Friday, October 25, 2013

Fall

The weather is gathering that bite that always comes by late October. Truly, fall can just take your breath away. It creeps up on you, leaves slowly changing. And then one day you open your eyes to the most beautiful picture you’ve ever seen. And before you can wrap your arms around all that intense beauty, it just up and blows away on you. Fall is tricky and fickle like that. Just when you fall for it, it’s gone. And everything is bare and white and stripped and cold. I know that’s coming, but I’m still stuck squarely in a world of bright reds and harvest yellows, carved pumpkins, and apple ciders and that amazing rustling and crunching sound that seems to just pop under your feet.

Somewhat ironically in the midst of all of this color and warmth, I have been feeling a bit more bare and stripped these past few days. To see something you write go “viral” as has happened with Distracted Living, is a strange and disjointed feeling. It is both amazing and terrifying. I feel much the way those autumn branches soon will be: highly exposed. And so I feel compelled to write one final postscript on this post, on this week. On what brought me here, on what happens next.
When I started my little blog just more than a year ago, I found myself writing for many reasons. On some days I found myself at the keyboard in search of a creative outlet, or an opportunity to share something funny or cute with myself (really more than anyone else) that my kids had done that I didn’t want to forget. But there were also moments when I found myself writing because I had stumbled upon something deeply uncomfortable that I desperately did not want to look at. What this was, this un-comfortableness in the pit of me was truth. And whenever my gut told me I had hit upon it, I knew I had to write about it. And perhaps even more sickening was the thought that I should share it; that by doing so there might be some not-so secret path to healing and learning. 

Which brings me to the past couple of weeks or so. I had a difficult night one evening with my daughter. I struggled with it. That sucky other mother voice in my head, the one all of us seem to have that only pops up on your shittiest days, she kept popping up and whispering in my ear, you are a failure at this. Until I sat down one morning and poured out the truth of that night. It was deeply uncomfortable to write.  And then I took that uncomfortable feeling and I doubled down: I shared it.
An amazing thing happened after I shared it. I heard from wonderful mothers and fathers and people who had never been parents in their lives but who understood the power and humility of a close call, who felt the pull of being stretched in every direction. Of being so present for everyone and everything, that they in fact were never really present for anyone, least of all themselves. I was humbled by their honesty and grateful for their capacity to shed some warm light on my own truth. In doing so, they made me feel like I was part of a larger struggle, and that I didn’t have to wrap my arms around it alone. They called me brave even though I didn’t feel that way.

There were also many folks who called me shitty and worthless. There were plenty of people who said I didn’t deserve my children. They said I was a moron or an idiot. I heard those folks too. I know them. They aren’t bad. They are making a call based on limited information from some pretty reductive and overly dramatized headlines. They know well that other mother that likes to whisper many of the same things in my ear from time to time. I accept their judgment. I opened myself up to it. Except I really didn’t feel like much of that either.
In the end, I didn’t feel particularly brave or massively incompetent. I actually just felt something rather remarkable in its un-remarkableness. I just felt human.

You can say a lot of things about me, but at the very least, you can say I owned this. I owned my imperfections. And in that process, I’m trying to learn. I’ve written before that if I teach my kids just one thing in our short time here on this blessed Earth it is that we are born perfectly imperfect; that they should fully expect themselves to fail thousands of times before they even get one thing right. That this is how we learn. They should not love themselves in spite of this reality. They should love themselves precisely because of this, because of their uniquely human capacity to struggle and persist in the face of challenges.
My father captured the most amazing picture of my children this summer. They are on the swing set, mid air. My daughter is holding on white knuckled, her hair flying in the wind while she pushes against her brother’s strong back as he laughs with the glee he almost always seems to feel on rides that are wild and uncertain. This week, as I reflect on my journey thus far as a mother, I can’t stop staring at it while I listen to this song on repeat by Train. The lyrics go like this:

These bruises make for better conversation

Loses the vibe that separates

It’s good to let you in again

You’re not alone in how you’ve been

We all got bruises.
In the end, it was a really great week. For all of those wonderful friends both known and unknown out there, moms, dads, parents and non-parents alike who showed their bruises and accepted me fully with mine, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am forever grateful. Indeed, in the cold and sharpness of autumn, I actually don’t feel like I am falling at all. I am warm with gratitude, holding on white knuckled in this uncertain ride that is life.

 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Distracted Living

Last week, I almost killed my daughter.

It started off as really any other week ever does. My husband had been travelling pretty much non-stop for nearly the entire month. Whether we wanted to or not, we were all falling into a fairly regular rhythm without him, at least Monday-Friday. With school and activities and for better or worse, the days seemed to move rather quickly but by evening all three of us were stretched thin. Collectively, we all seemed to peek at maximum crabbiness somewhere around 6pm. It was shortly after this time last Wednesday night that I brought the kids upstairs to help them get washed up for bed.
My daughter had an upset stomach for most of the day but I hadn’t thought much of it. She was otherwise happy and playing and generally herself. I did know that she was very tired. Still, we were a good hour and a half from her usual bedtime of around 8pm. I put her in the bath and let it start to fill and left the room to go start the shower for my son. This is something I’ve taken to doing quite often with her. She is coming up on four and I am less concerned about leaving her alone in the tub. Plus, the need to get both baths and showers started at the same time feels like a multi-tasking necessity when it’s the end of the day and I’m slogging through it on my own. I love them but I’m just so tired. I don’t want to rush through their bath and bedtime but I do. Because I just want to collapse on the couch at 8pm and just be with my own thoughts and my own space. Bath time has increasingly become yet another thing to check off the list. And so I’m more rushed and careless than I should be.

So I left her for about two minutes while I went to go find my five year old and get him in the shower. I heard the ping of the iPad and saw an email from my friend. There was zero urgency about responding but inexplicably I felt the need to, right then and there.
And in doing so, I left her alone in the tub for two minutes.

On any other night this would’ve been fine. But this night was different. She was really tired and the water was warm and she just fell asleep; completely and totally asleep. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. I went back in two minutes later and by the grace of God she had managed to fall asleep sitting up, slumped against the side of the tub. But it wouldn’t have been much longer (how much longer, seconds?) before she would’ve slipped under the water. She would’ve drowned. It would have been entirely my fault.
I screamed. I slapped her face. She didn’t wake up. But she seemed to be breathing and was otherwise alright, just asleep. I lifted her out of the water and carried her into her room where she took the world’s weirdest, wettest, shortest power nap ever. And at 6:30 promptly woke up refreshed, soaking wet, and ready to play and with zero understanding of the gravity of what almost could’ve happened.

I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
For awhile now, I have felt that I have been losing the ability to single task; that is to say, the ability to do one thing well, at a time. I recognize that this hasn’t happened in isolation. What I’m feeling is a larger reflection of a culture that has literally consumed us over the past 5 years or so. In particular, becoming a parent during the rapid rise of the era of tablets and smart phones, I have lost the ability to be present and do one thing at a time. It scares me. And on this night, it could have cost me everything. It wouldn’t have taken more than two minutes or two seconds to change our lives forever. I can't even begin to process how much I regularly try to squeeze into those same two minutes. About how much I could’ve lost in the same amount of time.

We live in an age where we are constantly fed messages that we should try to do as much as we can as fast as we can; to live at maximum efficiency. Except when we shouldn’t. How many homework assignments and extracurricular activities and educational apps and appointments and meetings and spin classes and returned email messages and social media sites and DVRd shows and any number of things with varying degrees of importance do we try to cram into any one day? Sometimes I feel like we are multi-tasking ourselves right past the point of it all anyway.
If we begin to itemize our daily lives as a series of tasks to be checked off and juggled and done while doing other things, I’m not sure we’re ever fully present in any of it. As if we’re always straddling different dimensions. Our bodies exist in one place, our hearts and minds in another. Space and time feel disjointed. People write largely in shorthand largely because we are living that way. At least I have been living that way. But last week was my wake up call. I will get less done. Everything might take longer but with more time and attention to whatever that first thing is. This just might be okay.

People talk about distracted driving but it’s more than that. It’s distracted living. And that doesn’t just leave you feeling empty and dissatisfied. As I proved to myself and to my daughter, it can be downright dangerous.