Any tips for new kindergarten moms?

Lucy has been at the same lovely and small Montessori school since she was 7 months old. Today marks the beginning of her last two weeks there, before starting public school kindergarten. She loves her school, and says she’s going to miss all her friends and teachers there when she goes to kindergarten.  At the same time, we’re all excited about her new school, and she says she’s really looking forward to it. Our plan is to provide lunch for her class on her last day, and then take her home early for a little special mom and daughter time that afternoon. Next week, there will be a few activities at the new school that will hopefully provide a bit of a transition for her, and she’s looking forward to those. It seemed like everything was going according to plan, but…

She’s always been “spirited” and highly emotional, though it has seemed that we were largely through the tantrum stage as she has matured and learned to control her emotions better. When the emotions she’s feeling are more positive, which they generally are, she’s the joyful, exuberant, extroverted type. Lately, though, she’s had quite a few spectacular meltdowns over nothing that she can’t seem to get a handle on. We’ve tried to get her to bed early the last few nights to try to make sure she’s not just acting out because she’s overtired.

Then, last night, she called out at 3am because she couldn’t find Ariel in her covers. Then she heard a noise, then she had to potty, then she was hot, etc etc until she FINALLY went back to sleep after 5. I never went back to sleep, incidentally. Poor girl really seemed to be trying, but just couldn’t get back to sleep. DH wondered this morning if perhaps this is anxiety about school (and maybe about the baby, though that is further off). Hmmm.

So, I’m wondering what all you experienced moms have found to be helpful as your kids transition to new schools, especially kindergarten. We’ve avoided talking about going to kindergarten in anything but positive terms for fear of manufacturing an issue that didn’t seem to be there. Now I’m wondering if we need to be asking her if she’s worried about it, etc. What SHOULD we be doing to get her ready for this next phase, dear MTers?

I know there are other kids starting kindergarten or other new schools, so feel free to post tips that are are either specific to Lucy’s situation or ones that are more general.


Sunday Night Blues

Cross-posted from Working Moms Break

I would get it every Sunday. It would start in the late afternoon, a sadness laced with dread, a weight pressing lightly on my chest. As the evening wore on, the feeling would get stronger, the weight on my chest heavier, until I tucked the kids in bed.

Only then could I fully contemplate the week ahead. I’d open my Google calendar, with its absurd overlapping red and purple boxes representing all the places I was expected at the same time.

If I’d been a Roman Catholic saint, I could have used the miracle of bilocation to appear in both 11 am meetings Tuesday, and Ruby’s 11 am dentist appointment. If I could have stopped time, it would have been possible to lead the workshop that was supposed to end at 5:30 and still manage to get back across the Bay Bridge to pick up two kids in two different places before childcare closed at 6 o’clock.

Alas, I was a mere mortal, which meant my week would be a series of mad sprints, one after another, without pause. I would eat standing up, answer email in the bathroom, and cut out everything that wasn’t necessary. And still I would be late. Still I would have to beg out of meetings, miss appointments, and disappoint people who counted on me.

Technically, I had chosen to live this way. But looking at my calendar, it didn’t feel like there was any choice involved in how I spent my days. There were so many to-dos that they were squeezing me out of my own life. The truth of this washed over me every Sunday evening.

The problem was more than busyness. There was no flow, that effortless state of being where the ego falls away and we truly enjoy the task we are engaged in, simply for the sake of doing it. Instead, I was racing through every task so I could move on to the next one. In my mind, I had already moved on to the next one.

My Sunday Night Blues ended abruptly that warm spring day when I had a nervous breakdown, quit my job, and completely changed my life.

Now Sunday nights are usually a mix of joy and relief. I’m tired from an active weekend with the kids, but I can also look forward to the coming week because I know I will have time alone to write, to talk to a friend, to look up a new recipe for dinner. No matter what else I have going on—freelance projects, housework, helping out at my kids’ schools—there is room for me. So far.

But this story is still unfolding. I’ve started working again. I’m determined not to fall into the trap of an unlived life, a life without flow, but the work I do is demanding and I’m ambitious. How do I keep from getting sucked in too far?

I’m not the only one who has sung the Sunday Night Blues. What is this phenomenon, do you think? Does it happen to you?

For more on “flow,” watch this talk by the author who wrote the book about it, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.


What would you call it?

Recently I did a radio interview about working moms and talked about why I stopped working. My closest friends said I downplayed my nervous breakdown, making it sound like a really bad day (instead of a really bad year).

It’s true that I played it down. I was embarrassed. It’s one thing to write about it, it’s another to talk about it, live. On the radio. With a million people listening. But I’ve realized that if I’m going to talk about what happened to me at all, I should be more specific. I should define what “nervous breakdown” meant in my case.

I’ll start with what it did not mean. I did not feel suicidal or psychotic. I did not get strung out on heroin, walk around downtown Berkeley yelling at garbage cans, or act outwardly crazy in any way. I simply stopped, the way a watch stops when the battery dies.

I couldn’t get my body to obey what my mind kept saying it should do. One Monday, I was giving a presentation to a potential new client. On Tuesday, I was at home on my couch weeping, incapacitated. I never went back to work. I never even cleaned out my files.

I didn’t plan to stop going to the job I’d had for the last six years. But when I thought about going to work, I felt I would vomit.

I spent the next few months in a profound despair, plagued by panic attacks, insomnia, and dread. I couldn’t stand noise—including the sound of the car radio on low, or my children splashing contentedly in the bath. I would randomly burst into violent shaking. I lost my appetite, and with it, an alarming amount of weight. My aunt flew out from New Jersey to help take care of the kids during the worst of it. My husband, I would like to state for the record, was as solid as a rock. He somehow kept working, took care of the kids, and took care of me until I could start to think again.

It was like waking from a cult. I wasn’t angry with anyone. I didn’t blame anyone. I just couldn’t believe I’d gone along with the whole thing, the whole terrible annihilating belief that you should give it all away—to your kids, to your job, to anyone who seemed to have a legitimate claim on your energy and your time. The whole idea that this was normal, even expected, behavior. It was horrifying to realize I’d let that happen.

This all started almost a year ago. The last 11 months have been about backing away from that edge, and making sense of what happened to me.

I don’t know exactly when I decided to call it a nervous breakdown. My doctor doesn’t like the term, which has no specific medical meaning. This is what Wikipedia says:

Although “nervous breakdown” does not necessarily have a rigorous or static definition, surveys of laypersons suggest that the term refers to a specific acute time-limited reactive disorder, involving symptoms such as anxiety or depression, usually precipitated by external stressors.

That sounds about right to me. I literally pushed myself to a point where my nervous system stopped working the way it’s supposed to. What else would you call it?

In the 1800s, it was common for women with insomnia, loss of appetite, and nervousness to be diagnosed with “female hysteria.” Treatment included bed rest, bland food, avoiding mentally taxing activities (like reading) and—this one is interesting—orgasms.

This term faded out in the 1900s and was replaced with more specific terms like “depression,” “conversion disorder,” and “anxiety attacks.”

In The Feminine Mystique, (1963) Betty Freidan described the “problem that has no name,” the profound unhappiness, depression, fatigue, and lack of meaning many women suffered while they were supposedly living the American Dream. Most women, she noted, suffered alone.

How can any woman see the whole truth within the bounds of her own life? How can she believe that voice inside herself, when it denies the conventional, accepted truths by which she has been living? And yet the women I have talked to, who are finally listening to that inner voice, seem in some incredible way to be groping through to a truth that has defied the experts.

That sounds about right, too.

Over the last year, as I’ve gotten more comfortable telling my story, many working moms have confided in me their own stories. Some of them had their own experience of giving and giving until they crashed into a mental and physical wall and had to stop working. Some haven’t crashed, but harbor a deep fear that they will; they know they’re dangerously close to their edge.

And some can’t even have this conversation because it would mean looking at things about their lives that they’re trying very hard not to see. They are suffering alone. I think I know how they feel. Because a year ago, I was one of them.

What’s your story?

Cross-posted from my blog:


The Anxious Parent

The arrival of a new baby in our extended blended family prompted some self examination about those early days as a  mom.

In August Liza, her dad, and her stepmother welcomed a beautiful baby girl to their family. I’m told she sleeps nearly all day long and posesses a calm happy demeanor. The few times I’ve seen her I’ve been awestruck by her flawless infant skin, big eyes, and adorable rose-bud of a mouth. I’m delighted for Liza and her family and love seeing my ex husband practice his patented “one –arm baby holding“ pose. But I can’t help but be struck by the difference between this baby and Liza during her infancy. Where her baby sister is calm and placid Liza came screaming into the world as a red faced ball of fury. Nothing seemed to pacify her – not slings or swings or toys or walks in the stroller. The only things that would calm her were sleeping on top of one of us, her pacifiers, or music (although even the she could be finicky – eschewing soothing ballads she seemed to prefer patter songs such as “Pick a Pocket or Two“ or “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight“ ). The hazy blur of her first year is punctuated by moments of utter exhausted desperation as I searched vainly for something to make her happy. I became convinced that the problem was not my fussy frantic baby – it was me. Why were other moms so good at this when I was so very very bad? This notion that resurfaced last weekend when I commented to my ex husband how lovely his sleeping baby daughter was and he jokingly replied “yeah, I guess we know where Liza’s fussiness came from huh?“. I know he was teasing but there exists a grain of truth in every jest and the truth here was clear – I was the anxious parent and I had given birth to the anxious child.

When I was pregnant I imagined myself taking to parenting like a duck to water. I’d lovingly sing my baby to sleep, we’d stroll the neighborhood where passersby would comment on how cute and good she was, I’d manage it all, going back to work handily and still finding time to come up with creative and educational ways to bond with my daughter.

Boy did reality dope slap me “upside the head’ (as we say in Maine).

My maternity leave passed in a blur of days when I could barely get myself showered, of crying hunched over my screaming child as I heard my ex husband’s car pull out of the driveway on his way to freedom each morning. “What do you WANT?“ I would wail , wondering what fates had given me this baby when clearly I was supposed to have the happy smiling babies in the pampers ads. Even bringing her on simple outings gave birth to fits of worry – how far could I drive before she started screaming? Days at home stretched endlessly – could I make it through a shower without her wailing? Would she sleep more than 30 minutes at a stretch? The days and nights blurred together and I remember especially sitting with her at midnight in the rocking chair of the nursery watching the lights of my neighbor’s houses go out one by one and feeling so utterly totally alone. I tried to return to my beloved jazzercise classes, taking advantage of the free babysitting, only to get called out of class after class to retrieve my furious baby. My return to work was full of calls from her daycare a block away “she’s still crying can you come get her/hold her/ rock her? “ Honestly looking back on that first year of Liza’s life I don’t know who cried more, me or her. We tried gas drops and different formulas, let her sleep in her vibrating bouncy seat and held her until I felt as though my arm would literally fall off. I reached out to a dear friend who had a baby just two months older thinking we could spend our time commiserating about the trials of new motherhood. What a shock to my system to discover not only had she morphed into an uber-mom but her daughter was nothing like mine. While her baby spent literal hours examining the wonder of her own hand, mine discarded every new discovery within minutes as if to say “is that all you got? Come ON I’m bored here!“ Instead of a comrade in arms all I found was the puzzled stare of a woman unfamiliar with the utter terror I felt at being a mom. My anxiety around Liza’s temperament grew stronger with each passing year . Surely a better parent would handle her better. Surely a better parent would be calm. Surely a better parent would not have slammed the wall over the changing table so hard in frustration that the photos on the other side of the wall came crashing down. Surely a better parent was anyone other than me. Other parents talked about bringing their children out to eat with them at any number of restaurants – I had a child who shook and hyperventilated if you brought her anywhere she “hadn’t been before,“ a child who at 5 ran screaming down the block outside a bagel shop because she was convinced the steam from the bagels meant the shop was on fire. I“d love to tell you that I handled her anxiety with aplomb, calmly guiding her through new experiences and soothing her fears. I didn’t. The worse her worries got the worse my anxiety about her worries got. Like the worst kind of relationship between addict and enabler we fed off of each other in a vicious cycle. I grew used to the tightening in my chest every time I had to navigate another experience that could lead to one of her meltdowns, and the resulting sigh of relief as we got through one unscathed. Years later Kelly would tell me that one friend even expressed her sympathy that Kelly had to ‘spend time with that child.“ That friend isn’t in our lives any more.

That horrible first year is now a decade in the past. Liza’s grown into a funny, talented, sarcastic young lady who shares my love of Sondheim, a passion for ice cream, and a budding fascination with HGTV. We share the same thighs, the same belly and the same walk. Together we’ve weathere d ten years of tears at the onset of new experiences — tears on the soccer field, tears at the rock climbing birthday party, tears at clowns at the circus, tears on countless school mornings , worries about fire drills and thunderstorms , tests and gym class. Ten years of crying behind my sunglasses on the way to work wondering what I’d done wrong, why all around me were parents with kids who moved easily from one thing to another, parents who didn’t live with a tension in their chest all day. Ten years of waking up praying that the morning would go smoothly. To Liza’s credit she’s worked hard, grown up, agreed to some outside help which has been a huge benefit, found her niche in acting and dance thanks to encouraging and nurturing teachers and directors, and come into a calmer more confident place in her life. Her dad and stepmom created a warm secure home for her, extended family has wrapped her in love and Kelly and my friends have hung in there with her time and time again with love and patience even when it’s been hard to understand. I’m often seized with a desire to clutch her fiercely to me as if to stop the relentless march of time . As Liza grows more mature and calmer she’s helping me do the same and we’ve found our way to a better place. But as I coo and exlaim over her adorable baby sister I’m seized with a longing to go back in time – to hold that angry squalling baby one more time and murmer in her ear that it would all be alright and that Liza and momma would get through it all and that most of all …there was nothing to worry about after all.


Toddler anxiety issues?!

The diary on childhood fears prompted me to write about this to see what the collective MT wisdom suggests. DD (2 3/4) pinches her neck.  A LOT.  It started when she was about 17 months during her recovery from a long hospitalization and continued for a few months as she settled in to a new classroom at school.  Then she stopped and didn’t really do it at all for about 6 months, so we figured that she was feeling more comfortable at school and that her illness trauma was behind her.  But in the past few weeks it has started back up again in earnest.  It’s worse when she’s tired or not feeling well, but lately she’s been doing it randomly in the middle of other activities.  Even when she seems happy playing with friends or snuggling with me, she’ll suddenly stare off into space and grab onto her neck under her chin and start pinching away. Asking her to stop doesn’t work and when I ask her why, she says, “because I HAVE to.”  Hmmm.  

She’s not bruising or scratching herself, so I’m not particularly worried that she’s hurting herself.  But I’m quite worried that she has some underlying anxiety issues or ocd or something that makes her feel compelled to pinch herself. She’s potty training, and we’ve tried to back WAY off in case we were putting too much pressure on her. But other than that, she’s seemingly happy and content.  She loves her friends and teachers at school.

Here’s the other thing–she’s not sleeping well during the day anymore. At least not consistently.  She is unable to fall asleep for her nap at school about 2-3 days a week, despite the teachers’ efforts to minimize distractions for her. On those days she often falls asleep on the way home and/or has a major meltdown in the evening, so I know she’s not just ready to give up her nap.  

Is she not sleeping and pinching her neck because she’s anxious about something, or is she pinching her neck because she’s tired?  I’m hoping some other MTers have some reassuring stories about weird self-soothing behaviors that their kids grew out of OR some advice about dealing with anxiety issues in toddlers. Or am I just being overly anxious about this?


Fear of Childbirth

I know different numbers have been bandied about in recent years but the latest government data shows that nearly 1 in 3 U.S. women had a C-section in 2005.

That compares to 1 in 5 women back in 1995:

The report also said that about 1.3 million women gave birth via Caesarean section in 2005 — a 38 percent increase over the 800,000 Caesarean sections performed in 1995.

The increase occurred as vaginal deliveries among women who gave birth in hospitals declined from about 3 million in 1995 to 2.9 million in 2005 — a decrease of 3 percent. The sharpest decline in vaginal deliveries in hospitals was among women who had previously given birth by Caesarean section.

I don’t question the medical need for C-sections, but I do wonder why the rates have climbed so significantly. Like the article stated, one reason is that women who previously give birth by C-section are in many cases compelled by their doctors to have another C-section during subsequent births.

Of course, there are those cases of women who are “too posh to push” and schedule a C-section– a la Christina Aguilera, who was afraid of tearing (aren’t we all?).

But medical experts are increasingly ackowledging that many women have a “clinically significant” fear of childbirth that leads them to schedule C-sections:

These women also mentioned that they felt less happy before the delivery and were afraid their child would die. Dr Ingela Wiklund, from the division of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, led the study. She said “Women suffering from significant childbirth fear indicate that they are less self-confident, unhappy, afraid that the child will be injured and don’t long for the child. This clearly emphasizes the need for pre- and post-natal support.”

Many of the comments on Jezebel were predictably judgmental, in the “Get over it!” vein. I personally don’t begrudge a woman’s right to deliver her baby whichever way she sees fit. I was pretty terrified of childbirth myself; it stemmed from watching my own mother give birth when I was an impressionable 15-year-old. Best. Birth control. EVER.

Luckily, my own vaginal birth went smoothly almost 15 years later, and I’m grateful for that.

But there was one comment that resonated with me:

“What about the “clinically significant fear” of being sliced open?! While you’re awake?! My clinically significant fear is of scalpels.”

What about you ladies? Did you fear childbirth? Did you have planned or unplanned C-sections? For those of you that have delivered both vaginally and via C-section, how did the experiences compare?