Keep Trying

Have you noticed how hard it can be to see your children? To really, truly see them? To look beyond who you want them to be and who you’re afraid they just might (in spite of your best efforts and intentions) turn into. Who they remind you of and the crazy that all of that reminding triggers. And of course there’s all the noise that comes with just using your own eyes, clouded as they are with your particular history. Is it even possible? Sometimes I’m not so sure. There’s just so much that gets in the way, that distorts and disfigures.

Yogi hasn’t been in the world a full four years yet and the ideas I have about who he already is could fill many, many notebooks. The weight of that struck me yesterday at the playground. I was venting with another Mom, outlining (in florid detail) the overwhelming evidence that my children have been brought into this world primarily so that I might suffer. I was going on and on, becoming consumed by my own story when I felt her palm on my shoulder. “I don’t see your boys that way at all.” Simple words, but they stopped me. Gave me pause.

The part of me that was relishing my own victimhood was shouting, Sure, we spend quite a bit of time together, but you don’t know what these guys are like at bath time/bedtime/4am, but I was doing my best not to hear. Listening to all of that wasn’t doing me a bit of good, so I decided instead to try to see what she saw. She shared her impressions and I resisted the urge to correct and amend and refute. The boys that she described were so lovely that I wanted to gather them up immediately and cover them in kisses. And so I did. After the morning we had had I think I surprised them, but they welcomed the change.

The day wasn’t all roses after that, but it was better. Smoother and more hopeful. When the (inevitable) fighting began and I felt that ugly story churning up, I shifted back to the kindness of the morning. Reminded myself to try to see differently. To keep trying.

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The Will to Wear Pants

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There are days when I simply lack the will to wear pants. When my old, faded jeans are a mountain that I cannot climb. I’ve come to understand that this is an oddly reliable indicator of how things are going with the boys. During easy stretches at home, my jeans are just jeans but when one or (more typically) both boys are in some flavor of challenging transition even casual wear threatens my equilibrium. How can I so much as glimpse peace when I’m expected to do things like button and zipper my own clothes? This is another (of the many) reasons that my re-entry into the working world is sure to be entertaining.

During these stretches I rely on pants with elastic waistbands and wicking fabric. Clothing that in a previous life I wore to do things like running and yoga. Life is different now. I’ve found that these very same pants are the perfect companions for chasing boundary-pushers around parks and preparing meals with 30 lb, giggling weights attached to each leg. The small measure of comfort they offer is a balm. You take what you can get.

I’ve been off the real pants train for more than a week now. If history is any indication I expect that I’ll be buttoning my own pants fairly soon. These things wax and wane. I’m looking forward to the wane. For now the Monk is committed to keeping me in comfortable clothing. The little dude is stretching his wings and it’s a raucous affair. He is two in a way that is wholly different from the way Yogi was two. So all the things I thought I knew are irrelevant and useless and beside the point. And while it is technically true that he won’t actually be two for another two weeks, I assure you that this is purely a technicality. The Monk is TWO and denim is too much for me.

All Heart

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There is a canyon as deep as it is wide that separates the land of two children from the dizzying expanse of three or more. A family with one or two children is lovely and mostly manageable and can be contained at almost any table and within any vehicle. When you start adding more than that, words like lovely and manageable take on a different kind of meaning. In every conversation I’ve had with parents of larger families (and there have been many bc if I see you with three or more kids I’m talking to you, full stop) the third child is the tipping point. The game changer. Once you’re outnumbered, adding a few more players to their team matters little. You have a big family.

And that is where I have been for the entirety of the year thus far. Wandering around blindly within that divide. Trying to see my family  more clearly. Grappling with the question of whether we are a family or a BIG family. While my wife has been certain of her desire to live in the land of the big family I’ve not been so sure. This has been an interesting experience for us, this being on separate pages. We’ve been united in our feeling that we’ve got another one in us, however in a (for me) unsettling role switch, my wife has been able to leap right into “Let’s do it!” while I’ve been paralyzed in “But how?”. I’m not talking here of the mechanics of baby-making, but rather the daily concerns of maintaining some level of sanity (how much is enough really?) and fostering a sense of safety and well-being for everyone under our roof. Most of the time I just can’t see it. These are challenging goals in our current configuration as a foursome, so what could that possibly look like should we become five?

We don’t know. We have absolutely no idea.

Of course we don’t.

We didn’t know when we had Yogi and we still didn’t really know when we had the Monk. We’ve been entirely clueless about the whole thing because there IS no way to know. I can’t say that I approve of this particular law of the universe but that matters not at all. It is just true. This family business isn’t rational. It’s all heart.

I can wander around forever and I’m never going to figure it out, so I’ve decided to stop wandering. (See, there are certain decisions that can be made rationally!) I’m finally sitting down. Snuggling in right beside my wife who has been waiting here for me, knowing I would find my way eventually. We’re going to do it. As it happens, our family is a big one.

Intimacy in Casual Friendship: Too Much to Ask?

This having a network thing is not without its challenges. Now that I’m taking my interactions with people who are not my very best friends more seriously, I’m realizing a few things. The first is that my Truth Tourettes extends to others. Or maybe I should say that I wish it did.

What I mean by this is that it drives me crazy when people pretend like everything is fabulous every.single.time you see them. And by “people” I mean fellow stroller-pushers/park visitors/playgroup attenders that I see multiple times in the space of a week. While it might be reasonable to accept the fact that other people are not (technically) required to share their deepest darkest secrets with me, I am chronically unreasonable. At least when it comes to sharing. I have expectations.

My expectations do not require the complete and immediate baring of the soul, but I do expect something. I need it. Something that seems real, something that has a hint of unique authenticity about it. Maybe dimensionality would be a way to describe it. One-dimensional interaction is frankly painful. It’s not just that it’s boring (which it is), but that it’s actually uncomfortable. When you’re holding everything in, you’re withholding yourself. Pulling back. Maintaining a distance. It’s a thing that can be felt.

All of this is made worse when it is clear that this person with the smile duct-taped across her face is miserable. When every non-verbal message within 10 feet is flashing “Danger, Danger!” in bright white lights. It’s (quite) possible that I put more faith in my intuitive ability than I really should, but when it seems clear to me that something is UP with a person, something very usually is. And even if my gut is completely off and everything really is perpetually-sunny-thankyouverymuch, is that any way to live? Perhaps it’s because I can’t even imagine such a life that it strikes me as mind-numbing, but come on. A person needs some valleys. They make the peaks all the higher, don’t they?

All of this to say that I need some intimacy in my friendships and (with important exceptions) I’m finding that hard to come by.  Why all this “Yeah! Everything is Great!!”? Is there a prize for being totally together in all of your social interactions? If that kind of behavior earns you a prize I bet it’s something really vacuous and fake. Something like a lifetime supply of Cheese Puffs. A lose-lose for sure. Not that I’m bitter.

Kindergarten Looms

Last week a friend posted a picture on FaceBook that I can’t stop thinking about. The picture was of a tiny school desk. That desk featured a laminated sticker with a smiling apple and a very familiar name written in tidy teacher hand.

One of Yogi’s friends started kindergarten! Kindergarten! Sure, this is one of Yogi’s older friends, but still. We’re talking school here. Real school. Surely this is all too soon, isn’t it?! I think it is. I keep telling myself that I have a few years before I’m ready for a picture like that, but I’m not sure a few years will be enough. I don’t know how it could be.

Once the initial panic subsided, I went straight to my happy place. My imagination. The place where all scary things can be diffused. Oh how I love it there. No need to think of scary things that are beyond your control when you can just hang out somewhere that you made up your own damn self.

When I wasn’t following the Monk on a tour of all the things that really should be Monkey-proofed in our home, I spent the afternoon enrolling the boys in another kind of school. A hippie, neighborhood commune kind of a school. The kind where a handful of parents with totally complementary skills and personalities get together to figure out the best way to PREPARE OUR CHILDREN FOR LIFE. No big deal, right? I’m thinking small numbers here (bc let’s face it, I can’t handle lots of people), maybe 10 kids. Something like 5-ish families.

This kind of small-group model would eliminate most of my big concerns about homeschooling, at least in the early years. Everyone would get the benefit of learning from different kinds of teachers while remaining in a comfy, cozy social group. The kids could move from house to house throughout the week and of course all of the families would serve healthy, yummy lunches and snacks. Another benefit of our small size would be our ability to get outside the classroom and take trips with relative ease. And then there’s getting outside, as in the out of doors. I’ve heard some frankly harrowing things about the kind of time kids are allowed to “play” in primary school in our area and it worries me. A lot. Of course in our school we’ll be outside as much as possible.

We’ll be playing and learning and eating high quality food and perhaps gardening.

Anybody know of a place? I’ve got 2 (or 3?) years to find it or make it myself.

Another Lesson Learned

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Playing in the sand with some of our peeps.

I’ve read (and taught) the research on “loose ties” and I understand that all sorts of fabulous mental health and wellness outcomes are associated with the size of your social network. I get it in that it makes sense and seems like it should be lots of fun, but I’ve never gotten it on a gut level. I’ve always considered it to be one of those things that’s good for other people. Although I’m quite pleasant in a neighborly smile and wave kind of way, I’ve very rarely been enthusiastic about the idea of having more friends. Two is really my limit and I function pretty well with one. This isn’t because I’m opposed to the idea of other people, it’s more because I’m totally into it. I’m so enamored with my people that it’s hard to imagine maintaining that level of connection with  anything like a network. Daunting really.

Then my life changed. I left my career and began staying home with very young children. It took me quite a long time to realize it, but without my long accustomed network(?) of colleagues and administrative staff and students and random people at the gym, I was lonely. I hadn’t realized that all of that just being friendly added up to something. That it was not just the being a decent human being thing, but also something that offered real connection.

As I became more involved with my Mom group the loneliness began to ease and what has replaced it is something I would never have expected. It’s not just that vague connectedness that came from having a friendly kind of engagement with the world, it’s something else all together. I think it’s what all those social scientists have been going on about. It’s a network. A sense of having people. Maybe even a kind of village.

Yogi and I went to our first gathering with these folks when he was about 8 months old, so it’s been a little over 2 years now. In that time I’ve seen many of these people almost every week. That’s a lot of time together. These women may not be my soul mates, but they are important to me just the same. These are not the kind of intense emotional connections that I’ve previously understood to be real friendships, but I’m understanding (slowly) that these women are my friends. I care about them and I care about their children. I trust them with small intimacies and know for sure that when I’m in need, any number of them will be right there.

It’s really the needing that’s created this shift. I need these women in a way that I’ve never needed anyone before. Before having children I managed my own self just fine thank.you.very.much. I looked towards friendships for interesting conversation and shared understanding and also for entertainment (I do enjoy a quick wit). Given the few spaces available in my dance card, I found my people early and just hung on. And then I moved and a few years later moved again. And before we had gotten our feet under us in our new town, we had Yogi and then the Monk. So, things changed. I changed.

These days I need things like interest in yet another conversation about how everyone is sleeping and new ideas for what the hell you can feed a toddler that is not a goldfish. I need someone who notices when I’ve actually brushed my hair and is thoughtful enough to mention it. I need someone to invite us over to their house because they remember my wife is on call and understand that I am a handful of steps from the deep end. I need that look that says “I totally get it” when my kid loses his sh#t at the park again upon realizing his shovels are not on the stroller.

What I need is kindness and I’m very grateful to say that I get it. More of it then I ever expected really. This awareness is yet another one of the fabulous side effects of motherhood. Before these kids I wasn’t open or vulnerable enough to realize that kindness is everywhere. It’s all around really. It doesn’t have a “witty conversationalist” criteria or even a “has a thing in common with me” requirement. It comes from so many directions and I’m over the moon to finally understand that.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say

In my childhood this phrase was so frequently used that my parents never even said the last six words aloud. Who needed to? Everybody knew the drill. If you weren’t smiling and brimming with good cheer than you could just take your  sorry sad sack self somewhere else. No room for that here.

Long before Yogi came along I knew that wasn’t the tone I wanted to set for my own family. Unfortunately there is a huge distance between knowing what you don’t want to do and understanding the how of doing something different. I didn’t enter parenthood entirely ignorant of how to handle myself with others, I had managed to pick up a few lessons from close relationships and therapy, but I still had almost 20 years of day in, day out training in the art of being Just Fine, Thank You. This is high, high art in my family.

Being Just Fine, Thank You centers on always being pleasant with others and admitting sadness or vulnerability to no one. You handle those kinds of things on your own. Clearly this is a ridiculous altar to kneel at, but those early voices are impossible to un-hear.

Enter Yogi.

All the book reading in the world could not have prepared me for the emotional wild west of toddlerhood. I thought I knew what to expect. I had read that all of this* was entirely normal. And then it became my life. Spending every waking moment with a two-year old is like a crash course in Freudian personality theory. Well, it’s an excellent characterization of one part of the theory at least. It’s all Id, all the time. Of course this is all as it should be, but when you have a gut level belief (despite years of dismantling) that it’s not really OK to be mad (or sad or disappointed or unhappy, you get the idea) than that little Id on two legs is a bomb in the middle of your world.

Much of the last few months has been devoted to learning from the fallout. Yogi is always willing to offer a teachable moment and maddening as those moments may be, that’s a blessing because I’ve got a lot to learn.

I’ve managed to gather a handful of tools so far and with the hope that you might also find them useful I’ll be writing about them in the weeks to come.

 

* This takes many forms. One moment it could be desperate hysterical tears coupled with wild on-the-floor writhing. The very next it might be sudden unexplained and high-volume chanting of “No Mama! No Mama! Nooooooo Mama!”. Or there is always my personal favorite, crumpling in whiny misery on the floor after being offered a cookie. Explain that….

The Rest of the Story

In reading your super thoughtful comments on my last post I realized something important. I left out the biggest obstacle that I’m up against.

ME!!!

As much as it feels comfortable to focus my attention on scheduling challenges and nap times, those things are  nothing in the face of the real problem. They certainly don’t make life easier, but as you guys so rightly pointed out, they can be worked around. What I haven’t found a way to work around is me.

My wife and I have talked the No Mama Time problem to death (sorry honey) and have generated long lists of possible solutions. Unfortunately my brand of crazy makes every.single.one not really workable. A few examples to give you the flavor:

  • Sure, I could let you handle bath and bedtime for both boys, but if I’m not doing that shouldn’t I be (insert chore here)?
  • Yeah, I would love to have a Saturday morning to myself but we only get so much family time and wouldn’t it be better to just spend that time together? At some point they’re not going to want to hang out with us anymore.

I am sure to talk myself out of every idea we can dream up. It’s maddening. There’s a few things that contribute to this kind of crazy. Things like perfectionism, a tendency to see things as very black and white when problem solving about something anxiety-provoking, and worst of all….. A deeply held (seemingly unshakable) belief that it is my duty on this Earth to love and care for people. Unfortunately, I do not count as other people.

Now, don’t let this fool you. I am not saying that I am a lesbian, non-Catholic Mother Theresa. Not by a long shot. I’m saying that I have been known to focus my attention on other people’s needs as a way to avoid my own. I am also saying that down deep I believe that I have to make people love me (hats off to the Enneagram for helping me figure that one out). The way I’ve always done that is by helping everyone else meet their needs while having no needs of my own. Brilliant, don’t you think?

I see now that the only way I was ever able to make this even marginally work was by narrowing the field of people in my life (you can only force so many people to love you after all) and having plenty of time at my disposal. This strategy allowed me to care for a few people well AND still have time to care for myself. Then…we had kids.

As it turns out, having small children is the perfect storm for this kind of crazy. It is IMPOSSIBLE to hang on to this strategy with two kids and a wife. I will never be able to meet everyone’s needs perfectly. It’s not possible and it’s not even best for their own growth. I’m going to have to let this go, but it’s not easy. My head is entirely clear on the matter. My head knows that of course I have needs just like everyone does and that is perfectly as it should be. My head also knows that I am not actually responsible for the way other people feel. My heart feels otherwise. I experience real panic when I think about taking time away to do something wholly for myself. My heart says there is real danger there.

  • What if I get out of the house and so my wife misses her run and she’s out of sorts and unhappy?
  • What if the place looks like a tornado hit and it puts everyone on edge?
  • What if the boys or my wife feel like I’m ignoring them?

It’s clear to anyone with some sense that none of these what-if scenarios are catastrophic, but they can feel that way to me when I’m at a low point.

The bottom line is that I’ve got to get past this. I want it for myself and I want it for my boys. This is not the model of self-care that I want to embody. Also, I’m just getting to old for it. I’ve been peeling back the layers on this one for the last fifteen years and really….enough analysis already. It’s time to trust my family to love me simply bc I’m me and to trust myself enough to acknowledge my own vulnerable human-ness. It’s time to grow up.

***I am happy to report that I’m writing this at the coffee shop while my wife manages Yogi’s nap and Monkey’s who-knows-what. Baby steps, right?

** Also, thanks for wading through all of this with me.

Tis the Season


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In only a months time I will have been at this Stay at Home Mom and Wife business for two and a half years. It’s not a ton of time, but it’s certainly enough to expect yourself to be solidly up to speed, no? I understand that it takes time to get your footing and that it’s unreasonable to expect that everything will be smooth if only you work at it really.really hard, but come on. Two and half years.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about all of this lately. Thinking about what seems to come easily for me and the areas in which I fall short.  How to get better at the things that I just can’t seem to get better at. Tis the season for intention setting after all.

The hardest thing about staying home with young children is that it is E.X.H.A.U.S.T.I.N.G. This of course is hardly news. Along with how vaguely magical it is, this is what people seem to say the most about parenting. What I hadn’t really considered when I was imagining all of this pre-Yogi was that there is really no way to imagine it. Not the magic and not the exhaustion. Two and a half years in, I have much more clarity about both. What I don’t have is a way to manage the latter.

I’m all in with this family and that is precisely where I want to be. My wife, Yogi and Monkey are at the top of my list, but I must find a way to get myself and my needs somewhere in the vicinity. Looking out for myself when someone I love needs something (anything) has never been my strong suit and that is really hurting me now. Little people always need something. Unfortunately, accepting the scraps (of which there are so very few) of my own attention is doing nothing but contributing to my exhaustion. I MUST find a way to carve some space for myself somewhere.

At the moment there is no clear way to do this for a few reasons:

1. Monkey, the self-appointed co-sleeper, begins to stir around 5am and if no one is in bed with him that boy is UP. Translation – mornings are not an option

2. Yogi and Monkey both nap in the afternoon, but not at the same time. Translation – I haven’t had a break at nap time for the last 7 months

3. The only time I can find to wrap up chores from the day is when my wife gets home from work and takes over with the boys. Translation – The small window between her arrival and the beginning of the bedtime routine is usually off the table

4. Two Mommies are really needed for bath and bedtime. Translation – I think you’re getting the hang of this

5. By the time the boys are both in bed, I am spent and it’s the first moment in the day that I can focus on my wife. Translation – I’m doomed

Likely owing to the optimism of the new year, I’m feeling less doomed than usual. There is no objective reason to be optimistic about the situation, but I’m doing it anyway. There must be a way to find some Mama time in all of this and I’m committed to finding it. Anyone have any creative ideas?

 

A Kitty Named “Hello”

It’s Christmas Eve at my house and the boys are in bed. I didn’t say they were asleep bc that would either be untrue or would be jinxing whatever tiny shred of rest to which Monkey may have submitted.  There must have been a moment some weeks back when the boy declared himself a co-sleeper. I missed the memo and certainly never signed any kind of agreement, but none of that matters to Monkey. He refuses to sleep alone and that’s all there is to say about that. Well, that’s hardly true but it’s all there is to say for now.

The point is that Yogi has laid out a Trader Joe’s brownie bar (his favorite) for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer, Monkey has hatched his plan for early entry into Mommy’s bed, my wife has assembled the little red wagon and I’ve stuffed the stockings and arranged everything just-so. When morning comes it will be Christmas.

This has been a jangled up kind of season. Full of the sweetest kind of joy (what is better than a toddler at Christmas?) and what feels like a long line of losses. More than a season really. The whole of the year has had a high-high and low-low sense about it. Either this is true or I’m just not handling things well. Hoping for the former, but fearing the data points to the latter. In spite of the fact that I stay home with kids and no longer “work”, I mailed neither holiday card nor gifts to any of the people on my Christmas list. I managed to create the photo calendar for the grandparents, but that’s about as far as I got. Well, Santa is coming to my house but my wife took care of much of that and Santa keeps it pretty simple around here. In fact, I have yet to create or send a birth announcement for my SEVEN MONTH old son.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m looking forward to the new year. I’m eager for a fresh start. In spite of my sense that I haven’t been at my best for awhile, I have been able to do what is most important. I have loved my boys each and every day. I have rocked and sung and diapered and read and played trucks and colored and engaged in all manner of toddler conversation. I’ve got a lot to learn about balance and keeping all the balls in the air at once, but I do understand priorities. This family and these tiny souls are at the tippy top of my list.

And because I can think of no other way to end this, here’s a cute story from the weekend. We spent Saturday afternoon playing with some friends who have two girls (2 and 4). Yogi loves their house because they have a play kitchen stocked with all kinds of food AND a vacuum. The kids baked and cleaned and even did some Christmas crafts that involved glue sticks (a major win for Yogi). At some point Yogi noticed that one of the girls had a tattoo on her arm and he asked about it. One of the Moms immediately went looking for a tattoo for Yogi, but all she could find was Hello Kitty. Yogi has no idea who Hello Kitty is but he loves cats and was totally in. On the way home we were talking about our visit and what our favorite parts had been when Yogi announced “I have a kitty on my leg. A kitty named Hello”.

I can’t tell you why that is the cutest thing I’ve ever heard, but it is.

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