Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Having Fun!

Quick synopsis for new (or forgetful) readers: My daughter Pippa was born in March 2013.  I struggled with postpartum depression for four months, culminating in five weeks of insomnia.  I wanted to die and finally went to see my ob/gyn in late July 2013. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and spent four nights in the hospital's psychiatric wing.  

I met my psychiatrist when I was a patient at my hospital's emergency room. I told him that I had had insomnia for the past five weeks and anxious, as if I was being stalked by a serial killer, but I was not depressed. Even though I was exhausted and broken by anxiety, I was very happy and content.

He did not seem convinced and asked if I had been having fun.

It felt like a trick question on a Calculus final exam; but I was confident that I was happy; and if I was happy, I must be having fun. Right? Happy mothers have fun - right? I was a happy mother - right? My life was filled with fun - right? I told my doctor that I was indeed having fun. 

Then he asked, "How? How are you having fun?"

How? WTF? I immediately felt defensive and cornered. The question implied that I was lying, that I was not in fact having fun in my life, that I was a horrible bitter mother who was not enjoying every precious moment with her newborn. If I was not having fun in my life, then I must hate my life; and if I hated my life, I resented my baby; and if I resented my baby, I was the most horrible mother in the world; and I could not bear the thought of that. The possibility that I was not having fun made me feel sick to the stomach. 

Indignant, I started to defend myself... but could not think of a good example to convince the doctor I was having fun. I knew that I was having fun, but my doctor did not believe me. The gears in my head clanged and sputtered, but I could only think of one example: watching t.v. with Nathan. As I explained to my psychiatrist that Nathan and I were new parents and watching television was the most fun we could expect to have, I felt both pathetic and outraged: pathetic that I was a couch potato; outraged that my doctor expected me to be going to extreme measures to have fun when I was busy caring for a newborn.

My psychiatrist and I had that conversation eleven months ago, and holy shit, what a difference eleven months has made! Eleven months ago, I thought that in becoming a parent, I had forfeited the right to have fun. Now I know that having fun is critical to my mental health. Eleven months ago, I thought watching television was fun. Now I know that television can be relaxing and entertaining, but rarely "fun." (I make exceptions for things like Super Bowl and Oscar viewing parties.)

Eleven months ago, I had forgotten how to have fun.  The word had been erased from my vocabulary so completely, that I was startled when my shrink asked me that simple question: are you having fun?

Now I have fun every day. I often find myself thinking, "This is going to be fun!" or "That was fun!" and when the word "fun" comes to mind, I feel grateful. I am so grateful that my psychiatrist did not just prescribe a sleep aid and tell me to lose weight. I am so grateful for all the support I received from my husband, parents, siblings and friends. If my doctor had not forced me to look at my life, if my family had not supported my recovery, I might still think that it's fun to be a couch potato.

So how do I have fun these days?  I started doing Zumba a month ago - Zumba is fun! Now I find myself dancing during random moments throughout the day. I spin Pippa around the kitchen and amuse her with silly dance moves. Dancing is fun!

I took Pippa to a local indoor playground with a huge climbing structure and a big twisty slide. Pippa and I climbed up the equipment together - climbing is fun! - and then she scrambled into my lap and we whooshed down the slide together - slides are fun! Now I am plotting a trip to Raging Waters and contemplating the best way to bribe my sister to hang out with Pippa in the kiddie zone while Nathan and I go down the big slides. (Hey, Katherine, if you are reading this, I'll buy you a Lexus scooter...)

I went on a hike last weekend to celebrate my climb out of the darkness of depression  - hiking is fun! I scrambled over rocks and splashed across a stream - scrambling is fun! splashing is fun! There are lots of splash pads in the San Gabriel Valley and Pippa and I are going to play in them all summer - playing is fun!

Pippa and I are taking swim lessons - swimming is fun!

We had a family trip to the beach - the beach is fun! Building sand castles? FUN! Getting splashed by waves? Fun fun fun!

Every day, I build towers for Pippa with whatever is available - Duplo bricks, wooden blocks, Tupperware, paper bowls - and then she knocks it down and laughs hysterically. Building is fun! Laughing is fun!

Every day, Pippa chases after me, and then I chase after her, and then I hide behind a chair, and then we shriek when she finds me. It's our own version of hide-n-seek-tag, and it is FUN FUN FUN.

Before I had postpartum depression, I took the concept of fun for granted. I did a lot of things that were fun, but I did not deliberately make sure I had fun on a regular basis. When I was stressed at work, I could go days and weeks on end without having any.

Although I started to feel enormously better within 48 hours of starting Zoloft, it took months and months for me to recover. Today, as I type this, I feel as if I have recovered fully; but every month, I feel better and better. So maybe I have not fully recovered. Maybe I am still shaking off the residue of postpartum depression.

But I do know this: eleven months ago, I was not having fun. Six months ago, I was having a little fun... but not much. I was still anxious, and my anxiety made me feel reserved. Two months ago, I was having fun more often, but not exuberant fun. One month ago, I started doing Zumba, and I found myself having fun several times every day. One week ago, I rode down a big slide with Pippa and felt exuberant.

Folks, I am having fun! Life is fun! Postpartum depression stole the fun out of my life, but I have reclaimed it. I feel so energized. Having fun is not just enjoyable. It is INVIGORATING. When I have fun, my skin tingles with excitement, ideas bounce around my head, and my heart bursts with love. The fun of riding down a big slide does not end at the bottom of the slide; the exhilaration spills over the rest of my life. For example, today, while I was stuck in a traffic jam, I did not get frustrated or annoyed and pound the steering wheel, as I am wont to do. I danced. I grooved from left to right, using the steering wheel as my partner, as traffic inched forward. By having fun on a regular basis, I was able to actually enjoy a crappy moment in a traffic jam.

Now you will have to excuse me. I have to go have some fun!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Go, Me!

This morning I went on a hike as part of the Climb Out of Darkness fundraiser organized by Postpartum Progress. I hiked to celebrate my recovery from postpartum depression; I hiked to raise awareness about PPD; I hiked to help erase the stigma that haunts so many women who suffer from PPD; and I hiked to raise money to support Postpartum Progress.

I was not very aggressive in my fundraising efforts (just a few posts on Facebook) but I raised $375 - woot woot! Next year, I am going to hike again, and fair warning: I'm going to be a bit more obnoxious and post about it here, Facebook, instagram and send emails and maybe even some good old-fashioned letters seeking donations.

I learned about the hike when I was searching for organizations that help women with postpartum depression. Bad news: there are very few such organizations. As someone else mentioned on Facebook, it is easier to find grief counseling for the loss of a pet than it is to find help for the most common pregnancy complication. 

I had so much trouble finding PPD organizations that I strongly considered started a non-profit myself.  I still might! I am very impressed with Postpartum Progress, but if we are going to destroy the stigma of PPD, and help the women who need help, there need to be a lot more organizations out there. I am writing my memoir about having PPD to help raise awareness, BUT I WANT TO DO MORE. I have so many ideas percolating in my head, I sometimes have to dance to burn off the energy. (Pippa loves when mama dances like a crazy lady.)

Anyway, the hike. Women hiked in teams or they hiked alone. I hiked alone because I could not find a local team. Next year, damnit, I am spear heading Team Pasadena! (Or if someone else wants to do that, I will be their loyal sidekick and slice oranges for my fellow hikers.)

I hiked to the waterfall in Eaton Canyon Natural Area in Altadena. Nathan and I have done this hike before, so I knew it was safe and doable. Most importantly, the trail is busy with families and couples but not overcrowded. This meant I could enjoy nature and listen to birds, but I did not feel like I was in any danger of being raped by a hiking psychopath. (It's L.A. County - you have to be smart. Women have been attacked recently in Griffith Park.)

I thought a lot about my recovery from postpartum depression as I hiked. The hike truly was symbolic of my journey through the hell of depression:
  • I hiked up and down. Some parts of the trail were easy and other parts made my thighs burn. My recovery sometimes felt very easy and other days, it was incredibly different.
  • The trail crossed rocky stream beds, and it was sometimes unclear which way I should go. My recovery from PPD was also not straightforward and I did not always know what was the best thing to do. But I managed to reach the waterfall, and I recovered from PPD as well.
  • There were other people ahead of me on the trail who I could sometimes glimpse and hear. Although I did not realize it when I was plunged into the darkness of depression, hundreds and thousands of other mamas were plodding along ahead of me. I was never alone.
  • The trail sometimes split in two, and there were multiple ways to pass around a boulder or tree. There are multiple ways to kick PPD in the ass. 
  • I drank plenty of water and wore sunblock and hiking shoes. I was not going to be a martyr and get a sunburn for the sake of hiking to a waterfall! The same goes for mamas - don't be a martyr because that is what society suspects. You have to take care of yourself and enjoy the journey.
  • I made it to the waterfall! And I kicked PPD in the ass!
  • On the way back to my car, I hiked past many fellow hikers. Some were friendly, some were not. Some people know how support a loved one who is suffering from PPD. Some do not. (And that is okay. PPD is so stigmatized and misunderstood, our loved ones do not always know how to react and be supportive.)
  • Some hikers asked me how to reach the waterfall and I pointed the way. I am now trying to find ways to support mamas who are currently suffering from PPD. I recently emailed with a new mom - a total stranger - about the medication I've been taking. I hope I helped her at least a little!
I could spend all day writing about the hike and all the things it made me think about. It was so wonderful. I felt so excited as I waved goodbye to Nathan and Pippa this morning, so exhilarated as I set forth to the waterfall, and then so happy to get home and hug my baby and husband. Thank you Postpartum Progress for organizing such an inspiring event!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Great Stroller Conspiracy

Ever since I got pregnant, I have been on a quest to find The One True Stroller. The One True Stroller is lighter than air; has durable wheels that glide over the bumpiest paths; a canopy that blocks the most tenacious of sun beams; a cargo area that carries enough supplies for a three day wilderness hike; a seating configuration that pleases my daughter; it must be emerald green because that is my favorite color, thank you very much; and it costs no more than $80.*  I have hunted and researched and shopped and searched far and wide on my quest for The One True Stroller, and this is what I have determined: it does not fucking exist.

When Pippa was born, I mostly used one of those Snap and Go contraptions that you pop the car seat into. It had a big basket underneath and folded easily. It got the job done, and I'll gladly use it again if we have another baby. But it was only good for six or seven months, and then Pippa wanted to face forward and see the world, so it is not The One True Stroller.  The One True Stroller needs some longevity, and six to seven months does not satisfy that criteria.

I also bought the Bob stroller while I was pregnant, and it has gotten a lot of use. I can push Bob over any terrain in Pasadena. It was great when Pippa and I took lots of long morning walks, but my darling does not have the patience for long walks anymore - unless she gets to nap. But I don't want her to nap in the stroller. I want her to nap in the crib, so I can get some writing done! So poor Bob has been languishing in the garage.

A few months ago, I added an Uppababy umbrella stroller to our fleet. I thought it was perfect. I realize now I was seduced by its emerald green beauty. Damn me and my blind spot for anything that is emerald green! My umbrella stroller has crap storage. The basket will not even accommodate our lunch bag. I have to hang my backpack on the handles. This works fine when Pippa is riding in the stroller, but as soon as she gets out ... BOOM! The damn stroller topples over. I have to take off the backpack first, then unbuckle Pippa, and then dump the backpack into the stroller seat. This works fine if we are just walking from Point A to B, e.g. parking lot to restaurant table, but we do lots of museums and activities like the zoo and aquarium, all of which involve lots of hopping in and out of the stroller every five minutes. Playing musical chairs with Pippa and my backpack gets really old really fucking quickly, and no matter how diligent I am, the stroller still falls over at least twice during every excursion.

So what now, Universe? Do I buy another stroller ? What the fuck, am I really supposed to buy an new stroller every six or seven months? Or should I suck it up and lug the Bob everywhere, even though it weighs an ass shit ton and does not even have a good storage area? WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO, UNIVERSE? STEAL A SHOPPING CART AND COVER IT WITH GREEN FABRIC AND LEARN HOW TO WELD OR MELT METAL OR SOME SHIT LIKE THAT SO I CAN MAKE THE SHOPPING CART FLEXIBLE? IS THAT WHAT YOU REALLY WANT?

You know why I cannot find my One True Stroller? Because the stroller companies have conspired to make sure that no stroller is perfect, so that we parents keep buying and buying stroller after not-quite-perfect stroller. Bastards. Would someone just design the perfect stroller already? And make sure it is emerald green? And sell it for no more than $80? And throw in a free deep conditioning treatment? If emerald green is asking for too much, apple green would be fine. See, Universe, I'm flexible.

*I'm sure if you diagram this sentence, you will discover that I violated eight or nine grammar rules. Hey Grammar Nazis, guess what? I don't give a shit.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Courtney's Beat The Heat Cheat Sheet

I love Pasadena, but the summer heat sucks. I'm compiling a list of places I can take Pippa so we can stay cool and still have fun this summer. If you are a regular reader, this is a good post to skip. If you are a stay-at-home mom in Pasadena looking for things to do this summer, welcome!

Libraries: Even though she is only fifteen months old, I signed Pippa up for Pasadena's Summer Reading Program. I'd like to visit all the local libraries with her this summer - except there are so many! Maybe by the end of 2014. Right now, every freaking storytime happens during Pippa's morning nap, but she will not take a morning nap forever and one day, by Jove, we will make it to storytime!
  • Central Library - Opens 9 a.m. every day but Sunday.
  • Allendale - 1130 South Marengo Avenue Pasadena, CA; Monday-Thursday, 10-6; Fridays 2-6; Saturday, 10-6; closed Sundays.  Preschool storytime Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m.
  • Hastings (our closest branch!) - opens 10 a.m. everyday but Sunday, opens Sunday at 1; preschool storytime at 10:45 a.m. on Wednesdays.
  • Hill Avenue -55 South Hill Avenue Pasadena, CA; 10-6, Mon-Thurs, 10-2 Fridays, 10-6 Saturdays, closed Sundays. Preschool storytime Tuesdays at 10:30
  • La Pintoresca - 1355 North Raymond Avenue Pasadena, CA  91103 - Mon-Sat, 9-6, closed Sundays. Preschool storytime Thursdays at 10:30.
  • Lamanda Park - 140 South Altadena Drive Pasadena, CA 91107 - M-Th, 10-6, Fridays 2-6, Saturdays 10-6, closed Sundays. Preschool storytime Tuesdays at 10:30. Infant and toddler storytime, Thursdays at 10:30.  Family storytime Thursdays at 3:30.
  • Linda Vista - 1281 Bryant Street Pasadena, CA 91103 - M-Th, 10-6, F 10-2, Sat 10-6, Sundays closed.
  • San Rafael - 1240 Nithsdale Road Pasadena, CA 91105 - M-Th 10-6, F 10-2, Sat 10-6, Sundays closed. Preschool storytime Wednesdays at 11 a.m.
  • Santa Catalina - 999 East Washington Boulevard Pasadena, CA 91104 - M-Th 10-6, F 2-6, Sat 10-6, Sundays closed.
  • Villa Parke - 363 East Villa Street Pasadena, CA 91101 - M-F, 10-1 and 2-6, Sat 10-2, closed Fridays. Preschool storytime, Tuesdays at 10:30.
  • South Pasadena Public Library - 363 East Villa Street Pasadena, CA 91101 - 1100 Oxley Street
    South Pasadena, CA 91030 - M-W, 11-9, Th-F, 10-6, Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5. Lots of storytimes
  • Crowell Public Library - 1890 Huntington Drive, San Marino, 91108 - M-Th, 10-9, Fr-Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5.
  • La Canada Flintridge Library - 4545 N. Oakwood Ave. La Canada Flintridge, CA 91011. M-W 10-8, Th 10-6, F-Sat 10-5, Sun closed.
  • Altadena Main Library - 600 East Mariposa St. - Altadena, CA 91001 - M-Tues, 10-9pm, W-Sat 10-6, Sunday closed.
  • Arcadia Public Library - 20 West Duarte Road, Arcadia 91006.  M-Th 10-9, F-Sat 10-6, closed Sundays. 20 West Duarte Road, Arcadia, CA  91006
    20 West Duarte Ro
ad, Arcadia, CA  91006
Indoor Playgrounds: Why didn't I come up with this business model first?

  • Magical Playground: Many indoor playgrounds are brightly lit with brand new toys and a cheerful pleasant vibe. Not Magical Playground! The toys must have been purchased at garage sales and the lighting is depressing. But Pippa loves it. There's a big climbing structure with tube slides, moon bounce, play houses, etc. The place wears down her endless toddler energy. We just bought a month long pass from Groupon, so we will be living here until mid-July. Open Play is M-F, 9-6:30 p.m, with some limited playtime on weekends, depending on whether the place is booked for a party or not. Tots under 2 are $7, check website for other pricing info.
  • Baby Polka Dot: Our current fave. Pippa plays independently for at least an hour whenever we come here, usually more, and then she plays with me as well. I get to relax and do some writing or read. The floor is cushioned, the toys are clean, and there is a small ball pit with a slide that Pippa adores. I bought two discounted passes in May, so we will be here a ton this summer. M-F, 10-6, sometimes open on the weekends depending on party schedules.
  • Amy's Playground: I love this place, and so does Roo. Skylights make the place feel airy and cheerful. Open play, M-Th, 10-6, F 10-5, the place sometimes closes at 3 on Mondays. 2 and under are $7.
  • Caterpillar Kids Place: M-Th, 9:30-6, F 9:30-5. Free parking in rear. $12, kids 1-8. Ouch! That's a bit steep, but it's an all day pass. I will certainly check it out at least once. 965 Foothill Blvd., La Canada.
  • Peekaboo Playland: Open play M-Th, 10-6, F 10-5. $9 for ages 1 and up. We have never been but definitely going to check this one out soon. Located in Eagle Rock on the corner of Colorado and Maywood Ave. 
  • The Awesome Playground:  Open play, M-F 10-6. $8 all day pass. They have water play Fridays from 2-5.  Two hour street parking is available on Avenue 52. All day street parking is available on Lincoln Avenue (one block south of York Blvd.) and Avenue 52 south of Lincoln Ave.  5158 York Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90042. We have never been but this is high on our Must Visit list.
  • Jump n Jammin at the mall
Kidspace Children's Museum: Oh, Kidspace! Glorious, glorious Kidspace. We are members and will go here at least once a week all summer long. A lot of the exhibits are outdoors, true, but there is plenty of fun to be had in the air conditioned buildings. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Kidspace is open M-F 9:30-6, weekends 10-5.

The Huntington Library: This is a great place to visit when it is hot but not brutally hot. Pippa loves the children's gardens, especially the fountain areas. She would play there all day until she fell asleep if I let her. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, open 10:30-4 every day except Tuesdays.

California Science Center: Free! Air Conditioned! Free! With Three Play Rooms! And it's free! (Unless you want to see the Endeavour Shuttle or an exhibit.) Open daily, 10-5, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. There is so much to do here. So much. It's a bit of a schlep, but definitely worth the drive.

Natural History Museum: Another worthwhile schlep, although this one costs money. Adults $12, 2 and under free. Open daily 9:30-5. The butterfly pavilion is open all summer, and I hope to visit that soon.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Another free gem for the kiddos. Children 18 and under can become Nexgen members for FREE and each child gets to bring one adult to the museum for FREE. There is a children's gallery where they can paint and make a mess on someone else's floor. (Parents can paint, too!) When Pippa was a pre-crawler, she happily looked at the art. Now she loves to run around and there is plenty of art she is allowed to touch. The best art for tots is outside, so this is good on a hot but not sweltering hot sort of day.

Splash Pads and Water Play: (oh hey, this section is under construction - not certain how close all these places are, so will delete if they are ridiculously far from Pasadena! I know, I'm such an amateur)
  • Kidspace (see above) has a splash pad and water table. I always visit Kidspace with a towel and Pippa's swimsuit.
  • Dalton Park in Azusa: This is about 15-30 minutes from home, depending on traffic. 18867 E. Armstead Street, Azusa, CA 91702. We have not been yet but from the photos, it looks awesome. Not certain when the splash pad turns on, but there is an adjacent playground.
  • Splash Zone in Rosemead: This looks like a 15-20 minute drive from East Pasadena.
  • Grand Park in downtown L.A.
  • Santa Fe recreation dam
  • Park in Alhambra has one
  • Santa Monica has one
  • The Cove Waterpark in Riverside - Riverside sounds like its on the other side of the moon, but really not that far
  • Raging Waters in San Dimas for a fun splurge
  • Universal City Walk
  • also a water feature now at Universal Studios - could be worthwhile, but a total production to get there
  • Garvey Park in Rosemead - how far is that?
More coming soon soon soon! Museums with play rooms! Splash pads! But Pippa just woke up and its cuddle time!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Neglect the Housework!

One of my favorite books is If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. It's a short book that is jam packed with inspiration. It is not just a book for aspiring writers!  You can substitute any creative pursuit, from acting to Zumba, for writing. 

Each chapter has a fantastic title.  One chapter is titled, "Why You Are Not to Be Discouraged, Annihilated, by Rejection Slips."  Another is, "The Tigers of Wrath Are Wiser Than the Horses of Instruction."  (I have no idea what that means.)

But my favorite chapter, by far, is called, "Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It For Their Writing."  The gist of this chapter is that in order to have time to be creative, you have to neglect the housework.  There is always housework to be done.  A ledge can always use extra dusting; a pile of books can always be organized better; and floors can be scrubbed until the end of time and still not sparkle enough.  Work too hard to have an immaculate home, and you will not have the time or energy to be creative.

If I was ever forced at gunpoint to get a tattoo, it would be "Neglect the Housework." Actually, it would probably be something related to Jane Austen or Benjamin Franklin, but you get my point.

Note to self: reread If You Want to Write this summer!

Completely unrelated note to self: Never again let Pippa hold my car keys in a public restroom.