The Mother of All Potatoes

I woke up Mother’s Day morning to an empty house.

I’d sent my kids away.  I’d made myself childless on the day meant to celebrate my being their mother (setting aside the original intent of Mother’s Day, of course).

I didn’t realize until it was too late that I’d robbed myself of the dry toast and tepid tea in bed.  I worried that I’d ruined my mother-in-law’s morning by inserting four raucous children.  I thought I’d gained a morning of sleeping in after a fun night out with friends – which was my top priority when babysitting became a possible overnight – but my eyes popped open inexplicably at 6:30 and I was up.

My husband and I had time to uninterruptedly discuss irritating things we’d been avoiding and got agitated. I worked uninterruptedly in the kitchen for almost five hours prepping the brunch to which I’d invited both our mothers, the muscles in my legs that didn’t get enough sleep twitching at me to sit down.

Still, I thought to myself, look at all you’re accomplishing without the children in the house.  This is taking a while without them here; imagine how much it would take with interruptions.  It actually boggled my mind that what I’d thought was a modest menu was taking so long to prep.  Another recent window into what realistic expectations actually are.  But I was doing it.  I wasn’t losing my mind.

And then, as I entered the final stretch, my husband asked about the potatoes.  The potatoes that needed to be scrubbed and chopped and roasted for a decent amount of time on which we were starting to run low.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

As I cleaved into the dense sweet potatoes, feeling the solid thunk of the blade on the board below, the irony did not escape me.  My quintessential metaphor for the struggle of motherhood, right there in front of me on Mother’s Day.  Why the hell was I chopping potatoes on the day already fraught with unrealistic and unfulfilled expectations, sorrow and disappointment, fete tinged with personal feelings of failure?  I just wanted a nice brunch for everyone and be done with it.  Not think – of the magnitude of motherhood and its struggle.

I didn’t let my husband prep the potatoes like I should have – from either a need to control the size of the dice or to see things through whole since I’d prepped every other dish.  But he’d taken over scrubbing the dishes for me – seeing firsthand what a PIA the caked-on pizza crust from two nights earlier was.

I didn’t go all out escapist as I cubed the potatoes as I may have one day.  But I acknowledged that I was stressed by a full morning without kids.  Which meant that I wasn’t just horrible at handling them and life; I needed to start expecting both less and more of myself.

The visceral memory of chopping potatoes may never go away, but this time it was a gentler reminder of checking my tension, setting (actually) realistic goals, asking for help; of actually voicing my needs and accepting the resultant offers of help.

We need to be as gentle with ourselves as we strive to be as mothers.

The Push and Pull of Motherhood

It all starts with a push.  It is through a woman’s labor, a forceful push, that a baby – and her mother – is birthed.

From that point on, it is all about pulling.  A woman, now a mother, pulled in eight thousand different directions a day.  Literally, she is – calls for food, cries for comfort – but that’s not even of what I speak.  I’m speaking of expectation vs. reality; perfection vs. attainability; manic striving vs. sanity.

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From that first push, and from that first pull forward, the unwitting conditioning of our ideas and carrying out of motherhood shape our every decision, every day, our very psyches.

The other day, I kicked my kids out of the kitchen while I made the cupcakes they requested for Easter.  My second oldest had requested red velvet, which we’d never made before.  Why, suddenly, did she want this new and different flavor?  Could we not keep it simple, especially surrounding a busy holiday?  But then, I could’ve kept it simple by redirecting her to a different flavor or even buying a ready-made mix.  Instead, I half-kiddingly offered the metaphor of red for Christ’s blood.  She was sold.  And I began research on homemade recipes with less artificial ingredients than the mixes.  Again, could’ve kept this simple, but looked for the simplest one I could find that was sort of in line with the husband’s and my new trying-to-be-healthy-ish regimen.

 

That morning, the second oldest and I participated in an impromptu Girl Scout cookie booth.  I came home to prep appetizers for a dinner party at a friends’ that night.  Then I set in on the cupcakes.  The cupcake-requester was nowhere to be found, most likely buried eyeball-deep in her iPad after a morning of social interaction.  Her next youngest sister saw me gathering supplies and asked to help.  At this point, I was up to my eyeballs in a messy kitchen and bad humor.

“NO,” I replied far too emphatically.

When I saw her sad little face, I almost reconsidered, but held my ground, knowing that with limited time and remaining fuse I’d do far more damage than that to her poor little soul.

By way of a conciliatory carrot, I said, “You can help decorate them when they’ve cooled.”

As I prepped the rest of the recipe, I felt guilty.  These were cupcakes for a family celebration of Easter, requested by the kids most excited about the holiday.  Yet, the kid who’d started this whole evolution was MIA and I’d sequestered the rest.  Was I not sucking the joy out of this?  Was it about having a finished batch of red velvet cupcakes or letting my daughters participate in a fun activity?

When describing the frenetic events of the weekend to my therapist today, but before I got the part about my guilt, she congratulated me for sensing my limit and taking steps to keep from flying right over it.  When I told her how I perceived it, she said that I had been well within my rights for self-preservation by prepping the cupcakes myself.  She pointed out that I welcomed them in decorating the cupcakes, which is all kids really want to do anyway.

It did occur to me that, had I removed that fail-safe for myself that day, it wouldn’t have been a June Cleaver moment even if mother and child had made cupcakes together.  It almost certainly would’ve ended badly.  Just the night before, I’d dropped the f-bomb as we all made Resurrection cookies together.  Jesus would’ve been proud.

Looking back, I can see how it would’ve ended.  I would’ve needed multiple ‘come to Jesus’ moments afterwards to recoup.  And yet, the guilt still came in the moment.

And that is the pull modern mothers have.  We have been conditioned to do all manner of June Cleaver, Martha Stewart, Mother Earth type of things for our children, our families – even to the exclusion of our sanity.

Motherhood, parenthood, by its very essence, is sacrifice.  But there is no sense giving all of ourselves if everyone involved is miserable.  Even cupcakes are bitter to the taste buds when made with resentment and frustration.

The journey of motherhood started with a push.  That doesn’t mean we have to be pulled apart from that point forward.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  And no, I’m not saying we should push our kids around.  We mustn’t remain static in the face of our conditioning.   There has to be movement both towards our children and our own self care.

After all, my homemade version of red velvet cupcakes were vegan – with store bought cream cheese frosting.

Keeping It Neat

I was a slob as a kid.  There, I said it.

I mean, I went to school washed and neat in appearance, but my room?  I could not keep a clean room to save my life.

I remember pulling up the lid of the old-school seat-and-writing-surface-all-connected student desk my parents refurbished for me, sweeping out the pencil shavings, stacking and organizing, placing everything just so; the pride that came from having a clean space – and then getting to the pile of stuff that still sat on the floor.  Where am I going to put that?  That won’t fit in a nice, neat pile.  That will mess everything up.  But I can’t get rid of it. I might use that Hello Kitty notepad someday.  That half-used activity book still has some good pages.  And, thus, my neat little pocket of organization burst at the seams.

My adult life is much the same.  Hellen Buttigieg of the now defunct home organization series, Neat, helped me realize my inner ‘pile-r’ (as opposed to file-r), but that doesn’t mean I’ve applied any sort of order to it.  Well, that’s not true.  I know the order of it.  But it looks atrocious and the system only works if no one touches it.  Being married with four little sets of hands roaming around does not help the system.  The dining room table is repeatedly the epicenter of all conflict surrounding this organizational system.

As in, clear the table for dinner.  Kids throw school papers and mail off the table.  Husband does final sweep of things they’ve missed (75% of original table matter), shoving it onto the hutch, the sideboard, the overflowing desk, a pile on the floor next to the recycling basket where it will taunt me for several days while I wonder if it fell out of the recycling, never made it in, or actually needs to be kept.  In the last five minutes before bus stop departure the next morning, three of the four awake parties sift through these piles agitatedly looking for the paper that I can still see in my mind’s eye in the third layer of stationery detritus I created, but which now quite possibly could be 53rd thanks to others’ piling. 

 Again, not ideal.

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image via Pinterest

Ever the optimist, I pile things thinking I’ll get to them.  I’ll read them, process them, do something with them – other than leave them in a pile to rot.  And then the next layer comes in.  Ever the perfectionist, I leave them until I find a system that works, until I can sort through them properly, give each task the attention it deserves.  And then it’s time for dinner and another backpack full of school forms comes home.

I’m not recounting my organizational failures this morning to depress us all.  My question now is: how does this transmit to my children?  When I went to wake my eight year-old in the second wave of morning preparations today, I had to follow a booby-trapped path to her bed.  She and her sister share a room that is too small for the two of them.  They both have too much stuff.  And they both tend toward slobbishness.  BUT did they learn their organization – or lack thereof – from me?  Is inability to organize – or at least maintain – a genetic trait?  It has to be learned.  I know they must see the desk and subconsciously or not think that’s an okay way to handle printed matter.  Am I subconsciously teaching my children to be slobs?

I don’t want the habit of holding onto things and putting off dealing with them till later to become part of their life-long regimen at the ages of eight and ten.  Right now, it’s probably still about the stuff for them.  The special rocks.  The twisted bit of glittery pipe cleaner.  The free reflecting flashlights.  But at what point does it become about the psychological burden that comes with?  When they think about who gave them that, or what they were doing when they collected it, or how someone asked them to read this and get back to them.  I want to break their attachments to things before their sentimentality and expectation suffocate them.  Am I fighting a battle that isn’t mine?  Am I fighting a losing battle?  Am I projecting my own psychological hang-ups on them?

Yes.

I just know it would’ve been a whole lot easier for me if I’d started years ago.  But then, when I pulled up the lid to that old-school desk, I was already excited by the idea of perfect little piles, containing things in a neat, little box.  And I was already overwhelmed by the stuff I couldn’t fit into it.

Decluttering’s Demise

Starting this past Sunday, I embarked on a five-day quest to rid my life of clutter.  Okay, even I knew the hook was way too shiny and easy to be for real, but I actually thought the short time span would make it more manageable and therefore, my efforts, more successful.

I had seen Jen Riday’s teaser on Facebook.  (Thank you, user activity logarithms.)  I didn’t follow her, hadn’t heard of her, but if she could give me practical, doable tips, I was in.  I needed baby bites because my house had become more than I could chew.

Sunday, the first day of the challenge, I was actually disappointed.  ‘Shut off notifications on your phone’ – that’s way too easy –  and I want to slay physical clutter!  Five days later and I’m still figuring out how to shut off those pesky Facebook and Twitter notifications.  Neither in-app or phone settings are getting it done.  I hadn’t realized how mouse/cheese I was with the stupid phone.

Monday, I had to clean out my toiletries, make-up, etc. in the bathroom (and top of the dresser if you’re me).  Make-up was easy; I have little to none.  I did finally throw away the measly remains of the tube of lipstick I wore on my wedding day.  I figure if I haven’t even purchased the lip brush to dab out the dregs in the last sixteen years, it’s a safe bet I won’t.  Plus, my pale skin just doesn’t have the dewy glow that matched the shade anymore anyway.  As always, I hit that point in organization that makes things look worse before better.  I still have three piles on my dresser of things awaiting new homes.

So while Day Two isn’t completely complete, there are at least plans.  Then, came Day Three.

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from Jen Riday’s 5-Day Vibrant Happy Declutter Challenge

As soon as I read this, my heart dropped into my stomach.  Or my psyche’s shoulders slumped.  Clutter, while harbored in my bedroom, is not what’s keeping my room from being a sacred haven.  It simply cannot be a space to “collect your thoughts [that] will help you be more patient and calm with those you love.”  I cannot shut the door to the chaos whirling outside to regroup.  Even my room is not my own!

I share a room with my baby.

I know, the horror.  A first-world problem is ever there was one.  A cozy crib tucked into a recessed nook in the corner of my room.  I could have no roof over her head.  I could have all four children in my bed while my husband and I sleep on the floor.  There are worse things.

But, psychologically, sharing physical space with the lovely little parasite who feeds off me all day, all through the night, is demoralizing.  Even in the quiet, supposedly restful hours of sweet, dark night, I am not alone.  I do not get to recharge.  Hell, I don’t even get to sleep alone.  Every night, she wakes and senses our presence and will only sleep once we’ve nestled her in with us.

So a few minutes of shuttered peace in the middle of day to regroup in my bedroom oasis, ha!  “A list so you can work methodically through it in days to come”, ha!  It’s going to take major construction and socialization to make that happen.

At the baby’s 18-month appointment, the doctor asked about her sleeping habits and arrangements.  ‘Does that work for you?’ she asked.  No, doc, what would work for me would be snapping my fingers and making the uber-expensive and logistical-nightmare of a house addition appear so I could get said baby in her own encased block of darkness each night, but yes, that’s what our reality is right now.

I wish I could say that our babe is still in our room due to my deep-seated philosophical belief in supporting her best self.  But the fact that I can’t read anymore in the dim light of my bedside table kills me.  I can’t journal my swirling thoughts into a sleepy stupor.  I can’t even roll over in bed without worrying about a squeak waking her.  Hell, if it weren’t for the laundry baskets I haven’t yet put away littering the rest of the house, I wouldn’t be able to get dressed early in the morning.

Jen Riday’s Day Three Challenge totally took the wind out of my sails.  Not because she asked unreasonable things.  Because I’m not in a space where I can have them right now.

I did clean out some clothes I don’t wear anymore.  I have plans for a smart little tray to hold less items on my dresser than the big dust-collecting basket.  It crossed my mind that this should be the impetus to find an architect or follow up on that builder I’ve been meaning to call.

But it just seems so daunting.  After all, the sign on my door says it all:

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Jennifer Butler Basile

 

 

On This Day

11 months, 2 weeks ago, I was trudging through the day-to-day like an elephant on two legs in an animated film.  I was full with pregnancy, with baby, aches and pains, in bladder, daily chaos, and exhaustion.  I was in some sort of suspended stasis; neither did I want to be pregnant any longer nor did I want the onslaught of labor and care of a newborn.

Thanks to the equally annoying, nostalgic, and awe-inspiring features of technological devices and their applications, I can see last week, this week, today in tidy little boxes of unasked-for updates.  That me has tired eyes, a wan smile, the ruddy mask of pregnancy fingering its way across my face.  Except for the dropped weight, that me hasn’t changed much in the last near year.

And yet, looking at that me, it seems like another life.

Looking at this other life in my arms, I feel like she’s just arrived and yet, that other, older me in the photos is saying she’s been here for eons.

For the growing she’s done, I’ve done.  For the countless hours of lost sleep, the endless ribbon of days and nights spooled out and folded in and around each other.

It’s time to celebrate her first year of life, but she still feels brand new to me.  How has this time elapsed without my say so?  For all the holding and staring and loving, I couldn’t hold her trapped in time with my gaze.

But if I stay focused on her in this day, all the others, past and present, will fall away.

Skin Deep

A bloody gouge across my ring finger
coagulated and dark by the end of the fray

Tiny teeth marks amidst pink raised skin
Ragged red streaks where fingernails have strayed

The physical signs of one morning of motherhood

These are nothing of the mental anguish,
the emotional toll
the trials and tribulations
of getting out of bed and out the door

Today there are scars to show
for all the toil
Outward reminders
of what is always underneath

Grocery Delivery: Soup to Nuts

I stood in the bread aisle of the regional chain grocery store and my head spun.  White bread.  I just needed a loaf of white bread.  One somewhere left of high fructose and right of nutty wonder so my kids would eat it.  The options stretched away from me ad infinitum and I felt myself being pulled down a slippery chute lined with smooth plastic bags striped in red and yellow.  The baby stared up at me from the cart.  I knew my window of her compliance wouldn’t last forever.  Nor would my will to survive.  Yet I was struck inert.  I didn’t want to be here anymore, in this bright, overwhelming environment; neither did I have the energy to reduce this bread conundrum down to digestible size.

And this was a quick trip to the grocery store.

I’ve written before about well-meaning old ladies at the grocery store; running people down in those infernal race car carriages – grocery store annoyance has been done.  One would think an overabundance of choices and the money to buy them, within reason, would be a fabulous experience.  But buying groceries is an emotional burden.

When my third baby was still a baby, maybe before I even realized I had postpartum depression and really needed it, I started ordering groceries through a delivery service.  It may have had something to do with my physical limitations following her birth, but it saved me mental anguish as well.  Have you ever taken three children to the grocery store?  Even if you haven’t, just stop a moment and imagine.

The log-in to my account was serenity.

Having a chipper delivery person walk bags of groceries right through my kitchen door while the children ran and hid in the other room?  Priceless.  Hell, I’d even take a cranky delivery person.  I remember ordering a sippy cup for my toddler for delivery in those early days.  Order a non-grocery item from the grocery store?  At that exorbitant price?  Oh, you’ll bring it to my door?  Okay!

Those days, it was all about survival.  When the older two went off to school and the baby was more manageable, I ventured back into the arena, but pregnancy and infancy number four retired me once again.  And this is the baby in the cart now.

For an anxious person with too much on her plate, walking through a mine field of choices is almost too much.  Locating ingredients for a recipe, weighing options within ingredients, prices, health concerns.  Now multiply that by five other family members.  Multiply that by three meals a day, seven days a week.  Compound that with the dread of having to come back for forgotten ingredients.  Stick a baby in the cart.  Or three free-range children with sticky fingers, no concept of economics, and food ideas of their own.

There are downsides to delivery as well.

Delivery fees, of course.  However, new customers get coupons for free or reduced delivery for several months.  There is also a flat fee for delivery for a year, which is a tough pill to swallow initially, but actually more cost effective overall.

That obsessive behavior in aisle two?  Must be done at home, on-line and in a flurry of cookbook pages.  Thought of each meal must be made by midnight on Tuesday night so your family can eat for the next week.  And if you forget something – you might have to go to the store in person anyway!  GASP!

There are some ingredients you just can’t get.  When my husband started moving toward a plant-based diet, I couldn’t get nutritional yeast from the site I use.  Guess that doesn’t fly off the warehouse shelves in these parts.  But that could happen in any brick and mortar, too.

Overall, grocery delivery saves a piece of my sanity that might otherwise shear off and shatter on the floor of the bread aisle.  And to me, the price of delivery is worth all the serenity it buys.

Mother’s Milk

This tiny little person

latched on to my body

as long as I am wide

Miniature fist clenched around a rib of fabric,

holding on for dear life

Eyes arched in ecstasy,

then drooped in slumber

More parasitic than symbiotic,

but the sweetest symbol ever seen

 

Real Time

It’s taken me five months to realize what’s wrong.

Five good months since the birth of my child.

Five months of kisses and cuddles and bleary-eyed marches; blaring noise and silent sleep.

All this time and all this experience it took me to notice things around me:

Systems out of whack. Needs untended. Tweaks to be made.

Funny, how the way you realize you’re surviving is the ability to see what’s awry.

One day, you feel the slight twinge of annoyance. Stress at the the logistics of life. And you think, wait, I’ve reentered the real world without even realizing it. Without any fanfare. No great plunge. But a gradual dipping in of toes, then ankles, calves – until suddenly the cold on your belly button makes your breath catch.

It is exhilarating and chilling at the same time.

You’re doing it. You’re living life, your life, while navigating the care of that of your little one. It’s never easy, always imperfect. It may turn your lips blue and make your teeth chatter, but you’re afloat.

And that is a feat in and of itself.

floating

Pinterest, multiple sources

 

Two to Two

I went to sleep in the springtime
I awoke in summer

A riot of green,
a vibrant rush,
an air of energy

My body reclaimed and yet not my own
Inside out
the protective covering of conception gone

Gaunt fingers and ankles
ghosts of padded appendages
no longer needed to sustain life
for two

Whole again
and yet suddenly separate
A new path split
in two

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