Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Other Side

I half-made oatmeal cookies tonight.  That is, I mixed all the ingredients, put one batch in the oven, took them out fifteen minutes later, and completely lost interest in finishing the process.  I stood in our tiny kitchen, feeling slightly dazed and foggy, wondering vaguely why I had even thought to do something as ridiculous as making cookies that I don't want to eat, Alix doesn't want to eat, and that will inevitably go stale over the next two weeks.  Lethargically, I swiped at the counter with a sponge and clumsily washed the spatula.  As I put it on the drying rack behind me without looking, it knocked over a glass that shattered all over the floor.  I promptly burst into tears.
It was a glass.  It was a glass that Alix and I bought in a set from Etsy in what feels like an alternate life.
As I started to pick up the thick green glass shards, I did so with questionable carelessness.  Did I want to hurt myself?  Why wasn't I doing the responsible thing, picking up the shards with a paper towel and then bustling out the vacuum cleaner to finish the job properly?
Why was I sitting on the floor, collecting glass shards in my tightly clenched fists, choking over my own tears?
Because the other shoe has dropped.
This is the other side.
This is where all the running, running, running in the world cannot, will not, ever, get you out of the hole that depression digs for you.
This is the other half of me.
My diagnosis.
My label.
If you are me, this is the only side you see.
Still, I dutifully swallow my pills, ignoring the haunted, bloodshot eyes staring back at me in the speckled bathroom mirror under the fluorescent bulbs.
This too shall pass, I tell myself.  Yeah, well, now would be nice, I say back.
Here I am again.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Can I get some H20?

There's been construction going on in the apartment above the boys' lower level brownstone for weeks.  It's especially fun when they're jackhammering and sawing and drilling around say, 1:00 to 3:00 PM (i.e., naptime).  I've become very creative with the use of fans as white noise machines and stuffed animals as "headphones" in order for Bee and Bean to be able to fall - and stay - asleep.  And then, today, it all took a turn for the worse.  We came home for lunch, hot, sweaty, and sticky in the way that only a combination of sunscreen and sand can create.  (You wouldn't think that there would be a whole lot of sand in New York City, seeing as how the closest beaches are at least an hour away by subway.  But rest assured, every. single. playground. has a sandbox.)  I had decided on a pre-lunch bath for all three boys in order to avoid leaving a greasy, gritty trail through the entire house.  As I went to turn on the tub faucet, all that emerged was...a gurgle.  I whipped around and tried the faucet.  Gurgle.  Then, I made a crucial error.  I decided to see if the toilet was working - by flushing it.  As it turns out, toilets will flush when the water is turned off - once.  Because then the tank won't refill, get it?  So you can't flush again.  And there I had just wasted our one free flush when I had two toddlers who'd been guzzling water in the hot sun all morning, one of whom is very actively being potty-trained right now.  And oh yeah, my bladder is approximately the size of a large peanut and I drink 12-18 cups of water a day (no joke).  Plus coffee.  Shitttttttt.....

"Um..okay boys!  The water's off!  Here's where things get fun!"  Leaving poor Bean strapped into the stroller for a minute, I scooped both older boys up and carried them through the house and into the backyard where the kiddie pool lay - thank God - half-filled from only this morning.  So the water was not only clean(ish), but relatively warmed by the sun.  I told the boys, "Stand here.  DO NOT MOVE."  I ran back through the house and grabbed a hotly protesting Bean and brought him to the backyard too, setting him down and pretended I didn't notice him bee-lining for the posies.  "Okay!  We're going to have bath in the pool today!"  I stripped the older boys down, put them in the pool, grabbed a dishtowel, and did my best to slosh all the sand off their bodies.  Bean, meanwhile, had abandoned the posies, and was attempting to climb into the pool himself, fully clothed.  I lifted Bee out, dripping, and placed him just inside the back door on the doormat with the same instructions, "Stand here.  DO NOT MOVE."  I repeated with LM.  At lightning speed, I stripped Bean and gave him the most thorough dunking of any of them, because sand and diapers have a gravitational pull, which meant that every crease and fold of his chunky body was full of sand.  I swear, the sandbox was empty by the time we left.

Finally, I brought all three inside, tossed out towels and rushed to get a diaper on Bean who was staring off into space and gnawing on his fingers (i.e., about to pee).  I had both older boys pee in the toilet before dressing them in clean clothes and instructing them to "do something nondestructive" while I made lunch.

I rationed our one half-full Brita pitcher of water and "washed" hands and faces with baby wipes, finally laying the little guys down for naps.  And then, dear God, I tried to hold it but I had to pee so bad, my belly was distended like I was four months pregnant.  So I looked at the two little boy pees already sitting in the bowl, said to myself Fuck it, and went.  Either the water would come back and I would flush, or it wouldn't.  I was not going to - as a friend suggested via text message when she heard of my plight - pee in a diaper.

Thankfully, the water was back on by the time we returned from our afternoon adventure and I was thus spared the task of figuring out how to cook dinner (not sandwiches) and give (real) baths without running water.  First world problems, I know.  But still.  I was never so happy to see a toilet flush than I was by the time it had collected six - yes, six - pees (mine included).

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Expiration Date

Exactly eleven months from today, Alix and I will be getting married.  We picked the date and the venue (in Connecticut) months ago, for a lot of reasons: it was one of the closest states where same sex marriage was legal (no longer true, thanks NY!), it was the weekend after Alix's graduation from law school, it was close to the end of my contract (for the job I no longer have), and it seemed like a nice time of year to get married.  Given the recent legalization of same sex marriage in New York and the fact that eleven months seems like an awfully long time to wait, who knows what we'll decide to do.  Regardless of when or where our wedding takes place, there is one very important person who won't be there.  Even had Alix and I married the day we met, her mother still wouldn't have been there to see it.

Four years ago today, Alix's mom died of ovarian cancer.  Four years may sound like a long time.  It's not.  It's seconds.  It's moments.  It's definitely not long enough to forget how it felt to watch your own mother take her last breath after fighting an epic battle against a monster that was determined to steal her away from this world long before her time.  It's not enough time to forget how it felt to pack up the various belongings and personal detritus that had accumulated in the last room at the end of the hall on the oncology ward of Lenox Hill after months of visiting every day.  It's not enough time to forget how it felt to walk out into the bright sunshine of a beautiful June day and marvel, incredulous, at the ability of the world to just keep going while yours was crashing down around you. 

The truth is, there is no expiration date on grief.  There is no statute of limitation.  It's there, and it's there to stay.  It settles in, comfortably, finding its home in your head and your heart and it catches you unaware just as often as the times when you can feel it coming.  Is June 26th a sad day?  It sure is.  But so are the days when Alix gets a great grade on a test and thinks - without thinking - "Oh, I'm gonna call Mom and tell her about that!"  Or the times when we cook her lentil soup and think about how nice it would be to invite her over to share it with us after a long day at work.

I don't pretend to know what it feels like to hold a grief so large and untouchable that it can consume you.  But in my own way, I grieve for the death of Alix's mom.  I think of all the moments that have happened and will happen that I wish she could be there for.  When we got engaged, when we get married, when our children are born - these are the obvious ones.  But there are smaller moments too, that I wish she could be there for.  My hopes, and Alix's, are in vain.

So, Tina, although you never knew me, I hope that you know this: I love your daughter.  I love her fiercely, completely, and with everything I've got.  There isn't a single thing I wouldn't do for her and if I can bring her joy in this life and make the load she bears just a little lighter, then I will have succeeded.  I wish I got to meet you.  In my own way, I miss you.  With love, Cait

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Well Done

From this...
To this...

We can finally have this... 
And this...

And for that - I am grateful.  Well done, New York.  Well done.

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Clock is Living in Hawaii(ish)

Right now, our retro kitchen clock is showing that it's 4:00.  It's been...hang on, I'm doing the math...five and a half hours behind for the past three weeks.
There are people in this world who would have noticed this problem and immediately sprung into action.  They would have ascertained if the clock needed new batteries or just a time reset.  They would have then gotten out the stepladder, taken the clock down, reset the time and/or installed new batteries, and briskly hung the clock back on its hook.

I am not one of those people.

I let Bee run around with no pants on if I don't feel like putting them back on after our hourly - yes, hourly - trips to the potty to "try for Nanny Cait, just try."
Jodi Piccoult publishes books more frequently than I do the dishes.
I consider a skirt to be wearable a minimum of three times before washing it.
I get stressed about buying stamps from the mean ladies at the post office.  Yes, stamps.

So...yeah.  I may not have figured out this whole "adult" thing yet.  But good lord, I am trying.  I am trying so. hard.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

If the mountain won't come to Muhammad...

It turns out that 3,000 miles isn't enough to keep me away.  Of course, a 3-day-only special on Southwest Airline tickets sealed the deal, but hey, I'm not being picky about how the universe works in my favor.  It's a long way off, but come September 15th, I'll be dragging my sleepy ass to LaGuardia for a 6 AM flight to see someone who lights up my life

She's been there through it all.  Our friendship sprang from a shared dislike for a fellow first-year: while all the upperclasswomen were moving in, a sophomore was giving away a queen-sized bed and asked if any of us younguns' wanted it.  She and I, friends for barely two days, sprang into action.  "WE'LL TAKE IT!!" we yelled, just as this other girl was opening her mouth to accept said bed.  Okay, okay, so maybe that was mean of us.  But we - two poor kids on full scholarships - definitely needed that bed more than the girl who had shown up to Smith with a 12x12 foot beach poster from Urban Outfitters and a sheet/comforter set from Ralph Lauren did.  (I looked online.  The poster cost $300.)  It marked the beginning of four years of friendship - splayed across her queen-sized bed and my king-sized one (her twin and my twin pushed together and covered in memory foam and mattress covers).

She managed to stay straight through four years of Smith (no small feat).  But she'd still give me frequent kisses, especially under mistletoe, regardless of my relationship status.  (It's one of the many things that non-Smithies will never do a bunch of friends become so incestuous?)

We spruced ourselves up for this momentous occasion - commencement!

And then we celebrated four of the toughest, best, most heart-breaking, back-breaking, growing-up years of our young lives by...jumping off a cliff.
(Seriously, I'd highly recommend it for stress relief.  Something about plummeting to your possible death will make all your other worries seem far less significant.)

And now (well, in September anyway), I finally, finally get to see her again.  It's been more than a year and I miss her so much.  California, I'm coming to you.  Get ready.

Hurry Up and Wait

As of when I'm typing this, today is ending in approximately forty minutes, but I feel like today began last night around 8:00 PM.  That's about when I got fed up with myself for feeling sick and pouty and petulant and told myself to take the dog out one last time and then go to bed, dammit.  Alix wasn't going to be home for hours and I (for once, wisely) chose to turn off the tv, take out my contacts, and go to bed with my almost-finished book and fall peacefully asleep.  Or so I thought.  I finished the book, felt my sleep medications kicking in, and let out a contented sigh as I turned out the light and hurried up and waited for sleep to come.

Fast forward two hours.

Still lying there...not so contented anymore.  Took another dose of a different kind of sleep medication (I brought out the big Ambien guns on this one) and determinedly got back into bed.  As I lay there, my thoughts twisting and turning and warping and waving into a swirling mass above my head, I grimaced as the familiar sensations began again.  You know how when people say their thoughts are "whirling" it's a metaphor?  Yeah, well, mine actually do.  I know it sounds weird, but when I'm in a tangle, my thoughts start to churn like a whirlpool and pretty soon, it feels like whatever I'm laying on - because at this point I'm so dizzy that I better be lying down - is spinning like I'm in Dorothy and Toto's tornado.  They don't make seat belts for these kinds of rides, let me tell you.  The best I've ever been given is, well, Ambien.  Which doesn't work so well anymore.  Taking deep breaths and imagining very flat, stable, boring objects (like deep freezers and Wal-Marts, for example) sometimes helps.

Another two hours go by.  I've been dozing fitfully for forty minutes or so, the spinning has slowed down, when Alix finally comes home.  At some point after she crawled into bed, I fell asleep for a few hours until this morning.

Today is Wednesday, and thus, my day off.  Today though, I had an important, albeit not fun task to accomplish.  I had to take my car for an oil change.

Showered at light-speed.
Rushed Rupert to day-care.
Grabbed coffee.
Took downtown local train, transferred to shuttle, arrived at Grand Central in time to miss Metro North train by four minutes.
Buy ticket for next train - in an hour.
Hurry up and wait (started a new book).
Took train to Alix's dad's house where my car is parked.
Took car to mechanic.
Went back to Alix's dad's house.
Hurry up and wait (read new book. all. day.)
Periodically got up and paced floors, while dogs watched warily.
Finally received call from mechanic.  Says car is "okay for now, but I'll email you an estimate of everything else it needs done."  Gulp.  "Estimate" comes to around $600.  I.don'
Arrange via frantic text conversation for a friend to pick up Rupert from daycare because the train I'm flying to catch won't get me back to the UWS before they close for the night.
Hurry, hurry, hurry to train.  Sit on train and allow eyes to glaze over.  I had finished the book I started this morning hours ago.
Rush to friend's house to pick up joyful Rupert.  Rupert makes a grand attempt at convincing us that Scott did not feed him dinner.  To his utter disappointment, I am not convinced.
New wave of energy hits.
Grocery shopping!'s 9ish at night.  I know!  I want to bake a cake!  Not just any cake, a complicated, two-layered, banana cake that requires an hour of baking and an hour of cooling before spreading homemade chocolate frosting over both layers.  That sounds like fun, right?!

Fast forward three hours.

The cake is in the freezer.  I'm wide awake.  Alix went to bed.

Do you know what this is called?

This is called (hypo)mania.  It's the first half of the diagnosis manic-depressive illness.  As in, bipolar disorder.

This, right now - the whirling thoughts, the book-reading at light-speed, the high-energy grocery shopping, the elaborate cake-baking - this is the fun part.  It's the part where I only need three hours of sleep a night.  It's the part where when I burn my arm on the oven, I don't feel it.  It's the part where I have to pretend I'm speaking in slow motion in order to speak coherently.  It's the part where I force my medications down, ignoring the chirpy voice in my head that whispers, "You don't need are a better version of yourself like this!"  Crazier, perhaps, but not better.

When does the other shoe drop?  When does "depressive" enter the scene?  Your guess is as good as mine.   It's not nearly as pretty when it does.  And what do we do until it comes?  That's right - we hurry up and wait.

Monday, June 20, 2011

When Is It My Turn?

I babysat for my boys the other night, while their parents went out for a birthday celebration.  Once the baby was asleep, and after baths, teeth brushing, pajamas, four stories, evening prayers, a "pocket tuck" for LM, a "burrito wrap" for Bee, (yes, young children are very particular about how they are tucked into bed), and two kisses for each, I turned out the light, whispered good-night, and closed the door.  I sat on the couch, waiting calmly.  Creak...the door opens.  "Caywin?  I'm thirsty.  And I have to do a pee."  So, I patiently helped LM do his second pee in ten minutes, pointed out the sippy cup of water that I had placed next to his bed and re-tucked him (pocket, NOT burrito) into bed. 

Once they were all asleep, I finished cleaning the kitchen and folded the fresh laundry while I ran another wash load.  An hour later, all the chores done, I relaxed on the couch with my book and contemplated dozing off.  Forty-five minutes later, I sat up with a start.  A tiny noise had awoken me from my doze.  There it was again, louder this time.  Bee was crying, a squeak at first, but now escalating to a wail, "Cayyyywwiiinnnnn!!!" in between choked sobs.  In his room, I found him slumped over his crib rail, crying unintelligibly, most likely due to a bad dream.  I scooped his warm toddler body up into my arms and rocked, standing in their dark bedroom, whispering past his sweaty curls, "Hush, Bee, it's okay now.  Everything is okay now.  I'm here.  Nothing's going to get you.  Let's get you a dry diaper, okay?"  Deftly, in the dark, I swapped his wet diaper for a dry one and replaced his pajama bottoms.  As I hoisted him off the changing table to put him back into his crib, he latched his arms around my neck and sank into my arms under his bottom.  I paused before putting him back to bed.  Just for a minute, I thought.  We stood by his crib, listening to the fan, and I rocked him slowly, ever so slowly, back and forth, before settling him back into bed.  "Here's Pooh Bear," I whispered, tucking the tattered bear into his arms as he rolled over, already asleep.  I tiptoed out and quietly closed the door.

My heart cracked.  Again.  And again, and again, and again.  I sat back down on the couch and cried.  When, when is it my turn?  When is it my turn to be the sun around which some child orbits instead of the babysitter or the nanny who rocks them in the middle of the night, teaches them words, changes their diapers, and loves them up and down and all around until inevitably, my heart breaks again and I have to leave?

It's summer in New York, which means every woman of child-bearing age is strutting around with an ever-growing belly under her sundress or tunic top.  I look down at my own flat torso and long for the day when I will be something other than a passing figure in a child's life.  This job is wearing me down.  It's not the specifics - the hours or the tantrums or the diapers - it's the whole idea.  I want to be more to someone.  I want to be someone to anyone.  Anything beyond the monotony, the anonymity, that I am now.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The (Furry) Men in my Life

Mom, did you buy these new underwear just for me?  

Mom, my bed is too small.

Mom, I hate you.  Leave me alone.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Three Years Later

I woke up today feeling a  I couldn't put my finger on why - the weather was beautiful, my coffee was icy cool, the kids were contentedly playing with the hose in the backyard when I arrived.  As the day limped along, I still couldn't figure it out, until, of course, it hit me.  I was sitting on the floor in the older boys' room, enjoying the AC blowing on my bare legs while LM and Bee made a torrential mess when my wandering mind landed on the date.  Is it? I thought.  No, it can't be.  No wait, yes it is.  Today is June 8th.  And like a ton of bricks, it came crashing down around me.  June 8, 2008 will live in my memory with pictures so vivid it's like they're inked on my brain.  It's the day I was in a massive car crash that almost ended my life, the life of a passenger in the car with me, and sadly did end the life of another driver. 

The weather that day was blazing hot and steamy, much like today's.  It was my second day in southeastern Kentucky, where I had landed to carry out a clinical internship that focused heavily on shadowing midwives and OB-GYN's and volunteering in the local understaffed free clinics.  I had driven the twelve hours south alone, in my just-purchased car, nervously talking to myself most of the trip while I wound onto narrower and narrower roads that cut through steep valleys thick with kudzu vines until I came to Hyden, KY.  After one night of restless sleep, we set off the next day to pick up another intern an hour away.  We were driving one of the organization's cars, a Jeep Cherokee.  We were three miles from the house, the radio wasn't on, my hands were solidly at 10 and 2, but as we crested a small hill on the four-lane highway, I had a split second to register the minivan that was careening out of control in the oncoming lane and not a moment to hit the brakes before the van turned sharply in front of us and we hit them head-on, going sixty miles an hour.

Twenty minutes later, I woke up to see the hot sun blazing through a windshield that was no more.  It took a minute for me to register the blood - my blood - covering me and the terrifying, heart-stopping fact that I could not move.  The rest is a blur: sirens, the jaws of life, a faceless paramedic holding a mask over my nose and mouth while she urged me, over and over again, in her sweet southern drawl to "Stay awake, honey, stay awake."  The helicopter ride, the EMT who rode next to my head and held my hand the whole flight and answered my hoarse, whispered question, "Am I going to live?"  "Yes, darling, you're going to be just fine.  Just breathe now.  It's all okay."  The team of doctors who swarmed me when I arrived in the trauma bay, the volunteer who stayed by my head and held my gaze, calling my mother over and over again until she could get ahold of her at work.  She told me to squeeze her hand "as hard as it hurts" when the doctors scrubbed the glass and gravel out of my skin and pulled three-inch slivers of the windshield from my hands and sewed up the ragged holes.  Oh I squeezed.  The tears dripped silently past my ears as I squeezed as hard as I could and she told me about her kids, distracting me from the pain until the blessed morphine kicked in and sent me into a daze that carried me through the next three hours of CAT scans and X-rays.

I could have gone home after that ungodly start to my summer before my junior year of college.  Instead, in my typical fashion, I bounced up and closed the book on the experience, insisting to myself and everyone around me that since I was physically fine, I was totally fine.  I stayed in Kentucky that summer and had an amazing experience.  I saw my first birth, I coached women through labor, I worked long hours in a clinic that served as the only source of healthcare for an entire county.  I picked up a hint of a southern accent, ate okra for the first time, and grew fond of the jagged mountains that surrounded our village.  I left Kentucky at the end of that summer with rapidly fading scars and some new freckles on my shoulders.  But as I drove past the white cross that someone had erected by the side of the road where the crash happened and the other driver passed away, my breath caught and I felt the panic of that day again. 

It's June 8th, three years later, and I can still feel it.  Never am I more aware of my own mortality than on this day each year.  There's not a single logical explanation for why one man died and I'm still alive.  But I sure as hell am not going to let my second chance at life go to waste.  Hundreds of miles away, a family is mourning the anniversary of a loved one's death today.  My heart is with them now.  May your thoughts and prayers be with them too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Getting PURSEonal

I carry around the same bag every day.  (Doesn't everyone, barring those women in the Real Housewives shows?)  Anyway, I got this bag a few months ago at the Goodwill two blocks away and I love it.  Why do I love it?  Because it's HUGE.  It's so deceptively roomy that I call it my Mary Poppins bag, as in, yes I could probably pull an umbrella, an armchair, and a diaper genie out of it if I tried.  Here's a picture of it:

After rooting around in it for a good three minutes this evening in pursuit of my keys, I started to wonder, What exactly is in here?!  So I dumped it out.

And, for your entertainment, here is an itemized list of what I found:

Keys (yep, they were in there)
Cell phone
One sippy cup
Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White (bookmark is a notice of privacy practices from my eye doctor)
Phone charger
Sunglasses case, with old New York & Co. sunglasses inside
Carmex lip balm
Plainsong, by Kent Haruf (bookmark is the business card of a Banana Republic employee)
Moleskine calendar/notebook
Wad of cash - it's how we nannies get paid
Blue ballpoint pen
Two travel cases of ibuprofen
Seven paper towels, folded
Red wallet
Four hair ties (one is aquamarine-colored)

Assorted papers (here's where it gets interesting!)
-eye doctor's business card
-library overdue fines receipt; total paid: $4.85
-library checkout receipt for 15 children's books
-psychiatrist's business card
-tattoo aftercare card
-cab receipt: $12.72
-a voided check I wrote
-a piece of notebook paper containing the contact info of a potential babysitting client, my confirmation number for a bus from Boston to NYC, the address of another babysitting client, and the recipe for Pasta Florentine
-pet supply store receipt for poop bags: $15.18
-Rupert's 3-year rabies vaccination certificate
-the invoice from Rupert's vet appointment detailing the vaccines he received (poor puppy)
-a spreadsheet and four typed pages detailing my nannyboys' schedule, etc. (written by their mother and previous nanny)
-a prescription
-an Uncommon Goods catalogue

I'm honestly surprised that I didn't find anything growing in there.  Granted, I'm not putting the Nalgene or the sippy cup under a microscope because I'd rather not know what's going on in them, but still.  Anyone else find anything interesting in their bags/pockets lately?