don’t it always seem to go…

Yesterday was the 4th anniversary of my daughter Avalon’s birth and death. I had a wicked stomach bug and therefore did nothing… didn’t go to the cemetery, didn’t blog. I did spare a few moments, though, to really think about who this little girl might have been. I honestly can’t imagine having a different child than the one I already have. I couldn’t have them both, either, as M’s due date was in mid-March, and Avalon’s was May 7th. It was always going to be one or the other, there is no scenario in which they’d both exist, simultaneously, with me as their mother, or as sisters. And so I find that my grief for the deceased daughter is tangled up in my overwhelming love and gratitude for the existing one. It always begs the question: how can I wish that she had not died, without wishing my daughter M away?

That’s not even why I decided to blog tonight. I wanted to write about all of the ambivalence I’m having about traveling. The most comforting thought, to me, is the money. I need it. I’m not making ends meet as things are, so something has to change. There’s no way around that. But after a teacher’s conference today, a Christmas concert, and after much reflection on what went wrong in Nepal, I’m starting to think that constant moving is not in M’s best interest.

You see, she has two teachers, both of whom she adores, especially her lead teacher Debra. Debra is a traditional Montessori teacher, firm but never raising her voice, strict but loving at the same time. M hugs Debra when she arrives in the morning, and talks about Debra and her other teacher all the time. At our conference today, when Debra heard we’d be coming back to Michigan in April, she practically insisted that M come back to her classroom there, even after 3 months of absence. She said it, “made my day!” to think that M might be back, even if just for the last 6 weeks of school. What could I say to that? The obvious love that they both have for each other is such a wonderful influence on M. She feels safe and secure in that classroom, which means she is open to learning and exploring and growing.

And then her friends, oh her friends. According to Debra, M is one popular kid in the class these days. The other girls compete to do their “work” (this means activities in Montessori-world) with M, which sometimes results in arguments and chaos. Unsurprisingly (to me), being social is the most important thing to my little girl. She can work independently for 10-15 minutes at a time, but much prefers to work with a friend or friends. She has a few super special friends, and she loves knowing that she’s going to see them and play with the every day. She knows the names of every kid in the class, all 22 of them, and recites them all the time. Debra says that a lot of the kids don’t know more than just a few names, but M is so social that it makes sense that she is keeping her address book filled out and up to date! Today at her Christmas concert I got to see just how close she is with her friends, and just how happy she is when she is at her school.

I’m finally getting to know some of the other parents as well. I have given out my phone number to one of M’s BFFs’ mom, and now another one has invited her over for Christmas eve day to play (I’m working overtime that day). Another of her friends has a mom who recently lost a baby, so we have been meeting for coffee every so often, and she even joined me on the Remembrance Walk this fall.

After the glowing reviews from her teacher, who had only wonderful things to say about M’s ability to focus, concentrate, listen, socialize, and her progress with reading, writing, and numbers, and after seeing her joy and how happy she is at her current school, well you can bet I’m sitting here wondering how I could be taking her out. HOW CAN I BE TAKING HER OUT??? Technically she could stay in this class another two years (it goes through age 6) and any decent mom would keep her there, where she is loved and supported so thoroughly!

The plan has always been to come back to Michigan after my San Francisco contract is up in April. I will return M  to her wonderful classroom for the last 6 weeks of school and hopefully have play dates with her school friends over the summer. Everything depends on whether or not I can get a travel contract in Michigan and what the take home pay will be. It needs to be $1300 or higher per week after taxes (I’d prefer $1500 to $1700) for me to bank at least $1000 more per month than I make at my permanent staff job, and that includes a second “travel home” rent and expenses. So… it’s doable.

But ahhh yes, I do love adventure. Adventure calls to me, it truly does. The lure of the ocean, the Himalayas, or the redwoods. The world calls to me but… what is more important to my daughter right now? She totally fell apart in Nepal. She’s a kid who, yes she does great on airplanes and she can adventure all day in mountains or forests or beaches, BUT she wanted to come home. And I swear to god since coming back from Nepal she has talked about nothing but how much she loves her home, how nice it is to be home, how much she loves her school, etc. She has been through so much in her short life, maybe I was wrong to think she’d be totally fine with being uprooted all the time? My little social butterfly, she was deeply crushed that she could not seem to forge deep connections with children in other cultures or in other languages. How can I rob her of the chance to be with true friends for more than a few months at a time?

It may be that Michigan becomes “home” after all, and these local contracts help me pay off debt. And then? Local contracts offer me flexibility, as much vacation time as I want whenever I want, and we can plan shorter trips (no longer than the month we spent in Nepal) to help her build up her confidence and her sense of security wherever she goes. The behavior was so rough in Nepal, and our mother-daughter relationship so damaged, that I’m not sure I can go through it again, not in that same way for that same amount of time.

I have to travel to be mentally healthy and happy, but I may be willing to turn long-term travel into shorter (1-4 week) “stints” throughout the year in order to give her that secure base that she needs.

UGH. This mom-ing stuff is hard, right? Like just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you realize something else or something new. But after we got home, I made her dinner, a bath, read several books, and she fell asleep happy and so easily, I know in my heart that this stability and routine that grates on me is what allows her to be calm, comfortable, and balanced. What else could I want for my child?

back for a minute

We got back from the east coast the day before yesterday… I learned a lot on this adventure (get a portable charger, campgrounds are often more like trailer parks), got my Manhattan fix (actually I needed a lot more), and hit the beach. It was good to be with family, the kids even got along a lot of the time. Of course, it’s also stressful to be in someone else’s house and not have your own space!

You can look for my new blog posts at Across the Never Sky or follow the facebook page if you like your updates that way.

I came home to a to-do list a mile long: take cat to vet, fix paycheck error that resulted in not getting paid on time, go to various banks, M’s swim lesson, clean car, a million phone calls… I’m maybe halfway through it three days later.

Good news on the money saving front: I got my home and car insurance switched and that saved me $50 per month and got me better coverage. Switching my phone service saves me $100/month. So I’m making progress there. Unfortunately I had more set backs. My foot pain has returned with a vengeance so I had to invest in new Dansko shoes (I guess they wear out after a year and I’ve had mine nearly two). Last time I got new Dansko’s my foot pain completely disappeared… so I needed that. Also the portable charger, cause my phone dies all the time using camera and maps, the two things I need most when traveling. And the iPad charger pulled apart… so had to get a new one of those. The cat continues to need adjustments to her thyroid medication, and now her eye infection. Bah.

Also, M did NOT miss school. She didn’t ask about it once, even when her cousin playmate went off to his first day of school on Tuesday. This morning she asked where we were going, and when I told her she was going to school, she looked shocked: “I don’t wanna go to school, mom!” I felt icky about sending her. She will be fine there of course, and I had to work a short shift this afternoon so she did need to go, but it made me feel better about her not going after we leave this state. She honestly doesn’t love it. She doesn’t miss it. And she doesn’t need it to learn. She needs a safe place that provides lots of creative and learning opportunities when I work, though, rather than just staying home with a screen and grandma, so she still goes for now.

I enjoyed being with her every day, though. I actually hated being apart from her today while she went to school. It’s nice to know that the more I’m with her, the more I want to be with her, rather than the opposite!

California trip blog posts are up!

For your reading pleasure:

Air travel: preschool edition: flying with a preschooler vs. flying with a toddler.

How we travel on the cheap: So if I’m so broke, how the hell do I afford to travel so often anyway? Am I just wracking up credit card debt, or is it actually cheaper to spend a week traveling than it is to stay at home? (Answer: often the same or cheaper to travel if you do these things!)

Back to San Fran!: Why San Francisco overtook NYC as my favorite US city.

East Bay Area: What to do We stayed with friends in San Ramon, and found several very interesting places to visit nearby!


coming up: how not to travel

This is going to be the over-arching theme of some of my blog posts about our latest trip to one of my favorite places in the world: San Francisco. We had an amazing time, but really that was in spite of so much working against us:

Staying with friends who live/parent differently…
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean, it saves you money, it allows you to spend time and bond with your friends, and it’s an opportunity for your kids to understand that different households have different rules and expectations. It can be emotionally taxing, however, when you’re sharing so much space and time as a family with others who don’t share your lifestyle. This friend of mine is a Muslim, and Nepali… we stayed with her, her husband, her mother (staying with her from Nepal for 6 months) as well as her new baby and 2-year-old. There are random things you wouldn’t think would be difficult at first, but become moreso: no nakedness, not even for little kids. It is hard for me to see my daughter shamed for not having underwear on under her nightgown, even though it was not intended as shaming. Or not being able to wash my pajama pants in the washer machine because there was menstrual blood on them. I’ve already written about the struggle with her son, and certainly I was defensive of my kid and she of hers, not to mention how stressed she was trying to control his violent behavior.

Traveling around and sight-seeing with other parent/child groups…
You’d think this would be ideal but honestly, we’ve yet to find another family with young children who can either keep up or enjoy our schedule when we’re traveling. My daughter may be 3, but she can handle long car trips, buses and trains, airports for hours, and hours of hiking like no problem. She gets homesick, but at the end of the day she can sleep in any bed as long as I’m with her. She can stay at the beach all day, take long hikes through the woods, and play at playgrounds for hours. We like to really stay a while and enjoy a place, but our friends were always eager to leave after a short time. This was especially frustrating for us in San Francisco where M and I would’ve liked to spend the day in Muir Woods or at the beach, and wanted to hike for hours at Rock City at Mt. Diablo. In the end, we ended up borrowing a car and going back to do our thing without our friends so we could actually hike. My friend constantly tells me it’s “too hard” with little kids, but I guess for me it’s just enjoyable. A lot of moms say parenting is just easier at home, but I’ve always felt it’s the opposite. When I’m traveling I’m alive and free and happy, and parenting comes so much easier when I feel that way. I hope someday, before M is all grown up, we can find like-minded parent/child travelers. For now we just have to make do with random children at beaches and playgrounds and airports who share her adventurous nature and endurance for long travel.

Not having our own space
We didn’t even have our own bedroom. Again, huge money saver, but hard on me as an introvert and M who is constantly tormented by a violent two-year-old and who understandably gets homesick.

Traveling too fast…
We only had six days to get there and back. I like to pack a lot into a short time and M can totally keep up with me, but it would be totally awesome to not feel rushed and to be able to have “rest days” in between days at the beach, or woods, or whatever.

I really think it’s imperative for us to have a) a space of our own to retreat to, b) the ability to bring our own car or have our own transportation options so that we don’t have to leave places before we have enjoyed them fully, and c) MORE TIME in general, meaning not just 6 days off because that’s all I can manage to get off of work.

All in all I came away with even more love for Northern Cali, a desire to return for months instead of days, and a deepening desire to find “our people”, you know, the parents with small children who can keep up with us!

saying the hard words

Last night and today have been spent getting my grandma out of the hospital to hospice. Clarifying her wishes now is difficult, as she can’t always remember what we’re talking about and the old “fight til the last” instinct she’s always had keeps popping up. In the end, with the palliative care team in on the discussion, she agreed that it would be best to just focus on keeping her comfortable now. I have no idea if she’ll die soon (this week?) or not soon (months?). Just as at work in critical care, no one can predict, and if you try to guess you’ll always be wrong. She will be in a hospice home though, where they can finally understand palliative care and stop telling her she’s taking too many pain meds.

It’s so strange having these conversations with someone I consider my parent. She’s my grandma but along with my mom, she raised me. She made sure I was safe, doing well in school, behaving, going to the dentist, getting good grades. She put dinner on the table for me, and made sure I knew how to find my way around town and cook a dish. She worried about me every day, and took pride in my accomplishments as if they were own. In a way, I had two mothers. I was my grandma’s first and only local grandchild. Getting me to adulthood successfully was the main goal of my grandparents before they died. And here I sit having “the talk” about goals of care the same way I do with my patients and their families every day. It’s surreal. It’s awful. And gosh, is it different when it’s your own loved one.

I’ve had these conversations on a weekly basis for six years as a professional. I’ve guided dozens of families through these difficult and painful situations. I’ve watched people die and watched their families sob. I’ve said, “this is so hard, I know.” But I didn’t always know. Nothing can be totally real until you’re the one wearing the hat.

In the midst of all of it, my daughter gets stuck with being left. Left at daycare, left with grandma, left with impatient and frustrated and stressed out adults. I feel pressure as never before to be the one holding it all together. My OCD starts to shine as I can’t bear my messy house and yet I found a puddle of piss in the corner of a room and nearly lost my shit. I have a migraine and I’m tired and I just… can’t.

But I have to.


life in a family commune

This week I am truly enjoying the experience of being surrounded by extended family. My mom’s cousin and her husband, two of their sons(ages 5 and 15), and their two grandsons (ages 10 and 12) are here for a week. In addition, my mom’s other cousin is here for the summer. They are staying in the “upstairs house” (the stairs being the hill that separates the houses) with the kids while the other cousin (without a kid) stays at the cottage with M and I. I love waking up and having a built-in community to eat breakfast or drink coffee with, plan activities, and other children for M to run around and play with.

Not only that, but on the 3rd we had lots more friends and relatives out for a truly amazing Fourth of July (US Independence Day) celebration. My sister and niece came, too. We did it all: walked to the farm to feed the horses and donkey, went out on the boat and jumped into the water, grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, made a bonfire with s’mores, and watched a terrific firework show over the lake when it got dark. The kids even had sparklers. If you aren’t from the states, then know this: everything above is very traditional Midwest Fourth of July!

The following day, we attended the local small town parade, followed by a fair in the park, and returned for a street party and even bigger firework show. I really loved having family to celebrate with! Today we saw Finding Dory and went for a swim. Tomorrow will be their last day here and I’ll be super sad to see them go. It’s so much easier to parent as a group, rather than all alone. You feel supported, you feel more rested, you feel less encumbered. We have the flexibility to trade off supervising the littles if errands need to be run. We know if we walk away for a few minutes that someone else will keep our kid safe and in line. I really don’t think it’s natural the way we parent in a bubble in America (or in the West). It’s unnecessarily difficult.

Hope everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere is enjoying a nice week of summer!


the usual post-vacay blues

As usual, after even a short trip, I find coming back home to the dullness of housework, yard work, and work work more depressing than even usual. I ask myself 100x per day how I can get “out”. I dread the winters when the full routine moves inside and gets even worse.

My stumbling blocks are a lack of consistent childcare for M and my grandma still being alive. I want to be here for her and spend time together while there’s still time. She could die next week or next year, I don’t know. I have two trips that will help me with plans coming up: one to my friend’s in California where I will see if she’d let us stay for three months for a nursing contract, so I can pocket the living stipend and make enough to live several or many months before needing to take another contract. The second trip is to Nepal where I can explore the option of staying there for an extended time between contracts and possibly teach in my friend’s school for a little income.

After working a contract in California I could time my contracts to be over the summer and near my cottage, so my mom could be the one watching M.

So my plotting and planning continues but in the meantime M is not quite old enough to understand trips and she gets a bit nervous when we don’t come home at night, and she can be in her preschool for 2 more years. I doubt my grandma will live longer than that. Either way, eventually, we will lift off. Prior to her kindergarten year for sure. Because I’m not sure how much longer I can live like this. And I for sure can’t live authentically or according to my true beliefs and values in this type of lifestyle.

and when she’s grown

In relation to my post yesterday, I was just thinking… you know how much lonelier it will be when my kid is a tween and then a teenager and then grown and gone? I don’t think I’ll even bother to go to any of these things. What good is a festival or event by myself, without a kid? I’m so lucky that I have my little girl to go adventuring with. God knows if she wasn’t here, I’d be sitting at home with novels and netflix, all day every day. My goal is to raise a wonderful young woman who can go out and find her way in the world, but I also know I’ll be alone, really and truly alone, once she’s gone.

not pictured: myself

The largest difference between a single parent family and a family with two parents? Besides income (or the ability to have one be a stay-at-home parent), it’s the company. Most “couples” have a built-in buddy to do things with, things with the kids at least. When you take the kids to the beach, to a fair or festival, or just on a walk, you have the option of having another adult go with you. Me? I can’t count on this. It’s awesome when I get my sister and my niece to go along, but most of the time, it’s just M and I. And while sometimes that’s great for the two of us, sometimes (for me, at least) it’s awfully lonely.

I was raised an only child (my mother’s only child, my sister and I share a father but were raised in different households with different mothers) and I don’t remember feeling lonely when it was just my mom and I. I’m glad of that, because I want M to feel happy and complete when it’s just the two of us, but I’m sure that my mom often felt lonely. I’m sure that she didn’t feel like going to a lot of kid-friendly activities and events because it’s just a little depressing to be without any other adult company at places like this.

As a single mom, and a person who loves to get out and see new things, I’ve done the following with my kid and I and no one else: fairs, festivals, airplane trips, road trips, farms, hands-on museums, movies, classes, splash pads, metro parks, nature trails, church, apple orchards, holiday-themed events, beaches, boat rides, restaurants, etc etc etc.

Luckily for me, my child is a natural people-person and extrovert. Everywhere we go she engages strangers in conversation, finds other children to play with, and shows interest in whatever is happening around her. Case in point: today I took her to a summer festival in the downtown area of the city in which I work. She asked lots of questions to the person inside the giant dinosaur puppets, befriended the acrobat concert-goers, helped other parents chase down their runaway toddlers, and hung out at several picnic tables while chatting with college students. This is not a child who knows how to be lonely! Everywhere we go, adults tell me over and over she is darling, has beautiful hair, and above all is so curious and inquisitive and smart! And she really is.

Oh how I wish I had someone to share her magical childhood with! And how I wish I had some friends (even one friend would do) to accompany us on our adventures.

She inspects the costume and asks many questions of the puppeteer:

She enjoyed the live calypso music (and then got up and danced):


She found these audience members too interesting to leave alone:


She joined in the bubble fun, and of course made sure she understood how the bubbles were made and dumped into the pails:


I’m reaching all-new lows

My depression/bad mood has been getting worse. I’ve been sitting here crying for example because the house is so messy and M is grinding a chip into the floor with her heel. Because I’m OUT of money and it’s Monday, not even close to pay day. Because I can’t even afford to buy plants for the raised beds, so they’re empty. Because I’m overweight even though I’m not eating crap and spending all day fucking cleaning or working. It’s not like I’m sitting around having a great time with bon bons and netflix. I’m never having a great time, because there is always work. I’m not even sure what it would be like to have a whole day where I didn’t have to cook/clean/scrub from dawn to dusk just to avoid living in squalor, or stress about money or spend the whole day wiping other people’s asses just to make money.

Why this is suddenly all becoming so hard on me, I can’t say. It’s the same life I’ve always lived.

But I’m sitting here crying, in broad daylight, and when my daughter asks me, “What’s wrong?” I can only tell the truth: I’m tired. I am so incredibly tired. I could sleep all night and then sleep all day. A full night’s sleep (I slept from 9:30 to 7:30 this morning) and I still have heavy eyes, a cloudy brain, and a foul temper. Caffeine can’t even touch it. Everywhere I go I think, I just want to pull over and put the seat down and sleep. When I get home I see mess after mess after mess and I just want M to go watch my phone so I can lie down and sleep. I go to work and when I’m not being someone’s bitch, oops I mean nurse, and looking at a computer screen to chart, my eyes start to close and my mouth dangle open. I’m falling asleep where I sit.

The last time I felt this tired for so long I was pregnant. And trust me, I’m not pregnant now. (I just stopped writing for a second and rested my head 0n my hands and nearly fell asleep.) I think my body is just slowing down and giving up. Maybe this is the direct precursor to a mental break down, cause I sure feel like I’m on the verge of having one.

(Accepting donations for an $80 copay per week for the therapist everyone’s about to tell me I need…)

Update: I have been trying to take half of my paxil dose to wean myself off of it. I think I may be having some of the more severe withdrawal effects. I’ve always had bad withdrawal if I forgot to take a dose, in the form of dizziness, a flu-like feeling, and brain “zaps”. But this heightened irritability, anger, even rage at times is so crazy out of characteristic for me, and now I see that a lot of people experience this with paxil withdrawal. I may have no money, but I’m going to need some type of professional help to get off this drug. This doped up feeling and anger and crying all day is not going to work out for me. I just went and took a WHOLE paxil. God help me.