Mother’s Milk

This tiny little person

latched on to my body

as long as I am wide

Miniature fist clenched around a rib of fabric,

holding on for dear life

Eyes arched in ecstasy,

then drooped in slumber

More parasitic than symbiotic,

but the sweetest symbol ever seen

 

Real Time

It’s taken me five months to realize what’s wrong.

Five good months since the birth of my child.

Five months of kisses and cuddles and bleary-eyed marches; blaring noise and silent sleep.

All this time and all this experience it took me to notice things around me:

Systems out of whack. Needs untended. Tweaks to be made.

Funny, how the way you realize you’re surviving is the ability to see what’s awry.

One day, you feel the slight twinge of annoyance. Stress at the the logistics of life. And you think, wait, I’ve reentered the real world without even realizing it. Without any fanfare. No great plunge. But a gradual dipping in of toes, then ankles, calves – until suddenly the cold on your belly button makes your breath catch.

It is exhilarating and chilling at the same time.

You’re doing it. You’re living life, your life, while navigating the care of that of your little one. It’s never easy, always imperfect. It may turn your lips blue and make your teeth chatter, but you’re afloat.

And that is a feat in and of itself.

floating

Pinterest, multiple sources

 

Two to Two

I went to sleep in the springtime
I awoke in summer

A riot of green,
a vibrant rush,
an air of energy

My body reclaimed and yet not my own
Inside out
the protective covering of conception gone

Gaunt fingers and ankles
ghosts of padded appendages
no longer needed to sustain life
for two

Whole again
and yet suddenly separate
A new path split
in two

MILFing isn’t for everyone

I have been a stay at home mom for eight years.

When I stopped to calculate that number, I surprised even myself.

Nearly a decade of childrearing.  Holy milf, indeed.

When I made the decision to stay at home, I was not in love with my job, but was in love with my babies.  Simple, right?

Add a third baby, physical trauma, and postpartum depression into the mix and ‘stay at home’ was not as blissful as Leave It to Beaver would have you believe.

The other day I watched Mindy Kaling’s take on ‘Stay at Home Milf’dom in her sitcom episode of the same name.  Facing the end of maternity leave with her newborn and the start of a work relationship with an obnoxious new colleague, Mindy quits her job, telling Danny she’ll be the best MILF there ever was.  As always in the show, the irony is rich as Mindy follows the directives of a website called ‘Modern Mominista’, cooking and cleaning while looking perfectly fashionable.  Not completely sold on her decision in the first place and enduring a rough week at home, Mindy trades places with Danny for a day.  She feels alive with triumph after successfully completing a surgery.  Her victory is short lived, however, when she arrives home to Danny’s gourmet meal.  It looks as if he’s excelled at stay-at-home daddydom.  As she confesses her true feelings to the baby – how she loves him so much, but feels as if practicing as a doctor is the only thing she’s really good at – she discovers the secret to Danny’s success: his mom’s help.  Mom and Dad come to an understanding of how hard staying at home all day with baby really is.

from The Mindy Project, Season 4, Episode 5

from The Mindy Project, Season 4, Episode 5

The idea of this episode was not to vilify fathers as clueless with unreasonable expectations – though I was upset when it looked as if Danny was going to show her up (The plot redeemed itself with equal frustration 😉 ).  It was an honest – if humorous – look at all facets to the decisions of parenthood and childcare.  Mindy’s reticence at telling Danny how she really feels gets to the heart of all dilemmas surrounding motherhood – where the circles of self and mother intersect.

I didn’t want anyone else caring for my children as infants.  While that decision was fueled by love – it was followed with the close seconds of my need for control and my ambivalence toward my career.  Do women who view their careers as vocation love their children any less?  And what of women, like me, who stand by their decision to stay home, but struggle with the day-to-day carrying out of it?  Who are driven to anxiety and depression by the stimuli and stressful responsibility of it?

There is no clear-cut answer – as evidenced by Mindy’s confession to an empty room that she’s actually happy to go back to work.

All Sorts of Bombs

The hours that stretched between late afternoon and evening yesterday were tough.

I hustled my three girls off the bus and into the car, rushing off into the next installment of the ‘passport debacle’ (I may pen a frustrating short story of the same title). They were tired, hot, sticky, hungry, and probably would’ve had to pee if they weren’t so dehydrated from the high temperatures. After toting them through two venues and experiencing botched passport attempts (adding to the overall debacle), they hooted and hollered, spat and pinched the whole ride home. Home. The place where I got to give my husband a quick smooch, eat a hamburger right off the grill as I set the table for the sit-down dinner the rest of my family would be enjoying while I rushed off to a curriculum night at the school. School. The place that was boarded up tight because the curriculum night is, in fact, tonight. I got back in the car and thanked my lucky stars that I’d loaded Led Zeppelin II in the CD player so I wouldn’t go out of my ever-living mind. I promptly popped a bottle of beer when I got home and joined my husband on the porch. Trying to recount my frustration and agitation to him, I was repeatedly interrupted by our cherubs, one of whom snagged a butterfly net over my cranium, God bless her.

In a rare moment of calm, I said to him, life would be so much easier if we hadn’t had them.

That’s one of those statements you know you probably shouldn’t say out loud; that you know was a mistake as soon as you see your spouse’s face.

In his ever-present magnamity in the face of my melancholy, he replied, but we wouldn’t have the joy, either.

I know, you’re right, I sheepishly yet grudgingly replied. Still, my days the last week or so have been fine – until I have to get them off the bus.

And then – not with a lightning bolt, but with a gradual blossoming like a-bomb footage on slow mo – I realized that I’d have had depression anyway – with or without them. If left to my own devices, depression would’ve snuck in in the quiet moments, seeped through the cracks of career dissatisfaction, cycles of stress and PMS, self-loathing and pity.

abomb

Life with three little people is insane. It would be so easy to pin my struggles on them. It’s hard to see anything else, to even draw a spare breath. And the tenor of my life with them did seem to kickstart whatever this alternate mental atmosphere I’m living in is – but in that one absurdly clear and dissonant moment, I saw my struggle, my illness, my self for what it is.

That doesn’t make it any easier to raise three littles in the midst of all that. But it makes it easier not to resent them and their needs. And to love myself – faults and all.

Free Time

Bathroom floor scrubbed

Suntan lotioned bathing suits stain-treated

Nap taken

Words, pages, chapters read

Iced tea enjoyed

Bare skin breeze bathed

Weeds pulled

Pressure points needled

Junk food lunch eaten

First two days of empty nest filled

First Day of School

These last few weeks of summer, my own personal atmosphere is experiencing an unsettled weather pattern.

I still don’t feel like I’ve reclaimed my house after my dear friend’s family vacated it. The hole they left is yet unplugged. As are some of the items misplaced by little hands (from both families) and those shoved into disused corners by my and my husband’s as we prepped for their arrival.

The grains of beach sand are quickly slipping through my fingers as time marches on toward the first day of school.

Anxious as a student, who then stupidly served as a teacher for several years, this time of year always winds me up. There are the residual effects of that: feeling as if I need to fit.every.last.experience.in. before the all-consuming task of education took over. (I used to punish myself on one-week school vacations as well; attacking a back-log of to-do lists from the previous semester/s/years) This year, however, there is the added ennui of two big first days of school in the life of my children and in mine as a parent.

My youngest starts kindergarten; my oldest starts middle school.

In perhaps my subconscious’ grandest scheme of self-preservation (um, denial), I hadn’t thought it was a big deal until my mother pointed out that my babies are growing up. Seriously, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I should be freaked out until she mentioned that. Now, as I think about the combination lock I haven’t bought my oldest, the seemingly huge backpack on the little frame of my youngest, my insides are positively vibrating. When I think of the two new student orientations I need to attend next week, I want to vomit.

If I was anxious as a student, now I’ll be hit three-fold. Three little pieces of my heart will be tromping onto the school bus this time two weeks from now.

And what was once met with jubilation – the thought of a six-hour unencumbered stretch – now is also part of this quivering mass of anxiety.

What now?

There will be no one on whom to blame countless hours of Caillou-watching. There will be no warm body that needs snuggling on the couch. There will no one keeping me from doing the things I’ve always dreamed of doing.

Into this void, will rush all my hopes and dreams. All the plans paused in various states of being. Mixed with the lonely ache of missing my now three school-aged children, will be the uncomfortable mania of not knowing where to start, what to do, how to function.

I told my husband I wanted to take some time when they started school to get back to center; that it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the land of the living. He said, you never really left, Jen.

It feels like it’s been a long, twisted, disconnected dream – that I can’t even say started with my first days of motherhood. The more I traverse what seem to be ‘normal’ days, the more I realize that the upside down, inside out period I keep waiting to come out of – is actually life.

So the fact that I’ll now be the boss of six unassigned, unencumbered hours of each of my days is a little frightening. Overwhelming, at least.

It’s time to choose what really matters; accountable to no one and for every one of my actions; to work for what I want even when it scares the hell out of me.

It’s an auspicious day for momma, too.

from An Overdue Adventure

from An Overdue Adventure

Introverted Enlightenment

I never should have read this article.

Surviving-as-an-Introverted-Mother_SOURCE_stocksy

Surviving as an Introverted Mother by Kristen Howerton

Sure, it convinced me that I wasn’t a terrible mother.  That it was okay not to desire constant physical contact.  To crave down-time, alone time.  To require it.  For my mental and emotional well-being.

Wow.

What a refreshing and liberating concept.  And validating.

It told me what my soul already knew.  But that my conscience(?) told me was a fault, a failing.  A roadblock to caring for my children in the best way possible or giving them full affection.

All bull$h!t – except that the needs of modern motherhood don’t care about the stirrings of the soul.

Shortly after reading that resonant article, my children started summer vacation.

It’s all-kid, all-the-time.  My three little darlings with me and each other 24/7.

It’s an adjustment for all of us.  A change in schedule, company, routine. And no opportunity for down-time.

Ironically, the article that liberated me only a few weeks ago has imprisoned me in a summer cell now.

Maybe I wouldn’t be feeling such ennui at the equinox if I hadn’t received that introverted enlightenment.

If I thought that running roughshod with constant company, arts and crafts extravaganzas, beach days and late nights was status quo, maybe I wouldn’t be feeling so full – and not in a fulfilled way, but in an I-ate-a-little-of-everything-on-the-buffet-table-at-the-cookout-and-then-went-back-for-seconds sort of way.

But that enlightened author, in touch with her inner introvert, showed me a glimpse of eternal bliss and I can’t unsee it.  If only I could see some quiet time in the future.

The Mom’s Peter Principle

 

I don’t know who the hell Peter is, but I know his principle.

Apparently, some Peter at some time did such a darn good job at whatever he was doing, his superior decided to promote him. Peter received more responsibility for more tasks that required a skill set beyond his ability. Rather than lauding Peter and allowing him to excel in his obviously optimal conditions, the powers that be pushed Peter to the point of inefficiency.

In short, doing a good job is almost always rewarded with more work.

Enter Moms.

Watch down any aisle in any greeting card store and you will see the pronouncements. Mother is kind, thoughtful, dutiful, caring, patient, loving, fun, reliable, and can solve any problem, fix any hurt, make magic with her motherly hands. Aside from magical powers – at least in my realm – nearly all of these are true. Mothers are nurturers. They do thoughtful things for their brood. They seek out ways to make them smile and feel loved.

Mothers don’t do these things to guarantee reciprocity; often the reaction of their loved ones is reward enough.

However, it is nice when we are rewarded with a special surprise, an unexpected little something, a thoughtful deed, which is why, for the last several years, I’ve hated Mother’s Day. I didn’t ask for much, but what I did want was a surprise; a day – or even part of it – not orchestrated by me. I guess I didn’t ask for enough – or specify enough – because quite often, I got nothing. The day inevitably ended with an argument between me and my husband. He was frustrated that I didn’t seem happy with anything; I felt totally misunderstood and miserable.

As the years passed, my babies grew into adorable preschoolers toting crafts. They brought me breakfast in bed, prepared by my husband. I also tried to focus on simple presents, rather than towering expectations.

This year’s Mother’s Day was perhaps the most enjoyable yet. We had visited with our own mothers throughout the weekend, leaving Sunday open. I received the traditional breakfast in bed, followed by free reign in the yard, planting flowers, putting around. My husband afforded me free reign for pretty much any activity. We explored a new hiking trail near our house. I read a book on the porch and fell asleep for a few minutes in a sun-soaked arm chair. We ate a grilled dinner – not prepared by me (thank you, dear) – al fresco. It was slow, meandering, unfolding much like a newly blossoming flower.

In the quiet moments scattered throughout the day, I realized why it had taken me so long to enjoy this quasi-holiday. Just as Peter performed so well he was pushed too far, mothers are so good at performing thoughtful acts for their family, they negate the need for any others to do such acts. Each member of the family has her role to play, her strengths and/or weaknesses; naturally, some of these abilities overlap, but those with the strongest muscles flex those more often. So I kind of ‘Petered’ myself right out of a surprise!

nest egg

Trudy James

But, I also learned that, while mothers are so attuned to the needs of others, this doesn’t mean others are aware of theirs. And while we should all embrace our strengths and respect, support each others’ shortcomings, that doesn’t mean mothers should wait forever for their needs to be filled. For instance, I’ve been eyeing all those necklaces with stamps, stones, etchings to represent all the children in a family. I’ve sent links, dropped hints – to no avail. This year I placed the ripped-out page of a catalog in my husband’s hand when he asked if I wanted anything. I picked it out, requested it, and happened to see the padded envelope emblazoned with the catalog’s name on it in the recycling bin a few days prior, but I got the necklace I wanted to symbolize our little nest of family.

So, to have an enjoyable Mother’s Day next year, you could either stop being so darned thoughtful so your family will pick up the slack or you could try to have no expectations so you’ll be pleasantly surprised no matter what happens. No matter what, clearly communicating your needs is a good way to ensure everyone’s happiness. And to make sure you don’t get Petered again!

 

M

Luke Stettner, Other, 2012.

Luke Stettner, Other, 2012.

%d bloggers like this: