Thursday, May 26, 2011

How the Cookie Crumbles

Later I will be patient.  Later, when my toddler wakes from his nap, and the baby I take care of comes for the afternoon.  Then I will coo and calm others.  Now I just need to vent, rant, whatever you want to call it, I need my little window here where I am allowed to be utterly and entirely frustrated with everyone and everything.   I need to sever the ties to any image of me as easy going and care free and nurturing and just have a straight out bitch session.

I am tired.  I’m tired of the permanent kink on the left side of my neck where my boy is constantly trying to pull down on me, using ropes of my hair as his personal pulley system.  I’m tired of his deep teething frustration that caused him to bite me hard in the forearm this morning, and then later practically squeeze off my spare nipple while he nursed on the other one.   I am tired of the people that would respond to this by telling me that it’s time to wean him.  My little angel was just having a moment, okay?  Just a moment.

I am tired of the hairbrush I can never find  and the professional coloring I can’t afford and the sad way I have settled on hats as a catch-all remedy that people will accept as a way of protecting my skin, except when it’s raining.  I am tired of the dumb cell phone that always seems just out of my reach and my dumber need for it and the queer way that when I see women driving and talking on speaker phone I feel that their lives are somehow more valuable or meaningful than mine.   

I am tired of the way my mind is cluttered with silly songs and rhymes and the way sometimes I just want to shoot that dog Bingo for making it so hard to count the claps.   I am annoyed with the way I rely on television and videos to help me parent.  I hate the ads on kids channels that use ridiculous unattainable adjectives like “mommy-perfect” to describe the school lunches one can put into an insulated lunch bag.  Make no mistake: I will never be mommy-perfect, and anyone that thinks they can be mommy-perfect is a mommy from Mars.  (I’m sorry—Venus.)

I hate that strange Australian cartoon on Sprout with the cartoon toddlers with photo-collaged on oversize mouths that are strangely sexual, all tongue and teeth, so that when they talk and sing all you are aware of are those mouths.  Is it me?  Am I the only one that has this reaction?  Does my mind just go that way? 

I am tired of the cat that stopped peeing and pooping in the house only to pee and poop in my sunflower beds.   I am tired of the way my partner dotes on the cat, but leaves all the misplaced excrement for me to handle.   I am tired, so tired, of the way he keeps comparing me to his mother, and the way I never hold up to the image of this woman who supposedly took care of twenty-two children and managed to vacuum the house everyday and put a square meal on the table at the same time every night.   I hate the way people always seem more perfect when they’re gone.   I hate the way I manage a thing like grilling sausages while also getting the baby bathed, only to be criticized for not having run a comb through his hair.   He’s clean.  He’s happy.  What more do you want? 

I am tired, so tired of people who think they work harder than everyone else.  I am tired of resentful people that hold grudges.  I am tired of all the grandparents that are showing up to spend time with my friends’ kids on our beautiful beaches and the recognition that my boy’s one grandparent is a workaholic with clients whose lives will fall apart if she leaves them to come see her grandson.  I’m tired of Skype and email and the way it will never replace the touch and smell of a living, breathing person.

I am tired of the rotting windows and the peeling paint and the effin National Grid who, every time we seem to have two dimes to rub together, takes the money and runs.  Guess we can’t afford to replace those windows yet.  But someone has given us a brand new wood stove, so take that, National Grid.  Next year it’s your turn to be in the poorhouse.

I am tired of that one phrase that keeps bouncing back into my head… my mother’s therapist telling her that she needed to get in touch with the part of her that is comfortable with self-deprivation.  I am tired of the gnawing feeling that this same trait has rubbed off on me.  I am tired of feeling the massive, immovable wall that I feel when I try to get up over that shit. 

I’m tired of not being able to say what I want or find a way to get it.   I’m tired of feeling that parenting may be the only thing I have done well in my life, yet even this sometimes feels like such a friggin’ crap shoot. 

I’ll tell you two things that I know very clearly that I want.  More money and more time.  Now if only all it took was finding a pair of sparkly shoes and clicking my heels three times.    

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Song for a Suicide

Well I seem to be doing a lot of counting these days.  Yesterday marked 20 months of being a mother.  Today marks the first anniversary of my sister’s death.  Her suicide on a mild May night knocked the wind out of my family.   And as I wake up this morning in Nantucket, and my brother wakes up in Holyoke, and as our mother wakes up today on Roosevelt Island, not far from where my sister tried to get to a better place by jumping from her roof in Brooklyn, we will all be reminded of where she ended up: broken, crushed, and gone forever on the ground of a neighbor’s garden. 

My mother got the call around 10 p.m.  Because she didn’t want her two remaining children to lose the night’s sleep, and in order to delay, as any mother would, our eventual and inevitable heartache, she waited until 7 a.m. to call us.  She did call our stepdad, Lowell, and his girlfriend Gail, with whom she is close, so she was not entirely alone, but it still pains me to think of her on that fateful night in the partial light of the city darkness as the grim and painful reality of a child’s abrupt death bore down on her psyche, and as she tried to replay the events of the previous five weeks to make some kind of impossible sense of this final event in her first child’s life.  I want to reach through her solitude right now and rub her back, and remind her how much I love her, and what a wonderful mother she is.  Most of all I want to tell her that it’s not her fault.  This last piece is the hardest, because the feelings of guilt grip us all.   We tried to save her.  But did we do enough?   Or did we do the wrong things?

We will never feel that we did enough, and that will be our cross to bear for the rest of our lives.  That is the sad truth of it.  Therapies may help alleviate the guilt, but we will never truly be free of it. 

On the night she died, my mother had spoken to a Brooklyn hospital and asked them to send over their ambulatory service to see if they could talk my sister into recommitting herself.   Based on her posts on Facebook, and on her sudden proliferation of Facebook “notes” it was clear that she was having suicidal thoughts, as well as hallucinatory experiences.  She had left my mother a voicemail message the week before, to discuss the idea of taking her to dinner for Mother’s Day, but then she never called her or answered the phone when my mother called her.  The not calling was something she had done a lot of throughout her life, but not on the heels of losing her job, getting arrested at her office, and spending two weeks in a city psyche ward. 

After two weeks of refusing any medication, the hospital released my sister.  My mother had had some role in this.  She didn’t want Gaby to end up virtually lobotomized by substandard state level care.  She thought if she could get her out of there she had some chance of getting her into a private hospital.  But Gaby actually did a terrifyingly good job of convincing her own mother and the hospital staff that she was in fact quite sane.   She pulled out a name in a phone book and set up an appointment at an outpatient clinic to satisfy the psychiatrist assigned to her, but she had no intention of showing up for it.  Once she was out on her own, she was out on her own, a forty-seven year old woman with a will of her own, and there wasn’t a hell of a lot anybody could do about it.   You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.   You can’t talk to a person who won’t listen, who most of the time won’t even pick up the phone. 

Throughout her life, whenever Gaby had hit her “rough patches” and shown signs of trouble, she had eluded us by creating a tremendous distance between herself and us—us being anybody at that moment who was onto the fact that things were not too hunky-dory in Gaby Land.  In a way, each time she did that, she committed virtual suicide.  That was how helpless we would feel each time she would cut us off.  Then, over time, she would eventually reemerge, in her stiff way that we had become accustomed to, acting as if there had not been a whiff of trouble.  Soon the whiff was indiscernible.  We’d all forget about it, or agree to ignore it.  It was a silent agreement we made with Gaby to keep in her good stead… to keep her with us. 

And life would go on.  Such is the way the current moves in a family that comes to rely on denial to stay afloat.  Until the crack in the riverbed gapes open and all the water is sucked under.          

As a teenager, Gaby had been a top student and athlete.  Her moves on the uneven parallel bars were fearsome.  She made it look so easy, her toned body whitened by the resin powder that would help her feel less of a burn as she slid over the wood bars, reaching and pulling herself up over the higher bar, tucking herself in pikes and flips as she lowered herself back down.  Her self-control was marvelous.  The whole gym would fall silent, save for the squeaking of her skin on the wood, that little song of friction that held her back to the earth. 

She had been brilliant, had her pick of colleges, and chose Harvard.  She returned home at Christmas torn at the seams, and didn’t return.  She survived a drunk driving wreck, and a major episode of depression, and managed to get her life back on track and become a homeowner and rise to the top of her field in antivirus security.  She took in stray cats.  She loved children, had been a doting aunt to my brother’s stepson, and loved the son of another man as if he was her own.  She would have gotten such a kick out of her nephew Cayce.  She had been so excited when he was on his way into the world. 

When I had first learned of my pregnancy, I had been anxious about telling my sister.  She had no children of her own, and I was afraid she would be envious.  In fact, she met my news with such warmth and joy.  A new chapter was writing itself in our relationship.  For a little while, I had the nurturing soul sister I had always longed for.

But I think the reality of Cayce’s arrival into the world was in fact hard for my sister to take.  When he was born, she didn’t call me.  I looked up her Facebook page and saw her status update on the day Cayce was born.  The tone and wording struck me as odd.  Far from celebratory.  She spoke of my c-section, and how that had not been what I had wanted.  But then she wrote, once the baby was born, “She got what she wanted.”

I sensed bitterness, more than joy.  I had been home with him for three weeks when I finally called her.  I told her I wanted her to meet the baby.  She said that she wanted to wait until he was a little older, because newborns weren’t “really that cute.”  She never said, “I’m so happy for you.”  She only said, “I’m sorry the birth didn’t go the way you had wanted.”  I told her that I didn’t care about any of that now that I had this healthy, beautiful bundle of joy in my arms.

The many pictures I emailed and posted on Facebook were met with silence.   Finally I emailed her and told her that her silence made me feel sad.  She wrote back asking what kind of a response did I want?  She didn’t think they warranted a response, since my photo emails had no text.    I wrote back saying, oh, any response that was genuine would do.  To which she replied, “I know you know I think he’s beautiful.”     

It still makes me so sad to think that my joy in some way heightened my sister’s pain over not having her own child.  Certainly I had been well on my own way to becoming a bitter woman who would regret being childless.  But I would like to believe that, had she stuck around just a wee bit longer, Cayce would have proved to be a force that would hold our family together, rather than tear it apart. 

For who could look long into this child’s loving eyes and not be made whole again?  In the light of this little boy’s eyes, we can begin to forgive ourselves, and remember our goodness, and our fierce capacity to love and be loved.

We love you still, Gaby.  We love you still.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Counting to Twenty

First freckle.
First skinned knee.
Shins bruised in constellations.
Several scratches
from upending himself
in the toy box.
16 gleaming teeth.
First wagon ride.
First tussle
over a toy phone.
First coffee talk, “Ho?
First saying “I’m sorry”
First phrases, “uh oh”
“oh my”, and “woah!”
And the ever useful
sentence, and answer
to every question
“I don’t know!”
First washing his own hands.
First starting to carry
a tune (in key, no less!).
Mama still no better
at baby pedicures
than she ever was at her own
and with the co-sleeper
thigh art
to prove it!
Loving him so many
gazillion times more
than I ever thought
Twenty months old
and counting.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

P is for Play

As I write this my child is getting bored by the same old toons on the T.V. and emptying my wallet of its contents.  I will be scouring the house later for the whereabouts of my insurance cards, credit card, and driver’s license.  I will waste at least a half an hour of my nonexistent time trying to make up for these moments of neglect.  If my cell phone turns up in the process, I will be pleased, but no more whole feeling than I am now,  during one of the countless times when the phone is MIA.   It is safe to say that I am not a Type A mom.

But I do, in my B or C or X-Y-Z way, care deeply about what my 20 month old needs.   Structured playgroups seem like a great idea, in theory.  Cayce certainly enjoyed his time at the last play group, and lord knows that our Thursday mornings at Let’s Get Messy helped get us through a long winter on an island thirty miles out to sea. 

But in many ways it seemed to me that the time at the play group was so structured that the kids didn’t really get a chance to get to know one another.  Of course they got to know one another much better than they had prior to the group, but I find myself wondering whether, had we included more free time and less story time, singing time, and craft time, they might actually feel yet more comfortable with one another.

The principal behind a structured play group for a tot is to give the tots a chance to socialize.  To learn how to play together, and share toys, and take turns on the slide.  It’s a beautiful concept.  But it won’t work if we parents don’t relax a little bit and stop micromanaging their every interaction.  The time in which Cayce had the greatest opportunity to play with his friends was in the free time after the play group was over, but many parents were quickly ushering their kids off to another structured group at the library.   

Even when you think about the name of the group, you understand how far away we’ve come from things that should be natural to us.   We need a class to teach us how to loosen up and have fun?  It reminds me of one passenger I had in my taxi when I was pregnant with Cayce, a young caretaker of a home in Pocomo.  He cackled heartily at the sight of  The Pregnancy Book by Sears and Sears.  You need a book for it? he cried, incredulous.   

I have just started Cayce in a new group, and the change has refueled my reservations.  First of all, there is the way that I project my performance anxiety onto him at the start of each new session.  A new teacher, a new set of people, and suddenly I have forgotten that my little boy is just a little boy who wants to follow the beat of his own drum.  Deep down I have forgotten that this is okay.  I think I must corral him, reign him in, make him sing when the teacher says Sing!  The room is chock full of toys to play with, a climbing structure with a slide, a play kitchen.  Is it really fair to place all these distractions before him and then expect him to focus on the story?  It seems to me he is more focused at the library galley movement and singing classes, where there are no toys around except for the antique dolls in the window.  Here at the ECC my child moves from play station to play station.  I go back to being that little girl breaking out in hives every Sunday night, before the start of every week at a new school. 

But compound my own personal anxiety with the anxiety of all the other mothers.  A strident, nails-on-blackboard motherese in stereo.  It’s not pretty.  All these mothers of small children that are enough just as they are were suddenly mothers of very small children that have to prove themselves in some way.   Names were sung in the most saccharine sounding high pitched voices as very small children were ushered from what they were doing on the stairs or the slide and lured into finding their name cards on the rug in the circle.

I heard myself doing it too, and was horrified.  I balked at the specter of an eighteen year molding process.  What we were doing in that moment didn’t feel like it was for the benefit of our kids, as much as for each other.  And certainly our kids could see through this crap?  I mean, this was not the way we behave at home.  We don’t ask them to perform on the spot at home, do we?  It seems to me my son just charms us and shows us what he knows naturally, when the moment inspires him.  Not that I don’t show him off a bit for Grandma on Skype, or for friends who haven't seen him since he started stringing together sentences and little expressions.  

I’m sure tensions will ease as this new grouping of mothers and their children get to know one another.  I wish I could kill the fluorescent lights that give the room an institutional feel.  But we can make up for that with our human warmth.  Whether it’s competitive or nurturing, freeing or stifling to our kids is up to us. Will it be a place where each child is encouraged to be his or her full and unique self? Or will there be a hierarchy, where each child is ranked against the other?  Will it be a place where the children learn to trust one another, and themselves?  These are the things we determine each moment, in our actions, in what we do with what we’re given, and in what and how we give to our children. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Stolen Moments

Oh to see
my little boy
bent knees
stooped at the waist
nose deep
in the tulips!
Or grinning
in his swing
as bluejays sing
between wind
splintered treetops,
his shining face
tilted upward
sky the truest
of sky blues
on a spring
with color
and music.