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

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


We took the kids to Disneyland but what I want to talk about is sleep. We joined a gym last month, as a family, in part because they have a decent-seeming day-care but what I want to talk about is sleep. I do not have a one-track mind but thoughts of bedtime creep into all sorts of spaces these days.

Before we left for Disneyland it seemed like we were starting to make some progress in the bedtime routine, which is essentially Cry It Out, Toddler Edition. Which feels like a gyp because sleep training more than once sucks. Which may be a reason not to do it, but I'm not there yet.

Six weeks had passed since the cribs went away and almost every night since had included screaming and crying and multiple wake ups. We kept changing things, little things and bigger things, and it kept being bad. So we decided we needed to pick something and stick with it, crying bedamned. We told them, the Bigs, that we would be locking the door. Even though they say "Don't lock it!" before we walk out, which is heart-wrenching. Even though the thought of someone locking the door when I'm sleeping in there makes me claustrophobic. We didn't get them out, even if they cried and screamed. Which they did, though really mostly one of them did. We left the door locked all night and would unlock it around 5 am, expecting one or both of them to walk back to our bed at some point and sleep another hour or so there. It was getting decent. At least to the point where I didn't actively dread bedtime. At least I think that's how it felt. . .a week has passed and I can't remember because it's bad again.

In Disneyland the six of us slept in one room--the little twins each in a pack n play, and one of the big twins in each queen bed with a parent. Cyrus and I had a four night slumber party and that kid slept like a baby. Or like another type of being that actually sleeps deeply. . .like a cat. We all went to bed at 8 pm and slept until 6 when we would start waking up and head to the park for a magic hour. We napped together, though my husband and I would take turns sneaking out for a little alone time during nap time. The point is, there was not one second of fuss over bedtime. It was the best part of a really fun trip. The Magic Kingdom provided many moments of magic for us--the kids loved it and only got scared a couple times. I smiled many times but the pure, sweet moments came every time I would wake up in our family room, see the smudged bright lights of California Adventure reflected in our window through the open curtains and hear the quiet breathing of every member of my family. Such peace.

I have more to write but there's a pile of sand on the kitchen floor, a blender full of broccoli puree on the counter and a series of other tasks to be at least contemplated during this hour of no children. I've missed this space and all of you who read. I'll be back soon.

Friday, February 5, 2016

On gratitude

Our friend and old roommate Grey owns a foam and cushion store a few blocks from where we live now. Comfiest beds and pillows ever, I swear they will change your life. ( Foam and Cushion )
Last week my dad and I walked the four kids over in the red wagon so we could visit, get out of the house and help him find a new mattress. We are quite a sight in the tall red wooden Radio Flyer wagon--it has four seats with seat belts, big fat tires and a long metal handle for pulling. It's the best.

When we walked into the store the kids were initially shy. They soon warmed up, unleashing themselves on the displays, climbing onto and into beds, pulling down signs, running and laughing. They are a mostly good-natured wrecking crew.

A customer came in a few minutes after we did--she was an older woman. Older than I am but not old. She started talking to Grey about her pillow order and the details of the cover and the sewing, casting glances at the kids now and then. No smile. After a couple minutes I joked "Don't worry, you don't have to take a toddler with your cushion."

"I would gladly take one," she replied. "My daughter has had three miscarriages."


You might expect the next line to be "And that's when I remembered how lucky I am." or "Then I felt grateful and resolved to enjoy the moment."


"That is so hard," I said. "I'm sorry to hear that."

We smiled at one another and she smiled down at the kids.

"Good luck to your daughter," I said when she left.

I know to feel grateful. That's been part of my life-view for decades and in many ways has and does serve me well. I love my life. I know things could almost always be worse. I know bad things happen all the time. I know, deep in my bones, that having four healthy children is a blessing. . .and it could change anytime.

When I worked in organ placement, the department responsible for allocating organs to the people on the waiting list, it was part of my job to read the story of how someone died. Over and over again. People died in all sorts of ways--unlucky accidents, incidents where you thought "well that was dumb!", violent ways, peaceful ways. Healthy people who ate right and ran marathons and then died of strokes out of nowhere. Kids. Mothers. Everyone. No one was safe. It's hard to write that down in this space because it feels so. . .scary and sad.

In that old job we had our own black humor about things--a way to get through the day. One of the things I used to joke about was how my kids would be wearing helmets all the time--even to walk down the street. "They'll be made fun of but I don't care!"I would say. "Too bad. Safety first."

That job hasn't affected my parenting in the ways I expected. I let my kids do all sorts of risky and dangerous things. They climb ladders and go way up on the big kid playground. They handle tools. They jump from the top of their small book case onto a pillow below. They run down steep hills. Most of these are deliberate parenting decisions--we are letting them discover their abilities. We don't put them up on something they can't climb to themselves. We tell them tools are not toys and tell them how to respect them. They fall and get scrapes and bonk heads and we are nearby or right there, trying to help when needed, encouraging them to try to help themselves when they can, soothing them when they cry. I don't promise them that we can keep them safe.

All of this has been happening for months so it surprised me to notice that my past work experience was affecting me in a different way. Without going into the really long version of the story, my sister and I got in a big fight back in November. Very unusual for us. There were many layers to this fight and it took us until recently to forgive ourselves and each other and move on. Thank God. A world where we are not friends is an upsetting place.

During those months of not really talking the self-knowledge was flying in my face faster than I could keep up. The upsetness wouldn't leave. I couldn't get past it. I was vulnerable and confused and mad. Why? What was tripping me up here? What was my part? What was her part? What was I hurt or scared by? What could I learn from this?

One of the main things I landed on was how much it scares me when I feel like she can't see the good parts of her life. When I feel like she's getting caught up in the difficulty, in the struggle, and can't find her way back to gratitude. Wait a second. Then I saw that I was scared for myself in the same way.

It scares the shit of me when I can't find my way to gratitude. Like I'm tempting fate. Don't you know what could happen, Megan? Quick, feel grateful so you don't regret it!

Well damn.

I am quite good, one of the masters even, at a shrug and an easy, comforting remark when people comment about how hard something is in my life and how well I handle them. My health crises, mainly. And now my many children.  You have your hands full! Oh, I'm so sorry you were in the hospital. You are so strong! I don't know how you do it.

"Eh," I often say. "You have your hands full too. One child or four children, they take up every bit of energy we have, don't they?" or "The days in the hospital were quite restful. Like a spa."

I believe those things--I'm not lying. But those are also choices I make, to see the good side. To find the gratitude, to move past the pain. Because what else can you do? I want to get beyond the shit, not live in it.

I have worked hard to cultivate a life of gratitude and awareness. It's not an accident of birth or a lucky roll of the dice that I am strong. I choose to be strong.

I love my life. Love it and cherish it. This is not to say I'm dancing up and down the streets right now singing "Woo hoo! I have a great life and I love it!" Clearly not, especially these days. I mean I recognize and honor that this is my one life. I am the only one who gets to live it. There will never be another Megan Doherty Shaughnessy Bondy. Just me. How lucky am I. I want to revel in it, taste it, dance with it, embrace it and think about it. I want to be a liver.

The anger and the bitterness and the despair isn't pretty. It's new for me to even make space for it. Lots of people don't want to see or hear that part because. . .well, for so many reasons. It's scary. It's ugly. It's hard or impossible to fix. It makes people uncomfortable. It feels that way to me too! I hate having to sit in the bad feelings. I want to fix it and move on. To shrug it off and get to the next place that feels better. Or eat half of a wheel of Brie with Wheat Thins until the pain goes away.

So I'm in a new place. A hard-won place. Last week I said to my yoga tribe, a group of twelve kick-ass, smart, powerful women whom I've known for a year, "It just keeps dawning on me that no matter what coping mechanisms I have, or how much help I get or how much self-care I practice or how many life hacks we implement, it just stays hard. And I don't know what to do about that!"

I am learning so much. To see how scared I've been all these months where I can't consistently live in gratitude. So scared. Like I'm just asking for it. To see how taxing it is for me to stay in the hard and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I want it to be easier, but it's not. I want to be able to shrug and smile and say something cute and funny that makes light of the reality of taking care of four toddlers. Often I can, but not always. Sometimes I need to bring out the dark side and slap it down on the table where everyone can see it.

Welcome to the table. There's room for everyone.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


The toddlers are killing me. I woke up this morning pissed, after being pissed for every moment that  I was awake last night (which was a lot of moments). As I dragged my flannel-PJ'ed self to the kitchen I was stopped by the blazing sunrise of pinks and lavenders shining through the dirty windows of the laundry room. I stopped and beheld. The beauty of the natural world coming at just the moment I needed it. I said thank you and asked to be better today.

All I do is yell these days. Because I often can't seem to help myself and because what I really want to do is slap the %$#&*! out of my kids. The urge to hit them is fiery and strong within the muscles and fibers of my arm.  The times they spit in my face, despite my telling them over and over and over not to. Watching my daughter take a handful of her lunch and fling it on the freshly washed floor, for no apparent reason except the fact that she is two and this is the kind of shit they do. My son biting his sister for the hundredth time. It's these things and endless other things, big things and small things. It's the constancy of four small people who inhabit a developmental stage that tells them to explore the world, its consequences. To defy. I can't fucking stand it.

My siblings and I were sometimes spanked as kids but rarely. I got slapped across the face once, mostly due to that easy-now-to-imagine cross-section of adult challenges and kid pushing-of-buttons. My mom has brought it up to me over the years, how horrified she was, how horrified and scared I was. I don't remember it at all.

I don't plan on hitting my kids and I'm surprised and appalled by the fierce desire to do so. When I walk into the room and see my daughter standing in the middle of the dining room table holding two candlesticks with the candles in her mouth I mostly want to say "Really?" with an eyebrow raised. Or "What the fuck, are you seriously doing that right now?" It could even be funny, if you weren't already on the verge of being pissed. If you weren't sick because of all the coughing you take in the face. If you weren't combating the craziness you feel after a day, and then days, of being consistently ignored. The table dance didn't make me want to hit her. Actually the deeper I get into this essay the harder it is to remember specific moments that bring up the urge. There's a freedom in admission I guess.

I don't hit but I do grab them roughly. And I do yell. A lot. Last night as I brought the bigs back to their beds for the second time I yelled "This shit has got to stop!" because I felt so helpless and tired and mad. Like we're getting it wrong but I don't know how to get it right. I am so done by the time bed time rolls around. . .but now we don't get to be done. It is no longer easy to put them down. Now it is a fight, a struggle, a cajoling. And it lasts anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours with them finally falling asleep only to then get up and come back to our room two to three times a night. They end up in our bed for good around 5 am and as one snuggles into me I want to say "This is my time to not be touched. I am done. I can't do this another second," and I skootch ever closer to the edge of the bed. My bed that is no longer mine.

My anger has always been something I struggle with. I don't like feeling it--it makes me uneasy. So I swallow it and become Ice Queen and shut down. Which looks like calm on the outside. Oh yeah. . . .remember how I have that autoimmune disease that wrecks my guts? Weird.

I'm also very hard on myself.

I'm also a natural problem-solver. This makes me great at certain jobs because I'm always looking at how things work, diagnosing the problems and figuring out how to make the system work better. Some of this is because I somehow got programmed, or was born with, the idea that there is a right way. A right way to be married. A right way to parent. A right way to seat the dining room of a restaurant. Pretty much a right way to do anything. I have been working on easing up on this for the past several years, even before the kids arrived.

This toddler sleep situation is causing me problems. I keep having to tell myself that there is not necessarily a right way to solve it. That there might not even be a problem that I need to solve--we may just need to be patient and wait it out. It's only been a month. I get caught up in the shame of doing it wrong when all I want is to do it right. I want them to know how to sleep so that when they're older they have that ability. And so that right now when they're young their brains and bodies get the time they need to grow and rest. And so that I don't completely lose my shit at them for anything they do because I am just so tired. Tired in general and tired of the bullshit that comes with parenting toddlers.

My dad spent the first half of the day with us today, as he does most Wednesdays. He is always good about telling me what a good job of parenting I'm doing, which I appreciate. And as we sat in the wrecked kitchen after putting them down for a nap (with a locked door for the two-year-olds which resulted in no crying today as opposed to the two hours of screaming three nights ago) I cried a little, in exhaustion and relief, and talked about this essay and about how much I yell at them lately.

"Just so you know, you didn't yell at them at all this morning."

I'm not sure I noticed that so I was glad to hear it.

Maybe it's because I started writing about it. . .

Maybe it's because we got outside. . .

Maybe it's because I had an extra set of hands. . .

Or maybe most of it is out of my hands entirely and I just have to keep breathing. Keep trying. And give myself a break because there is not just one right way.