This past Monday I took the IBCLC exam. After years of prerequisites and coursework along with 300 clinical hours of helping hundreds of mother-baby dyads not to mention being cried on, spit up on, and occasionally bled and pooped on by said babies it was utterly anticlimactic. I was assigned a testing center in a nondescript corporate “park” just off of a freeway about half an hour from my house. I arrived early and signed non disclosure agreements. I placed all of my personal belongings and jewelry in a locker. I sat in an antiseptic, overly air conditioned room amongst several other people taking various computer based exams (one seemed to involve truck driving based on the pictures on the screen) and looked at pictures of babies and breasts for four hours. I was pleased that there didn’t seem to be a single factual piece of information asked on the exam that I didn’t know. All those hours of studying stuck. My heart sank, however, at the number of questions which asked me to give the “BEST”, “LEAST”, or “FIRST” answer. I hate those types of questions and quite frankly they hate me. I don’t tend to do well on them. I suspect that good performance on those questions is anti-correlated to intelligence. Parents, infants, and medicine are complex subjects that simply don’t lend themselves to simplistic answers. I found myself scowling at each of those questions; in a hospital based clinic I might taken one action first, in a private home consult a different action. There were times I wanted to yell at the screen “None of the above!” I had been warned about the quality of the photographs on the exam but I was still surprised when two of the pictures were completely uninterpretable for me. I honestly have no idea what the pictures were depicting other than a breast in one and a mother holding a baby in another. The photographs looked to be decades old, were discolored, and blurry. I also laughed out loud at one point in the test when an answer gave milliliters as the equivalent of ounces; while both are, of course, units of volume there is a huge difference between the two (1 ounce of water is equal to approximately 30 milliliters) and saying “a few milliliters” is over an order of magnitude different from saying “a few ounces”.
The worst part of the exam is not the test itself, but the wait. Although the test is simply pass/fail and is taken on a computer and I certainly have a raw score I won’t see it until late October or early November. Monday afternoon my Facebook feed was filled with triumphant pictures of my student colleagues celebrating the finish of their exam. I declined to post a congratulatory snap. I just can’t rustle up even a milliliter of excitement. The only thought I can muster is “It’s over. I think I passed. Now what can I do to occupy my mind for the next three months while I wait for the result?”
I am a goal oriented person (understatement of the year). When I go on a walk or a hike it is always to somewhere. I love to travel but I want an itinerary with way points and destinations. Given all that, it’s not surprising that I am quite fond of New Year’s resolutions. I’m pretty good about sticking with them too. I have found that the resolutions that work best for me are very specific and those that create a good habit (or eliminate a bad one) rather than something that will expire at the end of the year. For example, “Exercise every day” would be a good one; a habit I could keep going after the end of a year, while “Lose 10 pounds” would be a poor resolution as it would be unlikely to change me over the long term.
I realized in mid January this year, however, that my resolutions for the time being needed to be very modest: keeping myself and my family fed, clean, and semi-rested. With school and a lactation internship and occasional paying work it was all I could do not to gain 10 pounds and to keep my house in some semblance of order. That was, however, six months ago. My clinical internship is over and I am officially jobless (save for the “job” of being a mother, of course). The IBCLC exam is in five days. At this point I don’t think studying will matter one way or the other. I have no excuse not to make some new resolutions. I don’t know what this year will bring, hopefully a new job, a decent income, and some clarity about what I want to do with the result of my life. But even given that uncertainty I can exert some modicum of control over my life by deciding, resolving if you will, a few things. I turned 37 this week and so at the start of this new year of my life I resolve:
- No buying desserts. This is a repeat of a resolution from 2014. I did fairly well with it that year and had intended to continue it at the beginning 2015 but I fell off of the wagon into cartons of ice cream and a boxes of See’s candy. I don’t think sugar is the root of all evil, but I also don’t think it would be unfair to say that I do have somewhat of an addiction to it. I also, vainly, want to lose a few pounds and desserts pack a whole lot of calories in a small package. So the rules of this resolution are: if it’s sweet and I want to eat it, I have to make it. Exceptions include birthday requests from the kids (if they want me to buy something special I will) and if we go out to dinner I am allowed to order dessert (something I rarely do, however, because as someone who went to pastry school I am really picky about good desserts and most restaurant desserts are lame). Seriously, the majority of restaurants do not make their desserts in house but order them frozen, thaw them out, and then sell them to you for about 10 times (not an exaggeration) what they paid for them. Now, if someone were to buy me some dessert, say some cashew brittle or scotchmallows from See’s Candy, that would be totally acceptable (and delicious).
- Write creatively at least twice a week, on a schedule. I’ve tried writing focused resolutions before but I’ve never been able to get them to stick. I tried writing every day but I have to admit that just isn’t going to happen. Once a week doesn’t seem like enough so I settled on twice a week. I think that the key to success is going to be that I am setting two specific, two hour blocks of time and sticking with them. I am going to disconnect myself from the internet, perhaps even leave the house and go to the library or a coffee shop, and do nothing buy write.
- Reduce our discretionary spending. Plain and simple: we are living right at the edge of our means. For most of our marriage our income well exceeded our expenditures. But now, with me not working and two kids in private school we basically break even. I feel very uncomfortable living on the financial edge. I also realize regardless of my career change there will probably come a point thirty or so years from now that I do not wish to or am unable to work – at least full-time. We need to be saving something for our future and it’s pretty scary that we aren’t. Most of our expenses are fixed in stone and as cheap as they can possibly go (pretty sure I am not going to find a better 30 year fixed mortgage rate than 3.125%!), so that leaves consumable type items (food, clothing, gas, toiletries etc.) as our only place to save money. I grew up without much money. We never went hungry, but it felt like we always had less than those around us and I continually heard from my mother “We can’t afford it.” I vowed that I wouldn’t have to live that way as an adult but here I am. I least I know what to do.
- Give lactation consulting a real chance as a career. I do not like being unemployed. I hate not earning money and the loss of independence and financial worries that going along with it. This year has been a daily struggle for me to stick with lactation consulting not to go out and just get a job. The truth is, I’ve applied for a few jobs, and even gone on a couple of interviews – but not for lactation related work. Every time I come home from one of these interviews I need to consciously turn away from the aspects of those jobs that I do crave (travel, income, authority) and remember that they negatives of those jobs (spending my day chained to a computer, long hours and commutes, subject matter than I am not really passionate about, working on abstract problems rather than concrete ones) outweigh the positives. I need to stop doing this to myself and commit to giving lactation a real try and giving myself one to get a job. This is going to require a lot of deep breathing and I am sure there will be some near panic attacks but I want this to work and in order for that to happen I have to give it time.
I think this is my most difficult, but most important, set of resolutions yet.
When I think about my hopes for my children it’s certainly not for fame or fortune. My dreams for them are almost deceptively simple: 1) To find a passion (or passions) that they love in life and compatibility between that passion and the necessities of life (i.e., making a living, taking care of themselves) and 2) To be a good, kind person who, in their own way, increases the amount of good in this world. With little kids who all too often seem ungrateful I sometimes question how well I am succeeding at goal number two.
When my kids are sad or scared one of the surest ways to cheer them up is to tell them a story of when I was sad or scared or mad as a child. They howl with laughter by the end the story where I tell them about the time my four-year-old self refused to eat all of her peas and dumped them on the ground under the dining room table in a (wildly unsuccessful) attempt to hide them from her mother. They hang on to every word when I tell them the story of stepping on a nail when I was twelve and having to go in for a tetanus shot. One of their favorite stories is from when I was three years old. I was running errands with my mother and at an otherwise boring stop at the bank they were handing out helium filled balloons. I remember my delight at receiving a big orange balloon; my favorite color at the time. We lived in California at the time and it was a hot day. My mom drove a big grey station wagon without air conditioning. We climbed into car; my legs growing instantly slick with sweat against the vinyl seats. My mother, smartly, tied the balloon around my wrist as she buckled me in and then cranked down the window. We took off and bored I began to fiddle with the balloon string. In one horrifying instant the string slipped over my tiny wrist and the balloon took flight out the car window. I screamed, I wailed, I pleaded for my mom to stop. “Stop! You have to go back! My balloooooooooooooon!” In the time it took the words to tumble out of my mouth the balloon was, of course, long gone. I remember crying so hard that my eyes swelled to the point I could hardly see. I am pretty sure that the loss of that balloon was the primary tragedy of the first five years of my life (yes, I had a good life).
My birthday was this week and when I walked in the house on the afternoon of my birthday there were ten perfect orange helium filled balloons waiting for me. Older was vibrating with excitement. After hearing the lost balloon story multiple times, It had been his idea to buy me a bouquet of balloons for my birthday. Apparently he had wanted to buy 100 of them but Husband talked him down to ten. I was very touched by Older’s thoughtfulness. I think he’s turning out to be a pretty damned good kid.
Insomnia has been my nighttime companion as long as I can remember. I have memories of alternately lying and standing in my crib in the near darkness, not upset, but unable to fall asleep. Not much has changed in the more than 30 years since then.
My friend insomnia appears more often in the summer. I love the feeling of sleeping in a chilly room, ensconced in heavy blankets. Even with a window air conditioner providing a lush background of cool air and white noise I find it difficult to fully relax with during this season. The children also stay up later in the summer. It’s a pleasure to eat a late dinner out on the patio and to huge stacks of bedtime stories without the pressure of an early wake up and school drip off. But I pay for that pleasure later when my children don’t fall asleep until 10 pm and my introverted self still needs a couple of hours of alone time to unwind. At that point it’s midnight and my brain has reached a state of overtired wired exhaustion that is not easy to come down from. And tonight, after all that bragging about exercise I find that my nearly 37 year old body is sore. I can feel my rheumatoid arthritis in my fingers and in my knees keeping me awake reminding me that no matter how much I work out I am never going to work my body back into feeling like a twenty year old.
It’s 1:50 am local time and tonight is shaping up to be yet another sleepless night. It is quite pleasant in my house right now. I’m in our den/office/sun room. The only light in the house is that of the computer screen which I have set at its minimal brightness so as to minimize the disruption of the light onto my circadian rhythm. There is a blissful quiet. Not only are the children all sleeping peacefully but the house sleeps as well; there is no whoosh of a washing machine or hum of a dishwasher; nearly always purring along in the background. A faint smell of the days activities lingers. There is the sweet smell of new wood; Husband is building Older a built in desk in this room. There is a another hint of sweetness in the air. I canned ten jars of strawberry jam today. Over those smells I can also get a whiff of tomatoes and garlic; roasted in the oven for the first batch of tomato sauce this season. I can look out and see the solar string lights hanging from our patio, now dimly glowing as the last of the sun’s energy escapes them. The cool air filters in through the open window restoring me; today’s heat is a distant memory; tomorrow’s forecast heat seems far away. I hear, through the open window, that I am not the only one awake. Some creature stirs in my garden. I harvested all the ripe tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini today; hopefully whatever it is will leave the unripe fruits to grow another day.
Husband fell asleep a couple of hours ago. I’ve listen to him snore and poked at him to stop. I’ve read about climate change. Then, deeming that too depressingly stimulating I looked at handbags online (I have a fondness for Kate Spade bags although I’ve never purchased one new; I am too cheap and too anti-consumer to do so, nor do I really need more than one bag, but I do enjoy looking at them). I contemplated what I am going to do with the rest of my life (definitely not the best recipe for relaxation and I willed myself to stop). I tried meditating. I updated my to-do list. I thought about Christmas gifts. I petted my cat, who despite supposedly being nocturnal seems to have no problem with sleep and is sprawled across my pillow twitching as she catches dream-mice.
As you might have noticed I am trying to write every day (either here or in other forms). Because my commitment to daily exercise has resulted in my developing an ingrained habit to do so I thought I would try the same thing with writing. Much like working out I decided that I would try not to put too many constraints on it or expect particularly fine writing at first but that the most important thing was, in the immortal words of a certain shoe company, to “Just do it!” Tonight I finally decided that if I can’t sleep I should write a bit. Perhaps by doing so my brain will finally be able to shut down and let me sleep.