Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Lonely: Just Write Tuesdays

Sometimes, if I'm really lucky, if everything has aligned just so, if I'm really moved or inspired or, especially, feeling something really intensely, I write in an almost-trance. It's weird. And liberating. And miraculous. And incredibly fulfilling. I can compare it to when you're driving somewhere and you arrive at your destination and realize with jarring suddenness that you have absolutely no recollection of having gotten there. When these writing out-of-body-experiences happen, sometimes I reread my work and can barely remember writing it. It feels effortless and automatic and instinctual. At the risk of sounding super corny and all transcendental: it's like the words came out through me, and I was just the vessel. (Gag.)

So when I found out about Heather King's online course "Just Write: The Art of Free Writing,", I thought I would be okay. I had already participated a few times in her Just Write Tuesdays, and read a lot of her work. I thought this would be sorta like a stream-of-consciousness thing or a just-don't-censor-or-edit-yourself thing. It wasn't.

It was hard.

And really, really good for me.

Heather says free writing should come more from a memory or the actual description of an experience you're having right then and there. You start out with no real "point," or message. The theme, she says, will (usually and hopefully) reveal itself to you. So for today's Just Write Tuesday, I thought I'd post my homework assignment from the course. Here is my first official I-think-I-did-it-right-this-time-Just-Write. Thanks, Heather.

Join in...Just Write!

I sit in the upholstered denim blue rocking chair, my feet on the ottoman.  Back and forth. Steady. Smooth.

It’s still and quiet, like I am the only one at home in the neighborhood. The wooden blinds are open, and I look out the window periodically, the day outside sunny and bright, the trees still. I can see part of the small playground and my neighbors’ house across the street, their driveway empty.

Ben is sound asleep in my lap. His bottle, nearly empty on the changing table next to me, a few drops of the grayish-white formula left at the bottom. His lips, a perfectly pink pout, are slightly open, his breathing steady, even, effortless. His arms are flailed up and out, his ruddy pink fingers balled into loose fists, also perfectly still, except for the occasional sound-asleep twitch.

He weighs nothing on my lap. I can keep him there, safe, content, by simply crossing one leg over the other, ankle to knee, forming a pseudo-cradle.  With my left hand I steady his head, absent-mindedly caressing his black, baby-thin, nearly Elvis-like hair, shiny and messy from last night’s sleep. With my right hand I hold open “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.” I read for at least 40 minutes, uninterrupted, feeling guilty that I’m letting him nap so long in my warm, rocking lap. Aren’t babies supposed to get used to being put down in their cribs? Am I spoiling him?

I look at the clock. 11:08 a.m. I mentally check in on everyone else. My husband is probably handling some kind of situation or holding a meeting at his school. My friends would all be having lunch now—together around the big kidney-shaped tables we always clear of students’ folders and books and join together so all 8 or 9 or 12 of us can fit around them. I figure Beth is telling one of her stories or Carole is picking food out of her teeth or Joel is saying how upset he is that the girl got voted off “American Idol” last night or maybe John has just cursed and everyone else is shrieking, laughing, shocked and giddy that he let the F word slip.

It amazes me that they are all only a few miles away. The guilt comes back now: I should be blissful, home with my first baby. Finally, a baby.

Ben, 2005

I spent many, many hours rocking in this chair...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

You mean it gets worse?!? - Throwback Thursday

Hard to believe THIS face belonged to a tough baby, huh?
Aidan Kai at 1 year old

I was extremely vocal about my struggles with The Baby Years. Hubby and I wanted children desperately, but had a rough time when they actually showed up. For us, the baby smell, coos and giggles, and holding a teeny tiny little human in our arms were not enough to balance out the sleepless nights and 24/7 on-call parenting. We loved our babies from day one, but always looked forward to them not being babies. Now, of course, we are sucking every little ounce of baby-likeness Aidan Kai might throw our way, because we know those days are officially over. As everyone predicted, we do miss the baby smell, coos and giggles, and holding a teeny tiny little human in our arms, but we still do not miss baby--or toddler--hood. Going back to this blog's first year and rereading the following post makes me laugh. I remember this day, this moment, clearly. I remember the feelings I had when it all happened. I remember the exact errand I was running while this all went down. And I remember that high-maintenance little boy I was schlepping around with me. 

You Mean It Gets Worse?

Posted originally HERE on November 10, 2009

It was one of those moments...I had the 25-pounder on my hip, a full blown wrestling match necessary to keep him from sliding down my side again and onto the floor, where he desperately wanted to reach the elevator alarm button.

Errands with a 15-month-old are not easy. No, let me correct that: errands with this 15-month-old are not easy. My first kid? I could go to the mall on Black Friday for 10 hours and he'd sit happily in the stroller the whole time.

Today was the second day in a row when I'd had to spend hours on my own with Aidan Kai while trying to accomplish something. Simple tasks such as buying a loaf of bread or dropping off a pair of glasses for repair become full blown tests of physical endurance and mental strength with this kid.

Yes, he's cute. Reeeeeeal cute. And funny. Reeeeeeal funny. But that baby who wailed the entire first four and a half months of his life? Still there.

So as I was standing there in the elevator, wondering how in the world women who don't work out can physically handle their toddlers when I thought surely I'd end the afternoon with either a broken back or a broken baby, a woman steps into the elevator with her teenage son. She looked serene. Her hair was brushed. She smiled at me. She made cooing sounds at Aidan Kai. That's when she points to her son and says wistfully: "Awwww, it's hard to believe he used to be that little." Another woman who had been standing behind me immediately piped in: "Yeah, they really do grow up so fast."

My response?

"Yeah, I hope so!"

It was my attempt at a bit of humor and a bit of honesty.

These two women with grown children did not think it was so funny. Or true, apparently.

"Oh, no, no, noooooo. Enjoy it. Trust us." They both nodded emphatically, nearly in unison.

At this point, the elevator door opens and as we all step out, the woman with the teenage son slows down enough to let him walk ahead. She turns back to me and conspiratorially whispers (complete with the hand over the mouth for dramatic emphasis): "You know how they say this is the best time?" She pauses and motions to Aidan. "It really is true." With that, she shuffles along to catch up with her son.

And I am left standing there, blinking. Discouraged.

You mean this is IT? This is where it peaks? Then I'm screwed, because most days, I'm not digging this part so much.

Look, I get it. I know I will look back and ooooh and ahhhh and nostalgically remember the days when my boys were babies. I already do that sometimes with Ben. I get that these days really will fly by in the grand scheme of things. I understand that they are only little for a very short time. I do know that. You realize it all the more when you've had one already grow up into a small boy, all scruffy and rough-and-tumble and occasionally stinky. So I do take time to inhale all that baby/Cheerios/milk/drool smell Aidan Kai manages to harbor in his neck and, amazingly, the very tippy top of his head. I do still make sure to take tons of pictures, so I never miss out on any lasting memories with the second child. I do try to keep in mind that this will be The Last Time In My Whole Life that I will see my child learn how to walk and say a new word and discover Mickey Mouse.

But I also think: it's gotta get easier. It's got to. Because, quite frankly, I can't do this much longer.

I often find myself fantasizing--we're talking full out theatrical production complete with narration going on in my head here--about when the boys will be old enough to be self-sufficient. No, I don't mean get jobs and move out. I don't want to fast forward that much. But an independent bath and butt wipe would be lovely. To be able to go to the beach, come home, and call out "Okay, everybody to the shower and then we're getting a pizza and a movie!" To be able to run an errand without lugging a wriggling, borderline-tantrumy sack of potatoes back and forth. To be able to unload a dishwasher without having to use one foot as a mid-air gate to keep the baby from climbing into it.

So, really, how bad do things get after this? Did that woman in the elevator know something I don't? Is this like when parents don't tell people who are thinking about having kids how tough it really is because a) they don't want to frighten them and b) misery loves company?

I've spoken to many women who tell me that they absolutely loooooved the baby stage. Sometimes I wonder if they really did, in fact, love it while they were in it, or, if maybe after the years have passed, they love the memories of it. Maybe once it's all over and you have grown kids running around, with their own set of issues and challenges, you just remember that fat wriggly cooing baby and wish for that simplicity. You block out the sleepless nights, the ear-splitting tantrums in the grocery store, the mashed peas thrown across the room. I read somewhere once that scientists have discovered that the brain tends to forget unpleasant memories. It's like a defense mechanism. I suppose if you couple that scientific logic with the everyday aches and pains of babyhood, it makes sense that we'd remember only the good.

The next time Aidan Kai is screeching, stiff-legged, refusing to sit down in the shopping cart, I will try and remember that woman with the teenager. I will try. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will walk into an elevator and see a struggling mom with her struggling baby and smile knowingly, maybe even long for the smell of Cheerios and drool. But I don't think I will tell her to "enjoy it." Because really, that's kind of unnecessary.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The wishes and resolutions of others

On New Year's Eve, we hosted a party in our house. Because we love ourselves a party gimmick, we covered a bare wall with white butcher paper and asked all of our guests--ranging in ages from 1 to 74--to write their wishes and/or resolutions for 2014. At first, I wasn't completely sure if our idea would be a hit, probably because I'm one of those insecure party-throwers who still worries that "no one is coming to my party" and "what if people don't have fun?". (Never mind the fact that we throw tons of parties in our why-did-we-think-we-needed-such-a-big-house-House, but I am sure that is just one more issue I should bring up with my therapist.) With the exception of the 1-year-old, who was way too busy either crying or losing her pretty tiny silver Mary Jane,  it seemed everyone had a lot to "say."

Some of the graffiti was serious and important:
My sister's wish: her health...because after this year, she's learned--and so did we--that the rest is just crap.

Some of the wishes were very indicative of the ages of the wishers...

Like Angie, a straight A high school student,who has perhaps decided a
slight dip in her average will not  indicate the end of the world...

And little Andrew, whose grape eating habits have, apparently, been a problem his entire 5-year-life:

"I will eat grapes with the skin on."

There were the usual, expected types of resolutions and wishes...like go to the gym and work hard, but then there were also those wishes that, hopefully, would not come to fruition...
Can you spot..."Kill my boss slowly"?

It was especially interesting to see the difference between my two boys' wishes. Those who know my kids really, really well, got a kick out of this:

From Ben, the older one, who obviously felt it was important that he write something important on the wall for all to see:
"I hope all the poor get money and home's. And happy holidays!"
From Aidan Kai, my younger one, who has a much simpler, less world-changing wish:'
"Everybody have fun"

Then there was Hubby, whose wishes and resolutions said a lot about his daily habits: too much drinking and too little texting...?

Personally, I was quite relieved to read the "Yeah right!" which he added immediately afterwards...

Perhaps it was a sign that his marker faded as he wrote his "real" resolution:
"Respond & text/call the people I love!!!!"

Bottom line: when we woke up on the first day of 2014, it was a lot of fun to take some time with our coffee and read the remnants of the night's leftover thoughts, hopes, and plans (especially since neither of us were hungover this year). It was such a mix of authentic resolutions, mixed in with some of the drunken commentary that probably should never have made it onto a wall where an 8-year-old lives...

Oh, and here was mine:

I have been just about as successful with my meditation resolution as Hubby has with his returning calls one. I guess that's a good thing, since neither of us have been very quick to judge or critique the other. As for my phone one, I'm trying... And the writing? Well, I'm here, ain't I?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Pros and Cons of My Own Intensity

there is
a price to pay
for being me

there is
a price to pay
for being
in my Life

I am intense


when I
it is
at either extreme

everything matters

I am awed
by the perfection of
a blue day
a flawless lyric
that moment when I realize I have been

I am broken
by the slight of
an unintended word
a sunless day
the moment when I think I will never be

I am hard
I have been told

am told

if I love you
it will be

my adoration
is not forced
not display
not spurred by too much wine
or loud music

it is

from a high or a low
the tension is nearly the same
euphoria or despair

my breath traps itself
inside my chest

that tightness

an inconsequential instant
something you might walk past
may stop me
rock me

and it may surprise me
your lack of urgency
just don't scoff at my excess

I do not
know how

Sunday, January 5, 2014

What did you learn in 2013?

One of my favorite bloggers recently asked me that question. Well, she didn't really ask me...she asked everyone who follows her blog, but of course, I take everything personally.

I almost didn't answer.

A few years ago, I decided to try to not take the new year hoopla so seriously. I used to journal and reflect on the passing year every December 31, and then plan my entire new year: resolutions, grand changes and plans. I put this inordinate amount of pressure on myself to come up with some really poignant, life-changing stuff. It really was exhausting, and most of the time, it felt completely contrived.

So I decided I would sorta ignore all the hype. I would not make any grand resolutions. The year that had passed was simply another year, just like the one that was coming. I forced myself to approach January first as just the day that came after December 31. Admittedly, at the beginning that was tough. Sorta like when you have an itch you're not able to scratch (say, on the arch of your right foot, and you're wearing socks and boots, and you're driving), and you have to white-knuckle it until the moment passes. That's sorta what it was like. I was worried a Very Important Day was here and I was ignoring it.

But after a couple of years, it started to feel very freeing: no self-inflicted pressure, no overly dramatic ponderings.

So when Lindsey Mead posed that question at the end of her New Year's post, I almost ignored it: "Oh, I don't do that stuff anymore. And really, I don't think I learned anything different or significant in 2013." If you'd been here, you probably would have seen me shrugging, dismissively, as I sat at my kitchen counter in my pajamas, drinking my coffee.

But then I took one second to think about it, and it took no longer than that to realize that 2013 probably ended up being One Of Those Really Transforming Years in my life. I highly doubt most people--even those who are close to me--notice the difference, but there has been a shift in me over the last year.

They say that who you are as a person at 20 years old is certainly not who you are at 35. (Public Service Announcement: Having realized this to be absolutely true, I am a firm believer that if you are going to get a tattoo, you should wait until you're at least in your very, very late 20's. I currently have 7 tattoos, and thankfully, none is a Winnie the Pooh, which is what I was absolutely positive I wanted when I was 23.) I remember when I was going through my twenties, which was a decade filled with the best and worst decisions of my life, tons of therapy, and really growing up and becoming who I was meant to be, my wisest, dearest friend (who happens to be 30 years older than I) would tell me this repeatedly. "You won't change that much from 40 to 50, Liz, but there will be a stark difference between who you were at 25 and who you will be at 36." But now here I am at 41, and I feel some major changes inside myself from just a couple of years ago. These changes, in part, came from the first really big serious life stuff I experienced: my sister's cancer, some financial issues, major friendship break-ups, and watching my children go through the seismic shift from babies to boys.

I don't feel like the same person I was a year or so ago.

It was towards the end of 2012 when I dug through a book I had read months prior, searching for a particular quote from a biography, needing it, finding comfort in it, without knowing at the time how desperately I would turn to it again and again over the coming year and a half:

"There's no real point in mourning all the sadness and suffering in the world....So this is my therapy, to sing about the end of the world and dance. We don't find solutions in despair--we find solutions in the defiance of it....Everybody needs a little horn section."  ~Dave Matthews

I had always been one of those people that if anything was "pending" I couldn't be fully happy. It was a futile battle, since those of us who have grown up realize that there is always something pending:  bills, schoolwork, a messy house, medical tests, dirty dishes, a necessary but difficult conversation, sick family members, a torturous work project...  I found myself waiting for things to be Perfect. Of course, they never are. Whether it's really serious scary shit (like my sister's cancer battle last year) or stupid stressful shit (like a never ending laundry pile), there's always something "bad" to be upset about. I always used to think that I wasn't really supposed to be fully content and joyful unless everything that was pending had been "taken care of."

But then that quote--a quote I had read months prior to actually needing it--did something to me. It made sense. It was one of those a-ha! light bulb moments that is very personal and, really, only the person experiencing it can truly understand its depth and importance. I couldn't solve any problem--big or small, real or imagined--by feeling despair. But I could defy that despair. I could sing and dance, literally and figuratively. I could say "Fuck you" to the problem, to the fear, to the suffering. And then, no matter what, I had won. I had taken that moment in my life and lived it. Really lived it. With horns blaring.

I put that quote up at work by my desk. I put it up on my mirror in my closet where I get dressed everyday. For a while, it was even the wallpaper on my phone. Throughout 2013, when I wanted to huddle up and hide under the covers...when I felt the fear and anxiety and despair seeping in and threatening to take over...I reread it, and it got me through.

My perspective has changed over the last year. I am quieter inside. The infamous noise inside my head doesn't drown everything else out (usually). I stress less. I put more importance on the things that need my attention. I have less time and patience for bullshit--not just others', but my own as well. Somehow, my sister's cancer diagnosis, my little babies no longer being babies, and entering my forties have all combined to make me less fearful of life, but acutely aware of its passing and its opportunities. I want to dance and sing and travel and laugh and explore and grow and love more every day, because I've come to realize that it is my responsibility to do so: I have been given this life...just one chance to get it right...and I want to live it as true to my own desires as possible.
Happy New Year.