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Sleep Apnea Test: The Best Sleep You’ll Never Have!

I already know that I have sleep apnea, which is known as “a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep”. I know I have this, not just because my sleep doctor said so, and not just because several people related to me have it, but because I’ve felt it.

When I’m lying on my back, if I let my jaw and throat muscles relax, my throat closes right up. Whenever I accidentally end up sleeping on my back, I have dreams that I can’t catch my breath – then I eventually wake up, and realize I’m barely breathing. It’s scary and takes a few minutes to shake off that suffocating feeling. Luckily, I rarely sleep on my back.

This past week, I finally did a sleep study at the hospital to find out whether my tendency to not-breathe applies to my stomach/side sleeping. I’m really hoping it doesn’t, because as much as Sean and I love his robot face, I don’t fancy the idea of his-and-hers CPAP machines.

In case you’re planning to participate in a sleep study of your own someday, I have a few tips for you, beyond the “do not nap on the day of the test” and “wash hair and shave before you arrive.”

I had heard that they hook you up to a bunch of monitors. Well, of course they do, because they have to monitor many things. I figured it would be uncomfortable. I thought I was mentally prepared.

I took my unsuspecting self to the lab for 8:15 p.m., waited a bit, answered some questions, and was shown to my cute li’l windowless room. Just large enough not to trigger my claustrophobia, so that was nice.

The sleep therapist was working with several patients that night; she instructed me to fill in some more forms and put on my sleep clothes, so that when she came back I’d be ready for my monitors. I asked if I should brush my teeth first, and she indicated that it didn’t matter.

Tip #1: It does. For the love of healthy gums, brush your teeth first.

When the therapist arrived to hook me up, she was generally friendly. We commiserated about having interrupted sleep due to children – she has a toddler at home. She told me that they’d be able to tell when I was sleeping lightly or deeply, and whether I had restless leg syndrome or anything. At the same time, she was not-so-gently exfoliating bits of me that would have wires and medical tape applied to them: my chin, my forehead, my shoulders, my chest, and both my shins.

She also put glue in my hair. Where I work, this is not considered nice, but at least she warned me. She showed me a big gob of blue goo and said, “The good part is, it dissolves in water. Just wash in warm water when you arrive home.” Then she proceeded to part my hair and go, “Oogh, yes. You have thick hair. Yes. So… shampoo and water. Maybe two or three times will do it.”

There were now wires coming from the top of my head, my hairline, and behind my ears, in addition to the ones under the tape, which was starting to sting a little. I also had a strap around my chest and a strap around my stomach. Then she stuck not one but two contraptions up my nostrils, looping the tubes over my ears and tightening them elegantly under my chin. As a finishing touch, she took the little box attached to all those wires, and looped it on a strap around my neck: voilà! So chic and fancy.

sleep apnea test wires model
Sorry, I didn’t think to take a selfie. Or maybe I didn’t want to. But this guy is clearly a sleep-test-wire model. This look really works for him. The grim stare is perfect, too. Image credit

This box-as-pendant look was to make me mobile, so I could journey to the washroom during my final wait time. I waited as long as I could for this, hoping it would be the only trip.

Tip #2: Ideally, you should wear an old-fashioned knee-length nightshirt for this. Something about the rest of my getup made my nightshirt feel too short as I schlepped down the hall to the bathroom.

This was also when I brushed my teeth, gingerly, between the nose thingies and the chin wires. Looked and felt like a tool – and frankly, didn’t do the best job. Then I spent my last bit of idle time reading a book – nonchalantly, amidst my electronica – on my bed.

Finally it was bedtime. The therapist had me lie down and take off the wire box to lay it beside my pillow. Then I got one more accoutrement: a finger clip sensor. This was the only thing she warned me about: “Try not to put too much pressure on it.” Now I was locked in: if I needed a bathroom break, I’d need to push the call button so she could unplug me.

I had been worried about the room being too dark for me: if I can’t see my hand in front of my face, the claustrophobia kicks in. I needn’t have worried. Besides light from under the door, my monitor and finger clip glowed red. So did the video monitor on the wall.

The therapist’s voice came over a speaker to give us sleepers some instructions. She asked us to look side-to-side with our eyes only, and up-and-down; to flex and point each foot; to grind our teeth; to breathe in certain ways. At one point, she said, “Now breathe in, hold your breath, and while you’re holding it, move your stomach up and down.” I grinned silently at myself to stifle a laugh at how dumb I felt figuring this one out (and I’m a belly dancer).

Tip #3: Come on, Di-hards, give it a try. Just in case you need this skill someday. It’s a brain-teaser.

Finally, we were done our exercises, and reminded to sleep comfortably – no restrictions on our positions! – and bid a good night. Time to sleep.

Yup.

If I were to make a list of soporific things, I can now say with certitude that being covered with wires does not make that list. Ditto being surrounded by glowing red things. Ditto knowing you are being recorded on video. Ditto knowing they are surveilling all kinds of personal things, like your nostrils.

I typically take a fair amount of time to fall asleep. I also never sleep well on my first night in a strange bed. Now I just lay there, thinking about how intimate this test is. The therapist said they’d be able to tell when I was dreaming – could they tell whether my brain was thinking about boring things or exciting things? Could they tell that I was singing and doing choreography in my head (to take my mind off the wires)? I realized I was twitching my foot in time to the music, and quit the mental song-and-dance in case they thought it was a restless limb.

Could they tell with those straps that my bladder was filling up? I had been confident I’d be fine on the pee-break front, but no. Not with a call-button looming. It’s like getting all put together in your belly dance costume or your wedding dress: when it’s most inconvenient, that’s when you’re gonna have to pee. Sigh.

On my break, I saw that it had already been an hour since “bedtime.” Only six hours until they would wake us up. Better get sleeping.

sleep apnea test wires
See, this person is peacefully sleeping. That’s why they had to use a drawing: because it’s imaginary. Image credit

Do some people have a nice, restful sleep during a sleep study? I mean, presumably we’re all there because of some kind of trouble sleeping, but some people are like Sean and fall asleep on a dime (ha) so probably do get some proper shuteye – but the falling-asleep task felt ridiculous to me. I got the shutting-eyes part, mostly, but drifting off took me a long time. Long enough that the therapist commented the next morning, having asked me how I’d slept (don’t you know even better than I do?), “Yes, you took a long time.”

I blearily filled out the exit forms. I estimated taking 2.5 hours to fall asleep (i.e., longer than usual). Yes, I had dreamt; the one dream I remember having (I’m pretty sure there were Muppets in it) was between the time the therapist turned on the light and said good morning, and the time she came back twenty minutes later to make me sit up and have my wires peeled off. Under “How do you feel right now?” I scrawled, “Very tired.”

I felt kind of odd filling out the form about how to improve the experience of the sleep study for patients. There’s really not much they could have done, since they can’t do away with the wires or the blue goo or the video camera. I did say I wished wakeup time hadn’t been 5:30 a.m., though.

It was a beautiful summer morning as I left the hospital as a gluey-haired zombie. I came home to the most beautiful bed in the world, which I fell into – right after the showering part. (The glue really wasn’t that bad, once I got the chunks out.) In a few weeks, I’ll get to chat with my sleep doctor about my unforgettable night at the lab.

I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, a robot-face wouldn’t be that bad.

***


 

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#NaBloPoMo, Day 6: Antibiotics

first-aid-hi

Today’s official gratitude is for antibiotics, and for the medical system we benefit from.

Last week, E’s foot was hurting. Not such a rare thing. Then after he persisted complaining, we looked at it, and it had a puffy red patch. It was clearly hurting him to press on it, and he was starting to limp a bit.

By the time we made it to the doctor’s office the next afternoon, the red patch was much bigger and poor little E was definitely walking funny. The doc diagnosed him with cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the inner layers of skin. We don’t know how he got it, but we do know you don’t mess around with it. In rare cases, it can spread deeper and become necrotizing fasciitis. Ack.

So E just finished a week of antibiotics. This is after a round of similar meds a few weeks ago for a bit of pneumonia – one for which he had to take clarithromycin, which I have to say is the most disgusting, gritty, vilely bitter substance we’d ever tasted, even with the “mint flavouring.” E was an absolute trouper about it… and then when he found out his new medicine for the cellulitis was the pink fruit-ish flavoured one, he was overjoyed.

Anyway. I know antibiotics are controversial, and that they have side effects, and that we are possibly headed for a situation in which the infections that stopped killing us so much when antibiotics came along will go back to killing us again. That won’t be good.

But I can’t deny that when I hear my child coughing in the night and it sounds awful, or when I saw how suddenly that red spot had spread… I’m just really glad I don’t live in that time before antibiotics, when presumably a mom would just have to make poultices or tea or whatever, and hope for the best. When parents would hear that coughing and know that it might very likely be the death of that child.

I’m also really grateful to live in a country with socialized medicine. When these conditions cropped up, we didn’t have to think, Can we afford to take him to the doctor again? We didn’t have to wait until things got desperate, just hoping and hoping he would get better on his own. It is invaluable to have the choice to be proactive or pre-emptive about a health problem, without having to budget for it. (Thank you, Tommy Douglas, Lester B. Pearson, et al.)

Plus, we really like both our family doctor and the nurse practitioner at the clinic. They are great, wonderful with the kids, and all about preventive medicine and healthy lifestyle. Grateful for that, too.

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Remembering What We’re Built To Do

sunshine through the trees
Image from http://www.ForestWander.com

When I was 18, a boy at Camp wrote a poem for me. Although I didn’t requite his crush, I still consider his poem one of the most romantic things I’ve ever received, because of its candour. The second line was “She’s just like sunshine through the trees,” and to this day I still feel kinda thrilled about that. Sunshine through the trees is one of my favourite things in the whole world.

A while back, I heard on CBC about a study showing that spending time in green space improves our mental health. Apparently, being in the presence of leafy trees actually makes us happier.

I think most of us can vouch for this. At the end of a long, white winter, I’m sure I am not alone in feeling an almost physical thirst for those luscious green leaves. It’s nice to get this confirmation: we are built to feel that way.

Family Camp at NeeKauNis last month was full of reminders of the things we are built to do and enjoy.

Here we are, in the age of modern medicine, where Westerners rarely worry about diseases that used to kill us in great numbers – smallpox and tuberculosis, for example – and we’ve handily encouraged a phalanx of new maladies all by ourselves.

We eat packaged food so far removed from its sources that we don’t even recognize the ingredients; then we wonder why we have troubles with our various organs and our energy levels.

We’ve surrounded ourselves with harmful chemicals in our food, clothes, grass, household products, and everything plastic; then we are devastated when opportunistic cancers have a field day.

We spend hours a day sitting, hunched over some screen or other, often sacrificing sleep for addictive overstimulation; then we realize – too late, sometimes – that our heart or lungs or joints or brains don’t work properly anymore.

We live in our container-homes, put in our earbuds so no live people can distract us, and avoid eye contact with the humans who serve us coffee or check out our groceries; then we shake our heads at the rise of prescription anti-depressant use.

I’m not speaking in self-righteousness. I do most of these things too. I’m not condemning modern medicine either, or technology in general. I really appreciate the benefits of ultra-portable computers, affordable antibiotics, high-speed transportation, laparoscopic surgery, and the wondrous capacity of the internet. I like Cheetos and Toaster Strudel, I watch TV on Netflix, I love Facebook, and as I’ve mentioned, I am very grateful for the existence of prescription anti-depressants.

But when I’m in a restaurant and see a family of four at the next table, not speaking, each absorbed in a separate hand-held device, my husband and I look at each other and quietly vow: That will never be us.

And at Family Camp, I remember that when those contemporary facets of life drop away for a few days, it does good to every layer of our selves.

It helps that there are children of all ages there. They’re all over the things that humans are meant to do. Just watching and listening to them is therapy.

built for 3

Children run and jump and climb and slide. They laugh their heads off, and cry hard when they need to. They sing and dance with joy. They build and knock down. They splash and spin. They scrunch their fingers and toes in the sand. They get dirty with real dirt. They want stories, hugs, their own little space, and their own accomplishments.

I want those things, too.

When I think about what really, actually makes me feel good, it’s mostly simple things. The things I’m built to do. The same things humans have been doing for centuries – or longer.

Dancing until I am out of breath.

Cooking for someone I love.

Making art.

Getting lost in a great book.

built for 2

Sitting in dappled shade. (Sunshine through the trees.)

Hugging.

Plunging into cool water on a hot day.

built for 4

Sipping a hot drink on a cold day.

Listening to music I love – or better yet, making some.

Hearing breezes, birds, crickets, rivers, waves.

Writing.

Looking closely at something beautiful.

built for 6

Reading to my kids.

Going to bed when I’m really tired.

built for 5

Walking in fresh air.

Laughing.

Eating something truly delicious.

built for 1

Sharing thoughts and feelings with a friend.

Doing a job well.

Having an adventure.

I know, they read like clichés, worthy of a curlicued garden tile. But there are reasons the inspirational-message market is so successful. Mostly, it’s because

1) It really IS good for us to dance as if nobody’s watching, sing like nobody’s listening, etc., because we’re built to.

And

2) We busy humans are remarkably good at forgetting the value of those seemingly easy things.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the thousand little jobs you have to do on a daily basis. I could easily spend all of every day doing small, necessary, basically mindless tasks. Which is not satisfying at all.

For me, I know, I need to think of those good-for-my-soul things as medicine. Taking my medicine is my responsibility, something I must do for my health. And in order to take it, I have to notice it. I have to be truly mindful and present.

That way, any time I can grab a bit of dappled shade or kid snuggles or good conversation, they will heal what ails me.

What precious things are you built to do?

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Writer’s Flood Paralysis and the Blogging Shame Spiral (a.k.a. excuses)

apple blossoms
Nice apple-blossom photo = shameless attempt to pretty up this post.

What the Sam Hill… I haven’t posted since April 22nd??

Lots of bloggers complain about writer’s block and lack of inspiration. (Fortunately, lots of other bloggers offer solutions for both.) I can imagine getting blocked, if you’re a niche blogger. Some days you just might not have that kicky recipe or new fitness tip or fashionably retro decorating idea that you want to share with the world.

Dilovely, on the other hand, blogs about any damn fool thing she feels like, so there’s no chance of writer’s block. Instead, her ideas for stuff to write about pile up like laundry until she hardly knows where to begin. (She currently has no fewer than twenty-four draft posts already started, and that doesn’t count the extensive list entitled “Blog ideas” on her phone.)

For the purposes of this post, I’ve dubbed the phenomenon “Writer’s Flood”. I hereby admit that it often has a paralyzing effect on me. I might only have a few minutes to write on any given day, and with so many topics banging around in my head, pestering to be written about, I end up avoiding my Dashboard altogether instead of sitting down and just getting some words out – even though I know the latter would ALWAYS make me feel better.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve been known to do the same with laundry. (You know, just sometimes.)

That’s when you see ten-to-fifteen-day gaps, followed by flighty, materialistic posts with excuses in them. The longer the gap, the more self-reproach comes into play, the harder it is to jump back in.

If you find that the following Gripes actually seem a bit like excuses… Well… touché.

Gripes (have to come first because who wants to put the kvetching at the end?):

  • April was a month characterized by illness at our house (I know we’re not alone here). Sean and I both got knocked out by a crazy bug that made me sicker than I’ve been in… I honestly don’t know how long. Maybe ever.
    • Felt like strep throat but wasn’t.
    • Took my voice away for two full days.
    • Missed three days of school in a row (unprecedented, at least for sickness), because just as my voice was coming back, I got double pinkeye (mmm, sexy).
    • Copious amounts of congestion, plus coughing that I thought would at least leave me with chiseled abs, but didn’t.
    • Oh, and there was a really bad neck-kink in there that kept me from turning my head to the left for a couple days.
    • Meanwhile, Baby AB got an ear infection, and E got a localized rash we’re still trying to figure out.
    • Then we thought we were out of the woods and Sean suddenly backtracked with a sinus infection.
    • If what WHO says about global antimicrobial resistance is true, then we are in serious trouble, because between the four of us, our family has been on antibiotics no less than six times this past season. Or was it seven?
  • Remember when I was kinda freaking out because I have so much to do in a strict timeline, necessitating my becoming the Duchess of Organization? Well, becoming the D of O whilst blowing bucketfuls of crap out of your head through your nose (mmm, sexy) is actually really difficult. So I’m still trying to get on track there.
  • Likewise: working on that strong and bendy issue I mentioned. Sigh.
  • There is also a phenomenon, when you’re a teacher, where you’re really wanting to cover lots of material and be really efficient (as befits a Duchess of Organization), and certain students… it’s like they sense it. And are instinct-bound to thwart it. A bunch of those kids + spring fever = endless classroom management. That’s my job right now.
  • And even the spring fever is only quasi-exhiliarating, because it is now MAY and frankly, it’s still mostly dead chilly out.

Hypes (because I want you to know I do possess some fraction of a positive attitude):

  • Although there are no leaves on our trees yet, at least our grass is green, and we have daffodils.
  • Even better, my Hubbibi has found his inner gardener all of a sudden (he comes by it honestly – his mom is a wonder with plants) and our front yard and gardens have never looked so immaculate in seven years.
  • We got to see a very well-done community production of the musical Rent last weekend, and oh, it still ROCKS. (Yes, I was a Renthead once upon a time, and it’s possible I still qualify because ALL the lyrics were easily called up from my brain-files.)
  • Sean finally put up the bird feeder my parents gave us (a shamefully long time ago), and now we are wishing we’d had it up all this time. Seriously, we are SO POPULAR all of a sudden (among little feathery and furry things), and we had no idea how much of a pleasure it would be to watch the birdies. It is just a lovely, simple, peaceful thing to do. The kids love it too – AB gets all excited when she sees a goldfinch (calls it a “goldfish”), and the other day, E correctly identified a house finch (as Uncle Ben taught him). If you don’t have a bird feeder, y’all should totally get one.
  • Our kids, despite all the illness, are incredibly entertaining. E’s behaviour is gradually improving (knock wood), not that I could really say why… but it’s quite a relief to have more cooperation and fewer meltdowns. And AB is just hilarious. She’s a talker, like her brother, and still babyish enough that everything she says sounds cute. Even when she’s mad and/or aggravating and/or trying to use her imperiousness to boss us around, she’s an adorable munchkin. It’s her lot in life right now.
  • And… I’m gonna put this in, even though I hesitate, because it was a highlight for sure: Friday before last, I had an amazing conversation with someone I’d just met.

Let me explain.

I’d sort of already met her, via email only, thanks to my midwife… and it wasn’t really the conversation that was amazing, it was how it felt. This person happened to be supply teaching at my school that day, and she recognized me and introduced herself – kind of in code, because it would be odd to say, “Hi, I’m that other mom you sorta know who also had a stillborn baby at 35 weeks’ gestation.”

We chatted for the rest of the lunch period – 20 minutes or so – about our kids (all of them) but also lots of other things. I felt immediately connected to her. It wasn’t an intimate conversation, and yet it was. I can’t even describe how simultaneously calming and invigorating it was to talk face-to-face with someone who intrinsically understands what it is… to be this. A normal person carrying around an invisible child, all the time. There was a point in the conversation where we both had tears in our eyes, with absolutely no explanation or reassurance or apology needed.

I know can talk to people about Sebastian; I have friends and family members who would want me to call if I needed a shoulder to cry on. I appreciate this fact immensely. The thing is, I don’t often need an official shoulder. I rarely blog about Sebastian now, as you know. I don’t grieve deeply every day. But I do think about him every day, many times. I do miss him and acknowledge him and remember him – but mostly just to myself, because as supportive as my peeps usually are, bringing up a dead child in conversation is hard for everyone involved. If I were to get teary-eyed in the middle of a chat, people would probably sympathize, but it would still be awkward (if only for me). Sometimes I’d rather keep him inside, just for me, than bring him out and make things weird.

That’s the great thing about blogging, I guess. If I inadvertently get somber in the midst of a flippant post about procrastination, and you’re still reading and it’s suddenly awkward… tant pis. I’ll never know.

(If you are still reading, thank you.)

And that’s my story for now. Cheers to getting the words out already.

***


 

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Belated Not-So-Lofty “Resolutions”

Shoot_for_the_moon_by_livinganlie
Nope.

One thing I’m learning to accept in recent months is that sometimes, I need to shoot lower.

It’s not something they’re ever going to engrave on an decorative tile to hang in your kitchen: “Don’t try quite so hard – just lower your expectations so they’re easier to meet. S’okay.”

But that’s the verdict I’m coming to. I’ve always been pretty ambitious with my self-expectations. My M.O. is to have too much on my plate and just finish what I can, as if somehow having more goals means I’m likely to accomplish more of them. Like buying more lottery tickets to increase my odds. I’m not sure it’s logically sound.

It’s just that I hate quitting things or giving things up. Sticking with things and seeing things through to the end are very important to me. I feel sad about things I neglect (examples: my flute, my figure skates). But then I keep adding stuff. Without wanting to let anything go, I get new hobbies, new friends… and KIDS of course, who could potentially use every waking moment of my life if I allowed it. So with the same number of hours to work with, the math is all out of whack. (wack?)

Since phasing into this life as a mother with two living children and a job (and a blog), I have realized that achieving my goals is no longer really up to me. I can say, “I’m going to clean out my closet today, for sure.” Then, almost without fail, I will come to a crossroads where I need to choose between doing that thing I said I was gonna do, and doing my job as a parent. Parenting always wins. Finding the bottom of my closet, the top of my dresser, or the edges of my basement loses EVERY TIME. Similarly, I can say I’m going to make a minimal time commitment to do something (e.g. exercise) every day… and then the same damn thing happens.

I don’t like falling off the wagon and being disappointed in myself. And it bothers me a lot when I know I’m doing a mediocre job at something (like my job, for instance) because I simply haven’t put the required time and energy in.

La la la. All this blabbing to announce that I’m not making proper new year’s resolutions. I’m not declaring that I will get super-fit or cut out sugar or walk a certain amount every day or write a novel or finish my symphony or revolutionize my teaching. My main resolution is AIM LOW, DILOVELY. For the win.

Then, I will do my best to be my own enabler in positive ways. To dispose myself to self-improvement in tiny increments. NOT to decree that I will be perfect at these things, NOT to beat myself up when I miss something, but just to do as well I can.

(I am not used to this.)

Here’s what I’ve thought of so far.

  • Take my probiotics, whenever I can remember to. They say that gut health is linked to many aspects of overall health, including mental health. I eat pretty well, but I could always do better. This seems like an easy way to assist my system.
  • Do three simple things when I feel draggy (instead of complaining and/or caffeining): 1) take a few complete breaths, 2) get some blood to my brain with a stretch or a few jumping jacks, and 3) drink a full glass of water. Then see how I’m doing.
  • Take Candy Crush Saga off my phone. (Already done, just before New Year’s.) I started to play it while nursing, when it’s hard to do anything else, but now that Baby AB nurses less frequently and fast-food style, it’s just enough time to start on a level – and then… your addiction makes you finish it. And implores you to start the next one. I hate seeing myself distracted from life like that. Let it never be said that I missed my son belly laughing or my daughter saying a new word because I was trying to get myself a stripey one.
  • Don’t make everything into an opportunity to multitask. I think smart phones and the internet (much as I love them) are actually designed perfectly to degrade the attention span, what with the infinite tangents you can go on… and sadly, it’s working on me. Especially since I already lean toward multitasking. Nursing can just be nursing. Waiting in line can just be waiting.
  • Try to notice what I’m doing, and do that. It goes with the attention-span thing. If I’m doing email, I don’t have to go look up that movie that guy was in just because it pops into my head. If I’m doing dishes, I don’t have to get my kid a snack just because he’s hungry… wait, yes I do. Ahem. Anyway.
  • Pay attention to my own sleep window. I concern myself so much with my kids’ sleep windows and trying to get them sleeping at the opportune times, but I have come to know that I need that too. If I want good sleep (and I do. Blimey. I really really do), I need to make a better effort to avoid the second wind.
  • Don’t take up a new TV show. We have no channels at our house, only Netflix. If you have Netflix, you know how easy it is to binge-watch a show you like. And as much as I’d like to believe that quality TV truly enriches my life, it does not make me more likely to blog, do the dishes, fold the laundry, play my ukulele, or pay attention to things like sleep windows. So now that I’m done all five seasons of Chuck*, I am going to resist the temptation to begin one of the other shows that I’m sure I’d love (Dr. Who, Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, etc.). I can’t complain about the things I don’t have time to do if I’m actually watching sneaky Netflix on a regular basis.
  • Get a massage. Preferably more than once. I have a very kinky neck-and-shoulder area; my insurance covers massage. I even have a friend who happens to be an excellent massage therapist with whom I also love to chat. Why on earth has it been almost two years since I got a massage?? I don’t know. Something lame, like inertia.
  • Embrace the living-room dance parties. Both my kids love music and dancing. Me too. There is no excuse for not shaking our tailfeathers as often as possible.
  • Don’t worry if this list is not finished. Sometimes you just gotta post the dang post already.

Et voilà. No jocular New Year meme for me this year, just a decidedly unambitious list.

Secretly, I’m hoping that these little things will add up to me figuring out how to WIN AT LIFE.

***

*So yeah, Chuck. Silly spy show with nerd factor. Got a wee bit obsessed and now it ranks up there with Buffy and Scrubs and HIMYM and Firefly: Shows That Have Touched My Heart And Make Me Wish The Characters Were Real So I Could Somehow Find Them And Become Their Pal. I’m ready for my Nerd Herder, please.

Lots of reasons I shouldn’t have liked it (in particular: lots of violence, hints of jingoism, and the girl always wearing 4-inch heels at highly impractical moments) but SUCH loveable characters. I’m not much of a LOL-er at TV, but this show made me giggle all the time. And choke up numerous times. Plus… Zachary Levi, for whom I’ve had to modify my laminated list.

Mr. A, I’m confident I could now handle any Chuck reference you could dish out, in T-shirt form or otherwise. Just so you know.

***


 

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Poor Baby

My little daughter is sick.

It was just as we predicted to her big brother, who has had a cough and runny nose for the past couple weeks: if he is constantly hovering over her, breathing into her face as he gives her long strings of kisses… SHE WILL GET SICK. So, yeah.

She has been dealing with minor congestion for most of her 8-week life, but it’s been better lately. Now, suddenly, her lungs are rattling with phlegm (or “blemmiss” as E would say, because he can’t remember), and it’s hard. She hasn’t been crying much – she just kind of squawks and fusses in a way that clearly translates to “Mama, this sucks. Could you please just fix it?”

E didn’t get sick at all until he was almost a year old, so this is new territory for me. It makes me feel helpless. I try to send healing vibes to her through my milk; I’ve rigged a stiff pillow to elevate her upper body; we’ve got the humidifier and the nasal spray and the homeopathic drops. But none of this can just fix her.

In spite of feeling bad, as I’m sure she does, she still gets into a flirty mood after she finishes a meal, and gives me a bunch of beamy smiles. I beam back at her, but it kind of breaks my heart. Already she’s a little trouper.

cute baby face
Didn’t catch a real smile on camera, but here’s a cute coquettish look.
baby in cradle-swing
The way she watches the lights above her cradle-swing also really gets me… so full of wonder.
father and baby
Good thing Daddy is so snuggly – it’s like therapy. Just call him Dr. Snuggles.

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Happiness and the Multi-multi-multi-tasking Brain

I think it’s safe to say that everyone wants to be happy. If there is such a thing as a universal goal in the context of humanity, happiness must be it, right?

Keeping that in mind, it seems a bit sad that so many people still feel themselves to be in pursuit of happiness. Folks are always trying to figure out, whether deliberately or not, “how to be happy”, as though they aren’t there yet.

I came across an image today on Facebook that really got me thinking.

12 things happy people do differently

I like this list. I like the way it doesn’t claim to be the answer to happiness; I like the way it uses words like develop, practice, cultivate, learn – words that address the process, the fact that you can’t just flip a switch to change yourself.

I also agree with most of the points. I consider myself a very happy person, overall, and I think a lot of that is due to things like consciously appreciating what I have, tending towards optimism, and so on.

The thing to remember is, there are certain other factors that allow me to do that – and most of those factors have to do with luck.

I am lucky that my body’s chemicals are balanced, rather than working to sabotage my happiness, as is the case for so many people, and that my health has always been good.

I am lucky that I wasn’t the victim of neglect or abuse when I was too little to defend myself, because in that case I would most likely have issues that would obstruct my well-being.

I am lucky to live in a part of the world where my happiness is not being undermined by war, famine, or disease, and to have been born into a family where we have always had a stable home, lots of love, enough to eat, and good education.

I’d say the above list assumes that “happy people” have the basics covered. People who manage to be happy in spite of those things have, in my opinion, really accomplished something.

It occurs to me that happiness, like unhappiness, compounds itself. Being kind leads to better social relationships, which makes it easier to avoid over-thinking and social comparisons, which in turn facilitates commitment to one’s goals. Furthermore, in spite of the truism that riches and material goods don’t make people happy, IF you already have the fundamentals of happiness covered, I think it’s possible – and reasonable – to feel happy about excellence in more materialistic things (such as my smart phone, my smooth-edge can opener, and my super-comfy shoes). I think it’s valuable to relish stuff that’s good.

Perhaps the best thing about this compounding phenomenon is related to #6: if you’ve worked to hone your “happiness skills”, shall we say, it’s much more feasible to cope with adversity. I think that’s how Anne Frank was able to write beautiful words while hiding from the Nazis, and how the Gaza Doctor was inspired to a hopeful project by the deaths of his daughters. I know it’s how I was able to draw a certain kind of joy from my son’s memorial service.

I want to make sure I include a sort of inverse to that idea, something I’ve learned (with some difficulty): even when you’re a ridiculously fortunate person, with every reason to be happy, it’s okay to get down sometimes. When you’re having a crap time, for whatever reason, it does not help to say to yourself, “But look! You’re so lucky! No excuse to be sad!” Your reasons are your reasons. Even for happy people, feeling like shit occasionally is valid. I’ve been struggling with that for these last two months, but I’ve decided it’s my prerogative to get frustrated when my baby girl is crying instead of sleeping – even though she’s she’s my rainbow baby, and the most precious blessing I could ever have hoped for. It’s okay. I can be filled with gratitude AND want to tear my hair out once in a while. In fact, maybe I appreciate the ups more when there are downs for comparison.

There is one thing from the list of “things happy people do differently” that I immediately zeroed in on – the thing that I need to work on most: #8. These days, I do not put enough time or effort into having “flow experiences.” (I didn’t know that’s what they were called, but I’ll go with it.) Most of the things I do are concurrent in some way, and therefore not awesomely done: nursing A + catching up on email, racing dinky cars + making a to-do list, doing dishes + helping E make playdough shapes, etc. It makes me feel like everything I do is half-assed, which is, frankly, not a happy feeling.

Two things come to mind that can centre my focus completely: 1) studying the scrumptious contours of my children’s faces, and 2) blogging when those children are asleep. Maybe that’s why blogging is so therapeutic for me – letting my mind really chew on a single idea for a significant chunk of time is incredibly satisfying, probably because it’s a “flow experience.” Makes my brain happy.

And, of course, the times I’m able to let go and get completely absorbed in my children… well, there’s no question that those moments are well worth it.

This is happiness.

ev and ar
Such yummy kids.

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