How to Make Coffee (and Better Choices)

Become addicted to The Tunnel on PBS (optional: pay handsomely per episode because you erased all the episodes you recorded). Start watching as soon as your husband* goes to bed, tell yourself you won’t be tired, and make sure you get little sleep the night before the second day of school. (*May substitute wife, partner, roommate, or child; but do not alter the ridiculous number of hours you stay up watching.)

Ignore first alarm. Ignore second alarm. Wake up with five-second window in which you must decide to shower or not.

Decide it’s going to be a “workout clothes” day. Wonder if you’ll work out.

Curse coffee maker for not turning on. Curse yourself for leaving a glowing review on Amazon for this coffee maker. Wonder if you can go back and edit that.

Yell, “WHY WON’T THIS THING TURN ON?”

Glare at child when she suggests it’s not plugged in.

Check plug.

Repeat yell.

Realize lid is not closed. Feel satisfied with problem solving skills.

To save time, decide to use ground coffee instead of beans.

Yell to other child to help you find ground coffee in the pantry you re-organized yesterday.

Check the shelf she points to. Feel satisfied your child also has problem solving skills.

Measure coffee. Fill reservoir. Find correct setting. Hit “Start.”

Wait ten minutes, pour coffee and realize you never put the filter back.

Dump the two cups of grounds you have just poured.

Clean all parts of coffee maker, burning yourself because, of course, everything is still hot.

Begin again with measured coffee grounds.

Wait ten minutes, pour coffee and realize you put the coffee in the wrong basket.

Find coffee maker manual.

Clean all parts of coffee maker, burning yourself because, of course, everything is still hot.

Begin again with measured coffee grounds.

Using sarcasm, ask children if they really need to be in the kitchen right now.

Wait ten minutes, realize you never poured the water from the carafe into the reservoir.

Yell at children that you’re going to be late for school.

Pour water into reservoir and decide it’s ok and you can bring coffee with you.

Wait ten minutes and realize you don’t have a portable coffee mug.

Google, “Is tea healthier than coffee?”

Bookmark an article to share on Facebook later while feeling smug about life choices.

Again, feel good about problem solving skills.

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At the End of the Day, It’s All the Same

Today was a total shit show an interesting day. My son completely lost it was in quite a mood after he dropped a donut on the floor of a coffee shop. He ran out and away from me, and I couldn’t find him for a good minute clearly communicated his feelings by asserting his independence. It was 90 degrees out and I was sweating from fear and the heat as I ran after him a really nice day to be active outdoors together. When I finally found him saw his cute little face around the corner, I screamed curse words loud enough for New Jersey to hear “Hallelujah!” I called my husband at work to curse at him too get his take on the situation.

Later, when I didn’t know where two of my kids were all was quiet, and while railing against first grade math helping with homework, I thought, Holy shit, we may survive the afternoon This is really nice.

While the kids were watching t.v. solving word puzzles while after doing homework, I realized that I had fallen asleep on the sofa for an hour lost track of time. I hadn’t even ordered made dinner. I quickly logged onto Seamless scoured the fridge for something to throw together. As usual In the absence of anything healthy, I ordered burritos.

As I was getting up from the table more times than I would think physically possible to retrieve things from the kitchen they could get themselves serving my family, I almost had a panic attack when I noticed I had ordered my daughter the wrong meal. She began wailing at a pitch to wake the dead used words to express herself boldly. She continued for thirty minutes; I was fed up impressed with her attitude enthusiasm. I said, “If this doesn’t stop, I will leave and not come back!” “Maybe you need some alone time.”

By bedtime, I had just freaking had it with everything we were all tired from the day. I turned the lights out not caring if after everyone brushed teeth.

I lay in the darkness, moving from one child’s bed to another because they insist they can’t be alone we value extended co-sleeping. I lay in the darkness, feeling guilty, like a failure, like the worst mother, anxious about everything to do after they fall asleep and the next day introspective about all the emotions of motherhood. I lay in the darkness of their room, grateful that tomorrow will be another day.

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Unwelcome Journey

Mid-morning I began to experience the beginning of a panic attack at my computer. A second cup of coffee may have been the cause, or the aftermath of a week with three kids at an amusement park. Or nothing at all. The symptoms crept up and stayed. My heart began to pound, my throat started to close so that it was impossible to swallow even water. I moved my hands around, turned the light off and on, proving I was living and still in this room, willing myself to stay. I tried to work, but intrusive and obsessive thoughts circled viciously; I worried I would pass out if I took a shower.

Panic attacks are not new to me, yet I still worried I was dying. As I write this, I am still worried. Eventually, reluctantly I had to leave my apartment to get supplies for my daughter’s homework assignment. The steady rain added to my growing sense of doom. I breathed my way to the store. In through the nose, out through the mouth. 

Wandering the aisles of Walgreens, I felt lost; I could find nothing I needed, felt like I’d never been there before, felt alien and ineffective, unable to locate the hairspray I had bought only recently. I worried again I would pass out. I paid without making eye contact. Reach for wallet, get card, swipe card. Don’t look at me. I neglected most of what I had gone there for, but I managed to leave with poster board, the most important item. Walking out, I didn’t bother to open my umbrella; it felt too scary and too much. Panic attacks render one irrational while they last. Simple, almost involuntary tasks are impossible.

In the rain, I managed back to wait for my son’s bus. My pocketbook lately stocks my anti-anxiety medication. I slipped one under my tongue for the second time today, not caring passersby would witness this.

The medication helps with symptoms. But the relief is slow and often brings open weeping with it. I don’t know why that is; perhaps it is the anticipation of relief, perhaps the mysterious experience and departure of such terror can only leave us humbled.

To describe acute panic is also impossible. But as I tried to do so this afternoon, I thought–too late–that is is not unlike an asthma attack. It is a crisis, and not a time to talk things through. Asthma attacks require medication and can be deadly; panic attacks, however, feel deadly but will often subside on their own, after a time, even without medication.

Having had both, I can say that with both, the experience of losing control over the body and mind suddenly and drastically brings one outside of normal thoughts, outside of whatever tethers us to the everyday going and getting and shuffling around the apartment looking for a book or keys. At lunch with a friend once, a panic attack came on; I had the sensation I was going to fall over the side of my chair, so I fiddled with the silverware in front of me to hold on.

As much as panic attacks only give the illusion of being disconnected from this world–I have said “I don’t feel like I’m here” during more than one–they leave one with the exhaustion and disorientation of having taken a long uncomfortable journey. They leave you feeling hungover with dread, grateful to have returned, and planted in the knowledge you will be leaving again, and you won’t know when.

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What Was Really Done This Break

Tomorrow is back to school after a long holiday break. And about one hour before bedtime tonight, one of the girls found her homework, meant to have been easily done one page a day over the break. I, of course, hadn’t opened anyone’s backpack since they got home two weeks ago. (Their lunches may still be rotting, but that’s another story.)

She did as much as she could of her homework, and wrote, “Forgot” on the pages she didn’t get to finish; I laughed when I saw that, but it is indeed, accurate. I was annoyed with myself for not making sure the kids were doing whatever work they were assigned all along their break–how many times had I screamed about too much television anyway? Why hadn’t I just been a little more organized from day one–or three or four or seven? Why can’t they just be more organized? Why do I have to remind everyone of everything all the time; don’t I get a break?

And then I thought about all the “projects” they worked on–the bizarre, rambling, sweet stories and songs and plays they authored; the pictures that were drawn; the shows performed in the living room and at grandma and poppy’s house–and I realized their time was spent sometimes being very loud and messy, but often using imagination and skill. Certainly, there were too many Good Luck Charlie episodes playing on weekends (I had a dream I was in an episode recently if that tells you how many I have seen), and there are many new toys now played with and ignored; but balanced with those have been original and strange stories about confused princesses and sinister foxes and superheroes tapped out on the computer or written in magic marker with accompanying drawings.

As well, the girls started reading new series of books. I know because they like to tell me when they finish each chapter, sometimes when they finish a single page.

Anyway, I have to brave the lunch boxes. But here is an original recent short story by the six-year-old girl. (I fixed up her grammar a bit. Her spelling was actually fine.)

Once upon a time it was a sunny day and everyone went outside. But only one person did not. He was home watching T.V. and eating a sandwich. But then it got dark and he went to his room and cried. And he did not get to go outside the other days either but then it was snowing, so he did not get to go outside when it was snowing. So he cried until January. Then he went to his papa’s house. It was too hot to go outside, so he cried even more but he got over it in April. 

 

 

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SpongeBath Is Perfect for Germaphobes in the Kitchen

I have, for many years, been more than a bit of a germaphobe. Before I had children, I was actually more anxious than I am now. Having children forces one to accept that sometimes dog pee will end up on little shoes, and those little shoes will end up padding around the apartment. As well, warnings of “DON’T PUT THAT IN YOUR MOUTH! IT’S FILTHY,” only increase the likelihood of found objects being put into mouths.

So out of necessity, I’m more relaxed now.

At home, I try, however, to reduce germ-y disgustingness wherever I can: canisters of wipes are out in both bathrooms and are used and emptied constantly (I know because I am pretty sure I am the only one using said wipes); floors are washed several times a week at least; kitchen counters are wiped down after every use (again, me and me); and dishes are washed and the sink cleaned several times a day (guess how I know this).

To clean counters and the kitchen sink, I have always relied on paper towels. Sponges become gross collectors of germs, and I never understood how to correctly “clean” them. I buy paper towels in bulk, and we go through them with impressive speed (impressive being the rate at which we are creating waste).

Recently I was sent SpongeBath to try and to review. I rarely review products; when I do, it is because the product fits into our lifestyle. A germ blasting sponge attacker I knew was up my alley. (That is a figure of speech: alleys are of course notoriously dirty.)

SpongeBath sanitizes the sponge continuously, so that you are never spreading germs on a clean counter. The product was developed by Tod Maitland and Matthew Flannery and is represented by New York City internist, Dr. Keri Peterson (who is also a friend of mine). I was quick to set up SpongeBath next to the sink; the set up took about five minutes and has eight steps to get started–to get started cleaning that is.

With honesty, I have to tell you that it took some getting used to–this grabbing a sponge to clean things. Remember it’s clean, I had to repeat to myself at first. But it’s quite easy to use the countertop system, and the cleaning cartridge can be replaced every month to ensure optimal cleansing.

Now there are fewer paper towels going into the garbage, and I’m confident surfaces are still getting clean (again and again and again).

Although I was sent the first generation of the product (currently sold at Bed Bath & Beyond), SpongeBath is in its Next Generation of production and will have more improvements to design and efficiency when launched; visit the Kickstarter campaign to learn more about SpongeBath Next Generation.

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Disclosure: I received the product and compensation in exchange for a review. All opinions are, as always, my own.

 

 

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On Fear, Love, Family, and Speaking Out: a Review of GIRL IN GLASS

This summer after I read the beautiful memoir, Girl in Glass: How my “Distressed Baby” Defied the Odds, Shamed a CEO, and Taught Me the Essence of Love, Heartbreak, and Miracles (Bloomsbury), I had the opportunity to ask its author, Deanna Fei, a few questions. Ms. Fei, also the author of A Thread of Sky (Penguin Press), details the frighteningly premature birth of her second child at 25 weeks, and the very unexpected public aftermath that changed her family’s life as it was covered in the media widely.

Out of nowhere it seemed, one year after the baby’s terrifying birth, when the family was finally enjoying being together and healthy, the world became aware of the infant’s many medical interventions; the CEO of AOL, Ms. Fei’s husband’s employer at the time, cut employee benefits, citing the expensive premature births and care of two babies under its insurance. One of these “distressed babies,” as they were called and would become known, was Ms. Fei’s.

Ms. Fei’s writing on her daughter’s birth, her tenuous hold to this world, and Ms. Fei’s feelings as a mother shocked, devoted, often horrified is moving; every parent will relate to her fear and love, and all else which moves between the two. The book explores expectation and reality, how they manifest in our everyday lives and how we suddenly face extremes for which we are not prepared. Her insight into the unexpected turns of strength and weakness as well helps Ms. Fei tell a complex story of compassion as she touches upon our shared human history of caregiving.

I asked Ms. Fei about motherhood, marriage, and how speaking out on an experience that resonated with so many others helped shape her book.

You have said part of the reason you wanted to go public with your story was to expose the myth of the perfect pregnancy—that women are supposed to “naturally” be able support easy pregnancies, and when something goes awry, it is the mother’s “fault.” And even though the literature supports there being little to no reason for premature birth – or miscarriage – in most cases, women will still blame themselves. This myth of perfect motherhood extends past the myth of an “easy” conception; past pregnancy; and into motherhood itself, where we give little leeway for mothers to experience feelings outside of joy and mild irritation. Society blames women to a significant degree when mothers have a difficult time managing the emotions of motherhood. Do you feel on any level the extension of this similar guilt and blame into your years now as a mom of young kids, and if so, how do you handle it?

DF: Yes, in the same way that women put tremendous pressure on ourselves to do everything right in pregnancy and childbirth, we often berate ourselves for not being perfect mothers. And the expectations for what mothers are supposed to do keep expanding. We’re not only supposed to be perfect nurturers, we’re supposed to be able to mold every aspect of our children, from their eating habits to their self-esteem, from their language skills to their test scores. All of which can make the stakes feel absurdly high. If I let my kids eat too many snacks, am I putting their future health at risk? If I lose my temper, am I scarring them for life?

For me, the guilt and self-blame get compounded by those long, dark months of watching my daughter struggle on the edge of life and death. I tormented myself with everything I might’ve done wrong to cause her premature birth. I used to tell myself that if I could just bring her home one day, I would somehow make up for everything that she suffered. Also, when she arrived, my son was only 13 months old, so there’s always a part of me that wants to atone for all those times when he suddenly had to make do without me.

That sense of helplessness is probably the worst feeling a parent can experience, but it can also be profoundly liberating. Ultimately, we don’t control our kids’ destinies. All of it – the uncertainty and exhaustion and frustration and chaos and despair – is part of the journey. As mothers, we all need to be more forgiving of ourselves. At the end of the day, if my kids feel safe and loved, that’s enough.

You mention in the book the differences between the ways you and your husband dealt with the crisis of your daughter’s early birth at the beginning and the differences between your feelings and reactions ongoing as you manage the new normal of your family. Having young children adds enormous strain on a marriage for most couples, how did you and Peter deal with each other in those early days to help and not hurt each other, and how do you manage stress as it comes up now? 

DF: I always used to pride myself on being strong and self-reliant. But after my daughter’s birth, nothing terrified me more than being alone. Because that’s how the catastrophe struck: one moment, everything was fine. Then my husband left me alone in the dark, and suddenly my child slipped away from me. For the first time in my life, I found myself wanting my husband to be a superhero. I wanted him to save our daughter. I wanted him to rescue me from that terrible limbo of not knowing whether she would survive another day—or whether she should.

He and I were always very close as life partners, but facing a life-and-death situation day after day strengthened our marriage like nothing else could. And it forced us to find a new balance. I needed to lean on him, but I also needed to let him have moments of weakness and anger and fear and doubt. We each needed to extend a hand whenever the other faltered. And, even when there weren’t enough hours in the day to care for one baby in the hospital and the other at home, we tried to find moments to simply be a couple again—even if that was just me leaning against his shoulder by our daughter’s incubator while we took turns holding her hand.

Now, in our daily life with a two year old and a three year old, it’s easy to get caught up in the ordinary stresses of life. We bicker like every couple with small kids. But we also know that the foundation we’ve built has already endured one of the hardest tests life can offer.

Most mothers I know agree that having children changes your perspective on just about everything—we can’t watch movies we once watched because they now make us cry. We worry about things we never thought about. Having lived through the possibility of literally the worst thing in the world happening to you, do you feel you worry more about your children and family than you did when you had one child? Do you work on staying in the moment or do you find that having been through a terrifying crisis makes it easier to do so?

DF: Once you’ve had a child on life support, the experience never really leaves you. At any given moment, an ordinary anxiety about my daughter can take a terrifying turn. With my son, I used to worry about every milestone just because that somehow seemed to be my job as a mother. With my daughter, I never knew if she would smile or walk or sing until she did, and that carries a special burden of worry and fear.

But I also carry with me some hard-won perspective. As parents, we want to protect our kids from all the suffering in the world, but sometimes we can’t. Life is inherently fragile and uncertain, and that’s part of the beauty of it all. The greatest challenge for all of us is to live in each moment. To make peace with the past and accept that the future holds no guarantees. To allow ourselves to be awed by a child’s resilience. Every time I see my daughter laugh in the swing with the wind ruffling her hair, I know what it means to feel blessed.

The health care portion of your story cannot, obviously, be separated; how did you decide how much of your book to dedicate to talking about the problems and challenges facing families and health care as a whole in this country?

DF: Yes, my daughter’s story became deeply entangled with larger issues about health care, insurance, and privacy that affect all of us. And in researching and writing Girl in Glass, I came to see that how we care for a child like my daughter is a reflection of our fundamental values as a society. How we treat our most vulnerable citizens is a measure of our basic humanity. These issues are so rich and fascinating and important that they could have filled a whole separate book. But Girl in Glass is, above all, my personal journey to making sense of my daughter’s place in the world, and that had to be the guiding principle of the structure of this book.

What will your next book be about?  

DF: When my daughter was born, I was working on a new novel about a female journalist stationed in post-invasion Iraq as the country descends into civil war–who then loses her own mother to suicide. After my daughter arrived, I was too traumatized to even contemplate writing another word. But in many ways, my daughter taught me how to face down my worst fears. And the characters still haunt me. So I think I’m finally getting ready to dive back into this project.

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By Any Other Name (A True Story)

Do you have one of those things that is long and you make noise by pressing the holes like this–?

Then as if in a movie, or a nightmare, my words slowed to half-speed drawl, and before my brain could stop my mouth from continuing: You mean a recorder?

YES A RECORDER! WHERE IS IT?

Did I say recorder? I meant a reporter! I have a reporter.

Mommy, where’s the recorder?!

I meant I have to re-order! I meant I need a porter!

WHERE IS IT?

I have a court order.

I’m going to look for it.

I call after her, I think I have some mortar! I’m getting shorter!

I know it’s here. JUST SHOW ME.

And here I am, searching for it myself, this instrument of torture, like a lamb to the…well, you know.

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