the steaming water pelting my skin in a blindingly painful rhythm. Like a crazy person who is desperately trying to maintain sanity.

I spent the day stay-at-home-momming and I just want to stand in this damned hell-fire of a shower letting the water beat into my skull, hoping that if I stay in here long enough I might not even remember my own name.

But alas I hear Kira whine. I would rather hear a raging wail than that ragging whine that leaves me feeling wrung out. No…scratch that. I’d rather hear silence, then baby laughs, then babbling, then squealing, then wailing. Then whining. Whining will always be bottom rung on my hierarchy of baby sounds. And especially with Kira whose whine isn’t so much as a whine as it is a bull-hornish groan that makes you wish you no longer had eardrums.

So I slide back the curtain and there she is toddling straight at me with this Kira-esque stagger that is somewhere between the gait pattern of a tiny Tyrannosaurus Rex and Dr Evil from the Austin Power’s franchise. Most of the time I see her and just want to scoop her up like Baskin Robbins, but all I want now is one more second of non-mom solitude, so I throw a towel over my head hoping she won’t recognize me. Like, hey, who is that dripping lady with the towel on her head?

Jiminy Christmas she knows it is me. Must be the boobs. I would like to take this moment to note that there are very few people who can recognize me solely and utterly by my breasts. Unfortunately Kira is one of them. And as she is hobbling over to my still soaking wet frame wailing like a banshee only now do I realize that I am raising a Stage V Clinger.

Worst part? I am the clingee. Best part? That sweet little baby with rolls where bracelets should be, who repeatedly belly smacks herself into the carpet and then laughs, and gives you an ‘I could give two shits’ smirk is MY clinger. I have never been inclined toward the malarkey of sunshine and roses, and my lot isn’t always the happiest, but it is stocked full of love. So I will take my wailing, smirking, belly flopping clinger as long as she’ll have me. Because someday very soon she won’t be my clinger. Someday very soon I’ll be able to stand in an uninterrupted shower for a week straight. Someday very soon she won’t be a baby and I am pretty sure that is the day I will miss this momming thing the most.

Calf Raising and Other Tragic Time Wasters

The sweat droplets were nearly audible as they glanced off the rubber floor. I turned my head to see this guy at the gym busting his butt grunting and groaning while calf-raising. And I am not talking about rearing cattle. I mean, he was sweating and everything from moving those tiny little muscles just a tiny little fraction of a millimeter.

A few years ago I might have checked this guy out, maybe held him in a slightly higher regard for working out so diligently that he didn’t even neglect his lower legs. But probably not. Sadly, only now that I am older, wiser, and mommier I don’t even remember what this particular guy even looked like. Mostly because I thought what he was doing was so galling. Back when I was young(er) and had loads of time to waste doing God knows what I didn’t notice people blatantly sacrificing quality alone time on such frivolities as improving the tone of one’s calf muscles.

I notice the misuse of time quite frequently now. Even my own. I often catch myself thinking, why am I taking a shower while the kids are napping? Why on God’s green Earth am I wasting precious seconds scrubbing my scalp when I could be staring at a blank wall and zoning out? Why am I vacuuming the carpet when I could be soaking my feet in one of those electric foot baths that doesn’t necessarily make my feet feel any better but provides an excuse for why I can’t play Barbies with my toddler for the third hour in a row. (“Mommy would love to play with you honey, just as soon as her feet have finished soaking themselves into the suitable texture of a water-logged prune.”)

I used to take so many free moments for granted before I popped out those two adorable time suckers that lovingly drain the life right out of me. Only now I know better. Needless to say no one will ever catch me doing calf raises at the gym because for the love of all that is holy no one is looking at them. And, don’t you men know that we aren’t looking at your calves either? No one is scrutinizing whether or not the bottom half of your legs are symmetrical to one another nor are we in any way concerned about how those calves compare to the rest of your physical being.

Also giant calf muscles are not particularly functional, if anything your range of motion will be affected and those preciously sought after hulking calves will leave you worse off than your former measly ones. Plus they will never improve your ability to say, reach a can on a higher shelf. So stop the madness. Drink a beer, soak your feet, and maybe go raise some cattle instead.