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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Thinking back

This time last year I was pregnant. This time two years ago I was also pregnant. I am not pregnant now.

Last week as I waited in the yoga studio for my class to start the women from a prenatal class started filtering out. They were different shapes and sizes--different months of pregnancy. Small, round bellies. Some large bellies. I watched them go and it seemed I could see something expectant on their faces. Waiting for the lives within them to be borne. From my window seat, my kids all at home with the babysitter, I sat in solitude and thought about how badly I used to want to be pregnant. I ached for it. Now I can't even believe I ever was. I blinked and I became a mother, a woman who will never be pregnant again, watching other pregnant women and feeling myself apart from them.

Don't get me wrong--there is no desire in me anywhere at all to be pregnant. Most of the time when I see women with round, full bellies walking down the street I still think Thank God that is not me. It still hasn't even been a year since I carried babies inside me. I just. . .can't even believe I already did it. I have a hard time comprehending that the many years--two decades--of longing and hoping to be a mother are behind me. Not just wanting to be a mother but to be pregnant. To nurse. The whole shebang. It felt like a piece was missing inside me. And then it happened. And it happened again. I fell off the planet--away from my old life, away from myself pre-motherhood and I fell into a world where I am the center of a new universe. Not forever but for now. How do you even take it in?

We are approaching the month of birthdays. Many people in our family--my mother, my husband, his mother--all turn another year older in June. My four children share two birthdays in June. A tribe of Gemini. I remember my mom trying to describe to me how she felt on my own birthday or leading up to it. Now I think I understand. My body and my heart are shifting, welcoming the memories of these lives that so recently began. I feel expectant. I try to wrap my mind around the fact that last year I didn't know Cleo and Daphne yet. To understand that these little kids running around me weren't walking yet as they unknowingly waited for their little sisters to be born. I was their laying down mama. On my side on the carpeted floor in their bedroom as they crawled around me and over me. Unable to lift them up, miserable, itchy, exhausted. Last year when I already knew what to expect--when my waiting was tinged with knowing.

The year before I had no idea. I drank a Slurpee every day as I drove home in my Audi from my management job in Oakland to our house in a whole different weather zone. Pregnant and huge, sweating and itchy in the 100 degree heat of Martinez. This time two Mays ago I filled up an inflatable pool in our backyard and sat in icy water in a ruffled bikini, belly out to here. Baby A, my girl Lily, was taking up all the space--shoving her brother (who I thought was a sister) way up under my ribs on my right side. I would poke my finger beneath my bottom rib and try to shove him down so I could take a full breath. I felt my functional brain drip out of my ears as I waited for maternity leave to start, waited to finish up some projects so I could leave free and clear for six months. Instead my water broke eight weeks earlier than expected and two tiny strangers were launched into their lives as I became a mother.

These children take my breath away sometimes. I have never been so loved, so touched, so climbed upon. Looking at folders of digital pictures, trying for the first time in our four plus year relationship to make an album showing memories of our lives together, I see the evidence of days, weeks, months and years before me. Different body for me, several times over. People I now recognize so well looking out from miniature eyes set above tiny noses above now-familiar mouths. This is almost nothing like I thought it would be. It is deeper. Harder. More frustrating. I am raising four small people each of whom used to lie underneath my resting palms, under the roof of my rounded belly, under the fat and layers of muscle that were sliced through many years before to replace a dead liver with a live one, enclosed in their own sacs, floating in their own fluid, folded up paper cranes of secrets waiting to be revealed. Now they are here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


What makes us who we are? I think about this a lot and have since long before I was a parent.

I went to a truly magical nursery school. It was a place where exploration and fun were emphasized. We got to play and sing and swing and climb. I still have memories of being there, which is incredible to me because that was almost forty years ago. I think Sunset Cooperative Nursery School is part of the reason I feel safe being curious. Sunset also taught my parents a lot about parenting--several of those lessons I use myself.

I went to a Jesuit high school--a college prep in San Francisco that was an all-boys high school for many years before voting to allow girls. My dad taught there and still does. I'm still realizing how special the Jesuit approach to education is. I was taught that learning how to learn is important. I took classes in Ethics and learned how to make decisions not only based on who is right and who is wrong but on outcomes that benefit the most people, taking into account who will be hurt in the process. I was already a good writer before high school but St. Ignatius made me a better writer. I read many classic, wonderful books. I discussed ideas. I played sports in an environment where athletes got dressed up on game days and walked the halls with pride to represent their team. Teachers and counselors talked to me about college from day one of freshman year. We went on retreats and experienced silent contemplation, community, unconditional love.

I played soccer from the age of five to nineteen, and then again as an adult. My main coach Arthur, a tall, thin, dark black man from Trinidad trained us for almost ten years. He was exacting and intense. He loved soccer and emphasized the basics, drilled them into us for hours. Our team didn't score many goals but we held our own against and often beat teams that were much better than we were because we had such excellent ball skills. To this day I could probably step on a field and keep a ball close to my feet despite not having touched one in almost five years. I came home crying from practice many times. He yelled at us and he expected a lot. It was very hard and it was also very fun, sometimes at the same time. The friends I made on that team are still my friends.

I went to Catholic church most Sundays for many years--actually until competitive soccer started edging Mass off the schedule. Our church was a sanctuary church that took care of people immigrating from Central America, especially El Salvador, during the years of civil war. There was a babysitting room in the back, the Red Room, where I took care of other people's kids during Mass. I was baptized and received my First Communion.

I have a younger brother and sister.

I spent time on a farm in Vermont most summers.

My parents split up when I was in middle school.

I got diagnosed with infertility as a teenager.

I lived in Spain for a year and became fluent in Spanish.

So many things. So many decisions, made by my parents or by me, that created situations and experiences I carry with me now. Other things that just happened, with no preparation and no permission. All of these things go into making me who I am. But it is so much more than that--we are not just a sum of our parts.

Long before I had kids of my own I observed that people come into this world already with a self--even when they are teeny, tiny hour-old babies. I have looked newborn babies in the eye and gotten strong looks back--I see you and I am trying to figure you out, they say. I have worked at my old nursery school and seen the wide variety of skills to be found in a group of two-year-olds. One kid can ride a tricycle but can't talk, one knows the name of every parent that comes through the door, one can climb to the very top of the red tower. How much of that is taught and how much just is?

It is endlessly fascinating to me, thinking about this kind of thing. I think it is also one of the reasons people can get so intense about their parenting decisions--where your baby sleeps, what they eat, whether they drink bottles or nurse, blah and blah and thousands of decisions or capitulations that go into parenting. How we respond to tantrums, what activities they do, what kids we meet and play with. So much. As though we have control over who these people turn out to be. No one wants to get it wrong and no one really knows what will end up making a difference.

I have had such a rich life. My wish for my children is that they pay attention. That they notice the world and the people around them. That they feel safe being who they really are. That they realize what a gift and a challenge and a privilege it is to be alive, to be a person, to be figuring it out.  That gratitude is a part of their daily lives.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


We were signed up to go to yoga this morning--strong yoga for mama while the four littles play in the playroom. Instead the two littlest are screaming in their cribs and the Bigs are drinking milk and reading books for quiet time.

The kitchen is a mess--bananas all over the floor, dishwasher half-loaded, sink full.

The dining room table is buried in mostly folded laundry.

The living room rug desperately needs to be vacuumed.

The giant lawn needs to be mowed.

Weeds need to be pulled.

An avocado plant waits to be transferred from pot to earth.

There is an election today...for a state senator I think?

I don't know how much time I have but it won't be much. The Bigs rarely nap at this time anymore.

Last summer the six of us went to a picnic in San Francisco, held in honor of some friends who were visiting from New York. The little girls had only been out of the hospital for a week or so--teeny, tiny babies snuggled into Ergos. Lily and Cyrus were a year old, plus almost two months. They were barefoot because, though I had checked the weather, we were far enough west for the air to be five or ten degrees colder than it probably was downtown. Plus they weren't walking yet so they never wore shoes, and rarely socks since baby socks are annoying and always fall off.

The picnic was at Rossi Park on Arguello Boulevard. I'd played there as a kid but the playground has been completely redone since then. The food was delicious and there were many sets of willing hands to hold babies. I sat on the edge of the playground, my big kids crawling around my legs and pulling themselves up on the stroller or the bench. They were as big as they'd ever been, just as they are today.

I hugged my beautiful friend--she radiates light and joy and is so stunning you almost have to sit down when she smiles at you. Her two kids were there--an older girl a few months past two, a younger boy the same age as my Bigs. We shared stories of motherhood and I watched, mesmerized, as her big girl climbed to the very tops of slides and roared down them. She owned that playground. I could not comprehend, even as it was acted out before my eyes, the difference between one and two. Years old, not children.

My big kids will be two in a few weeks and they are totally different creatures than they were a month ago, let alone a year ago. Having children. . .it is watching life. The actual, mysterious, scientific, magical, sacred, biological explosion of cells that slowly and quickly happens before your eyes. It takes my breath away.

When I was younger I used to wonder what it would feel like to be old. Would I look in the mirror one day and see white hair and wrinkles and be taken aback? Would it be sudden and surprising? Now I know that I am my same self, folded into more years of experience. I am the same and different. My children are the same and different. If I squint I can see the tiny babies they were not so very long ago. Even as their backs are lean, muscular plains and their legs are the legs of kids, not babies. They are everywhere on a playground. Two weeks ago the big kids climbed a mountain of a staircase and whizzed down a gigantic slide--one that was mostly populated by eight and nine year olds. They looked minute in comparison, yet they climbed up and rode down again and again.

This is the hardest thing I have ever done and I have done many hard things. Taking care of these four small people is physically and emotionally draining. When all four are crying my mind goes blank, with buzzing edges--make it stop omg no more crying what do you need gah! They spill anything that can possibly be spilled, touch everything in existence with sticky hands, step on each other, fight over toys, dribble spit-up in trails around a room. Loading them all up into the van is enough to make you think you deserve a medal and the rest of the day off. Watching them grow? Seeing the seeds of who they are blossom and stretch out strong little tendrils into the world around them? Getting this front row seat? So worth it.

I think.

Yes, worth it.

Friday, May 15, 2015


I used to own two combs. My hair routine is not much but it does usually involve combing. Presumably I still own two combs but do I know where they are? No I do not. There is a grey cloth mouse in the drawer that used to hold the combs.

This morning I sat on the floor, my butt in the doorway leading to the courtyard. I was in the hallway between the kitchen and the laundry room; behind me the half-bath, its pocket door mostly closed. My son sat on my lap. One of my little girls crawled over, whining to be picked up. And then the dog, all seventy pounds of her, came shuffling over to stand over me in the two foot square spot of floor I occupied. This is motherhood.

This evening I leave on a girls' trip. Though really it is a women's trip. Three of us mamas, friends for almost thirty years, are boarding a plane and leaving the families for some much needed alone-together time. "What will you do?" asked my husband. "Sit by the pool. Drink cocktails. Talk. Bask in the fact that no small people are touching us." Big plans. I haven't been on a plane in two years. I haven't packed a suitcase in a long time. In the past I would have already gotten my nails done, possibly my eyebrows and almost definitely a bikini wax. This morning I showered in the small shower and shaved most of my legs. Look out Scottsdale.

I'm going to go clean the kitchen before the little girls wake up. And maybe find the baby comb to finish my elaborate hair-do.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Blogging with four children under two

Think of seven things to do whilst in the shower. Would list them here but have obviously forgotten all about them now that I am out of the shower.

Resolve dispute over the Blue Car in which both toddlers are trying to sit.

Sit down at computer which is frozen because the Power button is within reach of the children and someone forcibly shut it down at some point. Reboot.

While waiting for computer to turn back on pick up four things from the floor around the desk and put them away. Despair at ever having a clean house.

Open up Blogger. Try to think of anything to write. Fail.

Look out the window of the French door to the courtyard and shake head in wonderment at the tableau which consists of: green tricycle, green plastic baby pool filled with two inches of dirty water, overturned insulated wheeled cooler which is used more for giving children rides than for keeping food or beverages cool, old fashioned rocking horse, one red polka-dotted Mary Jane, Elmo, potted avocado awaiting its next life in the ground, small blue trampoline, infamous Blue Car. More stuff.

Turn back to blog. Boy toddler is on my right, bushing buttons on the home phone and making it ring.

Try to think of anything to write. Can't.

Decide to come back later.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

On Zoloft

I've been thinking about this post for weeks and every time I think of the title I hear the strains of "On Broadway" from Little Shop of Horrors in my head. My bran is a funny place to live.

So Zoloft. Anti-depressants. SSRIs. I started taking 25mg per day back in August when the girls came home from the NICU. I wrote about it here at the time and got many responses from women who had also experienced, suffered from, post-postpartum depression. It didn't feel like a big decision to me at the time--it felt clear and necessary. The idea of being left alone with my four children gave me paralyzing anxiety. Then again, wouldn't it make most people feel that way? Does it matter what most people would do? This is an ongoing question in my life--comparing myself to others as though that will help me come up with the answer of what I should do. What is ok to do. As though there is a mean of human behavior that determines when you can ask for help or when you need to work harder. One of the benefits of having four small children is pretty much no one questions the decisions you make. There is almost a carte blanche, a do-what-you-must! My joke at the time was that everyone in my OB's office was just waiting for me to call and ask for meds. Two sets of twins in two years? Here you go!

I felt reassured and taken care of by my doctor. She was the one who had delivered the girls, the one on the team of female OBs who finally started listening and paying attention to me towards the end of the pregnancy. About my age. Indian. Calm and smart and pretty. The thing she said that sticks with me is "You don't want to get through these early months and realize that you can't remember anything about it." The Zoloft would help with that, she said.

All of this is on my mind because I recently tapered off the Zoloft and it was not a good experience. No one told me to get off of it (but yes, I did have a doctor's advice on how to taper off). In fact, most people and doctors (who are people too) reacted with surprise and a "What's the rush?" I didn't feel a rush to stop taking the pills. For the first several months I didn't even notice them, except for the fact that I no longer had crushing anxiety. You would think that would be very noticeable but for me the absence of anxiety just felt regular. I didn't miss it. I would sometimes wonder how I would know it was time to stop taking the Zoloft--if it felt so normal on it, what would indicate to me that it was time to stop?

Why did I even think about stopping? I am not someone who feels strongly about living medication free. I've been taking pills daily since I was eleven--it's a part of my life and probably will be forever. I don't hesitate to take Tylenol for a headache. I wasn't judging myself for the Zoloft, I was just curious about how I would feel without it. I never considered that I would take it forever though so I picked the girls' 1st birthday as the time to stop. But then I signed up for this cool, deep women's retreat at my yoga studio--a three month intensive with all-access to the yoga classes and lots of group work, meditation, journaling, inward focus. The night before it started, which was also a week after I turned thirty-eight, it popped into my head clear as day that I would start tapering the Zoloft when I started the retreat. It would be a good container in which to change my body chemistry.

The first few weeks were so great. I felt myself coming back to myself in warm, full waves. Powerful. Deep. Emotional. Clear-headed. I also started crying and it felt so good. I hadn't even noticed how long I had gone without tears until I found them running down my cheeks. I'd missed this, I'd missed me. What a surprise that coming off of the meds would be such a big experience when going on them hadn't been.

Then it got hard. Really, really hard. Unbearable? I would say yes, for me it was unbearable. And that feels embarrassing and scary and shameful to admit. I was not being a good mom to my kids, at least not in my estimation. I was so cranky, impatient, snappy. The days stretched on endlessly. I would sit in my messy house, surrounded by small children who would not stop touching me, and wonder how on Earth I was going to make it through the next ten hours. I wanted to scream at every other driver on the road. I got in a big fight with my mom. I just felt pissed all the time. I even took a pregnancy test, thinking maybe that was the reason for my huge mood swings--except are they swings when you don't go up? For the first time in my life I sat waiting for a result on one of those tests thinking "Oh God, please please please please be negative." It was.

Other things happened all at once, as is often the case with life and its refusal to be easy to figure out. The little girls got way more mobile and suddenly I found myself unable to take the four of them anywhere by myself. I felt stuck and resentful, looking around at my parenthood experience thinking this was not what I had imagined. I had a big colitis flare--sick and exhausted for two weeks. It was rough. And for me, when things get rough, I climb into my hermit cave and don't come out. I don't write. I don't call to talk about it. I put my head down and watch TV, read, eat, avoid. Wait it out. Blech.

I started back on the Zoloft about three weeks ago. Maybe a month now. I didn't feel like a failure but I felt so afraid. Is this coping medicine I am taking? Do I need these meds to allow me to get through the reality of my life? That feels bad. It doesn't feel right. I voiced some of these concerns in the tiny kitchen at Bloom, my yoga studio, and some of the women in my group hugged me and laughed with me and encouraged me. Reassured me. The best response was from a woman named Kim who, when I was going on about worrying that it was only the Zoloft that kept me able to bear what was going on around me, made me see things in a positive light, said "It's not acid!"

Hahahahahaha. Good point.

What kind of help is ok? Would it be better if I asked for more support from other people so that the daily life wasn't so hard? Lived more of the "It takes a village" lifestyle we talk about missing as a community? Would that make it easier to not take an anti-depressant? I'm not sure. Perhaps both are needed.

The thing is, whatever the catalyst(s), I am finding myself looking around wondering what happened. I blinked and in that time moved out of San Francisco into the suburbs, got married, did IVF, had twins, did the NICU, gave up my full-time management position, bought a house for the first time, had more twins, did the NICU again, and got laid off from a company where I'd worked for thirteen years. Every aspect of my life is different. Who am I? Can I still be the me I was and the me I am now? What even makes us who we are? Our work? Our family? Our day-to-day?

I have lived in my head for as long as I can remember. The words are always going, the ideas are always being turned over and over, I'm always watching, observing, thinking, wondering. For most of my early life I thought everyone was like that. Now I know that's not the case. We all have helpers we go to when it feels too hard to stay put--drugs, prescribed or otherwise, sex, food, shopping, alcohol, yoga, nature, cigarettes, meditation. Being a person is a lot. I am someone who wants to really do it--be a person, feel it, live it, think about it.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Death of Sheryl Sandberg's husband

Just opened up Facebook as I turned the water on in the shower--it takes a minute to warm up. Yes, I know we are in a drought. Sometimes I save that water but not always and I should.

I read that Sheryl Sandberg's husband died suddenly on Friday at the age of 47. That is nine years older than I am. I don't work in Tech and I don't know much about the world of Silicon Valley and all that goes along with that. Quite frankly, if the dinner conversation I had with my sister, her husband, my brother, his wife and my husband on Wednesday night was any indication, I don't know much about what is going on anywhere these days. It was strange to sit and listen about work decisions, new bars, using metrics to measure the success of a project, a recent conference, the personality of each major consulting firm, a change in boss and a renewed discussion about job description. I liked listening but I didn't have much to add. The way I spend my days is so different right now. It wasn't a bad experience but it was a noticeable one. I almost always appreciate a noticeable experience.

Sheryl Sandberg and SurveyMonkey each came up in conversation on Wednesday. I can't remember if her husband, David Goldberg, specifically came up or not--if he had I might not have noticed because I'd never heard of him before today. From the looks of this article he was a very cool, smart guy.

This blog is already longer than the time I devoted to Facebook and this news item. I got in the shower, washing away the sweat and dust from an hour's worth of shoveling mulch. The water hit my shoulders and I thought "I want to send her a condolence card."

Then I thought--weird. I don't even know her. She'd probably be like, huh?

I haven't read Sheryl's book, though I've heard it referenced many times, usually with some stridency in the voice of whoever is talking. I know two things from my own reading over the years--that she made a change to prohibit her employees from working at home. Whoa! Big decision with lots of reaction. As someone who had worked many day from home throughout my career I could both see why it was a good decision and why many people would be pissed about it. The other thing I remember reading was how she took a very short maternity leave. It was a huge discussion about what that meant as far as her mothering and her executive life were concerned. Pretty sure I've never once read an article about any male executive and how much paternity leave he did or didn't take.

Whatever she is like and whatever her marriage was like I couldn't miss the quake in my stomach when I read about the death of her husband. Her life will change so much. The life of her child or children will change so much. Grief is transformative. It is holy. It destroys. I haven't felt it in a long time so I don't even feel comfortable writing about it because I don't think it's something you can really see when you're inside it. Then we're relying on memory when we write about it. I think the writing and the art that gets produced in the midst of grieving is so powerful to save and look at later. What was I even like when I made this? Can I remember feeling that way?

Grief is so changey and so wide and deep. You often don't notice it is there because it fades into the background, painting the walls around you. It is so variable. Unrecognizable sometimes. Maybe it can leave someone untouched but I don't think so. What do you think?

Sheryl Sandberg is someone who has many eyes on her--because she is a woman and she is using her voice in a noticeable way. I'm sure it is for many other reasons as well--like the fact that she is making big decisions and changes to how people work and that is a powerful thing to be able to do. It effects people, it scares people, it gets people excited. Now she will be doing all of that and she will also be living through the death of her husband. My heart aches for her, my gut clenches for her. I hope her grief somehow brings her something precious in its wake.