Skip to content

My Life Right Now

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.

208475715_cbfb51f204_o
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

A band of angels

The song “Swing Low” is currently on the nap and bedtime rotation for me and Cal. Every time I get to the second verse — you know, “…looked over Jordan and what did I see?” — Cal pulls back from our snuggle and looks at me earnestly and says, “Angels?”

It’s happened a good handful of times now, so when he did the exact same thing during my encore breakfast performance today, I had to indulge myself.

You see, angels don’t come up too much in our everyday conversation, so I was intrigued about his connection with the word.

“Do you know about angels?” I asked him.

He replied with a definitive nod.

“What are angels like?”
“They’re loud,” he said, with professorial certainty.

“What else do you know about angels?”

“They fly into the trees.”

6323644745_203f2ff34d_b
“The Angel” by Vaidotas Mišeikis

I was starting to get a little breathless at this point. I had been pitched into one of those moments that people talk about, when their child tells them about their own birth, or a past life or some otherworldly, spiritual vision.

He swooped his finger up and down, “They fly like this, Momma.” I just sat, quite stunned, watching Cal demonstrate for me the swooshy sound effects and flight patterns of angels.

“They’re loud and they go fffffaaaaaaast.”

And thud.

I fell right down off of my cloud of dreams with my magical, spiritual oracle baby.

The Blue Angels.

That, of all things, was the reference. When I sing “Swing Low” to my son before bed, he pictures the fighter jets that screamed over his head when he was with his dad and brother at Fleet Week.

Angels indeed.

I may have been particularly open to the existence of angels since one had recently appeared to my mind’s eye as I was meditating on a dear friend. She was facing a particularly pivotal and much sought after job interview, so I was trying to empty my busy brain of everything but my love and hope for her and blammo. I saw an angel.

I was surprised with the vision, since she’s been after this damn job for years. Y E A R S. I’ve supported her through the whole tumultuous pursuit, littered with false hopes, and crushing rejections. I was ready for this interview to wind up like all the rest. A curt “Thanks but no thanks.”

Well, wouldn’t you know it. This time–The Angel Time–she got it. The long sought after job is hers. She effing did it.

We went on a hike this very morning, right after the conversation that wound up Blue Angels.

As we circled the glassy, golden lake, she confessed that she was up half the night with crushing anxiety. Does she really want it after all? After all this time and toil, is this really the job for her?

One of the scariest thoughts she had on her sleepless night was whether the anxiety is a sign. That there’s something wrong. That her gut is issuing a warning: it’s going to end up one big disaster, and she traded her perfectly good and stable life for a catastrophe. She should have kept her ambition in check and appreciated the good life while she had it.

Before I could even speak, I was laughing it off. Of course it’s not a sign. Just the typical feeling you’d have, being a thinking, breathing, sensitive woman sitting on the verge of huge life change.

But wasn’t I right there with her in spirit, envisioning the routine unions that my 2 year old had with angels, waving bye bye with his doughy hands as they flew off into the trees, loudly, as angels are wont to do?

I find myself desperate at times to find the magical thread tying things together. Ye olde “everything happens for a reason” or “sign from the universe.”

But what if it’s equally comforting, even more so, that regular, old, normal life has its own strange magic:

That a squadron of jets weave their power and might into a timeless, spiritual ballad. (I mean, who wouldn’t want a band of Blue Angels commin’ for to carry them home?)

That anxiety and fear are the body’s way of reminding us that birth is also a kind of death–any transition into a new phase of life means the loss of the way it once was.

That we all get to decide for ourselves if we think angels exist. And how loud, or not, they might be.

Mom triumphs over fears about kindergarten

This is the first time I’ve had a quiet house and an alert brain at the same time in nearly 2 months. Our family has plunged into several bold new frontiers. Among them, two parents with new part-time schedules(!!!), Cal starting a playgroup, and Jo (and me) staring wide-eyed at his new public school.

The dust is starting to settle. And I’m feeling pretty damn proud of myself, because amid it all, I triumphed over my mounting fear and worry about kindergarten.

My particular fears and worries are these: that public school (and many private schools too) focus too much on academics and not enough on social, emotional and creative development; that this focus on academics seeps into our kids and snuffs out their sparkles of play and wildness and self-direction.

While we’re at it, you should also know that the idea of public school–a place where any and every child can go to learn, be safe, cared for, and nurtured–makes my heart swoon with the chorus of a thousand hyped-up songbirds. Those songbirds know when and why to pipe down though, since they know what I do–the public school system in our country is tragically uneven, rolling weighted dice to determine which kids happen to get more safety, teachers and resources, and which kids get precious little.

With these worries and fears and smart songbirds, I sent Jo to kindergarten every day for the past 6 weeks. He would come home mostly happy and tired and would lose it over the smallest things, and I would sniff him all over to try to find clues about what was happening at school and whether it was fine or terrible.

IMG_5090

My triumph started on the day of our first big Kindergarten tragedy. Jo woke at 6:30 and climbed into bed with me, saying “I don’t like my school. And the only thing that will fix it is home school.” Eek. You know too well the dark corners of my thoughts, little boy.

After a good long bout of listening to his worries “My teacher is too serious, Mom,” we made it to school. Jo burst into tears as we neared the door and buried his face in my neck. I just kept saying “Dad and I know this is a good place for you, and I believe in you,” while trying to hold back tears.

Once I got out of the building, I had a good cry and was already planning the parents I was going to call to launch an elementary homeschool co-op and FAST.

Instead, I ran into an experienced mom who I trust (Thank God for Those), and she reminded me essentially, “Hard doesn’t have to be bad.” Ding ding ding. In other words, this is a hard transition for Jo and me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the school or the teacher is bad. It might just mean that kindergarten is really different than co-op, play-based preschool and getting used to the new system is hard sometimes. My job as a mother isn’t to remove the difficult things from his life, it’s to help him navigate, to help him keep going.*

*Taking on this job assumes that I have sussed out the particular Difficult Thing and decided that it’s ultimately worthwhile. If not, then we don’t give a rip about that Difficult Thing and move on to something else.

After my talk with the Experienced Mom, I knew that my particular crisis of confidence was stemming from the fact that I didn’t know enough about The Difficult Thing. My only experiences of the school day and Jo’s teacher were for a half hour on welcome back to school night and a minute or two at pick up and drop off.

My not-knowing was resulting in wibbly-wobbly confidence, and that was making things even harder for Jo, who is very good at his job: to constantly scan my slightest emotional cue for whether everything is okay. As he read me on that crying dropoff morning, I was ready to run for the hills.

The only way to know if running for those hills was smart or stupid was to get more information.

I set up a meeting with Jo’s teacher the next day.

The results of the meeting:
I think Jo’s teacher is doing his absolute superninjapower best to help our kids feel safe and heard and inspired. He told me the specific times of day that Jo can find him if he needs to talk or get some snuggles (not that he can’t get that throughout the day, but there are particular times when he’s more available).

This small detail was such a eureka for me, since at Jo’s preschool, there was always a grown up available for whatever social or emotional tangle came up, and now Jo is in a classroom with one teacher responsible for a whole swarm of kids. It’s felt so good to explain this to Jo and know that he has a plan for how he can access his safe grownup at school.

My biggest Eureka! of all: When Jonah would occasionally complain about there not being enough “fun time” at school and his “too serious” teacher, he was voicing my exact worries in 6-year-old terms. What I forgot myself is what I’ve been talking with Jo about this week: serious can be awesome.
Remember when you were learning to ride a bike, how serious you would get? And what came out of that? YOU CAN RIDE A BIKE. That serious was awesome! Remember how hard it was at preschool at first, when you didn’t know how to join games? And then what came out of that hard time? YOU GOT ALL YOUR PRESCHOOL FRIENDS. That hard was awesome!

In the end, I found out that the Difficult Thing is okay. It’s not perfect, but it’s got a lot of good, and I can work with it.

I can feel my confidence. I found my kindergarten mojo. And I know Jo can feel it too.

Yesterday at dinner when I asked him how school was, he gave me a big, earnest thumbs up and said “My class is awesome.”

Huge. Sigh. Of. Relief.

It’s not like this fixed every issue I have with an unfairly distributed school system that emphasizes academics at the expense of emotional and creative and social intelligence. But it has calmed my fears about whether Jo’s teacher was really there to take care of him, and reminded me that my job as a parent (and Jo’s job as a kid) is changing. He’s getting older, more capable, more responsible. And, as he should, he’s being presented with bigger and (gasp!) more serious challenges.

My job is to listen to Jo, address any problems I see that need to be corrected and then shine my confidence about the school we’ve chosen. This is a good place. Your teacher has your back. Some things in your life are getting more serious, because some things about growing up are serious, and that can be totally awesome.

Welcome! and The Food Convo

My phone has been beeping its phone face off for the last few days.

Months ago, something automatically set itself up on my phone (this happens more often than you would think) to brrriiingg this magic wand sound anytime someone likes or follows my blog. Over time, it’s turned all pavlovian. I hear that sound and my eyes dilate, I salivate. “Blog attention!” I chirp to AJ. He’s even started to say the same thing back (with enthusiasm, even!) when he hears the bbrrriinngg.

Over Memorial Day weekend, my phone had a bbbrrrrriinnngg-a-thon. The invisible powers that be chose to feature my recent post about eating and body image on Freshly Pressed. Thank you Invisible WordPress Powers–it’s been a fun few days.

So welcome to all you newcomers, to this special corner of the world where we encourage complaining, openly judge others and poke fun at pharmaceuticals.

And in the spirit of truth telling:

Its been a little over 2 weeks since I started to practice my new mindful/intuitive eating thing. I’m shocked to discover that my body requires much less food for survival than I originally thought. Growing two babies in utero and then on breastmilk is a distorting and delightful experience in that eating more is necessary and celebrated. But since I’m not with child and barely nursing Cal anymore, my nutritional requirements have tapered off a lot, and I hadn’t even noticed until I recently started to pay attention.

Also, I don’t always get it right. Just like any conversation, sometimes you fall off and stop listening, sometimes you misunderstand, sometimes you interrupt because the thing you have to say is just so damned interesting. Sometimes I convince myself that I really am hungry so I can have the slice of lemon cake. One night, at Prime Celebration Time, I knew I wasn’t hungry and was straight about that with myself. And I still wanted some cookie dough. So I had some. Maybe 3 spoonfuls after my body politely raised it’s hand and said, “Thanks, I’m good. No more, please.” And then I put the lid on the container and Put The Cookie Dough Back In The Freezer! VICTORY. Three weeks ago I wouldn’t have even heard my body’s subtle commentary over the gnash and hum of my own Desperate Need For Cookie Dough. And I would have finished the whole container.

And this morning. I was hungry. Ordered 2 poached eggs and latte. Didn’t listen for when I should stop. And now my stomach feels gross.

bkfst

But it’s okay! I get to try again in 2 hours. Maybe 1!

Just like any conversation, it’s a back and forth. It keeps unfolding. And forgiveness is important. You can always say “Sorry.” and “It’s okay.” and keep on going.

Learning to feed my hunger

I will never let another pair of pants tell me I’m fat again.

This from the mouth of my friend Rachael, as she speared another piece of perfectly roasted cauliflower off of the plate in front of us. We met for drinks, Rachael and I, and as the fathers of our children readied our kids for bed, we ordered another cocktail.

I eyed that tiny plate of cauliflower with resentment. It was so good. And there was so little. What a tease tapas can be.

R’s declaration convinced me of what I already knew—I must go buy new jeans.

IMG_4217
Familiar, anyone?

Oh, the ever changing expanse of the post partum body. I’ve been rail thin with huge boobs to very squishy and everything in between. The rail-thinness was the product of exhaustion, depression, and breastfeeding in my first four months with Jo. I remember being stunned by the sight of myself in the mirror after a shower–I finally had the body I’d been told to strive for. It was strange and thrilling to see it on me. And I enjoyed it, guiltily, like a $50 bill you find on a busy street. Does this really belong to me? I didn’t work for it. It simply came through suffering over those early months of becoming a mother.

My current squishy reality, were I to guess, is the product of going to dance class less, breastfeeding less, and a little practice I’ll call The Celebration. It starts around 8:30 most nights when the boys are in bed. AJ will make some popcorn. I’ll grab another glass of wine and the cheese puffs. And then we’ll trot out a pint of ice cream while watching some show on the computer. It’s such a miracle to Eat and Watch without having to share or explain to the children. To be left alone to make terrible health choices and then to fall asleep on the couch. Don’t ask about the couple weeks when I worked through a box of 24 Haagen Dazs ice cream bars.

The Celebration also unfurled itself during the first few months of my job. It was just so miraculous to sit, unfettered at a desk—no one needing a snack or crying or hitting. So I would buy a tub of dark chocolate peanut butter cups at Trader Joe’s and polish of half (or more!) in an afternoon. Partytime.

The women’s group I attend every month? It is an oasis. Smart, interesting, engaged women, their beautiful child-free homes, wine and food. Last month, when I walked in, I thought, “Get ready, self. Time to over-eat.” I do it every time. The Rosé and cheese platter and berries with homemade whipped cream are just so damned abundant and miraculous that I have to pack it in so that it will last until next month.

I’ve felt uneasy about The Celebrations, just as I feel uneasy inside my jeans. And it took writing this to really see it:

I’ve gone and confused food with relaxation.

One feeds my body. The other, my soul.

In the confusion, both my body and soul have gotten squishy.

When I’m experiencing a significant break, rest, respite from the relentlessness of motherhood, I pack food into myself. As though the food will tide me over until next time.

It doesn’t.

And then, instead of really sinking into the moment, feeling the rest, the support, the entertainment, I zone out on food.

This week, I’ve been reading Women Food and God, and I tripped over this sentence several times because it was such a zinger.

To discover what you really believe…pay attention to the way you eat. You will quickly discover if you believe the world is a hostile place and that you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly. You will discover if you believe that there is not enough to go around and that taking more than you need is necessary for survival.

Guess which one I am, piling more sesame noodle salad onto my plate at my woman’s group like it’s the last meal I’ll see for days?

So, I’m turning over a new leaf. The concept of mindful or intuitive eating. I learned about it from this insightful TED Talk, and while at first I was left laughing off the possibility of mindful eating, it’s been surprisingly helpful in practise:

I eat what I want when I’m hungry. Eat till I’m full. If I’m not hungry, and I want to eat, pause the food train and be in the moment.

It’s felt like a homecoming to listen to and trust my body.

The new jeans aren’t too bad either.

Where I found my dreams

I was surprised that you all related so well to my post about losing my dreams.

When I wrote that one and hit the old PUBLISH button, I worried that it would thud into your lives as a big ol’ downer. Maybe it did. But as usual, reading your responses helped me feel like part of the human race again instead of like a lack-luster misfit.

Something else interesting has happened.

I’ve started to daydream. I did it right before I sat down to write this. Instead of hurdling myself straight from work into writing, like some sort of eternally productive robot, I first found a grassy field, popped out the kickstand on my bike and laid down. I do my best daydreaming supine on grassy fields. After a while, I took off my shoes. And that was that.

Taking the space to require nothing of myself has been glorious. I lay. I breathe. I close my eyes or leave them open. I smell the exhale of leaves and damp soil.

8868929884_64100e4d2f_o
“Daydreaming” by Eric Borgelt

Today, the idea to write this came to me. I also saw myself planting some grass seed or sod in a little strip of ground we have that the chickens can’t destroy, so I can have my own little daydreaming patch at home. And do you know what that is folks? It’s a dream. A good old-fashioned dream like I haven’t had in years.

I didn’t realize how compressed my days had become until I started breathing some space into them. I lurch from waking to dressed and making breakfast in 5 minutes or less. And on and on through the demands of the day. It’s easy to do with work and kids and bills and Netflix On Demand. There’s little if any space. By default, the days are dense. And they keep stacking up.

But something shifts when I’m laying down with my toes in the turf. My arms and time stretch out. There’s a drifting. And sometimes it’s magical.

This last week I had a Rough Day with the boys and called AJ in a very mature Take Care of Myself moment, “I need to get out of here when you come home,” I said. “Will you tell me what time that will be, so I can hang all my hopes on it?” He agreed, and I pedaled away from our house without an idea of what I was going to do.

Cue laying in grass.

I had three thoughts while I watched the wind tickle the boughs of my favorite redwood tree in the park:

Rice bowl
Cocktails
Sonya

I felt weird about bellying up to a bar for a cocktail all by myself. And I didn’t have Sonya’s number. So I just started riding towards the rice bowl place. Just before I got there, I saw Sonya’s husband standing outside their parked van, and I raised my arm and eyebrows in a “What the Eff?!” Then, who but Sonya emerged from the van, and I explained how I had actually just manifested her.

She came with me to get a rice bowl. It was great. And then we walked back to her house where her husband made me a gin and tonic. Also great. And just what I needed.

Check check and check.

The thing about daydreaming is that it’s receptive. And that’s a stark and medicinal shift away from the monotony of productivity.

To be open to receiving whatever drifts down.

That’s where dreams come from.

My wish about my dreams

I’m gonna fly in the face of the wives’ tale and tell you the wish I wished yesterday as Jo and I blew out my birthday candles together. It was this: for my dreams to come back.

Is it motherhood or just good, old fashioned adulthood that clamped a lid down on the dream-spinning version of myself? That 20-something gal who would hatch a plan like working on organic farms in New Zealand and then incubate it till the shell broke open and she found herself standing, dazed, on a South Island beach with a backpack and some mix tapes.

At this very minute, sitting at my dining room table while Cal naps, these are my dreams:

  • To save some money when Jo starts going to public school in the fall
  • That Calvin will start sleeping well enough that we can move him out of our room and into Jo’s
  • A flexible career that will pay me well for my emotional intelligence, creativity and people skills
  • To be at peace with my squishy belly

Ok, so I’ve got some dreams. But I miss the sexy ones. The ones that feel more like an adventure and less like a project.

Growing older feels like a steady process of pruning my dreams back to reality. Consolidating the fruit to where I can reach it–a weekend in the city with AJ, a flexible, part time job, extra money in the bank.

11008450_10155271949410705_8235765117984546587_n

And if I tug on that thread just a little bit more, I arrive at this: It’s seeming like my life is going to be a little less grand and important and special than I originally thought.

In my adolescence, I genuinely believed I had a strong shot at becoming President of the United States. In high school, I had high-powered business woman fantasies (with images heavily stocked from the movie Baby Boom (!) which greatly impacted my life in other ways). College was all activism–ending hunger and homelessness, liberating sweatshop workers, reforming corporations. I felt reasonably sure I could save the world in a very high-profile way.

At the ripe old age of 36, I’ve scaled back. I don’t expect that greatness and achievement anymore. There’s relief in letting it go. And also defeat.

I try to invest my time, energy and dreaming in smaller, daily things that make me happy: sitting in the sun watching the chickens preen, climbing trees with Jo, a really good strawberry.

But I can’t help but wonder if I’ve pruned back too far.

In the name of realism, have I cut back parts of myself that would have grown into something inspiring and brilliant?

Is it having kids, or risk of failure, pessimism, laziness–what? that keeps me from stretching out into that ambitious dream space again?

Why complaining makes me happy

I’m an excellent faker.

Surface, social me is deeply devoted to lots of smiling and genuine, Mid-Western eye-contact. My interactions are all unconsciously coated in a thick glaze of I-exist-to-make-sure-you-feel-fantastic. I exude happy and approachable, regardless of my internal state.

During sophomore year of college, a friend formed the outline of a rectangle with his thumbs and pointer fingers, and he looked at my face through the frame. “You? Depressed?” Then he shook his head in disbelief. Actually, I was horribly depressed that endless, grey winter. I flirted briefly with the thought of suicide and wept in a bathroom stall.

During that time and every time I’ve felt bad since, the thing that makes me feel most crazy, most removed and despondent and numb and afraid is when people think I’m fine.

Thankfully, I don’t feel so misunderstood anymore.

I’ve learned to complain.

I’ve learned to inject some aliveness and truth into the litany of the How Are You’s. Like last week, at my office. “Well, I’m pretty terrible actually. Cal screamed bloody murder about his awful diaper rash most of the night, and I feel like a twitchy Army Vet with PTSD. How are you?” And then I walk on with my coffee cup to my desk. Feeling like a whole, real person.

armsopen
Photo by Oakley Originals

I know this whole idea would be a lot more palatable if I called it “truth-telling” or “venting” or “being honest.” But those are Have A Nice Day words for what I’m actually doing. The thing that helps me feel redeemed and engaged and more happy with my life is complaining.

Since before Christmas, I’ve been in and out of some dark days. Feeling trapped by parenthood, bitterly resentful towards AJ, tired and bored. I fell into a conversation with my mom over our holiday, and she said, “Well, it just seems like things are going really well for you.” I refused to take the Faker Bait. “Actually, things aren’t going that well. I’ve been having a really hard time.” And then I cleared out every gripe I could find, and laid them all at her feet, like evidence. It was cathartic to set things straight. With my angry little pile of troubles taking up some space between us, I felt known by my mother. It felt good.

So why does complaining, that life-giving art that I’ve recently discovered, get such a bad rap?

Duh. Everyone hates a complainer. Even I hate a complainer.

But there’s a difference between complaining and being a complainer. Being a complainer is looking at the world through sad, complainer glasses, where everything you see is some degree of sucky. Complaining, rather, is sharing about the sucky things that are happening in your life at that moment. You can choose to engage in complaining or not. And the minute you’re done complaining, you can do some reflecting or celebrating or enjoying. That’s the great thing about verbs. And complaining.

There’s also this:

16401-Be-Thankful-And-Stop-Complaininge85e7051eaf4d895b12768fc0022c7ad 9427254342_9dcf102235_o

You need not look far to find dozens of reasons how and why you should commit to your own happiness through gratitude, not sweating the small stuff and looking on the bright side. If we all took these directives to heart, perhaps ours would be a world of happy, appreciative, stress-free, smiling people. I suspect a significant number of them would be secretly crying in bathroom stalls and thinking about suicide between gratitude sessions.

I think gratitude is incredibly helpful. It can re-frame all sorts of things and breathe life into cold, hard places. In our current cultural moment, it’s offered as a cure-all, and like any tool, sometimes it’s not suited for the job. Gratitude is not my go-to choice when I’m strung out on sleep exhaustion, angry at my husband and a good friend asks how I’m doing. Complaining is. That’s because it helps me feel known. It acknowledges my current reality. It takes the air out of my angry, resentful, pitiful place, which frees up some space that can be filled with other things, even–gasp–gratitude.

Gratitude and complaining are different tools for the same job–both have the ability to connect us with our lived experience and people we care about. Depending on the situation, both tools can have the exact opposite effect. Noticing things I’m grateful for when I’m swimming in pitiful seas might give me some perspective and remind me that there are also nice things within reach. Listing gratitudes can also make me feel angry, invisible, patronized, lonely and misunderstood. Same goes for the complaining–it can be alternately liberating or toxic.

Since I’ve been having a pretty crappy time of it, complaining has been my tool of choice. And it’s done quite a job. Again and again, I’ve found myself basking in a post-complaint glow where I’m lighter, kinder and feel more love and appreciation. Take that, gratitude.

armsopenComplaining
Photo, once again, by Oakley Originals.  Complaining by me.

 

 

Mom plots escape from dishes, toddler

Way back when I only had one child, I got pretty devoted to that setup.

When I saw people with more than one kid or considered my life that way, I would shake my head or cringe or feel nauseous.

My body was quick to react to my worries. How could Distractable Me pay attention to two whole, independent, needy children? I considered a life where I was always chasing something—the conversation I wasn’t having, the connection I wasn’t getting, the moment I was missing. Cringe-worthy indeed.

I was right to be worried.

There is no such thing as fairness or equality in mothering. I don’t love my kids the same way. I don’t pay the same amount of attention to each. Depending on the day, the hour, the phase, I prefer to connect with one and avoid the challenges with the other. And then, when I factor my needs and desires into this crowded picture? Woa, Nelly. Good luck. I spend a very significant amount of time stomping my resentments around: that I don’t get enough time—to write, hang out with AJ in that spontaneous way we used to, check my phone, sleep, not wash dishes…

Kitchen Bride
Kitchen Bride by Barbara Butkus. You may remember this doosey of a photo from the Mommy Asana photo challenge a while back.

The dishes are relentless. I am always aware of them. And no matter how angry or accepting I am, they just rest in their plastic white tub, the crust of egg curling up, tipped at an angle by the glasses and spoons and bottles and soggy zip lock bag beneath them.

Cal is persistent and driven. Also relentless. I try to cook and he clings to my legs, screaming UUUPPPPPP! I ask him to please stop taking spoons out of the drawer and he just starts throwing them onto our tile floor with more joie de vivre. He does all the things that toddlers do to drive parents crazy. And it’s had me avoiding him like the plague.

I’m pissed off. And I just want Cal and the dishes and all this shit that I have to deal with to go away so I can sit in a silent room with a bowl full of grapes.

Since I don’t have a silent room or a bowl full of grapes, I do the next best thing: I pack my day full of friends and errands and watching the kids but not really having to connect with them. I distract myself. By the end of the day, the damned dishes are still leering and Cal is as feisty as hell. It grates at me–knowing that those things are still chasing me and I feel more depleted than ever.

Once again, I’ve painted myself into this tight, bitter corner that I’ve found my way in and out of a zillion times before. I know how to get out–the things that torment me grow smaller and softer when I pay more attention to them, not less. Ugh. It’s such an un-sexy, tedious solution.

If I just did the stupid dishes and built time into our evening to talk to Cal and acknowledge his needs, then I might not be so desperate for the silence or the grapes. Because the dishes would be washed, and Cal might tone down the screaming if he felt I was listening.

The only way out is through.