The Worth of Words

I’ve always lived in the borderlands. No place to call home. I am not a mother. I am not an academic. I am not a woman. I am not rich or poor. I am not a teacher. I am not a writer. I am…me. How does that find expression? Who are my soul mates? Others like me, certainly. There are many. They identify themselves to me at school, at family gatherings. Pulling me aside, quietly, secretly: “I just wanted you to know that I really like what you wrote about blah blah blah…”

It’s like water in the desert.

That’s what pulls me back to this blog. That’s what compels me to to put my pen to paper. It’s why I write and why I read. Just this morning I read a line in a book that startled me with its truth. It’s very important to remind people that there are threads connecting some of us at the deepest levels. We may not be the best teachers, students, parents, daughters, or friends; but we are the best for each other. We are there for each other beyond time and space.

A writer’s words carve their way into my soul like nothing else.

I am cleaning vomit off of my son at 3:00 A.M.. I am nursing my daughter back to sleep at dawn. I am standing at the kitchen counter wiping up crumbs, the words I long to write spilling out of my fingers and eyes and ears, lost forever to the wind because I don’t have the time or energy to create books, or stories, or articles. But they are there with me, these other women. Across time and space. Anne Lindbergh, Anne Lamott, Joan Didion, Maya Angelou, Barbara Kingsolver, Sylvia Plath, Anne Tyler, Sharon Olds, Faulkner Fox, etc. They whisper in my ear, “I know, I know.”

This is what I can give. I can tell other mothers, other writers, other women, that the journey is hard. It’s hard. But if I can give you words that you can weave into a blanket, or a life raft, or a balloon, than I have given you everything I can give.

 

 

 

 

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Head Over Heels

Happy Birthday to my little footling breech baby.

Four years ago, on the morning of Friday the 13th, the doctor hoisted her knee onto the edge of my hospital bed for leverage. She placed her slim, warm hands on either side of my belly and said, “That’s his head, and that’s his butt. I’m going to turn him now. You’d better relax, because this is going to hurt.”

Twelve hours later she sliced open my belly, pulled you out by your feet, and lifted you up in the air. Your father, holding my hand, said, “It’s a boy.”

Giving birth to you was nothing like I expected. Raising you has been nothing like I expected and I’ve learned the most important lesson of all, which is that we cannot have expectations for our life or for our children. We can only hold hands as the roller coaster careens around each corner. We can look at each other, look around, push the hair out of our eyes, scream, cry, laugh, and love.

Thank you Oscar, for filling my cup overflowing. Thank you for moving and dancing through my world. Thank you for everything you have taught me in your four years on this earth. I hope you have 100 more.

I used to think I would teach you everything I know and lead you into this world. Now I know that my job is to listen to your stories, hold your hand, and follow you where ever you want to go.

I love you more every day. More than I thought it was possible to love another human being.

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Perfect Moment Monday: Big Brother

When I found out I was pregnant with Aria my biggest worry was the impact it would have on Oscar. For three and a half years, before Aria was born, Oscar was the center of our lives. He’s always been such a beautiful and funny child, getting attention wherever we go. But when Aria was born his whole world was turned upside down.

At first it was pretty traumatic for everyone. I hated leaving the house without Oscar. I hated it when I was feeding Aria and Oscar wanted me to pick him up. One day I left for an emergency dental appointment and when I returned, Oscar asked warily, “Did you bring home another baby?”

Slowly he became more and more interested and intrigued. He was constantly asking, “Where’s Aria?” and saying, “I want Aria.”

Now that she laughs and smiles at him, every day gets more fun. However, she is still pretty small, cannot sit up on her own, and we have to make sure he doesn’t play too rough with her. I can’t wait until she is big enough for them to play together.

My perfect moment came one morning when I went into Oscar’s room to wake him. I put Aria in his bed, something they both love. She lay there and played for quite awhile, so I left her there buffeted with pillows while I dressed Oscar and got him ready for the day. At one point she rolled too close to the wall and was in danger of falling between the bed and the wall (I wasn’t too worried because that space is crammed with stuffed animals). I decided I didn’t want to take any chances so I scooped her up and was about to carry her out of the room.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, Oscar burst into tears. “Please don’t take her away! Please!”

“But Oscar, she might fall and hurt herself.”

Then he sobbed, “But she’s my friend!”

Oh, man, I immediately teared up and was filled with so many emotions. Happiness, sadness, wistfulness, love. Most of all, I felt complete.

Today, Oscar said to me, “Someday when I’m big I can carry Aria and feed her.”

We have many kinds of moments ahead of us. Exhausting and overwhelming moments, funny and joyful moments, and of course, perfect moments.

For more perfect moments, visit Lori at Write Mind, Open Heart.

I don’t think I’m tall enough for this ride…

Spoiler alert: I use the word “boob” in this post. You may want to excuse yourself now.

Here’s an old cliche: Life is a roller coaster.

Everything seems up and down for me lately; I live with extremes. One moment I’m savoring a predawn cup of coffee and reading about what Gwyneth Paltrow packs for a flight to London (as if) and the next minute I’m juggling two cranky kids, one of whom wants to be permanently attached my boob and the other who can’t decide whether or not he wants jam or honey on his peanut butter toast.

Today when I left the house there were crying kids and diapers that needed changing, and let me tell you, it was wrenching. Then I drove in relative peace and quiet to my office (the fifteen minute drive to work is the only time I am truly alone). Then I advised a few students, none of whom have the faintest idea what they are doing. Now my office is quiet and I’m boiling water to make coffee. I drink a LOT of coffee.

Roller-coaster.

I sit down at my computer to write. I open the file that contains my novel and get downright giddy as I nail a sticky plot point. Then I open the file containing feedback from my editor on the academic book I’m writing and I feel like jumping out the window. Then an email alert pops up and I see that I have another stupid and pointless meeting tomorrow. Academics love to call stupid and pointless meetings at the last minute. Then I take a peek at a fashion site to see what all of the hip people are wearing this fall.

Roller-coaster.

I used to think of this way. You enjoy the ups and endure the downs. When you’re miserable you think, “This too shall pass.” Then I saw the following quote:

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

If we wait for life to get good before we enjoy it, we will be waiting a long time, and it will be over before we know it.

I felt a sense of peace when my five-month-old woke me at three o’clock this morning. I brought her to bed and smoothed her sweet fluffy head and let her nurse. I was deeply, deeply exhausted. I started thinking about all of the things I have to do, about all of the things I want to do, and about all of the things I will probably never get a chance to do. And then a voice in my head said, “You’re doing the most important thing you could be doing, right now.

I’m doing what I should be doing when I take care of my children. They love me and need me and I will be the center of their universe for such a short time.

I’m doing what I should be doing when I grade papers. My students value my feedback and I have the opportunity to help them become better writers.

I’m doing what I should be doing when I read and swallow the difficult feedback I get from my editor. This will make me a better writer. My editor values me enough to keep pushing me through this project.

I’m doing what I should be doing when I read People Magazine and drink Starbucks. We all need downtime and mindless entertainment.

When we took Oscar to the fair this year we put him on his favorite ride, a little red roller-coaster made just for kids. Last year he loved it. This year he cried helplessly in fear for the first few minutes of the ride. It was so hard to watch! Then something happened. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and endured. Finally, he looked around and smiled. And when he got off the ride, he wanted to go on it again.

There is no such thing as balance

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Howard Thurman

Balance:

a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight, amount, etc.

I don’t have it, I’m never gonna get it, and I no longer want it.

I know mothers who have it all. They are beautiful, thin, popular, and happy. They have nice houses and bake cupcakes in rainbow colors. They undertake projects that would make Martha Stewart blush. They arrange play dates and act as community organizers.  They have good hair and buy organic and vacation in places with beautiful blue water.

1. They are insane.

2. I call bullshit.

I sat in the audience yesterday at a conference listening to Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, talk about being a writer. She talked about writing and life and anger and childhood and teaching and being yourself. She said,

“Speak the truth, even if it makes your voice shake.”

I had a revelation when I was listening to her. I don’t want balance. I want passion.

Heather Sellers writers:

“Successful book writers are very rarely also:  history society presidents, garden club secretaries, book group members, rumba instructors, feng shui consultants, yoga experts, and leaders of the town’s spring clean-up committee. When you’re writing a book, you do not have time for: meetings, grant writing, sonnet competitions , sprawling vacations, breeding dogs, or renovating the bathroom.” ~from Chapter after Chapter

The subtitle of this is  “Balancing Writing and Motherhood,” but who the hell am I kidding?

The only thing I balance is a plate of cheese and crackers as I ignore cobwebs and crying babies and go upstairs to sit at my computer and write.

The only thing I balance are teetering stacks of ungraded papers on top of books about how to write and novels I love to read and wish I could write.

The only thing I balance is a baby on one hip while I turn up the volume on Yo Gabba Gabba, stir the soup, dodge Legos, step on Cheerios, pour juice for my toddler, and pour myself another cup of coffee.

If you don’t like my house, my hair, the way I dress, the way I parent, or how I spend my time, frankly, I don’t want to know you.

I’m done with balance.

I’m done with waiting to give myself permission to be the writer and the person I want to be.

Mono No Aware

“Mono No Aware” is a Japanese word that means an awareness of the impermanence of things and a gentle wistfulness at their passing.

I came across this word recently in a book I was reading, and I love the complexity and truth of its meaning. Not simply an awareness of the passing of time, not sadness or nostalgia, but something a little more delicate and bittersweet. I love “a gentle wistfulness at their passing.”

This is what it means to be a mother.

I remember feeling this acutely when Oscar was a newborn and I would nurse him in the rocker, watching the sunrise and feeling exhausted and elated at the same time. I whispered to myself over and over, this time will be so short, and it will never come again.

I was comforted with thinking that maybe this wasn’t the last time. As Oscar outgrew each stage I enjoyed the moment, but thought, probably recklessly, that we would be here again, with “the next one.” In fact, I never felt a sense that time was passing too quickly, and it’s only when I look at photographs that I realize that Oscar is no longer a baby. Now, when he climbs into my lap he’s all elbows and angles and bruised shins and dirty feet and dusty hair.

And now I have Aria. She is “the next one” and probably “the last one.” This time I know it’s going by fast. Too fast.

Yet, there is no alternative. Time flies. The alternative is a frozen childhood, but that means death, which is much, much worse. Life means moving forward swiftly and irrevocably, and we cannot hold onto it. The passing of time is “Mono No Aware.” It is beautiful, inevitable, and exciting, but also bittersweet and a little wistful.

I am the mother of two small children. It is exhausting and overwhelming and I love every minute of it. Every day, every minute, I soak it in. The sights, sounds, and smells. The gentle neediness of small hands, sticky fingers, Oscar pulling me down for a third kiss goodnight, Aria snuggling up to me in bed to nurse at 5:00 A.M. The way Aria smells, and the sound of Oscar talking to himself as he plays with his little cars. It will all be gone in the blink of an eye, but no matter what I do, I can’t grasp it and contain it.

Like the changing of the seasons. I will mourn the loss of summer at the same time I turn my face up to admire the autumn leaves.

 

 

Summer with Oscar and Aria

It’s hard for me to believe that I’m now the mother of two.  In so many ways my love for my children has grown exponentially, so that my heart feels like it will burst. But in other ways my heart feels like it has been cleaved in two. One of the most difficult things I’ve ever done is leave my son at home with family for three days while I went to the hospital to have my daughter. Three months later it still breaks my heart to leave the house and leave Oscar behind. For so long, over three years, he was my little buddy, my little companion, and we went everywhere together. Now I have to take the baby everywhere, because she is so small and still nursing all the time, and the logistics of taking two kids with me forces me to leave Oscar behind more often than not.

I will be honest and say that it’s not easy having a three-year-old and a newborn. Oscar is the love of my life, and I still look at him like he is a miracle and a dream come true. How am I lucky enough to be the mother of such a magical little boy? He is so funny and smart and sweet and affectionate, saying things every day that make sad that time goes by so fast. Other times I can’t wait until he is in college.

Sometimes, when Oscar is playing, he will turn to me for no reason and say, “I like you.” He also asks, “Are you happy, Mom?” This question makes me sad, because I am often tired or stressed around him, and also because I have always been such a people pleaser, anxious and worried about everyone around me, and it breaks my heart that Oscar has become this way too.

He is so funny and sweet, singing the ABC song in the bathtub, asking for three kisses and a “big hug” every night before bed. Then, as I go to turn out the light, asking in a tiny voice, “One more, Mom? One more?” When I come home from work or running errands, he says “You back? I missed you.” If I take a shower or start packing up my work bag, he senses I am going to leave and says, “You staying?”

Oscar is three, and can be very frustrating and exhausting. He wants to talk to me about everything, and it’s not enough for me to say, “OK,” or “That’s nice.” He wants a full demonstration of active listening skills. I have to look at him, repeat exactly what he just said, and offer my own insights. If I try to multitask, frantically answering work emails or grading papers on the computer, Oscar will get impatient and upset. “Mom, talk to me, talk to me!” I’ll pause what I’m doing and say, “What do you want to talk about?”

He will smile and say, “Oscar!”

Right now Oscar loves trains, cars, trucks, playing in his sand box, getting dirty, and eating peanut butter and jelly; but also broccoli, zucchini, carrots and chicken. He loves Elmo and Cookie Monster, but also Curious George, Frog and Toad, Little Bear, the Hulk, and his baby sister.

His baby sister Aria.

Oscar will ask, “Where’s Aria?” or say, “I want Aria.” He loves stroking her hair, holding her, waving toys in her face, and making obnoxious noises about 1/4 of an inch from her nose. He has already mastered the art of being an annoying big brother.

Aria is three months old today. For the first month or so, she would sleep all day and want to party all night. She would nurse happily at 2:oo A.M. and then look around and say, “Why is it so dark? Why the long face?” She would be perfectly content as long as the light was on and I was sitting upright gazing lovingly into her little face. Try to sleep, or turn out the light, or even lie down, and she would tell me all about her hurt feelings. I would say, “It’s not all about you, Aria.” Aria would say, “Oh really? Try this: whaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!”

Luckily, in the past month, nights have become so much easier. Nursing is a piece of cake this time around, after the hell I went through the first three months of nursing Oscar. Recovering from the c-section was easier this time around, mainly because I knew what to expect. Three months later my incision site still hurts if I sit up too quickly or twist a certain way. I have a seven-inch scar to remind me of two of the most magical, beautiful, happy, terrifying, exhausting, and physically painful days of my life.

Sometimes, driving along in the car, Oscar will declare, “Aria came out of Mama’s tummy!”

Both of my children came out of my heart. They took a piece of it with them. They will be there forever.