Summer vacation, when doing the dishes is fun

This last week we’ve been hanging out at a sweet spot just a couple hours away. I chose it because of the stream running by—big enough to splash in but small enough that it didn’t set off any alarms in that “I could drown your children” way. I had visions of sitting on the deck with a glass of wine watching the boys splash and explore.

It hasn’t been *exactly* like that. The deck wraps around so that it takes long enough to get to the creek from my wine-drinking perch that it didn’t feel safe to have Cal down there. What we’ve done every day that I didn’t envision is rock hopping downstream, looking for crawdads and picking the juiciest blackberries along the way.

I had an afternoon while Cal and AJ napped to do just this. Me and Jo splashing around, the gentle joy of discovering what’s around the next bend and the next, feet sloshing through cool creek water. A hot topic of discussion during our meander was conceived of by Jo: “No, Mom, it’s not beautiful. It’s awesome.” He was talking about some moss or a tree or some ripples in the water. And so a new game was born: Beautiful or awesome?

Discarded crawdad claws we found on a river rock after someone’s midnight snack?

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Decidedly awesome.

This dreamy riffle?

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J0: awesome and beautiful. Me: I love this kid.

These are the moments when I totally get my kid. When we’re outside, exploring, both alert to discovery. Our chatter ebbs and flows. Our attention doesn’t. Just two companions, with nothing but interest, space and time.

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Should life require a modest vacation budget and a creek-side cabin to enjoy the people we love in this spacious, easy way?

I’d like to say no, but then I wouldn’t completely agree with myself.

There’s something about being away from the place you know (or think you know) that allows these other parts of yourself to light up. The explorer part, the bored part, the lazy-in-a-good-way part, the “sure, let’s try it” part.

Life at home can bog me down. The relentless weekly schedule, my constant tracking of things that need to be done, the unending stream of things that need to be done. It’s no wonder I angle for boy bedtime so I can lay on the couch and hypnotize it all away with a little sugar and internet tv.

Here, I have actually enjoyed doing the dishes. In a day with no demands, only options (and fewer of them) I’ve become interested by daily chores. Why should sweeping feel any more or less monotonous than reading a magazine? The truth is, both can be relaxing or drudgery, depending on the context. Yesterday’s highlights were spent on my knees cleaning my yoga mat with soap and water and scrubbing the brownish crust from around the burners of the stove. I leaped into both activities with the same interest and satisfaction that I see in Cal while he spins the clear glass knob on our bedside table for 20 minutes while I doze.

I’m hoping that these reminders – that time can feel big and open and interesting, that dish-doing can be a sensory reprieve – will carry over into my regular life. But I know that within a few weeks I will have forgotten. Maybe that’s why vacation exists.

How my bad 4-year-old and I found our way home

There’s simplicity parenting, attachment parenting, parenting by temperament. Authoritative parenting, French parenting, parenting the spirited child.
And one I think we’re all familiar with: parenting by the seat of our pants.

That, whether I like it or not, is where I parent from most of the time. And let me tell you, the seat of my pants is battered and worn. As I have mentioned before, parenting Jo since I got pregnant with Cal has been no cake walk. We’re talking hitting, kicking and throwing things at me when I was pregnant, having big physical outbursts with other kids and trying to contain his massive physical energy in a small house with a newborn.

I sought advice everywhere I could—books, friends, my mom. I dissolved into tears while asking Jo’s teacher what I should do after his first morning of preschool, all while bouncing Cal in his carrier.

So this last fall, I went to an introductory talk for a Hand-in-Hand parenting class that was recommended by a mom I’ve been admiring for months. Her daughter goes to Jo’s preschool and she’s a kick ass and very real mom of 3 exuberant children, including a very physical, eldest boy which is why I sought out her sage advice.

At the end of the talk, I was the woman raising my hand, “Sure Angela, that all sounds great, but then what do I do when my 4 year old starts head-butting me?” I walked out of there with the massive chip on my shoulder that only a mother of a super-physical and sometimes-aggressive boy can have: Your slick limit setting ideas won’t work in my house. My child will chew up your parenting tools and spit them directly into my face.

But I was at the end of what felt like every one of my ropes, so I tried what she talked about.

I actually stopped the 7 things I was trying to do at once while making dinner and got down on the floor with Jo the next time he tried to hit me. AJ happened to be home, so I had the pleasure of being able to try this without having Cal in tow. I tried to set the limit with a “firm and warm tone while making lots of eye contact.” I just kept saying things like, “I can’t let you hit me.” And “I know you’re angry because we’re not going to watch a video.” And “Nope. I can’t let you kick me either.” I stayed with him while he flipped out.

It was the parenting equivalent of walking straight into enemy fire.

And it effing worked.

He cried and screamed and thrashed. And then the hitting stopped. And he melted into a hug.

I was stunned.

I signed up for the class.

Like any parenting advice worth its salt, the things I learned there and practice now are just good habits for living as a human being. And they happen to apply really well to the under-developed brains of children and the calcified brains of parents.

There’s so much to say here because the whole Hand-in-Hand approach is a sweeping understanding of human relationships in general.

It’s rooted in brain science, in particular the functioning of the social or limbic part of our brains that is fully formed when we’re born. When we feel connected to others, our limbic system is happy. When we don’t, the red flag is raised, the alarm sounds. Babies cry. Toddlers tantrum. Moms want to fly far far away from here.

So, in short, the answer when things are going pear-shaped is to find a way to connect if you can. If you can’t, it’s okay. Try again next time. Angela, the same Angela I grilled with chip-on-my-shoulder questions at the intro talk, would repeat this kindness over and over: sometimes you just can’t stop everything and connect. Surprise! You’re human. Each time she’d say this, I could feel every parent in the room deflate into relief. She understood. Sometimes, you just need to sit your child down in front of 6 episodes of Animal Babies on Netflix until you get your sanity back.

The other thing the class reminded me about was how crucial listening is. Often, our kids desperately want to be listened to when they’re upset. (Shockingly, I also want this.) And if we’re not getting listened to as parents, about the relentlessness of it, the trials and triumphs and mind-numbing Tuesdays, then it’s really hard for us to listen to our kids.

Eureka.

Getting listened to over the course of the 6 week class felt like cleaning out some backed-up old pipes. Week after week I was allowed and even encouraged to let ‘er rip: “When he bit me, I wanted to hit him. I wanted to scream, ‘What the hell is your problem?!’” And slowly, I de-gunked. And the water ran clear again.

I credit what I learned in my Hand-in-Hand class with helping me recover the relationship with Jo that I loved. The way I see his outbursts and respond to them has changed subtly, and we recover faster.

As a result of all this listening and limbic system learning, I was able to make a radical mental shift:

I was able to see Jo as a good kid.

After so many months of having him try to hurt me (and sometimes succeeding) and watching him lash out at the baby, I started to believe that Jo was bad. Damaged. Wrong.

This may come as a huge surprise, but when you’re parenting your child from the perspective that they are The Bad Seed, your relationship with that child does not tend to flourish.

I’ve witnessed now, time after time, that if I have the presence and time to connect with Jo when he’s going off the rails, (which sometimes I don’t—see Netflix option above) if I can stay warm and firm, it reminds him (AND ME!) that I’m the grown up. I’m the big padded wall he can fling himself against. I’m not going anywhere. And I see that he’s okay and that we’re okay deep down. He can unfurl in that safety, flip out, and then come back. I show him that I know he’s great even when he’s at his worst. And then he knows how to find his way back.

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‘The Long Way Home’ by Christine und David Schmitt

Case in point:

Cal was crawling around with some toys in the living room and Jo was running and jumping everywhere at ludicrous speed. I stopped Jo and looked in his eyes and asked him to please slow down, because he might accidentally knock Cal over, and I know he doesn’t want to hurt him. Not 2 minutes later, Cal got knocked over, fell on his face and came up with a bloody, screaming mouth. My face crumpled and started to get that angry look towards Jo. I scooped up Cal, and Jo looked back with this horrifying grin on his face as if to say, “See how bad I am?”

I had the presence in that moment to remember his goodness. So instead of talking to the sadistic nutcase in front of me, I talked to the kid I know he is.

Don’t worry, Jo. Cal is going to be okay. I know you didn’t want to hurt him and that it’s really scary to see him bleeding. But he’s going to be just fine. He needs to cry because he’s hurting. But I know you didn’t do that on purpose and I know how much you love him.

I brought him in close and just kept talking about how I knew he was scared and sad and that he loved Cal to pieces. He kept playing the cruel jerk. But I just kept right on.

When Cal’s crying died down, it was time for us to go meet a friend. Jo fell quiet while we were getting in the car, and as I was buckling him in, he asked, “Can I hug him?”

Why yes, dear boy. You can.

“Can I kiss him too?”

By all means.

And then, after the gentlest hugging and kissing that I’ve ever witnessed from my little dynamo, he settled into his seat, looked straight into my eyes and said, “Mama, I’m never going to do that again.”

Yowza. We made it.

Waxing poetic about time, treasure and sisters

There are moments of sweetness I can hardly describe. The kind of sweetness that aches, that wraps its tiny fingers around your heart and squeezes a little bit too hard. It’s the sweetness of endings and beginnings. Of beginnings as endings.

My sister had a baby this week, and I was there. She rested her head on my shoulder as she slumped her back forward to receive an epidural. I rubbed her feet and laughed with her while we waited. I was there, and I looked into her face while she collected her energy and courage between pushes. Her face calm, fierce, focused.

Today is Jo’s last day of preschool before summer. I lingered with Cal at circle time and listened while Jo’s teacher told him and his class about the treasure hunt. All those smooth, soft, warm 3 and 4 year olds sitting cross legged on the carpet, listening.

“There might be times when you’re hunting that you just want everything. When you see a big pile of treasure and you want it and all the treasure in the world for yourself. When you feel that way, you can put your hand on your heart like this and say, ‘I have gold fever.’ When you have gold fever, it’s a good idea to slow down, and come in to the snack table and have a little bit of water, and maybe a snack. And then you can put your hand on your chest again and say, ‘There’s enough treasure for everybody.'”

As I sit here, writing this, Jo is probably surveying his gold, nestled in his treasure bag, or digging deeper into the sandbox for more booty, or treating his gold fever with some celery and hummus. And my sister is probably looking down at that new girl of hers, cupping her tiny head in her palm, smoothing her black hair down with the rhythmic stroke of a thumb.

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Time is passing, just flowing right through. It brings babies, it takes childhoods, it grows chickens and firmly closes doors behind us. No more preschool. No more pregnancy. But this now. Treasure hunting. Newborn nieces. Tree limbs arcing up to sun and wind.

The passage of time is not lost on us. But we get lost inside it sometimes. The monotony can be a real trickster. Today is the same as yesterday. Time for the Wednesday routine again. Wake, run around, sleep, repeat.

Thank goodness for endings. And beginnings. The bookends of time. They hold us upright and keep us honest. They remind, with their firmness, that things can change. Sisters can become mothers. Boys can become treasure hunters. Life can be unbearably good.

Saying goodbye to birth: a love letter

Since I’m a total birth junkie, I can’t let any moment with obsess-about-birth potential go by without properly obsessing.

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So I made this little altar in the corner of our back patio where I meditated for 3 interrupted minutes on birthing Cal.

I’m diving in today because it was almost exactly a year ago to the minute that Cal was born. Even as I write them, the words “Cal was born” are a passive and withered description of what actually happened. No single human in the history of the world “was born.” Someone birthed them while they simultaneously birthed themselves. In reality, Cal and I and pitocin and AJ and my midwife and doula and nurses did a magical, timeless birthing together. Cal navigated out of the most cramped but yielding passage. I faced all of my yeses and my nos and a deep, dark, holy abyss. I stood on the very pin prick point where the breathless height of awe tips over into terror.

I’ve been marinating all day in the birth log my doula kept, announcing to a friend at a 5 year old birthday party today,

Right now a year ago I was puking. Yep. 12:15. Puke time.

After I got Cal down for his nap this afternoon, I positively skipped down the stairs to my laptop where I flicked through all our Cal birth photos. I gushed over little snippets of video too. I forgot how lucid I was between contractions. And how quiet I was in the beginning. How loud at the end.

Now I’m feeling high. Just the thoughts and scenes and sounds of our birthing a year ago have left my body feeling like a slightly jostled bottle of sparkling water. I’m actually fizzing.

Birth is unequivocaly the peak experience of my life. Both of my births. Celebrating Jo’s and now Cal’s birth feels so much deeper and more real than celebrating my own. And it’s not because of my unending love for each of them. It’s because I remember being there. Because I had no choice but to go straight into the depths of my body with each of them. And the only way out was straight through the pain and intensity and I-can’t-do-this of it all. There has never been anything like it for me.

I’ve been skirting around the edges of my grief about the decision that AJ and I have made to stop making babies. I’m firmly rooted in our choice–I do not want to raise any more children. About that I am crystal clear. Oh, but birth. I would do you again in a heartbeat. Even after having just listened to this.

 

Nay, BECAUSE I just listened to that.

There will never be another thing in my life that will take me to that place. The small, smooth stone of that truth drops down and leaves an ache. There is an emptiness. I’m on the other end of my births, and I can never go back again.

It is this minute. This very minute a year ago that I felt that shockingly insanely huge hard round head coming out. Between contractions, it just lodged there, expanding me, and there was nothing but that smooth, molded skull and my voice and the vast shock of awe.

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Photo by Best Doula on Earth, Candace Palmerlee.

And then, it was over.

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If you’d like to read more about Cal’s birth, help yourself to Part 1 and Part 2. And here’s my sappy nod to Jo’s.

On pulling out teeth with my bare hands

I have lots of quick, violent premonitions that never come true. They flash into my head in a bloody instant, and then they’re gone. When they come, I’ve learned to remind myself that I’m standing on my feet in the sun or sitting on my couch with a blanket around my shoulders and a book in my lap. The thing I saw didn’t actually happen. And it’s not going to. I’m less shaken by these visions than I used to be, because they come, they go, and my life goes on just the same.

That’s why I pushed the nagging flash away while I ran behind Jo on his bike 2 afternoons ago. I cycled through the things I knew. He’s a really good rider. I had just reminded him to check driveways and slow down as he rode past. And he was doing it like a champ. I ran behind him with Cal in the stroller and kept breathing. Nothing’s wrong. He’s fine.

When he fell, it was nothing to do with the little horror in my head—a car heedlessly backing into and over his soft little body. It was just your run-of–the-mill bike crash. I saw him swerve a bit and then go down. Figured we’d walk the bike home and tend whatever scrapes he’d gotten.

Then he started running towards me, screaming. His face was that strange purple-grey color it gets when he’s really crying hard. There was blood coming out of his mouth.

As he got closer, I could see the pink roots of his two front top teeth, and in a wild animal moment, I stashed Cal’s stroller in the grass and reached down into Jo’s screaming mouth. The first tooth came right out. I reached for the other. It was still stuck somehow. I twisted and pulled harder and felt the sucking release like when you pull apart chicken bones. His eyes were gaping into mine, wild and afraid. A bloody ribbon of his upper gum was still stuck to the tooth as I pulled and then it let go and sprang back in to his mouth.

I had both bloody teeth in my hand.

Then I grabbed my boy and sunk down to the sidewalk with him. He buried his bloody face in my chest.

In that moment I wanted to rip his shirt off and mine and just press him to me. But I didn’t. I kept holding and telling him it would be okay and that he could cry all he wanted.

Only one sob snuck into my quick call to AJ, telling him to come pick us up. And then we just sat there. Cal squawking in his stroller and Jo sobbing, “Will it ever stop bleeding?”

One woman who walked by and lived near brought us a bag of ice. Bless her. Jo clutched it to his mouth. And I rocked him and kissed him and waited. Cal squawked.

That was pretty much it. AJ showed up with Ibuprofen and his characteristic calm. We came home and I made Jo a nest on the couch and he asked for me to read him a book.

An hour later he was jumping around with our neighbor’s son making poop jokes.

And that was that.

Apparently, I do good dental work under pressure, because the dentist reported that I got every last bit of both roots out, so there’s no risk of infection.

And apparently, for me, prying my son’s teeth out of his screaming mouth on a street corner was a somewhat traumatizing experience. The next day, after our good dental report, I went into work for a few hours and mostly sat at my desk and stared like a zombie into nothing.

The day after that, I was exhausted to the core, and had a cathartic cry with my friend Mel.

And today, I’m back. Slinging tuna sandwiches and feeling kinda bad ass that I was able to yank those effing teeth out.

The things that motherhood requires of us.

 

A p.s. on Valentine’s Day

My awesome friend Jenn commented on the post I just wrote about Valentine’s Day and the tragicomedy that has accompanied it through my relationship with AJ. She wrote,

Good points, and relevant to all sorts of expectations, not just holidays. You didn’t mention, have you ever done anything for AJ on Valentine’s Day? As a non-Valentine’s-celebrator, I didn’t really notice until this year that it seems to be a one-way affair of heterosexual men lavishing their heterosexual women with presents and romantic gestures. That seems weird to me. If it’s a celebration of love and your relationship, and you have an equal relationship with your partner, wouldn’t both partners have to work to make it a lovely celebration? Or, my preference, ignore it and then buy the marked-down candy!

Now you see why I’ve been friends with this woman since I first wandered into her Bob Dylan-postered dorm room. She raises a sensational point. I did not mention the years, like the last few, when I gave AJ valentines, declaring the particular ways in which I loved and was grateful for him. So yes! I have done things for him on Valentine’s Day.

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Like this one that I  call “Valentine Amoeba meets The Greenhouse of Love”

And, I’m a tad ashamed to admit that the swelling arc of my feelings around Valentine’s Day has tended to have 90% to do with what I want or might get or what AJ is not doing for me. I like to explain this with the notion that I am a creature of the world, and my specific world has this particular story on hyper-repeat—this “one-way affair of heterosexual men lavishing their heterosexual women with presents and romantic gestures.” One reason I like that explanation is because it makes me feel less like a selfish, ungrateful twit. Another is that I think it’s true.

So let’s talk about the other stories here. What do you like to do for your partner on Valentine’s Day? And if you’re a heterosexual man, what’s your experience of the whole situation? Do you feel left out? Disappointed? How does this whole all play out in same-sex relationships? For folks who aren’t partnered? Bring it on, dear readers. How do you experience your expectations around Valentine’s Day? Any other selfish, ungrateful twits out there?

Giving up the Valentine’s Day ghost

I’m an idealist. So I often fantasize about someone knowing the Exact Most Perfect Version of what I want and presenting it to me on a platter at the precise time when I most need it. Shockingly, the result of this practice has been a fair amount of disappointment.

Even when my family would scratch it all together and throw me a surprise 15th birthday party, I would notice all the ways it fell short of my perfect, Platonic Ideal of a 15th birthday party.

I’m sorry, Mom and Dad and Maxine. It really was a delightful party.

And yes, this brings us to Valentine’s Day. What a horrendous notion for a holiday, for us fantasizing idealists and their partners.

Seven years ago, AJ and I flew home from New Zealand on February 14th. It was the tail end of a year and a half of gallivanting around the world as only two newly married people without children can do. We crashed in hostels, caught a scary bus in Ljubljana, marveled over this  tree in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Tree

and worked on organic farms in Spain and New Zealand. For weeks after we bought the flight home, I kept slipping little underhanded comments in for AJ. “We’re flying home on Valentine’s Day.” “Did you know that since we’re flying over the International Date Line that we’re going to have 2 Valentine’s Days?”

“VALENTINE’S DAY!!!!!!!!!!”

“I’m desperate for you to do the perfect thing for me on Valentine’s day.”

This was on the heels of the previous Valentine’s day, when we wandered around in Amsterdam for hours looking for a place to eat dinner, and I kept thinking that AJ had a Valentine’s surprise tucked up his sleeve. When I finally asked, he admitted he didn’t even remember what day it was. I gushed out my disappointment and tears all over those charming European paving stones.

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You know how this ends. On the magical mystery flight through two Valentine’s Days, AJ didn’t plan anything. I cried and cried. And then he scrambled and scribbled together a whole stack of handmade valentines and gave me one every hour from his shirt pocket.

I am delighted to report that we have evolved since then. I gave up the Valentine’s Day ghost, as it were, and had a few years of just protesting the whole thing. And AJ has taken to remembering and doing nice things for me on this commercial trap of a holiday. Last year, things were so blurred by pregnancy and home ownership and scrambling to rent a duplex that AJ hugged me, and that felt sufficient. Yesterday, AJ raised the topic of what we should do, and I said, “I want you to buy me flowers from that place by the fish market.” And he did. I wasn’t disappointed.

Winter update: light and dark

Where to begin? It’s been a long time since I’ve written, and I feel all clogged up with words and thoughts that have been knocking around for weeks, trying to get out.

There was Christmas, for which I only managed to decorate this much.

Christmas Lights

Somehow, this string of lights managed to pick up on my lack of motivation, and all but 6 lights fizzled out.

I felt some guilt about this, since I have young children, and I feel some ambient social pressure to drape our house in all sorts of festive finery and set up jolly, felted craft projects. I just honestly didn’t have the energy, and Jo never asked to decorate. To be honest, craft projects hold his attention for about 6 minutes at the most, and if we had decorated, I’m 90% sure that I would have spent all of my time explaining why ornaments are for hanging on trees, not for throwing as ninja bombs.

And then there was the night of the glorious power outage on our entire block. It lasted for hours. We could see more than the requisite 16 stars, and our house was DARK. Not just we-turned-out-all-the-lights-before-bed situation, when we still have the eerie, golden, sodium streetlight glow seeping in all the windows. It was the darkness I remember as a girl, growing up on the mesa. The darkness that happens when the sun sets and night falls and you’re out on a mesa in the dark, with coyotes.

AJ wanted to light candles, and I wouldn’t let him for the first hour or so. I just wanted to lay on the couch, curtains and shutters wide open, in that quiet blackness.

There’s just more room to fall back when it’s dark like that. To rest your weight and be still.

But then we did light the candles, which felt sort of epic, since these were all the candles that the women in my life gave me to light when I was having the home birth that never happened.

Candles

So they’ve been christened now, and I love watching them burn, late on these winter nights.

Seems like I’m circling around a theme of light and darkness here—not bad for these days as we’re slowly climbing out of the pinpoint funnel of solstice. I often wish I had more quiet in the winter, to contemplate and breathe about the fallow, slow darkness.

As always, my project is to slow down. Drive the speed limit or less. Walk so that my body is upright instead of lurching forward towards the next and next and next thing. But not so slow that I lose all inertia and wind up on the couch hypnotizing myself with the 407th season of the Bachelor and a pint of coffee ice cream…

OH! And there were all of your fabulous photo responses to my call for pumping room portraits, about which I will write a post soon, so that you can see them in all their glory. And I have a pumping room update of my own–all of your Facebook comments inspired me to do some advocating for the lactating women at my office and there have been some developments. Namely, a new pumping room. That’s heated. Isn’t that something? Portrait coming soon.

Bear Traps, Chinese Finger Cuffs and Motherhood

There are a million and one metaphors I could use to portal into this topic. But the one that is most vivid is a bear stuck in some sort of a paw trap in the woods. I have no idea if paw traps exist, or if they are used on bears, but bear (oy vey…) with me.

You know how this goes. The trap locks down on aforementioned bear’s paw and bear startles and struggles, tries to get away. In so doing, she keeps injuring and re-injuring her paw in the sharp metal confines of the trap. Finally, she surrenders, relaxes, submits to reality. And the paw, still throbbing and sore, feels better. The bear, still trapped, feels a little less terrified and takes stock.

        Here I am. Now what?

Now I’m going to compare motherhood to being stuck in a bear trap.

There are many moments a day when I struggle against some known or unknown force and then finally submit and feel both defeat and relief.

I have a bushel of things to do this morning—meal planning, grocery shopping, nanny-share hunting, thyroid lab procuring, prescription filling and blog writing. This long list, in and of itself, is a problem. Some days, I do manage to keep things more simple and take on less. But let’s face it, I’m a creature of the here and now, and we’re pretty big on dodging traffic between appointments while checking our voicemail and sucking down a latte.

Since I’ve got this big list and one child who is off to school for the next 3 and a half hours, I assess my other wild card—baby Cal—to get a sense for how to organize the morning. It’s nap time, and I will triumph. I’ll put Cal down for his nap and get the meal planning and shopping list ready during that sweet 40 minute reprieve.

I do the song and dance (literally) and place Cal down for the nap. He won’t have it. I try again with a modified song and dance (literally) and still no. I could leave him to cry for a few minutes—sometimes he can put himself to sleep quickly this way, but I decide that it’s too much for me this morning, and I relent. Though I know he’s not hungry, I settle into bed and give him another long nurse. I hold his pudgy, white hand. And tip my head back against the wall and close my eyes. The bear takes stock. Her paw hurts less.

The other metaphor that was in contention this morning was that of a Chinese finger cuff. You know the little, cheapy tubes you can win at seedy carnivals—they’re woven out of contrasting strips of wood? bamboo? When you shove both your fingers in and try to pull them out, the cuff stretches and narrows and traps your fingers inside.

Photo by Casey Fleser

The way to get out of this particular pickle is, once again, to stop trying to struggle out of it. If you move your fingers towards each other, the cuff relaxes and voila! you’re free.

Now I’m going to compare motherhood to struggling out of a Chinese finger cuff.

Thirty five million times a day, I have something that I need or want 4 year old Jo to do. About thirty five million minus five times a day, Jo doesn’t want to do that thing. It is exhausting and frustrating for both of us.

I’ve been finding, thanks to a Hand in Hand Parenting class, that Jo is often a lot more cooperative when he feels connected to me. In other words, if I can put all the groceries and the baby down and turn off whatever is boiling over on the stove and get closer to Jo and look in his eyes and play with him for a few minutes or ask him what’s going on, things after that point go better. Not always, but often.

This morning we had 15 minutes to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and pack lunch before his carpool got here to take him to pre-school. We only had 15 minutes because I strategically took 7 minutes to send various cars and animals rocketing down a track he had built on our stairs in the hopes that this connection would see us through the morning gauntlet. It sort of did.

I still wound up restraining him from throwing cashews in the kitchen that he didn’t want to eat and the toothbrushing was a lengthier negotiation than I wanted. Finally, the car arrived to whisk him off to school. I wanted nothing more than to toss him inside and run for my life. Instead, he hid behind my legs and willed his body to weigh 80 extra pounds, his little shoes sinking into our patio like a rusty anchor. At this moment, I wanted to say, through gritted teeth, with all the authority and domineering I could muster, “Jo, you have to let go, its time to get in the car.”

She struggles to pull her fingers apart, and the Chinese finger cuff wraps its grip even tighter.

Instead, I surrendered. Got down, looked in his eyes and said, “Are you feeling shy?” “Yes,” he said. Connection? Check.

He shuffled those 80 lb feet all the way to the car and got inside like a champ.

While the motherhood-as-trap metaphor sounds defeatist and sad, it also feels deeply true. There are so many moments that I just want to use my free will and strength and smarts to muscle through. Often when I do this, there is so much collateral damage in the form of tantrums and resistance that it’s really not worth it. But there are some days when I just really, really want to run free. Fast and unencumbered.

And then I take stock.

       Here I am.

I have 2 children. That means that there is a built in, hour by hour surrender to my days. Sometimes, that surrender feels like giving up. Other times, it feels old and true and wise. I want less struggle. I want more connection. But I also want freedom.

       Now what?

Some relief, courtesy of big pharma

Well things are leveling out around here. Sort of.

I *might* be finding a new Zoloft dosage that works better for my new friend, Anxiety, who has decided to hop on the post-partum emotions bandwagon. It’s only been a few days at the new dosage, and it’ll take a few weeks for things to level out.

We’re still not out of the woods yet, but I actually experienced what it is like to live in the body of a normal, non-anxious person for two nights in a row, thanks to a bit of Lorazepam. I’m always nervous to take a new pharmaceutical, but my friend C nudged me to give it a try, after two horrible mornings of feeling what can only be described as hyper-hell-restless-everywhere syndrome. In the early morning, between 5 and 6 when AJ would bring Cal up for his early morning feed, my body would come online in a bunch of worried, jittery bursts that kept firing over and over and over. As if my whole self was trying to jump/stretch out of my body. And then I’d spend the next several hours reminding myself that I was not dying and that I and my family are all perfectly okay and even doing well.

So an hour after I took the first wee, white circle of Lorazepam, my entire self heaved a huge deep sigh. Relief. I didn’t realize how long my body had been feeling this way until I had my first real break. I’ve been walking around with this tight, fearful, panicked body every day for the last few weeks. And it has been draining as hell.

Last night, after I took my new favorite drug, I just laid on the couch and soaked in the feeling. No aching limbs. No tightness anywhere. Just a tired lady on the couch at 9 pm. Oh, the joy of feeling like a regular person.

Photo by Jorbasa

If I were a cat with a small, wicker ottoman, this is what I would look like after taking my Lorazepam.  Photo by Jorbasa

I feel somewhat guilty for being reliant on prescription medication for my basic sense of wellness these days, but that guilt can just shove it. There will be a time and place when I have more time and resources to try other things. Life is long. Maybe in a few months or a couple years, I’ll be feeling great with an occasional therapy session and the drops of some horrendous tasting tincture. For now, though, I need the big guns, and I’m gonna use them.

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