Friday, August 30, 2013

On Being a Stay at Home Momma

I spent the better half of a decade teaching public high school.  It was a challenging, often difficult career, but it was also fulfilling and rewarding since it wasn't just a career.  It was a calling.  I loved "my kids" even on the days I wanted to wring their moody, hormonal little necks.  I was protective of them and often felt like a substitute parent to many of them.

Pregnant Woman by Nooshin Zarnani
When I left my classroom in May of 2010, it was bittersweet.  It had been a long year since on top of the regular "teacher stuff,"  I'd also struggled with morning sickness (that often lasted all day), swollen ankles and feet, agonizing sciatica, untreated anxiety, and the regular exhaustion that comes with pregnancy.  I was ready to stay home, put up my feet and wait for my daughter to arrive in eight weeks.  But her arrival would also mean I wouldn't return to the classroom since I'd made the decision to stay at home with my little girl in lieu of returning to work. I was excited and thankful that I had the opportunity to be home with my daughter, but I also feared I might be unhappy and lonely and bored.  I knew women who admitted that they returned to work not out of necessity but because they didn't enjoy being home full time.  As the days crepppppppt by and I awaited my baby's arrival, my future as a SAHM became a source of additional anxiety.

Fast forward three years.

I'm sitting in the recliner with Peanut in my lap.  We're watching The Rescuers for the first time since it's one of her favorite bedtime books. Both of us are still in pajamas with unbrushed teeth and hair, even though it's almost one in the afternoon.  Our breakfast--well, brunch--plates are stacked on the end table, sticky with the remnants of homemade strawberry preserves I made this summer.  There is a tiara on my head and at least a dozen bracelets on my wrist.  Peanut is sporting a Rapunzel wig and every remaining piece of jewelry from her dress up box.  It has been a deliciously lazy day with my favorite small person.  Bored isn't on my radar, nor is unhappy, lonely or unfulfilled.

Every day isn't like this, though.  I never realized how busy I would stay as a SAHM.  I never imagined how stressed or frustrated or CRAZY I would feel.  It's not that I thought it would be easy, but I always visualized being this super hands-on mom and "on top of things" woman with a happy, well-rounded child, a clean house, home-cooked meals on the table each evening, and a free minutes left at the end of the day to write.

Surely I can handle one child and a home if I don't have to work outside the home, I thought.

Well, I can do those things.  Just not on the same day.

Love and Despair by Sandra Butler
There is nothing that can truly prepare you for the mind-numbing exhaustion of a newborn or infant.  There were days that my biggest accomplishment was not falling asleep and dropping my baby during feeding time.  Some weeks the only laundry I finished was cleaning poop out of her onesies.

There is nothing that can truly prepare you for the anxiety that accompanies a child in motion.  Even ten years of keeping an eye on 30 teenagers at once wasn't training enough for keeping track of one crawling 10 month old.  One time, I left the room for twelve seconds.  I know it was twelve because I later timed the same task.  During that minuscule frame of time, my child managed to seemingly disappear  from the gated living room.  Where did I find her?  Behind the entertainment center.   Cleaning the house?  Not likely unless I strapped her to me (not the safest option if I'm bleaching toilets) or stuck her in the Pack-N-Play (commence meltdown).  My clean house was limited to whatever rooms weren't closest to her during naptime and whatever tasks wouldn't wake her up (what's a vacuum?)  Making dinner was hectic and stressful with tiny, moving stumbling block maneuvering around the kitchen.  And by the time I got everything on the table, got Amelia fed, picked up her spoon 8,000 times, and made my plate, the food was cold and I wasn't even that hungry anymore.

And there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the roller coaster ride of spending 24 hours a day with a toddler.  They're like miniature tornadoes.  With vocabularies.  And attitudes.  It's a constant balancing act of learning, playing, teaching, disciplining, eating, napping, potty-training, reading, pretending, driving, scheduling, arguing, nurturing, and loving.  That's on top of the laundry and the grocery shopping and the cooking and cleaning and the sweeping and the wiping and... oh my Lord, did you really just dump out the entire contents of your toy box while Mommy was peeing???  Did you paint the couch with iced tea? Why did you kick the dog?  Why did you separate and throw all of the socks in your drawer?  Did you just stick your head in the toilet?  Why are your teeth blue and where is the rest of that crayon?  Don't climb up there, you'll get hurt!  Don't put that in your mouth, you'll choke!  Don't pull that on top of you!  Don't run with your toothbrush in your mouth!   Is this poop?  Where else is the poop?  

I know, I know, First World Problems.  

Look, I'm not saying I have it harder than working moms.  If I had to get up early every morning, go to work, teach all day, spend the afternoon grading and planning and STILL have to be a mom and homemaker, I would probably dig a hole, climb into it and beg passers-by to shovel in some dirt on top of me.  And even though it sounds like I'm complaining about staying at home with my daughter, I'm not.  That's kind of the point I'm trying to make.  Even though this has been a total challenge and I've lost more hair that I care to discuss, I wouldn't trade this life for anyone else's.  It's taken three years to get to a point where I don't feel like a constant failure because I always have more on my "to do list" than on my "done list."  I've had to give up on that "super mom" life I had planned and just focus on being the best mom I can be.  

I treasure being at home with my Peanut.  I love being her mother, her teacher, her best friend (at least she thinks I am for now... oh, how soon that will change).  I love getting to witness her milestones, to watch her accomplishments.  I love being the one she runs to when she's proud of herself, the one she reaches for when she falls down.  I start my days with her little gap-toothed grin and end my days with her arms around my neck.   For every tantrum or sassy comeback, there are ten "I lub you, Momma."  With every mess, there is a new adventure or memory to be made.  My house is dirty but my child is happy.  

I'll admit there are times I get lonely, that I miss being with adults.   There are days I wonder what it would be like to drop her off at day care and return to the land of working outside the home.   There are moments I feel like I'll drown in the lake of Legos and plastic food and princess crowns and puzzle pieces.  I've cried while I've picked Playdough out of the carpet.  I've cursed when I've heard her door to her room open for the 17th time after I put her to bed.  I've counted down the minutes until nap time.  I've called my mother to just come and TAKE THIS CHILD so that I can have a few minutes of rest (that I usually instead spend doing dishes or paying bills).  

But those moments are only a fraction of the rest of the life I have as a SAHM.  And I don't let myself get dragged down for too long when we do have a bad day.  

My baby turned three this year.  We are officially on the downward slope toward kindergarten and to my return to the workforce.  It hurts my heart to think about dropping her off at school each morning and not knowing what she's doing all day.  I will miss our lazy mornings, our late night cuddles and all the days spent in between just getting to be mommy and daughter.  I know how fortunate and blessed I am that I have this opportunity to spend her formative years with her, and I am in no hurry to return to the busy "adult" world that awaits me.  

Wrap 2 by Katie Berggren
I've managed to type this entire post on my Droid because I didn't want to give up snuggle time, but I had all of this on my heart and didn't want to lose that "momentum" that I seem to lack these days when it comes to writing.  I could have left her in front of the television and gone to the computer.  She would have finished the movie herself.  Blogging from a phone is most definitely not the easiest task.  But I didn't want to give up this time with her, even though we're doing absolutely nothing.  My life isn't boring; it's the biggest adventure I've ever had.  

The end of the movie is near, and I can feel her weight shift in my lap.  She's growing heavier and nap time approaches.  Who knows when I'll have the time or energy to write again.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe next week.  It's hard to say these days.  

But these days are so few and so precious.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Finders, Keepers

She had just answered Final Jeopardy when her terrier jumped from the couch and scrambled to the front door, alerting Dolores with his tiny bark of someone's presence.  She assumed it was the postman preparing to deposit today's stack of bills, catalogs, and magazines into the mail slot.  Instead of the familiar sound of swishing envelopes, however, she heard the dog emit a low growl.  Maybe a cat or another dog, Dolores thought.

"Hush, Tipsy.  Mama's coming."

Dolores grunted as she pushed herself off of the sofa.  She wasn't an especially old woman or even a large woman, but life had weighed heavily on her shoulders for many years.  

Since Dolores hit puberty, there had rarely been a moment in her life in which she hadn't cared for someone.   
As a teenager, she tended to her younger siblings as her mother slowly succumbed to cancer.  In her mother's final months, Dolores took on the role of both parent and nurse.  Her insomnia could be traced back to those nights of lying in bed, awaiting the sound of her mother's moan, of her siblings' cries.  She would rock her younger brother as he struggled against her thin body, reminding her over and over through his sobs that she wasn't his Mama.  She would cover his ears as her mother would howl in pain, demanding Dolores "put the child down and come to her aid."  

The Dead Mother by Edvard Munch
Though it had been 47 years, Dolores still carried the secret shame of her initial feelings the morning she reached for her mother's hand and found it stiff and cold:  relief.  

Her mother had insisted that she not be embalmed, pointing out that her insides had rotted so there was no need to preserve what was left of her outsides.  Dolores knew that her mother's decision could also be attributed to the modest woman's repulsion of being naked on the table of the local mortician.  Dolores still cringed when she thought of bathing her dead mother’s body for the last time.

Tipsy was dancing a four-legged jig by the time Dolores reached the door, his nails tap-tap-tapping on the hardwood floor.  There still hadn’t been a knock.  Dolores pulled back the curtains beside the door.  There was a man sitting on her front porch steps.  His back was to Dolores, but his gray hair and posture indicated he was of advanced age.  His head was cradled in his hands.   Dolores couldn’t help but think of her father.

Jonas Wilbanks was not a bad man, but he had handled his wife’s illness and subsequent death very poorly.   His wife had always handled the children and household responsibilities, and being at home was overwhelming and frustrating.   He felt completely useless and, eventually, hopeless.  Instead of rising to the occasion and stepping up for his family, though, he avoided them and generally came home only to sleep and eat.  He justified his shortcomings in his own mind by increasing the financial provisions which he provided, requesting first consideration for any overtime at the factory where he was employed.  People around town criticized the man for practically abandoning his children and ailing wife, but Jonas kept his head down and worked harder.  The morning Dolores met him on the front porch with the news of his wife’s death, Jonas wailed and wept like her passing was a complete shock and surprise.   He was drunk for an entire week following her burial.  And the next week.  And then pretty much every day following, especially once the foreman’s sympathy waned and he fired Jonas Wilbanks.  

Hands on Head by Immortelle
Jonas was a broken man and would remain so the rest of his life.  Instead of starting a life of her own, Dolores remained at home, playing the role of mother to both the younger siblings and her own father.  Just shy of her 26th birthday, her youngest brother quit school, found work, and left home.  Dolores felt like a very old woman, and she felt older every time her Daddy would stumble home, often bloody and bruised.  She would lie awake as she had over a decade before, only this time it was her father who cried in the night.  When he’d grow quiet, she’d tiptoe down the hallway and find him sitting in her mother’s chair, asleep with his head in his hands.  

It took her two years to finally walk away and begin her new life.  

Dolores unchained and opened the door but did not cross the threshold.  Tipsy ran to the man and began giving him a once over with his tiny nose.  


The man didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge her or the dog.  She noticed hearing aids on the back of his ears.

“Sir?” she said, a little louder this time.  

The man turned and looked up at her.  His face was friendly but lined with sadness.  He immediately grasped the handrail and carefully hoisted himself into a standing—yet slightly stooped—position.

He was dressed in a short sleeved button up shirt and wrinkled grey slacks.  His hair was silver but barely thinning as with most men of a certain age.  Behind his glasses were striking blue eyes, rimmed in red as if he'd been rubbing them profusely.  

Holding the rail, he made his way to the top step.  Dolores made no attempt to close the door or even back away. She couldn’t read minds, but she knew this man meant her no harm.

“Is there something I can help you with, hon?  Are you looking for someone?  Are you lost?  I have a phone—“  

“They told me you died, Bea.”

“I’m sorry?”

“They told me but I didn’t believe it.  I knew you’d be here waiting if I could just get to you.  But all those doors, those locks, those damned locks. I couldn’t get to you.”

“Sir, I think you are mistaking me for someone else.   My name is Do—“ 

But before she could finish, the old man covered the two steps between them much more swiftly than she imagined possible.  

He wrapped his arms around her.  She could feel his body convulse ever so slightly as he quietly sobbed into her shoulder.  Almost automatically, her arms embraced his body.  She patted his back and soothed him, shushed him.  

It had been so long since anyone had touched her, much less held her.  Her husband had been dead for almost six years, but she had no interest in dating and had politely declined when her friends tried to introduce her to "eligible" men.  

She had been blessed with almost three decades of marriage with her dear Erwin, but marriage had not provided the kind of escape she so desperately sought from her childhood home.  

Self 24 by David Roman
She and Erwin met after he returned home from his tour in Vietnam.  He never spoke of what he’d done or witnessed while he served his country, but Dolores had a hard time believing he’d been so broken prior to his deployment.  Erwin was a kind man, an honest man, and he loved Dolores.  But she often wondered if his love stemmed mostly from his dependence on her.  For days, sometimes weeks, Erwin would “go into himself” as Dolores called it.  He wouldn’t leave the bedroom, wouldn’t eat, often wouldn’t even speak or acknowledge Dolores was in the room.  She would endure these days of living with a shell of her husband by keeping busy—cleaning the entire house top to bottom, planting a new garden, baking pies and cakes for all of the neighbors.  She would only stop to sleep, eat and check on Erwin.  Each time, Dolores waited patiently for the door to open and for her husband to emerge, to hold her, to live again.  She would then make the most of the time they had together, forcing herself to focus on the life they were living and not the imminent threat of withdrawal that always loomed in the not so distant future.  

Then one day, the door never opened.  

Two hours later, Dolores found herself still entertaining—or rather being entertained by— the older gentleman whose name was Robert Tatum.  She had made coffee and found two honey buns in the pantry for them to eat.  He wore a bracelet with the name of a nursing facility only three-quarters of a mile from her own home, which was also Robert's former home with his wife.

She had not encouraged him to call her Bea, but she hadn’t corrected him since they met on the porch.  Though he was obviously the victim of some sort of dementia, he still possessed wit and charm.  He was currently reliving the early 80s and asking Dolores if she remembered the name of this chalet or that quaint cafe.   

The afternoon passed quickly.  Dolores made grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s tomato soup for dinner.  She hid a grin when Robert mentioned that her cooking had improved.    
They ate mostly in silence, broken up by Tipsy’s occasional whine for a bite of bread crust.  About a half hour later, as Dolores carried the dishes to the sink, she found herself humming a song under her breath.  When she returned to the dining room, Robert was staring at her.  He didn’t look upset or alarmed, but he wore the sad expression she’d first seen on his face.  

“You aren’t Bea,” he said, very quietly.

“No, Mr. Robert, I’m not Bea.  I’m Dolores.  I live in this house now.”

“And Bea—“

“I’m not exactly sure, but I think she passed away.  I… I can try to find out.  My neighbor has a computer with the Internet.  Maybe I could look it up?”

“No, “ he whispered, “no, there won’t be any need for that.  My Bea is gone.”

He slowly stood, his hands visibly shaking.  

“Are you leaving?”

He dropped his head and slowly sat down.  

“I don’t know how to get back there, back to that place.”  

Dolores had grown accustomed over the years to seeing men cry, to watching them crumble.  She had carefully, so carefully, swept up the broken pieces over and over.  She had gently, so gently, pasted them back together, using bits and pieces of herself to fill in the cracks left in those she loved.    

But watching the tears stream down Robert’s face opened a door inside her heart that had closed the day her husband had been carried from their bedroom.  Dolores had filled the years alone with weekend trips to visit nieces and nephews, with reading groups and ladies’ bowling league.  She had adopted Tipsy from the local shelter and nursed him back to health, both physically and mentally.  She filled her days with talk shows and crossword puzzles and subscriptions to a dozen different magazines.

If anyone asked, Dolores was doing just fine.  Some might say she had even flourished following Erwin’s death.  

But Dolores was lonely.  No, not lonely.  She was alone.

She hated coming home to an empty house.  She hated eating most meals by herself.  She hated having no one with whom to share the insignificant tidbits of her day that don’t justify a phone call to a friend.  
Most of all—and she had never admitted it to herself until this very moment—she hated having no one in her life who needed her.  She didn't necessarily desire love or affection.  She didn't need to be wanted.  

She wanted to be needed.  

After a lifetime of meeting the needs of everyone in her life, she had tried to convince herself that her senior years would be her time, that this time of rest and solitude could be the silver lining to the dark cloud that had followed her for so many years.  But Dolores didn’t know how to be alone and she surely didn’t understand how she was supposed to spend the next however many years she walked the earth solely meeting her own needs.  She couldn’t imagine anything less fulfilling or a more pathetic way to conclude her life.  

She walked to Mr. Robert Tatum and placed her hand on his shoulder.  He reached up with his own hand and, without looking up, placed it on hers.  

"Mr. Robert, I need to ask you a question..."

She had never been so sure of anything in her entire life.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Catching Up - Friend Me (or not to friend me)

Someone suggested that I write about whether or not I'd like myself if I met me at a party.  Considering the only parties I attend these days are children's birthday soirees, I'm not sure how I'd feel about myself.  Most of my time is spent making sure Amelia doesn't stick her hands in the cake, open the birthday child's presents, or maim herself or another child.  It's difficult to hold a conversation with someone when I'm constantly stopping mid-sentence to chase my child or tell her to stop doing something.  My only other frame of reference for parties are those which I attended in my younger (read: wilder) years, and I'm not sure how much I'd like that girl.  Actually, I might punch that girl.  

That being said, I'd like to at least attempt to adhere to my reader's suggestion, so I decided to write a pro and con list about being friends with me.  I'll attempt to be completely honest with my evaluation of myself. It's not that you have to worry about me glossing over the cons.  It's the pros with which I struggle.  

So let's get this party started!  

I talk.  A lot.  I have a problem with dominating conversations.  It's not that I don't care what other people have to say, I just really like to talk.  I get it honestly from both of my parents.  And I like to entertain, so if I have a story or anecdote that might make people laugh, I almost can't resist telling it.  This is something that I've grown more conscious of over the years, and I have truly attempted to talk less and listen more.  I don't want people to feel like I'm not listening to them, that I'm just waiting until it's my turn to talk again.  I know people have to feel that way sometimes.  The problem is that I struggle with this even more now that I'm a SAHM and spend most of my time with a toddler.  It's not that I really get lonely when I'm with her, but when I get around other adults, I realize how much I miss interacting with people my age.  

Despite my motor mouth, I DO have the ability to listen. REALLY listen.  If a friend has a problem, I will listen as long as they need me to do so.  And even if there are things going on in my on life, I don't try to compare all of my problems to theirs (unless it is the very same problem and I am commiserating).  We all deal with different things in different ways.  Yes, someone else's problem may not be a struggle in my life, but it doesn't mean that I have the right to belittle their struggle.  Life isn't one big pissing contest of whose life is hardest, you know?  Point is, I will genuinely listen if someone is hurting or just needs to vent.  I do have the ability to STFU when I should.  

I am really bad at staying in touch like I should.  I am eternally grateful for the invention that we call Facebook because it has allowed me a "one stop shop" to keep up with friends I don't often get to see. Even though I like to talk, I'm not wild about talking on the phone since I have a toddler (and as I mentioned earlier, toddlers are pretty lethal to conversations).  Plus, when I'm with my daughter, I want to focus on her. I am terrible about getting by to visit people, though, and am notorious for going months without even scheduling play dates with friends.  I have good intentions, but it just doesn't happen.  Part of it is a time management issue.  Part of it is a busy schedule.  But part of it is just forgetfulness and laziness on my part. I'm glad that my friends are pretty forgiving and accept my text messages and Facebook comments as pitiful substitutes for real human contact.  

I struggle with saying "no," especially to a friend.  To anyone really, but it's almost impossible for me to turn a friend down unless there is a valid, solid reason to do so (and even then I struggle with guilt).  In the past, this has set me up for some heartaches since, as we all know, there are people in the world who will totally take advantage of a "yes friend."  My solution to that problem?  I have whittled my list of friends down.  I try not to have leeches in my life or people who will take advantage of me.  When I know that a friendship is solid and based on love and loyalty, I don't worry that I'm being used.  The result is that I don't see it as a struggle to say "no" anymore; now it has become a matter of enjoying saying "yes!"   I think an important element of friendship IS service. I want my friends to be happy.  I want their lives to be less stressful.  If there is something small I can do to make that more likely to happen--dinner, babysitting, taking them out for coffee--then I WANT to do it.  Saying "yes" makes my life happier, too  :)

I have high expectations of my friends.  And it isn't related to me expecting them to do something for me or act a certain way.  I just expect loyalty and compassion and honesty and encouragement.  I guess I always thought those were givens in a friendship, but I've learned over the years that there are many people who call themselves "friend" but who will lie to or about me, break my confidence, dismiss my struggles and abandon me during the valleys of life.  These same people will then smile, hug my neck, and act like a bond has not been broken (if that bond indeed ever existed).  If someone is going to be my friend, I expect them to BE MY FRIEND.  And I don't expect them to get defensive or tell more lies when I address what they've done. A real friend would own up to the mistake and try to repair the friendship (which I am open to doing if the other person is willing).  I don't need half-ass friends in my life.  I call those "baggage."

I hold myself to the same expectations.  There are times I fail, but I do my best to make it right.  Friends can be angels in our daily lives, but we are all still human.  

I hope that some of you will share in the comments below.  I want to be a good friend--a better friend--so take a minute and tell me the areas in which I need to improve.  I don't need anyone tooting my horn.  I need people to help me be a BETTER ME.   If you comment on my blog, you may do so anonymously, so go ahead and give me an honest evaluation of what I'm like as a friend.  You won't hurt my feelings (unless you intentionally TRY to hurt my feelings, and then I can't promise I won't cry).  I appreciate honesty.  I appreciate constructive criticism.  Here's a chance for my friends to say, "I love you, but [insert something I do] gets on my ever-loving last nerve."  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me

For those of you who have stuck around while I've been a total Debbie Downer, I tip my hat and offer many thanks.  Just getting those bad feelings onto paper (well, screen) and not having them bouncing around inside is very freeing.  Sometimes I just have to purge everything and clear my head so that I can write something else.  I'm sorry if I've concerned or worried anyone.  I've been in a dark place, though, and the only way out for me is to expose it.  I told y'all from the beginning that I'm going to be HONEST.

But today is not a day for gloom and doom.  Today is my 34th birthday, and DANGIT I'M GOING TO BE HAPPY.  So how have I spent my birthday thus far you ask?  Well, I'm so glad you want to know because I'm about to bust out the old "what I've done today" post that I so intensely try to avoid.  What I've done today has been important, though, because it relates to what I've written about the last few days.  I want to be happy and healthy and that doesn't just magically happen.  It takes work on my part.  And that is exactly what I've done today--WORKED.

I made breakfast for me and the Peanut.  Real breakfast, too.  Not a bowl of instant oatmeal or cereal, not a Pop-Tart or granola bar.  I made each of us a plate of homemade French toast, complete with a powdered sugar and warm syrup.  We sat on the couch and watched part of Rise of the Guardians while we ate. 
After breakfast, I took the dogs out and fed them, too.  The backyard is in need of a good mowing and I knew rain was in the forecast today and pretty much every day this week.  I asked Amelia if she wanted to finish her movie while I mowed.  She said, "Nope, I want to jump on my trampoline."  

Alrighty then.

Five minutes later, she was on her trampoline.  I was in a lawn chair, feeling completely useless.  I decided to get up and sweep the carport.  Well, sweep what is visible of the carport since it looks like a family of white trash hoarders live here.  

Wait, not looks.  Looked.  It looked like a family of white trash hoarders live here.  Why the change in verb tense?  Because the sweeping led to filling moving things around.  Moving things around led to opening boxes.  Opening boxes led to a box or garbage bags.  And so on and so on.  Long story short, I found myself three hours later with a mostly clean, organized carport and a massive pile of garbage to carry off. My mother also graciously came over in her pickup truck and carried a huge load to the local donation center.  

By the time I finished, I was filthy, sweaty and itchy.  And achy.  And exhausted.  And proud.  

And happy.  

I'm sure this sounds like a completely bizzaro way to spend a birthday, but this is exactly what I needed. I couldn't have given myself a better gift than to walk out my back door each day to a clean carport.  Plus, Peanut now has clean toys and a shady place to play.  Everyone wins!

Deep down, my brain knew what it was doing when it made me pick up that broom initially.  Being productive makes me happy.  Accomplishing something makes me happy.  Order makes me happy.  

I've had so much on my plate that I've struggled to keep up with all of my responsibilities (which currently include two homes).  When I've had a little free time, I've rewarded myself by being lazy and then wondered why I continue feeling so awful.  I know I need to rest and that I can't work all the time, but I'm not happy when my environment is in complete chaos.  I'm restless and anxious when I go to bed with a still full "to do" list.  

Being busy is good for me.  It's therapeutic.  Right now, I can feel a little bit of the real me peeking out. Working outside today allowed me to get rid of pent up frustration.  It gave me time to think about the things I need to contemplate, but gave me something else to focus on when the sad thoughts started creeping in.  

I know I need rest. I understand I need to focus on myself and getting better.  And I'm doing that, too.  After working outside, I came in, gave Amelia a bath, put her down for a nap, and took a long, hot shower.  Now I'm drinking a glass of tea and working on the blog I've ignored for so many months.  And in 45 minutes, I'm going to have a massage.  

It's all about balance.  Balancing the good and the bad, the happiness and the hurt, the work and the rest. I'm going to find it.  Hopefully, I'll be writing an entirely different type of post when 35 rolls around next year.  

Crap, did I just say 35?  Well, now I'm sad again.



(On a related note, do you know who hates productivity?  Toddlers.  Ain't no toddler got time for some productivity.)

I'm 17 times 2

I am 34.  Well, I guess not officially for a few more hours, but who's counting?  I'm going to sleep and then give myself a happy blog post for my birthday.  If any of you need last minute gift ideas, I posted one below.  No need to wrap it.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Post I Retitled "The Mask"

Today I was going to post a story I wrote, but due to the subject matter, I don't feel it is in good taste considering the battles some of my readers are facing tonight.  I'll save it for another day so that no one mistakenly thinks I'm directing it him or her.  

That being said, it's only Day Four, and I'm hitting a wall.  My motivation was at its highest on Day One.  
Day Two was my yearly recycled blog for August 2nd.  Yesterday's post was extremely difficult, but it was my daughter's birthday so at least I had inspiration.  I had planned to share a fiction piece today and take an easy way out, but I can't even do that.  It's not that I have nothing to say. Make no mistake, I have plenty I wish I could share.   I'm sitting here with a million things to say and no freedom to say any of them.  Today reminds me of why I stopped writing:  I can't be honest.  It's not that I have to lie.  I just can't say what I really want to say.  It's too personal.  Too painful.  It would affect too many people.  I struggle to write when I'm totally consumed by something (unless I am able to write about that which consumes me).  

So where does this post go from here?  What do I do for the remaining 27 days of this challenge?  Is this going to end up feeling like yet another part of my life that is failing?  

This used to be so therapeutic.

I guess I could always fall back on the old "here's a recap of my day" post.  I might die from eye rolling, but at least I could fill up part of the page.  It hasn't been a bad day.  I spent it with family, and we celebrated my daughter's birthday (again and we still haven't had her official party).  I was surrounded by people who make me feel loved.  But there was still the struggle to put on a happy face and pretend I'm "normal."  I've worked so hard to perfect the appearance that I'm okay, that I'm happy and healthy.  It's not that I'm trying to mislead people.  I don't do it to be fake or to convince people that I or my life is perfect.  If any of you have known me very long (or have read this blog), you know I try to be pretty honest about how I feel and what I believe.  It's like the time someone told me she was glad I "finally got pregnant."  I'd only tried for four months and asked her what she meant.  She said she assumed that I must be having fertility issues since we had been married so long and didn't have children.  I reminded her that if that had been true, she would have read about it on Facebook because I have a (bad?) habit of putting my business OUT there.  

Artwork by eddietheyeti
But this time it's not like that.  There are some things that can't be "put out."  There are some things that only those on my very inner circle can know, and some things that I can't even share with them.  And the damnable misery of it is that I feel like I'm going to explode sometimes from holding it in.  

Let me tell you what happens to people who put on the proverbial happy face for too long: they stop being able to show their real emotions in a healthy way.  They become angry and scared and anxious and bitter.

I've become angry and scared and anxious and bitter.

I hide these emotions behind the "happy mask," though, so that I can get through the day.  So that I don't worry or burden those around me.  I've worn this mask for a little while now, long enough that I don't have to remember to put it on.  It's like I'm programmed now.   The problem is that eventually The Mask has to come off, and what's behind it is scarred and ugly.  It reeks of insecurity and desperation.  

For those who are very fortunate, there is somemone in their lives who recognizes that the smile is fake, who allows them to remove The Mask, who even encourages it.  Someone who touches the scars and says, "You're still beautiful."  Someone who won't be pushed away, who refuses to give up.  Someone who will make the mask unneccessary, obsolete.  It isn't an easy task. It's often difficult to love someone who is hurting.  Just like a wounded animal who won't let anyone close enough to help it, a broken heart will build walls to protect itself even from those who would attempt to mend it.  A broken heart will encourage us to push people away just to make them prove they'll stay.  It takes a brave person to love a broken heart.  

I don't know how long I'll have to wear my mask.  I don't know how long this hurt is going to last.  I'm just going to chip away at it a little each day until I find myself underneath.  I'm going to break down the walls around my heart and love myself.  I'm going to be brave.  

Photo by Ria Pereia
Soon, I'm going to look in the mirror and see what other see--a smile.  A genuine smile.  

Tomorrow is my birthday.  I'm going to have a good day.  I don't know what I'll do or how I'll celebrate.  It will most likely be a day like every other.  I survived the past year, though, so it will be a good day.  And I promise a happy post for my happy birthday.   Peace and love wherever you are tonight.  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

To Amelia

You are three years old today, my little Peanut.  The cliche "seems like yesterday" has never been so appropriate for me.  I just held your wiggling purple body on my chest after that last push.  I just brought you home.  You just started sitting up, started crawling, started talking, started walking.  When did you get so many teeth?  When did you learn so many words?  How did you get so smart and so big so quickly?   I am so proud of you and the little person I'm watching you become.  

I know the last year has been hard for you.  I've tried to protect you, tried to keep your life normal.  I've held it together as best I could so that you didn't have to see me hurt or ask me why I was crying.  But I couldn't always protect you.  You've had to hear things your little ears shouldn't hear, which has led you to ask questions that should even cross your mind.  You've watched Mommy be sad and done your best to cheer me up.  You've put your little arms around my neck and cried with me, too.  You've adjusted to a new home, a new room, a new life.  It hasn't been easy, but you've done so well.  You are such a brave, strong little girl.  You're too young to understand how much you have meant to me.  There are days when the only reason I was able to get out of bed was to take care of you.  There are days that my only smile was because of you. You have brought joy to my life on my darkest days.  And you have saved me over and over again.  

And I am so, so sorry.

Such a burden should have never fallen on your little shoulders.  My happiness is not your responsibility. This is your time to be innocent and carefree.  You shouldn't have to worry about Mommy.  I didn't protect you like I promised I would.  I let you see me hurt too many times.  I raised my voice at you so often when I wasn't angry with you but with someone else or just life in general.  I took advantage of your unconditional love for me and my heart breaks for you.  

People tell me how resilient children are, and I pray that is true.  I hope you have no memory of much of the past year, of how difficult it has been and how sad your Mommy was.  

Things are going to be different in your third year of life.

You will always make me happy, but I won't depend on you to provide it for me.  I am the adult.  I have to figure out how to be happy.  Plus, you deserve to have bad or grumpy days just like everyone else.  I shouldn't expect you to be happy for me.

You will always be the driving force in my life, but I will get out of bed every day not because I MUST take care of you but because I WANT to be with you and teach you and play with you.  You are not a chore.  And you are so much more than just a responsibility.  I am honored to be your mother and to have the opportunity to spend these first few years at home with you.  

You will always give me reason to live--you are my biggest reason for living--but I have to teach you how to live life to the fullest.  And I will teach you best by showing you.  I am going to live for you AND with you.  I am taking control of my life again.  I am not depending on anyone else to provide my happiness, my motivation, my strength.  But you, my darling girl, can depend on me to provide that for you.  Because you're three.  Only three.  Yes, you may talk like a little adult.  You may act like such a big girl. But you're three.  And I'm your mother.

I love you, Mil Mil.  Three is going to be a good year for you.  For me.  For us.  It may not be easy, but we're going to make it work and then some.  I'm going to be the Mommy you deserve.

Happy birthday.  This is my gift to you.

Along with the drum set you're probably getting.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

August 2nd - A Baby Story

Three years ago today, I went to the hospital to have my little girl.  When I left that morning, I posted to Facebook that we'd be welcoming a new family member on the 2nd.  Little did I know that Little Miss Peanut had other plans.  This is a recyled blog, but I post it each year to celebrate her birth.  Happy Birthday Eve to my precious girl.  I love you more every day.  

My belly at 38 weeks.  
I've had so many people as me about my labor and delivery that I feel I can tell the story in my sleep. I never realized when I declared my desire to have a natural birth that so many people would take an interest in whether or not my birth plan became a reality. To be honest, there's parts of the day that are a bit fuzzy, but here's what I remember, starting on Monday, August 2nd. It's going to be long because I'm doing this for myself, too, as a way to document Amelia's arrival for myself. Some of this may also be a little more information than some of you want to read, so be warned. 

I had been sick most of the weekend with some sort of bug that turned my stomach into a nuclear reactor. About 4:30 that morning, I got up and soaked in the tub. Once I got out, I threw up (again) and then crawled into the recliner to eat some crackers and watch CNN. Around 5:30 or so, I heard John in the bathroom throwing up. Just great, I thought. Now we're both sick. I went to tend to him and we both eventually crawled back into bed.

Peanut at almost 40 weeks (had to have an ultrasound
because they were afraid she was breech)
Around 6:30, I felt this weird sensation. It only happened once and was like electricity running in a line down my belly. Then I had a contraction. I got up and went to the bathroom where I noticed my pants were a little wet. Dang, I thought. Must have wet my pants. (This, by the way, is not entirely uncommon during pregnancy). When I stood up to go to the closet and get another pair of pajamas, I suddenly found my feet getting an impromptu baptism. Let me pause here to tell you something: I've always been told that when your water breaks, it's not like in the movies. Well, folks, mine was. And it didn't stop after the initial "gush"... but more on that in a moment. I stood there for a minute registering what was happening. I had made the decision during my pregnancy that when my labor started, I'd labor at home until either my contractions got close enough to warrant going to the hospital or until my water broke. I never imagined my water would break FIRST, forcing me to head to Labor and Delivery before my contractions even started. So there I stood in a puddle, mentally modifying my birth plan.

I calmly walked to the bedroom (leaving a "trail" all the way) and woke up John.

"Honey, I think my water broke."


"I think my water broke."

At this point, he said something that I wish to God I could remember. I was in too much shock at the time to register exactly what it was, but I know it was COMPLETELY unrelated to what I was telling him and at the time I thought, I'll laugh about this later.

"John, listen to me, my water broke. I think I'm going into labor."

His eyes opened wider as he took in what I was saying.

"Are you sure?"

"Well, either my water broke or I've lost all control of my urinary system and need to go to the hospital anyway."

He got out of bed and we both headed to the bathroom to get ready and pack. We were surprisingly both very calm and relaxed. I knew I wouldn't be taking a real shower for a few days, so I climbed in to get clean and wash my hair. When I got out, I discovered a new problem. My water didn't "break and stop." Nope, it continued. This presented a problem: any clothes I put on would get soaked but I couldn't very well walk around nude and "christen" the bathroom floor. John suggested a towel. So for the next 45 minutes or so, I got ready with a navy terry cloth tail following me everywhere.

We loaded up the car and headed to the hospital (with me sitting on a garbage bag). I told John to take me to McDonald's so that I could get a biscuit. I was starving from being sick over the weekend and knew that once I got to the hospital, I wouldn't get to eat. (I wish now I'd ordered three sausage biscuits because that little biscuit didn't get me far over the next 24 hours).

Once we arrived at the hospital around 7:45, I text my nurse midwife to let her know we'd arrived. We headed to the check in desk. Luckily, I'd been "storked" several weeks earlier, so they had all of my information. They asked me have a seat for a minute while they got my file and printed my bracelet. Before I could even get fully seated, though, I felt everything get warm. John looked down as water seeped through my Adidas pants. Up until that moment, I'm not sure he entirely believed my water had broken. You know how those science people like their proof-- ha ha. His whole demeanor changed, though. We told the lady at the counter that I needed a towel because my water was breaking (again? Isn't it broke by now?). This prompted her to find me a NEW chair... a WHEELchair. Within 3 or 4 minutes, I was being wheeled into L & D.

I got undressed, put on the super-stylish hospital gown, and settled in to wait on Holly, the nurse midwife (who is also an absolute ROCK STAR and MIRACLE WORKER--more on that later). She came in and checked me to verify my water had indeed broken and to check my progress. I was 80% effaced and NO centimeters dilated. We discussed the plan for the day. Since I wanted to do it natural if possible, Holly told me she'd let me chill and come back to check my progress at lunch.

So I chilled for the next four hours or so with the monitors on my belly. Every once in awhile, I'd have a very minor contraction but nothing else. Mainly I just complained (constantly) about being hungry.

Around lunch time, Holly returned. I was now 90% effaced but still not dilated. I asked if we could wait it out a little while longer. Holly was all for it but told me that since my water had broken so early, I would need to start antibiotics when she returned after she got off work. I told her how hungry I was and she left for a minute and returned with banana Popsicles. They might as well have been a steak dinner at that point.

Holly left to return to the clinic and I chilled some more, having a random contraction here and there. Around 5:00 or so she returned to check me again. I had actually dilated to 1 centimeter which, yes, was slight progress, but not anything close to being enough. In addition to the antibiotics, we decided it was time to start me on Pitocin. Though I'd wanted to avoid it, everything was just moving way too slowly and at this point it had been 10+ hours since my water had broken. Holly had a dinner to attend, so she told the nurses to start the Pit around 7:00.

The nurses started the antibiotics and fluids and I spent some time up walking around and visiting with family over the next hour or so. Around 7:00, the nurse came to start the Pitocin. It didn't take too terribly long for it to kick in and pretty soon my contractions were coming more regularly and with more intensity. Unfortunately, most of them were in my back. Women had told me about back labor when I was pregnant, but it is so much more painful than I anticipated. I won't lie--it was bad, bad pain. The abdominal pain was no worse than cramps I'd had during my period, but the back pain was pretty hellacious. I handled it pretty well, though, with the help of John and my mom. I spent the next few hours using my breathing exercises and alternating positions. I found the rocking chair to be good for handling pain, as well as leaning over the bed (which was raised up above my waist) and having John and mom rub my lower back.

After about four hours or so on the Pit, I told John I wouldn't be opposed to some Stadol. I was managing the pain but it was wearing me out. What I didn't realize, however, was that once they gave me the Stadol, I wouldn't be allowed out of bed. And that was NOT a good thing. Though the Stadol took the edge off a little bit, I couldn't handle the pain so well while lying on my back. Fortunately, Holly came in to check me again. After all the contractions, I was just SURE that she'd tell me I'd dilated to 8 or 9. No such luck. Though I was completely effaced, I had dilated from 1 cm. to a WHOPPING 2.5 cm.

I knew at that moment what was coming next, but I didn't want to accept it. My water had broken over 12 hours earlier and the four hours on Pitocin had been exhausting after all day in the hospital. There was no way I would be able to continue at the rate I was going without risking Amelia's safety (and the necessity of a c-section). It was time for an epidural to help me relax and to help the labor progress. I had been against an epidural since day one, not only because I wanted to experience labor but also because the thought of an epidural terrified me--not so much the needle going in my back (though I do HATE needles), but being basically paralyzed from the waist down. I started crying. Holly, John and momma tried to keep me calm and keep me rational. They all told me this was what had to be done and that I shouldn't feel like I'd failed in any way. I finally agreed to the epidural and signed the paper.

This is the ugly part that I'm not so proud of. For about the next half hour or so (I hope to God for the sake of my family and everyone in the L & D wing it wasn't any more than that), I gave up on my breathing exercises and trying to deal with the pain. To be honest, I think I just totally gave up in general. I was exhausted and angry and depressed and scared to death. And my anxiety was amped up even more because I knew that John and mom would have to leave the room during my epidural. So instead of "hoo-hoo-heeing" through the contractions, I... well, I screamed. I screamed as loudly as I possibly could. I screamed so loud that I literally couldn't feel the pain at times. For those of you who know me, it's no secret that I'm a fairly loud person anyway, so you can imagine how loud I got. No one could console me. And while I'm not sure I could have controlled it, I wish I had. I think I may have traumatized my mom. She told me later how hard it was to see and hear me in that much pain and misery. It wasn't my finest moment, but there's not much I can do now but try to laugh about it.

The anesthesiologist arrived. The first (rather curt) words out of his mouth were "What's with all this screaming?" He told me he wouldn't do my epidural if I was going to scream. It kind of pissed me off at first. I mean, I'm in pain. Would it kill him to be a little kinder? I realize now, though, he didn't have time to be warm and fuzzy and indulgent. He was needed all over the hospital and he didn't have time to wait for me to get my wits about me. And he wasn't about to risk my well-being and his career on a screaming crazy woman. And in the end, I'd rather get my epidural from someone who is serious about his job than someone who wants me to feel all warm and fuzzy.

While the anesthesiologist got everything prepared, I proved that I could be quiet and still during my contractions. I didn't do it on my own, though. Holly was there with me the whole time, keeping me focused and calm. It was soon time for the procedure. I sat on the edge of the bed, holding Holly's hands. She pointed to her forehead and said, "Put your forehead to mine." And eye to eye with Holly, I breathed my way through three contractions without moving (or screaming). The anesthesiologist started talking to me and even complimented me on my breathing. He told me I was surprising happy when I wasn't screaming. ha ha

I'm not going to lie: though the epidural didn't really hurt that much, the sensation I felt was worse in my opinion. I absolutely hated the feeling when the numbing agent was injected. I could feel my body going numb, slowly becoming paralyzed. It was just like in my nightmares.

They finished my epidural, got me into bed and put in a catheter. At this point, things get a little blurry because a lot of stuff started happening. Plus, I was an emotional wreck and had basically started shutting down. I can remember telling mom several times, "I'm trapped." I don't remember the order in which everything happened, but basically the baby's heart rate started dropping after every contraction and my blood pressure started dropping pretty drastically (around 90/40). I remember people looking kind of alarmed but I was too out of it to ask many questions. The result of all this was me being hooked up to a lot of tubes and monitors and stuff. They took me off of the regular monitors and inserted a fetal monitor that attached to the baby's scalp and an internal contraction monitor. In addition to the four or five bags of fluids I got over the course of my labor, they also pumped fluids into me to "bathe" Amelia since my water had broken so early in the day. I remember looking at one of the nurses and saying, "Are y'all going to stick a cord up in there and charge your cell phones, too?" I also got epinephrine twice for my blood pressure and they put me on oxygen, too. All this in addition to the blood pressure cup squeezing the crap out of me every ten minutes (in case I haven't mentioned it before, I HATE getting my blood pressure taken).

I'm not sure exactly how touch and go it was to be honest, but John told me the next day that he was really afraid they were about to wheel me back to the OR for a c-section. The good news is that I didn't have to have a c-section. The bad news is that I still had 8 more hours to go!

Once they got the baby and me stable, Holly left to get some sleep. John and mom stayed with me for awhile. My body was completely dead from the waist down and I had to depend on them and the nurses to move me. Periodically, I'd ask them to squeeze my feet, hoping I'd feel something. I was totally miserable. Plus, the hunger I'd had earlier in the day was replaced by an agonizing thirst that no amount of ice chips could satisfy. I started craving orange Gatorade for some reason.

As we marched on toward morning (and the 24-hour mark), the nurses came in periodically to check my progress. By around 6:30, I was fully dilated but they wanted to let me "slide" for a little while and let the baby move farther down into the birth canal. I was honestly too tired to be excited at this point.

Holding her for the first time
About an hour later, Holly came in and told me it was time. I felt a rush of adrenaline as they sat me up and and repositioned the bed. Soon my legs were in these big furry stirrups, with John on one side and momma on the other. Holly told me I was going to grab my legs and push hard like I would if I were trying to poop and that I would keep pushing for ten seconds. At 7:50, I started pushing with my contraction. Well, I tried to push. Being completely numb makes it difficult to know if you're even pushing at all. It took me awhile to figure out exactly how to push, but once I did things went very quickly. It was actually really exciting. Holly was cheering me on the whole time. John was grinning from ear to ear and the look on his face was making me more and more excited. My mom, bless her, kept pushing with me. We laughed and told her not to pass out (or poop! ha ha) Soon they told me the baby's head was starting to crown and asked if I wanted a mirror. I said no because I was already having trouble staying focused on even counting (they actually had to count out loud for me!) I kept pushing like crazy and at 8:12 AM on August 3rd, Amelia made her exit from me and her entrance into the world!

When she came out, she was the most beautiful shade of lavender. In fact, my first words were, "She's so purple!" They put her on my chest and I was absolutely in love at first sight.

In love
So as far as my birth plan goes, I didn't get to labor at home like I wanted, I had to have pitocin and an epidural, and I delivered her on lying on my back. At first I was really disappointed, but the more I've thought about it, the more "okay" with it I've become. I'm thankful that I didn't have to have a c-section. And (okay this may be a total overshare) I'm thankful that my lady parts came out relatively unscathed (THANK YOU, HOLLY, FOR SAVING MY SPECIAL PLACES!!!!!). But mostly, I'm thankful for my beautiful baby girl who has filled a hole in my life I didn't even know I had. I could look at it as things "not going my way," but wasn't my ultimate goal to have a healthy baby? There are a million things that can happen during labor or delivery and those things didn't happen. Amelia and I are happy and healthy and that's all that matters.

So here's what I have to say to any of you ladies who are putting together your birth plan: there's nothing wrong with doing it as long as you understand that it's a plan. "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" as do the best laid plans of expectant mothers. Have your plan but know that at any moment it may change and you just have to roll with it. Don't be stubborn and put yourself or your baby in danger. Luckily, I wasn't stubborn enough to refuse to do what was best, but I feel I was a little too set in what I wanted so that when it did change, I didn't deal with it as well as I could have (hence the screaming).

With our awesome midwife, Holly

So that's my baby story, but it's only the beginning. Every day I'm writing a new chapter. I love being a mommy and I'm so thankful that I've been blessed with this gorgeous little girl.

Welcome to the world, my love.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

August and Everything After

I have dreaded August.  It should be a month of celebration.  When I think of August, I think of starting my "grown up" life together with my husband 12 years ago.  I think of all the years I taught school and the excitement (and anxiety) of those first days.  August 5th is my birthday.  More importantly, I was blessed with my daughter three years ago on August 10th.  This should be a joyous month, a time of reflection and gratitude for the life I have.

But last August everything changed.  After an especially difficult first half of 2012, I was not prepared for the emotionally and physical stress which August would bring.  Looking back now, I realize it was the month my life--not just my own, but the life I've built for myself--began to crumble.  August was full of tears and grieving and anxiety and anger.  Every few days it seemed I was awakening in some terrible alternate reality where people I loved were suddenly taken and people I had tried to love finally began proving that they weren't worth that emotion.  After the year we'd had leading up to that 8th month, I thought surely things will get better from here.  We've endured two deaths of loved ones.  It won't get worse than dying, right?

I realize now I was tempting fate to show me how much worse things can get.  

I won't go into details about the events that have transpired since August, including what is going on currently in my life.  I will say, though, that my life finished crumbling and I feel like I'm trapped under the ruins of it. There are many days when hope alludes me and faith is something I had as a child.  

But I haven't given up.  Not yet.  I'm still here, desperately trying to be a mother and a wife, struggling to figure out who I am, what I believe in, and what purpose I serve in this life.  

When I saw that there was a blog challenge to write each day in August, I thought about my poor, neglected blog.  Something that once brought me a sense of freedom and release has become just another chore that I can't bear to do at the end of a long day.  I felt it was time to step back up and write again.  This time, I'm not writing to entertain or provoke or to ask for feedback on a piece of short fiction. I'm writing for my own sake, hoping that writing can once again be a source of solace for me, a place where I can leave my insecurities and fears on the screen and walk away.  

I'm also hoping August can be my "new year."  I tried to convince myself that 2013 would be a chance to start over, but things only got worse.  So maybe it's time to try again.  Life fell apart last year August.  Perhaps this year I can begin putting the pieces back together.  I can let go of the pain and make the conscious DAILY decision to focus on the good in my life.  I have a beautiful toddler who needs a healthy, happy mother.  It is not her job to comfort me and then cry beside me when she fails to cheer me up.  August needs to mark a new start, a new year.  I know this is easier said than done, but hopefully this blog will hold me accountable to do what I need to do.  

So please, offer encouragement and words of wisdome and constructive criticsim.  I'm opening myself up and hope that some of you will join me on this journey.  

My favorite album is August and Everything After.  Sadly, most of the music has provided a soundtrack for me this past year.  And while I love my Counting Crows, it's time to move on to happier music and to find a new soundtrack for my new life.  I'm ready to sing a happy song.