five morning vignettes

Morning 1:

Bram calls from his room. “Mama!”
Me: “Yes, Bug?”
Bram: “Come here; I am lonely!”
Me: “Come to me, Baby. Your brother is asleep on my arm.”
Bram, after some silence: “Do you remember the tablets??”
Me: “Um, Moses’s tablets? Yes…”
Bram: “They say not to fight.”
Me: “They say to listen to your parents.”
Bram: “They also say to be kind.”
I go to him, smiling. We share the sweetest snuggle.
When Lou wakes up and stumbles in twenty minutes later, Bram looks up at him and says, “I got mama out of bed with the ten commandments.”

Morning 2:

I wake up to the feel of hard, cold metal hitting my head. It is Lou. He is hitting me over the head with the old-fashioned Winnie the Pooh alarm clock I bought for him. The irony of this is not immediately clear to me. As I rub my pounding head, he says sweetly, “Good morning, mama!”

Morning 3:

Bram calls from his room. “Mama!”
Me: “Yes, Bug?”
Bram: “Nothing. I just wanted to be sure of you.”
I go to him.

Morning 4:

Lou is laying behind me. He begins to trace his fingers up and down my back and side to side, in the shape of a cross. He says, “I am giving you a blessing.” Then he whispers, “The Universe Dances.”

Morning 5:

Bram comes in to my room in the early morning and crawls into bed.
After a minute, he asks: “Mama, when is your birthday?”
I say, “July 10th.”
He says, “Okay, what is your favorite animal?”
I think for a minute and say, “Maybe wolves? I like the way they are in community together.”
He says, “Okay. So for your birthday, I’m going to ask Pomo to help me buy you some wolf shorts. Black, fuzzy ones. Does that sound nice?”
“Yes, Bug. Fuzzy wolf shorts sound like the nicest.”

 

let’s hear it for the boy.

Our youngest son is nine and a half months. And I remember this from his brother: nine and a half months bears some new resemblance to personhood.

For awhile, I thought I had loved B sooner than I loved Lou, but that’s not it. It’s that with Bram, I loved motherhood. I was falling in love with motherhood. And that was new. But it still took awhile to understand the canyon-deep love that is parenthood because to love someone canyon-deep, to love them middle-earth-deep, you have to know them. And that takes time.

At three years, that is clear. At three years, loving right down to your child’s marrow is easier than breathing. Easier than breathing.

But now, at nine months with my youngest child, the canyon-deep is coming.

To wit:

Until recently, I was content to surrender Louis to J for the nights: I hold him all day. He is yours now. But now, I climb into bed and reach for his hand. Now all day isn’t enough. Now there is no enough. Already. And instead of thinking why did this take me so long I think how magical must the Bluebird be to have me here already. 

So here’s to second children. Loving them is all about them because the you part is already sorted. Loving them is just as canyon-deep, and seeing them is just as sweet. Maybe sweeter because it’s all about them. Louis did not make me a mother; he made me his mother. His mother, who gets to notice things first (alongside J, of course).

Who gets to know how much he loves foot rubs.

And that he loves to have his hands held.

And that when you say his name he lights up with his whole body, as if the very creator of the universe were holding him close. As if no one has ever felt more loved.

That if you say his name from across a room he will catapult himself towards you.

That he loves to crawl with something in his hand such that whatever it is thuds loudly against the floor with each forward gesture. That the thud of the forward gesture brings him glee.

That a thousand moments a day bring him glee.

That when he drops something he gasps and raises his hands in a gesture of panicked surrender. Of surprise.

That he is infinitely surprisable. That nothing is already expected by this child. That everything is a gift, and so new. That everything is treasured.

Made of gratitude, this one, and delighted to be here. And oh to be near him. To be near him is to be led by his tiny hands to the sweetest of things.

To second children, who bring their own magic in their own time. To my second child, who pulls his mouth to mine and belly-laughs into a kiss. Middle-earth-deep, you joyful soul.

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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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tight-rope lessons

Writing this finds me in our dark, cool bedroom wearing a periodically fussy Louis, listening to the rain, and drinking two ounces of cooking wine (two ounces being all I can handle without falling asleep). I have only been spit up on once since the last time I bathed. If I try, and Lou throws me a quiet spell, I can hear J and Bram cooking together downstairs: from his Learning Tower he is helping to make rice,  and hummus, and falafel, and my favorite Greek dressing for salads. His pomo is patient and never condescending in her lessons. Bram sounds relatively focused, though he would likely rather be playing in the mock “ditch witch” we made with a blanket and some furniture and his tools (a product of an obsession he has formed around a digger we walk past a lot lately). This is a calm moment. This is as serene as life gets with two so far. Relaxation is different than is used to be.

Today, in a stolen moment, I read this. It made me feel a lot of things. It made me want to go to the wine bar with my wife and look into her eyes and occasionally smile. It made me feel a profound sense of gratitude for the community of parents and kiddos in which J and I parent and B and L are kiddos. All these witnesses and someone else to have the words. The just right words. So we can have that precious and irreplaceable I Am Understood feeling. It offered some context.

Everything else I have is in bits and pieces.

We are well and fully co-sleeping. With our other newborns we’ve waited, but this baby was not fooled by the sidecar. We have decent nights and horrid nights. He is so much more still than his brother ever was, but his belly hurts him. This morning, though, I woke up to find Bram standing beside my side of the bed with a book he wanted me to read (he has a side-car mattress to slide into when he wakes in the night, so he must have woken there and run back to his room to find the just-right thing to read). Louis was curled on his side beside me and pulled in tight. It was sweet enough to coax a smile out of my maybe I slept four total and very interrupted hours self. It was all of us together. There was a surprising amount of lightness.

We are in the process of applying to the only preschool in the area that truly feels like the perfect fit for B. And applying for financial aid because we can only afford to send him if half of his tuition is covered. Though I rarely (so rarely) let myself get dragged into the What We Don’t Have woes, it is something to grapple with the fact that because of our choices (and some things that weren’t our choices too, of course) he may not get to do this thing that he’s so sweetly suited to. It is not nothing, the feeling of wanting something for your children that they may not get to have. It is not a crisis, but it is a weight.

We have also outgrown our house. It is small. It is too small. It is also PTSD-laden and we could use a fresh start. But wherever we go we’d like to stay so we can be debt free in thirty years. We could use four bedrooms. We’d love to stay in our neighborhood. We don’t mind something that needs work, but it has to need work in a few years and not tomorrow. We can compromise, but there has to be some little thing that we fall for. It’s hard to know how and when and with what means, exactly. I am sussing out my thoughts about this privileged version of an unprivileged life. I am desperate for some Tom’s and a new quilt for the bed, but the wanting is valuable in and of itself. Because: we can afford to feed our kids. I have beautiful wraps to wear the babies in. We have a reliable car. We are fine, but the tightness is a substantial presence. I want it to serve and not hurt these boys. It is a tight-rope of a lesson: getting it right leads to humility and a right-sized self; getting it wrong, a feeling of deprivation. I am thinking.

Sweet photos of Lou coming. He continues to grow, of course. He is still the littlest: more delicate than his brother ever seemed. More grounded, too, somehow, and less masculine. What sweet mystery is is, getting to know your children. What surprising joy.