Dirty Diapers

Do you need any help finding anything?

Simple query. Standard clerk operation. Yet her question left me speechless. I stared blindly at the shelves in front of me for a moment before I answered.

A staccato collection of tongue-in-cheek conversation ran through my mind in that brief silence, but I finally said, no, I didn’t need help.

For I realized that anything more than that would be too much information for this clerk stocking some manner of geriatric product next to the baby care section.

She didn’t need to know that my prolonged, slack-jawed stare at the array of diapers on display (which admittedly wasn’t even that extensive) wasn’t due to a lack of knowledge on my part. It was the realization that all that inane diaper information I’d chucked to the back of my brain, thinking I’d never again need to know how many pounds a size 3 diaper fit, would now need to be retrieved; that Pampers smell like poo before the kid even fills them; that Huggies now come in swaddlers and movers and shakers and trapeze artists. I peered at the tiny kg/lbs ranges under the big numeral sizes like an old woman who’d forgotten her glasses.

I did remember that the mommy-to-be for whom I was buying the diapers wouldn’t need newborn size since the hospital would send her home with a boatload.

There are some parts of motherhood that are like the proverbial riding of the bike.

However, there are some things not even a conscientious, helpful clerk can help an expectant mother find in the baby care aisle. A cure for her feeling that she was done with this a long time ago. A settling of the ambivalence toward starting the whole process all over again. A certainty instead of the disbelief at the surrealism of it all.

All these certainly aren’t on the shelf. They’re not even in the back room. Only the mother herself is the purveyor of these goods – and they’re not one size fits all.

Diaper-debate_thumb

from healthytippingpoint.com

Heaven or Hell

 

This is heavenly.

 

That was the thought and feeling that flooded through every part of my body as I sat under a grove of trees a few miles from the shoreline yesterday.

 

I was with two women I didn’t know particularly well, my children playing with five other children, only two of which they knew particularly well – but so go play dates when you join a new group, I suppose. At least I could relish the gorgeous weather and spot for what it was. A quintessential coastal breeze in the shade of old growth trees. An hour of my three children not waylaying each other and my own ear drums and patience.

 

How odd, then, that conversing with these two women, watching our children twirl and loop around us, that I made the decision to love my life.

 

I’d asked them the ages of their children, which led to a clarification of grade levels just completed, and then, a conversation debating the merits of forcing kindergarten for children with birthdays on the cusp of the cut-off and/or waiting an additional year. I’ve had this conversation countless times the last few years, starting with other people’s children all the way to my own four year-old. It’s never cut and dry and the anguish is always apparent on the parent’s face – that they might somehow harm their child’s entire educational career for the sake of a start nine months too early or late.

 

But that’s not what this post is about.

 

I’ve come to terms with our family’s decision to keep our precious little pea home another year for the sake of six lousy days.

 

It’s the nature of that additional year that this conversation affected. The nature of life now.

 

There will come a day when I have to work outside the home. When I won’t be able to see my babies at 10 AM just because. When I won’t be able to sit at a park with virtual strangers/possible friends and discuss issues for the age and stage we’re all at.

 

There will always be dishes and laundry. There will always be exhaustion. There will always be the guilt of the unwritten chapter lurking somewhere behind the keyboard. It will always take more energy and effort to pack the kid(s) and all their crap up and go on an outing than it will to stay home.

 

But there won’t be the brush of feathery grass on the backs of my thighs. The rustle of wind through green leaves. Legs long and lithe, short and compact, darting and weaving. The call and answer of hide and seek. The heavy weight of a tired child solid against my side.

 

We travel through this world from start to finish regardless. It is totally within our determination to make it heaven or hell.

 

 

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image from wallpaperscraft.com

 

Wavelength

There comes a time when you see your mother as a being separate from yourself.  It’s not as an infant when you realize you exist outside her body.  It’s not when, as a toddler, you assert your independence.  The tumultuous teenaged years don’t do it.  Even becoming a full-fledged adult doesn’t do it.

She will always be your number one fan, miracle-worker, therapist, and helpmate.  She will always allow you to be self-centered when you come calling because you are her world.  She is your MOM.  (No Pressure 😉 )

But there are moments when she does something on an even more amazing level of awesome – perhaps even sublime – in which you see in crystalline form what a perfectly human and beautiful individual she is.

The first time this happened was when I was an early teen.  My parents, consummate do-it-yourself-ers, were in the middle of some household project that necessitated the transit of a long ladder through our tiny kitchen.  One inadvertent swing of the ladder swept the decorative items off one of the display shelves surrounding the window.  A crystal-clear unicorn, whose knobs and nodules captured and refracted the sun’s rays into rainbows, shattered against the stainless steel of the sink below.  I heard my mother scream like I never had before: a desperate, anguished wail.  She cried as she gathered the pieces.  This was another thing I rarely – if ever – had experienced with my mother.  These were not the welled-tears of sentimentality; these were big fat gobs of grief.

Being a young person, with no framework within which to place this, I asked my mother what was wrong.  She explained that the unicorn had been a gift from her sister when she had lost a baby.  Four years prior to my birth, my mother had delivered my would-be sister, stillborn.  This was my first encounter with this information, with this grief.  While I now had a framework, it was shaky.  I knew it was tragic.  I knew my mother hurt.  But I had no idea to what extent.

Years later, as a mother myself, now accustomed to grief, but still not of that magnitude, I sat with my mother in the parking lot of a botanical garden.  We stared out the windshield at the glass squares of the greenhouse.  ‘A woman in my writers’ group has written a memoir about her family, Ma,’ I said.  ‘About her journey through love and loss.  She had a stillborn, too.  Much the same circumstances as yours.’  There were some eerily similar details in their stories, though my mother never got the legal vindication that this woman did.  ‘Would you read it?’

I didn’t know if I was overstepping my bounds, if I was being too forward, pushy.  Was I dredging up feelings that my mother had gladly put to rest years ago?

‘I suppose it might be good for me,’ she said.  ‘Therapeutic.’

Months later, I took my mother to the launch party for that book: Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict by Kelly Kittel.  The day before Mother’s Day, we spent the afternoon of the launch together.  Ironically, though we were celebrating the ubiquitous holiday, I saw my mother as ‘other than mother’.  Hearing her speak to Kelly and share her story, I saw the profoundly deep wellspring of strength my mother’s been drawing from all these years.  I saw her as a woman, fighting a soul-crushing battle and winning.  I saw her as someone – like myself – who has been curled up on the floor crying, but she got up!  She went on.  And gave me the best, most important parts of herself.  All while, unbeknownst to me, she was suffering a tremendous loss.

It was hard for me to not insert comments or explanations as she spoke.  I felt the intermediary between these two women and wanted to help forge the link.  But the link between these two women had nothing to do with me.  It was in their tragedies and victories, their similar experiences with death and inextinguishable life.

I saw my mother as a distinct individual, a woman with her own suitcase of memories and maladies, a human being with a suit of armor and the soft underbelly of a mother.

Image

Photo by John Butler

It’s a $%#@ vacation

“There were constant battles . . . between those who had chosen to have children and those who had chosen not to – all ostensibly for the sake of our publication, but more accurately as a way to work out personal differences under the cloak of business discussions.  Our boss was happily childless (“When I see children, I just want to put them in cement,” she once admitted), and she was unimpressed with the fact that mothers needed to return to their families earlier rather than later each evening.  Her right-hand woman also had no children.  They didn’t like to do extra work to make up for the women who went on maternity leave, and they didn’t appreciate having sacrificed portions of their personal lives to the office when others hadn’t.

“Well, what does the woman who chooses not to have kids do?  asked the boss.  “She should take a maternity leave to fulfill herself.”

A new mother grunted from her position at the table, her breasts sore from pumping milk into bottles, her eyes swollen from nights awake.  “Right,” she said, “it’s a fucking vacation.”

— from Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl about Love by Justine van der Leun

 

The Zen of Shuffleboard

Hanging out in a 55+ community can teach you a lot about life.

It’s never too early for happy hour.
It’s never too early to paint a driveway.
It’s never a good idea to force the disc in a game of shuffleboard.

I’d never played shuffleboard before. I had images of straw-topped gentlemen sipping gin and tonics smoothly gliding the disc as if across a sheet of ice. Tropical printed shirts in a calmly boisterous competition. Just the lines of the court themselves, all crisp and geometric, spoke to me of an art deco paradise.

And then I picked up a cue.

While my husband attempted to reign in our three spastic shuffleboarders, akin to three ninjas on speed on their first day of weapons training, I quietly sneaked to the adjacent court. I pulled the cue behind me with the gusto of an archer and swung my arm forward toward the disc, visualizing a tremendous skim to the far end of the court. Instead, the disc flipped back onto the golden shaft of the cue before smacking the ground with a clang like a dinner plate on the kitchen floor. This scenario repeated itself, with ever more epic flips, flops, and failed forward motion. I figured the more oomph I put behind it, the better the outcome.

Until I actually paid attention to the lessons my husband was trying to impart to our tiny samurais.

“Don’t push it.”
“Hold the grip lightly with one hand.”
“Rest the guide against the disc and slide it forward.”
“Take a few steps toward the disc and move your arm in one fluid motion.”

When I worried less about sending the disc into kingdom come, it went farther. When I forced it less, I got more. When I thought of the cue, the disc, as one long extension of my arm, my effort spun itself to the far end of the court.

When I got all amped up, when I tried to muscle things to my desired outcome, it flopped. All that pent-up energy, all that roiling muscle mass did nothing. It actually hurt my efforts. When I put in what my wound-up self would consider a failed attempt – no gusto – I had more success.

On the hollowed court of the silver-haired, I learned that nothing good comes of forcing an outcome. One must work in concert with the circumstances placed on the playing field. For the force to be strong, one must focus intentionally and let go of force.

Who would’ve thought a retiring past time would hold such potent lessons?

Framing the Scene

I always thought of the shadowed lines drawn by the slats of blinds to be something out of film noir. They always brought my mind back to the darkened auditorium of college, watching Double Indemnity and looking for clues of deception and danger within the frame.

This morning they make angles askew, geometric light patterns. Faint shadows paled by bright sunlight. Dull, flat gray; luminous white back lit by soft yellow.

How ironic that time of day,
quality of light,
the way your eyes flip the image, the brain perceives soft or sinister,
can totally change the mood, your mood.
The way you’ll approach the situation, the day.

It’s really all in the lens we choose to peer through.

Image from James Woodward

Image from James Woodward

Psychosomatic

Sitting in the driver’s seat of the idling car, waiting for the bus to return my children, I stared at the barren landscape and felt a piercing pull at the point when my left sinus emptied into my throat. It’s just a twinge, I thought. It doesn’t mean I will get sick. If I neti-pot the hell out of it and force fluids, I won’t get sick.

But the pierce persists and I know that as soon as I noticed it, I was done for. Because despite my best preventative measures, my psyche had already talked my body into succumbing to the germs, urging them to multiply and prosper.

When my husband returns from work, we greet by way of hug and I linger there. He kneads (some of) the tension from the inner corners of the upper quadrants of my back. The next morning, the sore throat is worse. Throughout the day, my nose starts running and the body aches begin. I blame him for releasing the toxins into my system, but let him squeeze more out.

Cranky and congested, I don’t go to bed early, thinking, what’s the point. I can’t breathe when I lie down anyway. My husband really knows something is wrong when I arise after the first ring of the alarm – for the same reason I didn’t retire early.

I feel better when I’m forced to socialize at the bus stop and preschool drop-off, but seem even worse when I’m back to my miserable cocoon in the car, sneezing and snorking and cringing. Did I feel better because interacting took my mind off my ailments or off its nefarious plans to infect me further?

My mother has told me repeatedly I’m my own worst enemy – in the most loving, instructive way possible. Apparently, I have not learned the lesson.

How does one shut off the tap of postnasal drip and negative thoughts?

And the song running through my head since that first moment at the bus stop? “Breathe” by The Prodigy. No, the irony does not escape me.

(Warning – video may be more disturbing than the description of my mucus malady)

 

No Longer Negative Space

 

The way light shows through the gaps in a loose stone wall.

 

Unless you approach at a certain angle, you miss the open spaces – circles, angles, different shapes brilliantly back-lit. Looking down, it’s a solid mass. Standing even with it, a barrier of boulders. If you get down on your belly, study it head-on, the passageways are there. Light spills through the windows of opportunity, possibility. Against the bright backdrop, even the cold, dense masses of each individual stone etch beautiful silhouettes.

 

But you only see the relief if you look from a certain perspective.

On the level.

With a discerning eye.

Bringing the bright background into crystalline focus, letting the dark foreground fade into a fuzzy blur.

 

photo from an article by Joe Silvia

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