Holding Patterns

So I’ve went and lost my damn fool mind.

A week ago I was nervous about taking both kids to Target. This week I drove them to New Jersey and back and took them on the Long Island RailRoad to Manhattan. My super crank hate the car seat guy has evolved into a relatively chill traveler. In fact, he’s actually been very happy lately.

So, when a modeling agent a friend of mine is linked to on Facebook asked us if we wanted to bring Henry in for a go-see for Babies R Us, I said sure, why not? It would at least be an interesting experience.

So I went, tired and all, on a major metropolitan area traffic baby driving tour. Henry did great, and now we have to go back today for the actual shoot since he booked the job. It’s important to start having your kids earn money for the family at four months old. If this was the 18th century, he would have already been apprenticed to a boot-maker.

Just kidding. It’s just for fun at this point, and if it gets too hassle-y I’m happy to quit. I’ve gotten suddenly really busy with writing assignments (yay) and one involves me traveling to a hotel! and getting spa treatments! and writing about them! I have to finalize the nanny for the two days and I’m going to leave my kids. It’s crazy but I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to get my first travel writing clip in the books. And the perks aren’t bad either.  Just me and my hospital grade breast pump. It will be romantic.

One thing I haven’t been busy with is training. I’m going to twice-weekly physical therapy appointments and some light upper body strength work and that’s it. I still haven’t gotten a definitive diagnosis and the PT is actually thinking it’s a problem in my pelvis/lower back area rather than a lower leg compartment issue. Possibly from back labor with a nine pound monster?

I don’t understand any of it at all and all I know is that my leg is still numb around my ankle/tibia bone. I’ve been given pelvic floor strengthening moves to do (sounds familiar, I’ve been doing these since the baby was born) and I’m still on official exercise rest although she seemed to be iffy on biking…maybe, she said.

PT sadness

I also learned an interesting tidbit, that holding a baby places stresses on your front lower leg muscles. So I may just have a good old-fashioned repetitive stress injury from carrying Henry all day. Hopefully he crawls ASAP.

Or makes us a lot of money in show business so we can all be rich and I can hire someone to hold him all day.

Finding Flow, Dopamine Addiction, and Battling the Bobs

Are you addicted to exercise? Not in a bad, sick way, just: does your brain need a certain daily resetting to normal, via sweating and runners’ high endorphins in order to feel normal? Yeah, me too.

I’ve been thinking about this, since someone just came along and essentially stole my drug stash. I’m cold turkey. I’m cranky.

Once upon a time, I smoked cigarettes. I remember the phenomenon of addicted brain chemistry. No matter what the problem was, the solution was a cigarette.

Feeling tired? Perk up with a smoke. Need to relax? Well, what’s more relaxing than a pre-bed cigarette? Full? Hungry? Sad, celebratory? There’s only one cure! (Hint, it’s not more cowbell.)

Obviously this was a created need in my brain. I had to encourage my brain to develop this addiction in the first place, and then once it had this surge of drugs every hour or so, it stopped creating its own natural happy chemicals. So I needed nicotine to create that normal, baseline-feeling.

I guess creating an addiction to exercise endorphins is similar. But better for my health, of course. In fact, when I was 20 I purposefully started exercising to replace smoking when I decided to quit. Easy swap. I don’t think my brain makes enough endorphins/serotonin/dopamine on its own, maybe genetically, or maybe it broke somewhere along the way. I gotta have something, an outlet, or I’m pretty cranky. Sorry, everyone who knows me, ever.

I was watching this documentary a few weeks ago:

It’s called Happy, and it explores what truly makes people happy, and what research into positive psychology has found. The movie talks a lot about “flow,” a cornerstone of human happiness.

Finding flow is trickier than you think. Only the right kind of activity can elicit flow…it has to be something enjoyable, something that needs your full attention, but in a way that allows you to be “outside” of yourself. Kind of the same result we strive for in meditation, or dancing all night at a club after a few drinks, or Zen Buddhism.

We want to be outside our own self-consciousness.

I tried to think of things in my life that give, or have given me, that feeling of flow. I realized how few and far between these things are. When I was a child and teenager I loved to draw and paint. I was okay at it, but that wasn’t the point. The point was the activity itself. I could put music on, and start painting and literally eight hours could fly by.

I’d realize my eyes were tired, it was quiet and dark outside, my contacts were drying onto my eyeballs, and it was 4 a.m. I had forgotten everything except how to accurately depict a certain shadow, how to delineate an iris, how to position a highlight. It was the purest flow I’ve ever felt.

In the documentary, various subject report experiencing flow from things like engaging in sports they are talented at, working with their hands, or creating something. Flow must have been the daily default for our ancestors, weaving baskets, butchering animals, building a hut. We need to feel this attentive usefulness in the world or we are unmoored, adrift in an alien occupational landscape. As much as I love my children, the bald truth is taking care of them full-time is not a flow-y job. There’s no feeling of concrete satisfaction in a job well done. There’s a lot of drudgery, and physicality, but there isn’t a lot of Flow.

I think the work many of us do (cubicle, office work, high-stakes management or performance-oriented professional work) is antithetical to flow. You’re not creating something of meaning, of substance, something you can see with your eyes. You’re not able to see your own strengths and talents at play in the world. You’re not only still in your own brain, you’re in your own brain magnified by critical eyes…your boss, the audience of that presentation, the evaluator, the critics, the Bobs.

The Bobs are never far away when you’re working without flow. As much as I love writing, it doesn’t give me flow. I’m too conscious of the eventual audience. I can’t get into a zone, I can’t leave the supervisor in my brain behind even as I dance with my Id, an Ego. It’s a Junior High dance, and the teachers are close by, making sure there’s a few inches there, some space between the truth and how the truth will sound to others, a little wiggle room to save face.

Philosophers like Freud have different names for the Bobs in your head. Superego. Learning about superego is what my three year old is doing right now at preschool. She’s learning she’s supposed to sit nicely at pre-ordained times, and not pick her nose in public, and listen to authority figures. She’s growing a mini-version of herself, which will hang out in her front cortex, ever admonishing herself about what’s right.

It’s inevitable, it’s necessary, she needs to do it (I’m not pulling her out of school to frolic in a field and be homeschooled/unschooled by me, as we visit museums and paint all day, as much as in an ideal world, I’d love to). But it’s sad. It’s a sad moment in her life, and for me as her mother. She’s no longer the free, feral little creature who knows nothing about herself beyond what she feels and experiences. Her ego grew a superego and now she’s got to grow up and find her flow.

So what about running? Does running give us flow? I don’t think it does. I think it gives us feel-good stuff like endorphins and dopamine, but there’s no process, there’s no creation, there’s no craft or skill happening. It’s just pure mood-alteration. I think many of us need both flow and pure mood alteration. Running is a better option than heroin, but what is it it’s giving me?

Serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, and even epinephrine (the fight or flight stress response). It makes sense that we need an outlet for that. When your boss yells at you, you can’t either punch him out or run away. You have to swallow that stress response, and then go home and pound away at a treadmill.

It’s hard to identify the exact workings of neurotransmitters in our brain. You know you feel good, or bad, but what’s doing what is hard to say. Even scientists and pharmaceutical designers don’t really know what’s happening for sure. But I’ve had the opportunity to feel the very distinct feeling of dopamine, or at least it’s absence.

In breastfeeding there’s a thing called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER for short). It’s a very specific feeling some women get at the moment their milk lets down. It’s a short little feeling that passes in moments or minutes. But research has shown it’s a lowering of dopamine in the brain (the hormones responsible for milk production need a suppression of dopamine to work). It’s such a weird, very specific feeling. I’ve read that women describe it as homesickness.

It feels like this song:

Not a song I particularly like, or have strong feelings about, but this is the best way I can describe the feeling. In fact, when I heard this song on the radio as a kid, it gave me that feeling. It’s a churning in the stomach, it’s a pang of sadness, or wistfulness, but stronger. It feels like everything in the world is just bad, and alien, and scary, and the opposite of Home.

I guess the inverse of dopamine is the opposite of everything I just described. So when we run, and look for dopamine happiness…we are just trying to forget Don Henley.

Or we’re just looking for a feeling of being home, with everything being just fine. Who knew a run in the woods could bring us that? I guess we all knew that. But what can you do when your life circumstances don’t allow for flow, or the regular creation of these feel-good chemicals? I’m not really sure, but I’m guessing there have to be some creative solutions to finding these essential components of happiness.

Bum Leg

My medical mystery leg case continues. I saw the PA at the orthopedist practice on Wednesday, and he diagnosed me with a vague “Shin splints/compartment syndrome,” with the RX of rest and physical therapy.

I had my first physical therapy appointment today, but he said he didn’t think I was presenting with either, because I have no pain (none during exertion OR rest) and because compartment syndrome shouldn’t cause numbness that lasts for so long. He thinks it’s a result of some post-partum/breastfeeding/relaxin/dehydration/over-exertion/body shenanigans. I agree, and I hope this will magically disappear on its own, never to return again.

My shin is still numb, over a week later. It’s kind of scary, but everyone is assuring me it’s no big deal. Somehow.

I’m on total exercise rest, because anything might exacerbate this at this point. So that’s a total bummer, and bad for my mood. I’m trying to find the bright side to exercise rest…

Don’t have to worry about how to fit in workouts

Chance to focus on other things, like work, or just hanging with the chilluns. We’ve been doing a lot of baking and cooking, so I’ll be nice and fat when this recovery is over

Umm, I can’t think of any more.

Can anyone help me out and give me some positives to having enforced rest? An excuse to get deep tissue massages to help my recovery, maybe?

How do you maintain your mood when you can’t exercise? Can you think of any good things that come out of a week or more off from working out?

Like A Caged Lion

So I’ve been watching (or, in some cases, rewatching) Ken Burns’ entire oeuvre on Netflix while I nurse Henny Penny to sleep, in little twenty minute segments before bed and I just started Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony. I know, it’s pretty wild and crazy up in here. It’s like a regular Ke$sha song.

Both women are fascinating, but I’m particularly obsessed with Elizabeth Cady Stanton right now. She was the wife and mother of the pair, with seven kids and a burning desire to not only have full freedoms and political equality, but also to have a happy home life and a bunch of kids.

Fangirling out

She refused to opt entirely out of what was then a pretty oppressive existence as a married woman (no birth control, i.e. a baby every two years, no ability to work outside the home, just pure domestic drudgery for life) and instead, demanded to have it all, but remade in her idealistic image. Susan B., on the other hand, decided to stay single to keep her life her own. I was struck by Stanton’s words, though, about that uneasy attempt to achieve everything she wanted, while constrained by the biological, societal, reality, that, no matter how big she thought, how wide-ranging the scope of her goals and dreams, when you have babies and young children, you are an indentured servant to their needs:

Imagine me, day in and day out, watching, bathing, nursing, and promenading the precious contents of a little crib in the corner of my room. I pace up and down these two chambers like a caged lion, longing to bring nursing and housekeeping cares to a close. I have other work at hand.

But she didn’t stop having her babies, and by all accounts, she loved being a mother and strove to be an excellent one, loving, caring, encouraging freedom and responsibility and learning in her children. She didn’t accept that she couldn’t both be a loving mother and be free, in a way that intense early mothering just isn’t.

I feel that lately. I mean, what other human condition can essentially lock up a segment of the population in a domestic state, tied to their bodily functions simply due to their innate biological state, like motherhood? Of course we are legally free to come and go, to hire nannies and feed formula or use hospital-grade breast pumps and marry equal parenting husbands. But there’s no denying the reality…your life in early motherhood is not quite your own. It’s not FOR you. You’re not the point, you’re not the afterthought. You’re a vehicle. It’s a lovely drudgery, the recipients your children, the beings you’d do anything for, and with, and to, and from.

If you are used to expending relentless energy. If you’re a lion. You feel caged. You have ideas. They bounce around your brain and go nowhere. They meet no one. Your body may wither, turn to veal. You wear circles in the carpet, step on your own footsteps on the wood floor, from kitchen to bed, to crib, to kitchen. You step out to feel air, to see friends, but it’s the outing of a prisoner. It’s officially mandated Rest and Relaxation. It’s a turnabout in the prison yard. It’s not yet freedom.

I like to imagine that I would have been a 19th-century reformer, if I had lived then. I’d have been a Puritan radically reading the Bible in my own living room; I’d have been an abolitionist, a vegetarian eating proto-Corn Flakes with Nathanial Hawthorne. But would I have been? How can you see what the progress needed is, the injustice of your own time, without the 20-20 hindsight glasses on?

Some people see gay marriage rights, fat acceptance, and other causes as the natural descendants of this tradition. And of course the long slow women’s movement has shown that one is never quite over. Women still do more work than men in a week, with less to show for it. Stanton was wild and radical because she looked at the entirety of the female condition at the time, everything from birth control to divorce, unpopularly, as part of the struggle for equal rights. Our social lives, our family lives, even our biological lives. These are the things ethics and self-determination movements must contend with. That’s why we need to say things. Things about ourselves, and our less than lovely feelings, things about what goes on, even in our homes. Because that’s where our lives are, as new mothers. That’s where the lion lives.

I think postpartum issues are a feminist issue. I’m not sure how to enunciate this position beyond that, yet, and of course I’m not the only woman who is making that connection. It’s not a coincidence that the best website on postpartum depression is called Postpartum Progress.

We were probably never meant to birth and raise babies all alone in our nuclear isolation. We were never meant to live geographic miles or emotional miles from mothers, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, friends. We were never meant to so separate out our Life from our Work. Husbands were never meant to board trains or highway on ramps every day

Here I am, in my house, with my deep thoughts that just rattle and crash in my brain. I’d like to take a road trip. I’d like to get peoples’ brains piqued toward collective improvement through carefully chosen words. I’d like to hike the Appalachian Trial. I’d like to volunteer for a phone service to answer 4 a.m. calls from lonely, desperately tired mothers, who want to know…will this ever get better

I believe it will, for her as an individual, and for us as a whole. It just takes a while, is what I will say. It will just take longer than you’d like. Longer than you think you can take, is what I’d tell me of three years ago, exhausted, lonely, uncomprehending in the face of my staggering new life as a mother. But you will make it

But for now I just write, and sit, and pace, and foment. One day I will explode out into the world, with all I’ve learned during this time.


So my bionic immune system let me down this week. I knew it was a matter of time, what with the immune-depressant effects of never sleeping ever.

First Anna displayed very un-Anna-like behavior, namely moping about the couch and falling asleep in front of the TV at 5 p.m. even though I was letting her watch God’s personal gift to her… H20, the show on Nickelodeon with “real mermaids.” I also offered her chocolate and juice to stay awake, and she slept through all these offers of life’s bounty. That meant she was sick.

If this doesn’t stir your heartstrings and make you ask why I’d be so mean as to not let her sleep, you’re probably a parent.

H20, in case you don’t have a three-year-old daughter obsessed with the possibility that she may one day turn into a “real mermaid with a fin that swims underwater,” is an Australian teen soap opera with girls who turn into mermaids when they go in water. It’s a horrible show in all respects and aimed for an audience at least a decade older than my child. So she asks me a million unanswerable questions about the plot line (nobody can explain that crap) and waits patiently for them to sprout their tails.

Imagine Saved By The Bell, but Australian, and worse.

So then I knew she was down for the count but being the kind of non-sensitive kid she is, she never tells me what’s wrong or what hurts so I can only guess. She’s basically the inverse of the toddlers who cry because the tag on their shirt bothers them. The only thing that makes her go apoplectic is getting sticky, but that’s a completely reasonable reaction to being sticky and I do it myself.

Then Henry started refusing to eat and being extra-exceptionally cranky (terror alert was red) and then my throat started hurting and I went, oh, that’s why he doesn’t want to eat. So now I’m sick and Henry is sick and Anna is better and I don’t know if it’s the flu or not because the pediatrician’s office has a completely useless flu test that takes five days to get results from. My husband is not as sick because he enjoys taking copious amounts of pharmaceuticals at any sign of a sneeze.

I have a pretty decent immune system and I thought I was golden, missing out on lots of colds Anna brought home from school. But this flu-like virus bested me this time.

So here I am, making sad little half-assed computer printouts of Valentine’s Day cards for preschool, cursing all those moms who insist on baking, like, individual French chocolate souffles with Disney Princess Cordon Bleu ice sculptures for the four-year-old set (really, moms?) and watching H20 and drinking black coffee. If anyone thinks I’m making heart-shaped foodstuffs for any meal today, they are very, very, wrong.

Oh, and I’m on exercise rest for a week  because the orthopedist diagnosed me with Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome. Say that ten times fast, then cry with me over cookies. Sucks to be a chronic exerter. So there’s that. Is it next year yet?

Medical Mystery Headcase

In my continuing quest to amass a full collection of obscure sports injuries, I am trying to self-diagnose the weirdest one yet.

My shins are numb.

Like, since Friday night. I had two really great weeks of working out, lots of days in a row, starting to feel fitter. I guess I tempted the workout gods again. Thursday night I ran a little preblizzard three mile nightrun. Friday I did a weights class since my husband was home in advance of Blizzardopalypse Nemo and I wasn’t going to let a chance to go to the gym go to waste. Saturday night I waded through the foot of snow in my dad’s driveway to use his treadmill. Three miles, felt great, no pain. On Sunday I did a great Spin class of one, just me, myself and trying to average over 200 watts on the bike. I did 216 for 45 minutes for a post-baby power PR. Felt fine. Lovely, even.

But in the middle of Friday night I woke to find my right shin was numb, like it had fallen asleep, from my ankle to my knee, in a sort of ellipse where I guess my anterior tibia muscle is? I didn’t think anything of it and even worked out the next two days (see: above). Sunday night my LEFT shin started in with the numbness. No pain, nothing, just a weird sensation of tingly pins and needles and numbness that won’t go away with anything, icing, massage, Ibuprofen, nada.

I posted this on Facebook (of course) and a doc friend said maybe I should go to the doctor ASAP so that set my hypochondria brain a-buzzin’ but then I called my trusty brother-in-law/emergency room doctor who said it was fine and I should only get worried if it lasted a month. So…I waited for it to go away but so far it hasn’t. Google believes it may be exertional compartment syndrome, but why the numbness hasn’t stopped with cessation of activity confuses me.

I ran, and biked, and lifted, and played for years injury-free before this recent pregnancy and I swear, my body is just falling apart right now. I’m going to pretend any and all injuries that happened/will happen since I got pregnant until a year postpartum are just freak things that will magically go away later. Like the tendinitis I had in my wrist after baby #1, and the plantar fasciitis I got this time around (seems to be gone already).

Because Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome (and the recommended surgery that goes along with it)?

Say it with me now: Ain’t nobody…

So here’s a confession: I am a bit of a hypochondriac. More specifically, the Google catastrophic-thinker variety. You’d think knowing that about yourself would be the first step to defeating it, right? But no.

Hello, I am a hypochondriac. I also wore Uggs with bike shorts, because, hello? It was a blizzard and I was going to bike. Indoors.

See, the hypochondriac’s dilemma is that sometimes you might actually have a malady that needs medical attention. But you’re scared everyone will think you’re, um, just being a hypochondriac.

So I don’t know what the hell to think. I’m going to a sports doc today and will report back later. I know you want to know what happens in the end, like those medical mystery case studies in the New York Times magazine.

Have I traveled to any exotic countries lately? Namibia perhaps? Any vacations in the Maldives?

No. I have, however, apparently been developing a major wicked big lower front of leg musculature, I guess from cycling and the way you drop your heels with heavier gear. I think the constant flexion and muscle growth was too much for my I guess size extra small fascia? Why does my damn leg fascia have to be extra small when the rest of me is now small creeping towards medium?


Perfect Storms

When I was a kid, I loved extreme weather: snowstorms, hurricanes, blackouts. Anything that promised to take everyday mundane life into an exciting surreality was total fodder for my fantastical, escapist, bored-at-school brain. I remember staring out the old smudged school windows in junior high biology, imagining the thrilling things that would come to pass, after the next Blizzard, Tornado, Zombie Apocalypse SuperFlu hit. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy junior high biology, but I enjoyed imagining the practical applications of biology to an exciting drama in my head more. Who would survive? What would we eat? Would family mutts go feral?

I was obviously not alone in this hobby. See: every disaster movie ever made. But then we grow up, and we learn that natural disasters are just that, disastrous, and they hurt us in grownup ways. People get hurt, houses get ruined, lives get destroyed.

But sometimes that imp of the perverse still lingers deep down, that 12-year-old dork who wants to spend the night sleeping in the museum because no one can get home. I bet some boys would imagine video game hijinks would then ensue, while I was content to picture our town covered in snow, or water, or everyone gone except a few survivors, wolves and tumbleweed invading the empty, silent streets. Sure, it would be sad, and I’d miss people and stuff, but wouldn’t that be cool?

Maybe as adults what we enjoy is that rare camaraderie that big, collective events bring. Now, finally, suddenly, everyone is talking about the same thing on the Facebook feed. We feel part of one coherent community, and for once the enemy isn’t each other, but it’s that Hurricane. Or the elements. Isn’t that how we were meant to live? A big group hunkered down against the lions and tigers?

No one wants anyone to get hurt, or lose property, but barring that, we revel in the work and school closures. In the weird timeout of being stuck at home, taking the kids sledding, or driving down to see huge waves lashing our familiar shorelines, life seems, well, just a little bit more lifelike.

Been There, Done That, Or, A Meditation on Why Everyone Is So Mean to Kourtney Kardashian

On mornings when my daughter goes to preschool, I sometimes pop on the TV for some adult voices as I nurse, change, care for Henry and do things around the house.

Sometimes (all the time) there’s nothing really good on so I kind of half-watch whatever is on. The other day, I found myself watching one of the Kardashian spinoff shows for the first time.

I was sucked in, big time.

I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the way Kourtney as a mother to two young children, one a baby, was depicted. Her sisters obviously had no conception of what it’s like to be a tired, nursing, protective Mama Bear mother to a baby. Her husband was off racing cars and the sisters were making fun of her for wearing sweatpants and smelling bad.

Of course it was all played up for laughs and giggles and the sad sap mom, in her apartment-hotel just breastfeeding and covered in spit up, was the comic butt of the show’s overall joke. It was interesting to see how motherhood was depicted in the least mother-y of settings…high-flying celebrities, partying Miami, beauty, flash, conspicuous selfishness…how far from the self-sacrifice and all-encompassing nature of early motherhood.

Yet…Kourtney seemed to take it all in stride. She seemed completely confident in her choices, to breastfeed, to care about her little family pack above all else, to just hunker down and BE a mom in the face of her family’s ridicule. It was kind of cool.

Credit: CelebrityBabies

I guess I’m having a lot of deep thoughts about an E! TV reality show because that juxtaposition between what it means to be a baby mother and the non-understanding larger world around is kind of resonating with me right now. I remember before I had my first baby, how annoyingly been-there-done-that moms were, with that whole “you just can’t understand until you’ve been there” attitude about what it’s like to give birth, be a mom, be up all night for a year, to have your whole world and priorities and universe shift, irrevocably.

There are groups I circulate in who will just never understand. Most men, for one (Sorry, guys. I know many men are equal parenting partners, but…). Pre-children people in their 20s, or of any age. Weirdly, people whose children are long grown also seem to revert back to a hazy innocent un-remembering about it all, too. Babies are recalled as sleeping and perfect angels by grandparents. It’s a forgetting of time and an inevitable scrubbing from the memory of the bad, the stressful, the difficult.

But I think that does a disservice to the moms of now. If you can’t understand, or remember, or try to understand, you can’t support them.

I HATE HATE HATE when well-meaning older women post things on friends’ Facebook statuses about their babies, how they are struggling with lack of sleep, or baby fussiness, or whatever it may be, and then here comes a nice middle-aged lady, saying something like “These are the best days of your life,” or “This is the easy part, just wait until they walk/run/drive the car,” or “My kids are 17 and 19 and I still don’t sleep at night.”

NO. No no no no. Let’s please stop lying to poor women in shellshock from their first weeks with a new baby. They knew it would be hard. They didn’t know they’d have to shed their old skin, lose their self before they regain a better, tougher, harder, Mommy snakeskin.

They didn’t know the chrysalis would be like this. By fire.

Don’t admonish them on Facebook to appreciate it. I understand that from a twenty-year-long vantage point, these ARE the  best days of our lives. That never again will our homes be so full of children’s laughter, joy, sounds, family. We understand that. But these are also the hardest times. Don’t scare new moms into thinking they will be this sleep-deprived forever.

They won’t. It gets better and better. But support helps, especially for those of us who have been there, done that.