2017: On healing, compassion for a fallen tree, and the okayness of pain

On this New Year’s Day, the first day of 2017, I want to say that I still carry around a lot of raw feelings about the years of multiple pregnancy losses I recently experienced. It is difficult to parse out, sometimes, what exactly I am going through when I feel depressed, angry, or just sad. After all, these are normal human emotions. But then I sit with the feeling and see behind it and there it is–the years of isolation, loss, hopelessness, suicidal ideation, grief, fear, anxiety, rage, when I was losing babies and losing my heart and mind.

Also, I am going to be 43 soon, and my body isn’t feeling so good (I know I have to–have to–develop some sort of regular aerobic exercise habit that doesn’t cause injuries, I’m thinking I’ll try Pure Barre). And at times my premenstrual days are quite brutal, emotionally (Christmas Day was a bear of a Day One of my period, and the next day I caught my dad’s flu). There is unhealed rage inside me, living there, I know it, I feel it, and I know I sometimes still act out toward others in my life (my husband, my parents) because of it. I will think I have let go of resentments totally, but then I find myself in a dark, angry little vortex that has been there since the pain of loss started in 2012. There are quite a few vortexes inside, swift-acting land mines in the vast landscape of me.

I want to be a better person. I want to be calmer, more loving, less pessimistic, less angry. But there are other hurts, too, ones that go back and back and back to my childhood, that will also probably be there forever. They can’t be eradicated. But I can learn (and relearn) to live with them in as healthy a way as possible.

I am happy often. Fulfilled. Joyous. Energetic. It’s not always anger, sadness, depression, exhaustion, and body aches in my world. I said to my husband the other day, “I suffer so much. I am a deeply flawed human being.” And he said, “But you are also a deeply wonderful human being, a lot of the time.” Which was very generous of him, since he often bears the brunt of my frustrations.

The old bear Injustice raised its angry claws during this visit home to my parents. I got into a fight with my mom, and I realize, now, that I shouldn’t have. It was very short-lived and we are fine now, but I think I took out a lot of old hurts on her. I also called my aunt and roared my frustrations about my mom to her. Ugh. I wish I wouldn’t have. I realize that Christmastime is an extremely emotional time for me for so many reasons. The explosion that led to my breakup with my first husband happened Christmas of 2007. Then there were the lonely Christmases I thought I was lost forever. Then the Christmases I was losing what I thought would be my children and felt no one was supporting me the way I needed. And the Christmas I realized that my parents have no retirement savings left and will have to work until they drop. Much percolates to the surface around this time of year for me.

All the while, my S is singing, dancing, laughing, talking in sentences, making us all feel wonderful. He is such a unifier. His natural compassion is breathtaking.

The other day, we went for a walk, and he went up to a fallen tree and had a little talk with it. “Tree fall down,” he said. “Boom,” he said. “I hug,” he said. He wrapped his arm around the trunk and squeezed. “Happy now, Tree? Better?” He walked around to the other side of the trunk and hugged it, too. Then he patted the trunk gently for a while, looking down at it. Then he walked on. This was all unprompted by me and did not involve me. I just stood back and watched. Tears in my eyes.

That night, he said, “Mama, we bed. We snugoo.” (Snuggle.) And on the bed he said, “I hug,” and gave me a long, strong hug. I know that he could sense that something was a little off with me, that I was less happy than usual, because of some of the complicated feelings I was having about past hurts. “I love you, Mama,” he said, so clearly. “Arms,” he said, patting my arms. “Legs. Mama’s legs,” he whispered, giving them little pats. He pulled my arm over his little body so we could spoon and if I moved an inch he pressed that arm back down. “I happy,” he said. “Happy baby. You happy, mama?”

“Oh yes, I’m very happy, here with you, my sweet baby,” I said.

His affection is like medicine for the soul, for all people and creatures and plants around him. He shows this same sort of closeness with my parents and with DH. He loves love. He loves happy. In fact, when he falls down, he might cry for a while, but he is quick to assure us that he is happy. The parenting challenges are getting trickier already, because I want to somehow impart to him that it is okay to be unhappy when he falls down, that he doesn’t have to reassure us. It is okay to be sad and hurt.

I have to learn to model this tricky, tricky thing for him. We hurt, we are hurt, we live on. We heal, we don’t heal. We go down, we go up. All of that is just as it should be.

I have to model how to live a life that includes the pain and rage of injustice. The hollow grief of profound loss.

If we fall down and get up, we can cry, we don’t have to be happy about it. We can rage, cry, and we can even dwell, if we want to. All feelings are valid.

And it is never his job to reassure me. It is my job to hold and reassure him.

But he came from the stars and his star-creature nature is right there on the surface of him, at two years old, pure immortality stuff. A light that radiates, and I do believe his natural inclination is to shine.

At the beginning of 2017, I am committing myself to finding my own shining light, again. Since the election, I’ve been diving down into the depths, surfacing with glee, then going under again. The practical side of less deep-muck diving: More aerobic exercise and less social media and news articles about “Trump’s America” (a phrase I abhor, by the way). I do my weekly political actions (phone calls to representatives, and so on) and then if I get sucked into media, I watch the clock and turn away at a predetermined time. Other practicalities include focusing on buying a house (appointments lined up for next weekend) and perhaps pushing for a move this summer (better to get it over with now, while I’m not working, I think, and begin focusing on creating a home we’ll have for years). Completing what I need to do to get my PA clinical social work license is also very important. And the next big step: Getting a job of some sort. It’s important that I start making money again, continue to develop my career, and contribute to retirement savings. S will still be at his wonderful school next year (I continue to be in love with this dreamy place, the time they spend in nature in the snow, the relationships he is forming) and if I need to I can bump him up from three half-days to five half-days, should I find something to match those hours. It has to happen soon, because so many of our stresses are financial. Also: I’m absolutely dying to take S on vacation with us somewhere beautiful–and to go to Europe with DH, as he has never been!

Time to get some Bailey’s and go back to my parents’ house, where DH and I are going to make pork and sauerkraut and probably play with a few diggers, cars, trucks, dump trucks, big rigs, and trains. The biggest hit of Christmas Day, as far as presents go, was a stack of musty old model-train collector magazines from 1989 that we got for $3 at a PA train museum. “Oh wow,” S said when he opened them. “Wow-o-wow-o-wow.” One morning I came out, and there he was sitting in a chair at the kitchen, reading his train magazine and sipping his milk, paging through it quietly, while his Pa-Paw sat beside him reading his own magazine and drinking coffee. Old soul, I tell you.

But he’s a toddler, too. “We run?” he asks us. And we run through the house. “Mark, go! I win! I beat Mama!” Christmas Day, he led countless “races,” the entire crazy extended family running after him in a line through the basement.

Up, down. Up, down. Compassion for a fallen tree, compassion for one another and for ourselves. Learning repeatedly how to hold it all. Happy 2017, everyone.

 

 

Two, and some other things

I have little time but just want to say:

Our old-soul sweetie turned two! We had a wonderful time with our crazy Ohio family.

S is so, so happy. Thriving. Loving life. Learning rapidly. Gentle and kind. Besotted with my parents. My hilarious little buddy—the inside jokes we have! The songs we croon together!

I am writing a sci-fi/fantasy novel for teens. One of the characters has S’s microtia—which gives him special powers…

Taking 1 mg of melatonin at 9 pm has changed my whole deal—I can sleep through the night for the past week, for the first time since the election.

We are beginning to look at houses to buy. Mortgages are so much cheaper than rent!

Over and out!

I send you my love

The unthinkable has happened. Yes. It has. It really, really has. I type these words with confusion, sadness, anger, fear, and—believe it or not—hope.

This is my son. My beautiful, loving, kind son. His teacher took this picture. She said S was reaching out to hold hands with and comfort his friend, who was having a really rough day and crying quite a bit. She said it was like S was saying, “It’s okay, buddy, I got you.”

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This is the future.

I went to yoga this morning. I was, to my surprise, feeling better. Yesterday was a dark, dark day, a sick day, and I almost literally vomited. But I woke up today thinking about people turning to their communities, doing volunteer work, connecting locally, spreading love and good works—it was just an image in my mind, but it said to me: This is possible. A more evolved world IS possible. One man does not change everyone and everything. Yes, he’s the most powerful man in the world, but he can’t control the way we treat one another in our homes, our communities, on the streets, in the cafes, in the schools. He can control a lot, but he can’t control whether I smile to my neighbor.

So I walked into yoga feeling this bizarre optimism. I dissolved into my mat and my breath and into the air and practiced unity and presence.

Then, at the end of the class, during final resting pose, I began to cry. During namaste, I sent out loving kindness to the world. I understood how many people are going to suffer, and suffer in ways unimaginable to me, because of the president we now have and Congress and the Supreme Court. Changes are going to happen that will change peoples lives for the worse forever.

There is no sentence starting with “but” to follow that statement.

I believe in the younger generations. I believe in my son. I believe in love. I also know how much pain is going to come to so many.

This morning, this very morning, S started saying “I love.” He went through a phase when he was much younger when he would say, “I-la-ooo,” imitating “I love you,” and I was kind of sad when that phase ended. So, perfect timing, this morning, he’s saying, “I love” to my husband and me, and then asking us to hug him. “Hug! Hug!” he said. Then he asked me to “cheers” his glass.

In the car, I snapped off NPR and started singing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” and S, in the back seat, joined in. When we were finished he called out to me, “Happy, happy!” I swear. I mean, how is that even real? It is. He’s real. He’s a healer—I say that in all seriousness. A natural healer.

It is time to snap out of our lulled state and do good works, at the local level. And it is time to look to our children for guidance in how to remain hopeful in the darkest of times.

I send you all my love.

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo

I’m going to try. What do I have to lose?

Have you ever tried? What happened? Love to hear about it.

The unexpected trip: suddenly eating pizza in the sun

I wake up with a strain in my left arm that is so painful I cry out when I try to pull up my pants. This means I will not only have difficulty lifting S, I will also not be able to do my early-morning workout. I cry in my husband’s arms. The scale reads 148. Still.

Luckily, S wakes up smiling and joking around. I have noticed that if he wakes up cranky and crying, this is a pretty good indicator that I will have a challenging day/morning. But he tries to make me laugh with his monster voice, and then he runs to his easel, where we have made Thanksgiving turkey placemats for my family by tracing his hand. He wants to put his hand on a turkey right away.

I decide that we should go into the city to Trader Joe’s for the weekly shop, but I can’t find a moment to create a grocery list. It is that Midwestern steely gray out and, even though I went to bed at 9:30 PM, I am dragging and forgetful. It seems to take me hours to get our stuff together, and I don’t finish my makeup or even look at my hair. When we get in the car I notice that there is a stain on the chest of my t-shirt.

I write an unnecessarily terse text to DH about an issue and then feel bad about it. We go to Giant Eagle for SB coffee and, even though I promised myself that I would be better about monitoring S’s sugar intake, I get him a vanilla milk because that is all they have, and we’d run out of milk at home. I put it in a ba-ba because it was in the car, and I forgot his travel cup at home, and I just don’t want to deal with vanilla milk spouting out of the carton all over him. “I’m ready for a sippy cup, Mommy,” a total stranger says to us as I lug S past her table, pain shooting through my arm. Part of me wants to tell her that he has been drinking out of regular open-top cups for many months now, and another part of me just wants to flip her the bird.

Once on the highway, I somehow miss our exit and end up in a strange area that the GPS has a hard time deciphering, sending me around in circles. When I finally get things straight, I miss my exit again. I look at the clock and realize that there is no way I will be able to get the shopping done in time for us to get home for lunch and nap. I will have to give him a Happy Tots pouch that he will or maybe will not consume during the drive home from TJ’s—the car-ride pouch lunch another thing I told myself I would stop doing—and then perhaps nap slouched over in the car seat.

I should just go home, I think. It’s healthier for both of us. Then I think, No, go to the store, you’re already out. Just get it over with. I struggle like this until I realize I need to pull over and decide what to do.

The next exit I see is for the Strip District.

As I turn onto that pretty blue-and-yellow bridge, it occurs to me that I could scrap both ideas and take my baby to The Strip, and see what happens.

We park and get out and the wind is brisk. “Wow!” S says, all smiles on my hip. We talk about the cars, trucks, buildings, and clouds. My spirits are lifting. We stop in an adult-looking coffee shop because I have suddenly decided that it will be really good for me to spend just a few minutes in an adult-looking coffee shop. Get my urban cafe fix.

We go in the bathroom first, and when I go to wash my hands, I see that my hair, which I air-dry, is plastered to my skull as if it has been soaked in oil. I feel it and realize that I had been in such a rush early that morning in the shower that I’d forgotten to rinse the conditioner out of my hair. And this is the first time I have looked in the mirror since my hair has dried…

And I look a little bit crazy.

Not only is my t-shirt stained on the chest, it is very wrinkled. My favorite black corduroy jacket is far too small on me, and much shorter than the t-shirt. Why had I thought I could still pull of that jacket? My hair looks insanely greasy and my glasses are slipping down to the tip of my nose. I have no eyeliner on and my eyes are quite pouchy. I have no hair tie to pull my crazy-looking hair out of my face…

Just then, I hear a sound. Splashes and giggles.

S has his arm in the toilet bowl up to the elbow and is splashing it around. Beside him is a mound of toilet paper on the floor. He is in heaven.

Finally make it out of that bathroom for my hipster coffee. Sans high chair, of course. S wants to stand on the bench, do downward dog, use the ramp-like walkway extending from the front door into the cafe as a place to race. “Mark-go! Mark-go!” (Confession: I hope he never starts saying “set.”) We leave after about three minutes, leave the sea of computers and lunch meetings, my coffee half-drunk.

Once back out on the street, things turn good again. The sun comes out. The clouds are almost silver with autumn sunshine. So many cars and trucks to exclaim over, and the scent of Peace, Love & Donuts doughnuts wafting down the avenue. Things are so fun out on the street that I go back to the car for our Ergo carrier and really get into it. We explore each street, soaking up the sites and scents, waving to people and vehicles.

We see: One cement truck, spinning; several pick-ups; TWO fire trucks; one skidsteer; police vans; FedEx and UPS trucks; buses; and the topper—A TROLLEY!!!

We went to the Trolley Museum in Washington, PA yesterday with Dada, so this is particularly exciting. The trolley driver sees us pointing and dings his bell as he goes by.

The firemen get out of the firetruck and walk right by us on the sidewalk. “You are his heroes!” I tell them, and they are so tickled. S jiggles his legs and bellows: “BAH-BYEEEEEE!” waving.

Then he swivels his sweet little face toward the sky, sees a phalanx of birds way, way up there. “Aw!” he says in his high-pitched wonder voice. “Bye-bye, caw-caw, bye-bye!”

I am trying to figure out where we can comfortably have lunch when S darts his finger across the street at an Italian eatery. “I this! I this!” he says.

“You’re the boss,” I say, laughing, and we cross the street. I duck in and say, “There isn’t any chance you have gluten-free pizza…?” I ask at the counter. Miracle of miracles: they do.

I tell them that we want to eat at a table on the sidewalk, and though they look at me with funny eyes and barely veiled judgment, a man takes us outside into the chilly wind. I think of Prague, where I once lived, and the children eating outside, playing outside, for hours, in winter. I think of his preschool, where he gets two hours of outdoor time every day, rain, snow, or shine. I think of how I romped around in a huge, icy, leafy puddle with him yesterday afternoon. People think kids are fragile, but they are so tough, so invigorated by the outdoors.

I do keep checking in with him, because it was quite chilly, but he says, “Ou-side!” He is having a ball, pointing to the motorcycles, cars, vans, trucks going by, making vehicle noises, waving. I do the same. He is eating ice cubes, puckering his lips, giggling: “Oooo! Col!!!” He is doing the starman handshake with me (he is the one who always remembers) but instead of saying “yay” he says “puh-tuh!” Pizza!

Across the street, a t-shirt vendor is playing wonderful Frank Sinatra music. It is all so romantic. Fall leaves raining down from somewhere. My baby so, so happy.

“Mama!” he says every once in a while, looking at me, like, Hey, I’m with my mama, and I’m having so much fun.

The pizza is delicious. I remember how I was going to start trying to feed him less things like pizza this week. As we grin and chew, I am glad I “forgot.”

“Abeeyah, abeeyoh,” he sings, shaking his head back and forth. I hope he never stops saying “abeeyah-abeeyoh.”

When we’re finished and back at the car, when I put him in the car seat, he decides it will be high comedy if he slides all the way down, so that his head is in the bottom of the seat and his legs are up. Then he takes his rain-jacket hood and presses it over his face, puckering his lips. I kiss his lips through his hood, and he cackles.

“Mama, dada, baby, bay-beeee,” he is saying in the back seat as I pull into traffic. In the rearview mirror, I see him pointing to himself with both fingers as he says “baby.”

Two minutes down the road, he has fallen happily asleep.

Now he is in his crib and I am typing. His diaper is a balloon and he still has pizza sauce on his cheeks. I need to get into the shower and finish showering this time. But I wanted to capture all of this first, and am so glad I did. These are the days I will miss so much when he is older, and I am working, and he is at school and extracurriculars or with his friends. My baby and me, in the chilly autumn air, eating pizza to Frank Sinatra music, in love with each other and with life.

You never know where, exactly, the day will lead. Feeling grateful for surprises.

 

Lady Share

I have to immediately share this blog post from My Broken Oven.

My favorite line: “OH NO! No sad mama! Lady share.”

We’re not even close to there yet, but S is five months younger than the twins in this post. Five months down the line is going to be a world of difference from now, in terms of S’s language skills.

I’ll return to this for guidance when that time comes. Thanks so much, Broken Oven Lady.

(By the way, I love how “Lady Share” is taking on so many meanings—Broken Oven shared the story of the lady sharing her eggs to her twins, then she shared it with her readers, and I’m sharing the whole story now in this post.)

https://mybrokenoven.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/talking-to-my-kids-about-donor-conception/comment-page-1/#comment-970

 

He learned the word happy

My son learned the word “happy” today, and he says it when he feels it.

So do I.

What a beautiful day.

He brings me a little whirl of dried grass that looks like a bird’s nest, holds it through the bars of the gate of the schoolhouse yard. “Mama!” he says, showing me, his face so bright. Neither of us can stand it, we want to run to each other, I can’t get the gate open fast enough, showers of kisses.

“Will you hug me?” I ask at dinner. He hugs me. For so long. I see him smile before he dives in. He doesn’t want to stop. We keep hugging and hugging. “Happy,” he says.

“Byeee byee, caw-caw,” he says, waving to the birds and smiling at them, watching them fly away. On the street, in our back yard, out the car window.

Saying everything now. Repeating the last word of almost every sentence I say. And when I ask him to point to almost any object on a page, he can.

We sit on my bed, on the “sea of lo-lo,” and draw pictures in the sketchbook. Then we move our animal crackers across the drawing and have them drink from the lake we’ve drawn. “Mmm, ahhh,” we say for the giraffe and camel, their thirst quenched after their long journey along the crayon-red railroad tracks.

We egg-roll across the living room rug toward each other, screaming.

We run toward each other, then slowly walk backward away from each other until he falls down in hysterics. Over and over.

We turn on the music and dance until we can’t breathe. Arms up, out, down. Leg kicks. Shimmies. Clap your hands. Slap your behind. We spin out to the corners of the room, and then we trade corners, over and again, laughing.

We take a bubble bath, the only object of which is to create as many bubbles as possible. I put them on my cheeks and make beard, and he bursts into giggles. We give him a bubble beard, too. I lay back and sink down in the bubbles. He gets behind me and does the same, seeming to love how adult he feels, laughing at his pretend-relaxing, then trying to keep a straight face.

I tell him, “Please never grow tired of trying to make me laugh, or laughing at my jokes, that’s all I ask,” I say.

Our bellies hurt from so many giggles. I do this thing where I look at him slowly and seriously, and he knows that means I’m about to make a dorky face, or stick out my tongue, or tickle him, or do something with a stuffed animal, and the anticipation makes him crack up.

Naked baby after bubble bath, putting a ribbon around the toy airplane’s neck because the plane is “cold.” It’s the airplane’s scarf. And then I must make the airplane circle through the air and crash into S’s bare belly. Then the stuffed kitties become airplanes and do the same—one crashes into his belly, and the other into his back, simultaneously.

Before I make dinner, he says, “Terts!” and because I can’t say no, not tonight, we go, I take him in the red wagon, and we go. He is thrilled. It is drizzling. There is a plane in the sky then a helicopter. There is a semi-truck. There is a flock of geese noisily heading south. There are the bulldozers, excavators, frontloaders, and skidsteers—all of which he can recognize (and I can, too, now). There are bumpy bumps, hills, sweet soft rain in our faces.

At dinner, he doesn’t like what I’ve made, so I give him salami, and his eyes pop open with glee. We eat sweet yogurt for dessert and he makes me laugh so hard I pee myself a little. He is just putting that spoon in his mouth loaded with so much yogurt and keeping the spoon there, and then laughing in this guttural way. Then opening his mouth and wagging his yogurt-covered tongue at me. I “cheers” his spoon with my spoon, and we laugh some more. “Sweet Dreams” comes on the radio and I serenade him loudly, dancing around the table with my spoon as my microphone, and he jiggles his little legs.

Having him back is so wonderful. I don’t feel tired. I just want to be with him, soak him up.

He has changed. He is talking so much more. His belly is huge. We are communicating more and more. I am getting a little bit of a sense of what it’s going to be like to have conversations with him.

I am beginning to understand that the nature of our relationship is probably going to always be somewhat like this—this dynamic we have of just constantly goofing around. It reminds me so much of my grandma’s relationships with all of her grandchildren. It feels so much like that cherished relationship I had with her. I often feel like I am channeling my grandma, that I am her. Which of course I, in part, am. She’s one of my favorite people on earth so this is a very good thing. She is so beloved, especially by her grandchildren. I love that I feel her so much in my parenting and in my bond with S.

DH is home now (he has been at a long drawn-out doc appointment) so I’d better go now.

 

 

Follow-up on my last post

I meant to spend a little time responding, in my last post, from the former magazine editor in me. I was annoyed by two things: a) the “Growing Movement” part of the MC article headline, and b) the pictures of empty cribs, swimming pools, and (especially) the abandoned teddy bear on the floor…

Having been at many a headline-writing meeting, I have witnessed those moments when the splashiest words and phrases are chosen for headlines, for the obvious reason that they attract readers. So I am always a little bit skeptical of them, and often annoyed by the stigma and fear they can unnecessarily create.

Is there really a “growing movement”? The writer claims: “The movement got its (arguable) start nearly 10 years ago when Corinne Maier, a French psychoanalyst, writer, and mother of two in Brussels, wrote candidly about her own regret inNo Kids: 40 Reasons Not to Have Children.” I like that she says “arguable.” That’s laudable. Is there really a movement? Or are there just more outlets for people to express their thoughts and feelings publicly (as evidenced by the Facebook page the article references)? Perhaps it’s one and the same, but I guess it rubs me the wrong way when a conversation about a topic as sensitive as this is undermined by a somewhat exploitative headline.

(I might be more testy lately, however, because of recent headlines and news coverage of “3-Parent IVF,” which makes me see red. But that’s another story.)

The photos only underscore the headline. They are laughably over-the-top. They look like scenes from kidnappings. Again—caricature undermining exploration.

But just to contradict myself a little, I do think that although the article rightly focuses on the mothers’ point of view, it is important to remember the point-of-view of the children, as well, in an exploration of this topic. It would have been good to hear more about what happens to children, emotionally and psychologically, in these situations—and not just through staged photographs.

But perhaps that is an article for another sort of magazine, like Psychology. 

I used to write a lot of short stories about children with unavailable parents, or parents who behave like children. People who knew my parents were bewildered by the sheer volume of stories I wrote including parent-characters such as these. “But your parents are so nice!” they would say. And for a long time, I didn’t understand it, either. Why was I so obsessed with this kind of parent? I knew plenty of people who had dealt with parental situations that, from the outside, seemed far more damaging. Where was my obsession coming from?

It took me years to understand that although my parents were, by any standards, invested and loving parents, they were often very self-involved, and I was often left to parent myself when it came to difficult issues. They knew how to handle parenting at a certain level, but once things became more complicated—in short, as I grew into a young adult—they really didn’t, and still don’t. (Case in point: when my mom was vocally really, really upset that the hotel hair dryer wasn’t working, on the morning that the embryo that became S was scheduled to be transferred into my uterus. She couldn’t stop complaining about it and how her hair looked. Even on such an important day for me, she was worried about her hair. On the other hand, she was there.) I have forgiven all of the crazy things that have happened over the years, and accepted that my role was and is that of leader, problem-solver, parent to myself and to them (although I now absent myself from most involvement in their life decisions).

These were, are, good parents. They did the best they could. I know that now. And they loved me and did not regret becoming parents (at least I don’t think they did!) at any point. They saw being mother and father as their primary roles in life.

If someone like me can be so deeply affected by her parents’ shortcomings—parents who were affectionate and wanted to be parents—I can only imagine what happens to the child whose parents regret having her altogether, or who have to force themselves to love her.

It is said that we fetishize children in our culture, and we fetishize childhood. Fair enough. But as adults we are right to protect children as much as we can from unnecessary psychological pain and suffering. We call them innocent because they are. We call them pure because they are. I make no excuses for my views on this. I witness it every day in my son and in his friends.

Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality”–I fell in love with that poem in college. I think I fell in love with it at that time because I was only nineteen years away from whence I came, so to speak. As you probably know, it is a poem about being born out of immortality into mortality, and how, the closer you are to that birth, the more able you are to see the world as beautiful, bathed in “celestial light.”

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:/ The Soul the rises with us, our life’s Star,/ Hath had elsewhere its setting,/ And cometh from afar…(Read the whole poem here.)”

I have thought of this poem often, since S’s birth. We call him our Starman, and we tell stories of his coming from afar, from the stars, and we do the “Starman Handshake,” pressing our fingertips to one another’s, forming a circle, and going, “Neeeee, yay!” before we eat. When I forget to do it, S reminds me, sticking out his index finger. He knows what we’re doing. He more than any of us understands this form of prayer, of grace, because he is pure being, a present-moment master. His eye catches on this and that throughout dinner—what we call distraction—because of his innate unfettered fascination and ability to see beauty. There is innocence in this ability.

I think all children are born Starpeople. They will learn soon enough what the messed-up deal is, here on Earth.

Maybe some year down the road a child can learn about and handle the regret their parents had after she was born.  But not while she is young.

It is important for the regretful parents to find a place to be honest about their feelings and process them, but they do not need to crush their kids while doing so. Thanks, commenters, for making such a point of being vocal on this front!

Process, yes, try to heal and maybe even move on, yes, but don’t do so at the expense of your children’s sense of love and security. Therapy is a good place for processing. Public pronouncements that your children can easily find are not a good idea.

This post became much longer than I expected! Speaking of headlines, I’m going to delete “Quick” from before the word “Follow-up” in my own headline now.

 

My response to “Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids” and “Why Parents Hate Parenting”

First of all, thank you for replying, responding to the “Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids” Marie Claire article. For easy reference, right here: http://www.marieclaire.com/culture/a22189/i-regret-having-kids/

And you might also want to check out the I Regret Having Children Facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/IRegretHavingChildren

I am also going to reference “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” here: http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/index5.html

When I stumbled upon the Marie Claire article, I immediately thought of the moment, not too many years ago, when one of my best friends, a mother of twins, told me about the article “Why Parents Hate Parenting.”

We were standing in her kitchen in Wyoming. I was not yet on my rollercoaster ride of infertility and pregnancy loss, but I was yearning for a child and family life. She and her husband quoted the article—“I love my children, I hate my life”—nodding their heads emphatically, saying that it was true for them and for so many of their parent friends. They weren’t saying they regretted parenthood, but they were saying that they were exhausted and depressed. “It’s a depressing kind of life,” my friend said. “You have no freedom and you are just worn down to the bone.”

I nodded, but I was so completely in opposite territory that I could not understand what she was saying. I knew she had always yearned to be a mother and I wanted her to imagine how bleak she would feel if she thought she would remain childless forever. It was my biggest fear and I worried I would have to confront it head on. Which, of course, I did, in a more dramatic and traumatic way than I could have even imagined.

Now that I’m a mother, I understand the exhaustion. The lack of freedom. The depression resulting from near-constant delayed gratification. The niggling fear that I might not ever get back to fulfilling my own goals to my satisfaction. But I was so recently on the brink of childlessness, facing a future without family life, entering the bleak (to me) future of growing older without children, that I can still feel the chill of it. And I know that the bleakness would have robbed me of far more than the exhaustion of caretaking does.

In “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” there is an exploration of different kinds of happiness. When parents were studied in an effort to assess their moment-to-moment happiness, they were found to be unhappy—less happy than their childless counterparts. But when they were studied in an effort to understand more existential matters, “like how connected they felt, and how motivated, and how much despair they were in (as opposed to how much stress they were under),” they were not found to be less happy at all. Psychologist Gilovich says: ” ‘Should you value moment-to-moment happiness more than retrospective evaluations of your life?’ He says he has no answer for this, but the example he offers suggests a bias. He recalls watching TV with his children at three in the morning when they were sick. ‘I wouldn’t have said it was too fun at the time,’ he says. ‘But now I look back on it and say, “Ah, remember the time we used to wake up and watch cartoons?” ‘ The very things that in the moment dampen our moods can later be sources of intense gratification, nostalgia, delight.”

And that is the distinction for me, the one between my daily life and my existential life. My daily life can be a grind, but my overall life has more meaning and purpose for me now. The bond between my son and my husband and me is fulfilling on a higher level–the level that breeds deep gratification and nostalgia and delight.

Like so many commenters on my last post say, I, too, have moments when I just need a freaking-fracking break. I don’t want to stop being a mom. I want to spend a few days regaining my mental bandwidth, letting my mind wander and my body do whatever it wants to do, whenever…

Like right now. My DH and my 21-month-old son are visiting S’s paternal grandparents for five whole days. This is the longest S and I have ever been apart; we’ve been apart for only one night and day before now. I bawled after saying goodbye to him at the airport. I sat in my car and cried harder than I have in a long, long time.

But during the drive home from the airport, Led Zeppelin came on. I turned it up. I turned it up some more. I was not listening to “Hello, Everybody” or “The Sad Little Puppy” from our Music Together CD, music that brings delight to my toddler and delight to me really only through him (as proven by the fact that I pop that sucker out the first second I get into the car on my own). I was listening to chaotic adult music. And it felt so good. And it was so, so loud. I was scream-singing and car-dancing. I did this alllllll the way home. Then I got inside my house and downed a GF beer. I turned on a rom-com with lots of curse words and sex in it at four in the afternoon. I had potato chips and waffles and wine for dinner. I fell asleep in my clothes and slept in until 10 AM.

It was glorious.

When I woke up, I stared at the ceiling and simply let my mind wander. Ahhhhhhh….

Then I deep-cleaned the entire house. This sounds lame, but it gave me the sweetest of pleasure. Usually I go around the house, seeing the same damn things I want to clean or put away, and I don’t—not because I am lazy but because I physically can’t. Because I have a toddler on my hip, or I have only five minutes, or S poops, or S cries, or, or, or…something. And so I look at the same irritating whatever week after week after week, and it grinds on me, even though I tell myself to relax.

But some messes are dangerous to a toddler. Sometimes I have to clean or straighten or put away right that second because it isn’t safe to leave x, y, z lying around.

For the past few days, I have left plastic bags just lying around, and it has given me such pleasure. Or I have put things on the table—recipes, ingredients, equipment—with no fear that S will find his way up onto a chair to steal them, throw them on the floor, or ingest something he shouldn’t.

I know that when I return to a room, everything will be where I left it. It’s…incredible. Endorphins flow.

As a parent, the moment-to-moment is filled with hazards to protect your child from, tasks that must be done right then, multiple conflicting demands—should I clean up this syrup or play trains with him? Should I give DH my ear or get the soup started? Should I change the poopy diaper now or sneak in this phone call to the pediatrician? How can I do yoga and stretch in a way that is entertaining for S? If I figure that out, then I won’t be so cranky carrying him around today, and that’s important, right? Should I allow myself a break by turning on that screen or cuddle with him and a book? And on and on and on.

So it makes sense to me that the moment-to-moment would feel sucky to most women. And I do mean women

From the Marie Claire article: “For many countries, raising a family still constitutes a vast landscape of unpaid work that falls almost wholly on women’s shoulders. It’s a societal infrastructure that innately depends on women cheerfully embracing the experience, even if every impulse tells them otherwise….Here in the U.S., a lot has shifted professionally in the last few decades—women are now expected to lean in both at work and at home, never missing a board meeting or ballet recital. A 2015 study found that American mothers now spend 13.7 hours a week with their children, compared to 10.5 hours in 1965–even though a significantly larger percentage of mothers also now work outside of the home. The combination, for many, is exhausting….’Today’s mom is a domestic throwback to the ’50s, combined with the ’80s-era working mom,’ says Avital Norman Nathman, editor of The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality. At every stage, she says, there are expectations for the right way to mother. ‘Because of this, it’s really hard for women to speak out about their horrible experiences, from a miserable pregnancy to a bad birth, because you’re supposed to be this loving, glowing Mother Earth person,’ she explains. ‘It doesn’t leave much room to process actual feelings.'”

And this is the important point for me. We must leave room for women to process their actual feelings, whether we feel the same or not. Because perhaps through processing, real healing can occur—which can only benefit both the parent and the child.

It’s also important to remember the larger political, cultural context of parenting. From “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” re: the parenting landscape in Scandinavia:”If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)—well, it stands to reason that your own mental health would improve….’We’ve put all this energy into being perfect parents,’ says Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, ‘instead of political change that would make family life better.””

Okay, I’ll leave it at that, for now. I’ve got to run home and squeeze in another rom-com, after a day spent at the gym, and dallying at vegan restaurants and Victorian cafes and vintage kitchen shops. A lovely day. But a video of my son’s beautiful face just popped up on my phone, smiling so brightly as he plays piano at his grandparents’ house, and I have to say that although I don’t miss him, exactly, I grin at the thought of kissing his soft cheek again and feeling his little monkey arms around my neck.

 

 

“Inside the Growing Movement of Women Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids”

Dear Readers,

Really curious to hear your thoughts on this article…

http://www.marieclaire.com/culture/a22189/i-regret-having-kids/