Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hero's Pose

In my yoga and healing work, I am blessed to get to work sometimes with mamas who have just given birth. There are few times as spiritual and as raw in a woman's life as the first days after she has brought life into this world, and it's not rare to see incredible moments of vulnerability and beautiful human-ness from these women.

Every once in a while--probably on the rare days when I remember to match my socks and put on mascara--these women get the (mistaken) impression that I am wise, and they ask me hard questions. The other day I got one of these questions. A mama had just been through five days (that is not a typo) of labor, had finally delivered a beautiful baby, and had at least one other older child at home. She asked me in her email if I could recommend anything, herbal or the like, that would increase her energy so she could heal and take care of her baby and her other children and do all of the other things that a regular life requires.

When I read her email, it sounded frantic and stressed to me, and I worried for her. In my opinion, she was a superhero, and in hers, she was falling short. But when I walked away for a while and came back to reread it, I realized that her tone was perfectly normal. The frantic and stressed voice had been my own. Her email had hit a nerve with me, because while her circumstances were different, her situation was universal.

This is what we do, isn't it? We try so hard, and want to do so much, and when we fall short of our own expectations, instead of adjusting the expectations, we adjust us. We go to bed later, or set the alarm earlier. We sacrifice our yoga class or our ladies night out and trade it for an extra load of laundry or yet another trip to the grocery store. We become martyrs.

I saw myself doing this recently. Life had gotten stressful and overwhelming, as it does, and I decided that a daily yoga practice was in order. It's healthier than wine or a pint of ice cream in front of Netflix, I reasoned, and I started to set the alarm earlier and earlier. And when it went off, I resented the hell out of it. I would still put my feet to the hardwoods and lay out my mat, but my breathing was stiff and my asana lacked heart. 

I was so damn tired.

Yet even though I was exhausted, when it came time to close the practice and rest in savasana, I would fidget. When I teach yoga I tell my classes often how savasana is the most important part, but lying there on my mat, only feet from my washer and dryer, I would think:

"maybe I should just throw a load of laundry in," or

"if I skip this and unload the dishwasher I can leave for work five minutes earlier," or

"if I got in the shower right now I might even have time to shave my legs!" 

Eventually I would give up trying to find inner peace and instead, I would find a chore.

There's a problem with that though- there will always be another chore. I am yet to find the last one. They keep popping up like a game of whack-a-mole. I fold and put away the last load of laundry and return to find the basket full of that day's clothes, or I clean the kitchen to a shine and five minutes later there are greasy fingerprints at four different heights along each cabinet. I can safely say that there has never been a time in recent memory where I have truly rested, settling onto the couch after a long day, and thought "Whew! That was a tough day. But at least everything is done."

And although I don't know for sure, because I have never been there myself, I also have a nagging suspicion that if by some miracle I did finish it all, it would be sort of anti-climatic. I doubt Ed McMahon would ring my doorbell holding balloons and an oversized check, and that is probably a good thing, as I would not be wearing a bra or decent pants.

So I thought for a long time before I responded to that mom's email. I thought about how I drink too much coffee in the mornings, chasing wakefulness but finding jitteriness instead, and then drink calming tea in the afternoons to bring my heart rate back down to a reasonable level. I thought about the evenings when I sometimes drink too much wine, chasing relaxation, and wake up instead with a headache, needing more coffee and a full repeat of the cycle.  

I thought about one of my lifelines, an ongoing group text that I have on my phone, where we each come sometimes to say things like "is it okay to not shower and spend three hours watching Netflix in my bed on a Saturday afternoon?' and the others of us inevitably answer "YES! Absolutely," giving each other permission to relax easily and freely even when we struggle to give it to ourselves.

One of these texters is a dear friend who has done great things for her health in the last year, setting and achieving amazing fitness goals and inspiring me every step of the way. We walked and talked together the other day, and we agreed how the best gift we can give to our husbands and families is to honor our needs. 

Granted, her needs include running nine miles on a Sunday morning, and mine include pressing the snooze button nine times that same morning, but we're each saying the same thing. While sometimes it can feel selfish or even indulgent to take time for ourselves, no one wants a sad, broken mama. We need to do the things that heal us.

The more I thought about that woman who labored for five days, the more I wanted to tell her what a hero I thought she was, because sometimes it's important to think about how much we have achieved instead of how much we haven't. So I started to look for our heroic acts. Clearly my friend who rises before the sun and pounds the pavement is a hero. But then when I got a message from a friend who was suffering, and I immediately told her she was a hero too, just for getting out of bed each morning when she didn't really feel like she could.

Later, when I shared my chocolate with my whiny four year old, even though I really wanted the whole thing for myself, I was like "Damn. Now I am kind of a hero too."

And if we want to keep saving the world, us heroes have got to rest.

So when I sat down to write that mama back, I said this:

"I know just the thing for you! It's a widely known remedy but still not used enough, and it can heal or at least put a dent in almost anything that ails you. It's free, and anyone can do it, regardless of athletic ability. The miracle remedy, sweet mama, is rest. Give yourself permission to honor your body's needs, because you just came through battle, and you are a hero. "

And then, I took my own advice. I continue to strive for a daily yoga practice, but the practice is evolving. Sometimes I still wake early and do sun salutations until my arms shake and sweat drips onto my mat, and when I lie in savasana on those days, I make myself rest there until my breath stills, even if there is a pile of laundry waiting.

Other days my alarm goes off and I make my way downstairs, unfurl my mat, lie down on it, place a a blanket over my body, and go back to sleep.

Sometimes, THIS is my yoga.
Other days I don't get up at all and the snooze button is my yoga, or a warm bath, or resting in child's pose while one of my babies lays splayed across my back, wiggly and laughing.

I've decided not to feel guilty, no matter how my practice evolves.

After all, I am a hero.







Monday, April 13, 2015

Yoga for Grieving on the Bathroom Floor




Begin lying on the ground on your side in the fetal position where you have landed after collapsing on the bathroom floor.

Curling your knees into your belly, hold on tightly for dear life and imagine yourself as a baby inside your mother's womb, warm and safe--unless your mother is the one you lost, in which case think of anything BUT this.

Bring your hands together in prayer position in front of your heart. If you can no longer find your heart, bring your hands in front of the cold dark space in your chest where your heart used to be.

Rub the palms of your hands together to create some heat, and then press the warm palms flat over your empty heart-space.

Feel your frozen ice-heart shatter into a million tiny sharp fragments that are now traveling the length of your body, cutting into you like slivers.

Exhale the breath you have been holding since before you were lost. Inhale breath in gulps like someone who came dangerously close to drowning in their own tears. 

Invite your breath to steady and deepen, picturing the ice fragments in your body thawing as you melt into a puddle on the bathroom floor.

When you can find the herculean strength it takes to move, gently roll over into child's pose, hips over ankles, pressing your third eye chakra into the cold, dirty tiles. Pretend not to notice how filthy you have let your bathroom become.

Gently rock yourself back and forth, keeping time to the slow rhythm of your own keening wail. The keening can be an internal sound or expressed out loud, depending on your comfort level and whether or not the windows in the bathroom are open and your neighbors are home.

Gently and slowly draw yourself up to hero's pose, seated on your knees, feeling the ache where they press hard into the tiled floor and drawing a sick sense of satisfaction from the pain. Clasp your hands over your mouth when you realize that the wailing sound you thought was in your head is actually coming out of your mouth and causing the neighbor's dogs to howl.

Draw yourself up to standing, using the toilet for support. Direct your attention to your breath and away from sudden homicidal rage towards whomever left the seat up.

Come strongly into mountain pose in front of the sink. Press down through your feet and draw length up the body. Resist the urge to look in the mirror at how alarmingly puffy and blotchy your face is.

Exhale as you hinge at the hips, folding halfway with a flat back into pike pose over the sink. Continue to focus on your breath and away from how deeply in need of a cleaning the sink is.  

Turn on the water and cup your hands together, using the water to wash the tears and snot from your face. Bring some to your mouth and drink deeply of it to combat your pending dehydration.

Wet a washcloth, turn off the water, and turn your body away from the sink as you release into a full forward fold. Press your hips to the ceiling and your feet to the floor and release through the spine as you use the washcloth to wipe up the puddle of tears, snot, and melted-ice-heart from where you were laying on the ground.

Anchoring through the feet, reverse swan dive to standing, lengthening through the body into Mountain pose. Soften the shoulders away from the ears, opening the chest and drawing the hands together once again in front of your heart space.

Stand here in Mountain pose and breathe softly until you can breathe one full round of breath without hiccuping and breaking into ugly-cry.

Open your eyes and the bathroom door.

The grief in me honors the grief in you. 

Namaste.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Standing on My Head and Telling My Story

Six months ago I stopped writing here. Part of that was because I started to run out of ways to keep saying the same things I had been saying for close to a year, but a perhaps bigger part was that I was tired of listening to myself whine, so I could only imagine how tired of me you all were. So I walked away for a while, diverting that time and energy that I would have spent writing into nobler pursuits like binge watching Netflix and trying to decide whether red wine or white pairs better with BBQ potato chips, and whether it was appropriate to have both for breakfast.

Sometimes I make my own kombucha, which is done by fermenting sweet tea. The fermentation causes the kombucha to be effervescent, and every few days you are supposed to unscrew the caps of the bottles to release the pressure or the whole thing will explode.  Like my kombucha, I started to feel full of bubbles when I stopped writing. I was a little worried that I too might explode.

At first I tried to do more yoga to deal with the bubbling, setting the alarm for the hour of "obscenely early" and padding half asleep into the quiet basement. Deciding in my half coma state that what I needed was a change of perspective, I even tried to do a headstand (something I had never done before) kicking my legs up confidently and then promptly falling--hard--onto my face. 

Undeterred, I repeated this approximately 4000 times, getting madder each time, until I had rug burn on my forehead and it hurt to turn my head. It was ridiculous and humbling, but every day I showed up on my mat. Every day I tried again. And then one morning I kicked my legs up, and after a few seconds of waiting for the fall, I realized I was actually STANDING ON MY HEAD, and I was so goddam proud of myself that I squealed and cried a little tear (which rolled the wrong way down my face and settled in my ear). 

After that I tried to spend some time on my head most days. I still fell more often than not--falling doesn't matter as much when you know you can get back up there--but even upside down, the bubbles were still there.

So a few months back I returned to the writing. I have known for a long time that there is a story I need to tell, the one of me and my mother that I couldn't tell before when she was alive because then it was still half her story and not yet mine to tell. After she died, while I walked around in those first few weeks numb and in a daze, I couldn't fully comprehend why people would look at me askew when I would open my mouth and vomit unsolicited and not-edited-for-content story on them. It eventually became clear that in the general interest of trying to preserve whatever relationships I had left, this story was best served to the page rather than force-fed to my loved ones. 

And in that spirit, I started to write the story down. I have maybe 50 pages now, all of it total and complete garbage. My kids have a sweet neighborhood friend who when she is unhappy with something, she says the word "wah."It's not a crying wah, or a whining wah, she simply phonetically says the word in a regular conversational tone. If you could sum up my pages that I have spit out in a mad fury in one word, it would be this "wah." And in them, I cast myself somehow as both martyr and victim, pretty much guaranteeing that anyone who reads it will instantly hate my guts. 

So yeah, writing your story is some humbling work indeed. My brother in law is a successful lawyer, and when we are talking about his job I will often joke that because I have watched a lot of Law and Order over the years, I am "basically a lawyer" too. That, I think, is how I approached writing, except I wasn't kidding: I have read a lot of stories, so of course I can write one. 

I can't. Not even close.

And yet I keep showing up, just like I did with the headstand, sitting down in my chair and word-vomiting onto the page and then coming up for breath a little later to read through what came out and fall on the floor in amazement at how terrible it is.  It's like a self imposed flogging, and all day long I am walking around all flayed and vulnerable and naked and completely ridiculous. 

ALSO, IT IS THE MOST HEALING THING I HAVE EVER DONE. 

Anyway, I tell you all of this for the selfishest of reasons: because I am hopeful that the sharing will help me keep showing up. 

Also, so you can understand why I am flayed and vulnerable and naked and ridiculous most of the time. 

Also, so I can tell you that at some far off point in the future, I am going to be telling you a story.

Consider yourselves warned. 


We all have a story.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Buddha says: Change Diaper, Make Mac and Cheese

Today, I was sad. 

So to cheer myself up, I did what any totally sane person would do: I got my wedding dress out of the attic and tried it on and wore it while I got dinner ready in my kitchen. 

Nothing to see here folks. Just a normal lady making dinner.
It barely fit, 10.5 years and four pregnancies having changed my body in ways that would have terrified all of the innocence right out of 24-year-old-blushing-bride-me, and it was covered in white wine stains and missing half of its buttons from all of the exuberant drinking and dancing we did late into the night on that fateful Valentines Day in 2004, but it still made me feel pretty in a way that my regular evening uniform of bleach stained yoga pants falls short of.

And maybe more importantly, it got me thinking of that younger version of me who wore this dress so earnestly all of those years ago, walking down the world's longest church aisle with the courage only late morning champagne can provide.

What would she think of me, now? This life that I live so messily and love so much and fail so often at, would she be proud? Or embarrassed of me like I am ever so embarrassed of her, mostly because she was so incredibly ignorant (and so incredibly unaware of her ignorance) and now that I am older I am sure that almost everyone who sat in those pews with their disposable cameras and flip phones and wished us well knew how very ignorant I was, making my way down that long aisle with just a touch of buzzed up sass like I knew a damn thing about marriage. 

Well, 24-year-old-blushing-bride-me, let cusp-of-35-year-old-wedding-dress-in-the-kitchen me tell you:

YOU HAVE NO IDEA. 

Walking down this aisle (and yes, I agree, it IS long) is the easy part. And tonight you will dance, and drink, and eat and drink some more and then dance so fiercely that your mom pulls you aside and reminds you that "Elizabeth, YOUR GRANDMOTHER IS HERE,"and tomorrow you will have a headache and a wedding band and a plane trip to Key West to pack for where you will sip more drinks on a big boat and wax philosophical about the perfect kids you will have and the dizzying career heights you will achieve and your collective life will spread in front of you like a goddamn open book and it will be the turning point of your whole life. 


And then you will come home and make babies and have babies and life will stretch out in front of you like one long painful nursing session and your new husband and you will scream in the middle of the night with bags under your eyes that you are still much too young to have about whose turn it is to get the baby, AGAIN. Your cocky swag that carried you down the aisle will be replaced with the absolutely crippling anxiety of new motherhood and you and your marriage will spend long, uncomfortable periods of time teetering on the precipice of not-gonna-make-it. 

But you will make it. 


And you will fall so incredibly, deeply in love with your babies that it will make you fall in love all over again with your husband and the two of you will make this magical life in a big old creaky house that you ridiculously fill with throw pillows that feels like home in a way that nothing else ever has and you will learn to sleep in a big king sized bed with three kids in between you and still, somehow, touch. 


And yet you will break, and often, because having this family is like walking around with five open wounds that make you more vulnerable than you ever were before and hoping that against all odds you stay protected, and of course, you don't. You will ache and fall on your knees on the floor with the force of it and be absolutely, completely convinced that you can never get up again. 

And then you will get up. 

You will change diapers and do laundry and make and buy and clean up food until it feels like you do nothing else, and you will go to your therapist (because yes, you will have a therapist) and say "WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL OF THIS?" and he, a grey haired poet who you would be at a dangerous risk of falling in love with if he didn't insist on talking about feelings all of the damn time will say: "the Buddha would say, chop wood, carry water. So maybe for you, it's change diaper, make mac and cheese." And you will go home that night and after everyone falls asleep and the house is blissfully silent you will suddenly burst into laughter because you actually get it. 


And if you are lucky, 10.5 years from now, you will stand in that kitchen in an old wedding dress, you and your rock of a husband the island in the swirling chaos of children around you, and you will say to him:

"Honey, you know why I am sad today?"

And of course, he doesn't, so you explain:

"I love all of this SO much. And yet I know that it won't always be this way."

And he will say, "so you're sad because you're happy?"

And you will know that he gets you. 




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Maybe it is time.



So often when we lose a loved one to physical illness we hear people talk in admiration about how they were a fighter. My mother was a fighter. I watched her battle her demons for 34 years. In the end, for her, it was a full on WAR, with some battles won along the way but too many lost.
And while she may have felt she was, she was not alone.

When there are so many people fighting this fight and losing, something is broken.

So maybe it’s time to have the dialogue about mental illness. Maybe it’s time to talk about how depression is a hungry thief, chewing at a stolen life in bites that get bigger and bigger until there is nothing recognizable left.  It’s time to talk honestly about how we can try to fill it with alcohol or pills like she did but it is insatiable, always needing more.

Fuck shame. Fuck pride.

Please listen to me here, because this is important:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
If you are struggling, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
If you are addicted, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
If you are loving someone who is struggling or addicted or both, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Two days after my 34th birthday my mother took her own life. She had once been so beautiful, something people kept reminding me of in those first few days after she died. “She lit up a room,” they would say. To which I would wonder, when did that stop? When a person succumbs to depression, does it happen all at once or is it so gradual that you can’t see anything if you stare right at it?

Or is it more like the sun, where if you stare right at it you would go blind?

To those people who in their collective grief now reminded me of who she had once been, sharing stories and remembered moments, I kept asking:

“But what was she like at 34? Was she already broken?”

And then quieter, timidly, the real question: “am I going to be just like her?

It was lost on me in my childhood that my mother was sick, although I am almost certain now that she was already battling heatedly with the depression which eventually bled, in that way it does, into addiction, and eventually into suicide.

As I got older, her disease became louder and harder to ignore.  One particularly heated evening after words (and objects, and fists) were thrown around, I stood in the calm darkness of the kitchen after everyone else was asleep whispering promises to myself to never, ever, ever be like her.

No matter what.


The irony, of course, being that I already was. I was already so very much like her. For years I had looked in the mirror in the morning, still bleary eyed with sleep or the lack thereof, and seen her reflection staring back at me. And it wasn’t just that I had her eyes, her hands or her laugh lines. To a certain extent, I also had her demons. I knew what it was like to struggle. I knew what it was like to numb.


Probably because of this, we spent the next two decades of our relationship disappointing each other relentlessly, at first in loud fits of ugly fury and later, in quiet bouts of painful silence that were somehow so much worse. Like its sibling depression, addiction is greedy and always demanded more of her, leaving the rest of us with less to hold onto.  I eventually had to learn the tragic lesson that loving someone who is no longer themselves is an exercise in self-preservation, only made possible by clear boundaries and distance. 


You would think that all of these years of boundaries and disappointments would soften the blow of loss.


And yet somehow, they do not.


Mourning someone who chooses to die is a broken and disjointed process. At first, there is anger that burns so hot that it threatens to engulf everything it touches. It’s easy to empathize with someone who has lost a loved one, but it is harder to understand why they are angry, and probably for this reason we (the left behind) feel compelled to hide our anger. But these things cannot remain hidden, and leak out, ugly and fierce, bleeding into what is left. Relationships suffer, and I found many in my own life that were not strong enough to survive. There is judgment, and there is shame, and there are people who think that everything you are doing is wrong, and if you are like me they might even post about it on Facebook.    


And only after the anger finishes burning through can you feel the sadness. And at that point the funeral services are long since over and you have eaten through the meals that kind people brought you, and even the people strong and wonderful enough in your life to still be standing by your side have given of themselves everything you feel you can comfortably ask.


I had a therapist tell me years ago as he helped me learn to draw boundaries that it was easier in some ways to mourn a person who had died than it was to mourn the living. Only in grieving this loss has his words made sense, and only after the anger burned off and the edges of the sadness softened.


While my mother was still alive, and in the first few months after her death, my brain needed there to be clear cut lines, our life pre-illness and our life post-illness. These lines, of course, were completely made up, because there was no pre and post anything, there was only my mom, beautiful and vibrant and suffering. Memories I had long ago pushed under the surface to protect myself are now coming back up to me in waves: pictures of us laughing, breaking bread, being a family. I wonder, "Was the sadness under that too?" 


And now I go through the motions of my day, working and playing and feeding and cleaning and kissing and loving, and in the back of my head is this constant voice, “she did this too.”


She carried me and birthed me, nursed me and loved me, as I carried them and birthed them and nurse them and love them.

She gave to me what she could, just as I give to them what I can.

And maybe, she did the best she could do. As I do the best I can.

She struggled.

AS DO I.

In realizing and accepting that is forgiveness and love and understanding and a balm for the sting of the anger. In there also is concern, because in so many ways still yet unfolding, I am her. And I too have struggled before, and I have faltered, and I know I will likely struggle again. After all, not only is it in my past, but it is in my genes. Yet, I AM NOT ALONE. Not only do I have this amazing community of people who come to me with honesty, with struggles and scars of their own, (and defying logic and physics when we combine our burdens, they become lighter), but in a way that I never did when she was alive and sick, I now have my mom. 
But God do I miss her. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

So You Think You Can't Dance



Maria and I have been watching So You Think You Can Dance this summer, inspiring impromptu dance moves on the living room floor from the both of us and making my body ache from using parts of it that haven’t been called on to move that way since I quit dancing when I was a teenager. Back then, when I still was a dancer, there was a word  my ballet teacher used to describe my dancing: unpolished. I was doing the moves, I had the basic idea, but I was unfinished. I lacked the clean edges of a ballerina. I hear her still often in my head as I find myself half-assing so many of my things, just going through the motions and trying to JUST GET SHIT DONE.

In one of the episodes of SYTYCD that we watched a few weeks back Christina Applegate was a guest judge and after a breathtaking classical ballet audition she started out her commentary light heartedly, talking about how she had once been a dancer herself. But she quickly became emotional and even started to cry as she lamented how she had always regretted giving it up. Watching this rather silly emotional display, my always calm Maria looked over at me to see if I saw how ridiculous this lady on TV was being, but I WAS CRYING TOO.

I get it, I wanted to tell Christina. I gave up dancing too.

Well let's be real for a second here here- Christina Applegate may not have fulfilled her dream of being a professional ballerina, but she is doing her crying for it on national television BECAUSE SHE HAPPENS TO BE A RICH AND FAMOUS STAR. I, on the other hand, gave up dancing because I was kinda lazy and not very good at it and it was super hard, and now I am sharing a cry with my imagined celebrity kin from my couch where I happen to be wearing a horrible pair of saggy blue sweat pants that I wear so often that Nick recently coined them my “bluniform.”

A few years back when we were house hunting, Nick and I carted the kids to look at a country house out in the woods. The house had been custom built by the owners themselves and there were all these photo albums laid out documenting the process. The pictures were all of the charming big family sort complete with small kids with hammers in hands. I remember being touched, thinking how including your kids in building your home was a beautiful sentiment. And the house really was quite lovely… until you looked closely and saw that the edges didn’t quite come together in most places and the angles were all just a little off.  It looked pretty much exactly as you would assume a house would look if one had let their small children participate in its construction. The house was full of great intention, and rather sweet, and TOTALLY UNPOLISHED.

I get it, I wanted to tell that house. My angles are a little off too.

I was to ballerinas what that house was to carpentry. 

I have all of these great things: a marriage where we can still stand to be in the same room as each other, a career,  four (!) children and a house that wasn’t built by them, and good people to love me; but there simply isn’t enough time in the day to give each one of those things the time they deserve. Everything gets a little shorted, and my edges end up not quite coming together. I'm not a ballerina, and I'm not even a celebrity judge, and on top of all of that I am wearing really bad sweatpants.

So when Maria looked up at me as I cried along with Christina Applegate, she caught me having a moment for myself and my thwarted dreams and my unpolished life. I comtemplated explaining it all to her: telling her just how many things I have given up and how much I miss and how she needs to be wise and strong and push through and never quit and BE BETTER- but that’s all bullshit, and I know it. 

My life is so unpolished at this point that I can barely see my own reflection in it, yet I am happy.

So instead, we dance through the living room.  



Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mama Tried

Whenever my mother wanted to hurt me, she would tell me I was selfish. In fact, not too long after she died someone close to her wanted to hurt me, and they said “your mother always used to say how selfish you were.” Ouch. Without getting into all of the reasons why someone might want to hurt another person who is grieving, let me just say: it stung.

It has always stung.

Because it is true.

We are born selfish, after all- I look at baby Luca and I see this so clearly. He knows only his own needs and does not hesitate to let us know, and loudly, when they are not being met. He is too young for sympathy (or its older and wiser brother empathy) and he doesn’t care if I am tired or trying to pee because when he needs me, HE NEEDS ME. It doesn’t occur to him to care about my needs because he is a baby and he is not yet wired to care. It’s only later, when our basic needs have been met and we know we are cared for that we can start to take the blinders off and look beyond our immediate selves.

I have been watching empathy start to develop in the older kids, especially in my oldest, a sensitive boy who often gets stuck in the middle of wanting to beat the crap out of his sisters and feeling tremendously guilty for even thinking of doing so. While I have no doubt that someday he will make a life out of serving others, now often I find him choosing instead to swing. It’s a process.

And I see the struggle in us, Nick and I, two people who are STILL trying to make peace with the fact that we now come last in a long list of people whose incessant needs must always be met.

When I was pregnant for the first time, I felt many things, but mixed up in there was RELIEF. This was it, the end of me and only me. No longer would it matter what I looked like, what my house looked like, how successful my career was or what I weighed or what pants size I was wearing or whether or not people liked me or I remembered to pluck my chin hairs because… BABY! I didn’t know at all what motherhood looked like but I had read all of the books and seen all of the Hallmark commercials and I knew that once that baby came out I was going to be so consumed with love and maternal-ness that there wouldn’t be any room anymore for self-doubt or self-love or selfishness or even SELF.

And seeing as I was pretty damn sick of worrying about myself all of the time, I was so ready.

Except it didn’t happen like that. Jack came out and OH GOD THE LOVE but still, right behind that, was me. I still found the time in between diaper changes and nursing sessions to worry about how big my butt had gotten, and whether or not they would still like me at my job once my maternity leave was over. I worried that my friends wouldn’t like me anymore because I always had to say no to hanging out and I worried that my baby wouldn’t like me anymore the few times I actually said yes and did hang out. Of course, incessantly and overwhelmingly, I worried about my baby. Yet somehow, I also still worried about me.

This was disconcerting, to say the least; because I was sure it meant I was doing it all wrong.

So we had another.

Now there were two under two. Surely NOW I would be so consumed with mothering that I would lose myself in the process. And oh yes, life got crazy. There were two cribs and two sizes of diapers and two babies crying in the middle of the night. There were firsts with the first and new firsts with the second and dietary restrictions and surgeries and it was really, really hard. There was marriage strain and yelling but when I’m honest, most of what I yelled was “what about ME??” because again, my pesky selfishness didn’t go away. There was Jack, and there was Maria, and my heart was swollen to bursting with how much they mattered, but I was still there too. And I still worried about my butt and my job and my friends and the fact that I was yelling at my husband all of the time and what if he didn’t love me anymore and holy crap what did we do.

And so we had another.

And for good measure, one more.

And now today there are four separate entities that somehow happen to each simultaneously have the entirety of my heart. And miraculously there is still a husband, and then there is the love I feel for each one of the five’s relationship with the others, so I am not a mathematician but I’m pretty sure that means that there are like a quintillion things that I am worried about before I am even allowed to entertain the idea of worrying about myself.

Confession: I still worry about myself.



Most nights I have this ritual after everyone goes to bed and the house FINALLY falls quiet where I go around and do all of the stupid little shit like straighten the pillows and pick up the toys and wipe away the fingerprints from the glass and the whole time, as I am moving around the house like a zombie because I should have gone to bed myself two hours ago, I am saying in my head “wine TV couch wine TV couch” like it’s a mantra. I am telling myself if I just do EVERYTHING, if I just make sure everything is safely in its place, then I have earned an hour of TV and a glass of wine and the right to plant my butt on the couch. 

As if, at the end of a long day, this is still a thing that must be earned. 

As if keeping four little people alive wasn’t an accomplishment. 

As if staying married for ten years wasn’t an accomplishment. 

As if paying the mortgage wasn’t an accomplishment. 

As if none of it even counts until I have lined up the shoes and wiped off the cooktop and gotten the coffee ready for tomorrow.  

Confession: I love that hour.

I love my husband, and holy crap do I love my kids, but I still love that hour. Like, a lot. A LOT. Sometimes I even let it stretch out into two hours. Sometimes I even let it stretch into two glasses or a bowl of ice cream or BOTH.

And sometimes I turn off the TV and I do nothing but breathe in the silence.

And, yes, sometimes I feel guilty for this. There are so many things I could be doing, things that would better serve my family. I could fold laundry or dust or learn how to bake. I could choose sleep and maybe not wake up in the morning a sleep deprived monster. I could sacrifice myself and my hour and I could choose them. But I don’t.

Because you know what?

 I AM SELFISH.  

And when I don’t take that hour or anything else for myself, when I blink and entire weekends have gone by and I didn’t even shower and there is baby puke crusted to my shirt but the laundry is done and everyone is fed and at least I am accomplished and whole, THAT is when I look around at my family and I know that they appreciate that I have sacrificed myself and my time in order to serve them.

HAHAHAAA.

Just Kidding.

Cause that’s the thing, isn’t it? NO. ONE. CARES. There is no medal ceremony for the martyr moms who don’t find the time to take care of themselves. I get no crown. Trust me when I say that no one will be impressed when you drag yourself out of bed the morning after giving birth on your bathroom floor and start the laundry. Some might even say you’re being stubborn and ridiculous, and you know what?

THEY WOULD BE RIGHT.

I know all too well that time moves dangerously fast and these babies will soon not even BE babies anymore and there will not be a perpetual ring at baby height of greasy fingerprints around my house to ritually wipe up night after night after night. I know someday (if I do a halfway decent job AND we are extraordinarily lucky) these babies will grow into functional adults and then I will be left lonely on my couch with a glass of wine and the remote.

I know that if I don’t take a little time for myself now I will surely inherit a mess then.

I teach yoga and I talk about self-care. I hear myself saying to my kids as they struggle to learn to sympathize and empathize and feel all the feelings and still survive “if you don’t love yourself, you can’t really love anyone else.”

And I think YES.

THIS.

THIS IS WHY I GET MY HOUR.

Again, I am no mathematician, but 23 out of 24 ain’t bad.