Nov 4 2013
What’s the worst that could happen?
It’s my mother’s favorite hypothetical, though she means it literally. And while the answers remain unspoken, the preemptive nervous energy abounds.
I’d remained oblivious to her anxiety in my coddled childhood, and dodged it after college when I lived alone in midtown Manhattan, accepting drinks from strangers and letting potential serial killers escort me home. But as soon as I got married to a nice Jewish boy, priming my womb for babies, Mom began finding solutions to “the worst” before I even perceived a problem. Sketchy first apartment? Better move to a nicer block. Leftover Chinese food? Better not eat it. It’s a boy? Better hire a baby nurse to care for the circumcision wound. Can’t be too careful…it could get infected. Our family had moved within 10 minutes of my parents before my baby was 6 months old. With my mother’s vigilance and diligence, my own reflexive panic began to show.
So it was no surprise that I didn’t know how to deal with a standard carpool request: another work-at-home parent offered to alternate days at preschool pick-up. Everyone did it, I assured my mother. (All the cool parents did it–just like the cool kids in junior high smoked cigarettes at the Exxon station before the first bell.) Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 24 2013
It was, as they say, a dark and stormy night. The power had gone out hours ago, and we’d put the kids to bed on the early side with flashlights and tiny battery-powered votive candles. That was when it was just a heavy rain.
But just a few hours later, the noise outside was cacophonous. Rain slapped the windows with a fury. Trees snapped like twigs, as gusts of wind pounded our old house and sent broken telephone poles like toothpicks scattered into the street. The dark sky lit up over and over with jagged lines of lightning, and an odd green luminosity that we later learned was produced by exploding electrical generators.
Among the many miracles of that Superstorm Sandy night a year ago: our old house remained standing and intact, and our children, including our week and a half old baby, O, slept through the night unperturbed. I, on the other hand, huddled under my husband’s arm as though he could protect me if a tree fell into our house. Submerged in exhaustion, fear and postpartum stress, I cried. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 21 2013
My father died when I was just shy of 5 and my mom struggled with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. My extended family vacillated between heroic and toxic. To feel safe, I made wishes in the form of books, writing stories from age 5 about intact families and kids who went to Disney World instead of the child shrink’s office. And I played God, too. At age 7, I remember telling myself that if I could make it home on my bike in four minutes or less, I would be safe for 24 hours.
Years later, as an adult who had carved out a life for herself and largely rid herself of the toxicity associated with family (I don’t have the secret but boy, moving to a new continent helped!), I was happy, feeling distant from the incessant fear and anxiety of my childhood.
And then I saw the two pink lines on my pregnancy test. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 19 2013
I’ve had issues with anxiety and depression all my life. According to my mother, I was the only newborn in the maternity word who refused to eat and just screamed her head off, instead. The pattern continued when she brought me home, as I never slept for more than an hour’s stretch at a time and suffered from what the doctors kept insisting was colic long past the period when colic should have been merely a horrible memory. As she remembers it, I basically didn’t eat or sleep for the first two years of my life. (“Don’t force her,” one doctor advised. “She’ll eat when she’s hungry.” My mother tried that. I didn’t eat for 48 hours. Then I asked for a slice of bread. Then I didn’t eat again for 48 more hours. She gave up.)
And things didn’t get any better once she tried taking me to nursery school. I didn’t eat or sleep there, either. I did scream, though. My mother eventually ended up pulling me out and staying home. Because, as she explained, “It’s one thing when you drop a child off at school, they scream for 20 minutes, then stop. It’s another thing when you drop a child off at school, they scream, and, when you come back eight hours later, they are still screaming.”
So, I was a high-strung little girl. To put it mildly. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 23 2013
I have “control issues.” Anyone who has spent an hour with me knows this, and loves and respects me because or despite it. It’s what makes me good at my job as a festival director. It keeps our domestic life running on track. I have learned to embrace this part of my personality, to work with it.
I used to create “18-month plans.” And yet, today I can’t see even three months into the future.
My husband is in the last weeks of his PhD, with no offers yet for the fall. And I have no idea what comes next. Read the rest of this entry →
Mar 19 2013
I became a mother the same way I’ve reached many of life’s big milestones: without having planned to do so. Having been blessed with attention deficit disorder (diagnosed) and an assertiveness deficiency (in my own words), I’ve frequently sought others to make decisions on my behalf: my parents dictated where I went to college; my husband–well, he asked me to marry him; my career has meandered as I simply take whatever work makes itself available. I’ve never regretted sitting in the passenger’s seat.
And so it was with becoming a mother. After discovering that the wives of two of his coworkers were expecting, my husband began, with increasing regularity, to attempt discussions about our future. But when he realized that I would not drop my non-committal stance, he took matters into his own hands. On New Year’s Eve, at a hotel in New Mexico, I was giddily tipsy, and he saw his window of opportunity. Four weeks later, I saw the double stripe. Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 7 2013
I have a recurring nightmare. It’s not a classic anxiety dream, like the ones where you find yourself standing naked at a podium with no notes or teleprompter. Mine is a maternal dream.
In my dream, my teenage daughter, my mother-in-law, and I are standing on the Golden Gate Bridge. The setting is disconcerting, as the three of us have never been in San Francisco at the same time. In fact, my teenager has only been there in utero.
My ordinarily soft-spoken mother-in-law is yelling at me. I look down and I feel queasy. Not unlike I felt when I was pregnant with my daughter. Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 3 2013
Priscilla Warner co-authored the New York Times bestselling memoir The Faith Club, and more recently, she wrote Learning to Breathe: My Year Long Quest to Bring Calm to My Life. She was kind enough to share a bit of her journey with us, including her experience with meditation and Jewish mysticism and her reflections on parenthood.
Learning to Breathe is about your journey “from panic to peace.” You began with meditation. Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose to start there?
For years, I’d been reading about Tibetan monks who meditated so effectively that neuroscientists were studying their brains. I felt that my overactive central nervous system was totally out of whack, but these men seemed to have figured out how to put their anxiety to rest. One monk in particular, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, had battled panic attacks as a child, so I signed up for one of his semi-silent retreats. He became my first meditation teacher. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 13 2012
This past summer, my husband and I decided to send our toddler to Jewish preschool. We agonized over our budget to see if we could make it work. I read up on gentle separation techniques and ordered him a backpack. Since the arrival of our second baby coincided with the start of the school year, we wanted to wait until the after the new year for him to start.
January felt so far away at that point.
Fast forward to last week. And by fast forward I mean three months of figuring out the logistics of raising two kids, getting dinner on the table, and exactly how many consecutive days one can use dry shampoo without looking like Nick Nolte’s mug shot (the answer is two). And here we are at our scheduled December meeting with the preschool director to discuss my toddler joining the class in a few weeks. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 26 2012
I sat alone in a small office suite in a suburb of Washington, pregnant, but generally in good health.
Suddenly, something shifted. I felt my blood move. I became conscious of my breathing, which felt increasingly labored, and my heartbeat, which was getting faster by the minute.
I thought I was dying.
I called my husband, my best friend, and my OB, trying desperately to stay centered. The OB counseled the emergency room, and minutes later I was speeding away in the back of an ambulance, my husband headed up to meet me at the hospital. Read the rest of this entry →