The Beginning of Better: Part I

If you’ve been keeping up with this little story of Boyo and me, you know that lately, I haven’t been in the sturdiest of places emotionally.  (Catch up here.) My knees have somewhat buckled under the weight of of a very difficult year and I feel very much on-my-face these days.  The transition into motherhood has been a brutal one for me, with doubt and guilt and fear having Kanye’d the microphone away from faith and confidence and chutzpah. I’m now in therapy and getting some much needed “brain training” to help loosen the vice-grip these emotions seem to have on my spirit.  Having admitted that I needed help seemed to be a herald of the dawn after a very long, hard night, because the light of better began to glow almost immediately.  And then…

Something happened last weekend, y’all.  Something big.  In the bathroom of a La Quinta in Tallahasse, Florida, I had a breakthrough moment with my boy that has raised me up off my face and onto my feet which are now firmly beneath me for the first time since my beautiful boy made his debut.

It was the end of a lovely day.  Boyo, Daddyo, Puppyo and I drove up to Tally to support Daddyo as he presented some new research at a regional conference for the Society of Music Nerds being held at his beloved Institute of Higher Learning and Championship Footballing. (Go IHLCF!) Daddyo’s presentation was a success, it had been a beautifully clear and chilly day, and Boyo had been a sweet mood all day.  We were just walking back into the hotel after dinner when I realized – OMG! – the SAG Awards were on!  The SAGs are always on cable and we don’t have cable, so I was stoked to indulge in the luxury (ah yes, the legendary luxury of a La Quinta) of our weekend home.

This may seem like an insignificant detail, but it’s not, so bear with me.  When I tuned in to the broadcast, they were showing a clip of The Butler.  A mouthy teenage boy made some quip about his father being “just a butler.” And here comes Oprah. (Of course Oprah had a hand in my big epiphany.  Of course she did.) She smacks her son in his smart-alecky mouth and says something like, “Everything you are and everything you have you got from that butler.”  Okay, so that line was kinda rattling around in my head.

While Daddyo was getting some things out of the car, I started to tackle the question of how the eff you get a baby to go to sleep in a hotel room.  I decided to tuck the crib into the darkened little vestibule of the bathroom and hope that the relative dark and not being in direct line of sight would help Boyo drift off.  Like bloody hell.  What started with a whimper was a full on air-raid siren in just a few short minutes.

I went to him.  At this point he was snotty-nosed and splotchy-faced and doing that rattly whine that makes me want to run away.  I picked him up and held him against me as usual, but the words that came out of my mouth weren’t the usual, “There, there, Mommy’s here” or “sssshhhh” or the opening bars of blazillionth encore of “Grand Ol’ Flag.” I just spoke to him like a person, like someone I know, like a friend who is melting down and needs some talking off the ledge.  I said, “I know, bud.  We screwed with your schedule, and you’re upset.  I get it.  It’s okay.”  And “I don’t blame you, I’d be pissed if someone tried to make me sleep in the bathroom, too.”  As I talked in this real way to Boyo, he began to relax and soon he had melted into me, still sniffly, but calm.  I caught a glimpse of us in the mirror, this big, bright boy in his footie pjs poured over my shoulder like Hershey’s syrup on a sundae. A wave of emotion, slow and steady like unerupted lava, swelled up from my chest, tightening my throat and flushing my cheeks.  When this glowing orange surge of emotion reached my brain, a stark, crystalline clarity exploded, fully formed:

This boy is mine, of me and by me.

Everything he is, everything he has, everything he thinks and feels and does, comes from me.*  That won’t always be the case, but it is right now.  He’s not just a baby, he’s my baby.  He’s not just part of a family, he’s a part of my family.  And if there is one thing I know how to do, it’s teach someone how to be a part of my family.  Suddenly, the cold, wet balustrade of fear, guilt, judgement, and paralysis began to crumble. The ever-present internal whispers of “What the fuck am I doing” and “This was a mistake, I can’t do this”  were silenced.  All of a sudden, my quickening heartbeat began to tap out, “OMG, I know how to do this.  I can absolutely do this!”  This kid is one of us, Team Us, for better or worse, and I happen to be one of the founding members of Team Us!  I have written the book on what it means to be Team Us which means that in order to make all of the decisions that are to come — the good and the bad, the brilliant and the poorly thought out, the “Fuckin’ A” yesses and the “Oh hell” nos, the solid and the shaky, the right and the wrong — all I will ever need to make those decisions is my own intuition and the opinions and suggestions of those I choose to advise me.

In this flash of clarity, all of the extremely frustrating and diametrically opposed opinions of experts and lactivists and concerned parents and warrior moms and share-happy Facebook friends which I have allowed to torture me into paralysis just shrunk and shriveled and were ground into dust by the millstone of my instantly formed and entirely new confidence.

Team You might think that it’s abhorrently neglectful to allow your baby to cry-it-out.  But here on Team Us, we sometimes need time to be upset in order to figure out how to calm down.  Team You might bend over backwards to do whatever it takes to have a chance at a VBAC, but if and when our family is ever blessed with another little soul, you’ll find Team Us in our scheduled vagina-free C-Section.  Maybe Team You believes that television rots the brain and that there is no greater harm you can do a child than to allow him time in front of it.  I don’t understand that, but I don’t have to.  I’m not the captain of Team You.  I don’t know how to raise a You, so I will leave that in your very capable hands.  I’ve got my own team to lead and I can’t do that properly if I’m all wrapped up in how you would do it.  As that thought settled into my open and eager heart, and as I wept sloppily and happily all over Boyo’s head, I whispered wetly, “In our family, no one ever has to go to bed when the SAG Awards are on.”

When Daddyo came in and saw this blubbery joyful tableau, I explained as best I could what was happening.  We marveled together at the completeness of this shift in perspective and of the instantaneous clarity that it brought to me.  We spoke out loud of our gratitude for this day, this moment, each other, and our plenty.  We speculated on how my epiphany would affect us all in the days, weeks, months to come.  Daddyo said, “Well, at the very least, things will be different.  And lately, for us, ‘different’ has meant ‘better.'”

And so Team Us stayed up past our bedtimes and watched TV and laughed and talked  and snuggled and eventually fell asleep, all together in the luxurious La Quinta king sized bed.

When the next day dawned, everything was different.

Everything was better.

Completely!  (And finally!  Sheesh!)

Completely! (And finally! Sheesh!)

* This moment happened to me and so I am telling it from that perspective, but I do not mean to imply that I am the only parent on Team Us.  My husband is the most wonderful, supportive, in-the-trenches partner and I am blessed down to my bones to call him mine.  All of my success as a mother is due, in part, to the unconditional love, support, faith, and most importantly, participation of my husband.

From Me on a Good Day to Me on a Bad Day (2nd edition)

Sweet bleeding Jesus, girl, you have had a rough stretch, haven’t you?  I am so sorry.  Life always has its hard times, but when they start to stack up the way they have, it can feel like the sturdy walls of your sanity are made of Jenga blocks and at any moment, your with-it-ness is going to come crashing down around your ears.

Well, I am standing here on the other side of those hard times and I want you to know that, as with all hard times, these too shall pass.  You’re going to get through it.  You are going to feel better, and soon.  Just breathe.

Right now, you are standing in the shower weeping because your beautiful boy has chewed your patience down to the quick.  He won’t stop making that sound, that grating, rattly, monotone whiiiiiiine that sets your teeth on edge and ignites a rage in your heart that scares you.  He screams his way through every diaper change making you fear that his stomach is in turmoil again, that his ears must bother him when he’s lying down, that the wipes must irritate his bum all of a sudden, that something must be wrong.  He only seems to want the things he can’t have (like your phone and the dog’s face and electricity) which makes you feel like all you ever do is bark “No!” at him.  Even though you know he is going through a developmental leap and that his mood and behavior, while hellacious, are normal, you can’t stop thinking about running away.

Guess what.  You won’t.  And very, very soon, you’ll stop thinking that you have to.  In fact,  your boy is about to come through this exceedingly taxing leap and once he does, he’s going to be the sweetest, funniest, most interesting, most engaged and engaging, fun-to-be-around kid that he has ever been!  He’s about to enter what will be your favorite phase of his little life so far!  He will put blocks in a little saucepan and will stir them around with his fingers and it will be the funniest thing he’s ever seen.  He will make toot sounds on the vinyl ottoman or your shoulder (what your family calls a sproggle and what the Cosbys called a zerbbit) and he will think it is the funniest thing since the blocks in the saucepan and the sound of his pealing laughter will ignite a joy in your heart that will soothe you.  This fantastic little boy is on his way to you.  Just hang in there.  And breathe.

Right now, you are reeling from a crippling lack of confidence.  Yet another parent has just posted something on Facebook trumpeting his parenting practice as the only way to raise a healthy kid and you don’t practice what he practices, so you must be doing irreparable damage to yours.  Right now, you are feeling so inadequate that you are forgetting that just because someone declares something dogma doesn’t make it so. It’s just something that happened to work for someone else’s baby.  You are too buried under emotional exhaustion to remember that there are only two experts on raising your boy and that friend on Facebook is not one of them.  Right now, you don’t believe in yourself, so every move you make feels like a mistake, and every pair of eyes in the world look savagely red with with condemnation.  Right now, you can’t remember why you wanted to be a mother.  Right now, you don’t want to be one anymore.

Guess what. The intensity of those feelings will begin to fade soon.  You’re going to have a nice exchange with that friend on Facebook and you are going to remember that pronouncements and conversations are very different things and that every single thing on Facebook needs to be taken with a grain of salt.  You are going to start turning down the volume on Little Voice, that wretched bitchy internal monologue, and start listening to your kinder, gentler self.  You are going to remember that you are doing the best you can and that your best is pretty damn stellar.  You are going to remember that some days are total shit, and you have to just wash your hands of them and start fresh in the morning.  You are going to remember that kids are resilient and that even though there is no escaping fucking him up, Boyo is a good baby and will be a good kid and a good man because you are a good woman and a good mother.  Most importantly, you will remember that the very fact that you are tormented by these demons of doubt means that you care about doing things right and that care alone makes you, at the very least, a good enough mother.  And some days, most days even, good enough is plenty.   You may not believe me now, but you will.  Breathe.

Right now, you feel victimized by your emotions.  You would describe it as though you are being held hostage by your feelings.  You have feelings about your feelings and thoughts about your feelings and feelings about your thoughts, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.  You feel immobilized by emotion, as though its intensity has become flesh and is pinning you down with its hulking weight.  Your paralysis terrifies you.

Guess what.  Very soon, your best friend in the whole world is going to tell you that he’s never heard you sound so low and it scares him.  You are going to sit on a bench in the middle of an outdoor shopping center on a beautiful day and you are going to call him and you are going to cry your face off and you are going to hear yourself put your feelings into words and you are going to realize that this is more than sadness, more than just feeling blue.  You are going to realize that you need help.  And you know what?  You are going to get it.  Right then and there, you are going to crack a joke about the appropriateness of having an mid-thirties existential crisis in front of a Talbots and you are going to get up, go home, and find out what kind of mental health benefits are covered by your insurance.  You are going to pick a therapist because she has the same name as a character on Seinfeld because reading user reviews of therapists is ridiculous and you are going to call her and leave her an embarrassingly weepy, rambling message.  And she is going to call you back and when you apologize for sounding like a crazy person she is going to say, “You just sound like someone who is hurting asking for help.”  And you will believe her, because she’s right.

And after the very first session, you are going to feel better.

You are going to feel better.

Very soon, you are going to feel better.

Breathe.