Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Thoughts on Christmas as an Atheist

During Amelia's worst days of colic I learned that singing helped, at least to the extent that a cup of water "helps" put out a raging fire.  With Christmas coming, when she has cranky periods I've found myself singing various traditional carols (which I know by heart thanks to my years as a band and chorus geek in high school).  Rediscovering all these songs has reminded me how entrenched religion is into the tradition of Christmas.

"Christ the Savior is born..."
"In Bethlehem in Jewry the blessed babe was born..."
"Hark the herald angels sing/Glory to the newborn king..."
"Grandma got run over by a reindeer.."

Turns out that Christmas in this day and age is considered to be a predominantly Christian holiday (who knew?!).

So how do Rob and I--two atheists--celebrate it?

Christmas is both my and Rob's favorite holiday. We both go crazy for decorating the tree, for watching a very specific series of Christmas movies (Nightmare Before Christmas, Emmet Otter, Love Actually, Christmas Vacation...if you were interested), for listening to Bing Crosby, and now for passing along our traditions to Amelia.  We buy each other gifts, we fill stockings, we will put cookies out for Santa Claus.  Though Rob could take or leave them, I love singing Christmas carols and have even (voluntarily and enjoyably) attended Christmas mass with my in-laws.

Neither Rob nor I see any of this as incongruous with our shared atheism.

Much is made in the United States of the fact that Christmas is an increasingly secular holiday celebrated even by the heathenest of heathens like us.  Each year the voices bloviating about the so-called "war on Christmas" grow louder and more obnoxious, despite the fact that you are far more likely to encounter messages of "keep Christ in Christmas" than "let's just call it 'mas'." These people are the same that claim religious discrimination because schoolchildren don't sing songs about Jesus in public schools despite the fact that they are perfectly welcome to sing them at home or at church.

The fact is, there is just as many pagan and secular elements to Christmas as there are Christian ones.  It is common knowledge that Christmas gains many of its traditions from Pagan celebrations, including Saturnalia which took place in December and was somewhat of a drunken free-for-all. The Christmas Tree and gift-giving are both borrowed from non-Christian celebrations. The Bible makes no direct reference to when Jesus was born and many early Christians didn't celebrate his birth. The Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas for a period in the 17th century, and the Catholic church was hesitant to embrace it as well.  Christmas wasn't even widely celebrated in the United States until the 1950s.

None of this is to say that there's anything wrong with celebrating Christmas as a Christian holiday. Rather, I think historically it's important to frame Christmas as what it is - a sort of holiday fruitcake (holiday meatloaf?), with various chunks from different periods in human history.  For that reason, it's okay for it to be different things for different people; someone saying "Happy Holidays" does nothing to dilute the tradition for the millions of Christians in the United States just as their tradition of churchgoing does not affect my secular celebration.

Christmas, for us, is a time to spend with our families, to drink (as our ancestors did!), to give and receive thoughtful gifts, and to connect with our shared human existence and history. For the entirety of recorded history, humans have been celebrating the end of the old year in preparation for the new, and it's possible to enjoy that celebration with or without the influence of Jesus and Christianity.

So Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, friends, however you celebrate or don't celebrate.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Currently

Watching: So many great things on Netflix! Sleep training has "clicked" so at night we have had more time to catch up on our stories. We started a new series called Black Mirror, a British show that is probably the best show I've seen in a long time. If you are a fan of The Twilight Zone/good sci-fi and don't mind incredibly dark humor, check this show out.  We are also catching up on American Horror Story: Coven, which honestly has been a pretty big disappointment to us after the first two seasons. Finally, we watched Nick Offerman's comedy special American Ham which was awesome.

Listening to: The same Pandora station over...and over...and over again. Amelia only takes naps in the Ergo carrier, and music has to be playing. Since my YouTube playlist got pretty old pretty fast, I made an oldies Pandora station. The baby naps 3-4 times a day for 30-45 minutes each, so I listen to this station a lot. I had no idea there were so many versions of "The Twist."

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How I spend most of my days.

Wanting: A new hobby. Something immersive that I can do when the baby is asleep and that makes me feel like me. I have so many plans for when she falls asleep (since when she is awake she is glued to me) but all I end up doing is putzing around on the Internet. That has value in and of itself for many sanity, but I'd like to add something that requires a bit more brainpower.

Reading: Blogs, and that's about it. It's really hard to find time to read with a baby as needy as Amelia. I started reading a book about the Irish potato famine that is really interesting so far, but I have to read it in chunks so I'm pretty sure it'll take months to finish at this rate.

Excited for: CHRISTMAS obviously. Everyone's right when they say that the holidays get so much better with kids, and Amelia isn't even old enough to actually participate yet. We got our tree the other day, bought her first Christmas ornament, got her gifts and have just generally been enjoying all the anticipation.  It's kind of fun having a little alien that you have to teach about life on earth.

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Planning: A work trip. It's my first since Amelia was born and I'm absolutely terrified. Scared to be away from her, scared that Rob will have a hard time since she is so dependent on me at this stage. I'm also scared that she'll forget about me, even though I'll only be gone for 3-4 days at a time for a couple of weeks straight.

Eating: Dairy again! With her doctor's blessing I've been introducing milk into my diet again and Amelia has so far experienced no ill effects. This is HUGE because god damn was I missing milk. And cheese. And cream cheese and ice cream and milk chocolate. I've also been eating way too much sugar for my own good. Anybody have any cures for a sweet tooth? Because I have a bad one.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A Christmas Wishlist

This year Christmas is really different for me for one very big tiny reason. It's not just the obvious excitement of giving her her first Christmas that makes it different; I also have had a tough time coming up with anything at all that I even wanted as a gift. When Rob told me he wasn't sure what to get, I shrugged and suggested, "naps?" I think he could literally give me a handmade book of nap coupons and I'd cry with glee.

I'm sure you could do some psychological assessment where you come to the conclusion that I've lost myself in becoming a mother and can't think of myself outside of my kid.  In some ways that might be true--putting real clothes on and changing my bra are considered major chores nowadays--but I'm going to lay the blame on a fuzzy brain and laziness instead.

Anyway last night the baby fell asleep at around 8:30 and didn't wake up again for an hour and a half, which I spent reorganizing my Pinterest boards (sounds boring but I love sitting down to do mundane shit that doesn't scream at me).  I got reacquainted with my wish list and since Christmas is in a few short weeks, thought I'd share it with all the other bloggers. In the interests of asserting my independence, none of these things are baby-related.

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1. Medical Museums: Past, Present and Future. This book isn't available through any online retailers. You have to order it by form from the Dittrick Medical History Museum at Case Western Reserve University. I thought it'd be a pretty cool addition to my collection of morbid and macabre books.


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2. Liverpool Jean Pull-on Legging. PULL-ON JEANS. Okay, maybe I am officially a mom.


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3. A box of assorted chocolate body parts. I like the assorted one but too bad you can't design your own. I mean who could say no to a box of chocolate uteruses?

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4. Anatomical heart locket. Continuing with the macabre theme, how lovely is this silver heart? Way too expensive to actually buy but I'd wear this bad boy every damn day.


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5. Birthstone ring. It's too soon for me to get a mother's ring, since I don't know if Amelia will be our only child, but I'd love to get one of these dainty rings with Rob and Amelia's birthstones in the meantime.

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6. Knee high boots. I have a lot of knee high boots but these are lovely.

So there we go. Honestly I think this list gives a pretty decent idea of who I am as a person - weird, and likes cheap boots and comfy clothes.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Our Thanksgiving(s)

Well hello, December!

November came and left with incredible speed for us. For me anyway. October felt interminable, partially because the baby was still a challenge wrapped up in difficulty, but things really evened out for her and for us in November. For the first time in months I'm actually excited for what's to come instead of only focusing on the second in front of me.

When the time came to plan our Thanksgiving, I at first didn't want anything to do with returning to Maine to see our families. The drive lasts 8 hours, Amelia is ever-changing and we can't predict what she'll do in any given situation, and since she is still breastfeeding we have to stop every 2-3 hours.  Along with all that, the four month sleep regression hit her pretty hard and she was sleeping like shit.  It all just added up to NOPE in my head. 

Thankfully (haha, because it's Thanksgiving) Rob pushed to do it even though, as I said in a sleep-deprived delirium, "I'd rather pull all my toenails out than go." We ended up having a really nice time with our families, Amelia did amazingly well and above all I'm glad that she got to spend her first Thanksgiving around lots of people that love her.

Most of you know that our families live pretty close to one another, so when we go home for the holidays it means a lot of driving and a lot of juggling. It's multiplied a thousand times with a baby. We made it work though and got to spend time with both sides, fulfilling traditions with each respective family (after-dinner Pictionary with Rob's, "It's a Wonderful Life" with mine) and getting to enjoy that with Amelia.

I think Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the food, the loud family gatherings, the late-night TV and talking sessions with our siblings. I don't understand why everyone rushes Christmas as soon as the Halloween candy runs out, because Thanksgiving deserves a lot more attention than it gets.

We're heading back in a month for Amelia's first Christmases. Even though she won't be much of an active participant in it, I'm really excited to create some new traditions with her.

I didn't get a ton of photos of the actual festivities, so these are mostly just of my cute kid. 

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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Split Personalities

After hemming and hawing for awhile about this, I decided to create a separate blog devoted entirely to mom-stuff. That way I can (hopefully) keep this one up without talking only about said mom-stuff. Let's hope I have enough stuff to talk about to keep both of them up.

Visit my new blog below:


If you're into mom-stuff, check me out over there. Or just stay here. I don't judge.


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Astronaut baby might, though.

Monday, 10 November 2014

On Postpartum Depression

There are a lot of reasons why I haven't written in weeks and most of them I've talked about numerous times. Insecurity, lack of time, feelings of inadequacy. I won't re-hash them.

I did want to step in and say hello. So, hello.

That, and I wanted to talk about postpartum depression.

I think there's a lot more awareness about postpartum depression nowadays than in years past, as evidenced by the fact that I get asked a lot how I'm doing 4 months out.  To be honest, at first, I felt really good. Minus a few bouts of crying that I chalked up to "baby blues" I was feeling like I had a decent handle on parenthood. I'd always known that as someone who has a history of depression and anxiety I was prone to postpartum depression, but I didn't know that it could lay dormant and rise up well after the kid was born. Turns out it can, and turns out it did.

One thing that I've always prided myself on is how much insight I have into my own mental health, and I saw the depression approaching before I was actually within its clutches.  I started spending my Sundays absolutely miserable, knowing that I was on the cusp of 5 days alone with the baby. I stopped finding much joy in the day to day tedium of caring for her. My postpartum OCD was worsening and I was feeling constant anxiety. I vacillated between feeling jealous of childfree friends and crushing guilt that I wasn't appreciating her more. I started obsessively reading stories of infant loss and feeling periodic flashes of terror and dread that something awful would happen to her. I checked her breathing 5, 6, 7 times at night. I lost patience more and more easily. While people lamented how quickly their babies grew, I started feeling like my baby had been 3 months old for about 8 months. I began having vaguely suicidal thoughts. It came to a head when one day I left the baby crying downstairs to get her pacifier upstairs and had an incredible urge to crank up the fan in our bedroom, roll in a blanket burrito and sleep for hours.

I didn't roll in a blanket burrito, but the moment was the kick in the ass I needed to actually get some help. My obstetrician was wonderful. I told her that I decided to call when I noticed that I was having more bad days than good and she praised me for knowing myself well enough to do so. I knew from past experience that while I did not want to begin another long-term relationship with antidepressants, medication would pull me out of the mire just enough for therapy to actually work.

I wanted to write all of this because I've always been very honest about my struggles with anxiety and depression, and it makes me sad that knowing I needed help and getting it was considered unique or surprising. Depression, in its general or postpartum form, is a vicious beast, and needing some help to get through it can hardly be considered weakness. So girls, take care of yourselves and reach out. You gain nothing by suffering in silence.

A week and a half out from all of this and I'm feeling better. I find more happiness in the day to day even if I still find myself getting incredibly frustrated when getting her back to sleep (if anyone has tips for staying patient I'll take it...I hate how often I say "just sleep!" to her). In those moments I try to remember that she's not a thing that happened to me, she's a person and this is her life too. That nothing is gained by getting frustrated and that no frustration is forever. That my daughter does not expect perfection, she just expects me.