I'm really good at hiding my misery for a picture.
My brain has a built-in Timehop. I can't help but think about where I was this time of year last year, or five years ago, or when I was nine. For example...
This time four years ago, I was seven months pregnant with Sam, entering into that phase of pregnancy that makes me want to crawl under a rock and die.
This time 12 years ago, I was starving myself to fit into my wedding dress, not suffering any cold feet. (Nope, none at all.)
This time 14 years ago, I was nearing the end of my first year of teaching, wondering if I would ever survive in this career.
This time 19 years ago, I had just moved to New York City, wondering if I'd made a colossal mistake.
But lately I keep thinking about this time of year exactly one year ago. Because I can barely believe how things have changed.
Things were bad at this point last year. Very, very bad. It was around this time of year that I had my very early yet horrible miscarriage. Despite the fact that I've always encouraged other women to speak out about such events, to stop burying them as if they're shameful, I found that I didn't want say a word. I felt embarrassed. We hadn't planned on another baby, and we kept talking about how we felt "done" at two. It was so early that I didn't ever realize I was pregnant until it was already over, so I didn't feel like I had a right to mourn.
Because I didn't make space for myself, my anxiety got really bad. I felt like nobody cared about me, which dredged up all kinds of memories of my childhood -- when I lived in family that revolved around a dangerous narcissist. I really didn't matter in his eyes, and while my dad is dead and I've long since left that dynamic, I found myself feeling like that eight year old child who accidentally peed in the car because her father refused to stop for her, terrified that he'd beat her for ruining the upholstery.
Dave and I were in a horrible place. Not too many people knew about this, but our marriage was very shaky last year. We'd set up a lot of communication patterns that had hit their expiration date, and we didn't know what to do. We are each other's first major relationship, and we both come from divorced homes that contained multitudes of dysfunction. Although we didn't physically hurt each other or cheat on each other, we both did things that made the other feel like he or she wasn't important, wasn't valued, wasn't loved. And neither of us was sure we were willing to change.
We went on a vacation that should have been fun, but it was pretty troubled. We drove down to lovely Destin, Florida. Sam was two, and not very good at car rides. He spent much of his time taking his shoes off and flinging them at Stella, who screamed bloody murder in return. When we stopped the car, he clung to my body like a spider monkey. He'd pull on and pinch me, sticking elbows and knees into all kinds of crevices of my body as he tried (unsuccessfully) to reenter my womb. It was hot and sticky and I was so touched out that I proclaimed (more than a few times) my desire to go to a desert island for at least a month.
Stella hadn't been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder yet, but this trip was the catalyst for her evaluation. She had an incredibly hard time adapting to change. For example, if she had her heart set on chicken tenders for lunch but the menu only had chicken nuggets, she'd fly into a tantrum. She threw fits about the heat, about the walking, about not getting ice cream every time we passed a stand. But most of all, she was miserable about the sleeping situation.
We'd (foolishly) reserved just one room with two beds. It was much smaller than we'd anticipated. Stella has a hard time sleeping in general, due to her sensory issues. She needs a pitch black room, a white noise machine, and no other living soul within a 50 mile radius. We finally decided to give her one of the beds, even though there was no room for a pack and play, meaning Dave, Sam, and I shared a full-size bed. I was elbowed and kicked in the head an average of 150 times per night.
Sam woke at least once per night, crying due to his disorientation and discomfort. Hearing Sam cry made Stella SCREAM. Scream like she was being accosted. It was so hard to get her to calm down, and we were afraid the cops would show up.
My anxiety multiplies like Gremlins without sleep, so I was an irritable mess. And remember how I'd fallen back into childhood patterns? Well, that meant that I stopped speaking up about the things I wanted to do on this trip. This trip that I'd single-handedly planned and worked for, suddenly I was just going along, letting Dave and the kids do the things they wanted to do, not taking time for myself and my vacation goals.
And then, on the last day, I sobbed, upset that I hadn't gone zip-lining, that I hadn't eaten at that restaurant that I'd read about, nor had I consumed enough cliched, overpriced, umbrella-laden rum beverages. Dave was perplexed. He didn't know I'd wanted these things. And I was hurt, because I felt like he'd never taken the time to find out what I did want.
When we returned, I played the martyr once more by not putting the kids in camp. I felt that Mom-Guilt that society heaps on us for ever wanting time away from our children, but I also felt financial guilt (camp ain't cheap). So, instead of working on my book or doing yoga or going to museums on my own - all activities that would have fed my soul and made me feel better - I became a stay-at-home-mom, a role that I was not cut out for. Kudos to my friends who make this look easy; it is hands-down the world's toughest job to me.
We'd either lounge around and watch too much TV, or I'd battle tears and arguments to take the kids to the park or zoo or pool. Dave was working on freelance projects, so I couldn't feel like I could ask him to take the kids, even though that would have helped tremendously.
In short, last summer sucked.
But, thank God, things are 180 degrees from there this summer. Dave and I spent a ton of time working on our marriage, seriously looking at our own mistakes and formulating a new path. Stella got evaluated, and now receives services for her ASD that help her adapt to new situations well. Sam is three, which is a different kind of crazy than two, but he is a much better traveler (and less clingy). I went to therapy regularly to work on my anxiety. And I've given up competitive parenting for good, content with the knowledge that I'll never win the "Most Dedicated Mom" award, seeing as both my kids are in camp today while I do housework and work on my book.
We just got back from an incredible trip to the Outer Banks, a blog entry unto itself, and the whole time I kept thinking, "Thank God this isn't last year anymore."
So, the next time I feel trapped by my circumstances or my obligations or even my own mind, I want to remember how, with some tenacity and optimism and patience and profound VERY BIG LOVE, things can always get better.
I didn't have to fake anything here. This is what bliss looks like.