Tired here at the end of the day, but the good kind, the kind that says my body and my mind and my voice have all been made use of today. The weather was strange from the start, a warm breeze from this direction, a cold one from that, sunlight dimming and brightening through inconstant clouds, a moment or two of drizzle. It was a little off-kilter, the internet radio not working, the knowledge of mercury being in retrograde buzzing around my brain. Five minutes into our morning walk, as he dawdled even more than usual, I turned us around, changed my clothes, and off we went in the jogging stroller, four miles looped through the neighborhood at a strange midmorning hour I hardly ever spend running, but it worked for us today to go with intuition and signs and symbols and against the usual flow. Everything happened earlier or later or more easily or longer than I expected, but by the end I was rolling along with it, with threatening rain and a last-minute call for a few hours’ work at the farm, with rambunctious toddlers and conversations no one wants to end, with an offer of a freelance job that is just the right size at this moment. The universe shook things up today. Or maybe not the entire universe. Maybe just that full, fat June moon that’s up there beyond the clouds somewhere. Maybe it’s all her doing that I’ve been sidestepping and ducking and swinging this way and that to find my way today. And now that way leads to cool sheets and a warm husband…
A drizzling, misting, light gray day in June. June. Where was the spring? Oh wait, we missed it.
After breakfast and the tug of war to change from robot pajamas to potty time to a clean diaper to clean clothes, we made our way outside regardless of the weather. Exploration of the mysterious compost bin, piled with eggshells and onion skin and apple cores, clouded with gnats, warm. Digging in “his” patch of dirt, between the garlic whose scapes are suddenly not just sprouted but tall and the newly planted tomatillo and pepper plants. Walking the “balance beam” of 4×4 at the edge of the raised bed. Squatting to examine moist soil. Squealing with delight as he watches a bird fly through the roped-up hop vines and into the bittersweet that flows from – into? – the neighbor’s yard.
Meanwhile, I drink my milky black tea and stretch a little. Three miles run Sunday, five yesterday, and my legs are muttering about it. But these legs! Suddenly my thighs are run through with iron, the soft places thinning to reveal tensile strength beneath. The baby/toddler/boy and I lie in his bed in the evenings and stretch our feet to the ceiling, shake out the stiffness, reach for our toes, roll like pencils across the thin futon mattress. He climbs on my back while I breathe through a plank. He crawls below me as I shift into downward dog. He begs to ride in the stroller, mostly because he knows we’ll visit the chickens at the farm halfway or stop on the way home at a friend’s place to descend over a hundred stairs to the shore, run around on a beach far sandier than ours, climb the rock wall, and then step up each of those stairs again, back to the stroller, back home to the dog and to dada and to dinner.
Not today, though. A rest day. For puttering around in the thick wet air. A day for more tea. And maybe some poems.
Even though it took four times as long as usual, he had so much fun helping me sweep. He learned the word “tidying” as I scurried around, clearing off the floor, finding home for things with him. He ran after me with the dust pan, scooping up dog hair. He snagged our big broom whenever I set it down, clearing for me. He watched our neighbor gardening outside and called her by name. He sipped water and begged for more cashew milk (he’s just started drinking anything but water, at his own request, and it feels like such new, big kid territory). When I sliced my finger on a rough bit of the faucet, he, too, needed a bandaid, like mama. When I didn’t stop sweeping to give him another prune, he plucked the container of them off of the counter, took two, put the lid back on, and replaced it where it had been. He climbs chairs to get to where he needs to go, and even though he might ask for help getting down, usually all it takes is “remember? how do we get down?” and he can do it. He ate two bowls of oats and raisins and yogurt for breakfast, asking for extra [flax & chia] seeds. The weather is gorgeous after two days of clouds and rain, and on our walk today, we picked up and discarded stones and sticks, watched the mailman for a long while, listened for a rooster crowing somewhere and talked about the difference between boy chickens and girl chickens. He knows butter comes from cows, eggs come from chickens, mint and garlic come from the backyard. And with all of his insistence on helping, he’s learning, too, about our values, our world. When washing the dishes, we turn the water off when we’re not using it because a lot of people need to work very hard to clean it after it goes down our drain. We don’t leave the fridge open too long when putting things away because we don’t want to waste the energy. This yucky thing may go in the trash, but that yucky thing may go in the compost to help feed our baby garlic, baby hops, baby tomatillos. Learning, learning. He’s learning to help put on his own shirt, pull up his pants. He brings me clean diapers when I tell him it’s time for a change. He says “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” “mama, hold hands,” “I love you.”
The dog woke up him up fifteen minutes into what is usually a 2-3 hour nap. I still need to buy groceries for dinner tonight (friends are coming) and take the recycling to the transfer station. I really don’t want a cranky nap-free baby tonight, nor am I terribly excited about missing out on that slice of afternoon that I get all to myself.
I have trouble remembering sometimes, how fortunate I am, we are. I have trouble disconnecting from all of those things I worry about getting right and noticing the things that are going better than I could have anticipated. We toured a lovely, homey Montessori school on Wednesday; he wouldn’t go until fall of next year, but we found a day in the school year my teacher man could take a day off and his mother could take the morning to babysit. As much as our guide very gently, firmly told us that it’s not the right school for every child, we were struck again and again by how it will so much be the right place for ours. His independence, his polite communication, his curiosity and focus. And even the visit itself, the obvious concept of avoiding doing for children what they can learn themselves, has rubbed off on us, as we continue to invite Thomas to help us water the plants, wipe his face and hands, put away his clean laundry.
There’s no grade in a grade book. There’s no raise, no new title. There’s no awards ceremony, no convocation. You just wake up, as a parent, and recognize that it’s a new mini era.
I want to simplify, but cluttered chaos trails after me like smoke after a comet. I want to be consumed by one vocation, but my mind and body pull to a rotating half dozen callings of hands and head. I want to revel in contentment, but my soul can’t stop reaching toward something higher, a loftier goal.
I want to walk across miles and miles of earth. I want to climb up mountains and listen to the secrets that hum within them. I want to feel sturdy, fertile earth beneath my feet. I am tired of shifting sands. I am tired of changing winds. I am tired of the sea and its moods and its restless motion and its incessant noise.
I am tired of the sea.
I’ve promised my love five years. Five years in this town by the sea, five years in his job, five years of payments on this mortgage in this house.
I wish we could take the house and, if he liked, his job with us. This town by the sea is not for me.
When he and I met, we marveled at how hard we had tried before to make the wrong people, the wrong relationships, work. We had struggled and fought and tugged and surrendered far more than we could stand to lose. And then, when we met, we learned that love did not call for such sadness.
That’s how I feel about this town. I feel we have spent four years struggling for friendships, fighting for a place, tugging strangers together to form community. He sees nothing but potential, but growth, but the light of dawn just beyond the horizon. I am too buffered by sea winds and disappointment; certainly we have made progress, but what if we can’t ever win?
This morning I was inspired.
Inspired to petition BCBSMA and all MA insurance companies to cover home births as part of their policies, inspired to put together my husband’s birthday gift, excited about the running I’ve been doing and will do. I was making plans for a little shop online to sell wrist warmers and quilts and french press cozies (things to hold in the much-needed warmth). The coffee shop job is smoothing out and the farm starts soon and there’s been a little blip of editing after a few weeks without. I was finally feeling like things would all work out, like I could let go of the worry for a second and just enjoy being excited.
But then there was a talk with one of my bosses feeling hurt that I have two other jobs I’m trying to balance along with the one I do for her because hers is only a seasonal job and I need money all year long since I cannot hibernate and ignore the world and food and heat and necessities for half of the year. And a walk along the edge of misunderstanding with my in-laws blooming into a talk with my husband about whether we are taking advantage of them, whether he (my husband) will be able to continue his dream position volunteering at a local brewery even though I work two shifts a weekend. And suddenly my contributions and my efforts seem so small.
If only I could sell one of the novels I have kicking around for a $5000-10000 dollars. If only I could get a job tutoring and make in two hours what I make in ten serving coffee. If only, if only. If only I tried harder, pinched the pennies tighter, tighter. If only I hadn’t gotten that one take-out pizza last month. If only I hadn’t gotten that celebratory bottle of wine the month before. If only I could get an editing job I could do from home. If only we had inexpensive national childcare. If only money grew on trees. If only money were no object.
Mothering is enough, they say. You work hard enough raising a child; it is enough. But what about when it isn’t?
I read about John Muir walking 1,000 miles through the southeast United States. “I should do that,” I think.
I find the website of a quilter who makes a living creating beautiful, simple, classic quilts with hand-dyed fabric. “I could do that,” I think.
I watch friends work outside the home three days a week, stay home the rest of the time, but with big girl jobs, jobs with salaries, jobs that require brainpower, and think “oh, how I wish I had that.”
I’ve been running lately. I’ve been a runner for ten years, but it’s off-and-on, only when necessary, a post of its own.
I consider the life of a middle school math teacher, the beautiful balance of numbers all day, the (to me) extravagant salary, and I can’t wait for that to be an option.
How do you choose just one thing? How does the universe decide who is fortunate enough to have a single, consuming passion in life? How do you devote yourself to just one thing?
I can’t decide. I want it all.
Writing hasn’t been one of those wants lately. It’s spring. Spring fever means a life outside, under the sun, in the rain, walking on sand, running on dirt roads, sprawling on grass. It means grilled vegetables and a hasty pot of beans for dinner. It means that my house in unswept and untidy (oh, wait, that’s all of the time…). It means freckles and dirty fingernails and tulips in the front yard. It means wanting more – more vegetables, more sun, longer walks, more time with friends. It means dreaming of less – a tiny house, a bare-bones closet.
No mention, I know, of a little boy. He is fine. He is lovely. He is napping. I just need a moment to be me.
I got a shitty phone call this morning and then made the situation worse. details don’t matter. what matters is that you aren’t here. you aren’t here to say ‘sons of bitches!’ and pour me a drink. you aren’t here to tell me about something completely unrelated and distracting and fascinating. you aren’t here to smoke those clove cigarettes I remember in my backyard and convince me that the best thing to do is drunken yoga in the grass like we did at the teahouse that night after I broke up with my fiance and we were out with those two men who thought we were beautiful and fierce and and dangerous. they wanted to kiss us. they wanted more.
sorry. memories. once I start missing you, I can’t stop. I can’t forget hashbrowns at midnight when we were both up late working. I can’t forget the free kittens we spontaneously picked up that day from the cardboard box on that porch near campus. I can’t forget your green hoodie, the different colors you dyed your hair. I can’t forget your wisdom, your naked honesty, your unending support. I had never met anyone like you before, and I don’t know that I ever will again.
god, that year. that was the best year. baking for boys and drinking all of that crazy cheap walmart rose and eating pico on the sidewalk until we stunk of garlic and cilantro and lime.
I hope that your life is fucking amazing. I hope that you dance until you can’t stand up any more. I hope that people respect and appreciate you the way you deserve. I hope that your spring is gorgeous and overwhelming. I hope that one day you decide to get back in touch.
love to you, friend.
I remember the baby fever, stretching back long before I got pregnant, lingering in a heat on my skin months after my son was born. I was addicted to deliciousness of my soft, tiny baby, hungry for another. The hormonal waves of love and peace. The cocoon of snuggling and warmth and connection. I remember, I remember.
But after a year, when his sleep was the worst of his life and when he could say enough to believe he was communicating but not enough to be clear, when he could move well enough suddenly to get into, onto, everything, but not well enough to get back again, when I worried I would never again have a moment to breathe, the fever turned cold. One child was enough; how could I face the prospect of another?
Then those troubles smoothed over. At eighteen months, he has words for so many of his wants and delights and pains. He wakes no more than once a night, if that, and sometimes even plays quietly in his room when he wakes, giving me a few extra minutes to climb out of my dreams. He is capable and strong, scaling stairs, traipsing over sand dunes, climbing rocky hills, with no problem. He is a delight, a joker, prodding us into games, imitating the spring birds we see more and more on our daily walks. We have a language, a rhythm, an understanding. He is old enough to be apart from me for half a day, a day, and (I believe) overnight, if need be. He feels safe with his father, his grandparents, his own quiet company, even the occasional family friend. And now he’s beginning to learn the Most Important Things: gentleness and sharing, cleaning up after himself, kindness.
And while my rational mind knows that we’re almost at the point where we want to start “trying” again, nine months before it would be most convenient to welcome a new baby into our very seasonal lives, my body hesitates, my heart speeds up. I’ve been told this is the point, just before a first child turns two, when most women begin to long for a second. They see their “babies” stretching longer and leaner and more independent and they yearn for the cozy simplicity of the newborn.
But I remember afternoons full of tears. I remember breasts aching with plugged ducts, underwear and sheets smelling of spoiled milk. I remember blood for weeks, my hair slipping away from my scalp and clinging to drains, floors, clothes. I remember feeling frumpy and soft and slack. I remember being so desirous of personal space. I remember, I remember.
I love my lean strong body, my sturdy, lovely son. I love my husband, the way we’re navigated the waters so far. Right now, we are enough.
She felt done in. One was only allotted so much patience in a day, so many lengths of that precious thread to knot and waste and fret over before feeling quite finished. And she tried so hard to parse it out cautiously, to have at least a little remaining when the day ended and the baby was sleeping and the time came to rest. But on this day all of her patience had tangled by early afternoon when the child still would not sleep and so many trials were still to come before bed. One tried so to be good. Punctual and well kept and considerate. But it had been a day of minor irritations. Death by a thousand cuts. No one else, it appeared, was trying to be good. No one thought it important to be polite or organized. The handyman thought it just fine to show up an hour later than anticipated when he had so stressed the day before that he wanted an early start. And her husband had kept to himself the invitation to the party, which meant that not only had it surprised her earlier in the week to know that it was to take place so soon but then, after she had shifted a dinner party around to allow for it, he had mixed up the days anyway and so she had moved her own party from the night the event was not taking place to the night that it was. And on top of all of that was the boy, her lovely boy with apple cheeks and charming chatter who nonetheless was still a very young boy and so spent his days tormenting the dog, dumping out full containers, soiling clean ones, eating things one ought not eat, rejecting food he had accepted weeks or days or moments before, and generally falling apart over what seemed to be nothing at all. She did not, she reminded herself, have any reason to hold him to the expectations she held herself, but she did find other adults who failed to meet them all the more exasperating after contending with the child all day.
One could only bite one’s tongue so may times, after all…
I’m part of only one private facebook group, one with a group of mothers who all were due the month Thomas was born. When first pregnant, we met up on mothering.com (website for all mothers crunchy/hippie), and we’ve kept in touch daily ever since. They accept and love that I still breastfeed my son when he’s eighteen months old, that we coslept, that I never used formula or jarred baby food, that we use cloth diapers, that we delay vaccinations. While I love the mothers I’ve met in my own town, these mothers support and encourage my unorthodox ways.
But a recent story I heard on NPR has made me feel, for the first time, like an outlier in this group. The story is about childrearing in the past generation or so, the way that kids are never unsupervised, never exposed to any kind of risk, always clean and safe, and the detrimental effects it may be having on confidence, on the way children may be taking part in more risky behaviors as adolescents because they never tested themselves as children. The article talks about “playgrounds” filled with scrap wood and fire pits and rusty lawn chairs where kids can roam without rules (maybe a few adults, there only to intervene in Very Serious Circumstances). It talks about the hours upon hours kids spent alone a generation ago and the way none of the children of those children are ever alone, though our world is no less safe than it was back then.
The mothers in the group were all a bit tense in their responses, it seemed. They keep their children close. People drive too fast on roads. There are transients often nearby. No safe places. And maybe they are in dangerous places; I’ve never visited any of them, and cannot judge.
But I can’t wait to see my son’s territory in our neighborhood expand. The day he can go bike on the dirt road without us. The day he can walk to the pond, to the beach (as long as he takes the dog, and then alone). The day he can cross the highway to the other pond. The day he can go to the park. The day he can go to his grandparents’ house or the farm where I work (two miles away). The day he can take the kayak out on his own (many many years off, obviously). And all of the secret places he’ll go to along the way, places I’ll never see, never know about. Places he’ll catch frogs and build forts and look at pictures of naked women an risk is balance and his bones. I want him to come home muddy and scratched. I want him to come home a few minutes late, running like a bat out of hell because he knows he’s late but he got distracted watching a fox or a trail of ants or a thunderstorm coming in from the sea. I want his natural confidence and charm to be backed up by experience and honestly-earned pride, by tested bravery.
I don’t care if he wants to play soccer or sing in the chorus or write computer code. I don’t care if he gets straight As year after year after year. I don’t want college to be his one and only goal through his teenage years.
I want him to get learn to use a knife safely and to build a fire and to find his way home when he’s lost. Technology and sex and teachers we’ll have to deal with inevitably. But wildness can be squeezed out of a child early and carelessly. I want him to know his limitations, and to know when it’s time to push them a little further.
And if people think that means I’m neglecting my son, I guess that’s too damn bad.