the No-Love List of 2014

I’ve had some interesting thoughts about parenthood lately. I will share them here soon and they might be of service.

THIS post, though, is not that. Y’all have read my Love Lists before, right? You know I’m the gratitude-filled Pollyanna type? So I don’t have to be that way now? Because what I’m feeling is a No-Love List. Please tune out now if you only like me for my bright side ways. 

1. People who ring my doorbell multiple times during Bram’s nap. Ring it and HOLD IT. Ring it as if they are bleeding and only I can save them. Ring it not to be saved, but to sell me something. Trust me, evil door-ringers. You don’t want me to answer the door. I practice gentle parenting, which means that even if you manage not to wake my children up I will come at you with all the anger and frustration that I manage, somehow, to suppress during my two-and-a-half year-old’s many meltdowns. Save yourselves. Move on down the road.   

2. When my toddler wastes food. Food is a big deal to me. We buy it from farmers. From our co-op. We spend a lot of time thinking about it and planning for it. We spend WAY MORE MONEY than we possibly have on it, so important do we believe it to be. I spend hours preparing it: almost everything from single ingredients, working to teach Bram in his Learning Tower, paying attention to smells and sights and textures. So when my child decides, as he did today, to smear pesto risotto all over the table and floor (with glee), I am angry. It is a button for me. Don’t waste this food. It will not engender kindness. To wit: today, in one of my lowest parenting moments of all time, I did something petty. I asked Bram to put all of the smeared risotto back on his plate, and when he refused, I ate (with glee) one of the all-fruit rolls he’d chosen as a treat from the farmers market last weekend. I was almost giddy with the revenge of it. He, of course, lost his shit. I gave him the last bite in a moment of parental defeat.   

3. Our cat Iris. Who I should love, so kind is she to my babies. But Gods Help Me, she is high needs in a house that is full of high needs and where too few of those needs are mine. For starters, we recently learned that Bram is highly allergic. And in ongoing-battle-news, her litter must be scooped seventeen times a day to keep her from peeing everywhere. This – for the mama who has two potties to regularly dump, and cloth diapers to constantly change and wash, and a big toilet to occasionally clean – is maddening. Add to that the fact that she is enormous and insists on sleeping ON ME even when at least one and sometimes two children are already there and you’ve got some resentments brewing. Which are followed immediately, of course, by guilt. Because who doesn’t love their cat? I am worse than people who ring doorbells during nap-time.  

4. This job market climate. J is having a tough time and she would be a catch for any of the jobs she’s applied for and it is hard. I can only imagine (and shudder at) what this must be like for families who’ve been laid off. At least we’re treading water. Still. No love for this job climate.  

5. That even now, a year later, I can’t walk down the stairs without remembering the fall. Pretty much every time. And I walk down the stairs a lot. Carrying things – people, laundry, things – a lot. Spatial trauma, friends. I would say it’s for the birds if I didn’t like birds so much.     

6. Drivers who use our street as a cut through and therefore drive about seventy miles an hour past my house. THERE ARE CHILDREN HERE I shout after them as if they possibly care about the nearing-middle-age, unshowered, Crazyville mom they (maybe) glimpse in their rear-view mirror. But slow the hell down, people. Jesus. You’re worse than people who wish their cats away.   

7. The miles between me and some of the people I love with whom I am desperate to share coffee or wine or movie dates. 

8. Yard work. I hate yard work. Seriously, if you live near me and you like yard work: want to trade? I will come clean your house top to bottom every other week if you will come pull these weeds. Or edge. Or something. Just: you come be outside and I’ll come Monica Geller the hell out of your house. Takers?

9. Not being alone with J. I miss her. Or I think I do. We’re coming up on five months without leaving the Bird and it’s getting hard. I’d like to look at my wife. Even when she annoys me I like the look of her. 

10. The news. Always, but right now. I just can’t even. Not and stay present for these little people.  

Pollyanna Epilogue: Bram woke up from nap early as I was beginning to draft this today. He was crying; we’ve been having lots of bad dreams lately. Lou was sleeping on me while I wrote, so he got dragged upstairs and somehow stayed asleep. He somehow stayed asleep when I came back down too, by the way, because he is a saint-baby. Anyway, through his hysteria I finally discerned that Bram wanted “Pomo’s Game” to help calm him down, which means that he wanted me to name his body parts one by one while he tightened all the muscles in them and then relaxed them. Feet, then legs, then belly, then arms. Little meditative soul. Then he took three deep breaths. Really, he counted them. Then I started to sing and he started to cry. “What’s wrong now, Bug?” “I wanted to yawp!!,” our child cries. Seriously, he wanted to do a few of Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp[s].” So we did. We yawped. Four times each. Then he said, “I want ‘Graceland’ now.” Which means Paul Simon. That kid. He’ll knock the No-Love List right out of you. 

the serenity to accept

I have a friend whose daughter is sick. Someday she will need a transplant.

I have an acquaintance, a professor I worked for once, who has to have brain surgery in a few days. She’s the single parent of a little girl.

Tonight I read a story for a class I’m teaching. The class is online, and the reading schedule is set by someone who is not me. Because I am behind, I didn’t read this story before my students had to write about it. It is about a toddler who is killed by a pot of boiling water that he pulls down onto himself. It is very imagistic. I am leveled by the single page I read. I am crushed that because I was not more on top of things, others have these same images in their heads. This includes a student who lost her toddler years ago. I did not warn her because I did not read ahead.

Like every parent before me, I have no fucking idea how to live with the vulnerability of parenthood. Something could happen to my children. On my watch or not. It’s a kind of death every time I let myself know this. It is suffocating.

There’s no lightness here tonight, folks. Just a quiet house and an unquiet mind.

on not being her

We were going through photos the other day looking for evidence of a four-month-old Bram to show him that he used to be his brother’s size. That he once wore these clothes. That it was once thrilling merely that he could roll over.

And I noticed this picture of me.

My beautiful picture

I remember this night. We were leaving for one of the last meetings of our natural childbirth class. I had J take this photo to document these new boots, but as it turns out it’s one of the last photos I have of myself before Bram. Which is to say: before children. Which – notwithstanding EE’s powerful influence over my life – is to say: before motherhood.

We had a little gathering at our house the other day to celebrate an old friend coming back for a visit. A handful of friends from graduate school, professors and fellow students. It was wonderful to see everyone. To learn of their successes, to hear the sharp, smart chatter of academics again. But: I felt out of step. For one thing, my kiddos were here. And it was dinnertime. And then of course bedtime. And I’m not sure if B has ever seen so many people in our living room before. And I felt this expectation – not put on me by my friends, to be clear, but put on me by myself – to try to be pre-kid R. But of course: that wasn’t possible. There was so much to navigate. And even if there wasn’t, I’m not her. It was disorienting. It was a little like having forgotten a language that you used to speak fluently. I felt the significance of my choices – to (mostly) leave academia; to embrace a particular kind of parenthood – more in those hours than I think I have to date. I have no idea how my friends perceived me, but I know that I felt awkward and unintelligible. I thought I could slip back into being that woman up there. I couldn’t.

And that got me thinking about how exactly I’ve changed. What the woman I am today would think of the woman I was just three years back. What she would think of me. Do you ever wonder that about two versions of yourself?

We share plenty of traits, of course. Both versions of me are passionate. Fiercely loyal (though to some different people and priorities now). Committed to growth. Grateful. Appreciative of kindness. And also critical. Exacting. Expecting too much.

But that me was so put together. Or at least I remember her that way. Make-up every day. Hair dyed the perfect[ed] shade of red. Body toned from an adulthood-long commitment to exercise. Clothes selected thoughtfully and artistically.

She was also interesting. Like, I remember stringing together really smart, compelling sentences on the spot when talking about Brilliant Works of Literature. That version of me could teach a class that would knock your socks off. She had an intensity that was, for at least some people, magnetic.

And she was also anxious. She would wake up at 1am to pee and recall something she’d said and worry it to death. Which is funny because that version of me said the right thing way more often than this one does.

I feel proud of that pre-kid me, and able to appreciate her in ways that I couldn’t when I was her. And that’s really cool. But I don’t feel too much like her these days.

Sometimes there’s a self-consciousness that comes along with that. Like when someone takes a picture that features my matronly upper arms (phrase credit: the genius Janeane Garofalo). Or when I hang out with my witty academic friends and feel like I can’t find my footing. Or when I think about the cool scholarly stuff my cohort is doing and I sense it getting away from me and I fear regret.

But I like this version of me in a way I never liked that one when I was busy being her. And that’s cool too. Some of it is no doubt just growing up. As Ani says, “If you’re not getting happier as you get older, you’re fucking up.” And some of it is probably just being too tired to notice all the imperfections. But some of it, I think, is a product of the fact that (as a few friends have said over the last couple of years, much to my immense joy) motherhood suits me.

So –  in honor of the work I hope all women, all people, are doing – here’s a list of some of my favorite things about this version of myself. I’d love to see yours. Or if you don’t show me, I hope you’ll at least write one.

  • I’ve lost the high femme yet I feel more feminine than ever. With a baby on my hip and a toddler at my knee. In no make-up (except red lip gloss because some things should never be abandoned). And hair that’s too thin to grow long but I’m doing it anyway. And Good Will skirts and hand me down shirts that always smell sweated in because it’s been 2.5 years since I washed our clothes in anything but basically lavender water. Even though sometimes the afternoon still finds me in the boxer shorts and t-shirt I slept in the night before. And though my haphazard exercise routine has allowed things to soften. Still. So feminine. It is cool. It makes me regret all those years (and all that money!) I spent on Stuff That Was Supposed To Make Me Feel Like a Woman.
  • I’m a lot less worried about messing up. Of course I still feel icky when I say the wrong thing. Drop balls. Miss deadlines. Hurt people. Mishandle something. But I’m also more forgiving of myself. I was a perfectionist. 4.0 graduate career. I would have been crushed by a “B.” Criticism stung. Now I’m learning how to hear it. Because: yes. I am deeply flawed. I mean, I regularly mishandle things. But I am trying with love. And I believe in kindness.
  • I am learning how to be in the moment. Or more truthfully, my kids are teaching me how to be. Because little kids live there. So to live with (really with) little kids, you have to live there too. And I do this more and more. Today I even napped. And woke up happy because it was okay that missed some hours in the day. Some housework. And when I came back up the stairs from switching the laundry, I could smell the Bergamot in the tea I was brewing and it brought the biggest smile to my face. It was enough. And the quinoa and roasted carrot salad I made last night might have been the most richly pleasurable thing I’ve ever made because I took the time to notice the indulgent color of the spices coming together, and the smell of the roasting vegetables, and the crispness of the cabbage as my knife sliced through it. The moment. It’s nice.
  • I’m learning how little I really need. Pre-kid me had ambitions. Like, you know, for an impressive career, and a bigger house, and the kind of dress and boot collection that someone might envy. And maybe a car of my own. Even post-kid me has longed for these things. But the further into this I go, the more confident I am that most of that stuff is a distraction. We were at a party a few weeks back and someone said they couldn’t have more kids (they have two) because they couldn’t afford them. The camps, they said, and the lessons. Things just don’t look that way to me, and I’m glad. I think having less (but still, to be sure, having enough) has been good for me. None of the things that have brought me the most joy have cost anything. Or maybe the price of a deck of cards or a new toddler puzzle. Bram thinks our backyard is a freaking paradise. Louis has dimples when he smiles really deeply. We have some really good books. We are super rich.

 

inside

When I was in my first year of graduate school, two of my friends had a debate about the difference between being proud and being prideful. It was one of those pedantic arguments early (and sometimes seasoned) scholars have, but it comes in handy as a frame for me from time to time. These last couple of weeks, I’ve used it in thinking about the relationship between motherhood and judgement. I say motherhood not because I think there’s something uniquely primary about parenthood in the feminine, but because there does seem to be something about motherhood that draws out insecurity and judgment. And lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how sad that is and how much we’re losing because of it.

A few months back, a close mom friend posted something to Facebook about the judgement working moms face from stay at home moms. And I remember wondering if I had contributed to this friend feeling judged. And the truth, awful as it is, is that I probably have. Because I am proud of being home with my kids. And so I am vocal. But am I proud or am I prideful? Because there is a difference, right? I hear the difference as this:

I could be proud of something I make sacrifices for and work hard to accomplish or I could pridefully use the fact of that something to feel better about myself.

In the case of being home, it’s mostly the former. But sometimes, sometimes, I know it’s the latter. Which is awful. And which is true. And which, this feels important to say, is a product of all the ways in which I feel not better but less than.

That particular mom gave birth to both of her gorgeous babies at home. She nursed her oldest until she self-weaned, and will no doubt do the same with her youngest. She is a mama-force. Those things make me insecure because my body failed at making babies. And because though I am fiercely devoted to my boys being breastfed, I will never be the one to breastfeed them. But those are points of pride for my friend. And they should be. They are markers of her strength. She is fierce and brave and maternal and beautiful and she should be proud. And – though this isn’t always easy to remember – none of that has anything to do with me.

Another friend and I were talking yesterday about the idea that in being an advocate for breastfeeding, one runs the risk of shaming women who didn’t or don’t. But how, my friend asked, can we avoid shaming while still criticizing the formula industry for convincing women in developing nations that formula is best even when their water supply is unsafe? How might we educate women – work against the decades.old.but.still.prevalent belief that formula is best or just as good – without shaming them for choosing against the breast (or for using formula when for circumstantial reasons the choice wasn’t available to them)? How can breastfeeding moms be proud without being prideful. And how can non-nursing moms hear that pride without feeling shame.

As parents and as people, we all have strengths and weaknesses. I am proud to be home with my babies (a privilege, I know, but also a sacrifice [of money, of a tenure-track career]). I’m proud that we co-sleep, and never yell or use physical discipline, and have never let our children cry it out. I’m proud that J does extended breastfeeding. I feel good about the fact that we eat the way we do, and don’t have a television, and are active. These things matter to me or I wouldn’t do them because they are all a lot of work.

But where I give my kids wonderful amounts of routine, I am not skilled at spontaneity. The spirited, wild, loud, messy, blast of a childhood that some kids have is not in the cards for these boys because neither J nor I would know how to foster it. Though I’m good at organized walks, Bram has to convince me to take him into the backyard because, well, it’s really outdoorsy out there. And frankly dirty. He’s already showing an interest in catching bugs and I am really, really, really not interested in doing that. I also show similar over-analyzing and over-explaining tendencies to Paul Isaacson from E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel, and let’s just say that doesn’t turn out well for his kids.

These are only a few of my limitations as a person and a parent. But this is where I think the judgement&insecurity trope gets especially dangerous. Because I could learn to be outside. Maybe even to enjoy it if I had the right teacher. And what I can’t learn my children can get from other people. Because J and I are not enough for them. If I have any hope of not just seeing my own limitations reflected in them, I need and want a village. But a village can only thrive if our defenses are down. And those defenses run deep. So lately I’ve been wondering if it’s possible that the whole awful Mommy War crisis might really just be an inside job.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say I’m at my library’s storytime and I’m giving Louis a bottle (of pumped milk, of course, but no strangers who see us know this). And a mama who probably gave birth to her children in a yurt and nursed until they self-weaned at six comes in and gives me what I perceive as the old judgy eye for being such a failure as to give my kids formula. I take all of this in in a second: her long flowy skirt and her long flowy hair. The fact that her children have never had a haircut and probably only bathe one a week. All of these facts of her feel like implicit judgements of me. And I admire her. I sound mocking here, but the truth is: I’m jealous. She and her children are clearly one with the universe and my children and I are awkward and out of step. And so what I perceive as her judgement about my bottle feeding is loaded already. But the truth is, maybe she hasn’t even really looked at me. She does have all these free-range children tugging at her hemp skirt; she is busy with her own stuff. But I am judging me because not breastfeeding my own children is a source of shame for me. So I put that on her. Because even worst case scenario – even if she took note of my bottle and assumed it was formula and felt better about herself at my expense – her judgement is not about me. What it is about is all the stuff that got lost in my appraisal of her wild, earthy beauty. Which is to say: all the stuff that makes her feel like a failure. All the stuff she might even think I’m doing better. But all of that becomes invisible the second I take her personally. The second I use her glance as a chance to revisit my own shame.

And the second I do that I make it impossible for her to be a part of my village. My children will never get filthy beyond my comfort zone playing with the goats outside her yurt, which is my loss, and theirs. And her children will never benefit from whatever strength I might have that they lack. Judgement kills the village. But in this case, the judgements were all mine. I will never even know what she really thought when she saw me.

So this is what I’m thinking lately. That it’s maybe sort of kind of possible to end the Mommy Wars just that simply. That it’s an entirely inside job. Because whatever her judgements are or aren’t, I get to decide whether or not to take them personally. And whether to listen past the look or the words that feel judgmental to hear what insecurities she might be propping up in herself. And whether to respond with openness to what she might be getting right, or to shut it down because I’m threatened. Whether to take her strengths as implicit judgements of my weaknesses or as invitations to grow and investigate and rely on others.

I love women. I trust women and I love them. This feeling of competition amongst women has always confused me. But as a mother, it feels especially dangerous. It’s an impossible utopia, I know, but isn’t it nice to dream of a community where kindness – to ourselves and to each other – takes over the spaces where we’ve let insecurity grow? I would like to think of the power I see in other women as interesting and admirable – and maybe even as an invitation – instead of as a threat to my own.

This photo was taken by another mom friend at a party last weekend. There are probably plenty of things that the mom who took this perceives as personal failures, but I am in awe of her. And when she looks at my family, this is what she sees. She doesn’t see all of my limitations, she sees this. Do you see what I mean?

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two and a whole entire half

That’s how old Abram Adrien is. Two and a whole entire half. And Louis will be four months in a handful of days. That’s a third of a year. Seriously. I just counted the months to be sure that math is solid and it is. So my children are growing and – like every other parent in the world – I find this baffling. Here’s a quick update on what this moment looks like.

Bram: This kid changes every day. He is obsessed with “machines”: he watches for real ones out in the world, builds complex, towering ones out of Duplos, creates them with his Imaginets set, and draws them with thick, bold, heavy magic marker strokes. “This is a toucan leaver. It leaves toucans alone.” “This is a grass picker. It picks grass.” The one below “is a cherry picker. It’s helping to build this building.”*

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There are a thousand machines and they do things that clearly need doing. You know, like leaving birds alone. When he made this machine:

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we had this conversation:

Me: What is it?
B: A machine I’ve never seen before.
Me: Cool! What does it do?
B: It picks up cash.
Me: What is cash?
B: A kind of money.
Me: Okay. Can I have one of those machines?
B: Yes!
Me: How much cash will it pick up for me?
B: Five.
Me: Five what?
B: Five monies.

He’s also still recovering from his first stomach bug. This was hell, of course. It started on my birthday (literally: at midnight on my birthday). He vomited On Me for Two Straight Days. Then it came in other ways. He ate almost nothing for the best part of a week. On one of his first nights in the clear, I woke up at midnight to a gagging sound coming from his room. I ran in to find him on his knees leaning against his bed spitting saliva out as if he were vomiting. It has been almost as crushing to watch him process this as it was to watch him suffer from it. As my dear friend MH said, this was when Bram learned that his body can betray him. Oh that lesson, my Bug. You’ll keep learning that one. Even now, when he needs to go to the potty he panics a little and says, “I’m still sick!” It will just about break your heart.

Still, two-and-a-half finds him a bright-eyed, music-loving (he can seriously memorize a song just by hearing it twice), sucessfully-pottying, funny (he says “I am cracking myself up!”), firefly-obsessed, puzzle-mastering, happy, affectionate little boy.

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Little Louis seems also to be thriving. He is still so quick to smile, though he’s stingy with the laughs. He could watch Bram till the sun goes down and he loves (snugs, flirts, nestles) with the abandon of a content four-month-old being. His eyes are so big I’m almost sure his donor was an owl, so we call him Birdie a lot. He is calm but loud as a screech owl when he’s hungry. He’s in the ninth percentile for weight now because my wife is a powerfully devoted pomo. He’s rolling over and grasping things and doing all the stuff that I thought would fail to thrill me this time around but which is just (or at least almost) as delightful. And he’s getting his very first tiny bit of pudge. I have fat baby hopes again, and I am in love.

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For my part, it’s been nice being off-line. If I’m not flying through books again, I’m at least walking with purpose. I am lonesome, but in a way that feels tolerable and interesting and honest. It’s been an emotional couple of weeks (among other things, we sent our beloved friend and sitter Grace off to Cambodia for ten months, which is a great loss), but I’m finding myself deeply engaged and committed to serenity, which is not a concept I’ve thought a lot about in the past. My world feels quieter, more still, more finite, and so there’s been more time in my head. I’m struggling some with what I guess I would describe as a heightened sense of my own failures (though not in a way that feels critical, exactly; more in a way that feels observant). I find friendship a little baffling right now. I feel not quite smart enough, not quite kind enough (despite my best intentions), not quite on the same page as most people.

We were on a walk a couple of days ago with one of our very favorite families, and my very favorite five-year-old, who knows us well and is extremely intelligent, said out of the blue, “J should be Bram’s mama and you should be his pomo because she is his mom.” His mom and I explained that parents get to pick their parental moniker. Later I realized we missed it. I should have said that you don’t have to give birth to be a mom. Because that’s what was tripping him up. That was the question beneath his question. This is how I feel a lot of the time: like I get close to handling things well, but I fall always just a little bit short. Or, on bad days, more short than that. I drop so many balls (but so far no babies). I hurt people without meaning to. I try to explain myself and fail. I’m not sure whether the goal is to strive harder or make peace with the Good Enough.

But alongside my failures, there’s so much fresh basil in my kitchen, and my joyful mom was here on Thursday. The boys’ Aunt Madeline came yesterday and Bram is Mad-Mad-Madly in Love with her. We took Bram to his first baseball game yesterday with some really great friends, and I think we made it through four innings before he felt too overwhelmed to stay. This morning, I walked to get coffee with the boys (Lou is finally really digging being on my back) and then Bram and I shelled pistachios for pesto and peas for paella, and he sorted shell from nut and vegetable so lovingly it made my heart ache (though he ate as many pistachios as he put in the bowl, of course, so it took a hundred hours). We’ve been invited to a pool party this afternoon and another summer gathering tomorrow. The livin’ ain’t exactly easy, but it is (in my dad’s linguistic style) good good.

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* Speaking of cherry pickers, they’re doing some construction at the school near the playground in our neighborhood, so they’ve had crane trucks there for weeks. A few weekends back, we took a walk and found the construction site abandoned and one of the cherry pickers low to the ground. Being my parents’ child, I set Bram in it. Because if you’re Bram that’s pretty much amazing. Then he had an accident. He peed in the cherry picker. A lot. But because the universe is sometimes kind, it immediately started to storm. One of the dear friends we were walking with even had to run home for the car because the rain was too intense to walk in. The cherry picker was old anyway. And by Monday morning, I’m sure the urine was all washed away. What I’m not sure of is whether or not J will ever let me live this story down.

reconceiving indulgence

So one thing about early parenthood: it’s not indulgent. The things we – or at least I – have thought of my whole life as sources of pleasure are either absent or rare. For me, this list includes:

  • sleeping long, interrupted stretches (like through the night. and in in the morning.)
  • spontaneous trips to the movie theater
  • discovering new foodie restaurants, preferably with a friend or two
  • Netflix marathons on rainy weekends
  • long baths with a good book and a glass of wine
  • casual day trips to big, close-by cities
  • hours and hours and hours of coffee shop reading

There’s little space for these pleasures now. And I find – two and a half years in – that I’ve compensated for their absence in ways I’m not wild about.

Because I miss Netflix marathons, I cram in an episode at night when I’d be better served by reading, or even by sleeping. Almost on principle. Because I “deserve” to relax.

Because I don’t get dinner out with friends, or many movie dates, or almost any day trips, I check Facebook fifteen times a day. Craving intimacy. Stimulation. Relaxation.

I think I’m trying to replicate the sense of adult connection that I lack, but the truth is, these things don’t fulfill the part of me that craves indulgence. They don’t make me feel like I’ve spend a rainy day in bed with my wife. They just make me feel more tired. Less whole. Less me. Less spiritual. They are poor substitutes.

I think I’ve used the fact that we’re pretty good at this stuff when it comes to the kids (at the being mostly-present with them, at the no-screen-time, at simplicity-unconditional-attachy parenting) to justify the passive indulgences I permit myself, and that’s allowed those indulgences to remain the things that feel like indulgences.

But that leaves me feeling deprived a lot of the time. Because if it takes going out for drinks, or sleeping in, or binge watching Orange is the New Black to feel like I’m being indulgent, then what is staying home for bathtime and a full hour of bedtime books? What is getting out of bed fast at 6am so your toddler makes it to the potty on time? Deprivation, right?

But of course: no.

Because singing one more Josh Ritter song with Bram’s small body pressed tightly against mine, hearing him ask me to “get fairies” out of his ears, smelling his clean hair, the skin on the back of his neck, feeling his small fingers seek out my hand or my face.

Because wearing Louis through one more nap, the weight of him against my chest and heart, the new milk smell, the kitten-like movements of new muscles stretching beneath soft, snug fabric.

All of this. This is as good as it gets. The undiluted sensory life of parenthood. There is nothing more of the body. Touch and sight and smell. Stretching limbs. Warm skin. And yet. By the seventh song near-whispered in Bram’s darkening room, I want out. I want the cheap checkout. Though the cheap checkout won’t even matter by tomorrow and his small body in that darkening room will matter for as long as I live.

So I’m trying something new. I’m trying to redefine what I perceive as pleasure. What I notice. What makes me feel indulgent. To take Cheap and Easy off the table so that I don’t count away the hours and the minutes of the Really Sensory and Really Intimate and Really Love.

The biggest thing I’ve given up is the internet (including and especially Facebook and excluding only what I need to teach and this blog, the latter because writing is a real pleasure, and because this record matters to me) except on Sundays. Now the computer stays put away. In addition to being UNcybered, this means that instead of iTunes playlists and Pandora, I’m playing our long-neglected CDs. The same songs by the same artist in the same order I’ve heard them in before, for some sixty-five minutes at a stretch. It also means that if I think of something I want to know, I have to write it down and look it up later: I can’t run away to Google Things. And it means a return to cookbooks over internet recipes. I’m also giving up my smart phone. This means, by the way, that I need a clock on the ground floor. Because with no technology, it could pretty much be any time of the day. :)

My hope is that in abandoning some of the faux-indulgences that really mostly leave me feeling empty (aside from the deep sisterly friendships that I believe will develop with even more authenticity if turned over to phones and voices and visits), I’ll do a better job of reveling in the pleasures that are real and huge and come free with this parenting gig. Some of these already happen everyday and just need to be noticed more. Others aren’t happening, but should be. These include, for me:

  • The bodily pleasures described above, and so many more. The belly laugh of the toddler. The wet sound of new baby smiles. The first “mama,” and the thousandth. The warm skin. The weight of babies in my lap and the feel of baby book pages between my fingers. The rich, deep, fleeting, overwhelmingly sensory pleasures of my children as children.
  • Eye contact. Seeing my wife and not a screen during the twenty-five minutes that I somehow maybe get her all to myself.
  • Games. Because we used to play cards or Backgammon and listen to music once the dishes were done. J would drink tea and I would drink wine. Those were good nights. Now I’m not sure I even remember the rules to Backgammon. So: games.
  • Getting to bed earlier and having the energy to read more than three pages before falling asleep. Because reading. Reading.
  • Just sitting and watching my family. Or the rain outside the window with my family. I’ve rarely been “on the computer around Bram,” but I have kept it on in the kitchen, and when he’s playing quietly, I squirrel away in there and zone out via the internet. Instead, I’d rather just be still. Or make some tea. Or even do something productive.
  • Bram’s books. Because they’re getting so much more complex and therefore pleasurable. We’ve always been big, big readers together, but now I’m really diving into the narratives of his books and it is cool. I want to notice.
  • The rituals of brewing coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. Of peeling fruit and watering flowers. The slow, messy pleasure of “mixing an apple pancake batter” (Voyage to the Bunny Planet) with Bram on Sunday mornings. Being in these moments because there’s nothing more indulgent that I could be doing.

So I started this on my birthday last Thursday, and I plan to keep it up until my birthday next year. I’m sure it will evolve. And I have no predictions for what it will yield. I just want to shake the sense that I’m being deprived of something. Because so much of this life I’m living is pleasure, it’s just work too. Which must surely be a sweeter kind of pleasure, right? We’ll see.

summer, this, now

Is it July? I think it might be July. This summer is just disappearing. Our new little squish is somehow fourteen weeks old(!). And his brother is half a month away from two and a half. Time. I’m not sure whose side it’s on.

But as it passes, we all change.

Our little Bramble Bug no longer wears diapers. He just, somehow, doesn’t. We’ve been at the potty learning gig for three weeks and one day and most days we are accident free. He doesn’t even wear a diaper when he naps now, and he’s yet to have an accident in bed. (Universe: please take the previous sentence only as a statement of fact and not as a challenge.) He still sleeps in a diaper at night, but it’s always dry in the morning, so we’ll stop that soon too. For the first two weeks I set a timer or kept track of the time and cajoled him into sitting every thirty minutes. Now I ask him to sit at transitions (if we’re headed out, if we’re starting a meal, before bed), or when he gets a certain look about him (parents of pottying littles: you know the one). But mostly, when he needs to go, he pulls down his shorts and unders and backs himself onto the potty and holds his penis down so that the pee goes in. All by himself. Same thing with poop. Just: does it. We have a potty on each floor and one in the car for travel. It is a new way of living, and getting here hasn’t been simple. But wow. But wow.

Other things Bram is up to these days: Taking on different personas. “I am Mr. Bill.” “I am Harold.” “I am the exhausted conductors.” “Introduce my name to Louis; I am Josh Ritter.” And READING. He likes to read the same books eight hundred million times, memorizing even complex narratives before moving on to something new. Grasping them. He and J just finished his first chapter book: The Trumpet of the Swan. Bram has been Sam Beaver a lot lately. Other recent favorites: Ty’s One Man Band; Peter and the Wolf (he’s read a few different narrative versions and watched [with rapt attention] the entire symphony twice); Journey (an incredible, words-free, contemporary, female-led, adventurous intertext of Harold and the Purple Crayon; The Little Island (which is Virginia Woolf-quality prose poetry, let me tell you); Grandpa Green (a recent addition to our collection from a kind friend);Otis; (which he recites more adorably than I can even handle); and about two dozen others that I’m forgetting. He also loves spatial work, so we do word-rhyming pairing puzzles, thirty piece picture puzzles, Duplos, and Imaginets on the daily. He builds “machines,” “construction sites,” “lawn mowers” (with which he mows the cats, his brother, our floor), and instruments (“this is a new kind of saxophone,” “this is a sort of slide trombone and trumpet,” “I haven’t seen this kind of instrument before”). He also, of course, loves to be outside. To get close to the ground and watch bugs. To splash in even the saddest puddle. To garden with his Bubbie on (beloved) Bubbie Days. He rarely lets me wear him anymore, preferring to walk almost everywhere we go (though sometimes when he’s sad or can’t sleep he still likes to be front wrapped). When he wakes up from naps he wants to snuggle, and though that’s tough as his brother is usually awake and in my arms, we make it happen. The other day, Louis let me lay him on the ground next to us and Bram curled up on my lap and, after a quiet couple of minutes, he said simply, “it’s hard being a big brother.” I waited a minute. “I bet, bug. It’s hard having another baby and not only being your mama.” True Things. And because I read Siblings Without Rivalry when Louis was first born, I left it at that.

But in terms of that other sweet sweet soul: Lou is every bit as quick to smile as B was as a little, though when he’s not smiling, he’s still a Worry Bird. He has an unusual seriousness: he’s far easier to soothe than Bram, and so far he’s a decent sleeper, but he’s deeply watchful, almost vigilant. He loves singing, and lights up when you look him straight in the eye and sing softly. Really, he raises his eyebrows so flirtatiously it’s impossible not to laugh. He loves long hair (thank God mine is finally getting there), and his big brother, and being worn on my front and hip (he still cries when I put him on my back). He doesn’t love bouncing the way B did (thank the lord because my legs are worn out already), but like B he never ever ever wants to be put down. He is a thoughtful, owl-eyed, affectionate Birdie, and we are all head over heels for him.

And then his Pomo. J has had a tough postpartum period. I won’t go into details as they’re hers to share or not share, but since this baby was born she’s spiked regular, sometimes unexplained high fevers, battled stomach problems repeatedly, gotten mastitis twice and plugged ducts three times, and grappled with both postpartum depression and anxiety. And she was up for a great job that didn’t pan out, so she’s struggling there too. She has been and remains a truly amazing parent, but it has been a hard path. I am hopeful that things will ease up for her soon. She deserves some lightness. We both do.

And then there’s me. I’m finding it hard, at a little over three months in, to even get a handle on how I’m feeling. The swings are just unlike anything I’ve ever known before. Yesterday, Lou let me lay him on B’s bed for awhile and Bram and I grabbed a blanket, and crawled under it together, and got nose to nose, and hid from Monster Iris (the cat) for about fifteen minutes. It was hot under there, and his teeth needed to be brushed, and I could smell his skin and his breath and he just stared at me and we laughed and stared and stayed quiet so the Monster wouldn’t find us. It was one of the most intimate moments of my life; I wanted it to last forever. And just today, watching Bram’s little calf muscles jut out as he climbed the steps, so steady on his own. It’s like falling in love every day.

But I’m also a kind of bone tired. Like, I want to cry but it would take too much effort tired. And I believe that this will get easier, believe it in an “Ooh Child,” kind of way, but the Better that comes with Older Kids feels far enough away to be an oasis in a desert right now. I trust it, but it is so far out of reach. And my mom was in a highway car accident leaving our house last week, and though THANK GOD she’s okay, the terror of it has rocked me. And everything just feels relentless. It’s funny because J and my mom were frustrated with how I responded the night after the accident – how much I wanted to control the way we got my mom back home, the way we got her things from her van before they crushed it – but this part of my life feels like the opposite of control All The Time. The Not Having Control is unending. I don’t decide when I wake up, or fall asleep, or pee, or read, or bathe, or eat, or what I eat sometimes. I mean, really, right? Each moment I bound from toddler play to baby needs to baby play to reading to reading it again to cooking to cleaning to feeding someone to dressed for outside to do we need sunscreen? to please don’t let go of my hand when we’re walking to the park to do you need to let out some pee to does Louis need a diaper change to I really need to mow to the laundry is piling up to can I wait one more day to start diaper laundry to can we skip another bath day to if I wrap Lou I’ll be able to give Bram all of my attention but my shoulders ache to trying to remember the words of that song he loves to have I even looked at my wife today? to how can it already be almost midnight again? to how are they already awake again? And on and on and all over again. Relentless. But those moments, like the one under the blanket yesterday? Or Louie’s first attempts at a laugh? I mean, that’s what remains. The next morning, that’s what’s still there. I’m so happy. I’m also sinking. “Yes,” I want to tell myself, as I tell Bram when he’s struggling. “This is hard.” True Things.

One final bright light. A dear and remarkably beautiful friend’s book of poetry is coming out. Watershed by Laura Donnelly.* Somewhere within a collection of poems that I cannot wait to read – a collection of poems each of which is no doubt as graceful and brave and kind as its creator – is one poem I’ve read before. A poem she wrote about Bram coming into the world, and Emmett Ever, and all of it. I’ve only been able to read it twice. Its existence is both an honor and a confusing source of pain. But it exists. It exists because we have the great good fortune to know artists. Which is to be seen. Which is bewildering and so so sweet. Anyway, Watershed. Because I know Laura, I know it is a gift.

*That link will take you to the pre-release order page.

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