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My Life Right Now

Sidewalk candy or My son is not horrible at all

Typically, I wouldn’t smile after I told you this story.

If I were being typical, I would finish it up with an exasperated guffaw that means, “Aren’t they insane? Don’t you just dream about being in a silent room alone, eating grapes?”

But because of a particularly brilliant session with my new therapist counselor person and a video I watched months ago and remembering some things about being a human and a mother that I had forgotten and basically every single thing that has happened to me before now, I’m not being my typical self.

I know I’m not being my typical self because when I think about Jo picking up the piece of red sour ribbon candy off the sidewalk, I feel a rush of delight.

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I realize that this is just a red ribbon and not red ribbon candy. For reasons you will soon understand, I don’t have the piece of red ribbon candy anymore.

 

He held it up and asked if he could have it. There was hope in his eyes because sometimes I let him eat things off of the ground or the sidewalk, because maybe it will build his immunity. But this particular thing, this ribbon dipped in sour sugar, it was all alone, just soaking up whatever terrible things might have passed by, and I didn’t want Jo to eat it.

So I told him – with my warm but firm tone that I’m working on – that he could not have the candy. I told him that sometimes grown ups put drugs in candy. I internally cringed when I heard this justification come out of my mouth, but 7-year-olds like really good reasons, and I was grasping to give him one.

He stomped his foot and screamed his tight, high-pitched way that basically means, you’re the worst mom I’ve ever had. It also means, “I might do something really fucked up right now that will publicly embarrass and potentially injure you or something nearby.”

Instead of steeling up and getting harder, the way most humans do when they feel the threat of imminent danger, I said something like, “I know it really sucks that you can’t have it. I’m sorry.”

He screamed again, and gave me his death-y-est death glare, and tightened his fist around the candy. I just looked at him – with that warm but firm look I’m working on. Then I kept on looking.

And then he let out this deeper roar and flung that piece of candy as far away as he could. It soared in a floppy red arc right onto the roof of the apartments next to us. Then Jo hopped back on his scooter, and I walked behind him, imagining how good it felt to throw that candy into oblivion, where no one could ever have it, ever.

The whole red ribbon candy story could have turned out differently. I could have gone all steely disciplinarian, like I tend to, and then Jo would have gotten angrier, and thrown the candy at me, or kicked my leg or something. And then I would have yelled some horrible thing at him because I was so mad about what a horrible kid he was being. Imagine a little Tasmanian devil tornado of horrible sucking both of us right up.

But the tornado did not happen, and we got to keep walking down the sidewalk, towards home, and after that, towards more sidewalks with their abandoned candies, towards more chances to break each other or not.

***

Thank you to Miranda July, whose writing in this book and this book inspired my writing here.

Motherhood, trauma, and a washing machine

On New Years Day, I sat in the hard shell of a chair at the laundromat. I alternately felt fine and so broken that I wondered if any of the other launderers could tell. Did they see how my insides trembled as I struggled to get the washing machine handle to lock? Finally, the metal latch clacked into place, and my wavering insides smoothed down a little.

Photo by Kristen M.
Photo by Kristen M.

As the extra capacity washer swooshed our soapy rug around and around, I wondered if this could be considered a nervous breakdown.

For lots of us, the holidays represent a kind of emotional crescendo–family who we usually don’t see swoop into our lives, there’s all this uninterrupted time with our own kids, our partners. We’re suddenly unconstrained by the repetition of work and school schedules.

In this soupy December mix of people and time, two things rose to the surface again and again, not unlike the soapy rug, falling, rising, falling.

  1. I feel like an outsider in my house. AJ and Jo and Cal all seem to have an emotional shorthand, a way they just get each other. I’m not in that club. I don’t love wrestling with flailing limbs or kicking balls hard and fast or watching sports. I like to walk unflinching and straight into emotional conversations, for example. I’m not great at having big talks all sideways, where you’re not making eye contact and also playing basketball. These are just a few of the things.
  2. I get triggered as hell when my kids hit each other. Especially when Jo hits Cal. And then I start buying into this story I have about how they are bad kids, and I am a failed mother. It’s a real horror show.

After a good-old fashioned holiday break, getting wholloped by the old 1. and 2. again and again, I kinda lost it one day after Cal did some hitting and screaming at a new friend’s house. While the mother mercifully told me that it was all developmentally appropriate, I collapsed on the inside.

Fear reached back to that trickiest time when Jo was 3. Then it sloshed forward and swept over me. Falling, rising, falling. All the hitting and kicking. Crying and screaming. Friends leaving. Nasty looks and words from strangers. Shame is a powerful currency, and it was generously paid out to me during that time.

After Cal’s ill-fated playdate, I sent a distress signal to AJ, and by the time he got home, the most basic tasks felt mysterious and overwhelming. I could feel the rules that hold things together slipping away, my grasp on what to do next, how to do the tasks that need doing.

Days later, after the rules slid back into place back again, I kept finding things in weird places–my coat hung up with my shirts in the closet instead of on the hook by the door, playdough in the kitchen cabinet with the peanut butter.

My friend Clio told me that she thought it sounded like PTSD. The validation of that diagnosis helped.  Motherhood can be a traumatic event.

From my broken open, PTSD place, the 1. and the 2. demanded my attention.

As for #1: AJ, Jo, and Cal and their shared interests and maleness have a very strong gravitational pull. I’ve been orbiting around them more often than exerting my own gravity. So in the past few days I’ve been building up the bulk of my own planet.

Instead of the typical pillow fight, wrestle fest after dinner, I set up watercolors, because I like to paint. I’ve always told myself the story that my sons don’t like art, and just make a mess, so its not worth the trouble. I was wrong.

I’m also discovering the subtle hues of what works for me in terms of physical play with my boys. I hate flailing limbs, fast smacks, big crashes near my body. But I like close, squeezey wrestling and laying on my back with Cal airplane style balancing on my feet. So it’s not that I only want to sit and do arts and crafts. But if I’m gonna hang with my boys and their physical play, I need fewer flailing limbs, damnit.

As for the #2: I wrote a sign that says “Jo and Cal are good and capable,” because it is exactly this point on which I falter when they are slugging it out. When I can step between them and stop the hitting from this place, this knowing of their goodness and capability, I stay much more solid and clear instead of turning into a shame monster.

I want to be careful not to write this like a problem solved, because it’s not. Like all problems, there’s a rise and a fall. A circling. But I am moving forward in solid ways. My coat is hanging on its hook, the play dough in its smudged plastic tub. And I’m settling into what it feels like to exert my own gravity. I’m a planet of my own.

Christian, Muslim, Trump-supporting, Pantsuit-wearing, Black, White Family Talks Politics Over Christmas

My parents are conservative Christians who voted for Donald Trump. My brother-in-law is a Sudanese Muslim immigrant who voted Hilary. My sister and I are liberal feminists. Despite the fact that just about every political fault line runs through our small family, we chose to be together this Christmas, and we’ve been talking politics.

Any other time in my life, I would have run screaming from a political conversation with my family. We’ve shied away from triggering topics for years, initially because my sister and I grew away from our conservative, Christian upbringing and more recently, since my sister’s interracial, inter-religious marriage. We all spent 2 weeks in Khartoum for her wedding, and despite our worries that my father might simply drop dead of fear and anxiety, the trip was a smashing success. My parents returned home to their small Southwest town with the glow and enthusiasm of the recently converted.

Our family dynamic is held together by keeping things light, by avoiding the murky waters of political disagreement.
So when I checked my phone the morning after the election, I was surprised to see that my Mom had sent a text to all of us.
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This exchange started the first conversation we’d all had about the election, ever, and it was so not awful that we agreed to follow up later with a video call.

As the time for the call approached, I wondered how we’d manage to broach the subject again, but the mission was clear from our sober hellos.

“I hardly told anyone who I was voting for,” my mom admitted. She knew full well the shaming she’d receive in her town full of Hillary signs, so she kept her mouth shut.

She hadn’t liked many things Trump said during the campaign, and disagreed with some of his ideas, but her concern for the national debt and economy ultimately sided her with him. We all let that sink in. My sister and I had been hoping that maybe my mom hadn’t voted Trump, since she once mentioned not wanting to vote for either candidate.

Through tears, my sister asked my mom if she remembered a day from our childhood when we were playing in our driveway and some boys biked by and taunted us. We ran inside, crying and scared. Mom packed us immediately into the car, and drove up the street, fuming. As she towered over those boys, booming grown up words about how wrong they’d been, we felt valuable, protected, safe.

My sister continued, “This feels like the opposite of that. A betrayal. You had a chance to protect our family, and you chose not to.”

I saw those words hit my mother. It hurts to remember her soft, sad face as she apologized. She hadn’t thought that the safety of her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter were at stake in this election. My dad reassured us that congress would keep Trump in check, that law enforcement would keep people safe.

“I hope you’re right,” was my brother-in-law’s solemn reply.

My dad was concerned. “Has anything happened? Have you been mistreated since the election?”
Though my sister’s family has not yet been the target of a post-election hate crime, she explained their fear. She said her family is mistreated in little ways all the time.

“What little ways?” Dad asked.

My sister explained how people will yell “Go home!” out their car windows at her mother-in-law who covers her head. How my sister was the one to fill out rental applications during their apartment search, since landlords often don’t reply when they see her husband’s Sudanese name.

My parents were shocked. They had no idea that my brother-in-law and his family are often targets of racism and Islamophobia.

They’ve been slowly absorbing those facts and have been asking my sister and I what they can do to help. They’ve been Facetiming my brother-in-law’s parents in Phoenix to see how they’re doing. And we’re continuing, tentatively, to explore this vast new terrain of political discussion.

It’s been isolating to feel this upsurgence of family closeness in the wake of an election that demonstrates how bitterly divided we are as a country. As my friends gather in corners at work to shake their heads and muse about what Republicans could possibly be thinking, I wince, because they’re looking down their noses at my people. I may not agree with their vote, but they are still my people, and we are doing the vulnerable and difficult work of trying to understand each other.

All those years, by keeping things light, we were trying to protect our ties from weakening. But we’re starting to see that there’s enough love and trust between us to make the risks of knowing each other worthwhile.

This week, I inflated the air mattress and picked my parents up from the airport. As always, their eyes twinkled at the sight of me. They scooped my two sons into their arms, and we tumbled into the easy grace of family who have long loved each other.

We still disagree. There are still sharp frustrations and betrayals among us. My sister and her family are still upset and scared, and I’m afraid for them and the fate of our country. My dad continues to reassure us of his confidence in the system, and my mom is pensive, and reaching out more often to my sister. And for the first time, I feel safe talking to my parents about who I am and what I think, and I’m curious to learn more about who they are.

It turns out that we don’t know each other as well as we thought. Ours is not a family of of deplorables or elitists, immoral bleeding hearts or extremist idiots. And I’d venture to guess that yours isn’t either.

Talking across political divides or Don’t cancel Thanksgiving

I don’t know your family. Or your many well-thought-out reasons why you don’t want to hang out with them and their crazy opinions, especially after this election. Or maybe you’re super stoked for Thanksgiving with The Fam.

Either way and regardless of your politics, I’m guessing that it’s pretty tempting right now to hole up and talk with people who agree with you. Let’s face it, that’s what most of us did in the lead up to November 8th, and probably long before that too.

This strikes me as a big, fat problem.

Conservatives and liberals are afraid of each other, and talking to each other less and less. So how do we move forward in a political system engineered to help us find common ground when we barely know how to have a conversation with a member of the other party?

Political conversation
Photo by Steve McFarland

I know this divide well, since mine is a family made up of liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, Muslims and Christians.

Before the election, we didn’t talk politics at all. But since November 9th, it’s been our main topic of conversation in texts, over the phone and on Skype. I’m shocked to report that the result of all this talking across political divides has not been debilitating waves of fear, anger and dread. In fact, I feel closer to my family than I have since I was a kid. This is not because everyone suddenly agrees. It’s because somehow, we’ve found a way to talk about our widely ranging opinions that leaves me wanting to call back or follow up with a text question rather than run far far away. We’ve stumbled upon a rare, cultural occurrence in this day and age; ours is the dodo bird of political conversations.

I’m working on an essay about this whole experience that I hope will get published on a larger platform, since I think our conversations can offer some hope and a way forward for families and friends who are feeling more divided than ever.

For now, let me share what has been helpful to all of us so far.

Stop trying to convert each other.

We all know what it’s like to have a crappy political conversation. It gets sweaty and fast, brows are furrowed, voices get tense, and talking points get volleyed back and forth. The whole thing lurches to a close with everyone feeling dissatisfied and trying to patch things up with inane sports or weather talk.

I suspect that these types of discussions suck because we walk into them with the goal of converting each other. Turns out that talking to people who are trying to change us feels patronizing as hell. It feels like they’re assuming we’re idiots or that they know better or both. And if you’re the one on a crusade, well, it gets lonely up there on your know-it-all high horse.

Stop assuming that people are their labels, and that you are yours.

As the dreamy Walt Whitman once said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” Damn straight, Walt. Everyone you know is a person first and a liberal or a conservative or [insert political label] second. Since my family stopped assuming what we each think based on who we voted for, we’re discovering that few (if any) of us adhere to a strict party line on everything. So we actually have a few things—gasp!—on which we agree.

Start asking questions and actually listening.

It’s been awkward to try to understand each other without making assumptions, because it means we’ve been asking very basic and sometimes embarrassing questions, like “Has anyone ever been racist to you?” or “What’s actually so bad about the national debt? I remember reading something about why it isn’t so bad.” When you stop assuming, it means you actually have to ask questions to discover things. And the space that all those assumptions took up starts being replaced by good, old-fashioned curiosity.

Start sharing personal experiences.

Pretty much everyone I know would rather listen to a story about someone’s life rather than some list of bullet points about why they support some political ideology. When you dig deep into why you believe the stuff you do, I bet you’ll find some stories. Tell those. Ask others about theirs.

This other type of conversation I’m describing—this non-converting, non-assuming, curious, personal type of conversation—tends to not suck. You walk away thoughtful. Sure, maybe you’re still pissed or freaked out, even betrayed by Aunt Edna’s politics, but you learned a couple things you didn’t know about her, and maybe even started to question what you actually do think about the national debt.

This little list of Dos and Don’ts is essentially a recipe for openness, learning and respect, three things I want as the starting point for any family or nation of mine.

If we all had more practice having conversations across party lines in this way, I think we’d find ourselves in a different America.

That’s the America I want.


I know I’m not the only one having these conversations. If you have tips or tricks or revelations of your own in talking across the political divide, please share them in a comment below.

Feminist Home Makeover

There have been some changes on the home front. Radical changes. Distinctly woman-liberating changes.

Behold. Feminist Home Improvement #1:

A photo posted by An Honest Mom (@anhonestmom) on

An aside: Some would argue that even categorizing a dishwasher as a woman-liberating machine is sexist. Isn’t it equally liberating to the droves of men elbow deep in dish suds? Well, no. It isn’t. Because the vast majority of dishes are done by women. What a load of crap! Down with the patriarchy! And, for the time being, this particular consumer took the easy way out and used her distinct privilege to buy a machine that creates an illusion of gender equality in her own home. And the oppressive wheels of sexism roll on.

On the dazzling day I walked home to see this beauty in our kitchen, I walked in a stupor around the house muttering, “Oh my Goooohhhhhd, Oh my Goohhhhhhhd.” That first night, after we’d put the kids to bed, AJ and I loaded her up, pushed the “On” button and just sat on the floor and watched. “It’s washing our dishes right now.” AJ said, rapt. “It’s a storage container where we get to put our dirty dishes, and then it cleans them,” I replied, awestruck.

But wait! Feminist Home Improvement #2 is even more revolutionary.

Where there was once a changing table and later a crib in our bedroom, there is now this wondrous thing:

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Take it in. Because what you just saw was a radical feminist photo of a radical feminist desk. I’ll tell you why. I did not try to make everything in my picture look tidy and perfect. I even left the overflowing laundry basket out and the new desk chair in my closet, where I usually keep it, since our bedroom is too small for the desk and chair to just sit and hang out. At first, I wanted to make the picture perfect, because I like pretty pictures just as much as the next person, but I held myself back to prove a point to me and to you. It’s the point none of us can get enough of these days: all of our lives are messy no matter how many pretty pictures we post online.

This radical feminist desk is taking up space that was once devoted to caring for babies and little children, and now, it’s devoted only to me. A desk of one’s own. Eat your heart out, Virginia Wolf. It’s the first space I’ve had in my home that is only for me and completely under my control since Jo was born over 7 years ago. We are talking revolution here, people.

I choose what goes in it and sits on it, and my kids are not allowed to touch or turn any of those things into weapons. It’s the fixed place in my house where I get to do whatever damn thing I want. I sat there and wrote an effing letter to a friend yesterday. On paper. With a pencil. And today, here I am writing this to all of you. Taking up space in my house and in the hours of my day and in the world to share my stories about being a woman and a mother.

“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman.”
― Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl 

That shit is radical. And it’s mine.

My inner voice is the worst

Yesterday marks the beginning of the 2016/17 family routine. Hallelujah. We made it through the ever-changing matrix of summer. The here-there-everywhere pickups and dropoffs and scrambling for childcare.

Behold. The summer matrix.
Behold. The summer matrix. Photo by Gamaliel E. M.

This was our first go at a public school summer. This next one, we vow, will be different. We’ve got some sweet plans afoot–coordinating with friends and neighbors on childcare, so we can approximate that shining jewel, the timeless summer of our youth which was held together by so many moms who stayed home. We’ll see how that all goes. I’m hopeful, as I often am about things that are 9 months down the line.

As for now, I’m just waiting for the soothing balm of routine to sink in. That way that you can start to anticipate pockets of time. That way you can have an idea for something to write or plant or make and know, without a doubt, that there is a time coming soon when you can have at it.

Oh, how I love you, soothing routine balm.
Oh, how I love you, soothing routine balm. Photo by Steven Depolo

This summer and all of its twists and turns has laid waste to my creativity. So much so that yesterday, when I finally tasted that first uninterrupted time for myself, I mostly avoided writing even though I’ve been dreaming of it for weeks. I shopped online, scheduled my semi-annual haircut, looked for a desk on craigslist so that I can have a small corner of my own in the bedroom. I did all of these things while the option to write was looming. And just like some cliché romance, when I could finally have the object of my longing, I got all sweaty palmed and nervous, and looked the other way.

Too much anticipation perhaps?

A back-log of ideas, rendering my creative mind sluggish?

Possible.

Hypercritical internal voice, with a lack of empathy for the demands of raising small children over a chaotic summer?

Bullseye.

My Inner Voice is A Total Jerk
Here’s what my inner voice looks like. She’s got a good haircut and carries a purse. Also, she’s a total jerk. Photo by Tom Edgington

If any other woman on earth told my story to me, I would douse her with buckets of compassion and kindness.

Of course you spent that time doing small, frivolous, self-care type things because you’ve had no time for that. Of course the writing feels intimidating now because you’re out of practice. Of course. But never fear. You can’t escape your own creativity. Just keep showing up when you have some time and listen. And in the meantime, go get your effing hair cut and prepare to receive some packages in the mail from that sweet online shopping binge.

If only my inner voice thought I was someone else. Then I would bask in soft comforts, drink tea and take naps. Instead, I walk away from the first break I’ve had in weeks feeling anxious and humiliated.

WTF self?!?

In much the same manner that I script my kids into emotional intelligence on a daily basis, I will now script my nasty little inner voice.

Hey there, Self. I know you’re used to being a total asshole to me, but I’d like you to try something different. Something like this:
It’s more than okay that you’re not bursting with creativity right now. There are seasons for everything because nothing, I repeat, nothing bears fruit all the time. Fallow periods are for tending the soil. So tend away. Inspiration knows what she’s doing. Just tend the soil. And keep listening. You’re doing just fine. Really. Here’s a hug. And a snack. And some slippers.

Yesterday, I lost it. Today was better.

You know what’s crazy about living? That in a single 24 hour period you can go from feeling utterly broken and ashamed to being completely at ease and in your own skin, eating with your family on a golden evening.

This time yesterday I could feel it coming. My frayed edges flaring out like the fuse of a cartoon bomb, my energy and patience dwindling. With every whine issuing from Jo’s annoying little mouth, I felt closer to breakdown. I knew it was coming, and still, I went there.

I screamed so loud that my throat hurt. And then Jo and Cal and I all dissolved into tears.

Here’s a lemur screaming in much the same way that I did yesterday. Photo by Tom Ciriello.

This, apparently, is my Achilles heel: watching my older son hurt my youngest. It doesn’t really matter that they were fighting over a caboose. Or that Jo asked for it the first time really nicely. Or that Cal head-butted Jo after he had the caboose ripped out of his hand. What matters, apparently, to my brain chemistry, is watching my 6-year-old bang on my 3-year-old’s back with his fist really hard 3 or 4 times.

That is the thing that floods me with so much feeling that the only choice is to scream at the top of my lungs and scare the shit out of my two kids. After that, I push Jo further away. As if to prove a point: you are not here with us. You did a really bad thing.

In our teary aftermath, I apologized while staring at a gritty crack in our tile floor. “I’m not going to yell again. I know it’s not okay. And I’m not going to do it anymore.”

I told Jo that I needed his help, that he needed to come up with some ideas for what to do when he feels like hitting his brother. His answer cut deep:

“That’s a really hard thing to think of, Mom. Because it all happens so fast. Just like it happens to you when you yell.”

Touché, you smart little creature. If you could just use that sort of reasoning in the midst of a fight over a caboose, we’d all be sitting pretty. But that’s just it. You literally can’t reason when you’re in a rage. And neither can I.

So last night, after my boys fell asleep, I did all I could think of: I cried, and I texted a friend, and I read a book in the bathtub about how our children are our spiritual gifts. (The book is effing fascinating by the way, so much so that I dreamed all night that I was communing with the woman who wrote it).

Today, thanks to my part time job, I got a much needed break from parenting. I also got to Google chat AJ about the whole yelling incident, since it felt too shameful to talk to his actual living, breathing self about it last night.

In the safety of a computer window, I confessed it all. And he was kind. And told me how he tends to deal with those moments with Jo.

AJ’s natural patience and skill in parenting our strange, alien children is continually infuriating and inspiring to me. He simply gets our boys in a way I don’t; he has a composure and deliberateness in his parenting that I don’t. As he mentioned once, in critique of my style, “You get too mad too fast.” A truer word was never spoke.
AJ does not do that. Ever. I have no effing idea how he pulls it off.

So he gave me some tips: If Jo’s not listening, go stand in front of him and say it again, if he’s still not, get down low and look him in the eye, then get really close and raise your voice, then grab his ear or his shoulder a little bit hard. If all that fails, physically remove him.

Done and done.

Perhaps to some, this step by step escalation is not revelatory. But to me–the one who toggles between (1) an endless sea of patience and calm and (2) a blind rage–it represents a huge chasm of options in the middle that I typically leap over in less than a moment.

I got another chance tonight at dinner. It doesn’t really matter that it was about a purple car with white flames painted on it. It doesn’t really matter that Jo asked nicely for a turn and that then Cal said MINE and taunted Jo with the car. Here’s what does matter:

I slowly escalated. I sat up from my chair and walked between the boys. I told Jo again to stop growling at Cal. Then I grabbed his ear a little bit hard. And put a hand on Cal’s back and told him that he could finish his turn with the car. Cal made car engine noises that I’ve never learned how to make. Jo stopped growling. And then I went back to my chair and we all started talking about something else. I think we even laughed.

My week as a starfish or living at home without children

Alternate realities are helpful for the sake of comparison.

I know, because I’m currently living one. My house feels twice as big, my brain half as full. I slept till nine effing thirty this morning and ate pizza and jellybeans for dinner last night.

This is my life without children. For one week, both boys are in Colorado, swimming and fishing and eating popsicles (even chocolate ones!!) and watching TV with their grandparents.

Way back in winter, the concept felt thrilling and pragmatic, a way to cope with the predicament of summer vacation with two working parents. Yet laying in the bed of my childhood home at 4:30am, the night before we left them, I was certain this would be the largest catastrophe our family had ever seen. The boys would be paralyzed with homesickness, they would sit, wide-eyed, in front of scary movies from which their subconscious selves would never recover, my parents would slip into a catatonic haze of exhaustion, the boys would be happily splashing in the river, then swept into its roiling icy waters to die.

My dark, pre-dawn thoughts know no bounds.

Suffice it to say, I felt some anxiety about leaving them, even though the concept of leaving them filled me with the giddy joy of a convict imagining escape.

The morning we left, no one cried at goodbye, and my jangle of nerves was sure this was some terrible omen, a sign of ruptured attachment, when really, they were probably just super into their new water guns, and a whole grassy backyard lawn, its thick, green hose filling up a neon orange swimming pool.

I cried a little at the airport, but that did nothing to match the anxiety soothing properties of a single pint of beer I drank while waiting to board the plane for home.

I sat with my partner, like those couples I often see, reading and staring and drinking. Simply passing the time.

I’ve watched them hungrily, and fantasized about their freedom, while slung down with bags, AJ and I tag-teaming little boys with sweaty hands.

As the fizzy beer drone spread down my arms and legs, I became the woman in that couple. Waiting for my flight, borderline bored, literally nothing to do.

That’s when the giddiness set in.

I kept feeling the impulse to stretch my arms and legs out at a diagonal, as far as they would go, just to physically demonstrate my internal sensation. A huge spreading out. Extending into space that I forgot was there.

Starfish
Starfish by Elena Kalis

You can’t know how compressed you are until there’s space again. And let me tell you, I’ve been bound in pretty tight. Mothering is the sum total of thousands of minutes spent tracking people other than myself, anticipating needs, contorting my body and energy to try to ease the way. I ignore my aching back and elbow because the baby happened to fall asleep on me this way. Leftover salad goes uneaten while I mindlessly scarf down the remains of an abandoned lunch box sandwich. My energetic nodes are tuned to them and their needs.

And suddenly. I’m in my very own house without them. All those nodes are free. To rest, to roam, to notice other things. To stretch out like an goddamn starfish because there’s so much space to spare.

I have not been to the grocery store since we got home 4 days ago. I casually put our laptop on the floor after watching a late night show, unconcerned about prying 3 year old fingers at 6:30 a.m. I can leave work early or go out for a drink after because it doesn’t matter when I get home, and no matter when I get home, the house will be empty and quiet and just how I left it.

The other thing: I like AJ so much more.

This has been the most stark comparison of all.

On the airplane home, I was snuggling with him like a 20-year-old version of myself, and it felt natural as hell.

For years, I’ve puzzled over the shift in my relationship with him. Wasn’t there a time when I could hardly keep my hands off him? And even long after the whole honeymoon period wore off, didn’t I still dote on small affections?

So why has last several years of our relationship been afflicted with broken and worried conversations. Do I even like him anymore? Does he like me? Where oh where has my sex drive gone?

I was worried about myself.

But now I know what happened to myself.

Two little boys happened to myself.

And our mostly relaxed, dialed-in-to-eachother, touch a lot relationship was ever so slowly and hypnotically hemmed in by laundry and dishes and grocery lists and coordinating the logistics for how and when I’ll go get my semi-annual haircut.

We all know this concept. Raising small children with someone puts stress on that relationship. It makes sense that between the relentless care-taking, cleaning up and mammary glanding, my body craves mostly one thing when the children are away or asleep: separation.

But knowing a concept does not erase the fear. Even though I thought that my relationship with AJ would most certainly, probably feel closer in those mythical years of the future when the boys need us less, I still worried. Have we lost it entirely?

Do I even like him anymore?

Well, hot damn, the answer is yes. In the spacious delight of these days at home to ourselves, we’ve fallen right back into the way it was. I cannot tell you the relief of this: it’s largely effortless to love my partner again the way I used to.

Also, I totally have a sex drive.

I had no idea it would be so easy to get right back into it.

Turns out it’s not so much me, or him, but The Situation that has changed.

Delightfully, The Situation will continue to change, in the direction of more freedom, not less.

I’ve got my eye on the horizon. It’s looking pretty starfishy.

Mom revives after reproductive coma

I just got back from a run.

This is a strange fact since Not Running is a story I routinely tell. Once, I actually ran a marathon. When all was said and done, I felt like a badass with really bad knees. As the story goes, if I calculate generously, I’ve run about 5 miles since then. That was in 2000.

I have no idea how far I ran today (it was probably not very far). But you know what? That’s not the effing point.

As houses and gardens and crosswalks slipped by this morning, I felt like an animal coming out of hibernation. Or rather, like a 37 year old woman coming out of a reproductive coma.

My youngest kid turns 3 in a few weeks. Do you know what that means?! It means that I don’t have to constantly track him every minute because he might run into oncoming traffic. It means I’m only hyper aware of his movements every 15th second or so. And that leaves 56 other seconds of every minute for other things

This is huge.

Imagine a tipping point, the top of a roller coaster, a slow, tedious lean that becomes a rushing tumble.

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Photo by Jay Reed

With every foot fall and raspy breath, I completed a circuit back to my former self. I was her, and she is me. I’m new now.

I used to run when I was 20. I did it because I needed a project. It was a performance. Now I get to run like this. On a whim. I have nothing to prove.

I was her. She is me.

I’m new now.

Boredom is my muse

I’ve been drowning in a birdbath*, you guys.

For three years, I’ve been in and out of triage: bought a house, had another kid, got a job. Whether it was up till 3 a.m. painting the rental in my third trimester or up at 11, 12, 2, and 4:30 with a puking baby, my default mode has been On. And not that nice bright, incandescent on. More of a twitchy, anxious flicker.

lightbulb of creativity hangs from ceiling of boredom
“Bulb” by Jon Callow

So I haven’t quite known how to handle the space that has come with, well, stability.
I’ve been having lulls that last longer than 5 minutes, and I’m not feeling routinely on the verge of cracked out. Bonus!
Trouble is, I’ve built up a life based on a bunch of cracked out habits like nightly TV binges, drinking too much and staring at the wall anytime the kids are occupied or sleeping.
It’s left me bored and sometimes depressed inside a life that’s pretty darn ok. Death by birdbath.

I’ve been in a small-child-induced coma.
But not today! Because see? I’m sitting here on a bench at the Y after my dance class and writing this instead of staring into space for the 10 minutes before I have to go pick up Cal.

Turns out there’s more space in my life. And what requires empty space in order to exist? Ideas. Creative Impulses.

What if the boredom and even depression whose butts I’m all proud of kicking are actually a source of aliveness?

A sign of creativity yet to come.

What if the crumbs that collected on my sweatshirt as I binge watched 6 episodes of Transparent actually incubated the creative burst I’m having right now?

Well, kids, if that’s the case, I think we have a game-changer on our hands.

When in their midst, it is near impossible to feel the value of boredom or depression. But here I am, close on their heels, with ideas and vitality bursting out of my ears.

Every living thing has a dormant phase before it blossoms.

And apparently, so do I.

*This simile (and occult inspiration) brought to you by Jessa Crispin in her new, kick ass book, The Creative Tarot.  It’s brought tarot cards to life for me, and I’m not looking back. Jessa Crispin The Creative Tarot