Monday, June 13, 2016

Why I Climb

On Saturday, I will lead Team Hoboken's fourth annual Climb Out of the Darkness, to benefit Postpartum Progress and shine a light on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. There are more than 180 Climbs around the world - find one near you here.
I Climb because...
... perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are the most common complication of pregnancy, affecting around 20% of all new mothers.
... only 15% of the women who are affected, get help. That leaves 85% suffering silently - or not even realizing that they are suffering at all, and thinking this is just how motherhood is supposed to be.
... suicide is the second leading cause of maternal death in the first year postpartum.

I Climb because...
...I felt so isolated and alone. So unbelievably sad. So full of despair. So sure that I had ruined my life by becoming a mother. 
...I sobbed loudly, let tears run silently, and tried to find the words to explain how I felt, but couldn't. ...I stopped eating, barely slept and could hardly speak. 
...I couldn't meet my daughter's eyes, for fear of her seeing how I just didn't care. 
...I froze with fear every time she stirred, anxious at the thought of having to take care of her. 
...I froze with fear every time she slept, anxious at the thought of her stirring. 
...I spent months "going through the motions" of motherhood, trying to feel, bond and love.
... I made lists: lullabies to sing to her. Activities to try with her. Schedules to stick to. Anything to make it through yet another day. 
...I can't imagine how those weeks and months were for Evan, who juggled work, our colicky and reflux-suffering newborn, and the care I needed. For my parents, sister, in-laws and friends, who watched me crumble constantly. 
...I handed my baby to anyone who offered to help - baby nurses, friends, family members, anyone. If it gave me a moment of reprieve, I took advantage. 
I Climb because...
... Postpartum Progress was a crucial part of my recovery. Their tools, resources, stories, information, forums, Daily Hope emails and community of Warrior Moms were instrumental in letting me know I was NOT isolated and alone. I would get better.
... I got better. I slowly but surely had more good hours than bad, then good days than bad, and then good weeks than bad.
... every time I share my story with an audience - be that in a magazine, at a conference or at the playground or a five-year-old's birthday party - at least one person shares their struggle with me. Every. Single Time.
... every time I get a call, text, email or Facebook message from a suffering mom, I drop whatever I'm doing to connect them with help. To listen to them. To work through that day's struggle with them. 
... these calls, texts, emails and Facebook messages come from friends, friends of friends, neighbors and total strangers, all seeking support from someone who has been there.
... every time I help a mom, I tear up, flash back to my own dark days, and then heal a little bit more myself.

But really? This right here is #WhyIClimb.
           Family.           Love.          Support.          Healing.           

To help moms like these: 
And these: 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

My Parenting Plan Backfired

Before you become a parent, it is easy to make all sorts of definitive proclamations. “I will only feed my child organic food.”

“I won’t ever use a pacifier with my baby!”

“I would never let my child use/watch the (insert technology here).”

To these parents I say – just you wait. It is impossible to know what type of parent you will be until you are catapulted headfirst into a narrow tunnel with a speeding freight train (read: a hysterically crying, tantrum-throwing, screaming two-year-old) heading towards you. If you are anything like me, all at once you throw the first snack you can find, a pacifier and an iPad at that child in response. And relish the fleeting moment of peace that decision brings.

In January we celebrated my older daughter’s fifth birthday. I can count on one hand the number of “mistakes” that I have made in these years of raising her. I think we watch too much television (though, to be fair, that girl is pretty brilliant and often credits her favorite shows with teaching her the random facts she knows). I know that her diet is nowhere near as balanced as it should be (though, show me a five-year-old child’s whose is and I’ll be shocked). And she sucks her thumb. Her birthday in January was supposed to mark the first day of trying to get her to really stop – it's not going well.

But there was one parenting decision that I made that – while not major – completely backfired in my face. And it was because of one of my definitive pre-parenting statements.

“I won’t have one of those kids who is obsessed with, like, a blanky or a stuffed animal or lovey…”

When Rebecca was born, she was given all sorts of cuddly friends. A clear early favorite was the Angel Dear lovey – an impossibly soft, perfectly huggable small blanket with a stuffed animal head on it. They come in all different varieties – farm animals, safari animals, pets – they have them all.

And so do we! Because this was my brilliant parenting move – in order to keep her from being obsessed with one particular one, I would get five or six different ones and keep switching them out. It was perfect! She would love them all and not care which one she had at any given moment… until…

She needed them all. At every given moment. So instead of being the kid who was obsessed with like, a blanky or stuffed animal or lovey… she was the girl addicted to five of them. She could tell instantly if one was missing and which one it was.

“I need Ducky. Where’s Lamby? Hi Hippo! Ooh ooh ah ah Monkey! Yay Munchy (that’s the giraffe)!”

Sigh. It was exhausting keeping track of five best friends. And we didn’t always do such a good job, resulting in endless hunts for them, a situation any parent of a child who has a favorite toy will recall with a wince.

A photo posted by Lesley Neadel (@lneadel) on

To combat the possibility of losing one of your child’s best friends, you do what any normal parent does – you buy a backup. Or two. And if your child has five best friends, as mine did? Yes, that means ten backups. Two of each of five animals. I should have bought stock in Angel Dear when she was born.

And I truly didn’t think she knew the difference. I assumed that one Lamby was as good as the other, and she never really seemed to mind which she had. And best of all? The backups were hidden in the top drawer that she couldn’t reach, so she knew nothing of them!

Until one night putting her to bed when she was two-and-a-half, when she asked for Lamby. I scrambled looking for him and was thrilled to find him peeking out from under her crib. “Here you go!”

She grabbed him, popped her thumb in her mouth, rolled over and rubbed his soft fleecey material between her fingers in her special way. I was about to turn off the light and leave the room when she sat up.

“No, Mommy.”

“No what?”

“Not this Lamby. I want the other.”

I froze, unsure of what to say next.

“You want the… what?”

She looked straight at me, holding Lamby out, and said, “I like the one with the longer nose better. Just open the top drawer and give it to me.”

And in that one moment, I accepted humble defeat, gave her the other Lamby, and walked out of her room, hysterically laughing.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Keeping it Real: On Turning 36

I have a husband. And two children. And a mortgage.  I sit on the board of a nonprofit, have started a freelance career doing writing and public relations consulting, and am working on a startup too. We own a car and lease another. We have wills, life insurance policies and various types of savings and checking accounts.
But if you ask me if I am an adult? If I look around at my life each day and feel equipped to lead it? The answer is emphatically no. I still feel like an insecure middle school girl who is just faking every move of every day to try and hopefully seem like the popular group. Despite creating a life for myself with which I am thoroughly in love, I often don't feel like it is mine.
I consistently call my parents for advice - or more accurately, to tell me what to do - on any number of issues. I Google everything. I can't wrap a present to save my life. I have no knowledge of how many teaspoons go into a tablespoon, which my husband asked me just the other night, and hardly ever make our bed. I routinely shrink clothes in the laundry accidentally and smell cartons of milk to see if they are still good. I live in an apartment that is constantly messy and has at least one light bulb that needs to be changed. (I actually think our electricity zaps bulbs quicker than any other place in the world, but that's for another day.)
Today I am 36 years old. At this point in her life, my mother had lived in the immaculately-kept home where I grew up for more than ten years. She had a seventh-grader and a second-grader, volunteered at the local hospital and cooked dinner for us every single night. I rack up more points than is healthy. When my now-husband and I first moved in together I would often joke that it felt like we were playing house. And it still does! Who am I to tell this guy to take out the garbage!? And parenting? Forget about it - I am the biggest pushover there is, because I don't feel like I command the respect that a real adult does. (In fact, I've started telling my daughter to only speak to me as she would her teacher. Sigh.)
More and more, there are occasions where I feel like another adult should be coming to handle them, only to realize that I am that person. I am the one advocating for my daughter in her school, attending PTO meetings and handling the parent-teacher conferences. Rewind to the day they let us take her home from the hospital - I was in shock that she was ours, that we were in charge of keeping her alive. But we did - and ourselves too! And even went on to have another, who is thriving as well. They are even usually - gasp - happy, well-adjusted, incredible girls.

Us. We're a real family. Apparently.
Perhaps it's because I am always with myself - you  know how if you see something every day you don't notice the subtle changes that have all added up to create massive shifts in a person? The tiny bits of growth that add to inches, the baby steps that combine to leaps and bounds?
But whatever the reason, just know that while I may seem confident, or on a random day come across like I have everything together, inside I feel like it's all capable of collapsing at any moment. There are times when that truth shows through - on the playground, when my older daughter collapses in an epic tantrum, and I drag her out by one arm - while also holding her shoeless baby sister who is laughing at the spectacle - or if you are a fly on the wall during our dinnertime, when pasta is more often than not the star of the meal.
It makes me wonder - and hope - that I'm not alone. That many others have decided to "fake it 'till they make it" at adult-ing too, and that we are all awaiting the handbook that leads you through things like deciding which school is best for your child, buying a whole entire house, or dealing with insurance companies, or - especially around the holidays - wrapping all those damn presents.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Keeping it Real: My Clutter.

Clutter is - unfortunately - a central part of me. I am a scattered person in every aspect of my life, always running in a million different directions at a time, and so are my belongings.
Growing up, I had three drawers in the headboard behind my bed. I spent hours "cleaning out" those drawers as demanded by my uber-neat mother, but despite her constant attempts to reign in my mess, merely weeks later it would be time for another required clean-out as my "stuff" accumulated once again.  These days, to my mother's disappointment, I am messier than ever before.
Lest you imagine my family living in an episode of Hoarders, as addicted as I am to having "stuff," I am equally so to the tools that I believe will help me conquer that addiction - shelves, hooks, baskets, and anything sold at The Container Store. But while each is a solution to a minor part of this major problem, in the end they add to the issue and leave us in worse shape than when we started, because they're more stuff.
My husband has 1/100th of the clutter problem I do, so it has yet to create the real tension that it could in our home - but I can feel that mounting. When we moved in together, I contained my clutter for a little while, but it crept out every now and then. Since we had our two children, and I am now responsible for three people's belongings, it has been put on full blast.
Closets have always been a hazard of mine - a place in which my stuff gets stuffed, with doors that conveniently hide all behind them. Today it is a mess of clothes too small, shoes too out of style, too many sweatshirts that I never wear and way too many pairs of slippers and robes for someone who never puts on either.
Desks and counters are constantly full of papers, mail, and every office supply you could imagine at the ready, some never even used but always available should the need arise. Magazines, books, bills, statements, folders, notebooks and reminders get stacked in piles - one in the kitchen, a few in our bedroom and one in the living room - disasters to anyone looking, but a system that I (mostly) understand.
A common theme in my clutter story is out of sight, out of mind. These days, with Mommy Brain permanently in place, I have even purchased items, put them away, and then re-purchased them. If I can't see it, it truly flees my mind. Many of the items around my home that contribute to my clutter are mementos of friends I've made, trips I've taken, special occasions from my past - things of which I want to be reminded frequently.
I aspire to be neat - I really and truly do. And I gain immense personal satisfaction when I do purge and keep something organized for a week or two (at best). But then, my busy life intercedes. I take out four outfits until I find the one I want to wear, and fling the other three onto the floor of the closet or back of the chair in our bedroom before running out. I find the makeup I bought on sale yesterday in the morning as we run out the door to school, so leave it in the CVS bag on my small vanity instead of finding someplace to put it (which would inevitably mean I'd forget I had even bought it, remember?). I stack clothes to donate, return and put into long-term storage behind our bedroom door, and it becomes a task too big to tackle during whatever little "free time" I find myself having.
Our closets burst open, filled with presents purchased for friends and never delivered, clothes too small for Rebecca but too big for Lila still, and a million items purchased for far-flung "what if?" scenarios. Should we ever be trapped in our apartment for days on end, we could live off of the amount of rainy-day activities I have accumulated throughout the years.
I recently swore on Facebook - so you know it was with the most real of intentions - that I'd KonMari our apartment. It hasn't happened as of yet, but I fantasize about it often. I think the tremendous effort it would take is terrifying and paralyzing me.
Instead, I try to tackle small portions of our clutter daily - I've recently made furniture switches to our home to help, and before Lila was born we installed built-in cabinets to give us more storage options. Many of the toys we owned went into the newly-built shelves, fitting in perfectly and bringing me much satisfaction.
One day, as Rebecca welcomed a new friend over, I overheard her saying, "you can come into my room!  I don't have very many toys, but we can play with my dollhouse " (This is the one toy still out on display) This is the opposite of the truth, I assure you. Astonished, I reminded her that her toys were in the cabinets now, and opened the doors - reuniting her with her long lost belongings and activities. She had 100% ignored them since we closed them in. So it seems I have passed on my "out of sight, out of mind" mentality. Here's hoping the clutter gene ends with me.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Keeping it Real: Life.

Yes, it's been six weeks since I've written here. I've started and stopped a few posts that felt forced, because I thought that I "should" be posting. Which is when I realized - this is MY blog! I can post as much, or as little, as I want! So rather than be half-assed, which is what an "I should be posting" post feels like, I opted not to.

My life these days is a whirlwind - of tasks, errands, jobs and volunteering. It is a different schedule every day, a plan for each week that gets thrown off by sick children, last minute needs or offers for work and... life. It has been SO hard to get used to this, after having been at the same job for more than 12 years, but I'm finally getting the hang of it, I think, a year in. 

Because at first I thought it was just a crazy day or two. Then a crazy week. Then a crazy month. But the truth is that it's not crazy at all - it's my new normal. 

The trick? Embrace the crazy. Embrace the unpredictability. Embrace the mid-day pop-into-the-apartment-to-grab-something-you-forgot-and-get-to-hug-your-baby-snuggles. (Then embrace your nanny who takes and comforts that confused child who doesn't understand why you only hugged her for a second then ran back out). Embrace the chance to be with your older daughter's class at the school book fair. Embrace the ability to give time to causes that mean so much to you - like helping new moms. Like the public education system in your town. Like Postpartum Progress. Embrace the laughter-filled evenings as Lila learns to talk and Rebecca gets out her end-of-day energy. Embrace the nighttime wakings and chances to lay in the darkness with a baby who would rather sleep on you than in her crib.

What I have realized fuels me best is a healthy mix of passion and pressure. One or the other is fine and gets me going, but put the two together and I can not be stopped.

Luckily, recently there's been no shortage of either. I've been helping new moms. I've been forging relationships with people who can help me do more. I've been cultivating my passion for writing and messaging, informed, powered and made possible by those years in that office. I've been undergoing various trainings that will prepare me to be a better peer advocate in the future. I've been going non-stop on all cylinders.

At my last therapy session, I told my therapist what I had been up to. It took ten minutes, and I am sure I left out an item or two. After each thing, I said, "I mean, I don't know why. I'm just doing it. We'll see where it goes." And she told me to stop doing that - stop saying I don't know what I'm doing or why - because I do. I am writing and helping clients. I am helping new moms who are suffering. I am forging relationships that will help me do more of both, and then some.

I am fueled right now by the perfect mix of passion and pressure - and we will, indeed, see where it goes. I can't wait.

Monday, October 5, 2015

TestiMOMial: Our glider!

This is the first in another new series here at Real Life, Real Laughter - the TestiMOMial: my homages to the things that have helped me navigate this parenting journey the most.

Today's testiMOMial is for a clunky, massive, brown, fuzzy part of my life for the past five years - our glider. This piece of furniture is akin to a rocking chair, but provides a more smooth back-and-forth movement experience. Commonly only found in nurseries, gliders are where you spend 95-98% of your time the first month home from the hospital. It's where you feed the baby. It's where you burp the baby. It's where you soothe the baby. It's where you catch some shut-eye when the baby falls asleep in your arms and you're terrified to put them down in their crib or bassinet or Fisher Price Rock and Play. It is where you might take the requisite "1 Month Old!" "2 Months Old!" etc. pictures.

Once the baby is a bit older, you will likely still feed them bottles from the glider, and begin to do some of your nighttime routine from its trusty seat, like reading books or singing a lullaby. Without realizing it, this large piece of furniture will worm its way into your heart and stay there, a memento of the days (and long, long nights) that have passed. It will serve as a reminder of how much your child has grown, as she suddenly fits differently in your lap versus your arms, and eventually in the seat by herself.

And it will remind you of nights along the way when your child wakes up from a nightmare or sickness, when you burst into their room to respond to their tears, scoop them up and rock them back to peaceful sleep. And then you stay there just a few minutes longer, because - well - they're so incredible to hold when they're asleep.

And it is where, perhaps like me, you will spend a large part of your next pregnancy, when nowhere else in your home is comfortable. And your now three-year-old daughter will worm her way in there next to you, barely fitting herself in the small space your large body leaves.

And it is where you will go through all the same motions with your second daughter - the feeding, rocking, burping and endless hours spent in its brown corduroy seat, feet up on the ottoman that glides with it, as you ease into life as a mother of two. You will let your older daughter snuggle into its seat with you and the baby, and it will become a fixture in your living room.

Wait, what? Yes. My living room. We live in a 2 BR apartment - there was no room for it in their bedroom once we put a twin-sized bed and crib in there! Not to mention, the baby didn't even sleep in that room until she was five months old. So yes, the glider took up residence in our living room. It actually took up most of our living room.

So just before Lila turned 1, we got rid of the glider.We no longer needed to feed her in it, and given her propensity for climbing onto, into and off of things, it seemed more like a hazard than necessary. Ah, space, glorious, space was ours!! It was amazing to see our hardwood floor again.

Then? The plague hit our home. In the past month, Lila has been sick non. stop. This poor baby has been waking up multiple times a night, and given that now she does share a room with her older sister, Evan and I have been in there multiple times a night to pick her up and soothe her as quickly as possible.

WHAT I WOULDN'T GIVE FOR MY GLIDER BACK! At least in its embrace I could rest while she did - now I find myself swaying while holding her by her crib - not restful at ALL. Or letting her fall asleep on my chest on the couch. Not comfortable for either of us, honestly. Or bringing her into my bed, which we NEVER did with Rebecca - because we had the glider. Sigh.

So get a glider, love your glider and don't ditch it too soon - it is really an amazing piece of equipment!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Keeping it Real: Sharing a Bed.

In my last post, I hinted at hating sharing a bed with my husband. I was sort of kidding - but not really. And he would agree. We both relish nights spent apart, regaling each other with stories of sleeping diagonally, not being jarred awake and blissfully dozing through the night in full. We are not one of those couples who wake up intertwined, eyes slowly fluttering open as they cutely yawn and stretch their arms overhead together.
During the day, Evan and I are a pretty cute, occasionally romantic couple. We eat dinner together every night it is possible, kiss whenever we're leaving in the morning or first get home in the evening, frequently text, chat online or Facetime when we're apart, and get in bed around the same time most nights.Initially we lay an arm or throw a leg over the other as we read, crush candy or watch television for a little while, until one rolls over and signals that they are falling asleep. The other follows suit and stops whatever evening activity they have undertaken to spoon or snuggle in for a little while, until - usually simultaneously - we roll away from each other for the night. <Cue record scratch.>
I just can't sleep if part of my body is touching someone else for multiple reasons. It's too hot. It's too much pressure - if he falls asleep and I want to change positions, I'll wake him, which I don't want to do! It's too much literal pressure - whatever body part is draped over me, be it a leg, arm or his head, steadily feels heavier and heavier until I swear it's going to crush me. And... well... Evan's chest hair is tickly, and I'm sure my head of curls is no picnic for him to deal with at night.
Bed linens are another reason we hate sleeping in the same bed. When we first moved in together, I noted that come morning, the fitted sheet on his side of the bed was frequently pulled off the corner of the mattress and his pillowcase off his pillow. I have no idea when or how this happens, as I seem to sleep through it, but there were multiple mornings where I stood flabbergasted at what had occurred in our full-sized bed overnight. I bought fitted sheet clips and essentially trained Evan to keep it on, and have learned to just shake my head and sigh at whatever it is he does with the pillows. (This doesn't even account for the fact that he mushes the nice, fluffy pillows into dense, round, crumpled balls that he either sleeps on or just hugs...)
But his new habit is one that is causing friction between us these days. I think he is too warm when he gets into bed (we will get into temperature in a minute), and throws off the sheet and blanket, pushing them into a huge pile in between us. I then snuggle into them and roll over multiple times throughout the night, which in the morning gives the illusion that I have stolen all the blankets, the narrative that he chooses to believe. I maintain that it wouldn't happen if he didn't shirk the covers in the first place. We seem to have disagreed to agree on this one and it gets brought up frequently with varying levels of annoyance and sarcasm on both of our parts. Definitely a sticking point.
Of course, there is the topic of changing positions throughout the night, or even getting comfortable in the first place. I nicely roll over or adjust my position carefully, trying to contort my body without affecting him or interrupting his rest. But my husband - well, we have dubbed what he does "flopping like a flounder." He literally flips himself over like a fish who has been caught and is trying to free himself, shaking the entire bed, headboard and lifting all of the covers in the meantime. It is jarring and annoying and just the worst - but since we gave it a funny name I can just laugh it off. Usually.
Last but not least, there is temperature. I like to be warm, but not too warm when sleeping. My husband likes to be cold. On this topic, we have learned to compromise. Thus, while he turns the AC on or the heat off, I sleep in hooded sweatshirts. It works - I stay cozy while he is cold, and we both sleep as much like rocks as is possible when you hate sharing your bed. 
I didn't even need to consult him to write this. Sure, if he were writing this, he would harp on and on about the fact that I snore, which I don't think is true. I have asked him to record me, but he has yet to do so, because every time he tries he is laughing too hard. Which I guess is how we get through our nights together - laughing at each other's ridiculous habits, me on one side of the bed all layered up for another cold night and him blissfully hugging a pillow and flopping like a flounder. Like I said - we are so romantic...