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:


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:
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.


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?


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.


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?


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.



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

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Girl on the Beach

On our first morning of our first family vacation in three years, I woke up almost giddy with excitement at the prospect of finally being able to show Gabby the majesty of the ocean for the first time. A few hours later after we piled ourselves and all of our beach equipment into the car, we pulled into the beach parking lot and started to unload. As with most things in the Cape, the parking lot sat atop a dune and we could look down onto the beach and the ocean from where we parked. Barely able to contain myself, I turned around to lift Gabby up and show her the view of the ocean- and found her instead happily playing in a parking lot puddle, a remnant of the previous day’s rain storms. Already in her bathing suit, she was jumping and splashing away in that (admittedly impressive) puddle, happy as a clam (beach metaphor fully intended).

Me: “Gabby! Let’s go see the ocean!”

Gabby: “Noooooo!”

Me: “But Gabby, it’s the ocean! You’ve never seen it! It’s beautiful!”


I admitted defeat. If you know Gabby, you know there is no "showing this girl the ocean". And after I mourned the loss of my Instagram-perfect photo opportunity of a three year old's first glimpse of something, we made our way clumsily down that dune to the sea shore and took 45 minutes to set up tents and chairs and slather on SPF 8000, set out blankets and towels and beach toys and snacks and diapers and juice boxes and books and sunglasses and settled into our approximately ten minute window of actual ocean-side time that we would have before the baby started wailing and demanded that we return to the beach house for naps and our evening vacation routine of having never ending conversations with the kids about all of the places they have sand stuck.
Making the most of my ten minutes, I sent Nick and the kids down to the water and laid under our beach umbrella feigning relaxation while trying to nurse and keep my baby out of the sun and the sand out of his mouth and my boob out of other people’s vacation photos. The beach was crowded and I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation that the group of young 20-somethings next to us were having in that the-entire-world-is-my-oyster (beach metaphor #2) way that only the young can have. They were discussing summer jobs and life choices and one girl was explaining how she is nannying  part time for a family for the summer, watching the two children while the parents work.
Beach Girl: “They pay me well but it’s hard work. I am so tired when I get home.”
Beach Girl’s Friend: “What do you have to DO?”
Beach Girl: “I have to make the kids food, and feed them, and clean up. Sometimes I have to pick up the house. And I take them to the park and to their classes and activities and I even took them to the doctor once.”
Beach Girl’s Friend: “Wow. It’s like you are their Mom.”
Beach Girl: “I know, right?  It’s like somewhere along the way I became a mother of two. It’s exhausting." (takes a long slug of her beer) "I think I might ask for a raise.”
At this I can’t help but snort, and Luca looks up from nursing, and I flash the entirety of Cape Cod proper. 
I looked over. Beach Girl was sitting there on the beach in a very small bikini with a flat stomach and no stretch marks. She had no children in sight and SHE WAS DRINKING A BEER AT 11:00 IN THE MORNING. She had friends around her who were also available to lounge on the beach and she apparently had the expendable funds to pay for a beautiful designer beach bag and she had no wrinkles or grey hairs and she looked RELAXED, and how could she not? Her entire life was open in front of her and she could spend it having long, lazy conversations in the sunlight about what she wanted to do with it as if what she wanted was all that mattered.
Yeah, she was clearly NOT the mother of anyone.   
And for a second, I was jealous of her. Beach Girl and her dreams and her morning beers reminded me  how there is this whole ocean of life and yet, like Gabby, I often can't even see it for my own puddle. And I can’t spend a lot of time looking for it or at it or worrying about it because whatever is sitting two feet in front of my face at that moment demands all the available free space I have in my brain so that I can feed it or cook it or clean it or teach it or wipe its butt, and more importantly so that I know which one of these things is the thing that actually needs to be done and I don't screw it up. 
Where I too once spent my lazy mornings ruminating on all my possible futures, I now spend them running in these little mom-shaped circles all day, maddeningly doing and undoing these often menial daily tasks and having the same conversations and adjusting my expectations down to the point where surviving is an admirable goal. There are days where I don’t even lift my gaze from this work and I need to remind myself to take a breath, AND I DON'T HAVE TIME TO SEE THE OCEAN RIGHT NOW BECAUSE I AM IN THE PUDDLE, MOMMY. 
But my ten minutes were almost up and we had a dune to climb back up so I tucked my boob back in and shook some of the sand out of my spaces and looked down the beach to find Gabby, who had of course traded her puddle for all of the majesty of the ocean and was gleefully playing that classic game of trying to outrun the waves, squealing with delight EVEN WHEN SHE FAILED. 

When our ten minutes were up and after we packed and I caught my breath from carrying 25 pounds of baby back up that dune, the family piled back into the car I took a little detour, pausing to splash my own way through that (admittedly impressive) puddle. 

And it was awesome. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Adventures in Grief: an Update

It's been eight and a half months since my mom died. That's almost long enough for a whole pregnancy, which is of course how I tend to measure things, and just like growing a new person losing one has its stages. In the beginning, I was numb, sheltered by the cushion of shock and pregnancy. I think when Luca was born a month later and I saw him for the first time was when the first wave of true, devastating sadness hit me: my mother would never know him.

As the shiny newness of my grief rubbed off, things came in waves after that, the sleepless nights of a newborn and that constant post partum feeling of teetering on the precipice of sanity mixed up dangerously with the realization that she was gone. Here is where people took care of me, bringing me food and drink and companionship and watching me closely for signs of falling off of the cliff, and that lent itself to the amazing realization that it was entirely possible to feel intense sadness at the same time as feeling like I was blessed and even, lucky. 

Later as things began to settle, both in terms of the baby and the sadness, and people started to trust that I was maybe going to make it, I found myself needing to process things. Writing and yoga were/are among the better coping mechanisms I tend to employ, and excessive drinking and eating and dramatically falling apart are probably among the less desirable, both for me and for whoever is unlucky enough to witness them. This is also where the true character of some people comes out, and some of the people I thought were my allies or my support system turned on me, unleashing their judgements of my grief in torrents that were so detailed and intimate that it was quite obvious that they had barely been able to hold them back this long. This being my first real experience with tragedy, it came as no surprise to me that I didn't necessarily handle it with enough grace to make everyone happy, yet being judged stings an already vulnerable person arguably more than someone who is strong, and these months were lonely at times. This is when true family (in blood and in friendship) comes in, and there but for the grace of them go I still. 

Which brings us to now, as life picks up speed in that way that it does and we move in a blurry flash of winter into spring to almost-summer and suddenly it's steamy outside and we spend the good evenings gathered around a backyard fire pit. Now my constant struggle is finding a balance between moving on and getting stuck. There are moments when I stay quiet, afraid that I have grossly and tackily overdone this talking about loss thing, and there are other moments where I let go and open my mouth and it all flows out, frightening even myself in its intensity. 

There are weeks now that go by where I am okay, working and making dinners and making beds and wiping butts and even basking in the glow of something a lot like contentment, and then all of the sudden I fall back into it and drink too much and cry and cry and wake up the next morning filled with a hangover's frustration that any progress I thought I was making wasn't actually real. 

Then, even worse than that, there are the nights where I can't sleep and I lie in bed going round and round it all in my head, looking for the logic or even just the FAITH that is left behind in these broken pieces. 

I have also reached the point in my grief where I am now convinced that inevitably, everyone will leave me, and I spend my time asking those closest to me to promise that they will always love me, NO MATTER WHAT, in an especially attractive form of clingy-ness that is no doubt making them reevaluate being on my short list in the first place. My need for stability is incessant and greedy, as I grow terrified of change and fight off panic attacks when Wegmans rearranges their shelves or someone I know gets a new haircut and I have to adjust my new fragile reality. 

I will now often cry in random places, and break into smile in others, feeling her presence. 

Finally, in an especially cliche twist, I am desperately obsessed with mortality and living this goddam life to its fullest and find myself suddenly, overwhelmingly convinced that YES, there is something on the other side, and YES, I know sometimes that she is still there, from feathers to dreams to smelling her perfume and everything in between. 

So, where does that leave me? If you were a judging sort of person (and God help you if you are), you would probably think I am stumbling awkwardly, messily through this even now, and you know what? YOU WOULD BE RIGHT. I'll take full ownership of that and every other mistake I have made here along the way, before I lost my mom and especially after (and there have been LOTS). But I will also politely suggest again, just for the sake of argument, that life is (so very) short, and I am human and (so very) flawed, and while there may be some destination months or years off of me being healthy and healed and okay, for now it's about the journey.  

And, long enough for a pregnancy later, this journey is really still only beginning.   

I wish I looked this good when I fell backwards. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sisyphus in Sweatpants

In the beginning of every yoga class that I teach, I invite everyone to find a comfortable position where they can sit for a few minutes and concentrate on their breath. And as we all settle down into the moment I often wax impromptu about things that sound super philosophical and yogic in my head but probably sound a lot like "blah blah belly breath blah yoga blah some shit about a chakra and what the hell is a chakra anyway blah" to everyone else. What I have been finding myself saying lately goes something a lot like this: "well, guys, the warm weather is finally here and it looks like it might stay and isn't that amazing? And if you are anything like me you are probably very busy in your regular lives doing all of the fresh warm weather things and all of the chores that go along with them and all of the chores you had to do before even when it wasn't warm and your full time job and your part time job and your volunteer work and your civic duty and your personal grooming and your child rearing and your wifely duties and ..." and then I fall over and curl up in the fetal position and sob with the weight of it all because SOMETIMES, IT'S JUST TOO MUCH.  

Sometimes, especially like the last few weeks before school ends. 

Like NOW. 

It didn’t happen all at once. It has been a gradual decline from our idealistic beginning last September  of “This is the year we organize, accomplish, and clean all of the things!” to the October reality of “well, right after I birth this here baby on the bathroom floor” to the January maternity-leave-is-over reality of “well maybe we can catch up on the weekends” to the present reality of “HOLY SHIT.” I am starting to wonder if it is just a law of physics that as the weather gets warmer and the days get longer our lives inevitably expand to fill the space. 

When I was growing up there were all these dogs on my street and every warm evening one would start howling and then it was like some dog-signal went out and all of the dogs in the neighborhood were howling at once and it was loud and weird and a little funny and a little scary all at the same time. I am reminded of that when we pull in the driveway these days after school, as my kids let out squeals and warrior whoops and try to jump out of the still moving vehicle, and the other kids in the neighborhood run alongside the car, all of them seemingly drawn by some deep instinctive need to discard coats and shoes and backpacks and lunch boxes and whoop and roll around in the mud, chasing each other with weapons fashioned out of the sticks of their popsicles and their half-done homework. 

There are perks to this, of course, after I got used to just how dirty little kid feet can get in the backyard and how very resistant they would be to washing them. My house stays a little cleaner on the inside because everyone is outside, and occasionally when the baby stops crying for more than two seconds we can even sit on the rocker on the front porch and watch the older kids run in endless circles and I would burn so many calories vicariously through them that it is almost like doing actual exercise. 

...and then suddenly it is baseball time because our lives are ONE LONG LITTLE LEAGUE GAME that will apparently go on and on every day of every week for the rest of eternity, and at any given moment one child is playing baseball and one husband is coaching baseball I am left responsible for keeping the three others alive and fed. The only baseball games I can make it to are conveniently situated next to a waterfall that my three year old desperately wants to “investigate” by throwing herself down head first, which means IF I am in attendance 95% of my mom-energy is focused on keeping my daughter alive while the other 5% is trying (in vain) to keep my always-nursing baby from flashing my exposed boob to the entire ballpark, and I only realize my baseball-playing child has done something good and baseball-y when the other parents who know what the f is going on start cheering his or her name. And if I am NOT in attendance, which I (shamefully) usually am not, I am laden with the kind of self-inflicted-mom -guilt that could solve all of the modern world's ills if we could only figure out how to harness its power for good instead of evil.

And now after baseball we make a futile effort to meet up at the house to track that red baseball dirt around and shove some inedible thing made out of red dye and nitrates that I have deemed “dinner” into our mouths as fast as humanly possible while being soothed by the melodic crooning of a crying baby who is not excited about making the transition into his crib. After dinner I am only able to convince my kids to shower by promising them chocolate and Legos and ponies and Jedi knightings and all sorts of other things I have no actual intention of delivering, which they figured out eons ago so their sheets (what kind of fool buys white sheets) are also covered in trademark red baseball dirt.

Shorty after "dinner" and "showers" when everyone falls asleep… HA! Kidding! No one falls asleep EVER. They sneak out of their rooms to get in some last minute Popsicles and sibling-beatings and are selfishly unconcerned with the fact that we live in an old house and I am trying to decompress by watching mindless TV directly under their pounding feet. The next few hours are inevitably a delicate ballet of the telltale shaking of the wine in my glass every time their feet again hit the floor and me trying so hard to pretend I don’t hear it until I end up somehow with four kids on the couch with me, the channel changed to something horribly Disney, and the pressing need for a refill.

Many hours later, when all the well-behaved children in all the normal people's houses have long since been slumbering in their clean white sheets, mine finally and by some miracle succumb to the rest that hours of rolling in baseball dirt demands.  In that brief moment of absolute euphoria at my quiet house THAT IS MINE ALL MINE MINE MINE my body responds like an overstimulated kid in a candy shop, doing some crazy thing that looks a lot like a seizure where it tries all at once to move in 45 different directions to do all of the things I can do now,  simultaneously using up all of my remaining energy and leaving me to drop in place and fall asleep in some very attractive position with my mouth hanging open.

I tell you all of this in a very long, drawn out fashion to explain to you why, in so many ways, I am failing. I have dreams too ya know, things I want to do and ways I want to change the world- I want to throw myself into my career or master all of the challenging arm balances in yoga or write a novel or help people birth their babies or change the mother f-ing world for the better or actually do the things I say I will and instead, I am Sisyphus in sweatpants, dropping in place at the end of a day and lamenting all of the things that I half-assed just to make it through alive.  I am a maternal hamster running on my wheel, making lunches and and washing clothes and toilets and feet and running again and again to the grocery store for popsicles and red dye. I am usually exhausted and I ALWAYS look it. 

And yet there in front of my yoga class, curled up in the fetal position, doing something with whatever chakra is supposed to mimic a Xanax, I know deep in my core that under the anxiety and the red baseball dirt there is a steady current of contentment.  And deep inside of that, quiet sometimes but always there, is the kind of complete joy that were it to shine out of my being all of the time would blind everyone I encountered. 

So yes, I have dreams too. Yes, I want to change the world while balancing on my arms and yes, I want to wake up one day fully rested and without a child attached to my body and not look like I spent the night having a Mack truck repeatedly back over me. But for now, I will roll my metaphoric rock up my metaphoric hill and while sometimes I will loudly and dramatically complain, other times I may just burst with gratitude from the joy of being the one honored enough to have this job. 

Eh, at least it is warm out.