Letting go

Since I was away from Southeast Alaska for the summer I am still able to enjoy the rainy weather. On most days I take the babies on a walk right after I drop Avery off at school, but today is torrential; we will stay in.

I set the brothers up in front of the fire hoping they will fall asleep in their bouncy chairs if I steam them slightly.

I’m happy to be at home with kids again; even if I am limited to breakfast cereals that benefit from a lot of soaking. The brothers are almost four months old. I can’t believe how much time has passed, and how little time has passed.

So much is different about this round of babies. I wore Avery constantly but I’m forever setting the brothers down; trying to rest my back or catch a minute.

When Eirik is fed and dry but not quite tired I can set him up with a game of red bird (stare and smile at the red bird) or ceiling fan (stare and smile at the ceiling fan). Left to himself in the bouncy chair, Toren just screams.

Toren prefers a playmate and often skips his afternoon nap to get one-on-one time with mom. We play a game called, Hello! Hi! I start by saying, “Hello! Hi!” and he returns my sounds and smiles. We also like A-Goo! (similar rules). Sometimes he likes to mix it up: “A-WOOO!”

*

They are asleep. I cook and do exercises to draw my abdominal muscles back together. I write every day but I rarely post. My thoughts link to everything and nothing and fill my drafts folder with frazzled half-sentences. Somewhere in here there is a theme…

It has been a hard year, this 2020. Political strife in my country and a pandemic. Some doors are closed right now: Productivity. Time with friends. Travel. But doors are also opening.

A woman in the white house.

What is this year driving me toward? I move into marriage and family. Into patience. Into risk and fearlessness. Into becoming more and more myself. Into this work that is always just beginning.

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I belong to a generation of women who grew up with the impression that we could do it all: kids and career. I have not quite found that to be true. It is at least impractical to do both at the same time.

I have a theory that, if we dig deep, what we first “wanted to be when we grew up” manifests in adulthood. I spent my free time in elementary school writing and illustrating stories and making covers from wallpaper scraps. I wanted to be an artist.

For a few adult winters, back before kids, I spent rainy days like this playing guitar and writing essays; being time rich. I thought a winter was all I needed to record an album or write a novel. I learned that good art isn’t made by people sitting around with a whole bunch of time.

When I was home with Avery, unsatisfied career goals rolled around in my brain like cobbles in a colander. The less I worked the wilder they got: I’d like to publish a book. Or become a state senator. Either. I’m just doing all of this laundry for now.

I once told M about this problem. “Turn it over,” he said. “Dump it out.”

Good thing someone in the family knows how to run a colander.

*

I fall into this myth that one day I will make some thing and feel successful, but creativity is not something we arrive into. It is an infinite and iterative process.

I spend all day narrating in my head and find shards of time to write things down. The squeeze of family life limits me but also inspires me. I have plenty of material. Keep going. Life is stressful enough without being a writer who doesn’t write.

I keep a file called “scraps” for bits of text that don’t make the cut into a final post. I found this from when Avery was small: After more than a decade of wanting baby A, I have her now. But there’s no relief from wanting because my mind stuffs that space full of unrealistic goals…

In this, the twins have been freeing. With one baby my ambitions were just out of arms reach. Now they are so far gone I’d have to be out of my mind to stay bogged down by them. And with three kids I’m so busy that I no longer question my value in my family. Mama is a key player.

Family is not a sure bet either; but at least these people exist outside of my heart and imagination. I will make things because I like to but I won’t feel bad about the things I haven’t made anymore. I am letting go.

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Share the love

A few months into my life as a blogger, Lovewarrior’s posts reached about 150 people. This was a serious uptick from the previous years when all writing stayed locked inside my computer (writer = 1; readers = 0). It was a very happy time for me.

Lovewarrior’s first followers included my friends, my mom, my mom’s friends… you get the picture. My personal network saturated and readership plateaued, but it felt great to write for you all so I posted more often.

Then I got my first “share” based on a post called her need for love does not shame her, and it reached 350 people.

Looking back on that post, I realize the potential of each cyber move we make and the power of the “share” multiplier effect. If value in written work can be measured by the effect of our words, then with one click, this reader effectively had more of an impact than I did. He or she also extended the reach of my words beyond my personal network. I don’t know who you are, but thank you.

The simple effort of that first share changed how I think about activism and my work in the world. If I spend several hours on any one written post, the least I can do is spend a few minutes sharing the work of others. If you like a post on this blog, or any blog, please click the “share” button and add that post to the feed on your personal page.

What do you want to see grow in the world? Share it. Your clicks change the world everyday.

Time for one’s self

Mama enjoying a morning off

Trying to be an on-top-of-it person, I had the nerve to respond to an email yesterday. In the two minutes I gave it, baby A snatched a pen and scribbled all over a white chair for the second time this week. The first time it happened, I was wiping up food she’d thrown on the floor as a diversion.

This combines well with the fact that I recently diagnosed my 12-year-old dog with depression. I can’t say I don’t understand it: Two years ago I went from his best friend to the person who hurls food at him twice daily and otherwise yells at him to Go outside! Come inside! Stop eating the baby’s food! Get over here and eat the baby’s food! Yeah, I pretty much yelled at him for the past two years while I cared for my late-larval-stage human.

The dog is now on a strict regimen of no being-yelled-at, having his head patted each time I walk by, kibble set lovingly before him, and one full-body hug daily. It seems to be working.

In helping my dog I realized that the only way to avoid such scenarios is to be infinitely available to my family forever. I made it until 5 p.m., but as soon as my husband came home I ran screaming out of the house.

The scribbled chair, the doggie depression, all of my failings come down to one issue: I need some time for myself. People do. That need doesn’t disappear when one becomes a mother.

It’s like I tell my husband – If you are doing something autonomous that makes sense, then I am not.

“Doing anything for our selves feels like selfishness,” says my friend T, “but it is actually more like self-preservation.”

My main scarcities are two-fold: 1) professional opportunity and 2) “wellness,” which includes sleep, nutritious food, yoga, and outdoor adventure. A person needs to go for a walk once in a while without also extolling the virtues of mittens. Maybe if I just get up at 5:30 in the morning…

Writing is my proxy for professional effort. It is something I do during every nap time whether it lasts 15 minutes or three hours. It is something I can do while solo parenting or following my husband around as he commutes between towns. It is something I can do even though A does not yet tolerate child care. Without this time, my day is reduced to wiping things.

I squish writing into the interstitial spaces of the day, which is why I have pulled over to work on this post at the side of the road at the edge of cell phone service. Baby A sits in her carseat in the back. ‘Wheels on the bus’ plays on the car stereo on repeat. I will stay here until she bellows.

Here is the one benefit of parenting as it applies to any art form: When the spare time you have asymptotically approaches zero, everything superfluous is stripped away and what you have left is exactly enough time for the one thing you most need.

I need time away from parenting – to work, be creative, and exercise – for my sense of self worth, but also because it makes me a better parent. When I get it I am kinder and more patient with my child, and I have more fun with her throughout the day. And yes, the husband and dog benefit as well.

Well, another writing day achieves lift off. Now all I have to do is find someone to jump my car 🙄.

Her need for love does not shame her

I started this blog in early 2018 when my daughter was already eight months old. Lately I’ve been trying to write a little bit about who she and I were together in those first blissed-out, mama-fog, fourth trimester months before she went mobile and my happy stay-home parenthood got served up with a daily side of bonkers.

I thought I remembered it all – the first smiles, the endless nursing, the sweetness of getting to know M as a father – until today when I met my new niece Baby S (!). It’s hard for me to remember that Baby A was ever so tiny and helpless.

The best part about holding S is remembering that a baby’s nature is that of a fierce pink glow with skin. She can’t focus her eyes all of the time (a girl gets tired), but she loves like nobody’s business. Babies are such awesome little battery packs.

Sifting through my sparse notes from the early days with A, I find this line – Her need to love and be loved does not shame her. No matter what anyone else says, this is the best part of being a parent. You’re just rambling along through your own life, trying to do your best and often falling short, then bam, there’s a new precious human to remind you, and everyone in a two-relationships-removed radius, that each of us in our original state is an embodiment of love.

If I dig deep, I can remember being love. I sit on my mom’s lap, snuggled to her chest in a calm, warm moment. Her skin is so soft. There are no pinging text messages to interrupt us, nobody is taking our picture, she is not scrolling through social media or wishing to be. It is just me and my mom with her fleshy arms wrapped tight around me.

Mom would never break that spell so I must have done it. And that’s ok–little minds should not know that love is rare and fleeting. Kids should be free to bounce toward whatever catches their fancy, assuming that love is always just a few steps and an upward glance away.

Lately I have been consumed with a fear that I am disappearing – that my need for work, stimulation, and relief will never rise to the priority slot of our family’s needs; at least not in a satisfying way. Millions of mothers over countless generations have lost their I: Nobody else is going to remember my dreams if I don’t. Somedays are not mama days’ but I am not going anywhere. My need for a public voice is too strong to let my passions quietly wither into a cool undertone of defensive anger. There must be a better way.

I remember all of the different forms of love that came after my mom. I think back to early experiences of romantic love, when I was near to someone and consumed, wanting the moment never to end. But no other person has ever been so willing to stay there, locked in, as she was. At some point, I became the one who was unable to just be.

I lie nursing my daughter and wishing for precious time. Like pain, love is intense, and these thoughts pretend to serve me by pulling me away. Held inside of my being, love is safe, but shared love is vulnerable. Love is ephemeral and busyness is a constant. We learn to go with the sure bet.

As much as I hate to admit it, the root of my desire to write, meditate, eat chocolate, or do something else is my need to love warped into a new form like a shirt put on backwards: Love isn’t waiting to be created when we get back to doing something real–love is there all along. We only need to remember how to give and receive it.

Over and over with baby A I remind myself of where I am, that the full force of my love is appropriate and matters here, that her turning away is still a long way off.

I allow myself to stay and bask in her steady, pulsing presence. She gives me everything she has, asking only that I do the same. I put in the effort and glow my pink light back to her. My darling, I have nowhere else to be.

Letter to Ali Wong

Some days I just need a good laugh. If you are a parent (or a woman…or a human…) who has not yet seen Ali Wong’s Netflix specials, Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife, you probably should. These “momedies” tell what it’s really like to have a baby in your life. They are a little bit over-the-top raunchy, but then again so is motherhood.

Here is the letter I wrote Ali Wong in my head after I saw her shows. It comes off a little bit like a letter to Dear Abby:

Dear Ali – My husband is well-intentioned, but since I had a baby he always says the wrong thing about my body.

I once made the mistake of cupping my breast up to its old height and letting it fall in front of him. “Once these were round,” I said. Now, they’re U-shaped.”

“Are those ever going to go back?” He asked.

“No, darling,” I said. “Those are never going back.”

My husband recently googled something like, Why does a woman lose her sex drive post-partum? He told me that there are four reasons:

1. She is exhausted.

2. She doesn’t feel sexy or she is self-conscious about her body.

3. A baby has been climbing on her all day; she does not want you to climb on her.

4. She has no time for herself, so she has many other things she wants to do besides you with her precious sleeping-baby minutes.

My empathetic husband relayed these results to me in all seriousness. It’s ok honey. This is just something women go through.

Yeah, I told him. No shit.

I am 100% certain that all of these “results” have been relayed to my husband in the past year via my words. In his defense, my comments sounded more like:

1. “I’m just really tired.”

2. “I just want to keep my clothes on.”

3. “I just nursed the baby for an hour.”

4. “I just want to read my book.”

I try to say how I feel, but clearly there is room for improvement because he has no recollection of the aforementioned conversations. Maybe I stuttered. Maybe I spoke when I should have replied in print.

Or maybe my husband is just male.

Thank you, Google, for speaking his language.

My husband’s heart is in the right place. He not only wants to have more sex, he also wants me to enjoy sex again. I can tell he’s taking the post-partum libido issue seriously because I see him trying to help. He’s been giving me more breaks from parenting, and he’s started to help with the bedtime routine. And just the other day he turned to me, that old thoughtful look in his eye, and said –

“You know; if you ever wanted a tummy tuck, I’d pay for it.”

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The dog ate my homework: adult version

The baby is teething, we moved, my heart was sad from fighting with my husband, then the baby turned one but I never finished the video montage of our year, so my creative production got stopped up, then it was sunny and I hiked every day for a week, then I was tired and sore, then I had too many ideas and not enough time, then it had been too long since I wrote so I felt overwhelmed and got sucked into the internet vortex.

So, I haven’t posted in a while and it feels terrible.

Adult creativity is complicated, because it’s up to each of us to take this stew of ideas, imagine a form to shift them into, and conceive of a way to announce the words, the work, the idea, as finished, to the world. I almost preferred school, where teachers thought up assignments and I just completed them and placed them in the wire basket.

Why bother? The reward of creating is greater, though more subtle than a grade: something felt, a momentary alleviation of mental noise, renewed hope that life is not just a loose cycle of consumption and waste, a sense of relief.

So now it is Monday, and it’s raining, and tomorrow I turn 37, which feels like such a random age to become, and the house is a mess, but the baby is sleeping, so if I write fast, this could be as good a moment as any to get my life back on track, and start living according to my values and priorities, again. You have to start somewhere.