To be stressed out! Seriously. I think the holiday season has to be in the top spot for being the most stressful time of year. This is not going to be one of my typical history-infused posts. If you’re looking for a well-researched, in-depth piece that provides historical perspective for a key issue, try this post, or this post, or maybe even this one.
No, this post is going to be full of ranting and venting from a crazed mother who is listening to her two toddlers screaming their heads off while she tries to write. (Don’t worry their father is watching them.) With that being said, please forgive any typos. I have a small window of time to get this thing done.
For those who don’t know me well, I have an anxiety disorder. Simply put, I am easily stressed and that stress takes over everything. I’ve been dealing with my anxiety for decades and, in the process, I have developed tools for managing it. For instance, being able to plan is essential for me. To minimize the chances of a panic attack, I plan (a lot). Planning helps me to mentally prepare myself for what is expected of me. Surprises kill me.
Over the course of dealing with my anxiety, I have also become pretty observant of it. I have realized that there are three main levels of angst for me. The first level is an immediate burn that occurs when there are direct stressors that are closely affecting my every-day life. So, at the present moment, I have stress from the usual triggers: planning meals for my kids; making meals (that no one eats); cleaning up after 3+ messy, meals a day; wrestling with my kids during their 12+ diaper changes a day; fighting with my two-years old to dress and undress her; endeavoring to discipline my kids; struggling to entertain my kids; getting out and putting away toys; coaxing my kids into much needed naps; keeping the house quiet during naps; loading my two toddlers into and out of the car; folding and unfolding the double stroller; praying my kids don’t have temper tantrums while we are running errands; and failing to keep the peace between my two toddlers (they beat each other up a lot).
That’s not all of it, but I think you get the idea. I’m a stay-at-home parent and I’m the primary caregiver of my two toddlers (a one year old and a two years old). With the exceptions of the three days a week that my oldest goes part-time to preschool (9:15-12), I take care of my kids singlehandedly until their daddy gets home from work (usually around 6:30 pm).
Now, because it is the holiday season, there are additions to the typical level-one stressors: creating holiday cards; managing the holiday card address list; sending out holiday cards; developing lists and gift ideas for family members and friends; waking up at the crack–of-dawn on Black Friday to buy the gifts without going bankrupt; wrapping an endless amount of gifts; getting out the Christmas decorations; teaching my daughter how to “help” put out the decorations without breaking them; decorating the Christmas tree singlehandedly (for everyone’s safety, my daughter was not ready to help with that); figuring out what holiday events we can go to and which ones we cannot; waking up at the crack-of-dawn to buy tickets for my kids to go on a train with Santa; finding a sitter and creating a care guide for the sitter so I can go to my husband’s work Christmas party; figuring out the logistics for Christmas plans with extended family members; and packing for my entire family so we can make our annual road trip up to Massachusetts to see my husband’s family.
At the risk of overdoing it, I am also going to add that there are the classic unexpected factors that drive me nuts. This past month, for instance, a seasonal cold has infected everyone in the house, except my husband (typical). So, there has been a lot of snotty noses and yucky coughing for a while. Last week, I broke my daughter’s diaper genie (a diaper pail), right after changing a massive, messy, poopy diaper. It was gross and awful. And, yes she is not potty trained yet. Whatever. Bite me. And, my car broke down this week and was in the shop for two days, which left me stranded in the house with the kids (cabin fever, just a bit).
I should make it clear that my husband does help a lot. For instance, he took over the bulk of present wrapping and the holiday card send out was a group effort. Still, I detest it when people say, “oh you’re lucky to have him.” No. He is involved as he should be. And, we are lucky to have each other.
Okay, moving on. On top of the immediate stress, there is a second level, which feels like a looming presence of unease. So, some of these stressors are typical, as in they are reoccurring. I always feel a looming sense of angst when I want to write another blog post or focus on some other aspect of my historical research. For that stressor, it always comes down to finding time to write, preserving my energy from the constant hyper-vigilance that it takes to care for my kids, and making sure I am able to tap into my creative identity. This time around, though, I am also anxious about the fact that I’ve decided to create a facebook page for my blog. But, of course, I’ve been planning it and thinking about it for more than 3 months and haven’t actually done it. I want to make sure it is as good as it can be before I make it. My hope is to publish it in January or February. So, be on the lookout! I also need to figure out what to write for my January post. I want it to be something historical, but this upcoming month, I will not have much time away from parenting to allocate to research and writing. So, we shall see what I end up producing.
There is one other looming stressor I want to address. It’s not easy to write about, but getting it out could help me think it through. My wonderfully sweet (yet, increasingly demanding) one-year-old son has fallen behind on some of his developmental milestones. He turned one last May; he is now 19 months old. He has about 2-4 words. For those that do not know, he should have from 30-50 words. We have also been told that he is a little behind in his “playing” and fine motor skills. (He primarily likes to throw his toys, he is not big on stacking, or putting things together, etc.) Last month, we had his 18-months wellness checkup and our pediatrician recommended we look into the Toddlers and Infant Program that our county offers. It is supposedly a great program (paid for by our taxes) that helps kids who are a little behind. After speaking with several coordinators (not an easy process), we have signed him up to have a specialist come to our house to do a 2-hours assessment. If my son meets the criteria, then a specialist will start coming to our house on a regular basis and we will hopefully get my son up to speed, or at least figure out some tools to help him be the best that he can be.
Obviously, this is a delicate issue and I am highly sensitive to it. On the one hand, I tell myself that I was a late talker and, damn it, I turned out ok! I earned a PhD, for heaven’s sake. But, those attempts at reassurance always fail me. I still worry, because I know it is my fault. I have not been able to give my son anywhere near the one-on-one time that I was able to give my daughter. My children are only 16 months apart in age, which means that my oldest was still a baby when I had my youngest. Because of that, my youngest arrived at a time when a lot of my focus still needed to be on my daughter. Now, I should admit that my daughter is a marvel. I realize that more and more now. That child knew her colors, shapes, numbers, and letters by 15 months. And, she does not shut up. I have said over and over again, that with her all we had to do was point out the dots and she just connected them all on her own (metaphorically speaking, of course).
But, as much as she easily grasped those basic building blocks, she did not understand the larger concepts of safety or the importance of being gentle. Understandably, so, of course, a toddler shouldn’t be expected to grasp the concepts of life and death. At 16 months, she obviously did not have a full awareness that she could seriously harm someone or herself. For the longest time, I had a very rational fear that she would accidently kill her baby brother. She is much, much better now. But she still needs to be monitored constantly.
Then there is my very, very sweet son (seriously he is like a teddy bear). He doesn’t seem to take in the most basic of concepts. I don’t think it has anything to do with him in biological terms. I think it has to do with the fact that he is the second child and I shamefully admit that the majority of my attention has and continues to be on my daughter. To my defense, she is still the biggest risk factor (she is far more mobile and extremely more destructive). Since I am on my own for the majority of time, my past and current cost-benefit-analyses have caused me to focus on her more of the time. Things are improving, of course, and I know that with time it will get easier to trust that she will not harm herself or someone else. As my oldest grows out of toddlerhood, I know that I’ll be able to relocate my attention on my youngest to help him enhance and expand his skills. And, I’m hopeful that the extra input from the Infants and Toddlers Program will also help us steer all this in the right direction. Even with all this optimism, I still feel the looming stress from the guilt and the knowledge that I need to right this wrong.
Okay, the final level of anxiety for me is like a long, simmering boil. It usually involves stressors that have a decent amount of time before they become an actual threat. So, for instance, in the background of my mind, I’ve been slowly stressing about the fact that we will need to make some major lifestyle changes for my daughter. She’ll be turning 3 in January and I know that we need to potty train her, we need to get her out of her crib, and we need to curb her pacifier habit. If you’re thinking about it, please, don’t even attempt to offer parenting judgments on the fact that we haven’t done any of those things yet. Don’t waste your time.
Another distant stressor that fills up this third level deals with my career. This past fall, I published an article in a peer-reviewed journal. An editor from the academic press that publishes the journal contacted me about a pre-completion book contract. The contract would be for my book manuscript, Gendered Citizenship, which is based on my PhD dissertation. I don’t want to dive too much into detail and I also don’t want to get my hopes up too much. After a bunch of back-in-forth with her, I decided that starting the review process for an academic book contract would be impossible this year, because I would be embarking on it without childcare. (I can’t complete an academic book and be a fulltime parent to two toddlers; others can do it, but I can’t.) The editor and I came to an agreement that we would reconnect next fall when both kids would hopefully be in preschool and when I would hopefully have more control over my time. Until then, we agreed that I would work on finishing some parts of the manuscript to have a tighter product for the peer-review process.
When I put my mind to something, I get it done. But, don’t be fooled, I get extremely anxious in the process. When it comes to embarking on a book contract, I can tell you right now, that the amount of work that will be involved, the amount of responsibilities I will be juggling, the amount of things I will not be able to participate in, and the amount of things I will fail to contribute to, are stressing me out. But, that’s life, right? We get to a point where we have to pick and choose. We can’t do everything for everyone and we can’t be everything to everyone.
Well, this is a good point to end this rambling post. I want to conclude with one last sentiment. As much as it might seem like I am a lunatic, I have to admit that I have never been more at peace in my life. Maybe “peace” is not the right word. Perhaps, “content” is better. Whatever the word may be, I am satisfied. I am finally at a time in my life when I don’t feel like I am in some sort of rat race. I don’t feel like I am constantly running and struggling to get towards a finish line that keeps moving farther and father away. At this point in my life, I am finally able to say, “I don’t give a fuck about that damn finish line”.
Certain experiences have made it abundantly clear to me that health is fragile and that life is fragile. I have not written about those events here, because it is too emotionally difficult. But, over the past couple of years, it has been rammed home to me that we should all grasp onto every person that we cherish and love. Don’t ever let them go. Now, my children give me the greatest sense of joy, as well as anger, don’t get me wrong. But, I know the moments of their childhood are fleeting. I know they are growing older and the magic that they feel for this season will not last forever. As much as the stress of the holidays is driving me bonkers, sharing the magic of the season with my kids is giving me the sweetest sense of delight.