Monday, January 31, 2011


So, finally. I might be getting it. After years of therapy & battling depression on and off, I feel like I might finally be getting a sense of how to take care of myself and be the person I need to be so that I'm not constantly struggling to maintain a grasp on happiness. The past two and a half years have been tumultuous, driven by major changes, major losses, major existential angst. When I look back over it all, I can kind of see why I've been a whirling dervish of anxiety and mood swings and weepiness. Even taking away the six months of hormonal manipulation via fertility drugs that we threw into the mix o' Crazy, its no surprise that I found myself once again dialing the numbers of potential therapists and standing in line at the pharmacy for another prescription of Zoloft.

Last Monday afternoon, I sat in my therapist's office & described our weekend. How Ethan was a whining, demanding, crying beast, and how I, in turn, cried the whole way home from Santa Cruz on Saturday afternoon, after a failed attempt of Fun! Family! Bonding! at Natural Bridges park and the fall/winter migration stop of thousands of monarch butterflies. Aside from the fact that it was too late in the season and instead of the vibrating throngs of butterfly wings perching in the trees, we saw only a few fluttering loners, Ethan complained of being tired, hungry, tired, bored, wanting a play date, hungry, wanting a play date, tired, and hungry from pretty much the moment we took the key out of the ignition in the parking lot to the time we pulled back into our driveway 3 hours later. All legitimate and age-appropriate complaints and demands, I know. But the consistency with which Ethan expresses his displeasure at all things, all the time, had finally frayed my nerves to the point of no return and behaving like a child myself (not proud of it, people; just being honest), I stomped off up the monarch trail, muttering, "fine. We'll go home. So much for fucking fun family bonding. Whatever." (I like a kicky alliteration when I'm being melodramatic), and proceeded to have a pint-sized nervous breakdown on the way home, where I cried to Husband that I feel like all I ever do is try to make the kid happy & its never enough & I'm tired of my life consisting of getting through one of his melt-downs just to wait for the next one.

And then Husband said something that kind of blew my mind & hammered out clearly for me the difference between us. "Well, when Ethan wasn't melting down, we had a nice time." To which I replied, "But he was melting down every. five. minutes!" Then Yoda Husband said, "Yes, but the five minutes in between each melt down were really nice, weren't they?"

Of course, just like my child, when I'm mid-melt down myself, I can't see the forest for the trees, so instead of considering Husband's point, I simply cried, "No, it was all miserable because I just kept anticipating the next fit of tears from him."

Husband was kind enough to let that sentiment lie where it fell and we were silent the rest of the way home. He was kind enough not to point out to me what I figured out as we drove the rest of the winding way home through the Santa Cruz mountains. My reaction to the situation was my own responsibility. My perspective. My expectations. I have joked in the past that I have a bit of a Clark Griswald complex--I build up all events in my mind to such an extent that no reality can live up to the fabulousness I conjure up in my mind; vacations, family visits, outings like this one--I have this vision in my mind of ideal family bonding and when the situation falls short, I feel personally affronted and let down. It's charming, really.

Or not.

Anyway, after I explained the whole situation to my therapist and we explored why I felt the need to respond like a 4 year old to my own 4 year old's tantrums (that is a whole can of worms you just do not want to hear about), she said to me, "You know what I might do if I were you? I might take some time & head back to Santa Cruz on my own. To reclaim that experience and create a more positive memory for yourself."

And the thing is--I had already done that. On Monday morning, after dropping Ethan off at preschool, camera bag perched on my passenger seat, I headed back up and over the Santa Cruz mountains, back to Natural Bridges. The whole way, a little part of me was chastising myself for the frivolousness of spending an entire morning meandering the cliff walk, taking pictures, watching pelicans and surfers when I could have been at home doing laundry, cleaning the litter box, doing the grocery shopping. But an even bigger part of me kept telling me it was okay to take that time for myself. That its okay to take a break from the housewife/mom routine every once in awhile and remember who I am. Or, at this point, re-discover who I am might be more fitting.

After a couple hours at the shore, I drove inland a bit to walk around the downtown area. I finally bought actual 35mm film for my mini-Diana camera & had lunch outside at a little cafe. And then I drove back to reality, feeling like a totally new person, at least for the time being.

From the Natural Bridges state park down to the lighthouse park:

Pictures from shops downtown:

Dear Urban Outfitters: I know I should be too old to be enchanted by your kitchy novelty items like orange elephant piggy banks and brightly colored baby buddhas, but I can't help myself. I promise not to wear your clothes and try to be a trendy hipster, but I am going to keep loving your amusing array of tchotchkes, okay?

I *may* have purchased one of these preshus blue owl piggy banks. And I *might* let Ethan look at it, but not touch it. Because sometimes Mama needs her own preshus blue owl piggy bank....


Becca said...

What a beautiful place! It sure looks theraputic.

I also build up events in my mind and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I also get frustrated when it is ruined by a whiny kid, but what can you do? We always joke that it's not fun unless someone goes home crying.

Amy said...

Love the bench picture! Great shot.

I always joke that you have to set the bar so low that there's no way they could possibly not meet the expectation.

Kids are hard. Four-and-a-half is hard, it's all about being contrary. It's their job to be annoying. And push your limits.

Glad you went back by yourself, I think it was the right thing to do. Laundry and litter boxes will always be there.

Hyacynth said...

I have worked on my expectations quite often since having kids too. And I've just recently learned that it's ok when thos expectations aren't met.
Taking time alone is a good therapy. :) Beautiful pictures. {Hugs}

Grandma Bear said...

As usual a great post.

When I used to feel that way about the kids not enjoying something I always think back to a car trip we took to Canada when I was 8. Although this turned out to be a high spot of childhood memory, I spent the whole time in the back of the car reading comic books and eating Necco wafers...ugh...gawd...

You look like you thoroughly enjoyed your own trip and that was a wonderful thing to do with a place as lovely as that but not so much to a four-year old. I remember a trip with dh and sister when I wanted to go to see an exhibition of early humans at the Museum of Natural History in NYC and the kids wanted to go too. My uncle wisely said "go alone first" and so I did, spending 2 magical hours there thinking about the evolution of the human species. The next day I took the kids (who were considerably older than Ethan is now... 10 minutes and they were done! I was so happy that I had taken "my" time and done what I wanted because then it was easier to see it from their perspective -- just a bunch of bones -- what did Lucy mean to them--??

Sarah said...

Beautiful pictures!

I agree with everyone who said we have to lower our expectations-- I am learning this slowly, too.

Chiconky said...

I really liked this post, and I'm so glad you went back on your own. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in "Family Fun" that I forget that I'm part of the family too.

Also, I'm now on a mission to find myself one of the owl banks. Adorable!

lonek8 said...

your pictures are great! I love those little elephants - but i kind of like them all in an array like that so I would have to buy like ten of them, lol.

Glad you took some time for yourself!