Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bedtime


Every night the ritual is the same. Hope is fussing, her way of letting me know in early evening that she’s just about had it with the day. I so relate to what she is feeling.

While in general I am everything to everyone all day long, there is one time when this is not true. This is our one quiet moment when we are truly alone. As the third, she is more than familiar with having a bottle just about anywhere. She might be eating at Dylan’s school pick up, or Ruby’s school pick up, or while I’m on the phone with my father, or getting dinner started. Like the MVP of our family that she is, she rolls with it. Which is precisely why at around 6:30/7pm every night when she needs me most, I give her that. Just me. Not me divided or multitasking but just me.

We go in her room and draw the shades. I can feel both of our bodies beginning to relax in the relative darkness. I close the door and we settle into the glider. Just me and her, her evening bottle, a gentle if not slightly unconscious rocking back and forth. Every night, it is the same.

I whisper in her ear some Goodnight Moon, well memorized from whispering it in the ears of her older brother and sister for so many nights in the same chair. Then, I remind of her all of the people on Heaven and Earth that love her.

And then we rock. There is no sounds but the squeaking of the old glider and her rhythmic whooshing as she sucks down the last of the day’s milk. Slowly, steadily, we unwind separately and together from the chaos of the day. It is our mutual meditation.

I smell her. I kiss her. I burp her. In a day full of efficiencies and half-hearted attempts to perform various tasks of various levels of importance at somewhat efficient levels, it is amazingly always the first moment of my day (often 12 hours into it) that is deliberately slow. We have no goal other than our breath. We enjoy each other for no other reason than that we love each other, not because we need each other or need something from the other. I want to bottle this feeling in our breath and bodies and carry it with me throughout our day. I know that I can’t, which makes this time together each evening that much more sweet and fleeting.

When we are finished, I wrap her tightly which she seems to like and carefully place her in her crib. She looks at me and looks up. God I love this girl and her simple needs. I wind the mobile till I can’t wind it anymore and sweep her hair to the side. This is my little signal with my babies, all born with such full heads of hair. I carefully sweep their hair to the side so that I can look deeply into their eyes. We look at each other, without interruption. In some ways, this one gesture feels like the most important thing I’ve done all day. She sees me. She knows I am here.

Goodnight sweet baby.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Waves


Today we went to the beach. The morning was slightly blue, slightly overcast. The surf was relentless. Dylan and I bounded into the waves, getting pushed and pulled and generally thrown about. Those waves were boss today.

If ever in life you think you are really in charge of anything, just head to the beach. Those waves will teach you otherwise.

I was thinking about this, and how relaxing it really was to be knocked about out there once I actually surrendered control. It is funny how much we exhaust ourselves in life trying to set the pace, control our schedules, relationships, outcomes, feelings. Once in a while it is quite a relief to just let go, to let life take you where it does.

And so it is that this week I’m missing my mom. I’m not sure what it is that has got my heart stuck in this place. Maybe it is the time of year when everything is blooming, or that I’m coming up on the anniversary of her death. Maybe it’s that Hope is beginning to really change from a newborn to this enchanting baby that I just desperately want to share with her. Either way, that missing ache is upon me.

It’s funny, all that missing. It’s really such a double edged sword. On the one hand, it just hurts, like hole in your heart carved by a butter knife kind of hurt. On the other hand, it’s kind of great which sounds weird, but it’s pretty awesome to know that you loved and were loved enough to leave such a gaping butter knife type wound in your heart.

So I’m deciding to be like that girl in the waves and just give in to the missing, and let myself get all knocked about by those feelings rather than dismiss it, cover it.  It’s oddly quite a relief. This week we’re in Florida, one of the last places where she was truly happy. When I am here, I feel closer to her and that happiness. I picture her laughing with my father and the friends she loved, golfing, smiling, filling her house with carefully chosen knickknacks and fun toys for the grandchildren she hoped would one day fill it. It makes me feel calm.

At night, I sit out on the back porch. It is my favorite spot in the house. It is quiet and screened so you can smell and feel fresh air without being devoured by Florida’s evening bugs. I sit there after another long chaotic day with the kids and carefully sip my coffee, staring at the water and listening to the relaxing whir of the dishwasher as it cleans the baby’s bottles. My gaze shifts to the empty seat next to me. I know what comes next.

Not so secretly and every once in a while when there is an empty seat next to me, I let my mind play a little trick on me. I let my mother fill that seat. And I let myself imagine just for a short moment what it would be like to have her there, quietly rehashing the day with me, reassuring me in a way no one else really can that I’m doing a good job as their mother, or at least doing her best to make me believe that whatever I’m doing is enough. I picture her smiling at me. I know if I blink, she’ll be gone. I do, and she is.

That missing ache starts to well up in my chest again. I feel hot tears behind my eyes and try to picture something absurd or mundane to shift my attention. But then I remember this morning and my pledge to give in. Suddenly, I’m back on the beach. And the missing crashes over me, loud, crashing missing waves.

A few determined tears make their way down my cheek. I feel completely relaxed, the way you often do at the end of a long day well spent being pounded by sun and surf.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Writing Process

I’ve been asked to participate in the “my writing process” blog tour from Kristen Levithan at Motherse. Kristen is a former history teacher and current freelance writer. She’s also a fabulous mommy of 3 children and a particularly awesome friend. She is a wonderful writer not just because she is smart (which she is) but because she writes from a place that is authentic and relatable. I am grateful for her friendship and the works she shares with all of us. I particularly enjoyed her most recent piece in Brain, Child Magazine reviewing Jennifer Senior’s new book All Joy, No Fun. You can read her review HERE(http://www.brainchildmag.com/2014/03/book-review-all-joy-and-no-fun/). She also has an essay in Brain Child Magazine’s new book, This Is Childhood. Read more about her wit, humor and fabulousness on her blog HERE (http://mothereseblog.com/about/).

What are you working on?

What am I working on? Mostly life. I just work on living and breathing and reminding myself to focus, in and of itself, on any one thing at any one time. Today we found lice. Today I am working on lice. That doesn’t leave a lot of time in the day for thoughtful explanations of difficult topics and long winded narratives. But I am a mother who writes, not a writer who mothers. Mostly, I am working every day on understanding, navigating and balancing the natural tension between the two.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It differs from others because it is uniquely my voice. Even when I write about something that might have been described hundreds of times over by any other mommy blogger, my story matters because each of the moments we experience and share are uniquely ours. When I write, the words are through my eyes. Regardless of the subject, when they tell what they’ve seen it’s very personal and individual.

Why do I write what I do?

When I’m happy, when I struggle, when I’m confused, I write to remember or process my feelings. If I think what I’ve got might be illuminating for someone else, I’ll proactively submit and share with other folks.  Often, if I don’t write it out, I can’t move past it. In the rhythm of my life, I am grateful for the words that help move me forward and unstick myself.

How does my writing process work?

Oh, well, that’s pretty buttoned up and formal actually. I’ll go to my office (laptop in bed or table for 1 at local restaurant) and do something that I now reserve for special occasions: I’ll think. I’ll think about what I’m going to order and what’s new and what’s sitting well with me and what isn’t and then I’ll look at this blank page and think to myself (as I always have) “Shit, I really hate the way a blank page looks.” And then I’ll squeeze as much of myself and these feelings into a bunch of words that fill up this blank space. Which makes me feel better because as I mentioned, I really hate blank pages.

And then I’ll close the laptop. Hours and sometimes days later, I’ll reopen and reread again and again to see if it still flows and makes sense. And if it does and it’s meaningful in some way, enough to bother sharing with folks and take up even one precious second of their time-strapped day, then I’ll do that.

 

Thanks for inviting me to participate Kristen! Look forward to hearing more about other interesting folks along the way!

Monday, April 7, 2014

I Eat Creme Eggs in the Dark - My Messy Beautiful


We are at the kitchen table playing with play dough. The children mold and twist, blissfully unaware that with each passing second my anxiety level is rising. When we started, not but 10 minutes ago, there was red and yellow and green and blue and white. And now it is brown. That blah color brown that play dough always turns whenever you take all those bright shiny colors and mush them together to make one amorphous shade.

I can’t figure out what it is that bothers me so much about this process. I want to blame it on raging obsessive compulsive disorder or an unhealthy inclination to want to control uncontrollable and relatively unimportant things. But it definitely irks me, like the way I feel when Dylan wears the Star Wars pajama top with the Ninjago bottoms. Nothing is crisp or unique or whole. Haphazard. Mismatched. Brown.

I’m thinking about this in the dark outside the pharmacy as I unwrap a Creme Egg and savor its sugary sweetness, pouring its faux yolk down my throat. What a disgusting and amazing invention I think to myself and say out loud to really no one at all. I wonder why I only eat Creme Eggs by myself in the car. And it is probably because I spend a good chunk of the day reminding the kids that too many sweets are bad for them and that candy should be reserved for Halloween and special occasions. Except the real me, the one who only makes special appearances in mommy “off” hours, clearly doesn’t believe that.

I turn the car on and turn the radio up to a volume that makes me feel like I can hear the beat of the music in my heart. Whenever I am alone this is the first thing I do. It makes me feel like I am getting away with something. I am not sure with what. A good and put together mother would never listen to music at volume 52. Which is precisely why I do it. I would tell the kids that we listen to music at a reasonable and soft volume because we don’t want to damage our hearing, we don’t want to wake the baby.

I turn the dial up up up. Katy Perry who I don’t even like that much but she is useful when you want to sing stuff at the top of your lungs just because you can. I feel bright. Fiery. Separate from my kids, my husband, my responsibilities, expectations of what I’m supposed to teach them, how I’m supposed to behave. I feel red. Shiny red. New shiny tub of play dough red. Bright, loud, alive.

But I wonder what is wrong with me that I spend the majority of my day with this part of my personality hidden: the part that likes sweets and loud music and doesn’t always follow all the rules. 99% of the time I’m a hodgepodge of devotion to them, hiding the parts of me that are separate and raw and real and distinct until it is late or I am driving or away. As if I’m ashamed of my real instincts, the real me. As if I think it is somehow bad to feel individual feelings and that to mother them means to hide me. So instead I give them brown.

Suddenly, as a mother, as a person, it hits me what a fucked up lesson that is.

I am teaching them to love some fake version of me. That you should keep hidden the parts of you that don’t mesh and blend. That all of the special and distinct stuff that makes up them should be reserved for “off” hours, because it might not fit neatly into what others expect of you. It’s never just be – be you. Love you. You’re a fucking rock star. You with your wild hair and you too with your missing front teeth and infections laugh and a smile that could light up a room.

I want them to feel whole and bright and shiny and unique and alive and have that be okay. Do as I do. Or do whatever you do. But do it in the light so that you feel whole. So that you remember that being you, distinctly you, you that likes and wants and lives separate from the people you love, is something to feel proud of, not hidden. I need to be teaching them, and apparently myself that.

I think about our day together tomorrow. There will be the usual: school and tooth brushing. Homework and manners and the good stuff. Maybe there will also be Meatloaf played in the car slightly louder than usual or is appropriate, Creme Eggs for no reason at all other than that they are the greatest food ever invented.

I will be me in full living color. And I will parent by example, loving them enough to share myself authentically with them rather than morph into them. To love myself separately and distinctly in front of them, not behind closed doors. A mother and a woman. Separate co-existing parts: my real colors, sharp, distinct and in full view.

 
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more, CLICK HERE. And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior (which I really loved and bought 3 copies of and gave them all away),CLICK HERE!

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