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mother of two

A mom divided

I wrote this 2 weeks ago, and tossed it aside. Not for the blog, I thought. Too fragmented and emotional. When I read it again this morning, I  recanted. I should post this. Because it’s fragmented and emotional, and I’m sure some of you will relate.

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I love my new job. And it’s making it harder and easier to be a mom.

I get a break from the incessant demands of home and children. I ride my bike up the hill and sit at a desk and order lunch and walk about freely, where I’d like when I’d like. I’m making money, which feels blissfully good. Being at home has a new sweetness to it.

And

I have so little time to spend with Jo, just the two of us. I’m coming to terms with just how many hits our time together has taken in the last year: baby Cal joining the menagerie, Jo starting pre-school and me starting this job. This time last year, I spent all but 12 hours a week with Jo, traipsing to parks, wrestling him into rest time, gardening and navigating his physical outbursts sometimes with patience and other times by screaming in his face and then being racked with tears and guilt.

Ah yes, there was that. It’s easy to forget from this place, where unlimited time with Jo is the greener pasture. That damned greener pasture—always re-locating to somewhere other than where I am.

It’s such a radical shift to suddenly need to schedule time to hang out with Jo. So much so that I haven’t really done it at all. And I miss him. I miss the team that we used to be—sure, it wasn’t all roses, but he was my sidekick.

I worry that he may be suffering as a result. His crazy dips into extreme hyper-ness, run-by pinching of Cal.

And here’s the truth of it. It’s harder for me to connect with him these days not just because I have less time, but because I just don’t understand him as well.

Somehow, in the past couple of years, he’s slowly morphed from a soft innocent into a hard, fast trickster. And it’s harder for me to like him.

Right around that same time, I gave birth to blonde Cal. Sweet blonde Cal, into whose sweet, chubby softness I can dive for hours and feel an easy bliss.

I’ve been avoiding one child and seeking refuge in the other.

And the less I connect with Jo, the harder it gets. And the stranger he seems to me.

This division of myself between my two sons, this is what I worried about when thinking of having another baby—having to shift my attention between 2.

This gorgeous image was generously shared by Barbara Butkus. Talk about an honest photo. It captures that challenge of toggling attention between multiple kids, no?

Is this just the inevitable course of our relationship? This slowly widening distance over which it feels too hard to bridge?

In having a second child, was I unknowingly signing myself up to lose my closeness with the first?

Navigating the Post Partum Not-So-Blues

Hop on over to Get Born to read today’s post about the ways I’ve been boosting my mood during these first weeks with baby number two.

depressionmania

(And if you don’t know the Get Born blog, you should. Some seriously gutsy moms write there about some seriously gutsy stuff. I’m honored to be among them.)

On being tipsy and resenting children and Eckhart Tolle

My nearly 4-year-old J has really been getting to me lately. God love him, he knows how to push my buttons. (Perhaps anyone’s buttons–because really, who likes being communicated with in a steady stream of whiiiINE?)

I’ve found myself wishing, at times, that I had a different child. One less kinetic, less fiery. One less interested in turning every object into a weapon. I’ll take that boy over there, the one talking to himself while he colors at the table, absorbed. Or that little girl, sitting in her mom’s lap, watching the other kids at the park.

As luck would have it, I’ve started leafing through my still unread copy of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I’ve had previous love affairs with Eckhart, but the last few years, I’ve found him so hard to relate to. Does he ever wear colors? Or burst out laughing? Or swear? Is he really a person? Or just a little alien elf, ported down on earth to write unnervingly insightful books and high five Oprah?

Anyhow, I stumbled into this:

Place your attention on feeling the emotion, and check whether your mind is holding on to a grievance pattern such as blame, self-pity, or resentment that is feeding the emotion. If that is the case, it means that you haven’t forgiven. Non-forgiveness is often toward another person or yourself, but it may just as well be toward any situation or condition–past, present, or future– that your mind refuses to accept… Forgiveness is to relinquish your grievance and so to let go of grief. It happens naturally once you realize that your grievance seres no purpose except to strengthen a false sense of self. Forgiveness is to offer no resistance to life–to allow life to live through you…The moment you truly forgive, you have reclaimed your power from the mind. The mind cannot forgive. Only you can. You become present, you enter your body, you feel the vibrant peace and stillness that emanate from Being.

Thank you, Eckhart, for this life-altering little nugget. You may be a strange, impish man with a monotone voice who wears too much beige, but damn, you’re good.

This whole forgiveness thing helps me understand a momentary break from my resentment towards J that I had last night:

After the 35th whiny intonation about why the chalk road I was drawing needed to be longer or orange or “more crazy,” I poured myself a nice big glass of wine.

I had a few sips. And I felt a little less resentment over the fact that I was squatting in our driveway, maintaining a slight jiggle to to keep baby C asleep in the moby wrap, and managing by some feat of flexibility and balance to draw a road for J’s dump trucks and dragons with teeth and spikes.

Halfway through the glass, I was actually enjoying J. Well, first, I was angry because I couldn’t find him, and was ready to enforce the rule about staying on our side of the white fence. And then I saw a rustling in the grass on the little planted strip between the sidewalk and the road. There he was, all nestled down, staring up at the golden seed pods arcing into the sky.

JinGrass

I had done the same thing as a child. I followed our black and white manx cat, Dolly, up a grassy hill near our garage and found her in a perfectly soft and matted cove in the tall grass. I crawled in after her, layed down, and had that dreamy feeling of being underwater, light filtering down through the green.

The nest in the grass that J had found was a few feet beyond The White Fence border past which he is not supposed to go unless he asks. But in that moment, in the glow of the wine and my childhood memory, I just connected with him.

As we smiled at each other and talked about how beautiful the grass was, I felt less angry, less resentful, less a beast of burden.

I don’t know how Eckhart would feel about this, but I think the wine helped me forgive. I think the wine helped me get out of my incessant mental chatter stream about all the really good reasons I have to feel resentful towards J. And I was able to just see him. And be there. And see how beautiful he was all nestled down under a grassy sky.

On empathy, and how it helps me and my oldest son

J’s most common response when baby C cries is to furl his brow, put his hands over his ears and start screaming himself.  I started by trying to explain to J how it would actually be in his best interest to stay quiet, since his screaming would probably only make C cry more. That explanation didn’t get much traction.

So I’ve been trying to connect with J about it.

I don’t like it when he cries either. It’s loud, huh?

Empathizing with him like this has been relieving some of my pent up anxiety, and I’ve realized how much J and I have in common here. I really don’t like it either. And if I weren’t commissioned as the caretaker in this scenario, I might be moved to go for the screaming option too.

I’ve also been taking the empathy a step further, thanks to some advice from my dreamy therapist. She recommended that I try and stretch J’s awareness, and point out that while he feels mad right now that C is crying, he also feels love for C sometimes too.

I’ve been saying stuff like this:

I see you’re feeling really angry that C is crying. I don’t like it when he cries either. Remember this morning when you were playing with C and laughing? Isn’t it crazy that you feel angry at him right now and that you also felt all that love this morning?

Lo and behold, when I’m saying this stuff to him, it reminds me of the same thing–to see things in terms of both/and rather than either/or.

Hey there, self, I see that you’re feeling scared that you’ve been up for 2 hours in the middle of the night trying to get C to go to sleep. And now you’re wondering if the decision to have him was a huge mistake. Remember when you were taking a shower the other day and you thought that having C might be the best thing you’ve ever done? Well, both things are true.

Both things are true.

And if I can just take a breath and stick with my life for another 5 minutes or 10 hours or week, the feeling I’m having will change into another and another and another. And they’ll all be true.

Yesterday, J stopped me in my tracks as we were talking again about C’s crying. He said (in that wonderfully casual and earnest way that only he can), “I love him when he’s crying too.”

Well, knock me over and call me Nancy. He gets it. The bigger we make the space, the more feelings can fit in.

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Photo by BugMan50

We are expansive enough to feel upset and loving at the same time. Or frustrated and hopeful. Or scared and excited.

Hopefully I can remember the same thing the next time I’m awake and exhausted in the wee hours.

Small victories for a new mother of 2

1) I had 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep last night. My dearest A. took the first nighttime shift with my new dearest baby C. who is taking a bottle like a champ.

2) Rather than trying for 2 hours to put C. to sleep between the hours of 5 and 7 a.m., I just held him this morning and dozed off and on. In the end, when my dearest 3-and-3-quarters child, J woke up at 7:20 a.m., C was asleep and I was able to put him down and go enjoy a full 45 minutes of morning time with J. It was blissful to have some uninterrupted time with him, all warm and rumpled and bright.

3) At some point in the afternoon, A. said he’d make dinner, an offer that nearly moves me to tears these days, since I’ve been nearly 100% on dinner duty for the past months while A. does things like demolishing bathrooms and putting up siding. I handed both boys off to him, and they all headed for a quick runaround at the park. I went off to do some caulking the bathroom of our rental. The caulking was dreamy. I was unencumbered by the stream of spontaneous toddler and baby demands and able to focus on one single thing—in this case, creating a mildew-free, water tight seal around our renter’s bathtub. And I listened to this episode of This American Life, which I found characteristically soulful, charming and thought-provoking (I just effing love that show). Just as I was finishing up, I felt my own hunger pulling me towards dinner time, so walked back to our place to find it empty.

My mind immediately hopped on the hamster wheel it runs in such situations.

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Photo by Beth L. Alexander

Yep. 6:30. Also known as dinner time. And he offered to cook dinner, and he’s nowhere to be found and now dinner will be late, bedtime will be late and J will get all hopped up and hard to put to sleep. Not to mention that I’m hungry and just want someone else to make dinner for once.

 I figured that they were still at the park and got ready to walk over and go find them in order to pull out all the passive aggressive stops to make sure A knew that I was pissed about the lack of dinner.

But instead, I stopped. I felt myself revving up in this familiar way that I do when I’m tired and frustrated. And I just stopped for a moment. I was hungry. Almost shaky with hunger as only a breastfeeding woman who has been caulking a bathtub can be. And I also remembered for a moment that A. is capable and smart and caring and probably had some reasonable thoughts about why he wasn’t in the kitchen working on dinner.

Instead of marching out to the park to let A. have it, I opened the fridge, found some leftover chicken and a beer and sat down to eat it.

Tonight, I took part in a quiet revolution at my dining table: I was hungry. So I fed myself. And I gave my partner some credit.

A few minutes later, he came home with C sleeping in the sling and J trotting beside him. “Sorry we got held up at the park. I’m just gonna figure out a quick dinner for J.” And he did figure it out. More importantly, I let him. I did not bang around angry to find a quick dinner for J. And when they all walked in the door, wasn’t resentful because I was already eating my dinner and drinking a beer and knowing that A. was a capable, reasonable person.

4) I am now going to stop typing, turn on the white noise, pop in my earplugs and go to sleep alone in this queen sized bed while A. takes another night shift with baby C. Here’s hoping for another 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. But I’ll settle for 3-4.

p.s. I’m posting this at 7:30 am after 6, count them SIX hours of sleep.  And C. is sleeping in our bed with A. And J. is awake but playing in his room quietly.

Small victories.