Saturday, January 30, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
In the retelling of my dream, the part of my subconscious and healthy inner-voice will be played by Peggy O’Mara - pioneer in natural family living, attachment parenting, and founder and editor of Mothering magazine. Peggy started consciously parenting her own young children in a time when breastfeeding was discouraged, birth meant being knocked out, and child rearing was all about spanking and letting babies cry it out.
Also, it must be stated that I have been questioning my abilities and intuitions as a mother lately. Doubt and self-judgement have been my side kicks, and I have struggled a lot over my perceived failures.
Now, on to my dream…
I have a beautiful baby wrapped snugly to my body in a soft sling style baby carrier. I walk into a gorgeous and homey little shop, walls bedecked in homespun yarns, beads and handmade objects. I notice that beyond a baby gate is another area and, wishing to see what is there, I begin to step over the gate. With just one leg over the gate, my sandals slide and I begin to do the splits straddling the baby gate. Peggy O’Mara, who is working on an old typeset machine preparing the next issue of her magazine by hand, comes to my side and offers to help me, but her efforts are not working and I am sliding (much to the impending peril of my lady parts, but for me, more importantly, putting my baby in danger). I tell her to wait, and then I tell her exactly what I need her to do to steady me while I get my feet back under me. She does, and soon I am balanced and able to step over the gate.
We begin to chat. “Love the sling” she says. I tell her I do too, that I have used them for all of my babies. “Breastfeeding?” She asks. I pat Tessa, who stands beside me, on the head. “About 2½ years each.” I smile proudly.
Her questions continue. Homebirth? Life changing. Co-sleeping? We love it. Organic? We are trying, but we could do better. Home school? Montessori is a better fit. Products? Natural, when we can find them and afford them. Parenting? Attachment… not perfect, but dedicated.
I am realizing in those little moments that this "list" she unfolds before me shows me how hard I have been working to be a better mother.
“Girl after my own heart.” She says simply and smiles. Her motherly approval is so nourishing and healing. I feel validated, understood, accepted even with my faults and half-successes.
I wake up.
In the dream, I knew just what I needed; exactly how I could be helped. I sought the protection of my child over my own welfare, and I recited to “her” (myself) all of the things that I have done in the past 13 years to try to become a better mother.
And “she” (I) approved. (I) felt a surprising out-pouring of love and respect.
Somehow it’s nice to know, on some deeply subconscious, dreamy level, what (I) really think of me.
Photo of baby Tessa and I captured by my amazing friend Annmarie Hall, who, by the way, is responsible for nearly all the black and white photos and portraits featured in my posts, including my profile picture.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
We tried having her sleep in Ellie's bed, but she wouldn't stay put. We tried having her sleep with Ethan...
(E and T asleep in the cupboard under the bed)
It worked for a while, but Ethan got tired of her wiggly little legs. I understood. It was the reason she had been banished from our bed.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
We tried nice stories about the dark, flashlights, letting her sleep on our bedroom floor, the works. I began having fantasies about slipping her some benadryl. We were at whit's end.
And I was exhausted.
I decided that I needed to see if maybe, perhaps, she had a choice in all this, or if it was completely beyond her control. Was she just in the habit of waking? Was there something physical that perhaps needed a look-see from a doctor?
I found a carrot. "Forbidden fruit" at our house.
"If you stay in bed all night tonight, tomorrow you can have gum."
"Really? For me? A gum!?"
That night, she stayed in bed all night, accept for one potty-run.
Night two was dreadful. Up 4 times, and my insomnia was in full party mode in between. Over the next week she got sick with croup again, so that was a wash. She spent several nights in bed with me, gasping and coughing through the night, waking constantly in tears. I lay awake and listened to her breathe.
Finally healthy and well, we tried again. With gum.
For the last week, Tessa has earned a piece of gum almost every night. She doesn't even fuss after our little 3AM potty-run when I send her off to bed. "Night, mama" she croons as she toddles off into the dark hall and puts herself back to bed.
I on the other hand, am stuck... I have taken to praying at night as I lay awake in bed for hours. I pray for my pregnant friend's tricky cervix, for my son's science fair eggs (please hatch!), for friends, neighbors, homeless folks I have seen, ...our plumbing. I figure when He gets worn out from hearing me, he will knock me out. I pray for that, too.
So far, it ain't happenin'.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
One night, not long ago, I was having a day. And not the good kind. I finally reached my breaking point and decided that I needed to step out before I freaked out. I grabbed the keys and told Guy I needed to take a drive. I got in the car and cried for several blocks, and planned to really get it all out of my system for at least another mile, when something interrupted me.
A trash pile.
In Sacramento they do this crazy thing that, until I moved here, I had never seen before. Rather than drop things off at a thrift store, folks set furniture and other rather nice household items on the curb with large quantities of trash and yard waste for a garbage pick-up. The understanding is that someone will come along and take it, and they always do. At first I had been reluctant to pick up items because of my husband’s malicious teasing about my tendencies to “dumpster dive”. (OK- yes, I did once actually climb INTO a dumpster to retrieve some antique hardware from an old dresser. And unfortunately I caved to his teasing and abandoned my quest after only two handles were removed. I have since learned I could have paid the utility bill with the ones I left behind). Now I have no shame.
The car stopped automatically (it has been trained to stop at good trash piles). There was a dresser placed to the side of the pile, and it was a real score. All hard wood and plywood, no pressboard or staples. It had a real back on it, and only needed one repair on a drawer slide. Besides needing paint and new hardware, it was great. I dried my tears on my sleeve, climbed out into the night and single handedly wrestled the dresser to the roof of my mini-van. It seemed to reset my brain. My pity fest was over.
Now, several weeks later the dresser had been waiting to be fixed up. Ethan has pestered me daily, “Can I paint? I’ll do the whole thing! I’ll do a really good job!” I hesitated for days.
Finally, yesterday, I gave in to the lesson that must be learned.
He grabbed the paint can and the roller. I stopped him and handed him a wire brush. “This first.” He grumbled. I supervised him as he brushed down the dresser that was really so old that there was no finish left on it, but I needed to make sure he understood the step.
He grabbed the paint again. “Nope,” I said, “Paper first.” I had him lay paper on the floor to protect it. We went along in this way, him rushing to use the roller, me handing him the brush first to do the detail work and corners first, him rushing to use the paint right away, me stopping him to stir it first. I showed him how to load the brush with paint and not ruin it, how to roll with the grain, look for bubbles , not drag the roller, or paint over partially dry paint. I taught him about filling in cracks, watching for drips, and not doing things out of order. Finally, he was painting.
By the time he was done with the first drawer front, he wanted to quit.
I wouldn’t let him. He needed to finish what he had started. I decided to take over the small brush so that he could do the roller. He soon tired of that too. “I thought this was going to be fun, but it’s just a lot of work.” He complained. “Yup!” I agreed.
“You can be done after the first coat” I told him. He was overjoyed and finished his last side. I got busy with other things while the paint dried.
It was a rainy day. He got bored. Soon he came in and announced, “I decided to put another coat of paint on it. It’s looking pretty good, but I think it will need about 2 more coats.” He sounded so professional.
That evening, before heading off to bed he informed me, “Well, I did a few more coats. It looks really good. I think the girls will love it.” He looked so proud. I felt so proud.
It has a few problems, and there is paint on the studio floor now, but it’s not the first. He really did a great job, and he will be proud every time he sees his fine work.
I’m glad for trash piles. A new dresser would never have provided us with this kind of opportunity. I’m glad that I didn’t force him to do the second coat. It means so much more that he did it on his own.
Yes, I had given into the lesson that must be learned. A lesson for me.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Next we held hands into the pet store and looked at fish and cats and talked about hairless rats.
She insisted that we go "one more place". Target was close, so we popped in. We stopped into the bathroom and soon Ellie had people in other stalls giggling as they listened to the chatter-machine in action. And who knew the high powered hand dryer could be so entertaining?
"Can we try on shoes?" She said after we had oogled over the sparkly jewelry.
Three inch stilettos... no problem!
"Ah, and furs, dahling." Very Fancy Nancy-esque. She even began to sport a hoity-toity British accent.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
This morning Guy actually woke me up to help get the kids ready for school. Usually, he gets them started and I come staggering out as the battle over who-gets-to-read-the-cereal-box commences ( I think I prefer the kiss good-morning to the screaming. Wait, think? Duh! Bring on the kisses). He woke me up because we had six, count ‘em, six kids to get ready. Our friend’s kids spent the night while she, a single mom, got to sneak off to the city for a well earned night at the theater. Let me remind you… we have one bathroom. I braced myself for a rough morning.
After getting everyone settled at the kitchen table I sat on the couch and folded laundry, waiting for the munching and slurping to end, and preparing myself for my real job as “The Hurrier”. I am the sideline coach that periodically barks out an update on how soon dad will be leaving ("the bus"). I am also exceptional at reminding kids to brush teeth, grab lunches and pack up homework. They no longer need me to dress them, but I am often employed on these mornings for finding socks and wayward hair brushes. It’s a pretty good gig.
I looked up to see Ethan cross the room, dressed from head to toe, shoes on, backpack in hand and hoodie up (it’s a sensory thing… while I don’t particularly like the grim-reaper look, it filters the sound for him and helps him to cope, so OK). He’s the first child ready to go, and with a half hour to spare. I smile.
Let me take you back to the year 2002. Ethan is in kindergarten. We are trying to get him ready for school. I say we, because it takes four hands – one pair to hold the child down, one to force the clothing on to him. He screams, kicks and flails. It takes several tries to get his pants on far enough to button, and once locked into them, his screaming takes on a whole new kind of agony. It is as though we are dressing him in red ants.
The shirt takes five minutes.
Ah, then we try for shoes. This, before the days of seamless socks and tagless t-shirts. He is dying. Any moment someone is going to call CPS. Finally bound up in his miserable, tagged, seam-ridden, stiff, itchy, and tight straight jacket (oh wait, no, it was just pants and a shirt), we try to get food into the child. I won’t even bother to describe the chore of finding this boy something he would eat. Suffice it to say that what worked great one day or one week, suddenly and inexplicably would NOT work the very next day. It’s all wrong to him. Wrong spoon, wrong bowl, wrong cereal, wrong angle of the chair, wrong angle of the sun through the window, wrong angle of the planet on its axis.
Guy has to go to work. I am abandoned, left to deal with this porcupine of a child…alone.
I wrestle him into a car seat (no coat. Are you kidding? A coat?! Please. We're not amatures here), force the straps on him while he slaps and screams, and then listen to him shrieking the whole 5 miles to school… a small charter school we chose to try to help him…it ain’t helping.
I unload him. He is furious because I don’t let him try to undo the buckle himself after many pinched fingers from previous attempts. He doesn’t want me to lift him out. He doesn’t want to use THIS door. He doesn’t want to have his backpack on.
I peck the top of his head. He slaps the peck off by smacking his head hard.
“Have a good day sweetie.” I say weakly.
Grunt. Stomp. The back of his head, bobbing away atop a stiff, angry little body.
I get in the car and cry halfway home.
Now, here, this morning I sit in my robe, smiling at the boy. His shoelaces are tucked in to the sides of his shoes in a way that makes the ends invisible, but I know that means they are touching the sides of his feet inside the shoe. I smile a little more.
“What?” he smiles back (A smile? Yes, ma’ams and sirs, a smile before 8 AM).
“Doesn’t that bother you? The laces?” He shrugs. I grin again.
“What?!” he smiles harder.
“Oh, I was just thinking about when you were little.”
Time for prayer, then he leans over and gives me a kiss.
“Have a good day mom. Love you.” He slings his backpack onto his shoulder and bounces out the door.
I want to cry, but I don’t need to.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Also, my blog was added to the "Creme de la Creme" list for 2009, my first little honor. Fixing up the blog is like cleaning up the front room for guests, assuming I get a few more. Just don't look in the closets. Or the garage... oh, please! Not the garage!
But alas, the sparkle of the moment fades as, at this very moment Tessa has awakened for her nightly, "I'm scared" routine. And that is a post for another day...
I'm a mama. Even at 1AM. Especially at 1AM.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Every Christmas, Guy and I make each other a special ornament. Each year has been different, but surprisingly on certain years the ornaments we have made for each other have been amazingly similar. I guess we are becoming one of those couples that shares a brain.
This year, I wanted to make Guy an ornament out of Swarovski crystals. Well, when I realized how expensive that would be, something like buck a bead, I settled for mostly glass beads from Michael's. But in the end, the ornament lacked something. It needed a little extra pizazz (make jazz hands here). So I headed for bead Mecca; The Bead Fetish.
Guy had shopping to do as well, so I dumped the girls on him, “I can’t take them to where I’m going. They’ll get into things” I weaseled. I headed off with the boys.
You would have to see this place to appreciate it. Even a photo of it can’t give you the real-deal-feel. An extra dozen tables have been crammed in since the tidy picture was taken, topped with millions of trays of beads from all around the world. The air hangs heavy with sweet incense, Tibetan music crowds your head, and other shoppers with muffin tins in hand crowd the rest of you. Billowing silks hang low from the ceiling almost touching your head, and an odd, loud shopkeeper who is donned as brightly as the room, willingly - but somehow slightly annoyed-ly, helps customers figure out how to make their ideas work, from a table parked right in the middle of the hullabaloo (you’re welcome, Stephanie).
When you go shopping for beads one at a time (as opposed to in packages) the world takes on a whole new focus. You can be there for hours. We only fed the meter for one hour, so we didn’t have the luxury of endless meandering. Besides, the boys were shot the first 15 minutes. “Can we be done? I’m bored!”
I was not finding my “pizazz”, and I was getting frustrated.
(OK. The stage has been set. This is what happened next.)
I didn’t notice her come in, but my attention that had been hyper-focused on pea sized sparklies was refocused by the sudden tone of the shopkeeper’s voice. “Honey,” she said, pretending to be nice but sounding a bit rude, “You need to keep your money in your pocket. Don’t leave it there.” I looked up to see a little black woman, about 50, piled in so many layers of clothes it was clear she was homeless. A thrift-store tag hung against her forehead from under two hats. She looked confused -maybe chemically induced, if you know what I mean.
The shopkeeper persisted, convincing the woman to pick up a wad of bills from the bead bins, and then walked back to a wall to very conspicuously watch the homeless woman’s every move.
Meter. No time for a show. I had to get my pizazz and get outta there to avoid a $30 ticket. I refocused my attention on beads.
“MA’AM!” The shopkeeper suddenly boomed. “Ma’am you can’t...no… you have to… you can’t take your clothes off in here! Ma’am, get dressed or I am going to have to call the police!”
I guess ma’am had gotten overheated, what with all her layers. I took a step back to see around the column that separated us (because, well, heck. I was curious! I mean was she really...???).
Yup. She was. From the waist up. Completely.
Ethan and Adam began to follow my lead, and I cautioned, “Don’t look unless you want an education about what gravity does to older boobies.” I smiled.
They tried not to look, honest they did. They just couldn’t help it. Each in turn stepped back, peeked, and jumped back into place like the warden was coming.
“Ha! I told you!” I laughed softly to them. “Ya’ had to look, didn’t ya?”
“I only saw her back!” Ethan insisted, looking relieved. Adam confirmed this with vigorous head nodding. They were shaken. I couldn’t contain my enjoyment at their reactions.
Apparently in the next few moments there was a scuffle as the woman got dressed, grabbed some strings of beads, shoved them down her top, and ran out of the store. We subsequently learned that, due to her publicly-proven bra-less state, the beads had all dropped to the ground as she fled. The shop was a buzz. This, we were told by a clerk, was the most exciting thing that had ever happened here.
I explained to the boys about the effects of drugs and alcohol on a person’s inhibitions and common sense, and together we shared a moment of feeling rather badly for the little woman. It had been funny, but sort-of not, once we got to talking about it. I was proud of their attitudes. They wished they could somehow help her.
It was so many lessons, all in one.
On Christmas Eve, Guy and I exchanged our ornaments. It turns out, he made me a lovely beaded Christmas tree, with beads from the very same shop. Apparently, except for the girls getting scolded a lot by the loud shopkeeper for touching things, nothing all that exciting happened to him on his trip.
That’s because you have to go shopping with boys.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Uh-oh! Mom, look out! (Crash!)
Guy embellished the snow woman, making her anatomically correct, but Ethan said it was "inappropriate", and performed a reductive surgery (Shhh, don't tell him I told you, he was already mortified that his father would be so... so...INAPPROPRIATE!).
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Walking out of the Woods (the same way I came in)
Sunday, January 3, 2010
New Years day I sat down to a gorgeous-super-delicious turkey “linner” single-handedly prepared by my sweetie, then I kissed my family goodbye, peeled a sobbing Ellie off of my leg with promises of a hurried return, and walked out the door. I was abandoning my post -- leaving Guy with a table full of food, sink full of dirty dishes, and four (two crying) children. I tossed my bag in the car and headed for LA.
It was time to go through my mother’s things. Though mom has been gone eight years, all but her clothes had remained untouched, her perfume on her dresser, her robe on the bathroom hook, her toothbrush in the drawer—until the summer a year and a half ago when my dad fell. In a frantic weekend my sister and I packed boxes, my brothers loaded a truck, and mom’s and dad’s things were put into storage. Dad is now doing pretty well after many moves to find the best fit for him, and it was finally time to bring some of his things out of storage. The rest, well, the rest had to be dealt with.
I went to LA with some anxiety over what it would be like to see mom’s things again. And not knowing how well dad would cope with parting with his precious “stuff” (he was a product of WWII, a time when they saved gum wrappers and string), I imagined my four siblings and I might have a very long couple of days ahead of us.
Regrettably, the first box we opened was from mom’s bathroom vanity. Her dusty perfume bottles and tired little decorations, mixed in with half used containers of shampoo and baby powder. Dad picked up the baby powder and began asking which of us might be able to use it. I took in a deep breath and wanted to go home in that instant. It was just going to be too hard. There were at least 60 boxes, and I feared he would not be able to part with anything. I shut the box and found one filled with old phone cords and outdated computer software and tried again with him, and this time it went better. He let go a little.
We spent hours, one box at a time, sorting out his life. We kids began to chat and laugh and remember moments from our childhoods that were connected to the hundreds of objects we excavated. Dad often looked overwhelmed, but along the way he managed to somehow realize that he couldn’t keep all this STUFF. Candy dishes, mugs, cassette tapes, shoes, Christmas cards, Tupperware… it all started to blur together. Soon I couldn’t even see my mother in these things anymore. A dish I had used a million times as a child, that had always had mom all over it for me, was just a dish. I imagined walking through a thrift store and seeing it on the shelf, then passing right by.
Along the way, though, certain very special objects sang out from their boxes, “Hello! Remember me? Wasn’t I fun? Aren’t I ridiculous? Keep me! Keep me!” We would lift them out with a laugh that caught the attention of the others. “No way!”, “Let me see!”, “I remember that thing!”. The object would be passed around, a “do you remember the time” story on someone’s lips. We would show it to dad, and he would say, “Yard sale.”, and soon someone would smile and say, “If no one else would mind, I’d love to have that.” The funny thing was that for the most part, everyone had a different connection with these things, and no two felt exactly the same about any one object. Even if we did, it was easy to let it go, knowing it would not wind up on a thrift store shelf somewhere.
At first, I didn’t really think I wanted anything but a Thanksgiving decoration I remembered from my childhood, but then I saw a funny little frying pan that brought back a flood. Why that silly thing, I don’t know, but I claimed it, and soon we each had a little collection of things. A few times I would find something that overwhelmed me, and unnoticed by the others I would bite my lip and weep a little, having a “do you remember?” moment all of my own.
When mom’s kitchen boxes were opened, things got almost exciting. We realized aloud that so many of our memories of her were around food. We each kept a browned loaf pan that had made a thousand loaves. I got the mixing bowls that my brother called the “barf bowls”, Kenny took the cookie jar, remembering the million times he’d been caught elbow deep in it. “Listen!” he said, as he rattled the lid and we all smiled. Next, Zack found Mom’s rolling pin, it’s handles bent slightly from the pressure of her hands on them for so many years. It rattled and I said, “Listen!” Zack shook it to reproduce the familiar sound, then rolled it up and down on his belly. In that moment I could hear another sound that wasn’t there; mom’s rings clicking against the wooden handle as she rolled out pie crust. I could see her flour dusted hands and taste the salty dough.
The last boxes went quickly, and we were finished early. We loaded trucks and cars, each of us with our treasures, and closed the storage unit door.
Dad seemed OK. Not great, but OK. His desires for what he would take with him had been very practical; church shoes, hair clippers, an iron, a frying pan, his movies, a rain coat and all of his books. He passed on taking decorations, “My place is small”, he would say. He wanted photos, but not too many of the precious things he had held on to for the past 50 or so years. He seemed resolved. His time for gathering was passed. His needs were simple; food, shelter, warmth, comfort. Books.
We headed home, I with far more than I had either needed or intended to bring. Things.
I pulled into the drive at 1:30 AM, exhausted and relieved. My sweetie was waiting up. Christmas had all been put away while I was gone, and the house looked fresh and open.
The New Year is here, with all it may hold. I usually welcome the New Year with gusto, hoping to shake off dust of the past year and not look back, but I feel differently right now. I feel like holding some of the past for a bit, both mine and my mother’s, and carrying it with me into this New Year.
Here’s to looking forward.