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. 

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.

 

For Lola, On Her First Birthday

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Birth Day September 12th, 2012

September 11th, 2012 the contractions start.  I pray that she waits until midnight.  I pray that she not have the stigma of sharing her birthday with a national tragedy.

She did wait, though by the time midnight agonizingly arrived I was pleading with her to make her appearance.  Of course I know now the date doesn’t matter in the end.  The birth of something you’ve created brings everlasting sunshine to the darkest day.  Miracles and tragedies exist side by side, each contrasting the other so vividly that you know these are the only moments that make you alive.

Lola.  My sweet Lola.  She kicked her way through my entire pregnancy, and she does the same now.  Kicking and pushing to get out, to get away, to be independent.  Lola is my second lesson in letting go.

From the beginning I had to let go of expectations.  Expecting to wait a while before I had another baby.  Expecting to have an easy pregnancy.  Expecting to have a natural childbirth.  Expecting to breastfeed.   These, all out of my hands, hoping and wishing things would be different, and then the relief of acceptance when I understood my path.

Pink Cheeks

Pink Cheeks

And then Lola.  Expecting to have another blondie blue-eyed babe. Expecting to have another snuggler, like Noah, a baby who would rather be in my arms than not.  Expecting a soft, sweet lover.  Expecting someone more like me.

But she is her own girl, and will defy expectations.  She shatters them, and shows me why it was crazy to have them in the first place.  She dances to the beat of her own congo.  She yells with delight, often and loudly.  She smiles with her whole body.  When she comes to you, you feel special knowing that she picked you, she picked this moment to give to you and no one else.

She is walking now, and the irony is that she needs me now more than ever to steady herself.  She grasps on so tightly, understanding that I’m here when she needs me.  And then she lets go, off on another adventure.  I savor those grasping moments.  When her hands clamp around my legs I relax into acceptance.  I know my purpose for her.  I am illuminated.

I have mourned that there isn’t as much of me for her as was for Noah.  With the second there is always less. While your love may multiply, your times divides, and the second must always fend for themselves a little bit more.

She knows she hilarious.

She knows she hilarious.

I  know this will make her stronger.  I know she was strong already. Lola does not need hand holding.  She just needs to know you are there.

I can’t contain this firecracker.  And I don’t want to.  I can only be her launch pad.  I will steady her and then fall back and let her soar.  She has so much energy, contains so much fire, and color, and life in this tiny vessel.  My job is to point her to the stars and release.  She may reach those stars, or maybe will be content being her own star.  I know she will be explosive, that she will entertain and inspire awe, and that people will be drawn to watch her in all her glory.

You release knowing that you have no control; knowing that it is the only way she can shine.

Lola, my love.  I thought I had so much to teach you.  But it is you who continues to teach me.  To be open.  To not hold so tight.  To have patience.  To laugh often.  To slow down. To recognize my strength.  To forgive my weakness.  To love loudly.  To look for miracles in the shadows because the best ones hide there.

Birthday September 12th, 2013

Birthday September 12th, 2013

You will soar, my sweet.  And I will also, because of you.

Magic 8 Ball Says….

What the hell am I doing?  A question I ask myself often.  Along with these other helpful inquiries that make each day a confusing and depleting hurdle to get over on my way to the next destination…being what, death? That seems relaxing….

Why can’t I be happy being home with my kids?

Why am I up at 3 am even though for the first time in, like, ever, Lola has actually slept?

Why can’t I get Katya’s behavior and attitude under control so that the household is not a chaotic clusterfuck any time she is awake?

Why do I keep buying crappy plastic toys that make extremely obnoxious noises when Noah pretty much couldn’t care less for them?

Why is it that I can manage to get laundry washed, or dried, or put away, but not ever all three?

How is it that I have fallen into a horrible habit of turning on a video for Noah during his mealtimes so that I can shovel quinoa into his mouth while he zones out because it’s the only way he’d eat that instead of chicken nuggets?

How do people get shit done?  With kids?  Someone has the secret.  What the eff is it?

Why oh why oh why doesn’t Lola sleep through the night yet?

What am I doing wrong here?  Because it feels like I can’t get anything right.

I place so much pressure on myself to Be Better to Do More.  This is my job, right?  Why do I feel like such a failure at it?

I find myself defaulting to easy standbys like the tv, or Ipad for Noah so I can manage to get through the laundry.

I leave Lola in her bouncy play thing – aka the Vortex of Fun – for the same reason.

But I still can’t manage to make the organic vegetarian meals I want to make, puree Lola’s baby food, or organize my pantry.

I haven’t played with Noah for hours, or read a book to Lola, or taken a walk for days, because…why?  What am I doing with this time?  I can’t figure it out.

Is there really that much laundry, that many things to pick up off the ground, that much housework?

Yes.  There is.  I have 3 kids.  I have a dog.  I have 2 cats.  A husband.  All who need me to be their caretaker.

And then there are the books to read.  So far I have open currently: Simplicity Parenting (ha!), Nurturing the Soul of Your Family, Transforming Your Difficult Child, The Big Toddler Book, Fresh Starts (food for babies), Bringing up Bebe, Baby SLeep Solutions, and Healthy Child, Healthy World.

 

I need to be greener so I don’t kill the kids with chemicals.  If I didn’t feed Katya gluten maybe she wouldn’t have ADD.  If I let Noah play with those plastic Cars toys I bought him, the ones that smell so chemically every time you open the box I feel like passing out, he will surely have cancer by the time he’s a teenager. If Lola sleeps on this flame retardant doused mattress I lay her on she will surely acquire allergies.  If I don’t talk to Noah enough he’ll not enunciate correctly and will never be allowed into preschool.

Holy shit.  I AM doing everything wrong!  There are so many ways to improve my parenting the kids will be grown before I become the mom I’m supposed to be.

Noah’s playthings.  Lola’s sleep.  Katya’s behavior.  Our eating habits.   The soul of our family rides on my kinked up back and I haven’t a clue how to take charge.

I’m falling apart with overwhelm.  Will my kids survive my lackluster performance and become functioning adults?  I am truly scared for their future.

Shake the 8 ball.

“Reply hazy.  Try again later.”