This is Why Parents Are More Exhausted Than You Think They Should Be

At first, people understand that bringing new life also brings exhaustion. People ask new parents if the baby is sleeping through the night as if that is the magical key to them feeling like a fully functional human being.  But, every parent knows, it is not.  I’m quite sure that it is a scientific fact that parents never feel like fully functional human beings again.  Or maybe they just change the definition of what it “fully functional” means, which no longer implies anything closely related to “rested”.  Here’s why:

They never sleep through the night.  Never. Again.  Sleeping through the night initially means sleeping for longer than 2 or 3-hour stretches. Once your infant gets past that point people seem to forget that doesn’t mean jack.  At first, parents wake up in a panic when the infant doesn’t wake up and they check on them, adrenaline rushing, thinking they’re going to find a teeny tiny corpse.  They nudge the baby. Nudge. Nudge.  Until they hear an audible sigh.  Then they either can’t fall back asleep because of all that adrenaline or they can’t fall back asleep because they woke up their kid.  As the child gets older they wake up hearing phantom baby cries that exist only in their head.  Whey they accept that their kid can sleep through the night and think they’ve finally arrived, the toddler begins waking up in the middle of the night and coming in their bedroom, waking up and peeing the bed, waking up and screaming, “I need a tissue!”.  I hear it doesn’t get any better.  I’m already dreading waking up in a panic thinking about my kids as teenagers, wondering if they have snuck out of the house and as college students, wondering if they are okay or if they have been roofied and are lying in a ditch.  By the time their kid has a job, parents have aged and their sleep cycles have changed and their old selves become biologically incapable of sleeping.  The end.

There is no down time.  The other day I tried to program my cousin’s number into my phone – she had texted me and I wanted to add her name to my contact list.  I tried about 8 times before giving up completely because my children were all up in my space, bumping my arms and touching the screen.   It’s hard to explain to someone that you don’t have time to put a number in a phone, but this is a very real thing.  Unless you’re in the bathroom.  Sometimes parents get excited about shitting so they can scroll through their newsfeed.  Sometimes they pretend to shit so they can scroll through their newsfeed. Unless, of course, they’re the parent that the kids just barge into the bathroom with (there’s always one parent who’s the designated bargee).  Then there’s really no sanctuary, even in shitting.

There are no days off.  There are millions of ways people can fill their time and expend their energy without being parents.  Everyone is exhausted, no doubt about that. However, there is usually a way to get some sick time.  Take a day off to rest. Parenting, however? Being sick is the worst because you can’t be sick.  At least, you can’t act like it.  Food still needs to be served, laundry still needs to be done, kids still need to be loved.  Parents are basically on the verge of illness at all times, because they never get a chance to recover.  We blame our kids for bringing home germs from school, but the reality is we are stinking sacks of pathogenic meat ourselves.

Their brains are on overload.   There is a never-ending stream of chatter.  There are so many “Mama. Mama. Mama. Mamas” and grabbing things or pointing while asking, “What’s this?” and no matter what response is given there is an endless supply of “Why? Why? Why? Why?” and there are either requests for songs and to “Tell me a story, Mama” and loud, echoing whines about things like, “I wannnnnntttt a red sippy cup” even if they already have a red sippy cup.  There are a lot of fake phone calls and talking to kids using a dirty sock as a puppet.  It’s not so much that each individual question or statement is so bad (they’re not – they’re often quite amusing actually), it’s more the fact that every second is packed with endless auditory assaults and required responses.  As kids age they might utter fewer words, but the ones they do say are usually not as cute and the issues that arise are much more difficult to address.  Brain overload doesn’t go away when the toddler years do.

Sometimes they have to stay up until 2 am binge-watching Netflix with their spouse. Because sometimes they want to enjoy time with their spouse.  And sitting like a sloth on a graham-cracker-crumb littered couch while sipping on a glass of cheap wine next to the one you love,  without having to make conversation, can be almost as beautiful as watching the sunset on a beach in Mexico while holding a margarita.  Almost.  It’s quiet (other than the occasional crumb crackle).  It’s calming.  It’s rejuvenating.  And it is needed for marital stability.  It’s worth paying the price of giving up a night’s sleep entirely now so they don’t end up paying the high cost of divorce fees by the time the kids graduate from high school. They’ve already got college to pay for, don’t forget.

They get physically abused.   Don’t get me started on what pregnancy does to your body, I’m solely talking about parenting here.   There is a constant worry about torn corneas. Little hands start flailing from day 1 and continue indefinitely.  For the first few years parents are constantly carrying their kids around, lifting a 35-pound toddler on one hip, and a 20-pound toddler on the other.  These aren’t like bags of flour here, they’re writhing, wrenching, bucking broncos.  Parents on the living room floor trying to get a push up in during a Callilou episode are subject to little monsters in superhero capes jumping off the couch and onto their backs.  There is little no chance getting through parenting without tearing a cornea or herniating a disc.

All the mother-loving cleaning.  The other day I was running late for work and when I went to grab the infant from her crib I realized she had puked on herself in the middle of the night. Her hair stood up straight and smelled like sick.  I tossed her in the tub and gave her a quick bath, before throwing some clothes on her and tossing her in the car.  (There’s another example of physical exertion – lots of child tossing going on).  The amount of frenetic cleaning of bodies and houses that parents end up doing is mind-boggling. Of course, everyone needs to clean their house, but parents need to clean their house SO MUCH.  Bending over, putting away, bending over, tidying up, putting away. Wiping. Wiping. Wiping.  Picking up toys. Toys. Toys. Spooling reams of unrolled toilet paper. Dishes. Dishes. Dirty laundry. Bodily fluid soaked laundry.  Replacing grown-out-of laundry.  Toys. Toys. Tiny pieces. Puke. Toys. Toys.  Toys. Never-effing-ending bowls and bowls of spewn Cheerios.  As kids get bigger, so does their stuff.  Teenagers have more surface area than toddlers which means more dust, more circles around the tub.  More bodily stench.  And definitely more clothes on the floor.

Worries wear out their bodies.  There are many mornings where new wrinkles and gray hairs suddenly pop up.  Deep grooves.  Thick, wiry hairs.  I pretty much stopped getting carded the week after I became a mom. My daughter emerged from my body and I immediately developed a web of creases beneath my eyes, not just from the exhaustion but also from the worry.   Anxieties tax the body and parents have a never-ending stream of them running through their heads.  Sudden infant death syndrome. Falling down the stairs.  Ingesting cleaning products.  Bumping heads on the corners of coffee tables.  Witnessing the ALMOST bumping of heads on the corners of coffee tables.  Thoughts of their kids being bullied, being out late at night, hanging out with the wrong crowd, marrying the right person…. Our poor little cells explode from the stress and our body can’t regenerate them fast enough.

Parents are so tired they sometimes lay on the floor.  Face smooshed right in the carpet. Now you know why.

P.S. Even when they’re on the floor, they’re still happy. They’re just too tired to smile.

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Becoming.

Today started out not-so-great.

Exhaustion.  Extreme fatigue.  Whining children.  Add doctor’s appointments and shots and you sort of start to get the picture.  So, when my friend asked if I wanted to bring the kids over for a play-date, I thought it sounded like something fun. Something that could improve our current status.

I was wrong.

Instead of mommy-friends chatting while the kids frolicked, the whining continued, and the mommy-speak was continuously interrupted by “I have to go potty!” and “Come shopping with me!” and “Meaarrrrrr!” (or however you spell the noise for a whining non-word that is toddler-speak).  My toddler even kicked and punched a baby doll and a giant stuffed brown bear.   I felt my fatigue worsen, my spirits dive and my social-anxiety skyrocket.  I was frowning and correcting and yelling and the kids were screaming and yelling and crossing their arms cartoonishly across their chests.

It was not very becoming.

So we left a bit early and on the drive home the kids fell asleep.  For a moment I let myself exhale, but that moment was short-lived and when we got home they were both awake, and awake with a vengeance.

After a couple of hours of trying to shove food in their faces, of toddler screaming and crying, of tiny feet pounding on bedroom doors, the toddler finally fell asleep (no such luck on the infant) and I managed to organize the toy room and do the dishes and a load of laundry.  Mr. Grouch came home not long after, wondering why I was exhausted and crabby.

It’s easy to let moments, and hours, and days like these, make me become bitter and short-tempered and jaded.  Even though I am all of those things on occasion, I sometimes feel like today will be the day that I become any one of those things, permanently.

Not sure how it would go, when she woke up, we dressed Toddler Grouch in her tights and leotard for her first-ever dance lesson.  She, for the first time that day, smiled.  I tried to shape her fine hair into a bun, a task much harder than it looks, and when I deemed it good enough, we packed the kids in the car and off we went.  I needed more coffee.

Thankfully, in the car, the day took on a different tone.  We stopped at the gas station and I got a cuppa.  The infant finally napped.  The toddler giggled and chattered from the back seat.  Mr. Grouch and I exchanged pleasant glances and knowing looks.  We walked into the dance studio and our day was transformed.

We watched our daughter in a moment of Becoming.  Of becoming her.  That kind of moment that parents cherish, that children have no understanding of.  Even after the fact, watching a video of one’s own self Becoming is not usually pleasant, or pleasing.  It is boring and ugly and embarrassing.

However, watching your own children Become is astonishing.  It is wondrous and marvelous and incredible and there are simply not words that properly describe the feeling of watching your child Become.

I watched in awe, as Toddler Grouch Became before my eyes.  She was a perfect balance of hesitant and courageous.  She listened.  She studied.  She sat up straight.  She goofed around and had fun.  She attended to the teacher.  She eyed the most experienced dancer in the room.  With a quick mention and a slight nod, she asked the girl, who was crying and standing near the wall, not participating, if she wanted to dance with her, and coaxed the girl back onto the floor.

She was Becoming, and in such a fetching way.

I caught myself becoming relaxed, happy, comfortable in my skin, and in my own life.  I promised myself I would continue becoming this kind of person, the kind that I was at that moment, the kind of person that I was only sporadically, but who I wanted to be, more frequently.

When we got home she ate two eggs, two pancakes, a bowl of pretzels, half an avocado and a glass of milk.  More than she’d eaten all weekend, it seemed.  After a nap, a dance, and some proper nutrition, she was becoming her old self.

Toward the end of the evening, we watched home video of her day.   We danced together in the basement and practiced some of the moves she learned.  She’s not too old to enjoy us celebrate her Becoming.  Yet.

If she’s anything like me, she won’t love these videos for long.  But, that’s okay.  We’re prepared to remind her that the videos are for us, anyway.  So we can watch her Becoming, long after she’s Become.

That they help us keep becoming who we want to be.

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What You Do When Your Mom Has A Brain Tumor

1. You slightly freak out.  And by slightly you mean seriously.

2.  You pretend to only slightly freak out because you have the kind of mother who says things like, “It is what it is” and “Bodies are strange” and “So what? It could be so much worse!” and “I like big butts and a I cannot lie” (I include that last quote not because it is relevant to this post, but because it gives you a glimpse into her character).

3. You learn that meningiomas are far more common than you realized.  According to the neurosurgeon as common as 1 in 5, however most people’s don’t grow (unlike your mama’s), and that they usually aren’t cancerous, so hooray for that. #silverbrainlining

4. You slightly freak out anyway.  (Reminder: Slightly = Seriously)

5. You think that maybe the tumor IS affecting her brain when she starts carrying a mini-brain, a 5 inch cross-section of a human head, that she borrowed from the anatomy teacher around with her, as a way of trying to explain her brain tumor to people.

6.  Even with mini-brain, you feel like you don’t have anywhere near the level of understanding about the tumor or the surgery that you need, so you decide to go with her to her appointments.

7.  You realize that even with mini-brain, your own mother wasn’t exactly certain where her own brain tumor was.  You determine that she just liked the mini brain.  It was kind of cute, in a creepy, cross-section sort of way.

8. You squint your eyes and tilt your head and start whispering, every time she says or does something you think is a little bit off, “It’s the brain tumor, isn’t it?”

9. You buy brain hats and have people wear them during a celebratory send-off.  A farewell toast to the tumor.

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10.  You stop complaining because every complaint is met with, “You think that’s rough? I’m having brain surgery”. And you really can’t argue with that.  You say goodbye to empathetic responses.

11.  You go to the pre-op appointments with her, and recognize that just knowing what is going on helps you feel more in control, while simultaneously reminding you that you really don’t have any control.

12.  You ogle brain charts and pretend to know what you’re looking at.

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13.  You ask enough questions that the surgeon gets you a 3d model, which helps your understanding immensely.

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14.  At the appointments, you make fun of her, per usual, and she laughs good-naturedly, per usual.

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15.  You notice how her left eyelid is pushed out so much more than the right. You wonder what the difference will be post surgery.

16. You say, “Go Blue!” Words you’ve never uttered before, that have always been considered essentially cuss words, since you usually say “Go Green!” instead.  You might even buy her a blue and maize beanie to cover her scars.

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17.  You tell her you thought she needed a cup of coffee and hand her a mug you made her, and when she doesn’t look at it and goes on a fifteen minute tangent about not having cream you finally yell, “LOOK AT THE MUG!” and then whisper, “It’s the brain tumor, isn’t it?”

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18. You remember that even though this might not be that funny, that you have the best sense of humor out of your siblings, who asked you if you meant to put an “h” instead of a “t”.

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19. You quell your anxieties with bottles of wine and trays of nachos. You nurture some psuedo-semblance of ease and your ever-growing food baby.
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20. You eagerly await surgery day.

When the Words Won’t Come Out

Sometimes we have things to say.  But the words are stuck inside.

It’s like our throat is a corroded pipe, full of gunk, and our mouth is the sink.

If at any time the faucet is turned on, the sink fills up immediately, becoming useless.  There is no choice but to turn off the water and wait for the solution of jumbled thoughts, disconnected. words and the multitude of anxieties that swirl around them to drain. It takes so long there is no standing there and waiting, there is only leaving and come back later.

Eventually the sink is avoided, even though we know this won’t fix the clog.

It is a temporary solution to the problem.

This has been my temporary fix:

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doode

 

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If you like what you see, follow me on Instagram. AMorningGrouch.  I’m starting to fill that sucker up like crazy.

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things – A Book Review

I have hardly posted in my own blog the last couple of months and I make no excuses.  I am a sporadic blogger, one without much direction or focus, and that’s just what A Morning Grouch is about.  Random half-assery.  Most of the time I like it that way.

A few of my favorite bloggers are quite the opposite – they are very professional in appearance and productivity and are consistently posting fantastic little nuggets of wisdom, insight, sarcasm or hilarity.  (Sidebar plug: If you haven’t checked out I Got a Dumpster Family (gratitude, sobriety, parenting) or Sammiches and Psych Meds (humor, satire, parenting) you really should.  Those are my two faves, other than Clint’s).

When my pal Clint over at No Idea What I’m Doing: A Daddy Blog asked if I would review his latest book, HIS LATEST REAL BOOK THAT HE IS THE AUTHOR OF, of course I said yes.  I’m assuming he understood, because of my overall blogging half-assery, that it would take me much longer than I said it would to actually do it.  But don’t worry, Clint.  I didn’t forget.   And even though I feel like I hardly have time to wipe my own ass these days, I even made time to read it.  It was nice that his book is a selection of essays that can be read individually.

So here it goes:
THE GOOD:  Clint hits on the important topics of parenting and marriage – and he does so with authentic self-appraisal.  He addresses the issues with honesty and an open mind, something that isn’t so common.  Maybe it’s because he got to experience life as a stay-at-home dad, and got a taste of the reality that sets in after awhile.  In his first chapter, before getting his act together, spurred by a connecting conversation with his wife about the hardships of being a stay-at-home parent he said,

One month into being a stay-at-home dad, all I did was drink Diet Coke and bitch.  My lust for cleaning had dwindled.  I started to accept my failure.  I ate an alarming amount of ice cream.  I allowed the kids to watch movies all day so I could sleep warmly in my bed, away from what the kids were becoming…lazy slobs like myself.

He reflects on the crazy shit parents say when they are so sleep deprived they might actually crack and worry they might not be able to be put back together:

Tristan, I love you, but if you don’t go to sleep, I might die.  Is that what you want? For me to die because I feel like I’m dying.  Do you even care?

He describes the realities of parenting that you just can’t find funny unless you have kids, but once you do, you nod and crack up out loud to yourself, possibly spitting out your own beverage on the carpet (damn it!) when you read,

Until I had a child, I had no idea that a one-year-old could propel puke at a distance twice his own height.  I must have cleaned the carpet a dozen times in three days  Eventually I got to where I could see it coming, and once Tristan made the puke face, I pointed his mouth at my chest and let it happen.  Now let me just make this clear, I made a conscious decision to allow someone to puke on e because changing my clothing and taking a shower seemed easier than cleaning the carpet or sofa.

It’s sort of like when you hear the cat starting to make the pre-puking yakking and you move him over to the tile.  Cleaning the carpet freaking SUCKS.

It’s not just the reality and the humor that makes Clint’s book enjoyable and relateable, it’s that there’s a sweetness he’s got underneath all the puke or the silver-dollar sized zit on his ass (that’s in the book, too, and you can’t miss that disgusting chapter), like this:

What I’ve learned is that being the father of a daughter means a melted heart.  It means reading a poorly written book that summarizes the movie Frozen every night for six weeks, and although the writing is terrible and I’m sick of the story, I do it because few things are sweeter than having my daughter snuggled next to me.

Clint has his moments of disgust, annoyance and exhaustion, but they are all enveloped in moments of self-reflection, gratitude and appreciation.  It’s a pleasure to see him experience the full spectrum of emotion that surrounds successful marriage and parenting.

THE BAD:   There are a few stories where as I was reading I found myself thinking that I would have maybe said or done something different if I were in his shoes, like when he caught his kids looking at each other’s butt holes in the bathroom:

If they weren’t brother and sister, that would be one thing.  But they were, and that was just strange…Do you have friends that do that? Please tell me that you don’t have friends that look at your butthole.

But, it’s really easy for me to think of better things to say as an outsider looking in, isn’t it?  And let’s be honest, there’s a lot of people who would say or do different things that I did in many circumstances, and that’s just what makes us each  who we are.   So, in a way, I think that actually gives a bit of charm to the whole book.  Clint is a normal guy like the rest of us, who makes mistakes and questions himself, but in the big scheme of things is doing an awesome job overall.  And unlike most people he’s willing to put himself out there.  He’s the real deal, not the self-edited lying narcissist.  He’s a self-edited hilariously ridiculous sentimental goofball – the best kind of husband and father.  He validates our insecurities and inevitable parenting errors, while inspiring us to get off our asses and become better at the roles we care most about.  His writing is appealing and refreshing and HONEST, the most important trait in parenting, in living, and in this case, in writing.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Clint’s book, This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things is a great read for any parent of young ones who has that special balance between being finding the humor, being disgusted by, grateful for, and straightforward about their children and their marriage.

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When Everything Goes to Shit

Some of us have got a lot of shit going on right now.

All of us have experienced that feeling of Everything-Going-to-Shit.  I guess the good news is that things usually doesn’t go to shit for everyone at once.  Our collective shit ebbs and flows.  Sometimes we’re shitless and we feel fresh and clean and spunky.  But other times we’ve got piles of shit collecting all around us.  Sometimes we’ve got a it’ll-be-funny-later shitshow, and then there are occasional horrific shitstorms.  We’ve all been through shit in the past, and some of us are going through shit right now, and we are certainly not getting out of dealing with shit later.

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So instead of being surprised when shit hits the fan, I suppose we should instead remember that it is just our time.

Sometimes we compare our own shit to other people’s shit.  This usually happens when we think our shit stinks so much worse than everyone else’s.  We get all woe-is-me and shit.  We usually need something to smack us out of our self-absorbed mental slumber that reminds us that compared to so many other people’s shit, ours is almost beautiful. Smooth, little round pebbles that pile up nicely in the bottom of the commode.  Nothing like the explosive platters that can run down our legs, far away from the safety of a toilet.

Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and remember that our shit really isn’t so bad.

But, even if we are the most grateful of gratefuls, even if we generally have a happy and optimistic perspective, shit is still shit.  None of it is any good. And sometimes we just need to sit ourselves right down there, right in the shit itself, and let ourselves simmer in our own stink.  So long as eventually we get ourselves together and clean ourselves up.

We have to make ourselves remember that it is in-between the moments of shit that we need to grab on to.   We need to bask in every non-shitty scenario we find ourselves in.  We need to embrace each shitless moment. We have to.  It’s all we’ve got.

 

 

 

Overwhelmingness at the Grocery Store

I remember wanting to make an Asian recipe once that required a few ingredients not found at my local supermarket.  I went in to this tiny Asian-Mart and even though I only needed a couple of ingredients, I was instantly overwhelmed.  What seemed like an easy task was suddenly daunting.  I went down each aisle, one by one, searching for a picture or a word that looked remotely like the items I needed.  I walked down each aisle, several times, back and forth, back and forth.  It took me forever.  By the end I was sweating through my clothes and my brain was burning out of frustration and anger.  I knew that anyone who saw me could guess that I might need help, but no one offered to help me.  I found what I was looking for, but I left with a sweat-stained shirt, a red face and a tired mind.

It was humbling.

I have not forgotten that experience, that ONE time I went searching for TWO items in a teeny, tiny Asian mart.

Today I was walking through the aisles at my local huge supermarket, as I always do, as methodically as possible.  We were crunched for time, because my husband and I brought our two kids with us.  Because we were shopping during dinner time, I passed them their supper – a single cold tortellini at a time – out of Tupperware that I had shoved in my purse on my way out the door.

We had made it all the way to the end of the store and collected our eggs, milk and cottage cheese from the dairy case and were making our way back up the main aisle towards the checkout, with a few items we missed on our list to pick up on the way out.

That’s when I saw her, out of the corner of my eye.

Her cart was at an odd angle.  Her eyes were slightly bulging, searching. She was gripping the handles of her shopping cart tightly.  I saw her head turn as she watched a few people before me pass her down the aisle ahead of me.

As I neared her our eyes made contact.  She lunged.

She cut me off with her cart all askew and thrust a pamphlet towards me.  It had a picture of infant formula on it.  I looked closer as she pointed, and in broken English, she asked me if I knew where she could find this.

I looked more closely at this woman who had violently cut me off with her cart.  She didn’t look scary.  She looked like she needed some help.

I could see the baby aisle from where I was, but even on the way she kept asking where to find the “milk”.  I remembered how hard it was to find anything in a supermarket stocked full of items, especially through eyes fatigued from anxiety on top of the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights.

I led her to the aisle and helped her pick out the exact formula she had pointed to.  Together we compared the labels, double-checking the words, the pictures, the shape of the carton.

I was no longer in a rush.  I put a finger up as my husband walked by and said, “I’m helping someone” and he just nodded and waited.

I asked her if she needed help finding anything else.  She pantomimed, she faltered, she tried to describe a diaper, without saying the word diaper, or privates, or anything closely related to urination or bowel movements.  It took us a minute, but we figured it out.  I took her an aisle over to the diapers and showed her which diapers I used, and based on the weight of the baby she was buying for, what size to buy.

She pulled out a few samples of lotion.  I did not recognize the lotion so suggested that maybe we look in the bath section, so I walked around the corner and started inspecting the options.  I turned around and she had not followed. I went back and she was still standing there, looking at her papers, papers which would not give her any useful information about lotion.  She saw me return and I heard an audible sigh of relief.  She let me guide her to the aisle with the lotion.  I explained that I didn’t see the lotion that she needed, I asked if the lotion was for the face, or for the diaper area, and since it was for the face, I picked what I thought was probably best, Cetaphil, and told her it wasn’t what she showed me but I thought it was likely a good choice.  She pulled out a paper, scribbled on and torn from a doctor’s prescription pad, with the words, “Cetaphil” on them and when she compared the text on the bottle I was holding with the words on the prescription pad she smiled brightly and nodded and thanked me again. Several times.

The grocery trip was a good reminder.  If we’re able to look up above our carts, and make eye contact with those around us, to notice what other people need, it usually makes helps us put our own insignificant worries and issues in perspective.  Like feeding your kids cold tortellini out of Tupperware for dinner. Eh.  They’re fine.

 

 

 

 

Lost and Found

It’s crazy to me that I am so impacted by the moments with my daughters, yet they are unlikely to remember any of them.  I don’t remember much about growing up.  What I do remember may be memories, or may be memories of videotaped and talked about events. I don’t know why I don’t remember the details, but I don’t.  It worries me about remembering things in the future.  That’s partly why I write.

Today Toddler Grouch and I lay in bed, for the second or third night in a row, and practiced thinking up words that started with different letters.

“Buh, buh…banana!  Your turn, Mom”.

“Buh, buh, beach”.

“Buh, buh…box!”

“Buh, buh, baby”.

“Buh, buh…bag!”

“Buh, buh, bee”.

“Buh, buh…poop!  Ahhhhh, I’m teasing you!”

As we played our little letter game, her eyes sparkled and her cheeks flushed.  The getting it excited her.  It might have excited me more to witness it.  We lay in her little toddler bed, me squashed up against the side, knees bent so my feet didn’t hang off the end.  The back of my head rested against the headboard and her head rested on my chest.  We talked for about forty minutes and when I went to leave she said, “Don’t leave, Mom.  I want to talk more”.

It’s just about impossible to not leave when your child says they want to talk to you.  So we talked a little more, and the only thing that made me leave the room was wanting her to be rested in the morning.  Finally I pulled myself away and gave her another smooch, told her I loved her and thanked her for talking with me.

I hopped in the shower and while I washed, I replayed our time in my head.  Every single day I am amazed by the “ordinary”. I am enthralled by the beauty. I am astounded by the growth.  I cannot believe I am fortunate to be a witness, to be involved in the process of helping guide my amazing little beings into amazing adult beings.

Already, when I picture my daughters, I picture a slideshow in my head.  They are not one person, they are all of the versions of themselves they have been: a little newborn baby, a fledgling toddler starting to speak, starting to walk, a full-on almost-potty-trained toddler with a fondness for poop jokes.  She is not one her, she is many hers.  I think this is a pretty common parental feel.

When I was sixteen, my parents threw an enormous surprise party for me.  I was not very grateful.  I was embarrassed by the attention, I was embarrassed by the extravagant party that was thrown for what I felt was a completely insignificant event.  I was embarrassed for the two friends my parents had invited to come celebrate with me, who were stuck hanging out with my family that they hardly knew.  I was embarrassed because now they knew they were the two closest friends I had, even though we weren’t really all that close.

At one point in the party, my dad showed a surprise video.  He had spent countless hours compiling video clips of me from birth to age sixteen, into a fifteen minute presentation. Knowing him, he probably spent hours and hours and hours on this.  This was way before movie-maker existed.  This was the ultimate videographic mix-tape.  Instead of being pleased, I was pissed.  Because I was mortified.  I didn’t recognize myself in any of those images.

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When I was sixteen, I was lost.  I had forgotten who I was.  I did not recognize the chubby infant slobbering all over.  I did not recognize the obnoxious seven-year-old who was flipping out and acting like a complete fool, I did not recognize a self-confident twelve-year-old who danced in the living room and sang off-key while wearing gaudy clothing.  That is not me, I thought.  I don’t know if it was just my age, or my too-coolness, or my depression that sucked me and all of my positive traits down into an abyss, but whatever the reason, I didn’t know who I was. Even when I was seeing myself on tape.  I didn’t connect with anything about that party, or anything in that video.

I think about that now, as I look at my daughters.  How a parent doesn’t see a child only for who they are at that very instant, but they see them for who they’ve always been.  They maybe even project a teensy bit to what their child might be like in the future.  And how crazy it can be that in some ways, at some times, a parent can know their child even better than the child knows themselves.

Finally, as I am encroaching on forty, I think I found myself.  I remember who I am.  I am a slobbery fool.  I am a confident adult.  I dance in the living room and sing off-key.  I still have no fashion sense.  And, even though I have to fight for it now, I’m happy again.

My friends and I were talking today about how this is sort of how the cycle goes.  You’re born with confidence, you’re born knowing who you are, you’re born ready to work your tail off to accomplish anything you set your mind to.  This usually gets beaten out of you for awhile there, and you spend the rest of your life clawing your way out of the depressive, self-conscious, terrified person you somehow became.  Some of us make it out, some of us don’t.

I suppose it doesn’t matter if my daughters remember playing the “buh, buh..B!” game with me or not.  As long as they are able to navigate their way back to found if they ever find themselves lost.

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Three.

Three.

Three years since you were born.  A quiet, beautiful, surprisingly easy birth after a raucous, petrifying, shockingly difficult conception.

Three years since I couldn’t focus on anything else if you were in the room.  Not because you are demanding (even though sometimes you are), but because I can’t keep my eyes off of you.

Three years since I have found the greatest of joys in doing the simplest of things. Singing, reading, coloring, dancing, joking, playing.  But mostly, observing.

Three years since laughter has erupted from me so often, so loudly, so purely.

Three years since I have learned to take better care of myself, so I could take better care of you.

Three years since I remembered that kids know what is fair, what is funny, what is right, while adults often do not.

Three years since sleeping in has been an option.

Three years since I’ve tried (and so far, failed) to stop involuntarily emitting the “guhhhhh” sound when I encounter a frustration. Three years since you soaked this up like a sponge and picked up my bad habit.

Three years since touching someone else’s poop, pee, puke, snot, and other things I used to think were disgusting, have disgusted me.

Three years since I have understood why other people like their small children.

Three years since going on “vacation” meant going to the grocery store by myself, or sitting in silence for an hour.

Three years since I could listen to news stories or movies of violence, accidents, or death without holding my breath and holding back tears because in every scenario I pictured your face.

Three years since I could listen to success stories, happy-ending stories, everyday stories, without holding my breath and holding back tears, because in every scenario I pictured your face.

Three years since my body is no longer mine.  And three years since I’m okay embracing every imperfection the new me possesses. Even the torn hip labrum, and separated pelvic joint.

Three years since your struggles are difficult for me and your triumphs elate me.

Three years since your eyes, your nose, your mouth, your mannerisms, your voice, has been branded into my brain.  Three years since I can’t stop looking, zooming in as close as you will let me. Every day I notice a slight change, and I am astounded by it, excited by it, delighted by it, ridiculously surprised by it, and I don’t want to forget it.  I picture every bit of you vividly in my mind while my eyes are squeezed shut, but I want to study you even more with my eyes wide open to make sure I don’t miss anything new.

Three years since I have felt like I am the luckiest lady on the planet.

Happiest of birthdays, Toddler Grouch.  Three years!

A lifetime for you.  A life-changer for me.

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Soak it Up

I heard her footsteps and with my eyes still shut, still drooping heavily with fatigue, I smiled.

She peered over the side of the bed, the top of the mattress reaching her nose, and she grabbed hold of the sheet, shifted her weight forward and grunted as she heaved herself up.  I slid my head over as far as I could to the edge of my pillow, making room for her own head to settle on the pillow case covered with flowers.  She plopped her head down and handed me her favorite blankie, the thin one covered with purple monkeys.  “Cover me up, Mama”, she said.  I wordlessly acquiesced, and then leaned over, kissed her forehead and snuggled in as close to her as I dared.  I leaned my chest into her back and pushed my nose into her hair.  She pulled the edge of her blanket up and pressed it to her mouth, as she does to self-sooth. I put my arm around her waist.

She picked up my hand and moved it.

I respected her wishes.  I respected her body.  I was reminded that even though every cell in my body screams She is MINE! and her limbs feel like appendages of my own, truly a part of me, she is not mine.  Her body is not mine, she is her own self.  It is a humbling, scary, sad, happy, invigorating, motivating, every-emotionful-mushy-feeling feeling every time I remember or recognize that she is her own self.  It is amazing to witness, her becoming a person. Her modeling a large chunk of who she wants to be based on my behavior, is what makes me be the best self I can be.  She makes me so much better than I would ever be without her. She gives me more than she takes, even though she requires a lot.  There is no such thing as energy wasted, no such things as ridiculous demands, because everything she requires, no matter how big or how small, forces me to improve in some way.

I can not afford to not be a better person.

It took a bit of will power, but I kept my arm at my side and focused on the warmth on my chest.  I soaked her heat in.  I willed my pores to open up wider.

Before she came into the room, I was drowning, fatigued, holding my breath underwater, not sure if I was going to make it, the pre-coffee, oh-my-god-it’s-too-early, my-head-is-pounding, a gasping-for-breath kind of morning despair.  But her presence buoyed me up and her nearness was like air at the surface. Her scent was luscious banana-scented-Minion-bubble-bath air. Intoxicating-gulp-it-down-drink-it-up air.  Her touch was life-sustaining-inhale-exhale air. Fueling-fill-me-up, wholly satisfying air.  I greedily gulped it down as fast as I could, while staying stock still. I did not want to risk losing my life-saver any earlier than I had to.

We have this summer routine, where each morning she crawls in my bed and we lay, sometimes looking into each other’s eyes, sometimes laying next to one another with eyes half-shut, sometimes singing, sometimes my hand turning into a puppet, she and Mr. Hand chatting.  Today we sat in silence together.  Beautiful, warm, cozy, silence.

Every once in a while she’d reach her arm and place it on my hand, moving it slowly up my wrist, my forearm, back down again.  I’d delight in it.  I’d hold my breath and feel her fingers tracing.  A bonus touch.  Enjoying it while it lasted, before she’d tuck it back under her own chest, gripping her beloved blankie once again.  How many more of these moments do I have left?  No matter the number, not nearly enough.  Soak it up, I thought to myself.  Become infused with her touch, her love.  Soak her up, convert her energy to gratitude, let it permeate your cells, mutate your DNA, making a more superior you. Soak. It. Up.

I knew I could have been more firm when I asked her if she needed to use the toilet.  I knew I was pushing my luck. I knew that every moment we cuddled was one moment closer to when she couldn’t hold it anymore and peed in her diaper, even though she was working on not.  But I didn’t push it.  I waited for her to ask to get up for some breakfast.  To tell me, “Wake up, Mama”.  The toilet just didn’t seem all that important, right then. It was like her diaper was telling me, Don’t worry.  I can soak it up too.

Her touch.  That innocent, pure, calming, healing touch.  That was more important than anything in the world.

I am pretty sure it always will be.

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