Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face

When I was in sixth grade, my English teacher assigned a poetry project.  We had to type out and illustrate six poems by an author of our choice.  Then we had to write and illustrate six originals poems of our own.  I chose Jack Prelutsky, because even though Shel Silverstein showed us Where the Sidewalk Ends, Jack Prelutsky gave us The New Kid on the Block and with it, the National Anthem for the United Kidhood of Students: Homework! Oh Homework!  My hero.  Anyhow, Jack Prelutsky wrote a poem called Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face.  The first two stanzas (are they stanzas? Been a long time since sixth grade) go like this:

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.

When, for whatever reason, it takes effort to turn away from what’s got me down and be grateful for all my many blessings, these words still run through my head.  So it’s no surprise that I had Mr. Prelutsky whispering in my ear yesterday because yesterday was a “Sandwiched in between your toes” kind of day.  It started out wonky and just slowly unraveled all day until I was cleaning up a poop-bomb diaper and my boy kicked me in the tits.  Both heels, both tits.  I came undone.  I dove face first into Ugly Cry.  No, dove is too graceful a description.  I belly-flopped into Ugly Cry.  I mean U-G-L-Y, you ain’t go no alibi, you ugly.

But today is a new day.  I slept pretty well and my boy woke up in a grand mood.  Today, I am glad my nose is on my face.  And to counteract all the “woe is me”ing I did yesterday, I’ve been reciting, out loud, a list of things I am grateful for today.  Here are a few:

1. My husband.  I am grateful for my husband for many, many reasons, but today, I am grateful that when he came to learn of my day, he poured me a giant glass of wine and when I finished it he said, “Now go have a cry in the shower.”  He so totally gets me.

2.  My mother.  I am also very grateful for my mother for many reasons, but today I am grateful for her because there has never been a better “in the shit” listener than my mother.  I can call her at the nadir of an emotional tailspin and rail, I mean holler my guts out, and she just lets me.  She never takes anything I say in those moments personally and she knows that I just need to lance the boil of frustration.  She so totally gets me.

3.  Facebook.  Say what you will about the dark side of FB, but I will forever be grateful for Facebook firstly because it reconnected me with the childhood friend who is now my husband and secondly because it keeps me connected to a network of friends in varying degrees of closeness, most of whom who love me, support me, are interested in me and in knowing about my life.  Facebook helped me reach out to MPU, LRH, and KDU, girlfriends I haven’t seen since high school, but who answered my S.O.S. when my boy was first born and have been rooting for me ever since.  I am especially grateful for FB these days because I have yet to build or join a community since we moved to Florida.  My entire support system is long distance.  Facebook helps make that work.

4.  Amazon certified frustration-free packaging.  As I’ve mentioned before, I get wrapper-rage something fierce and I just love that Amazon understands that and helps me not throw away the thing I just bought because I can’t get it open.

5.  Southern hospitality.  Friendly strangers help ease the sting of loneliness.  I may not have local friends yet, but the ladies who work the deli counter at the grocery store (I call them the Deli Dames) always seem so happy to see me.  It helps.  Maybe it’s weird that it helps, but it does!

6. That my boy has turned a corner.  At five months, Boyo was a different baby.  At six months, he’s a peach.  Enjoying spending time with my son is an answered prayer six months in the making.  As my girlfriend KUD says, “God made seven to nine month old babies as a reward for making it that far.”

7. That my nose is on my face.  I have a wonderful life, really.  I have love, friendship, health, a beautiful home that I am proud of, a family that understands me, a sharp mind and a clever tongue, and a sun that always rises on a new, better day.

Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Prelutsky.  And for Homework! Oh, Homework!  It’s my favorite.

 

 

Somedays are like that.  Even in Australia.

 

Just Wait, a Revelation.

I started this post as kind of a vent about something that bothers me very much.  But then I had a revelation, a brilliant gift from my brain to my heart and it’s helped me reframe the way I interpret that very bothersome thing.

Here’s the vent part:

I rarely use the word “hate.”  I tend to go for the understatement-to-prove-a-point option of “do not enjoy.”  With the proper placement of punctuation you can really drive it home.  “I do NOT. Enjoy. Rachael Ray. One. Bit.”  And, since I rarely use “hate,” reserving it for things I really, seriously can’t stand makes my point quite nicely.

As in…

I hate static shock. (Nothing lets loose the expletives like seeing the spark jump from the light switch to my fingertip.  Nothing.)

I hate being tickled. (The only thing that makes me violent.  I’ll punch.  I’ll kick.  I’ll draw blood.  And I won’t be sorry.)

I hate opening packaging.  (It’s just hummus.  Why is it so goddamned hard to get into a tub of hummus? )

And I hate when people say, “Just wait.”

Man, that one really irks my liver.  When I was newly pregnant, it was “Just wait til you’re nine months.  You’ve never been so uncomfortable.”  When I was nine months pregnant it was, “Just wait ’til he’s here.  Better get your sleep now.”  When he was born it was, “You think you get no sleep now? Just wait ’til he’s teething.”  It is an endless pattern and NO ONE seems to understand how infuriating it is.  It’s just the most unhelpful thing in the world especially if it’s response to being upset.  Telling me to “just wait” for something worse that’s coming down the pike not only doesn’t help me feel better now, but it completely dismisses my present feelings as insignificant, AND paints an even darker picture about what’s to come.  It’s also terribly condescending and assumptive.  Every kid and every parent is different so what makes you so goddamn sure that my experience will be just like yours? Not to mention the very simple fact that I don’t need a reminder to wait for the future.  WE ARE ALL JUST WAITING FOR THE FUTURE!  That state of being is called the present. Why the hell do people do this?!

Then came the revelation:

When two different beloved family members gave me the “Just wait, you’ll see, you’ll feel differently” recently, I was flooded with white hot anger so quickly, it scared me.  I wanted to scream, “But I’m not writing about how I’ll feel in the future, I’m documenting my present, the here and now, and THIS is how I feel right here, right now. DON’T DISMISS ME!”

But then I actually started to think about why people do this….

What are they really saying? I have lovely friends and family who support me and root for me and want me to be happy and successful.  And still, they say it.  So it mustn’t come from a place of hostility.  Maybe it comes from a place of reminiscence.

My present is their past.  Maybe they’re not commenting on my present.  Maybe they’re reminiscing about their own past.  It’s been a long time since they had a six month old baby.  Maybe it’s hard for them to take my difficulties seriously because the soothing salve of perspective and time has worked its magic and healed their wounds from Battlefield Baby.  Maybe advice, unsolicited advice in particular, is really just nostalgia.  Maybe when they say “Just wait,” what they are really saying is, “I miss my baby.”

LIGHTBULB!  Now I have the framework to transform something that makes me very angry into an opportunity to let someone I love (or like, or tolerate, or am standing next to in the produce section) tell me something about themselves.

So when my boy starts to crawl and someone inevitably says to me, “Just wait ’til he’s walking,” I hope I don’t get angry.  I hope I can give them the gift of talking about their journey instead of feeling like I have to defend mine.  I’m going to ask, “When did your child start to walk?  Tell me about your experience.”

And then, if I ever get this fucking thing open, I’m gonna have some hummus.

 

Just wait. Someday you'll say, "Hey, I know that guy!  I watched him grow up on The Truth About Babies."

Just wait. Someday you’ll say, “Hey, I know that guy! I watched him grow up on The Truth About Babies.”

 

An Imagined Conversation

My boy: Mama, I was looking through the virtual storage locker for my e-cleats and I came across something called a “blog.”  Do you know anything about this?

Me: Um, yes.

My boy:  Did you write this?

Me:  I did.

My boy:  And it’s about me?

Me:  It’s about you and me.  Have you read any of it?

My boy:  The first ten or so entries.

Me: And?

My boy:  It seems like it took awhile for us to warm up to each other.

Me:  That’s a pretty astute observation.  Does it hurt your feelings that it took me some time to understand just how to love you?

My boy: Well, kind of.  Isn’t that supposed to come automatically?

Me:  I sure thought so.  But it didn’t work out the way I thought it would.  In fact, very little did.

My boy:  Were you disappointed in me?

Me:  Not for a single second.  I was disappointed in myself a lot.  I was disappointed to discover that the fairy tale of parenthood was just that…a fairy tale.  But never once was I disappointed in you.

My boy:  What is the fairy tale of parenthood?

Me:  The idea that anyone’s experience of parenthood is any better or worse than anyone else’s.  The idea that the preciousness of a baby somehow eliminates the incredible difficulty of having and raising one.  The idea that if your experience doesn’t look and feel like X-Y-Z, that you are doing it wrong or are a bad parent.

My boy:  Was I really that difficult?

Me: Well, maybe it’s not that you were difficult but that I had a very difficult time figuring you out.  How to take care of you, how to understand you, how to love you.

My boy: You didn’t just fall in love with me the moment you saw me?

Me: No, I fell out of consciousness the moment I saw you. But I had had a rough couple of days.

My boy:  Yeah, I know.  You’ve mentioned that once or twice.

Me:  Well, only when you irritate me.

My boy:  Yeah, it’s a good way to measure how pissed you are.  The madder you are, the more detailed an account I get.

Me: Remember when you stood me up for our Mama and Me date?

My boy:  That was an epic ass kicking in the form of detailed storytelling that I will never fully recover from.

Me: Well, you have to have something to tell your therapist.

My boy:  Something to put in my memoir.

Me:  Something to scream into your pillow.

My boy: Something to scratch into the walls of the nuthouse common room.

Me:  Good one.

[We share a contented silence.]

Me: I didn’t fall into my love for you.  As it turns out, my love for you is so deep, so profound, so important, that in the beginning, I had to ease into it slowly, making sure that I gave it the attention it deserved and demanded; making sure it didn’t overwhelm me.  There is an awful lot to learn as a new parent, and while it surprised me that I had to learn how to connect to you, that it wasn’t automatic for us, once we clicked, our connection was solid and true and flexible and strong and for-absolutely-ever.  That blog is an honest, truthful record of our difficult and wonderful journey to that connection.

My boy:  Okay. I think I get it.

Me: I love you, Boyo.

My boy: I love you, too, Mama.

[I watch my beautiful boy walk away and I thank my lucky stars that I never made good on my hundred promises to drop him off at a fire house.  He’s a good boy.  And he has a good mother.  And that will do.]

Don’t Touch That Clock!

I am sitting at my dining table and when  I look over the top of my computer, I can see my beautiful boy in his beloved bouncy chair.  Behind him, the big sliding glass door is letting in the light of this glorious Florida morning through our screened-in lanai.  Wait, what?  Florida?  Oh that’s right.  We have completely uprooted and packed up our entire lives, bid teary farewells to friends and family, driven 1500 miles, spent every dime we had, and landed soundly (and happily!) in the shade of the hundred or so palm trees that dot the property of our new apartment complex.  All that in just over two months.

On June 19th, my husband was offered a position at a local university.  He has been out of academia for over a year, working a retail job to make ends meet.  It was the very best retail job out there, and it acted as a lifeboat when stormy seas sank the ship in which our little family was navigating life.  (Thank you, Fruit Stand.  You saved us.) Ten days later, we were down in Florida looking for a place to live.  Three weeks after that, we had movers booked.  A week after that, the house was packed up.  And six days after that, we pulled up to our new home.  Time is the only thing I know that moves faster the fuller it is.  If these past two months’ Time were a person, it would still be laying on the couch with its pants undone wishing it had passed on seconds, let alone thirds.

Something else wonderful happened in these crazy two months.  My boy turned a corner.  He’s figured himself out or his synapses have started firing correctly or the planets aligned or something, because starting at five months old, I’ve caught myself actually enjoying his company.  I can’t properly express the gratitude and relief I felt the first time I realized I was enjoying my son and not just coping with him.  Since my boy was born, I have struggled with the vast difference in what I thought the experience was going to feel like and what it actually does feel like.  I have been dumfounded at every turn to find that the experience of raising a child simply cannot be predicted or, it seems, accurately described (although there are many, including myself, obviously, who try.)  Over the course of my life, I have heard hundreds of times, “Kids grow up too fast!” or “Stop the clock!  I want to slow down time.” or “I can’t believe it’s been six months!  It seems like just yesterday that he was born!” I imagined I would feel the same way because I thought that’s just how parents feel.

Well, it isn’t how I feel.  My boy is six months old and I feel every single second of that six months.  It doesn’t seem like yesterday that he was born.  It seems like a lifetime ago.  These six months have been the most intense and challenging of my life and while I would never wish them away, I certainly don’t wish to go back and live them all again, and I especially don’t want time to slow down.  I am endlessly proud of my boy and the growing, learning, exploring, discovering, and facemushing that he’s done.  (Oh, god, the facemushing.  My fave!) I am also endlessly proud of myself and my husband. Not only for not having sold our precious little asshat to the gypsies like we swore we would, but also because we have upheld our promise to not take our frustrations out on each other.  We take care of us and our relationship first, so we can be a stronger parenting team for our boy. (That’s the Oxygen Mask Theory at work!) I celebrate my boy, my motherhood, and all of our accomplishments and milestones not in wishing we could stay in this moment, but in wondering and looking forward to what else is in store.

Things are finally getting better (like everyone promised!) and I want to keep heading towards better rather than sit still in “not awful anymore.”  This is not to say that I don’t enjoy the present.  Even in the Dark Days, there were moments of glory that I savored like a hard candy.  In fact, those moments might have tasted sweeter given the terrible darkness that oozed around them.  I appreciate those moments, take pictures, make mental notes, share and brag and herald and celebrate, but I don’t wish for Time to stop so I can stay in them.  Surely, there are moments like them and better ahead.

Maybe life is like a set of monkey bars.  I would be missing the point (and ruining Recess) if I just hung on one bar.  I’ll keep moving, swing forward, and trust that when I grasp a new moment, it will be one that will lift me up.  Or, I’ll come crashing down and skin both knees and swear I’ll never get on those stupid monkey bars again.

At least, not until some Time has passed.

How I love a wet, sloppy facemush.  The best!

How I love a wet, sloppy facemush. The best!

The Oxygen Mask Theory

Anyone who has ever been on an airplane could probably recite the flight attendant’s opening spiel.  (Unless we’re talking about Southwest, because they tend to recite their spiel in anything from rap to iambic pentameter.  You don’t buckle your seatbelt on a Southwest flight.  You buckle your S to the E-A-T Belt.  It’s weird.)  Anyhow, say it along with me: “In the event that the cabin loses pressure, oxygen masks will automatically descend from the ceiling.  Grab the mask, secure it over your mouth and nose and breathe normally.  If you are traveling with a child, secure your own mask before assisting with theirs.

Secure your mask first.  Why is that?  Isn’t it your job to protect your child at all costs?  Isn’t it selfish to put your own mask on first?  How can you let your child go one moment longer than absolutely necessary without oxygen, Bad Mommy?  Why wouldn’t you want to make sure your child’s mask was on first?

Because you are of no use to your oxygenated child if you are unconscious, that’s why.  In the event of an emergency we are instructed by those who are trained to keep us alive (all of us, not just the children) that we are to prioritize ourselves.  We are to take care of the caretaker so that we can tend to those who depend on us.

Why then, is there an unspoken expectation that to be a good mother means to back-burner our own needs? Why should successful parenting be equated with giving absolutely everything of ourselves to our children?  We already sacrifice our bodies, our manicured hair and nails, our clean clothes and clean countertops and clean armpits.  Some parents sacrifice their careers, their friendships, their hobbies, and even *GASP* their delicious cocktails to the Cause. If we are expected to sacrifice our very well being in favor of our children’s, then what happens when we’re spent?  What is my child to do when all there is is left of his mother is an ill, angry, unkempt hobo crazy lady? If I’ve only gotten him this far by making sure that I never spent any energy or attention or TLC on myself, then this is as far as he goes, because I’ll be too busy counting ceiling tiles in the local nut house to teach him to read.  Not to mention, what am I teaching my boy about what parenting is?  Our children follow our example, not our advice, so if I’m showing him that the needs of a parent are insignificant, then aren’t I condemning him to the nut house if and when he’s lucky enough to become a father?

My child deserves better than that.  My child deserves the very best me that I can provide.  My child deserves a mother who is as centered, calm, and capable as she can be.  My child deserves a mother who allows herself an episode of Burn Notice while he plays in his jumper.  My child deserves a mother who doesn’t feel guilty that Mommy and Me class got skipped so she could take a shower AND shave her legs.  My child deserves a mother who feels worthy of a weekend away, to do whatever the hell she pleases.  My child deserves a mother who reads for pleasure or does sunrise yoga or takes in the new summer blockbuster on opening night even if that means his sheets don’t get laundered today.  My child deserves a mother who is fully oxygenated and ready for whatever insanity today brings.  And he deserves to know that his importance doesn’t fade with age or circumstance.  He and his needs will ALWAYS be important, not just in childhood.  He’ll know that because his mother knows that.

In the event that the cabin loses pressure, don’t you worry about a thing, little boy.  Mommy’s got her mask on and she will take care of you.

 

 

Damn straight.

Damn straight.

From Me on a Good Day to Me on a Bad Day

Oh my poor, sweet girl.

You’re having a bad day.  It’s okay.  Breathe.  Having a bad day doesn’t mean it will turn into bad week into a bad month into a bad rest of your life.  And it doesn’t mean that you are bad mother.  Or that your boy is a bad baby.  It’s just a bad day.  You remember what Alexander’s mother tells him on his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Some days are like that.  Breathe.

There are a few things I want you to know.  You are doing a good job.  No matter what kind of job you are doing today, you are doing a good job raising your boy.  No one has ever been a better mother to that boy, and no one ever will be.  Breathe.

I know you love your boy.  Even when you swear you’ll sell him to the gypsies, I know you love him.  Even when you get so angry at him it scares you, I know you love him.  Even when you question, in the darkest part of your heart, if you even want to be a mother anymore, I know you love him.  Even when you wonder if you even love him at all and hate yourself for it, I know you do and I love you for it.   Breathe.

I know you’re shocked at how easily you can spin out on a day like today.  I know you have never felt such a lack of control over your emotions in your entire life.  I know you’re scared that this experience has shortened your fuse (that lovely long fuse that burns so slowly and is so easily put out and that you are very proud of) and made you into an impatient, snarly, teeth-gritty version of yourself.  It’s okay.  You’re still you.  You are the youest you’ve ever been.  You’re just a stranger in a strange land, learning to adapt.  You are learning on the fly a game that has no rules.  (And you’re winning that game, by the way.) You can’t know what you don’t know until you know it.  Apply that lovely long fuse to yourself.  Give yourself some more time to adjust to the emotional and physical chaos.  And when you think you should have gotten a handle on all that by now, give it more time.  Breathe.

I know on a dark day like today, you sometimes worry that all the changes you are going through mean that you aren’t the girl your husband fell in love with anymore and that he’s going to wake up any day now, out of love.  That is poppycock, plain and simple.  You know it, I know it, the American people know it.  First of all, of course you aren’t the girl your husband fell in love with.  That girl was eleven years old.  He’s loved you every single day since then.  That kind of love is here to stay.  Secondly, love is fluid and elastic and can take a beating.  Keep talking to him.  Tell him you’re worried he won’t love you if you get angry and frustrated and sad.  Then watch him laugh in your face and kiss your tears away.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

See?  Breathe.

I know you really, really scared yourself when, at the end of your fraying rope, you were too rough with the baby.  It’s okay.  He’s okay.  I forgive you.  You learned a valuable lesson on where your limits are and next time, you’ll put him in his crib two minutes earlier.  You can let that go.  Seriously.  Let it go, girl.  Breathe.

I am so proud of you.  I am proud that you are a living example of how powerful and important a sense of humor is.  You show your boy every day that a day without laughter is a day wasted.  I am proud that you are filling his childhood with music.  You have tasked Mozart and Bach and Rodgers and Hammerstein and Hall and Oates and so many others to paint the soundscape of his life. What a lucky boy! I am proud that you are reaching out for help when you need it, that you are casting aside the destructive illusion that because you are The Mother you have to have it all figured out on your own.  You don’t have to be the perfect mother.  You just have to be the mother who has kept her son and herself alive and well for another day.  The rest is gravy.  (And yes, you will figure all the gravy out, too.  But that’s for a brighter day than this.)

The sun will set on this terrible day and you will have won the great battle of Being a Mother vs Figuring Out How to be a Mother.  Remember that you are not alone.  You have an army of support behind you, cheering you on and ready to throw a shoulder to the yoke just as soon as you ask.  Most importantly, remember that you always have the strongest weapon in your arsenal…. me.  When you need to be the you that is small and scared,  I will be the you that is strong and sure.  I will see you through this.

Tomorrow will be better.  Pour yourself a cocktail.  And breathe.

 

 

 

 

Admit to the Shit

When I was about eleven years old I was thunderstruck with my first crush.  The thing was, it didn’t feel like a crush to me.  It felt real.  I really, truly, with my whole little heart and brand new soul loved Craig Biggio, catcher for the Houston Astros and undisputed dreamboat.  I did the little girl crush things like write him letters, cut out any newspaper or magazine article (especially if it included a picture!  Goldmine!) collected baseball cards, wrote “Mrs. Craig Biggio” on everything, and dotted the all the i’s with hearts.  The works.  I was certain that all we needed was the chance to meet and… well, the eleven year old version of happily ever after…. Pancakes for dinner and a game of Uno while we watched Family Ties.  Something like that.  Then, one day, the article (with picture!  Aaahhh!) was about a charity fundraiser and there was my prince (in a tuxedo!  Aaahhh!) standing next to his wife (Wife?! WIFE?! Aaahhh!!)  The world crumbled around me.  I was devastated.  Not only because my future husband and fellow pancake connoisseur was already married, but also because I understood for the first time how completely and elaborately I had deluded myself.  The light of understanding dawned (in as whole a way as it could for a young child) and spilled over my first lesson in fantasy.  I felt stupid.  I felt taken advantage of.  I felt like I was a victim of my own emotions.  It weighed heavy on my heart.  Until I admitted to my mother how I was feeling.  Sitting in the car, I spilled my guts about how much I loved Bidge and how terrible it felt to know that he was married and how silly I felt feeling that terrible about it.  I remember with crystal clarity the conversation because my mother said something that would become one of the lenses through which I saw and interpreted the world.

Me:   I feel so stupid because my heart really loves him even though my head knows it isn’t real.

Mama:  It’s real to you, and so it is real.  What you feel is just as real as what you know.  Sometimes, even more so.

Admitting to true feelings is incredibly daunting.  There can be a chasm, a great gaping maw, between what we feel and what we think we are supposed to feel.  For example:

How I think I am supposed to feel:

I am supposed to feel that my son is the greatest blessing and gift to my life.  I am supposed to feel fulfilled by his very presence.  I am supposed to ache with love whenever I look at him.  I am supposed to chalk up the occasional difficulty to a small price to pay for the fantastic journey of motherhood.  Totally worth it.

How I actually feel:

My son is the biggest challenge of my entire life.  I am fulfilled by every moment that he is asleep.  I ache with disappointment in myself every day.  Not all day, every day, but every day.  The unrelenting difficulty is an enormous, burdensome price to pay for the fantastic journey of motherhood.  But worth it.  Still.  When my son smiles, there is no such thing as hardship or challenge or difficulty or burden.  When he nuzzles my neck, he bathes my world in light.

It’s so easy to fill the “Supposed To” gap with judgement and vitriol and blind determination not to acknowledge the disparity. We somehow find comfort in that delusion, as though if we spend enough mental energy, we can convince our feelings to align with some predetermined projection of parenthood we thought up long before we had the first fucking clue of what parenthood would actually feel like.

Well, I’m calling shenanigans!

Let’s don’t spend the precious commodity of our mental energy trying to ignore the truth, just because it’s messy or hard or not what we wanted the truth to be.  Let’s spend that mental energy finding the courage to admit to the shit.

Craig Biggio, I'll love you til the day I die.

Craig Biggio, I’ll love you til the day I die. 1989.

 

 

 

 

Oh, Hell.

Expectant mothers get metric tons of advice.  Anyone from their mothers to the lady who lives in an alley and eats her hair will offer up little tidbits of what they think are absolute pearls of wisdom.  Sometimes the advice is so bad, it’s not only unhelpful, but you walk away thinking, “Did the grocery store check out lady just call me stupid?” And sometimes you get a piece of advice so solid, so sure, so exactly what you need that you vow it will be the piece of advice you offer to any expectant mother who asks for the rest of your life.

Just before my son was born, my friend CDC wrote to me and said, “I don’t want to scare you, but you should know this.  You will need this.”   Her advice saved my sanity and kept me from throwing my son out the window on more than a few occasions.

When you ask yourself (and you will) “Is this hell the new normal?” remember that the answer is “No.”

I remember laying in the hospital bed, my tiny son tucked into the crook of my arm, feeling completely overwhelmed and exhausted and wondering, to my horror, “Oh God, what have I done?”  It’s a scary thing to think that maybe you regret this thing you’ve spent nine months preparing to do.  It’s even scarier when you remember that you’ll be doing it for the rest of your life.  And it’s the scariest thing in the world to think that there is something wrong with your maternal instincts.  I mean, how could I even think I had made a mistake?  Why wasn’t I filled with joy and love and light and unspeakable beauty?  I’d just had a baby, after all!  Where was my glow?  Where was the sense of relief I expected (and deserved!) after a 35 hour labor and eventual c-section? I thought to myself, “This sure does feel like hell. Is it always going to feel like this?” But there were those words, a safety net breaking my fall.  “Is this the hell the new normal?  No.”  So I reminded myself that the feeling was fleeting and I just had to find a way to wait it out.

Everything that was “supposed” to come naturally, did not.  Not one bit.  I went a week over my due date, so I had to be induced.  I labored for days, making little to no discernable progress for hours at a time.  The doctor on call, who had the bedside manner of a Ukrainian wet work team, made me feel like I was refusing to dilate on purpose.  After throwing every ounce of strength and stamina at pushing that melon-headed kid out, his (or my?) “failure to progress” meant that the doctor would need to go in and get him.  Then came breastfeeding.  Anyone who says it’s the most natural thing in the world ought to be forcibly hooked up to a dairy milker.  Just to experience the “natural” experience themselves.  Hell.  But not, after all, the new normal.

Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”  Hell is no place to stick around.  Get moving.  Put one foot in front of the other and get the fuck out of there.  I mean, make like a bread truck and haul buns.  Breathe in and out.  Do your very best.  Ask for help.  And one day, it’ll be four months later and you’ll marvel at how far you’ve come, how much better you feel, how much you’ve learned. (You might even reread a piece that you wrote during that awful time and think, “It wasn’t really that bad, was it?” and be really, truly, astoundingly grateful that enough time always dulls the sharpest edges of pain.)

Motherhood has the steepest, wickedest, most intense learning curve of anything I have ever tried to master, and I’m certain the future holds many more moments of unspeakable difficulty.  But it won’t be hell.  Not forever.  In those first hellacious days and weeks of my boy’s life, believing there was a way out was my greatest tool.  Finding my way out was my first great success as a mother.

Thank you, C.  For being my lifeline and my friend.

You can do it!  You are a rockstar!  You are a warrior!  You are Mommy!

You can do it! You are a rockstar! You are a warrior! You are Mommy!

Crybaby II: The Musical

Before I launched this blog I had a little stockpile of entries.  I’ve been polishing, tweaking, adding, and editing these pieces, most of which I wrote in the very throes of the emotional tidal wave that was devastating my little world.  In doing so, I’ve been reliving those moments in the HD detail I didn’t realize I was recording at the time.  While that’s been much more difficult than I predicted, it’s also been a wonderful learning experience because it illustrates just how much better things are now that the waters of that tidal wave have receded.  It’s also been a good reminder to pay attention to the glorious moments, no matter how small, because they are the diamonds that all this pressure creates.

Today, I am not reaching into my stockpile because oh, did I have a moment worth sharing this morning!  I watched the opening number from Sunday night’s Tony Awards.  It is the perfect thumbnail of exactly what makes Broadway so important.  It’s inspired, it’s fun, it’s raucous, it’s so energetic you feel out of breath just watching it and it blows your mind to think that these warrior performers are SINGING their way through this marathon of awesomeness!  It is creativity set on fire and the conflagration will light the kindling of a hundred new ideas.  It was also my first dream, to perform on stage like that.  And, having left the shores of that dream for the grand, oceanic adventure of a different dream, the sting of what might have been sometimes abraids my heart on such occasions.  It’s what makes watching the Tonys less fun for me than watching the Oscars or the Golden Globes.  If you’ve been playing along at home, readers, then I bet you can guess how I reacted when this fabulous number ended to thunderous, on-your-feet applause.

I wept.  I mean, girrrrrrllllll, I WEPT!

There I was, sitting in front of my computer, bouncing my boy on my knee, and teetering precariously on the edge of Ugly Cry Gulch.  As I struggled to gain some breath and reign in this out-of-control mustang of emotion, my husband came in from his run, bolted into our room and, with an understandably dumbstruck look his face asked, “What??  What is it?!”

“H-h-how c-c-can anyone think that art and music aren’t important t-t-to education?” I sobbed.

“I don’t know,” he replied, wiping the tears off my face and the top of our boy’s head.  (Even if he didn’t know what I was talking about, he knew what I was talking about.  I love that about my husband.)

Once I got a grip on myself (I managed to avoid plummeting into Ugly Cry Gulch, but just barely) I thought about what that reaction meant.  It’s not new that a musical number made me cry.  What is new is that my emotion came not from my performer heart, but from my mother heart.  I wept for the state of education (a first) and for this great loss to our children and their chances at well-roundedness.  I wept for my son who (had he been born to different parents) might not come to know how art and music colors in the lines of math and science.  I raged at how it could possibly be decided by anyone in a position of power that the arts are less worthy of our time and dedication than any other subject.  Why should education be black and white when the world that that very education is preparing our children for is in brilliant, dazzling color?

(In the midst of this micro-meltdown, I did manage to rejoice in the fact that my son’s parents are an actor and a musician in their hearts, and so our boy will have art in his blood, in his breath, and in his fingers or toes. Which probably means that his dearest desire will be to crunch numbers for the IRS.  Whatever.  At least he’ll have the full buffet to choose from.)

This thunderstorm of thoughts and feelings that erupted in my mind and flash-flooded out of my face gave me a little peek into how my perception of the world is changing now that I am a mother.  My first instincts are shifting away from myself and toward my child. Without any conscious effort, I am making decisions about what is important for my son and I am, apparently, taking those decisions extremely seriously.

I have Neil Patrick Harris and the entire casts of every show on Broadway to thank for showing me what’s happening in my own head.  The purpose of playing after all, first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature. (Okay thanks to NPH, all of Broadway, and Shakespeare, too.)

Click here to watch the Opening Number. Do it. It’s amazeballs.

 

Is Motherf*cker a Term of Endearment?

As hard as you think it will be, you’ll wish it were that easy.

So, I’m paraphrasing Terms of Endearment, here.  I can’t find the actual quote anywhere, and this isn’t damn high school, so I’m letting my citation slide.

When my uncle reminded me of this quote, I was instantly dumbstruck, because this is EXACTLY how I felt about the first six or so weeks in the motherhood trenches.  There are no words to describe how hard it is, because every time I try, all I can come up with are clichés or words that have previously been used to describe early motherhood, and somehow, the familiarity of those words makes them seem less powerful.  No words seemed to accurately describe the combination of exhaustion, frustration, and confusion that I so desperately wished I didn’t have to face.  Because I wished it were the fairy tale portrait that I had projected for myself.  Not that I thought it would be sunshine and butterflies all the time, but I guess I had just deluded myself into thinking that the “hard parts” would be as innocuous as the musical montage of “hard parts” in a movie like Look Who’s Talking.  (Oh, that silly Kirstie Alley!  She’s so tired she poured coffee in the baby’s bottle!) Something that was really inherently funny, even though it was difficult.  Come to find out, this is no joke, man!

The first time I called my squalling, screeching, unceasingly unhappy son a “motherfucker” I realized that motherhood is far less PG than I thought.  I wasn’t proud of myself, but I wasn’t ashamed, either, because in that moment, it was either name calling or worse, and I made the right choice.  That was also the moment when I realized how a mother could shake her baby too hard and do unthinkable, but unintentional damage.  A girlfriend of mine told me that she used to punch herself in the thigh to keep from punching her screaming baby daughter.  The end of your rope is a dark, dark place, and sometimes good mothering is just finding a way to cling to the last shred of inner calm in a maelstrom of external chaos.

When I was pregnant, I found it really frustrating when people would say to me, “Just wait.”  As in, “oh you got to sleep in?  Well, those days are numbered, just wait.” It’s so obnoxious to be told (by people who think they are you a favorthat whatever I’m feeling now, don’t get used to it, because it’s gonna get bad/worse…just wait.  It’s not only totally pessimistic, but it’s utterly unhelpful.  I am a fully grown woman, thankyouverymuch, and I realize that raising children will be hard.  My level of frustration with the “just wait”ers was so high, in fact, that I was not expecting, once my little bundle arrived, to feel as though no one had prepared me for how hard it was going to be.  I was flabbergasted at the thought that friends, family, even strangers felt it terribly important to make sure I knew that having a newborn meant getting no sleep, but nobody took me aside and said, “Look, I love you, and I don’t want to scare you, but there are a few things you should know about what is about to happen.” (Except for CDC, whose advice to me saved my sanity and my son’s life and will appear in a post of its own.)

Now that the tincture of time has healed the deepest of The Dark Days wounds, I think I realize that there are two likely reasons why very few people will honestly and directly warn a pregnant friend of what’s to come.  One, time is the Great Healer.  The further away you get from hard times, the more they fade, leaving the glistening good times basking in the light of selective memory.  I have found that the longer it’s been since a woman was a new mother, the more romantic her memories of that time.  By the time a woman is a grandmother, she’ll tell you that her babies slept through the night at six weeks and never pooped.  This is where “enjoy every precious moment” comes from and why those words make new mothers homicidal.  Secondly, there really aren’t sufficient words to describe the raw, pants-down, deer-in-the-headlights, oh-shit-oh-SHIT reality of new motherhood. You can’t read about it.  You can’t take anybody’s word for it.  You have to live it to know it.  But I think Larry McMurtry (who wrote Terms of Endearment) might have come as close to hitting the nail on the “crying-screaming-bleeding-butt-throwing-up-should-we-call-the-doctor-where’s-the-binky-for-fuck’s-sake” head as anyone.

As hard as you think it will be, you’ll wish it were that easy.

True story.