For Noah, On His Fifth Birthday

It requires so much of a mother, these first five years.  Since my children came into my life, I’ve all but stopped writing, IMG_0022stopped dreaming my own big dreams, stopped creating.  Of course, improvising meals with the last can of chickpeas and an old jar of capers requires some creativity.  I dream now of taking a vacation I can truthfully call “vacation,” replacing my old standby of writing a novel in Paris.  My days involve hundreds of small decisions, an ocean of patience, giving my space up constantly to little people who need it all from me.

I am still in the chrysalis stage.  Possibly a mother never really emerges from this stage; change being the constant hand on her shoulder.  Learning how to parent a newborn, a two year old, two babies at one time, a step daughter entering adolescence, a son shedding his baby years and becoming a boy.  Each stage and age is beautiful, and challenging, and brings me to tears, and leaves my heart burst open.  Each stage is new.  Each stage is different.  Each stage requires something from you that you haven’t had to give before, and gives you back the unexpected in turn. 

I am grieving now for  my baby that is no longer my baby.  People try to talk me out of this.  I’ve tried to talk myself out of this.  “He’ll always be your baby.”  “Be glad there are no more diapers!” “Five to ten years old are the golden ages, think of the fun you’ll have.”

These things are of course true.  Mat is in heaven now that Noah can kick a ball around with him, and go on bike rides just the two of them.  Noah didn’t leave much room for anyone else when he was my baby.  Mat was jealous, and rightly so.  Noah breathed my air, lived for my touch.  He would snuggle so close and hard, bury me with so many kisses it was like he was trying to burrow a warm, safe hole inside me.  The lovingest baby.  All mine. 

I am allowed to grieve this loss.  I’m allowed to long again for when he fell asleep in my arms, when he was so light and limber and affectionate, he would just wrap himself around me as I carried him places.  I am allowed to be sad that he is making room now: for other people, for other adventures, another life that doesn’t so much have to do with me. 

I don’t need to be talked out of it.  I agree that there is so much joy to be had in the years to come. When we can have real conversations, and interests that align.  But this part is so hard. 

There will be a time, soon, soon.  When he will not bury himself in me.  When he won’t smother me with kisses.  Today, he still tells me “mama I love you!” at every turn.  He still fits in my arms, and still wants to be there.  The days are numbered now, I know this deeply. 

How does a mother let her child leave her?  That baby is not here anymore, and is not coming back.  I have pictures, and memories covered in haze, which are such poor stand ins for my baby’s touch as to be rendered nearly pointless. 

IMG_0610Noah is to me a soul mate.  That may sound strange to some people, and to others makes perfect sense.  Maybe because birthing him was the most transformative event of my life.  His unwavering devotion to me fills my cup when nothing else will.   I share a bond with him that is unassailable.  Possibly what I’m feeling now is not only grief, but fear. 

All mothers share something special with their children, until the children don’t need them so much anymore.  Then that bond, the one the mother can’t live without, stretches and morphs into something less recognizable.  I don’t want him to forget about me.  What does one do with unrequited motherly devotion?  How can it not drive one to tears constantly? Is it possible we won’t always be soul mates? 

But of course we won’t.  This is the irony.  Motherhood requires a woman to give nearly all of herself over in the beginning, so that when they do move on, when they don’t need her, when they can do life on their own, she knows she’s done her job well.  That’s the sacrifice.  We think it’s our bodies, or our sleep, or our careers.  No.  It’s jumping into to this thing with all you’ve got, knowing that there will come a time when your love for them outweighs their love for you.  And even then, you must keep loving. 

And love him, I do.  Love overcomes the fear. Smiles outnumber tears, hugs far greater than tantrums, joy towers over IMG_0021sadness, and that is something for which I express my gratitude every day. 

I realize this birthday is not so much about me.  It’s about celebrating the life of this beautiful, beautiful soul that I somehow was lucky enough to be chosen for. 

And so this.

Noah,

You have a smile that dazzles strangers.  It’s such a true, effortless expression of the joy you share with those in your life.  You were born happy.  You inherited your father’s optimism and easy going manner.   You still get excited every time you see an airplane in the sky, or a commuter train pass through.   You notice the beautiful, small miracles – green sprouts pushing up through the cold ground, or the first snowflakes to fall.

A word that comes to mind is that you are sensitive.  But that word doesn’t appropriately express how you are in this world. 

You are intuitive. You have always thought about other people, and sensed how they were feeling, without any words being spoken.  So extremely empathic that you plead with me to get Lola a present for your birthday, and you still defend her to me after she’s hurt you.  You are so caring when other people get hurt.  You’re the first to step close, and say “are you ok?” and offer up something to make them feel better.

You are a lover.  Watching you with Katya, she reads you a book and you snuggle up so tightly and stare up at her. You wrestle/hug Lola, the two of you rolling around on the ground laughing.  Every morning in our bed, when you and Lola climb in to wake us up, you go through the rounds of all the people and animals that you love.


You are becoming more sure of yourself.  Whenever you first started something, whether school, or soccer, or playing with new friends, you were an observer.  But now you step out.  You talk to people, you ask questions, you join in, and let people see more of you.  You’re braver – flying down the hill on your bike, or sledding down a steep hill, or climbing higher into a tree. 

You are striving for your independence.  You want to use the bathroom alone now when we’re out.  You want to play outside by yourself.  You’re asking my permission to let you go a little bit.  I am resisting, but I understand, ultimately, that you must ask and I must grant. 

I feel so lucky to have been chosen as your mother.  Your gentle, caring nature is a much needed salve to my heart.  But I can’t be selfish with it.   My promise to you this year is to protect this part of you, so that as you grow you can share it beyond me, and beyond this family.  I will do my best to support you in becoming the active boy you need to be, but I will also fiercely guard your inner world.  You don’t need to be toughened up.  You don’t need to be told that big boys don’t cry.  You are a rare, pure expression of kindness and love, and I will nurture this in you.  You are a gift to a world that desperately needs big-hearted boys and compassionate men.   My promise is to keep safe this gift. 

And so the years push on.  My promises are starting to add up.  I am doing my best to be true to them, and to you. 

Tonight I tucked you into bed and you wrapped your arms around me, held them and said “you’re stuck to me like glue! You have to stay with me forever.” And I said, “of course I will, my sweet boy.”  Eventually you let me go as you rolled over to sleep, “we’re not stuck together anymore, Mama.”   

This playful nighttime fun, spoken so innocently before you shut your eyes.  In the morning you will wake up a five year old boy.   Tonight I will cry.  Tomorrow we will celebrate. 

Two Ways To Go Insane In Winter With Toddlers

I’m dying for ideas for indoor play during the freakishly long ice age that is winter this year.  I’m always reading the “50 Superfun and Incredibly Easy No Mess Creative Ideas for When Your Stuck Indoors for Five Months!” blog posts.  Unfortunately my desperation had led me to try some really stupid ideas.  Montessori beans

Like this one.

mont beans 2Look at this cute, pleasant, well-mannered girl carefully pouring her beans! The kids found an exhibit yesterday at the children’s museum that had a similar set up and Lola loved it.  She sat there for a good 15 minutes scooping beans, and I think she could have done it for much longer if I hadn’t interrupted her zone to go gawk at the crazy Etch-A-Sketches of President’s faces.

Abe etch

Shut the front door this can’t be for real!

I’m gonna make a bean tray!  All I had on hand was dried lentils so I set that up in a big bowl with measuring spoons and a smaller bowl for her to scoop into and let her loose.

It worked for awhile.  She kept most of the lentils in the bowls except when she tried to eat a scoop of them (Mmmm! she says with dried lentils stuck to her eyebrows and up her nose and encrusting her drool covered lips.)

Then Noah caught wind.  Within two seconds it had deteriorated into a fight over the full measuring cup of lentils.  I’m sure you can guess what happened next.  No wait, let me tell you. One full cup of lentils explodes like confetti all over…everything.  (Math question: One cup of dried lentils equals how many lentils? Answer: Five million!) Nothing escaped being assaulted by lentils.  The dog, the rug, the table the floor the counter the sofa the computer the toys you get the picture.

rice box

Look how nicely we’re playing together!

It reminded me of my rice box adventure.  This was another one of those great winter ideas.  A rice box!  Like a sand box, only full of rice!  You get a big plastic under-bed storage container and fill it with twenty pounds of rice and toys.  Put a sheet under it and easy peasy, you’re ready for action!

Noah thought this was the greatest day of his life.  The only thing he didn’t do was sit nicely on the side of the box and play.  He DID: splash the rice around with his hands like it was water; throw a dump truck full of rice across the room; drop a handful of rice on the cat when I wasn’t looking (no rice on cat!), tap dance in the rice box; tap dance all over the house with his rice covered feet.  Rice box lasted exactly one day.  (Not knowing what to do with it, I put it out on the patio whereby the cat proceeded to enjoy, ahem, said rice.)

Thank god for plastic.

What the EFF!!  Who comes up with these ideas?  Probably a Mattel marketing hack trolling the internet posing as a resourceful stay at home mom.  They know that once you try something this stupid, you’d pay good money for something like this in your basement so that you’d never have to make a toy for your kid again.

Looks like we’re putting the iPad and “Handy Hand Hand”  back in rotation until we can come out of hibernation.  And I’m gonna try to stop looking on the internet for how to be a mom.

Ha!! Not.

 

When You Have Two Under Three (And a stepchild. And it’s winter. And it’s flu season.)

IMG_1492They don’t tell you that you will spend thousands of dollars on trips to visit family, vacations, and weekend getaways with your spouse.  Only to end up with your kids sick, and at the hospital, with broken limbs and contagious diseases that require sleep and downtime, prescriptions and medical devices, rest and confinement, cancelled flights and forfeited hotel rooms, discarded plans.  They don’t tell you that this won’t be an anomaly.  That this will happen almost every single time you try to do something that you look forward to, like a bad joke or cliche on a dumb family sitcom.  And they don’t tell you how to move on, how to keep planning, keep up hope that you will get some break from the monotony, when it seems to be thwarted at every turn.

They tell you that your husband may get jealous, and you have to focus on couple time.  They don’t tell you that by the end of the day, with one sick child clinging to you in a death grip, and the other child crying from neglect, and a third whining incessantly that you never play with her, that if one more person makes a demand of you or your body you will seethe with resentment so profound you might break something.

They don’t tell you how to get rid of this resentment.  Just that it’s up to you to make sure your husband, your marriage, is bathed with intimacy.  That though you’d rather sleep, if you know what’s best for you, your marriage, your children, it’s on your shoulders to make sure everyone is happy.  To caretake.

They don’t tell you that your back will be so wrenched from carrying them since conception that you’ll have to take Flexiril just to move.  Or that you won’t be able to sleep for worry and to do lists and play dates gone awry and you’ll need Ambien to close your eyes.  Or that you will have such bad anxiety from constant death watch duty that you can’t function without Ativan.  Or that you’ll be so lonely, so disillusioned, so depressed that you’ll need Paxil.

They don’t tell you what to do when you’ve cooked a gorgeous meal, and given it to your one-year old, and she’s eating it! And loving it! And when you get up to pour yourself a glass of water, she’s taken those quick moments to dump her sippy cup all over the food, and splash around in it, and dissolve it into a mushy waterlogged paste.

And that act produces just the right combination of thwarted effort, and exhaustion, and disappointment, and anger and resignation that it unlocks a secret door deep inside, one that was hidden down in the steamy, rank, dark alley of your soul.  And out sneaks a monster.  An ugly, warted and decaying version of yourself that you never knew existed, one filled with rage, one that takes the plate and throws it with the force of a vengeful Greek god against the wall.  And when it doesn’t give a satisfying break, picks it up and throws it again.  And just as quickly, POOF! slithers away.    So that you are left crying on your knees, crying with your crying children, guilt ridden and questioning your sanity, knowing that your kids are better off without you, that they should not have to witness this monster, that you as their protector have failed miserably.

They tell you that they kids will be alright.  That you don’t need to develop elaborate rituals to help them sleep, or eat, or poop correctly.  You don’t need to drive them around for two hours every day during nap time with your pre-established route so that you don’t hit any stoplights so they will close their eyes and rest.  You don’t need the – swaddle, paci, ten minutes in the swing, transfer to crib, sing lullaby twice – routine that you have painstakingly devised.

You don’t need to worry that they refuse to eat in their highchair now, but will eat the exact same meal scattered about on various low-lying tables so that they can graze at will as they make their way around the room.  You don’t need to do that.

Your toddler will be fine without you providing the Elmo potty book, plus ambient music, with three, exactly, sheets of toilet paper and one spritz of the cinnamon air freshener to make their elimination more comfortable, and therefore more likely.

They tell you that the kids will be alright without you doing all these things.  But they don’t tell you whether you will be.  They don’t talk about how the stress of one more meal dumped on the floor, one more short-nap-induced cranky baby, one more poo in the pants and not the toilet, how that stress will beat you down so thoroughly you can’t even cry anymore.  How it will cause you to lob words like grenades at the people around you who care about you.  How it will dry out your insides, make it as barren as the desert, how the anger and rage at not being in control glares like an unrelenting sun on this desiccated part of yourself, how then guilt snaps across like wind, whipping it all into a disorienting dust storm.  How you are desperate for that part of you to be lush and green and blooming with the love and radiance and contentment that should be there.

They tell you kids shouldn’t watch tv, that they should get outside every day, that they need to be playing! They don’t tell you that by 8 am, when you’ve been up for 3 hours already and have 12 more to go, and it’s 10 degrees outside, and you all have been rotating through a never-ending flu, what to do to keep from hurting each other.

They don’t tell you your daily threshold of will power and patience will be depleted early and often, and that you have to find it from somewhere, somehow, so you can keep on driving to the grocery store and not into the river.  And they don’t tell you where to look for this extra reserve, except that you need to have “me” time sometimes to recharge.

And they don’t tell you that there’s never enough “me” time.  That “me” time is a fucking joke, a thing magazine editors and book authors write from a perch separated  from you by time or  life experience.  A thing they write to hide the truth, that no amount of me time gets you back to feeling in control, feeling like the person you used to be.  There is no balance.  There is you, sacrificed on the alter, so that your kids can live off of what remains.  Literally, in the beginning, and yet this nourishment continues, this host and sponge biological arrangement, as they consume your brain cells, your sanity, your patience.  You.

They tell you ways to stay in control of this new phase of your life.  They don’t tell you reality  – that there is no control.  That the absolute hardest thing that any adult has to do, in the well-ordered world that they’ve painstakingly built for themselves, is give up control, and yet that is what you must do.

An adult can break up with nasty friends.  An adult can use reasonable persuasion to make deals, be disappointed but know logically why one thing or another didn’t go his or her way. But an adult negotiating with a toddler has absolutely no control.  There is no logical argument to tempt on a shoe when your adversary refuses.  No amount of verbal or physical force can negotiate a child into a toilet habit.  And the seeming insignificance of a mercurial preference for grapes, or Mickey Mouse underwear, or Legos; the ever-changing motivations, the inability to predict their behavior, will grind you down to raw nerves.

They tell you there are lots of good times, lots of joy, parenting is hard but so worth it, this too shall pass.  And of course there are good times.  These years hold amazing moments, bright bursts of fireworks, moments of grace, miracles too many to mention, on a daily basis.  But they don’t tell you how to keep those moments in sight.  How to focus on those.  What to do when the gratitude journals, and the “today’s good things” conversations around the dinner table, and the photo books, and the yoga, and the moms groups, and the “me” time, don’t seem to counteract the gut-wrenching anxiety that you are doing this totally, irrevocably wrong, because you should, really, be happy.  The dread at the joy/relief/contentment that twinges inside when you follow your thoughts down the path of  – what if I had moved to Paris instead of all this.  The horror at the hope you feel one split second after you think – I know women who’ve left. I still could.

All of these people with all of their good advice.  They say “forgive yourself.”  But they don’t tell you how.

 

Walk the Walk

Lola is upright! Just when she hit ONE!  And I am thrilled.  This is a huge milestone for me.  It means that I don’t have to mop as much anymore!  Truly worth celebrating.IMG_1234

Why do people constantly say, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to be walking!  It’s all over from there.”  What exactly is over?  My constant housework to keep hazardous waste off the floor?

Or, “you don’t want her to start walking, she’ll get into everything!”  Oh really? Because she seems to be pretty much into everything as it is, and on all fours most of “everything” that’s in her line of sight is on the ground and gross.

Or, “you’ll never be able to catch her once she starts walking!”  Um.  Well, she walks around now like a 90 year old drunkard but she crawls like a banshee out of hell. So, you know, I think I can keep up.

I never understood all the naysayers.  I was ecstatic when Noah  started walking, but so many people were like, oh, you don’t know what you’re getting in to.  People (as in mothers who wanted to tell me how wrong I was) would actually argue with me that I couldn’t be happy about this new stage.  “Just wait,” they said.

Well I’ve got plenty of time to wait now because I’m not busting my ass waxing the hardwood every night!  Am I the only person on the planet who has a dirty floor and doesn’t want her child rolling around on it all the time?

Yeah, so there.  I admit it.  My floor is disgusting.

I have cats who try to bring mouse trophies inside.  I have a husband who wears his work boots in the house.  I have a dog who expresses her anger at me in poo.   I have kids who like mud.  Lola throws her food on the floor to save for later.  My kids jump on me while I’m cracking eggs or downing wine and that shit goes flying. Gross!

Lola still puts everything in her mouth, but the stuff now is off tables and sofas which potentially is A) not encrusted with dirt and dust B) not rotting C) not from an animal’s behind, and D) not an insect.

Here’s Lola:

Hmmm.  A plate of organic strawberries with local lavender honey and grass fed yogurt aioli?  Meh.

Oh look over there!  A decomposing stink bug in the corner!  Just what I was in the mood for!  crunch crunch bug legs drooling down chin 

I would be worshipped by parents across the globe if I could make food on her plate look as appetizing as feculence off the floor.

Thankfully, Lola’s sticky hands and well-worn knees are no longer dust mops for cat hair and other dreck.  I don’t have to scoop dog food out of her mouth quite so much.  I will not be spending Mat’s paycheck on replacing all the leggings she’s in which she’s worn holes in the knees.  We can go outside and she can walk instead of launching herself out of my arms unto her death.

We can actually play on the playground!  We can stomp around in the snow!  She can start learning karate moves to use against that bully Noah!

It’s not all over.

It’s just beginning.  Lola, let’s DO this.