The Happy Kind of Boring

We’ve been in that pleasant, uneventful in the large sense, busy in the small sense state for the last few weeks.  I find that I tend to sort of overlook these time periods in life because nothing major is happening, but in a lot of ways, they’re really the ones that make up the bulk and reality of life.  As someone who tends towards impatience, I’ve tried to challenge myself to slow down a little and savor the moments that do come.

  • Since we moved, because of various issues, it’s been a bit of a challenge to develop community. At this point, we’ve bought a house and plan to stay for a while, so I’ve been looking for some opportunities to find and hang out with people.  This, as you might imagine, is not the easiest thing – for a world that is hyper-connected by the internet, it’s surprisingly hard to meet people in real life.  Especially since we’re also searching for a new church community.  So I took a cue from Loribeth at The Road Less Travelled and checked into the local library offerings.  Happily, they have an adult book club that meets near my house on a weeknight that I can attend!  First meeting is next week and we’re reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
  • We’ve been watching “Big Dreams, Small Spaces”, a British show about gardening/landscaping. It’s pretty soothing and I like the fact that people are realistic about the labor and financial costs of putting in a dream garden.  Budgets range from “almost nothing” to “over $25K in US dollars”.  What’s most fascinating are the things people find when they start digging – usually some form of concrete or stone, but in the most extreme instance, a live, unexploded WWII hand grenade (the bomb squad and then military ordnance disposal had to be called).
  • Having watched too much gardening, we decided, in a rash of wild overconfidence, to dig in a couple of mulched beds around our patio area where the grass looked horrible and patchy. It’s mostly shady, so the lovely garden/wildflower meadow/herb garden I had in mind was quickly shot down by my (botany minor) mother.  Instead, we’ve got a couple of mulched beds with coral bells and hostas (also known as plantain lilies).  It’s not real gardening but I’m happy to report that so far, the plants are alive and thriving and the area looks much better.  In true “Big Dreams, Small Spaces” fashion, we found seven large pavers buried in the area, along with a bunch of gross plastic.  Probably explains why the grass refused to grow there…
  • Nice as the back now looks, the front needs work. We have two bushes next to the house that we neglected to prune properly and have metastasized into oversized disasters.  There’s probably no saving them, unfortunately, we’ll probably have to go ahead and take them out.  This gives us through the fall and winter to plan (and save) to replant the bed in the spring.
  • As final item in the plant department, I am also happy to report that I bought two hanging baskets for the porch a few weeks ago and both are still alive (no one is more surprised than me). They look lovely and give me a little pop of happiness every time I see them.
  • Currently doing swim lessons with the kids, thankfully in an indoor pool. We are not having a warm summer so far – last week we had a day in the 50s-low 60s.  It’s also rained a ton.  I am so ready for nice weather!
  • I really can’t believe it, but we’re starting to talk about kindergarten and working on settling a pre-K plan with daycare. E won’t go this fall but the plan is for fall of 2020.  It’s a little wild, mostly because I still have a tendency to think of her as 2lb 8oz (1190 g) baby, but in reality, she’s actually a pretty typical 4-year-old with lots of opinions who loves “Frozen” and “Moana”.  She’s progressing in literal leaps and bounds with riding her balance bike, climbing on stuff, and doing somersaults off the couch.  I’m often torn between pointing out that we don’t do somersaults off the couch and wanting to cheer because it’s obvious how far her stamina, balance, and strength have come.  M loves climbing as well.
  • Saline infusion sonogram at the RE’s office on Monday.
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Coffee-Mug Philosophy

In my offline life, I’m in the process of some new stuff at my job that changes my workflow and sort of upends my established routines there.  It’s fine, positive even, and it’s something expected/planned but it’s amazing how much energy goes into change and re-configuring my habits.

The other day, these words fell out of my mouth: “It will be fine!  All this upheaval and hard stuff is going to make us stronger, right?”

Ironic, because I really hate that particular cliché.

~*~

I heard it quite a bit throughout the infertility journey: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  I heard it when Arthur went through job losses.  I heard it in NICU.  I’m grateful no one said it too me after my brother died because suicide pretty much flies in the face of that kind of gritty positivity.  But that statement has hovered in the background of most of the big, tough moments of my life.

I think – as with most “sound bite” or “meme-ready” sorts of statements – the reality is much more complex.  I also think sometimes it’s employed as a quick conversation ender or a way to escape big feelings.

There are hard experiences that I feel have made me stronger, mostly those that are designed to break down before building up.  Nursing school sucked.  It was terribly long hours often (getting up at 4:15 am to drive two hours to a clinical site, being there for 8-10 hours, then going home), the studying was a full-time job, and I have never forgotten my first semester lab where everyone cried at least once except for the two students who had been in the military.  It was also truly worth it and the toughness was incredibly important when I got into real world and took my first assignment on a general medical-surgical/telemetry floor.

Some of the job losses for Arthur fall into this category as well.  It was sort of a surprise to me that after Arthur’s first job loss, the sky didn’t fall and we figured things out.  We were really privileged in many ways, but the experience helped me better hone savings plans and recognize that while it was 100% not optimal, it was survivable.

But as far as some of the infertility experiences go?  Being told there was no heartbeat?  Sitting in a hospital bed being told that I was ruptured and going to lose our very wanted baby?  Waiting in NICU for test results to come back to see if E had NEC?  Losing my brother?  No.

That sh*t broke me to the very core.

I mean, there’s a way in which all these experiences have given me a lot of perspective.  Going through all that reminds me on the days where all the little ridiculous stuff is piling up and it’s frustrating that I’ve survived so much worse.  That I will make it through that day.  I’m much better now at differentiating my small life stuff from what constitutes my bigger life stuff and reacting accordingly.  It’s also made me more able to take some forms of tension or frustration in stride, because, well, I can manage.  In that sense, the adage is correct.  Perspective is valuable in life, absolutely.

What the saying doesn’t reflect, however, is that there are some really ugly broken, jagged edges that are still in the process of being smoothed.  It doesn’t reflect the big ways in which these events changed the course, not always for the better.

I started out in elder care as a nursing assistant when I was 19 years old.  I loved it.  I always envisioned myself as a hospice nurse eventually.  I did some clinical time with hospice and felt confirmed in that calling.  Even when I started in the “real world”, I took assignments that would give me experience.

Then infertility hit and I was just so sad.  Conflicted.  Too many emotions running rampant to step back and be in a high-emotion field like hospice.  I put the dream on hold, mentally, and moved forward with a different path hoping to eventually move back that direction.  Then all the losses happened, NICU happened, and my brother died.

Now, I work in an area where I come in contact with the “hard stuff”, but in far more limited doses than a field like hospice.  It’s a good balance, I’m good at it, and I’m happy.

But I still mourn, a bit, that I had to admit that infertility, miscarriage, prematurity, and suicide loss limited me.  Maybe someday, but it will be years and a lot of therapy if hospice is ever back in my path.  I won’t do it unless I know my stuff is fully handled and integrated.

Empathy is another sort of mixed bag in life after everything.  On the one hand, I know these experiences have made me more empathetic in many ways.  I definitely can identify with people’s struggles and have a better ability to be present in those moments.

But it’s also made it far easier – especially when I’m tired, stressed, overwhelmed, or overstimulated – to fall into a pain Olympics sort of mentality or get really jealous.  I don’t think this is true for everyone by any means, but it’s definitely an issue for me.  I’m ashamed to admit that even while I was very happy for my BIL and SIL when they got pregnant, I was positively green with envy that they had gotten pregnant with twins on their first fertility treatment.  It threw me back mentally into every f*cking failed cycle and miscarrying twins on that first hopeful IVF.  I was happy for them but absolutely overwhelmed also at how sad and angry I was for my own losses.  This resolved with time and things are fine in that set of relationships at this point, but it’s not a great quality and one I’m on close guard against.

All the grief has also exposed the fault lines in some relationships and the Awful Things People Say.  After my brother died, it’s been a revelation how much stigma suicide really carries and also how uncomfortable some people are with grief and strong emotions.  Those secondary losses were really unexpected and the reshuffling of boundaries has been painful.

The fall-out also shows up with everything related to pregnancy or conception.  I’m afraid to embrace the idea of this final embryo transfer – even when I know, no matter how things fall out, I will be okay – because the whole thing activates all the panic responses and pushes me back to thinking on all the other memories.  When I was pregnant with M, my OB wound up allowing me to have appointments weekly through the first trimester, until both the risk of pregnancy loss had gone down and I could pick up the heartbeat on my home fetal doppler.  I was having panic attacks I couldn’t get under control, despite knowing I would manage no matter what the outcome.  It was awful and I’m really grateful that my OB was so kind.

And perhaps that’s one other little silver lining to the tough stuff: I’ve had the opportunity to see people step up to the plate as well.  People who have gone above and beyond and helped so much.  It gives me faith in humanity, in the idea that there is goodness out there.  It helps me better identify where I can be that goodness for others.

All this to say: it’s a mixed bag.  What doesn’t kill me has made me stronger and weaker…and panic attacks…and exposed my limitations along with my less than awesome qualities…and brought out some of my good ones.  But I guess that doesn’t fit as nicely on a coffee mug.

Adulting – Cold Weather Edition

Living in the Midwest, it’s cold.  According to the local meteorologists, we’ve broken the 50-year record for cold and have to go all the way back to 1918 to find a colder low temperature.  Wednesday the low was -13 Fahrenheit with wind chills much lower.  Needless to say, we’ve been indoors the last several days.

Tuesday night, we went through the house, making sure faucets were dripping and preparing.  When we got up Wednesday morning, all was well.  Arthur’s work day was reduced due to the extreme weather, so he didn’t leave until late morning.  It was pleasant to have a relaxed start to the day and the furnace was pumping out heat, so despite the cold, we were cozy.

I put the girls down for a nap around one and did my workout.  Around 2:20, I headed up to shower, turned it on, and…no hot water.

What?!

I cranked the lever over to the hottest setting and the water stopped.

Uh-oh.

The house is laid out such that the second full bath is on the opposite side of the wall from the master bath, where I was, and uses the same pipes.  I sprinted to the second bathroom, turned on the water in the tub/shower, and waited.  No hot water.

I quickly checked the sinks in both bathrooms, which did have hot water.  My stomach sank.  The pipes to the showers weren’t on the outside wall of the house, but they were close to it.  I knew that all wasn’t lost yet because water was still coming through, but probably didn’t have long before the pipes completely froze.

I called my parents, who I knew were home and had dealt with a wide variety of house issues.  “Furnace up, run the water as far to hot as you can while getting a flow, and warm up the pipes wherever you can find a spot.”  We normally keep our house at around 69 degrees (Fahrenheit) and just put on another sweater, but in this case, I cranked the furnace to 76 and prayed it would hold.  I kept the water running, which precipitated another issue: the tub drain in one of the bathrooms had long been running slowly and now was blocked.  I spent the next half hour bailing so I could keep the water going to keep the pipe unfreezing and wondering where Arthur was, as he was due home.

A few minutes later, I found out: at the auto supply store.  The car battery had died in the cold to the point where it would no longer even jump.  Fortunately, Arthur happens to work across the street from the auto supply store and getting a new battery was easy.  About thirty minutes later, he was home.

We spent the next several hours unblocking the drain (hurrah for baking soda, vinegar, and hot water), bailing the tub, and cleaning up the mess.

Honestly, we were fortunate.  It’s sheer luck that I caught the freezing pipe in time to get it thawed before it got to the point of bursting (and we’ll be watching for the next several weeks to make sure there are no small cracks/leaks).  It’s also lucky that Arthur was able to get a new battery so easily.

But hey, so far, so good 😊.

Budgeting Life

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This weekend, I picked up Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s extraordinary memoir When Breath Becomes Air.  I had bought it on a fire sale as an e-book before Christmas (thanks to this Stirrup Queens post) and when my lunch break rolled around, I thought I’d start on it.

Reading it at two in the morning, just down the hall from the ORs, wearing periwinkle blue surgical scrubs, a vital sign monitor on my desk that I needed to put away after my break made the story more real, and I was pulled in almost immediately.  It was not at all hard to imagine Dr. Paul Kalanithi as a physician, as a neurosurgeon, walking in and issuing his postop orders, doing the usual things surgeons do.

But of course, that is not the whole of the story, nor its most brilliant, poignant part: Paul Kalanithi was an undeniable genius, yes, clearly a gifted physician, yes, but he was also a patient.  The two personas, brought together in one who could clearly articulate the connections, tensions, and even find humor between them are what make this one of the most exceptional books I’ve read in a long time.

Kalanithi’s book was published posthumously and while it is absolutely about dying, it’s about more than that.  It’s about living within limits – unusually cruel tight ones in Kalanithi’s case – but limits are a fairly universal human experience.  I think what I found particularly instructive and lovely about When Breath Becomes Air is its acceptance of human limitation.  Kalanithi accepts that his cancer is terminal and seeks to live within that diagnosis – there’s no talk of “fighting” or being the exception or beating cancer.  Instead, he thoughtfully decides to live fully whatever time he has left.

It’s rare in this day and age where a relentlessly ‘positive’ mindset is stressed and the acknowledgement of the chance that an outcome might be anything less than miraculous restoration of health or a return to previous life is often met with “oh, don’t say that!” to see a treatise like this one.  Even outside of life and death situations, there’s a cultural notion about being able to accomplish anything with enough effort/investment – one with which I know much of the infertility community is intimately familiar.  I think the way this book challenges that is a central part of the appeal, or at least, it certainly was for me.  Kalanithi’s resolution to move forward by grieving his losses, knowing his death will come untimely early, and doing his best to both find and continue in what he valued until that death reads as far more positive than an empty promise to seek a ‘cure’ at any cost.

Personally, when confronted with limitations that truly grieved me, I’ve tended towards anger.  Maybe it’s because sadness and grief seem passive and anger gives the illusion that there’s something I can do, something that with enough force might change the distressing situation (even when I know better).  Kalanithi suggests a very different path.  He interrogates himself to find the values he wishes to cling to within the whirlwind.  And then he does it.  It’s not a denial of emotions or grief or putting a good spin on a tough situation, it’s a measured choosing of response.  “It felt like someone had taken away my credit card and I was having to learn how to budget” he writes.

There’s so much more to consider in the book – and hopefully write about – but that felt particularly resonant.  The next time I must budget my life, I know I’ll return to Kalanithi’s thoughts on doing so.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want to read more, head over to Stirrup Queens.  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

Reading: “Crazy Rich Asians”

I finally got to the top of the hold list at the library for Crazy Rich Asians.  With all the hype from the movie coming out this summer and the gorgeous trailers and movie posters, I knew I definitely wanted to read the book.

It’s a comedy of romance, manners, and people from somewhat mismatched backgrounds coming together.  There are the obligatory parties, snubbings, and displays of wealth and power with the tension set up by the expectations of society and family.  I found a good bit of it fun and the gorgeous clothes and settings a lovely change from my own currently dreary, grey, wintery surroundings.

That being said, I have to confess that I…didn’t really like the romantic interest/hero, Nicholas Young.  I’m not really spoiling anything to say that the plot pivots on the fact that Nick is handsome, incredibly rich, but has made a life for himself in New York where he has distanced himself from his family wealth and glamour to present himself as a regular college professor.  I mean, he’s handsome (cool) and down to earth (also good), but he’s been in a relationship with his girlfriend for two years and still has not revealed his full identity.

In the Jane Austen novels I’ve read (or heck, even in similarly wealthy/escapist shows like Downton Abbey), one of the qualities I appreciate is that generally, everyone knows The Rules.  Society is fairly rigid and people know when they’re social climbing, the rules surrounding manners and expectations, and how social interactions work.  I mean, Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility) knows that Edward Ferrars is out of her social range.  Charlotte Lucas (Pride and Prejudice) makes a very calculating decision surrounding the realities for women to marry the awful Mr. Collins.  There are definitely many surprises and tensions deriving from social mores, but while the players may not be evenly matched, everyone is governed by rules that are widely understood.

That’s where Crazy Rich Asians departs from Austen and company, because one of the major plot movers is the fact that Nicholas Young asks Rachel (and let me stress this again, after two years of romance) to go on a ten-week vacation to Singapore for the wedding of Nick’s good friend without telling her much of anything about his family or wealth.  In other words, a major time commitment for Rachel that implies the possibility of an even greater romantic attachment, with a huge piece of information withheld.

Basically, Nick sets the woman he purports to love up for some really severe cruelty at the hands of his some of his family and friends when Rachel inadvertently trips over all the social mores, norms, and gives various impressions that Nick’s family (predictably) interpret uncharitably.  While some of this may have been unavoidable, not giving Rachel at least some basic pointers on his social group feels unconscionable to me.  Oh, sure, Nick’s presented as ambivalent and somewhat troubled by his own wealth and social standing, but it didn’t code to me as “down to earth” when it came to bringing home the girlfriend.  It felt immature and selfish to throw his girlfriend into a pit of some not-very-nice people and social situations that would be challenging for even the most well-versed.

Rating this book, I’d give it a 2.5 stars out of 5.  The escapism and wealth-gawking part is really beautifully done.  The romance, though, didn’t gel for me.  It says something, though, that I’m curious enough to see some of the big conflicts resolved to be on the wait list for the sequel.

December Updates

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  • I’m working on reestablishing my exercise routine. I hadn’t fully realized how much the lack of movement was affecting my physical strength as well as my mental health.  It’s meant getting much more creative than previously, but I’m really trying to get in 3-4 30 minute sessions of moving (whether that’s walking/jogging outdoors, indoor running, using the mini trampoline, circuit training at home, or actually going to the gym) per week.  Hopefully as my strength improves, I can increase those to 45 minutes or do a 30 minute + a later 15-20 minute session.
  • Speaking of movement and mental health, I’ve long had a personal rule that for the first half of my run, I would think about all the things that were frustrating, angering, or otherwise hacking me off but then for the second half, work on considering more meditative or thankful thoughts (yes, this led to some pretty long runs during infertility since I wasn’t ready to be calm until 2.5-3 miles in!). I’m doing that again and have noticed that I’m less stressed at other times – I know I’m going to have some specific time devoted to worrying/anger/frustration and that helps me to be more functional at other times.
  • We’re decorated for Christmas! I bought a “tree collar” this year – mine’s a wicker thing that covers the base of the tree and a little way up to the bottom branches – that hides the weights I use to prevent the tree from getting accidentally tipped over better than the tree skirt.  It’s amazing, honestly, after years of carving out space that didn’t really exist in our apartments for the tree to have places to put decorations now.
  • Tree Collar
  • Above is tree collar, I can’t seem to get a picture of mine without all kinds of stuff around it :), below are some of my actual decorations
  • I made myself a dress!!!! Not the one I initially started on, but a different one.  The sleeves are slightly wrinkled (ugh) but really, for my first time I set in sleeves and did all of it, I’m pretty proud of how things came out!
  • The original dress is on its way back, however. My aunt saved my rear end after I cut it too small and was able to put in gussets to make up the difference.  I get to hem it. I’m so fortunate to have so many wonderful aunts.
  • I also made myself an infinity scarf with the left-over fabric from a skirt. I gather that animal prints are in this season and I am…not normally an animal print wearer.  However, it’s a nice, lightweight seersucker with zebra stripes and perfect for an easy scarf to add a touch of flair to an outfit.
  • The kids are doing well and growing fast. E is 3 going on 13 😉.  The other day, we finished off a paper towel roll, she held out the cardboard tube and goes “we need to recycle this.”  I told her: “Yeah, but look!  There are so many cool things we can do with this!  We could make a trumpet!” (made trumpeting noises with it).  E stared at me, very unimpressed, and goes “Are you done?  We need to recycle this.”  Ha, and here I thought I had a few years before I became embarrassing to her 😊!
  • The cold is really starting to set in, and I am very thankful for a garage! First time in 13+ years we’ve had one during the winter and it is marvelous.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want more, please check out Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.  

When It Comes to the Holidays, “Pleasant” and “Unmemorable” are Quite Underrated

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For a long time, I’ve sort of more-or-less subconsciously and sometimes overtly had a tendency to try to make holidays “the best ever!”  In some ways, this is testimony to a pretty happy childhood where Christmas and Thanksgiving were days to anticipate.  For a long time, we went to my maternal grandparents’ house yearly for Thanksgiving and I used to spend hours staring at boxes around the Christmas tree trying to anticipate what was inside (I was allowed to look but not touch/shake).  In other ways, I think it’s the influence of advertising/Insta.gram/Pin.terest/Face.book.

The thing is, I’ve had my share of great holidays (Arthur proposed to me on December 21, 2002), and also really crappy ones.  With infertility and treatments, I found out we’d need to see an RE in December of 2012 and had a miscarriage a few days before Christmas in 2013.  In 2014, I was on bedrest, bleeding a lot, and the doctors were trying to be kind but also not particularly optimistic about the pregnancy.  In 2015, my brother died in late October and Christmas entailed a huge kerfuffle with my in-laws and in 2017, more in-law unhappiness stuff.

Thanksgiving in the US was this past Thursday, and I have a tendency to get anxious leading into the holidays.  Thursday morning, we headed out, and the holiday was…no big deal.  The food was good, I mostly enjoyed the company, and it was fairly low key for as big a group as was present.

In short, it was pleasant and largely unmemorable, which was lovely.

“Pleasant” gives me a more realistic goal to shoot for and mentally, lets me off the hook for “perfect” or “great”.  It allows for the mixed emotions that accompany this time of the year for me.  It’s okay to be happy or excited when I feel it, but also, to be sad or grieving when those moments come.  It doesn’t have to be a holiday season “to remember” (and it’s also okay to just “take the year off”).

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want to read more, head over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.