Twin Kindergarten Panic: I Feel Everything and Nothing

IMG_20180828_203653.jpgEveryone keeps asking me how I’m doing after sending the twins to kindergarten. The truth is that I don’t know. I’m in shock. As I am obviously a very wordy person, it shocks me that I’m in shock but can’t explain it. How do you feel, everyone wants to know. How do I FEEL? I feel everything and I feel nothing. I can’t explain it and I know I just need time to process. My husband tells me to write it out. As always, he is right. My brain usually feels clean and neat after I write.

I FEEL OVERJOYED TERRIFIED EXCITED GRIEVING CELEBRATORY MAUDLIN FROZEN CONFUSED RELIEVED GUILTY NERVOUS LIKE A BALLOON THAT MIGHT FLOAT AWAY BY ACCIDENT.

Oh, and did I mention terrified and nervous?

And thank you for asking.

I know I’m not reinventing the emotions wheel here, folks. But you have to admit that sending two children away at the same time doubles the feelings that other mothers have. Then we add in the worry about an older child who is switching schools but doesn’t adjust well to change. And don’t forget special needs and mental health stuff stirred into that pot of worry. Three children in a new strange place. It’s a lot. IT’S JUST A LOT OKAY?

When I taught kindergarten, there was one mother who needed an ambulance on the first day of school. She had so much trouble separating from her child that we had to call 911. I guess she thought she was having a heart attack. Was her heart panicking or was it breaking?

At the time, I was not yet a mother. I’ll be honest – I thought she was being ridiculous. I had no patience for crying parents whose tears were contagious to their children. In retrospect, however, I see things through a different lens.* Like my current self, she was an older mother, who had probably struggled to conceive this only child for many years. He was probably a miracle baby. Maybe even a “rainbow baby” born after the storms of miscarriage and loss. Like my current self, she probably had an anxiety disorder that crippled her. She was probably ashamed that she couldn’t control her feelings that day. Like my current self, her son had some special needs. Special needs that probably terrified her when they were in the hands of a stranger. And unlike my current self, she had the additional burden of being a single mother, whose husband had either died or left. I don’t remember, but I do remember that her son was all she had.

I want to deeply, sincerely, profoundly apologize to that mom. And to all the other parents that I didn’t understand. Yes, I was a professional that day. I technically didn’t say or do anything wrong that day we called the ambulance, but I want to apologize for my silent judgement. I know now that she wasn’t being dramatic and she didn’t want pity. She genuinely could not control her pain and worry. Her son has probably graduated college by now. I don’t even remember his name. I actually don’t even remember if he was my student, or belonged in the kindergarten class next door. It doesn’t matter. I was wrong to judge.

Last week, I had a panic attack at my children’s open house at their school.

And, yesterday, on the first day of school, I lingered thirty seconds too long and made Twin B start to cry.

I did both those things. Yes I did.

The first thing, the panic attack, was not under my control – or at least I’m trying to convince myself of that fact. The latter thing, staying too long, was an error and I should have known better. I have no patience for my mistakes here.

That panic attack at open house really hit me like a truck. It blindsided me. My anxiety has been semi-well-controlled lately, but I expected the first day of school would be hard for me. Harder for me than for the kids, anyway. But open house, the week before school starts? Why would I expect that to mess with my mental health? We were just there to hear a speech about school rules, meet their teacher, see their classroom and whatnot. Standard procedure, right? My subconscious didn’t think so.

The principal was speaking, and I had two children to the left of me, one child to the right, a mound of paperwork on my lap, and about two hundred dollars’ worth of school supplies under my feet. Suddenly I felt that familiar cold claw start to clamp down on my heart. My heart felt frozen and squeezed to the point that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My heart was working too hard and my lungs weren’t working enough. My children were nervous enough, and I desperately didn’t want them to notice my unwarranted panic. I want to protect them from the world – but sometimes I just have to protect them from my own brain. I dug my nails into my sweaty palms until the skin started to tear. I bit the insides of my cheeks until I tasted blood, to distract my eyes from the tears they were trying to spill. I tried to breathe slower and tried to remember all those things you’re supposed to remember but can’t. I couldn’t hear the principal. I could only hear my own blood and adrenaline pumping.

Then I jerked to attention, as the teachers lined up the students to take them to see their classrooms. The parents were to remain seated and continue listening to the principal. Twin sets of bright eyes, so different from each other, looked at me. “Momma, do we go now?” one of them said. Moms are the best actresses in the world. Yes, I said with a normal voice. “Will you still be here?” the other one said. Yes, I promise, I said with a calm voice that sounded alien to me because it didn’t match my brain, which was screaming. Their four eyes were nervous, but they turned and obediently but very slowly walked toward their new teacher and out the door, into their new world without me.

Instantly I was on the operating table, fading in and out of consciousness. One twin was already out of my womb, and I was experiencing being separated from that child for the first time, ever. The second twin was being pulled out and was not breathing. I was experiencing a panic for that child, like I had never felt before. A mother’s fear. A primal thing. I wasn’t in the school gym. I was in a cold operating room and my arms were tied down and I was more helpless than I’d ever been in my life.

I tried to remember what my therapist always said, “If you’re replaying your trauma like a movie in your head, just try to move ten rows back.” She wisely knows that you can’t stop it. You can only try to wait it out – but maybe with a little more space.

My oldest child was still sitting beside me. He would start third grade at this school next week. I had to stay here, stay present, stay quiet, for this sensitive and precious boy. He didn’t ask for this. He doesn’t deserve a mother like this. But guilt won’t help stop panic. I feel like my conscious brain was slapping the face of my subconscious brain. STOP IT. GET IT TOGETHER. THIS CHILD NEEDS YOU NOW. ALL YOUR CHILDREN ARE HEALTHY. YOU DON’T DESERVE TO GRIEVE SOMETHING THAT HAS A HAPPY ENDING. (I didn’t say my conscious brain is always right.)

I never did feel all the way better that day. The anxiety lessened but it didn’t leave. I faked my way through the rest of the open house and the rest of my day. I sobbed at night. I told myself that I would try again tomorrow.

Four days later, I am dropping my twins into their kindergarten classroom for their first day of school. This time, my husband is with me. My third-grader has already insisted on walking to his classroom alone. My husband is a deep well of calmness. He is contentment, not excitement. He is logic, not panic. Despite all that reasonableness, he is also the only person on earth who is feeling what I’m feeling right now. These are our babies. Babies that are a miracle of modern science. Babies that almost didn’t survive.

My husband is my rock. He is my bravery.

We watch the natural chaos in the classroom. There is one boy standing in the middle of the rug alone, sobbing, like a lost kid in a movie. The teachers bustle about, kind and sensitive, but also trying to get business done. We watch Twin A calmly walk to his cubby, hang his backpack up in an orderly fashion, put his nametag around his neck, walk evenly to his assigned desk. He never looks at us. We watch Twin B wander in circles around the room, eyes getting wet, looking lost, pleading with us telepathically. His wandering becomes faster and more ….lost. He has forgotten everything the teacher told him during open house. I already know we have overstayed. He stumbles over to me and actually asks me for a kiss. I kiss his soft cheek and breathe his baby smell that somehow never left and I want to scoop him up in my arms and run away. His teacher tries to pull him off me and says, “We’re fine” as he starts to cry. My conscious brain knows she is right.

I am in the operating room. He is my baby. He isn’t breathing. His tiny body responds when his father whispers in his ear. They intubate him and whisk him off to the NICU. I wake up a couple of days later, in the dark, arms tied down, intubated myself, unable to speak, and I don’t know if he is alive or not. Eventually I will meet him, but it will be three weeks before I can even change his diaper.

My husband gently pulls my hand. I try to snap back into this classroom, into this moment. I try to “move ten rows back”. I try to remind myself that my baby survived. He is strong and healthy! Look at him! I let go of my crying baby. I don’t cry this time. I realize that I’m glad I’m not the teacher. I remember that I’m alive. These feelings, whether good or bad, mean that I’m alive. I intertwine my clammy fingers with my husband’s warm fingers and we walk down the hall and out of the school.

No one calls an ambulance.

How do I feel? I really don’t know.

But thanks for asking.
******

 

*Please forgive any errors in my memory.

Where Have You Been? /My Anxiety Coming-Out Party

Readers, you might not care where I’ve been, but I do. This post is my coming-back-to-life party. Let me take a deep breath.

I used to post at least weekly, and it wasn’t for you. It was for my mental health. (Oh, and some future version of my kids.) I don’t think straight unless I write. And you poor souls have been the recipients. I haven’t posted much lately, and for the first time in years, I didn’t post anything at all for six months. That probably means I didn’t have a complete thought during that time, either.

So, where have I been? Let’s see. I had a triumvirate* of reasons that led to my writing/thinking demise:

  • My oldest son started school. For reasons I can’t explain publicly (see Sharing vs. Oversharing), this milestone rocked our world for quite a long time. It’s been a difficult time, but I’m proud of my kid, and, yeah, proud of myself for not giving up.
  • Twin Non-Napping Disorder. For real this time. Unlike last time I wrote about my twins’ napping strike (see Fireball of Change: Twins Breach Cribs), this time there was no going back. They were done. As soon as my oldest began school, no amount of mothering finesse, bribes, threats, tricks, separations, or whiskey (just kidding, duh) could put these toddlers to sleep during the day. Nap time was one of my only blogging times. I have always said that their nap was the only thing keeping me sane. Now I have proof. Wow, it feels so sucky to be right.
  • Twin Potty Training Disorder. I haven’t really “unpacked” this one yet. I’m still too close to this train wreck to be able to write about it. You’re welcome.
  • <deep breath> I have an anxiety disorder. There. I said it. I am completely open about my struggles with infertility, IVF, adoption, miscarriage, a transracial family, and multiples. I have years of practice with all those things. I have found that being open about my struggles has brought me peace (through writing therapy) and solace (through sharing with others and opening up communication). I am good at advocating for children who have been adopted and for women who are infertile. I will fight for them. But a mental health problem? That’s new to me. I had to sit on that a while. (Although my most dedicated readers probably read between the lines  – or just read the actual lines – and figured it out a while back. Also, sometimes I write drafts and forget to publish them and then my blog or my life is out of order.)

The kicker is that the very thing that helps me muddle through these three stressors IS writing. And yet the stressors have prevented me from writing. Ugh. What a vicious self-defeating circle. Enough is enough! I have to get back on the writing wagon. (What would a “writing wagon” look like? Maybe some alphabet stickers on a Radio Flyer? A horse-drawn cart carrying authors to a writing convention?)

What are the repercussions of “coming out” as an anxiety sufferer on a public and only semi-anonymous blog? For my future? For my children? I’m not sure. (Mr. Okayest still has veto power over my posts, so he can help me there.) What I am sure of is that keeping it hidden has not worked for me. I can’t seem to work through it without writing about it. Plus, it affects my mothering life greatly (badly?), and thus, writing about being an Okayest Mom without writing about being an Anxious Okayest Mom just seems hollow.

I have learned that my anxiety, and not necessarily my children, is the source of my stress.

That was big news in my addled brain.

One of the things that gave me courage to admit that I have an anxiety disorder was a religious article published recently. It was beautifully written, and it really touched me. Hit me. Smacked me. The article is from an LDS magazine, but I believe it would benefit any religious person struggling with a mental health issue – or anyone (religious or not) who is close to that person. The author writes, “I had thought my spirit was primarily under attack, not my brain.” [You can read more about this at the end of my post if you’d like.]

Anyway, I’m glad to be back. I missed you guys. Hopefully by being more open about my anxiety, I can write more – and write better. Along the way, maybe I’ll even help some other mother who has simultaneous experience with infertility, miscarriages, adoption, IVF, multiples, a transracial family, AND anxiety.

What? Oh, that’s just me, isn’t it?

***

*I initially had three reasons, therefore I used the word “triumvirate”. Then I added a fourth thing and I couldn’t think what the word for four things would be.

***

The longer quote:

“It is essential to understand that such a spiritual crisis is not a result of spiritual weakness or lack of faith. Rather, depressive feelings and the resulting depressed view of one’s spirituality are usually caused by a chemical imbalance. Because our physical bodies and our spirits are necessarily connected (see D&C 88:15), it can be common to feel the effects of a physical disorder in a spiritual way, especially in the case of depression, which alters our very perception of ourselves. Therefore, it is important to seek out the actual source of such feelings, especially when experiencing the often-distorting effects of depression…

I soon discovered that medication and cognitive therapy were effective at bringing relief. But the one thing I didn’t find in any of my research was mention of the spiritual repercussions of mental illness. This surprised me, since so many of the symptoms I’d experienced seemed spiritual in nature. I came to realize that while the medical texts rarely acknowledged the spiritual effects of depression, I had initially gone too far the other way—I had misconstrued my depressed feelings as spiritual unworthiness. Indeed, I had been so sure my feelings were manifestations of spiritual weakness that it had never occurred to me I might have a chemical imbalance…I hadn’t seen myself as depressed because I had thought my spirit was primarily under attack, not my brain.

In the light of such challenges, the message given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the October 2013 general conference offers perspective and hope:

‘I wish to speak to those who suffer from some form of mental illness or emotional disorder, whether those afflictions be slight or severe, of brief duration or persistent over a lifetime. … These afflictions are some of the realities of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging them than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.'”

from https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/02/depression?lang=eng

 

 

Kindergarten These Days. Sheesh.

Much has changed since I left teaching ten years ago. Now my oldest son is in kindergarten and I have switched teams.

No nap? Yeah, I knew that.

No snack? No, definitely didn’t know that. Not cool.

Online lunch money payments? Holy crap, is this “The Jetsons”?! The future rocks!

Fifteen minute recess? Not acceptable at all. The future can kiss my a$$.

Homework?! That’s hilarious.

No peanut butter sandwiches? Whoops.

Snow days? I want to stab myself with a fork.

This Kindergarten Teacher is Now a Kindergarten Mom – Who Wants to Apologize

wpid-wp-1441391990182.jpegAs I send my first child off to kindergarten, I want to apologize to the parents of my all kindergarten students. I taught for five years before I had children. Being a parent is NOT a prerequisite to teaching. Not ever. I was a darn good teacher without children. However, now that I am a kindergarten parent myself, I would like to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t truly understand everything. I sympathized, but I didn’t empathize.

I would like to go back and teach my childless teaching self a few things. Here we go.

It really hurts. It hurts because that child has been with me for 24 hours a day for five and half years… and now I have to let him go AWAY FROM ME FOR THE ENTIRE DAY?! My teacher self wasn’t patient enough with the sappy parents and the maudlin first days of school.

I still see that child as a baby. You, the teacher, will see him as an independent person, with habits and a personality and a learning style. To me, he is still the person whom I dress in jammies and snuggle when sick.

It’s really freaking scary. It’s scary for so many reasons. I have been there for every single injury, every single success, every single wrongdoing, and every single snub. Now what? All these things will still happen, but I WILL NEVER KNOW?

It’s really freaking scary because of the way time is bending all wrong since he was born. “The days are long but the years are short.” Becoming a mother five years ago has altered my sense of time. It feels like an eternity ago, and the blink of an eye. It’s confusing and gut-wrenching.

It’s really freaking scary because I don’t know you. No offense, but you.are.a.stranger. I never fully grasped that fact when I was a teacher. My son and I met you for like thirty seconds. He doesn’t trust people easily, and now his every need depends on you. His physical safety. His emotional health. His cognitive gains. His ability to wash his hands of those school germs… (Will you help him keep his hands off his face?)

It’s really freaking scary because you don’t know my child. You don’t know what to do when he has a meltdown, or all the ways he can’t express himself, or all the amazing things he knows and doesn’t know. You don’t know that he can’t open his string cheese at lunch, and you don’t know what scares him.

I completely understand – with my brain anyway – that you will know my child like the back of your hand within a week or two. I did, with all of my students. But, I understand – with my heart – that you will never know him like I do. You will never snuggle him in the black armchair. You will never have to force him to brush his teeth. You will never wash his beautiful skin in the bathtub. You will never watch his face of pure joy when he jumps in the ocean.

He’s mine.

If you love him a fraction as much as I do, then I love you, and that is what my mother self wants my old teacher self to know.

20 Things Kindergarten Teachers Want You to Know

1) Yes, the brand name scissors are better.
2) Yes, we really can tell everything we need to know in the five minutes we spend with your child at registration.
3) Yes, we really freaking love your kid.
4) It is a much more physically demanding job than any other grade. We get sweaty. We perform on stage. We clean up accidents.
5) We wear “teacher sacks” ( frumpy dresses) so we can move around easily and not get too sweaty on the boiling hot playground.
6) Calling in sick is harder than just going to work sick.
7) Getting lice is not a sin. Not taking care of lice properly IS a sin.
8) If we always wear our hair in a bun, there is a good chance a student has given us lice in the past.
9) If you have a girl: PONYTAILS, people! PONYTAILS!
10) No other profession seems to be as bad for your health as caring for small children.
11) I am not getting this sick all the time because I don’t wash my hands enough. What am I supposed to do when your kid sneezes on my head while I am trying his shoe? Wear a Michael Jackson mask?
12) For the love of all that is holy, VELCRO! Velcro, people, okay?!
13) For the love of all that is holy, ELASTIC WAIST PANTS! Elastic, people!!!
14) We don’t eat lunch for the first two weeks of school when we are painstakingly training small people how to get a tray, push it along the line, choose their food, find a seat, open their food, and eat their food. We shove a granola bar in our mouth and get back to work.
15) All of us have fed kids from our own pockets. Some of us might have even clothed a child or two.
16) Many of us have been threatened.
17) We are supposed to buy insurance. Teacher insurance. Against lawsuits!
18) It’s harder for us to choose our own baby’s name.
19) We only believe half of what we hear about you, and we hope you only believe half of what you hear about us.
20) Name brand Crayola crayons. Always.

MLK and Me … and You

all three at sinkConfession: I’m not sure I ever cared enough about Martin Luther King Day in the past. Now that I have a black son and two white sons, I care. I care a lot.

I’m writing this post today to ask that you will care perhaps a little more than you already do. I’m writing this post to ask that you take a couple minutes to show your kids a picture of Dr. King’s face. Play a few minutes of his audio. Tell them why you care. Nothing fancy. If you have older kids, ask them what they know. Just take two minutes and say something.

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my minivan while my husband is in the hardware store and my children of two colors are in the back begging for more goldfish crackers. I’m writing on my phone and stopping every sentence to settle a fight or apologize for forgetting the juice box.

My oldest (black) son asked why daddy was home today. As we do every year, we explained about who Martin Luther King, Jr. was – and why we care. I am well-versed in how hard it is to explain that to a five-year-old, since I taught Kindergarten. It was one of our state-mandated standards of learning.

It sucks to look at those little innocent faces and explain that people used to hate each other because of the color of their skin. Especially here in the south. I know it sucks to say it out loud. But, if you are a parent, I am asking you to do just that today.

r cuddlesAs a parent of a black son, I am going to have to take this discussion a step farther than I did as a teacher. This year he asked why Dr. King died. I had to explain that some people hated. Next year, I might have to explain that some people still hate. The year after that, I might have to explain that some people don’t think that they hate, but their heart does. I’m going to have to talk about these things, and it sucks. It sucks to say these things to his beautiful brown face.

People who were beaten in Selma, Alabama for trying to register to vote are still alive today. People whose schools were shut down for months rather than desegregate are still alive in our very own community. Furthermore, the people who prevented blacks from voting (even though it was their lawful right to vote then) are still alive today. The people who beat them and even killed them for trying are still alive*. The people who prevented blacks from entering the schools (even though segregation was illegal by then), and who made the decisions to shut down the white schools rather than allow blacks inside, are still alive.

This despicable history is not that far removed from us. Don’t leave it only to the teachers to explain this. Don’t leave it only to the adoptive moms to explain it. Teach your children.

Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day… the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” That’s what we do every night in my house. At my table. With my own sons.

***

* In 1965, a state trooper named James Fowler shot and killed an unarmed (peaceful) protester named Jimmie Lee Jackson. He had run into a cafe to hide and protect his mother and grandfather. He was beaten and shot at close range. Fowler was charged in 2007 of first-degree murder. He pleaded guilty in 2010, 45 years after the murder.

Jimmie Lee Jackson’s story is told as part of the movie Selma, which was just released this month.

***

Not sure what to say to your kids? Let LeVar Burton start the discussion for you: click here to watch him read a story about Dr. King on Reading Rainbow.

Benign Neglect: A Case Against Preschool

okayestmom strikes again

Since I am both a mom and a former kindergarten teacher, parents are always asking me what they need to do to “get their child ready for kindergarten”. I always say, “The fact that you are asking means they are ready. But if you really want to know, the secret is (drum roll please) Play-doh, crayons, and scissors. That’s all it takes.”

I am so tired of the competition and pushing kids too early. Kindergarten teachers have a real beef with preschool. We have certain state standards that we have to teach, which do include basic things like letters, numbers, and counting. Preschool teaches a lot of that same stuff too. Sometimes children are pushed to learn things too early, and it isn’t always developmentally appropriate. Preschoolers and even kindergartners should still be learning in a very hands-on way.

The dirty little secret? Kids even out. Parents may think that their kid is getting a head start, but children who go to preschool and children who don’t end up scoring the same by third grade.  What I’m saying is: it doesn’t make them smarter.

Memorization isn’t the same as learning. Pushing kids too early isn’t teaching.

I didn’t quit a successful teaching career to send my child to another teacher. The only reason I might consider sending him to preschool is because I can’t give him the time and attention that I could have if we hadn’t had twins right after him. If I did send him to preschool, I would want it to be something that I couldn’t offer him at home. (I have one word: Montessori.)

There are many different, and worthwhile, reasons that stay-at-home moms might  send their children to preschool. I am not ever going to say (or even think!) what is right or wrong for someone else’s family. However, if you are sending your kid to preschool because you feel pressured by other moms or because you have a tiny competitive thing going on, you might want to back up and slow down.

The most imaginative students I had during my years as a Kindergarten teacher always seemed to be the ones who had the most free time. My friend Chrysta said she provides three things to her kids: classic toys, free time, and “benign neglect”. That is the best thing I ever heard. That’s what I’m doing. I didn’t know it had a name. Benign neglect. It’s the opposite of overscheduling and helicopter parenting. Benign neglect.

Despite graduating cum laude with a B.S. in Psychology and Early Childhood Education, my personal parenting and teaching philosophy comes from church. The wife of the former president of my LDS church, Sister Marjorie Hinckley, said, “Give them time to explore and learn about the feel of grass, and the wiggliness of worms.”

My gift to my preschooler is not rushing him. That is the best I can do in this crazy Okayest Mom household. When he was given to me, I promised myself never to interrupt his play if I could help it. I promised myself that he would learn the feel of grass and the wiggliness of worms. I quit teaching so I can give him this gift.

***

Insprired by an article I read that summed up how I feel:

http://magicalchildhood.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/what-should-a-4-year-old-know/