Don’t let the door hit you on the way out

I made it. February has all but passed; the longest shortest month of the year is about to become a memory again.

My detox plan didn’t quite live up to expectations. I even got sick right there at the end. My temper is still short, I’m still exhausted at the end of the day for no good reason, and I don’t feel any discernible difference in my overall well-being. Kind of a let down, really.

Not smoking is a huge accomplishment. I won’t downplay that. I suppose when I have kept it up for a whole year I will really pat myself on the back. After all, I quit when I was pregnant and eventually went back to it. I find it is always easier to do things for the boys than it is to do for myself. But I guess quitting a habit that could ultimately kill me is a win-win for everyone.

I did have my chakras balanced and learned some things I didn’t know about Reiki and energy healing. This was probably the highlight of my February, but I clearly need more work keeping the energy flowing in all the right places. I think I am going to have my house’s energy cleared too…hopefully that will benefit all of us, including those stinky rascal cats of mine.

My big takeaway, however, was that regardless of what anyone thinks or says: Seasonal Affective Disorder is REAL. Despite my efforts to get out ahead of it, to recognize it, to name it, to give myself all sorts of distractions and health-boosting tasks to do to avoid it or off-set it, it came anyway. Next year I am definitely getting a phototherapy lamp.

I think everyone has the winter blues a bit, especially the poor people of Boston (God bless them), but for those of us who dread this time of year because of the funk it puts us in, it is even worse. Throw in a couple of rambunctious boys who are cooped up in the house too much and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lot of yuck. Even though I tell myself I need a break from the boys’ sports in the winter, next year we are doing something. If only to burn off some of this energy on a weekly basis. Maybe I will finally be able to sign up for a boxing class and do the same.

There are 20 days until Spring. I’ve got fundraising and hair-dying and charity for the church to do. And lots of work. And baseball is starting. And the sun is out today. I am going to start taking pictures of #carastree in reverse. I see the light at the end of this winter tunnel of blech and I am going to start running toward it.

Tired of going it alone

I know my memory is faulty when it comes to my early childhood and adolescence. I do have some very specific memories, but in general it’s a blur. For instance, I don’t remember exactly at what age I was expected to do chores, but I do remember folding laundry, cleaning my room, emptying the silverware from the dishwasher, vacuuming, dusting, etc. I remember cutting up orange slices for my soccer games. I remember watching cartoons on Saturday mornings and holding my tape recorder up to the radio to record songs from the Top 40 countdown on Sundays.

I don’t remember being sassy to my parents the way the boys sass me. I don’t remember fighting with my siblings every. single. day. I don’t remember having my mom yelling every morning and every evening because shit wasn’t getting done.

I do remember having to be asked multiple times to come up for dinner because I was watching Little House on the Prairie and didn’t want to miss it. I do remember my dad blowing his stack once or twice because I wasn’t helping vacuum like I was supposed to. I do remember not keeping my room clean and huffing and puffing about not being allowed to do whatever I wanted, but I do NOT remember acting as insufferable as my children have been lately.

Selective memory? Possibly. Or maybe I just expect too much from my boys because they are so precocious that I forget they are still little boys in lots of ways.

All I know is that it’s weeks like this one that make me wish I had a partner and that they had a dad who was active in their lives. I need someone to tell me that I am not crazy for expecting them to act a certain way. Or someone to tell me that I AM crazy and that I need to just chill out because it’s fine and they are only 9 and who cares if they end up fighting with their brother every day or missing the bus every morning.

A month or so ago, we had an issue with behavior in church. That morning we had a problem just getting out the door and getting to church on time and then the boys couldn’t sit still and were fooling around, so when we left and they wanted to know if we could do something special, I said no. And I told them why. And then G said he wished that he had a dad.

Not because I wasn’t enough, he said, because I was. But because it would be nice if I could have a break from always having to do everything myself. Like I wouldn’t always have to be the one telling them to get ready or to knock it off, I wouldn’t be the only one working and taking care of the house and them and everything else. It would be nice, he said, if I had someone to share that all with.

See? The kid says something like that and I forget he’s only 9. And then I feel guilty that he is able to see just how worn down I am by having to deal with everything myself. I feel like I am failing them by not being able to pull it all off and make it look easy. I don’t want them to think it is a struggle. I don’t want them to think that they are a burden.

But the truth is, I would like someone to share it with. Someone to run interference. Someone to make me laugh more so I can stop taking every single moment so effing seriously. Someone who can be the disciplinarian some of the time. Someone who will love all three of us for our strengths and weaknesses.

Someone who remembers what it was like to be a 9-year-old boy who can give me some perspective on raising one (or two).

For as much as I pride myself on being strong and capable and independent, there are just times when I would like someone to lean on.

Full-disclosure Fundraising February

Full-disclosure February on this blog has turned into something more closely resembling fully-withdraw February. It happened kind of naturally and I’m not beating myself up for it, but I will make the observation that despite all my detoxing and positive thinking and lofty goals for spending this month improving my health and writing daily, I am just as tired and cold and inclined to hibernate as I am every single winter.

The good news is that I’m not necessarily depressed about it or feeling like the winter will never end. I even giggled with joy when I discovered that it was still light out at 5:30 when I left work the other night. This is progress.

Yes, my boys are pushing boundaries and climbing walls because of all the time we spend inside. Yes, I have many stories written in my head that I haven’t translated onto the screen. Yes, I think I will always feel like I should be doing more and possibly even different things than I am doing in parenting, in my career, and in my personal life. C’est la vie. At least, ma vie.

In other good news, I have thrown myself once again into fundraising for a cause that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve turned February into Fundraising February and I’m almost a third of the way to my goal. So, I figured that I could feed two birds from one hand and combine my full-disclosure and my fundraising on this frigid February morning.

If you knew me, you’d know I have twin boys who were born prematurely. Thankfully, they were born without much of an ado, other than me being terrified. They only had to stay one extra day in the hospital for jaundice and have only had moderate respiratory issues that we can trace back to their early birth.

If you knew me, you’d know that I now work for the March of Dimes, an organization that is committed to ending premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. Before I began my work with the March of Dimes, I didn’t realize how serious the problem of prematurity was, nor how many families it affected. I didn’t know how many babies die every year because they are born too soon or because of a serious birth defect. I didn’t realize that preterm birth was the leading cause of death for children under 5.

Now if you really knew me, you’d know that when I found out I was having twins my doctors told me that I would likely have them early no matter what (this turns out not to be true, lots of twin pregnancies go full term). You’d also know that I began having complications around week 20. I had spent the day not feeling well and feeling almost like I was getting my period; achy, crampy, and just generally sick. My doctor directed me to the hospital where it was determined I was experiencing pre-term labor. I received several shots of terbutaline to stop my contractions and was sent home to strict bed rest for a couple of weeks. No work, no nothing. Bed rest. At 20 weeks. Half-way to the finish line with babies that would not survive if they were born at that time. No one said that to me though. No one said, “hey look, bed rest sucks but if you go into labor again and we can’t stop it, which is a very real possibility, your babies will die.”

If you really knew me, you’d know I didn’t come home from that first hospital visit to my own apartment and my cats and the loving, supportive father of these babies who would do everything in his power to ensure that I was able to get us all safely to the finish line. You’d know that instead I went to my dear, loving and supportive friends’ house where they had taken me in a month before because intervention-style they and my cousin decided that I shouldn’t live alone. They basically felt that I couldn’t take care of myself properly, and since aforementioned loving, supportive father of the babies had up and moved out of our apartment and was neither loving, nor supportive at that time, I had very little choice but to agree.

If you really knew me, you’d know I spent those weeks on bed rest in my friends’ home, alternating between feeling extremely lucky and grateful and feeling completely miserable and terrified. You’d know that I blame myself for the complications that continued to plague me throughout my pregnancy. You’d know that I would continue to fight with the father of the babies stressing myself out to the point that my friends once again had to give me some tough love, essentially telling me to cut the shit because they had taken me in to make sure I was safe and healthy and birthed these babies, not so that they could watch me self-destruct and take the babies with me. You’d know that I thought I had it all under control, but in reality I had nothing under control. You’d know that I cried at least a little every day.

If you really knew me, you’d know I eventually got my shit together and realized everyone around me was right and I needed to distance myself from the emotional drama that continued to unfold with the babies’ father and focus on the boys and getting them to the finish line. With the help of my friends, I moved into the home that I would make for the boys. I was reunited with my kitty babies. I was able to work from home, as long as I didn’t overdo it. I finally felt like everything was going to be OK.

If you really knew me, you’d know that I never got to “nest”. I never got to set up our little home. You’d know that my little army of personal angels had to take care of all of that for me because when I drove myself to my perinatal appointment for my 3-D ultrasound–I didn’t come home until 3 months later. You’d know that my cervix was incompetent and that my body was ready to go into labor even though my babies were only 26 weeks and would have a low chance of survival. You’d know that I was admitted into the hospital that day and the father came to show his support and I once again believed everything would be OK. You’d know that when he left, he didn’t come back for eight weeks. You’d know that all the medications they were giving me to stop the labor weren’t working. You’d know at one point I was feeling so sick and I was trying to explain to the nurse that I felt like I was going to pass out, that I couldn’t fully sit up and I couldn’t lay down and I couldn’t catch my breath. I told her I felt like you do when you have swallowed too much water. It turned out the medication had given me pulmonary edema. But you’d know that I had to have an chest X-ray in the middle of the night because they were afraid that I may have an embolism. You’d know that I was terrified that the radiation would harm the babies. You’d know that the technician, who was probably the first person who was able to drive home the seriousness of what was happening, told me that the slight radiation would be better for the babies than me dying during childbirth because of an embolism.

If you really knew me, you’d know that after the first week of absolute mayhem, of trying all the different medications and giving the babies steroid shots so they would have a fighting chance if they were born; the doctors tried a calcium-channel blocker called Nifedipine to stop the contractions. It worked. For the next seven weeks, I waited. I prayed. I took my pills. I let myself be prodded and poked. I took joy in listening to the babies’ heartbeat each day. But I was incredibly lonely and scared. And I forgot all the seriousness of what had landed me in the hospital to begin with. I thought I was out of the woods. I wanted to go home. The doctors ignored me (and probably hated me for continuing to ask if I could just go home now). I had no idea how lucky I was that all the measures the doctors took got me safely into my 35th week of pregnancy. I had no idea what our lives would have been like if my babies had been born in that terrifying 26th week. I had no idea how close we had been to death or to life-long health issues.

If you know me, you’d know our story has a happy ending. If you really knew me, you’d know the survivors guilt I often feel. Especially at work where I have the honor and privilege to work on a support community that the March of Dimes provides for parent and families who have experienced the unthinkable; parents who have watched their babies’ struggle and fight for life in the NICU, who have had to leave their babies in the hospital every day not knowing if they would survive, who have had to hold their lifeless newborns in their arms.

Each year during the March for Babies walk, the boys and I talk about the story of their birth. I’ve told them how scary it was to think they were going to come too soon, but mostly I focus on how lucky we are. Someday they will be old enough to hear the rest of it, if I am brave enough to tell it. Someday maybe I will forgive myself and their father for the undue stress we put on my pregnancy. But every day I am grateful for my friends who were the ones who got me to the finish line, even when they had to drag me there and that is part of the story I tell. Every day I am grateful to the doctors who took zero chances with my sons’ lives. Every day I am grateful to the March of Dimes for the work they do to end prematurity.

If you are so inclined, we would be very grateful for your donation. It is tax-deductible and the research and programs that the March of Dimes funds with your money is nothing short of life-saving:

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And it is because of the tireless work of the March of Dimes that I experienced this moment:

holding my babies for the first time

holding my babies for the first time

Please consider making a donation: marchforbabies.org/caramclaughlin

Bed and books

Five days into my least favorite month and I am feeling OK. My “detox” is going about as well as can be expected. When one gives up sugar, carbs, alcohol, etc., there is a certain level of crankitude that I feel is acceptable. Especially when my darling children haven’t exactly been on their best behavior. In fact, it is almost as if they are pushing the boundaries more than usual. Or maybe I have just lost my capacity to deal with bullshit. Either way, it’s been a little rough here at home.

Full-disclosure: I haven’t written because I can’t bear to think about my life or my children or my challenges or string together a semi-coherent sentence for one minute longer after I tuck the little devils into bed. I turn things around in my head while I am driving or washing dishes and think about what I will write, but by the time I have them in bed the only thing I can do is crawl into bed and lose myself in a book.

I’ve been trying not to beat myself up about it and telling myself that I am not not writing because I can’t deliver on the brutally honest reality that I promised with “full-disclosure February”. No. It is just a measure of self-preservation. Even though it is true that I feel better when I write, sometimes (like this last week) I just need to turn off completely.

With that said, and my short, sweet (feeble) attempt at a post behind me, I am off to finish the book I am reading (Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel; it is excellent) and to finish the laundry. Tomorrow is another day.

Full-disclosure February

February has never been my favorite month.

I do love Groundhog Day. To me, it is the first sign of thinking about spring. Whether it is six weeks or eight weeks or whenever Mother Nature sees fit, no matter to me. A cute rodent is looking for its shadow and the world is wondering if it will be an early spring. Someday I will make the journey to Punxatawney and be a part of the spectacle.

Valentine’s Day? Hmmph. Whatever. I make an effort for the boys. We like to make cute Valentine projects. Love is wonderful. But the holiday is not really my scene.

Superbowl Sunday? Such fun. I love any big sporting event. Competition. Food. Clever advertising. What’s not to enjoy? Although I enjoyed it so much more when I lived on the West Coast and it didn’t start so late in the day.

I’ve got some friends and family with birthdays in February. That’s always something to celebrate. And Fat Tuesday usually happens in February and I can get behind a day of wanton excess.

I discovered I was pregnant in February. That was an interesting year.

It’s the shortest month, so its got that going for it. And once it is gone, Spring is so close you can practically taste it. But alas, if I had to choose one month out of the year to ditch…sorry, February, you’re it.

This year, I decided to combine lots of different elements to make February more engaging, more challenging, and ultimately more transformative (I hope) as we cruise into the Springtime of my 40th year. First, I decided I would undertake the Sober February Challenge.

It is exactly what it sounds like but you can follow the link and read it for yourselves. People do it for all sorts of reasons, but I figure it will be a good way to detox my body and save some money, too. I’ll need that extra money because I am also going to detoxify by changing my diet. I did a similar program last year (no sugar, lots of protein and veggies, moderate fat) and it worked great. I felt so much better and had more energy and I figure THAT is exactly what I need to feel great this February. The only catch is there’s a lot of cooking and meal planning and organic food shopping that needs to happen. But that’s OK, I won’t be spending any money on wine or on alcohol if I go out with my friends, so I can put it toward my meals.

No drinking should also help with quitting my worst vice: smoking. I’ve come so close, so many times. I get to the point where I am only having one cigarette a night or only when I am out having drinks with friends and I think, why the hell can’t I quit? What tethers me to these disgusting, smelly, nasty, cancer-causing sticks? These are rhetorical questions. I’ve tried everything. It’s just going to take sheer will power at this point, but this seems like the right time to do it.

February, since you already suck, I am just going to make this the most brutal 28 days of my life. It will be like boot camp. Only better. And I will come out of it a healthier and happier person.

So, with my no drinking, no smoking, new diet, I figured I would need another challenge to keep me focused on why I am doing all of this–because I want to live another 40 years (at least) to share many more adventures with my children and experience as much of this world as I can and to write about it as I go.

I looked for some good blog challenges to keep me on track like NaBloPoMo did, but I didn’t find any that struck a chord. So, I decided to make up my own: Full-disclosure February.

In looking back at my most popular posts, I noticed that the ones people responded to the most were those in which I was revealing the most about myself. Since September, I have been wanting to write a post inspired by a speaker that I listened to at a conference I attended through my work.

Kevin Bracy was a truly amazing speaker whose thoughts and words have stuck with me all these many months. The conference was for parents who are a part of a very special community Share Your Story, whom I have the privilege of working for and with. It is a support community for parents of premature children or children with birth defects or children who had to spend time in the NICU and for those parents who experienced the loss of their child. Kevin had his work cut out for him as he took on the role of keynote speaker and addressed what these parents were going through in “Finding a New Normal”.

One of the exercises he had us do was to go around our tables and tell a bit of our story using these words, “If you knew me, you’d know…” and THEN go around and say “If you REALLY knew me, you’d know…”. It was a tough, emotional exercise, but revealing. Not only revealing to the people at the table, but to ourselves, to reach into the place that sometimes not even our closest friends see, a place sometimes we don’t even go, and see what we pull out.

I kept toying with the idea of making it a blog post or series of posts. Something along the lines of, “If you knew me, you’d know I was a single mom of twins. If you REALLY knew me, you’d know that even though I’ll often say I thought I was too selfish to have babies and be a mother, my whole life I dreamed of having a big family. A loving husband. Lots of kids that loved one another and looked out for one another. A fairy tale. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and their whole crew. But me. And someone who loved me more than life itself. And a big brood of happy, healthy kids. However, I am stuck with the reality that while I am so ridiculously lucky to have healthy, mostly happy twin boys, I will probably never have that fairy tale. I would love to be married to a loving man and have another baby, but the reality is that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me. And sometimes I resent the hell out of that.”

Full-disclosure. All February long. I will detoxify my body and my mind and put all my energy into writing (and parenting) (and waiting for Spring).

I’d love for others to join in. If you decide to join, please send me a link! I also think this will only work if my lovely and amazing readers will comment and ask me questions or give me topics on which they’d like my raw and unadulterated answers. Give me something to write about!

No masks this February

No masks this February