Slice of Life

I brought her animal crackers wrapped in a paper napkin. She wanted the lights off, the door open. Mary Poppins was on the Kindle, Zach’s headphones on her ears, a cup of water on the bedside table next to her. She was propped in bed with multiple pillows, snuggled under blankets as the first snow of the season fell outside her window. As I walked out of the room, words that had resonated with me earlier came back into focus: “I can’t protect you from the world, but I can make sure that home is your safe place.”

Late Friday night I returned home from dinner with girlfriends to find Wyatt still awake. I scooped him up and he flung his arms around my neck. “I was sad,” he said. As I carried him up the stairs and back to bed, this quote rattled around in my tired brain: “Millions and millions of years would still not give me half enough time to describe that tiny instant of all eternity when you put your arms around me and I put my arms around you.” –Jacques Prevert

Mia was upset when I wasn’t chosen to chaperone her class on a field trip earlier in the fall. As I was tucking her in to bed, her voice caught in her throat when she said, “I’m going to miss you tomorrow.” When I pointed out that her best friend’s mother was going to be on the field trip, I said, “That’s like the next best thing.” She said, “But you’re my first best thing.” And I was once again reminded of the sweet spot we’re currently inhabiting.

During Luke’s preschool parent-teacher conference, I glanced down at the notes his teacher had written as we were talking and saw this: “Wonderfully sweet disposition. Loving and kind.” I knew this, of course, but sometimes when you’re steeped in the everyday routine with twins — maybe especially same-sex twins — their individual lines blur. But this boy. He is sunshine and shadow; a buoyant bubble that trails my most mundane days. I’ve always thought of him as our bonus baby, the one who came along for the ride, and I often think of the line from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible: “But the last one: the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after – oh, that’s love by a different name.”

There is no structured essay here, no profound lesson, no parallels to be drawn, no moral to the story–only these slices of life that I want to hold onto. And maybe, just maybe, this will be enough to get me writing here again.

Here & Now (a rambling post on the topic of presence)

here and now

Mia missed the bus the other morning because she was being a bit dramatic about which shoes to wear, so I might have slightly overreacted by not-so-subtly huffing and puffing as we clambered into the car and drove to school. She was teary because she knew I was upset. And honestly, the problem wasn’t that I had to drive her to school. I love the quiet few minutes in the car with her.

The problem was that I had a deadline that afternoon, and due to a tag-team nap boycott the day before and a certain boy who refused to sleep the previous night, causing me to sleep through my alarm the next morning, I was no closer to meeting that deadline than I was 24 hours prior. This was just the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back.

The problem, clearly, was me.

Cars snaked around the parking lot as we pulled in and fell in line. I reached back, ready to apologize for my behavior, and she grabbed my hand. “I don’t want to go to school,” she said. “I already miss you.”

I put the car in park (the line wasn’t moving) and turned to look at her. We counted the days until summer break, and I told her that she’d be sick of me soon enough. But she shook just her head. I squeezed her hand and she squeezed back. I apologized and she said, “It’s okay, Mommy. Sometimes I get grumpy too.” It was a good moment. One that I was fully immersed in and one that I likely won’t forget soon.

And then the line started moving and Mia began recounting her beanie boo collection and my eyes kind of glazed over as my mind drifted…to the project I needed to conquer by day’s end…to a character who’s imploring me to write her story. My mind was no longer in the car with my daughter who was happily yapping away in the backseat.

Should we strive for authentic presence during the big moments of life? Of course. The magic-in-the-mundane moments? You betcha. The moments when our children need/want/beg for our attention? Absolutely. The moments that zip and sing and soar whether we catch them or not? Only if we’re quick and nimble enough. And that’s part of the trouble with being present in parenthood – these moments are so swift, traveling as they do at the speed of life.

here and now

Observing a caterpillar

I think, for me, I have had this false notion that if I can just be here and now and in the thick of it without distraction; if I can just pay attention and honor these moments fully, then I will somehow have the power to slow time. I’m beginning to learn that this simply just isn’t possible. Likewise, I used to misinterpret presence for happiness and joyfulness, subscribing to this misaligned belief that if we aren’t seeking joy in the mundane then we’re failing at being fully immersed in the moment. But sometimes life (and parenthood) is just mundane. There isn’t a lot of joy to be found in sitting in rush hour traffic as your gas meter hovers just barely over empty, or in realizing that your toddler unfastened his pull-up and dumped its contents onto the floor of your closet. Or meeting a deadline on very little sleep as you navigate the schedules and personalities/needs/wants of three little lives.

I recently read a post by Aidan at Ivy League Insecurities in which she presented 13 Ways to be (More) Here & (More) Happy. Aidan (along with Lindsey from A Design so Vast) has embarked upon a year of exploring what it means to be present in life, and has been generous enough to bring her readers along, so far offering up seemingly universal themes and discoveries. Number 2 in Aidan’s post, “Forgive Yourself for Not Being Perfectly There” struck a chord with me as I often perceive myself as failing more than succeeding in terms of relinquishing my conscious mind to the here and now. Aidan wrote:

I recently went on a wonderful field trip with Middle Girl and her class to the Brooklyn Bridge. The weather was perfect and we had such a good time and I loved being with my girl and her friends and her teachers and fellow parents. BUT. I went in and out of being really quite present. There were powerful moments when I looked around me and felt her hand in my hand and the bridge under my feet. But then there were lost moments when I was on my phone or wondering if I will ever finish my novel. This is life. And this is huge. We must forgive ourselves for not being 100% tuned to each moment. We are busy creatures with full plates and we must work with reality. I strongly believe that if we are so hard on ourselves for being present at every moment, we will have difficulty being present in any moment.

But maybe the “lost” moments of which Aidan speaks (and which I’m sure we’ve all felt) aren’t lost at all. Sure, there are times when we can (and should) put the phone down and look our children in the eyes and get on the floor to play with them and engage in conversation when conversation presents itself. There are times when we need to put the car in park and turn to our children and offer an apology. But on the other hand, maybe some moments are meant for surrendering to our thoughts. Maybe some moments are the equivalent of white noise, in which case checking our phones (or pondering a work in progress) is perfectly permissible. Maybe our lives are better enriched by honoring these moments too.

I think the trick is in determining which area of our life has the right to claim ownership of the greatest portion of each moment – a feat, I realize, that’s sometimes best accomplished in hindsight.

My favorite line(s) of Aidan’s post is this:

Life is tricky, but there are gorgeous moments where we feel happy. We must not ignore these moments because they have the power to sustain us through less gorgeous times.

Swoon.

Happy Friday, friends. (It’s good to be back.)

 

Once upon a time, I was punch drunk on the magic of mothering

There are phases in my life where I feel restless, like something is afoot on the horizon just out of my sight. I call them seasonal phases because they seem to coincide with the changing of seasons. (Today is the last day of school for us, which I consider the official kick-start of summer.) Whatever it is, this feeling is something I can’t name and have a difficult time describing. Somber would be one way. The prevalent feeling of yearning for movement another. A keen awareness of where I’ve been, where I’m headed, and the passing of time yet another. In other words, the present is slipping through my fingers and I’m not even trying that hard to hold on.

hold on

I have never known depression on a personal level (well, there was that antepartum depression setback). I consciously make an effort to focus on the beauty of my life, the shots of pure happiness amidst the maddest of days. Life with three small children (yes, I consider 6 still small) is hectic and busy and I spend a lot of my energy trying to embrace this chapter of my life. It can be complicated and frustrating and never easy, but it can also be beautiful and humbling and energizing. But when I’m not caught in the whirlwind of the physical act of mothering, I find that I’m rather lonely. In the absence of the buoy of motherhood, I’m just treading water.

Once upon a time, I was punch drunk on the magic of mothering. It was all I could see, all I wanted to see. Now, I wake under a haze and walk with my eyes pointed toward that horizon, willing whatever it is to come forth. This isn’t to say that I’m no longer under the spell of my children, but what I once saw through tunnel vision I’m now seeing as the whole picture. And I’m seeing myself as stagnant. Is this, after all, the curse of the stay-at-home mom? Do we need to work more on personal growth than career-driven ones? Or maybe it is the fact that I’m also trying to make a career from home, which means that I am either mothering or working with little room for anything else. (I suspect I’m not the only one who feels that their days are split in equal parts mothering and working.)

I try to bury myself in the good and magical moments of my days. I smell the tops of my kids’ heads and breathe in their kisses like oxygen, but it could be in the next moment that I need to come up for air, I need space. I convince myself that this is normal, healthy even, that I need to pause, to reset and readjust, but there is always that voice lurking somewhere, pleading, “They won’t be little forever. You have today, this moment — soak it up, relish it — who knows what tomorrow holds.” 

morning hang out

It is a graceful balance I have to learn and maybe I never will. Maybe this is exactly where I’m supposed to be, stagnant or not, and it will be a while before whatever is on that horizon reaches me. Maybe I need to learn to be okay with that.

True North

Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it is how they undo everything before you can even finish doing what it is you’re trying to do. Maybe it is the way “No” sets her spiraling to the edge. Maybe it is all of these things or none of them at all. Maybe it is a restless energy within you, pining for something you can’t name, much less grasp onto. Whatever it is, it’s left you exhausted, and frustrated, and feeling the weight of it all. And so you throw your hands up and say “Let’s go play in the rain” but then you remember that the back yard is flooded, that there are three of them and one of you and running after two toddlers moving in opposite directions is impossible (you consider telling the 6 year old to watch one of them until you remember that it’s ill-advised to put a baby in charge of a baby) and suddenly the simple act of playing in the rain becomes a feat too complicated, so you say “Never mind” which definitely sends her over the edge and you have to do what it is you do when she falls down that rabbit hole…and then something happens.

A memory, a picture, a song.

You’re kneeling on the floor scooping up spilled Cheerios when you feel their hand on your back, brushing by as they fly to the next thing.

You’re standing between their cribs at bedtime, each one poking a hand through to find yours and you’re struck again with the miracle of two as you trace their fatty palms.

They all bring gifts to you — dandelions and rocks and four-leaf clovers; a broken toy that needs mending, a ceramic turtle that looks more like a fried egg but you display it on your bookcase anyway because it’s the most beautiful fried egg you’ve ever seen, a pinched finger that needs kissing and then suddenly the other one is offering his perfectly good finger to your lips too.

Your daughter opens a book whose pages are worn and crinkly. “I love this sound,” she says, making the pages speak, and you think Me too, baby, I love that sound too.

She rides her bike down the street to the farthest point you’ll allow and when she turns back she yells, “I’m coming back to you, Mommy!”

Because you’re their True North. The point at which their rotational axis meets the surface, where energy is renewed by kisses, and where their heartbeat slows to calm, harbored, windless. It won’t always be this way, not as pure or palpable. Something about the axis of rotation not fixed in duration and so True North varies.

So you spend your days tirelessly going through the motions, thinking Is this enough, this motherhood thing I signed up for? And also: Am I enough? But when you think about it, the longest days, the ones spent muddling “through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year,”* you realize that all day long, though it might not have been the most magical day, you’ve been offering the tools they’ll need to navigate a terrain none of us can map. You’ve been laying a foundation, the coordinates of which will remain even when True North shifts. And this is enough. YOU are enough. Because it isn’t about better, bigger, perfect, more. It isn’t always about the magic. It’s about providing a childhood that says “I was here” so the magic will filter through the looking glass as True North becomes less transparent.

True North

*lifted text from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Perspective on parenthood. And tears.

I bought a magazine yesterday. The kind filled with fall fashion trends and the newest beauty products promising to erase wrinkles and the circles under my eyes. I haven’t bought a (non-parenting) magazine in years. Okay, maybe two years. I love fashion. I love beauty products. I love wrinkle-free skin and eyes that don’t need concealer. And Hollywood Gossip! Who doesn’t love that? I daydream of curling up in bed after the kids are asleep to delve into the glossies, to feel their slippery pages between my fingers and relish in all the wisdom they have to bestow upon me. The problem is that my eyes begin to close before I even open the cover, so I put it on the nightstand where it will remain until I deem it too outdated to read anyway and toss it into the recycle bin. All of this is to say I’m so tired. All the time. And I anticipate being tired for the next decade or so.

Last week the kids were sick. One by one, they came down with colds and fevers. It was the same week that Zach spent a gazillion hours at work. I spent most of my time walking around with a half-sleeping baby in my arms, burning forehead pressed into the crook of my neck, snot oozing down his upper lip until he smeared it across my skin. It didn’t hit Mia until the weekend, and by then my back ached, my muscles were sore, and I felt more resentment toward her than empathy. Just take the medicine, I hissed. Sip, gag, sip, gag. She hated me more with every tiny sip from the plastic cup. I’m only a little ashamed to admit that I cried myself to sleep one night, dreading the morning to come. Of having to do it all over again. Whatever happened to taking care of me? Of washing my face and flossing my teeth? Of wearing clothes without holes and spit-up stains? Of eating a meal that consisted of more than mac and cheese leftovers and apple slices? I was feeling sorry for myself, yes.

And then this happened.

Yesterday I got the news that a dear friend of mine lost her baby in utero. This was her first baby, due in December. There were no reasons, no answers. Just gone.

I spent the rest of the day crying, feeling a rage burning at the injustice of it, unable to concentrate on anything other than the nuts and bolts of the day. I thought back to the week before, of how tired I was, how close to the breaking point I was, how I longed for sleep. And maybe because we’re past that now, but this is what I remember most: Luke, awake, feverish and stuffy in the middle of the night laying on my chest as we stared up at the moon. Wyatt, sweaty curls pressed to my skin, his tiny fingernails trailing up and down my arm. Mia, curled into a ball in her bed, a washcloth damp on her forehead, as she watched Caillou on my Kindle until she could fall asleep. And all of it awash in lullaby music, night lights and the blue haze of twilight.

My friend doesn’t know half of what she’s missing. And that is a blessing.