Dreaming Tree

10552368_10204353021647962_127558677699681406_nThis photo was only my fourth Instagram shot taken in March 2012

 

There is an enormous old tree in the lot next to our house. It’s full of big climbing branches and there is a rope someone nailed into the massive trunk so that you can get up. I haven’t tried it yet.

I remember the tree being a big selling feature when we were deciding on which house to buy six years ago. The house had plenty of other pluses on our list of pros and cons: a finished basement, an open kitchen and family room layout, nice big deck, corner soaking tub in the master bath. But the tree tipped it over the edge for us. Never will another home be built in the space next to where we’ve planted our roots.

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Six months after we moved in, October of 2008. The smell of autumn danced in the breezes and I was finally home again after a week of receiving antipsychotics via injections, then by mouth, then back to my regular meds for good. I was somehow able to release the bleeding ambition I had to be a breastfeeding mom. It hurt. We had seemingly made it through the hardest part – the learning curve of the first four weeks. And now, as quickly as my mania lurched into psychosis, my baby had converted to formula from my motherly nectar.

Why was I so hung up on being my first baby’s sole source of nutrition? Why couldn’t I see past all the outside pressure, push past my own sense of guilt over using formula? Why did I equate breastfeeding with being the ultimate mother? I don’t know.

What I do know is that after twenty-eight days of getting by on the amount of sleep reserved as a form of torture, I fell apart. That morning, on the twenty-ninth day of my newborn’s life, my husband handed our son to his mom, as I flitted around the house collecting my journals from nightstands and closet corners. I clutched them in my arms, along with all the cards friends and family had sent to congratulate us on becoming parents for the first time. I piled them up by the fireplace, making a shrine to my myself. A temple of my words and the love of others to remember me by.

I was terrified of being forgotten.

Lucky for me, a few days of a high dose of Lithium does wonders to balance out the chemicals out of whack in my head. I went from feeling like the sand was about to run out in my hypothetical life timer to realizing that I was still very much alive. I now had someone to take care of other than myself, and if it meant I needed to take medication for life, that’s what I would do and I wasn’t a bad mom because of it or because of having to change feeding methods.

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In the bathtub my first night home from the hospital, looking out the mini-blinds to the branches of the tree glowing in the moonlight, I reached a conclusion. Dave Matthews was playing on the mini CD-player and I remember singing The Dreaming Tree, my heart swelling with the energy of renewal. A deep longing to see my future life in recovery from my mental illness came alive within me.

I had officially been broken. A new mom is fragile to begin with. Throw in an episode of postpartum psychosis and the result is pure poison dissolving the paper thin skin. I thought maybe I had made a mistake. Maybe people like me weren’t meant to have kids. Being diagnosed with mental illness had ripped apart my confidence, my ability to see more than a day ahead at a time, and for awhile it was ruling my life. There were a few months when I rationalized it would be easier to end it all than to try to learn to swim through the waves of anxiety pummeling me day in and day out.

I was being pulled down by an anchor, drowning by waves of this emotion which everyone around me seemed to think I could just push out of my mind. Gulps of air were all I could manage and thankfully there were enough to sustain me. Because eventually, after bobbing in the waves for the roughest storm I had ever known in my 27 years, I was able to pull myself out of the water and onto dry land. With the wherewithal that the rains might very well come again.

We wanted children and so we took a leap of faith that I’d be able to handle motherhood.

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I remember sitting in that tub for almost two hours, scrubbing the film of hospital grime from my skin. I’d only showered once while I was in, as the first few days the psychosis held me tight in its grip, rendering me incapable of taking care of personal hygiene. As I lathered up my body, rinsed the soapy bubbles from my hair and let the rest of me soak, I kept thinking of the tree.

My brain had begun to process feelings and emotions and random images floating through my psyche at a normal rate, as compared to only six days before when the rapid fire of information flooding my mind crashed like an old computer’s hard drive. The meds were doing their job, and although I was lucid, my thoughts were still swirling a bit.

Thoughts of being chosen to go through this. Thoughts of feeling grateful for the trauma my family and I had endured. Thoughts of getting well and making memories with my son under our dreaming tree.

I just knew in my mind that I would find a way to use my story for good. I would give meaning to all the pain and heartache. I had to. I had a child now who’d be looking up to his mom. And I wanted to show him how to fly.

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This is Friday

Friday mornings we’re up by 7:30am at the latest. I’m downstairs in my fuzzy yellow bathrobe, attending to priority number one: coffee. I talk the kids into cereal or oatmeal because it’s faster and less messy, even though they’d prefer pancakes or waffles if I could let them choose.

Three minutes later I look over and they’re deep in conversation together so I listen in. He talks of his excitement over his friend coming over to play later in the afternoon, a playdate arranged by the mommies since the two boys seem inseparable at school lately. She ponders what color tights she’ll wear from the rainbow of colors Grandma got her at Target the other day. Friday mornings mean her brother and I get to watch her gracefully twirl and shake and jump while my heart bursts with pride and joy. I melt at seeing how much she loves to dance.

By the time 4:30pm rolls around, we’re anticipating Daddy’s arrival home. He’s the pizza master, and since I’ve been thawing the dough since noon, it’s ready to go and so are our appetites. The kids and their father eat the meat, so they cover their side with turkey pepperoni. Mine usual is mushrooms and yellow pepper slices, whatever veggies are left in the fridge by week’s end. While it cooks we talk about our days. I show off Instagrams from the morning’s dance class and any from the afternoon that I’ve taken. We’re thankful it’s Friday. We have the whole weekend ahead of us, together.

I convince the kids to pick up the toys and puzzles scattered around the family room while the pizza cools, fresh out of the oven. We make it a game with a timer to see who can beat the clock. He hands me a glass of red wine, cheers, and we sit down to our family dinner. Everyone oohs and ahhhs over Daddy’s pizza skills and I vow to never cook again, again. Why cook when your husband is perfectly capable?

The movie starts at 7 and by then we’re all ready for some serious cuddling time. We line up: big person, little person, big person, little person, and stretch the big red furry blanket out over all of us. Phones are left on the kitchen counter, ipads and laptops and turned off. I don’t know a time I am more complete than when I have my children in my arms, my husband squeezing my hand from the other end of the couch, and I stop and appreciate all that I have.

This is Friday night with a three and a five-year old.

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Sure, there are squabbles and timeouts and messes to be cleaned up after every meal and snack. I’m highlighting here, for posterity.

The last few weeks this has been our new tradition. Lucky for us, our kids have only just begun to be exposed to the incredible world of Disney. Our past few Fridays have included The Lorax, Tangled, Brave, Frozen, all but one on loan from our best friends. Not sure what it will be tonight, but one thing is for sure: I love how we do Fridays.

#TGIF and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Snow and Puddles

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I got home around 5:15 from This Is My Brave auditions on Saturday and immediately began to wrangle the kids away from the ipad they were playing on. We needed to get outside. My body was craving the Vitamin D. And although the sun was mostly behind the clouds, I still felt it.

The air was crisp and refreshing. The kids decided to go sans coats, but I had zipped up my winter coat as we left the house, knowing it wasn’t quite as warm as I’d like to go without a coat wrapped around me. The snow from Monday’s big storm had melted to almost nothing, yet there were still plenty of stubborn piles scattered about. But with temps in the upper 50’s, it would all be gone soon.

We called it a nature walk. I gave each of them a snack baggie and told them to “collect things from nature,” enjoying the obscurity of my instructions. Their faces lit up and they ran ahead of me on the asphalt path towards the little playground in our neighborhood.

Snow-puddles

“Mommy, I found a acorn!” my daughter announced, crouched down in the mulch.

“I got a rock!” cried my little man.

I let the breeze enter my lungs and took deep cleansing breaths as we walked. The younger one gleefully finished filling her baggie by tossing in chubby little handfuls of snow, despite my warning that it would only melt by the time we got home.

As we neared the end of the path’s loop which took us home, a mess of sloppy, wet, sloshy snow blocked our way. Instead of turning back the way we came, I decided to forge ahead. I tiptoed in my sneakers, while the kids had a ball stomping and splashing our way through.

On the other side I realized they had more fun than I did. And I decided their approach was definitely the way to go. In life and in snow and puddles.

Best Day of My Life

{Have you heard the song ‘Best Day of My Life’ by American Authors yet?}

I woke up this morning to the sound of my daughter stirring in the room next to ours. Peeking into her room, I saw her sitting up smiling brightly in her teeny toddler bed, still tangled up in the flannel sheets with her lovey beside her.

Her eyes met mine and I managed a sleepy grin and a “Good morning, Sweetie” as I walked over to turn off her fan.

She hopped out of bed and I opened my arms wide to hold her and start our morning off with a hug. Her legs wrapped around my middle, wrists gripped snug behind my neck, she declared the perfect start to our day:

“This is going to be the best day evah!”

Yes, my sweet girl. With that attitude, you’re right. It’s another day we have together.

I made chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast because that’s what’s on the menu for the best day ever, of course. As I flipped the last of the golden brown circles into the pan, I eavesdropped on the conversation between my two littles at the kitchen table. They were exchanging giggles over whether to feed their Transformers tangerine slices or bites of pancakes, and I couldn’t help but catch it on video.

They play together while I do dishes and between sudsing up the pan and rinsing it off I look up through the steam to notice the snow that has started to fall outside the window. In the back of my mind I’m hoping this is the last time we see the white stuff this winter, but as I dry off the pan I am reminded of my daughter’s declaration and with that I remember the art project I had been saving for an occasion just like today.

A few minutes later the kids are elbow-deep in tempera paint when my son looks up at me and says, “Mommy, sometimes my dreams look like this.”

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And I think, you know what bud? My dream looks like this, too. Except it’s not a dream. It’s real and it’s every day.

It’s the best day ever.