Simply See

Home again, and Jane and I are going walkabout.  I have her rigged on my shoulders in the backpack.  Distributed throughout the aluminum frame and snugged straps, her weight dissipates to nothing.  After all, she weighs little more than a good-sized chicken.  As we step into the yard, I twist my neck to get a look at her face and find her looking out over the valley below.  Her eyes are wide and steady beneath the brim of her floppy cap.  How far out of infancy do we lose this gaze, with its utter absence of expectation or prejudice?  What is it like to simply see what is before you, without the skew of context?

from Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

On This Day

11 months, 2 weeks ago, I was trudging through the day-to-day like an elephant on two legs in an animated film.  I was full with pregnancy, with baby, aches and pains, in bladder, daily chaos, and exhaustion.  I was in some sort of suspended stasis; neither did I want to be pregnant any longer nor did I want the onslaught of labor and care of a newborn.

Thanks to the equally annoying, nostalgic, and awe-inspiring features of technological devices and their applications, I can see last week, this week, today in tidy little boxes of unasked-for updates.  That me has tired eyes, a wan smile, the ruddy mask of pregnancy fingering its way across my face.  Except for the dropped weight, that me hasn’t changed much in the last near year.

And yet, looking at that me, it seems like another life.

Looking at this other life in my arms, I feel like she’s just arrived and yet, that other, older me in the photos is saying she’s been here for eons.

For the growing she’s done, I’ve done.  For the countless hours of lost sleep, the endless ribbon of days and nights spooled out and folded in and around each other.

It’s time to celebrate her first year of life, but she still feels brand new to me.  How has this time elapsed without my say so?  For all the holding and staring and loving, I couldn’t hold her trapped in time with my gaze.

But if I stay focused on her in this day, all the others, past and present, will fall away.

No Time like the Present for an Epiphany

I’m sitting here reading about New Years’ resolutions in August.  No time like the present, right?

Seeing as how most New Years’ resolutions don’t make it out of January, maybe it’s not so bad that I’m considering fresh starts now, but the irony does not escape me.  

I’ve always loved the word ‘epiphany’.  My friends and family used to poke fun at my exuberant use of it and my claims that I’d just had one.  But they came fewer and farther between as I got older.  When I fought and focused for one or was unexpectedly blessed with one, I remembered the joy and wonder and how much I benefitted from their presence in my life.  Yet life always seemed to ramp up again and they fell away – or at least my vision did.

Now as I read about all the meanings of the word – including the feast celebrating the arrival of the Magi twelve days after Christmas – I’m reminded again of how worthy a quest this is.  

In her article discussing epiphany, Effie Caldarola has this advice for fresh starts:

How about just resolving to keep our eyes open for the next epiphany God sends?  Do you think those storied Magi were expecting to find a poor baby at the end of their journey?  What an epiphany for them, the meaning of which they probably spent the rest of their lives trying to figure out.  Don’t ‘expect,’ just pay attention.

How simply profound.  And it means I have the rest of my life to keep looking.

Nighttime Jewels

An island of green encrusted in jewels
illuminated by the light of oncoming traffic

globes of dandelion fluff sparkling
in the beams undercutting the night mist

a field of glittering diamonds
nothing but a mess of a nuisance by day

Bonus Day

Yesterday, the first day of spring, my children had a snow day from school.

No, the irony does not escape me. Yes, I realize our region of New England does not preclude such occurrences (one blizzard happening several years ago on April Fools’ Day – apparently Mother Nature has a healthy sense of humor every year). Alas, the snow totals fell drastically short of the predictions and the sun shone and snow melted by what would have been dismissal time.

As I lay in bed Sunday night, after receiving the robo-call from the school department, I was more relaxed than usual knowing I wouldn’t have to rush the kids out the door the next morning. I did say to my husband, however, that I wasn’t looking forward to a whole day inside with the kids. He agreed with me that my comment didn’t exactly sound nice, but I’ve gotten used to some quiet school days as a respite. Plus, I’ve been having iPad battles with the oldest (see previous post), all the girls have been having battles with each other, and I just end up yelling.

It made me laugh, then, when a friend called in the morning, saying I had a ‘bonus day’ with the kids. None of us were dressed. I’d been on my phone all day. They’d bounced between their rooms, the Wii, iPad, and computers. Her use of ‘bonus’ implied unexpected and appreciated quality time. I think I was on vegetation/survival mode.

I finally got my butt in gear enough to strip all three of their beds, a task – believe it or not – they’d been bugging me to do. My very particular middle wanted tightly tucked sheets. My little wanted new blankets. The oldest sleeps with such reckless abandon her bed was just torn to shreds. I figured with them home, perhaps they could help me. I also hoped I’d find my middle’s long-lost library book shoved under her mattress. Ha ha!

When I pulled the bunk beds out to sweep for books and animals lost to the abyss, I made the mistake of leaving the room for a bit afterwards. We all know what empty spaces and crevices and unexpected configurations are for, right? For me, it meant extra room to tuck in those pesky sheets on the far side of the bunks. For them, it meant fill with stuffed animals and baskets and blankets!

'Sure I know what would solve this problem. More floor space.'

Or personal space . . .

 

Suddenly, awash in piles of bedding flooding the hallway, random crap scattered everywhere on the bedroom floors, another step added to an already unwelcome task – I was transported back to days when all three were pre-school. When it was one step forward, two steps back. When it was literally shoveling shit against the tide. When keeping them happy and/or entertained and a house with the least order of squalor attainable and some semblance of sanity was a nearly impossible balance.

And I was scared.

I was reminded what life was like with a house full of littles. As the sole caregiver, comforter, cheerleader, coach, craft guru . . . I am well aware that I need not be all these things at all – and certainly not all at once. But my anxiety treats any deviation from a perceived plan or expectation as a misstep, a notch closer to irritation, panic, anger. It makes me hide in a corner of my couch, balled up in my pjs, content to try nothing rather than get frustrated with things not going according to plan. Or overwhelmed by the enormity of a whole day with all these people – when it should be about the moments.

Even when summer vacation starts and I have not only the new infant, but the older three, it will not be the same as those insular days when they bounced off the walls like ping-pong balls. They are not all toddler and preschool age. They can have some independent and alone time. Even while I tend to the baby, they can play on their own or swing outside. Hopefully they will understand that I won’t be able to – nor should I – entertain them all day. Hopefully I’ll remember that, too.

And to take each moment one at a time for what it’s worth – not worrying the whole day away before it’s even started.

 

I Am Proud

I see how you drag gray gunk out from under the drain plug with a q-tip
I see how you scrape dark purple nail polish from the bathroom tile
I see the smile you give,

the squeeze of a hand,

the rub of a knee.

How you tackle the monotonous and never-ending mountain of laundry

How you give and give and give
to the point of an extinguished flame

I see how tired you are
yet you keep getting up,
keep going.

I see how you love your children.
You think I don’t notice, but I do.
I see how you bear your pain for them.

Let me bear your pain for you.

Help Yourself

“If you do become depressed there are several things you can do to help yourself and make the illness as short-lived as possible.”*

I read this in a book preparing women for pregnancy and childbirth. It is meant well. It introduces a section on self-care and avoiding or alleviating depression (including medical help), which goes on to dispel the myth of the ‘perfect mother’, but the tone of this statement rankled me.

Self-advocacy, expectation, and positive outlook do play an important role in mental health, but they only go so far.

If a woman is clinically depressed, no amount of happy thoughts will pull her out. No amount of pampering will soothe her. Strong and mighty though she may be, bent but not broken, she still needs more. Some sort of medical and/or therapeutic intervention.

Statements like this perpetuate the feeling of failure that women suffering from mental illness already feel. That there is something they failed to do, some step they missed or didn’t push hard enough to save themselves. To embrace life and joy.  And the idea that they’ve prolonged their misery by not making it as ‘short-lived as possible’ – argh!

Maybe I’m just cranky because it didn’t work for me. I know I’m reading this not as an objective observer or researcher, but as a severely chipped shoulder. But a lot of the literature I’ve found reads like it’s written by someone who’s too objective, like someone who views depression as a clear-cut, easily addressed condition.

Like someone who’s never been there.

from I’m Pregnant by Lesley Regan, MD; no disrespect to the author, this post represents my own subjective opinion on the topic.

Mental Intervention

What was I thinking having three kids?

I mean, I love them, but who went and told them they could have their own social lives?

My life has turned into a maelstrom of meetings and play dates, educational outings and activities, birthday parties and sleepovers. Add that to my own [limited] social calendar and my outta-mind anxiety is over the top.

A dear friend once commented that a fellow mother reentered the real world more smoothly and earlier than I, perhaps because she came from a large family and was better equipped to juggle multiple responsibilities at once. She was busting my beans for being incommunicado for most of my child’s infancy, but it stung. Because I was an only child, I sucked at balancing the many demands of life? More so, I think it hurt because it hinted at my inability to cope. In a subconscious effort at self-preservation, I had compartmentalized my life to its limit. The new job of mothering was so all-consuming, I shut out all other demands like the airlock of a submarine to prevent an all-out deluge.

Nine years later, I feel myself pulling back, anticipating catastrophe as life – mine in relation to the swirling schedules around me – ramps up big time. Can I truly not handle all we’ve taken on? Or is my anxiety creating a problem before it’s even – or will – begun/in? I think my struggle is a direct result of my anxiety and not from a need to learn to say no.

It could also be the stubborn mule in me that hates change putting on the brakes. My family no longer exclusively rolls as one unit. The oldest is here, the middle is there, the youngest is home with Daddy while I run errands. Going to the grocery store by myself and buying Christmas gifts without acting like an art smuggler to keep them away from prying eyes is a luxury – but our family life feels so disjointed lately. Times of transition are not my friend.

Another friend once left me a message – somewhere between the two points on today’s timeline – that I couldn’t just stop answering the phone because I was stressed out. It amazed me that she could see me more clearly than I could see myself. When I finally did talk to her, she made me laugh and at least temporarily forget my troubles.

I need some sort of mental intervention now. If only I could enact one myself.

Good Imagination for a Mother

Dinner at our house can be a little trying.  That is, if you’d like to eat without acquiring indigestion, without running to the kitchen after two bites to refill the glasses of milk the wee ones finished in 2.5 seconds, leaving no room in their tender bellies for the food they wouldn’t eat anyway because it has green stuff on it – but I digress.  (See Dinner with Kids for further clarification)

In an attempt to keep them at the table for longer than the 0.5 seconds they usually last after finishing their milk, I bought packs of cocktail napkins (at the discount store) with conversation starters on them.  We started with the jokes and riddles.  Even funnier than the corny jokes was my middle daughter’s uncanny knack at figuring out the punch lines.  Hmmm . . . perhaps that’s why she wanted to pass out the napkins.  After a few nights of that, we graduated to life’s important questions.  If you could invite any one – living or dead – to dinner, who would it be?  Again, the middle stole the show – and my heart – when she replied, without missing a beat, Grandma Julie, my beloved grandmother and her namesake whom she never met.

from seasonedkitchen.com

from seasonedkitchen.com

Another night, we had to reveal which superpower we would want as a superhero.  I piped up with my response first.  “That’s easy, definitely flying.”  Like with a cape?  Flapping your wings like a bird?  “No, just with my arms out as I floated above the trees.”  My answer came easily because I automatically remembered my most favorite dreams – those where I soar above the tops of the trees and roofs of neighbor’s houses behind my childhood home.  The psychological conclusions one can glean from this dream are fodder for perhaps a whole series of posts, but the upshot today is what my oldest daughter said with a look of impressed surprise on her face.

“You have a good imagination for a mother.”

I think that says perhaps more about my existence right now than my thwarted desires of dreams.  All sorts of high-falutin’, politically feminist, empowering responses came to mind, but I simply said thank you and took it as the compliment I’m sure she meant it as.

What a strange psychological experiment parenting is – for all parties involved.  I suppose mind-expanding conversation – even if they need be started with paper squares we smear across our faces – is one way to navigate the maze and see the different paths available.  If not, there are always our dreams and unbridled imagination – even for moms.

Heaven or Hell

 

This is heavenly.

 

That was the thought and feeling that flooded through every part of my body as I sat under a grove of trees a few miles from the shoreline yesterday.

 

I was with two women I didn’t know particularly well, my children playing with five other children, only two of which they knew particularly well – but so go play dates when you join a new group, I suppose. At least I could relish the gorgeous weather and spot for what it was. A quintessential coastal breeze in the shade of old growth trees. An hour of my three children not waylaying each other and my own ear drums and patience.

 

How odd, then, that conversing with these two women, watching our children twirl and loop around us, that I made the decision to love my life.

 

I’d asked them the ages of their children, which led to a clarification of grade levels just completed, and then, a conversation debating the merits of forcing kindergarten for children with birthdays on the cusp of the cut-off and/or waiting an additional year. I’ve had this conversation countless times the last few years, starting with other people’s children all the way to my own four year-old. It’s never cut and dry and the anguish is always apparent on the parent’s face – that they might somehow harm their child’s entire educational career for the sake of a start nine months too early or late.

 

But that’s not what this post is about.

 

I’ve come to terms with our family’s decision to keep our precious little pea home another year for the sake of six lousy days.

 

It’s the nature of that additional year that this conversation affected. The nature of life now.

 

There will come a day when I have to work outside the home. When I won’t be able to see my babies at 10 AM just because. When I won’t be able to sit at a park with virtual strangers/possible friends and discuss issues for the age and stage we’re all at.

 

There will always be dishes and laundry. There will always be exhaustion. There will always be the guilt of the unwritten chapter lurking somewhere behind the keyboard. It will always take more energy and effort to pack the kid(s) and all their crap up and go on an outing than it will to stay home.

 

But there won’t be the brush of feathery grass on the backs of my thighs. The rustle of wind through green leaves. Legs long and lithe, short and compact, darting and weaving. The call and answer of hide and seek. The heavy weight of a tired child solid against my side.

 

We travel through this world from start to finish regardless. It is totally within our determination to make it heaven or hell.

 

 

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image from wallpaperscraft.com

 

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