Friday, April 27, 2012

"I can't imagine it, Kate."

It has been a thread throughout my almost 6-year parenting life that girlfriends, who are usually also mothers, have told me that they cannot imagine me ever getting frustrated with my son to the point of raising my voice at him.  A good friend just said this to me again this week, and when I heard it this time something in my heart took note and also said quietly inside me, "Oh no, I am you, we are both mothers here.  We can be honest with one another."

I also can't imagine myself yelling at my son.  Even five minutes before I do it, it remains unthinkable as a strategy for effecting compliance, creating peace and calmness in chaos or confusion, or merely releasing frustration or stress.  I love my sweet, 5-year-old Noah with the moon face and freckles and the sweetest love for both football and flower gardens, all together in his little 3-foot-something body.  His little heifer calves, muscles round and tight, his running back thighs and backside.  His soft and chubby little fingers on my forehead checking if I have a fever on days I don't feel well.  I can honestly say I have not had a day when I was not grateful to be his mother.  Having him at 38 years old, when just a year prior I'd been fairly close to believing that a long-term partnership and parenting were not in the cards for me, changed my life into something amazing.

Bringing Noah into the world did everything everyone said it would.  It exhausted me.  It revealed a fundamental love for another person that superceded the love for anyone else I've ever known, save for my parents, and showed me just what kind of deep love is really possible in the wold.  And again, it exhausted me.  As a caregiver of children for a lot of my young life, much of the actual taking care of Noah came easily, but the relentlessness and all-encompassing nature of parenting is inarguable. 

And we mothers are not saints or martyrs.  Even on our best and worst days.  We are mothers.  Human mothers.  In the many nature shows we have been watching with Noah in the past year, I have been riveted by how animal mothers protect their children, what they sacrifice to keep their children alive, and how sometimes they teach them hard lessons, physically step on them, or growl at them, turn away and leave them when necessary.  It's heartbreaking.  But it is real.

The culture does not always make it easy to be a mother, because of the saint/martyr ideal we've been saddled with.  There were times when Noah was under 2 years old when I would try to make deals with myself, to get through a whole day without experiencing frustration and/or raising my voice when speaking with him.  Anyone who has tried a quit-something-cold-turkey diet knows that will power in one direction is usually met by surging will in the exact opposite direction when exhaustion sets in.  And did I mention that parenting is exhausting?  So I had many days when my perfectionist mindset about parenting really did me in emotionally.

So yes, I have yelled at Noah.  Just yesterday, when he was home sick, deserving of every gentle touch and kind word, after his bath he got water in his ears and was stricken with pain for two hours that made him cry, yell, and whine in intervals.  And he was heartily resisting any of my suggestions to get the water out of his ears - by hopping on one foot with his head to the side, plugging his nose and closing his mouth and blowing, etc., etc., all the things that I would do if I had water in my ears.  But he would have none of it, and instead chose to cry, yell, and whine in intervals.  By hour two my brain was string cheese, especially since our furnace had also gone out yesterday so I was on the phone with the manufacturer as well as the local service folks, trying to get some heat going.  This is what real mothering looks like.  So with Noah, I was bouncing between "poor baby" mode and an increasing urgency to get him out of pain by getting the water out of his ears.  Finally, I did yell.  He refused another suggestion, and the nurse I'd left a message for wasn't calling back with any ideas, and when he told me he didn't believe any of my ideas would work, before he'd even tried them, that was the proverbial straw breaking my back.  With self-righteousness in my voice, I loudly told him that I actually wanted him to feel better, that I was not trying to just force him to do something for the sake of being the boss of him, I actually hated seeing him hurting and I wanted to help him do something about it.  I very loudly told him this.  I may also have stamped my foot or waved my arms around or something too.  And then I went into the kitchen to make him a snack.

He stomped across the living room, up the stairs to his bedroom, and was there no more than 30 seconds before quietly coming down the stairs, peeking at me from around a wall, and going into the living room where I could then hear him hopping on one foot.  It didn't help, of course, more proof that we mothers are beautifully imperfect in solving things for everyone, but he carefully did not advise me of this in any detail.  He instead came in and had a snack with me.  Then he lay down on the couch with his head on a soft pillow in my lap, and two hours later his ear felt better on its own.  C'est la vie, I try to say now, rather than feeling as I have in the past that I was reaffirmed to be a total failure as a parent because I showed my temper to him.  Even the lioness mothers are stern or unforgiving at times, but you don't see the cubs going off and saying to their friends what terrible mothers they have.  They are also getting the goods that life has to offer them.

Already this little boy has a life of his own brewing, and he is also still young enough to have great needs.  His humanity is palpable to me every day.  My own humanity, in creating a container for him to learn about himself and assert who he is, is also palpable, more and more all the time I'd say.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

In Sickness and In Health

I am recovering from the flu.  I've been recovering since Wednesday.  And I'd already had this particular plague for seven days at that point.  I know I'm on the back side of it, because I no longer have the fever that created dark black circles under my eyes and a headache behind them, for days.  I woke up on that first Thursday at about 2 a.m., literally soaked through with sweat and freezing from the chills, and remember thinking, "I wonder if this is what sleeping in the rainforest is like.  At least here there are no snakes." 

I feel sure I have written about being sick before, but I know it has not been for a few years.  The winters when Noah was three and four years old I was sick more days than I was healthy.  He would get a cold for three days and I would get it for eight.  I think that the sleeplessness that comes with having a new baby is not nearly as crazy and surreal as the long-term exhaustion that sets in after a couple of years of parenting your heart out.  "Run down" doesn't quite cut it.  I refer to it now as having the marrow sucked out of my bones.  And for me, that exhaustion was eventually commonly accompanied by sickness.  Not a death virus like this one every time, but repeated colds, sinus infections, and occasionally a wandering knock-me-down flu. 

I've been exercising diligently at the Y for the past three years now, with occasional two week gaps due to aforementioned illnesses.  At least some of this diligence stemmed from someone saying to me, "Our bodies heal seven times faster when we are exercising regularly."  So for at least two years I both exercised and got sick a lot, surely losing more bone marrow all the while.  I never quite felt the healing thing she talked about.  

And now I know, without a doubt, why.  It was the other thing I've already talked about.  My parenting and work "balance" for those couple of years involved being with Noah all day until he went to bed at 7:30 p.m., and then often sitting down to a graveyard shift at the computer, sometimes working until 3:00 a.m. to get everything done.  Aside from being tiring, I can personally now attest to how demoralizing it is to be up working late when every other living creature in the house is sleeping peacefully.  I couldn't even get a cat to stay downstairs with me to keep me company.  My big cat Sid would just glare at me with a black look in his eyes and disappear upstairs, his tread heavy with disapproval.  

It is not exercise that makes the difference for me, but sleep.  Deep, uninterrupted, innocent sleep.  I've always been a good sleeper, and love to sleep.  It used to be a joke with my young friends that at sleepovers I could fall asleep anywhere, and within ten minutes.  I like to sleep long and often.  Many mornings my waking thought is, "I can't wait to go to sleep tonight."  And this was true long before I had a child. 

And so this winter, after coming out of an extremely busy couple of years of consulting and parenting, I began to sleep again.  Noah began Kindergarten in September, I finished two large and overlapping consulting projects, and despite my initial thoughts of immediately taking on some personal creative projects, I neglected all that and instead, slept.  I've now had six months in a row when on many nights I am asleep at or before 8:00 p.m.  I complete work during the daytime instead of retreating to my nocturnal work cave with a shawl and cup of tea to make believe it's really fine that I'm working until all hours.  I no longer dwell in darkness.  

And as I finally come out of the only real sickness I've had since October, and feel my energy returning enough to write this, I look at the clock and am so happy to see that it's way past my usual bedtime.