Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Mother Getting By

The other day, the only way I got through the grocery store with Arlo was to let him suck on my braid.  By the time I got to the checkout, my hair and shoulder were drenched with baby drool, and he was still gripped to my pigtail like it was the rope that would save him from pirhanas.  The cashier politely ignored my glazed eyes.

But we had food.

As I worked feverishly on a consulting project deadline after getting Arlo to bed one night, I heard a wail rise from upstairs.  Running up, I met Noah at the bedroom door.  He told me that he was terrified of a cartoon creature in a book he was reading.  "I can't get over it," he said matter-of-factly.  "I have to sleep in your bed."  So Arlo, me, and Noah, slept sandwiched together on my side of our king-sized bed, until deep in the night when Noah was peacefully heavy and I could drag him back into his twin bed a few feet away.

But he woke happy.

The eighth time I called my internet service provider to learn that a technician had actually been to my house, had checked a wire outside and repaired a "sync issue," but hadn't bothered to knock on the door to determine whether my computer actually could connect to the internet, which it couldn't, I thought my head might split open as I calmly said, "It must be something other than a sync issue then.  I'm glad to hear at least that isn't the problem," having no idea what a sync issue is.  "Can you please send a technician to come inside my house?"

But my internet works again.

So many days I ask myself, "What else can I possibly simplify?"  My schedule, my life, my home, my business.  Selling three of our five vehicles.  Giving away the old lawn mower.  Regifting, consigning, Goodwill-ing.  Forgoing a vegetable garden this year.  Putting away calendars so there are less pages to flip, or daily blocks to rotate each morning.  Eliminating idiosyncratic feeding systems for the cats.  Trying to make it easier to focus on Noah and Arlo and keep afloat.  

My dear aunt Barbara often reminds me, as a mom of two grown boys who have families of their own now, that having two children can get wild.  It is always good to hear this, as I have a hard time supporting myself when I think about one of the doctors in our local practice, who raised five children, or my mother-in-law, who also had five.  Having two children at the heart of my life has turned every day into an adventure in meeting needs, getting food, creating fun, supporting good health.  The simple truth is that there is nothing simple about it.  I cannot simultaneously go for a bike ride with Noah and lie down with Arlo for him to take a nap, no matter how skilled I am at multitasking.  And this moment, like most of the waking ones, takes active negotiation.  Do this poorly, and there will be another issue to negotiate shortly.  

Sometimes I imagine myself as a waterlogged fish.  Overwhelmed in my preferred environment.  Confused, because being out of the bowl isn't an option.  Partly afraid of drowning.  Loving the water.  It just doesn't make sense.  It must just be like this, being a fish?  Even with all the reality mommy media out there in the culture, it does not come easy to me to say, this is me with two children.  Often I feel instead like "Surely, we can do better."  Most of the time, though, there is rarely anything to actually do except sink or swim.   

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"The truth about me is...": 15 minutes of writing on this prompt from a friend

The truth about me is that I was not nearly as patient, kind, or selfless, as I acted for much of my life.  The truth is that a desperate grasping extended through me from my childhood origins, drawing to me so many who also only expected darkness in their lives.  I think by generous fate and no small effort of my own, my own light was not put out by that cloud, and so the hopeful ones have come along too, but often they have bored me or passed me by, not lighting the torch of my misery enough to keep me interested in their presence.

The truth about me is that I have lived many sad years.  Bright and sunny on the outside, deeply doubting and unable to console myself on my deepest levels.  Doubting love, feeling it to be an empty promise.  And yet, throwing myself at it again and again, blindly seeing neither the object of my latest affection, nor myself. 

The truth about me now is that since turning 40 I have discovered compassion for myself.  Choosing a life partner and bearing children has pointed me to the inarguable existence of my own desires and dreams, my own solid path apart from where I came.  I think I understand now that it takes some living to get here, to what I’m coming to think of as the Good Stuff.  When some of the old voices stop mumbling in my ears and I can hear my truer thoughts.  Much like it takes writing a lot of sad clown poems to get to one that sings instead of shuffling along, hoping to be good enough, it has taken some living for me to decide that it is more worth it to know myself than to remain loyal to others’ ideas of me, or who they need me to be.
The truth about me is that I was as I needed to be then, as I am now.  My younger self lived a certain kind of truth, albeit one that looks more dangerous and confused to me from my current vantage point.  This self that is becoming what might be called middle-age still gets confused, but I have a clearer sense of what brings me peace and happiness – and it is not the excitement of the race.  The race away from everything that scared me, the race toward the unavailable.  Top speed, in a dark room, racing.  The truth about me is that I am slowing down beautifully, and feel the confidence of walking intentionally, able to name some of the things that I want, and don’t, and the grace in the things I have.  The truth about me is showing itself, singing as she comes.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Best Mommy Blog that Never Was

I have been doing a lot of writing lately, not that anyone would ever know it, because the last three blog posts I've begun have been interrupted.  Going back to a writing about current events in the world or my home is almost impossible at this point, because things are moving so fast around here that news quickly becomes old.  And then, the limited time I have to come to my desk often ends up being spent deleting comments from hackers who have nothing better to do than plaster whacko gobbledy-gook all over the internet.  

Weeks past the Boston Marathon bombings, I am unable to revive my started post about that, and all the mother thoughts I had about the two young brothers primarily responsible.  I found much of the commentary out there deeply unsatisfying, in everything from parenting blogs online to articles in "The Nation," but I suppose when I compare most writers to Annie Lamott, who can knock my socks off with a Facebook post, those others don't really stand a chance.  I think "The Onion" hit the nail on the head in its beautifully profane article about that particular week, which also boasted a dead anti-gun violence bill in Congress two days after the bombing: http://www.theonion.com/articles/jesus-this-week,32105/

So today, a day in which I've already been able to both shower and floss my teeth, I know the stars are in some alignment that cannot be ignored and I better attempt to write.  And yet, my initial thoughts are swirls and whirls of things undone.  Previous blog posts.  Another batch of cookies for Teacher Appreciation Week.  A consulting project or two.  Updating the quotes on the right side of my blog.  And I'm sure there's a diaper in the works in the other room.  My older son Noah has been home sick from school for three days with a fever that just won't die down, so I've been having board game marathons with him while simultaneously working on two consulting projects and taking care of Arlo, who let's just say is not a napper in the same way Noah was.  He takes cat naps that are itty bitty compared to Noah's 4-hour sleep marathons as a baby.  These are the kind of naps that leave me sighing with joy at his peacefulness and my freedom one second and then sighing like a holy martyr as I give up the expectation of a little down time when I peek at him and his huge blue eyes are staring quietly up at me.

But he does have beautiful blue eyes, and it feels slightly blasphemous to complain about anything about parenting when I wanted him so badly, and tried for so long, and suffered such a miserable pregnancy to bring him into the world.  And got him all the same, at 43 years old.  Those beautiful clear blue eyes hold the answers to my prayers and are completely worth it.  When I look at Arlo I have a sense of what I have done, that we can move through almost anything toward what we want most, if we are clear that we want it.  He and Noah are so obviously worth the interruption of just about anything else in my life.

I often think about a local woman who owned a dry cleaning business nearby that closed down a couple of years ago.  I used to bring Noah in, and she would come out and exclaim about how beautiful he was.  She had raised boys of her own, and said how much she missed the time when they were little.  She was a beautiful petite woman who always dressed like she was going on a date, not like she was going to run the dry cleaning place, and I always left knowing that these are the best years of my life, when Noah and now Arlo are here with me.

That doesn't take away from the fact that I've been up at 4 a.m. the past three mornings, or that there are many things in my life that I also care about that are going undone, which at any given moment can really make me go batsh*t crazy.  But these important things are happening.  My children.  To my great satisfaction.  A wise person reminded me recently that making a decision to do anything by definition means another thing goes undone.  And that this is a painful or at least difficult part of life, and growing up.  And having a family, certainly.  Making choices.  But you know what?  Sometimes I still delude myself with thoughts of being a famous writer someday, who will get that way by some kind of shortcut or late-run burst, since my day-in, day-out commitment has been to a career in anti-violence work and in more recent years, my children.  My boys make me realize that anything is possible, so why not this dream too? 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Baby Love, My Baby Love

Arlo is here and 9 weeks old already!  Becoming a mother twice over has cracked open my gratefulness farther than I ever thought possible in this life.  Gone are the pregnancy days, and happily so this time around, and now I am back in the land of diapers and milk.  And back in my regular jeans - hallelujah!

The anticipatory questions I had about how it would look to extend my heart and energy to another child when for over six years I have circled around Noah, are answering themselves.  More children equals more love for everyone!  I am so relieved to affirm this, because I had received warnings and cautions before and during my pregnancy, about Noah feeling abandoned and left behind.  I was afraid that I would have to turn away from Noah to turn toward another child.  That the love pie was only so big, and more people would mean less love per slice for all of us.  Is there a fairness formula for giving love among children?  So the exhale on this issue is an especially welcome one, to trust that having a second child can be framed, and in fact be seen as, a joyous occasion to a first child, and to all of us in the family.  Even taking into account the earlier moments in Arlo's time with us when Noah would hide in the shower or go headfirst under his blankets in bed when the baby cried, Noah is happy that Arlo is in the family.  In fact, for several weeks now Noah has been volunteering that he wants us to have another child so he can have a little sister too.  Clearly he is not too distressed by having a baby in the house.

One night at the dinner table Matthew asked Noah if he could remember what it was like before Arlo was with us.  Noah immediately answered "Yes, I remember!"  Matthew prompted him to describe it, and Noah said, "It was a little bit lonelier."  My heart melted quietly in my chest as I sat across from him.

Going back into the baby zone has also pitched me into long, quiet days when the baby sleeps and I go many hours without speaking with another adult.  So far, this has been remarkably acceptable.  I also already have had some of those dark moments of helplessness and frustration that I now remember so well from when Noah was an infant.  Those fabulous moments when I have all the answers for this little one's bubbles, tiredness, or discomfort, go hand-in-hand with those when I am helpless to do more than tell Arlo "I'm so sorry, I know you can do it, you can get through it," while I try to continue breathing as he yells, red-faced, at the top of his lungs.

I have said to my husband a couple of times that we need to get out of the comparison business in terms of our children, in that has been a common conversation for us to say to each other, "Noah did this same thing, Noah was not like this at all," etc.  While of course our parenting expertise comes from our experience with Noah, Arlo is Arlo.  And he is, too.  He laughs in his sleep, and gives us a pirate look by squinting one eye and opening the other, and smiles out of one side of his mouth.  He is extremely gassy, and makes noxious smells.  He can be a total crier.  He has a full head of beautiful dark hair and always keeps his fists balled up by his face when he is sleeping.  I have fallen in love again with all of it, in the way that it is with children and no one else.  The deliciousness of his details are all his own, and all my own to witness, as his mother.

I recently read a wonderful writing about how each of the author's children believed that he or she was the author's favorite child, and how they all were right.  This mother could list all of her favorite things about each of her children, and they were things to which her other children couldn't hold a candle.  I felt the zing of insight in both directions - looking back at my own life, and looking forward at my boys'.  Being one of three children myself, the youngest of all girls, I was finally able to replace the confusing dichotomy of the memory of my oldest sister once telling me bitterly how I always got what I wanted, on one hand, with my perception of going unseen at times, on the other.  The truth as I see it now is that my mother loved and loves each of us specially.  That this is the way it is for mothers, and the way it will be for me.  My own boys will continue to amaze me in their own ways.  Noah will always be my first baby.  And Arlo will always be my last.  Two boys, exponential love.