Permanent presence

When I get around to ordering myself a T-shirt with my kid’s face on it, the word’s will say, “I’m with coo-coo.”

Two nights ago we bribed A into eating dinner by telling her that if she took a bite then daddy would bounce his legs on the yoga ball in a silly way. Last night she only ate if she could moonwalk while she chewed. Tonight I let her eat while we watched Monkey Planet on BBC.

Dinner moonwalk

Catching up on some old issues of The Sun, I recently read an interview of Jennifer Senior on modern parenting. This passage caught my attention:

When children are small, their prefrontal cortexes are barely developed. The prefrontal cortex regulates impulses and is in charge of planning. So, as the parent of a toddler, you’re interacting with a small creature who has no self-control, can’t imagine a future, and lives in the permanent present.”

The article goes on to explain how you’ll often disappoint your young Buddha as the adult world has places to go and people to see and you are expected to be on time. I’m not worried about any of that. I’m thinking:

This explains why A works a spoon through cottage cheese like she is trying to solve it, rather than eat it.

We have all attended enough yoga classes, watched enough Oprah, or read enough Eckhart Tolle in this decade to know that the present moment is a good place to be.

The Buddha said, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Certainly, being present is the main thing I know about how to live happily and be a good parent.

But I have not been doing a good job of this lately.

A is having fun and I am not because I am operating under the expectation that I will accomplish something adult with my day – something saner, more appreciated, and with better pay. But most likely, I wont, and so I feel unhappy.

For example, I am good at the work of parenting (a lot of my time is spent preparing food and cleaning up) but I do not play with my daughter as often as I could.

I don’t play because I don’t recognize what A is doing as play. She opens drawers to fish for objects. She flicks light switches on and off. She tears things off shelves. She asks for snacks and then throws them on the floor. She pulls the dog’s tail. She grabs whatever she can reach off of the counter.

I never wanted to be that parent constantly saying no! And don’t do that! And stop stop stop! But baby A spends a lot of the day doing the wrong thing. It is also true that these naughty behaviors are her trying to get my attention. For better or worse, the good times come when I do almost nothing except watch her unfold.

The same spontaneous, daring, curious qualities that make raising this child difficult are the same things that make it fun. The other day a box store’s background music caught her fancy so she threw up her arms and started pulsing like Katy Perry. One moment you’re pushing a cart and looking for a shower caddy and the next moment you’re raising the roof. Thats my baby.

Why does her present moment look like so much fun while mine feels like such a struggle? Why am I feeling bonkers while she is on a spiritual quest? Oh, right. We are both on a spiritual quest.

Some of my chore-ing needs to be done. Actually it all needs to get done, and with our slow progress there is good reason for me to keep working. But in part my busy-ness is about my wanting to finish something today – even if it is just a pile of dishes.

The unwritten part of presence, is that it involves a lot of not doing what I want to do. Or what I thought I was going to do. And it is very often uncomfortable. Nothing pushes a person toward spiritual growth so extremely as adversity.

As long as I’m trapped in a permanent present, I might as well have a little more of what she’s having.

Tonight we are ready for bed a little early so I pull out these wind-up cars. You know the type – roll them back and forth a few times and they’ll race forward under their own power. I am doing this because I don’t want to fight a not-quite-tired kid to sleep. I run them; A retrieves them. Back and forth, back and forth.

But then the purple pick-up really takes off. It zips across the kitchen and runs smack into the wall on the other side of the house. I laugh out loud. A hoots and claps her hands.

For a moment I am not responsible-mommy-ing anymore: I am up past bedtime and having fun.

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.

I have this (mobile) baby

I’ve had this baby for nine months. Generally it’s been dreamy; we think she’s great. But until now I mostly did what I wanted to do. The secret of being a stay-at-home, I’ve been known to say, is that you get to do whatever you want as long as you bring the cub. All of that changed around the New Year when she went mobile.

Suddenly (a slow, diaper-changing, banana-eating, dog-climbing kind of suddenly) I have to redefine my self-worth by something other than productivity.  All day I’m flooded with ideas: Become a great cook! Cultivate the most productive garden EVER! Write a book or two! Prepare some singer-songwriter sets! Sleep-train the baby!  My mind makes wild, ambitious leaps like it always did. But time moves differently with a baby in the house, and none of these projects are at all realistic.

The truth is, I wasn’t some uber-productive success story before I had A either. I’ve been writing for years now, but all of those words are still tucked safely away on my computer. It’s not that I’m afraid of putting myself out there (says my inner excuse maker), I’m just not done yet. I used to at least work (a lot) on my impossible goals, but lately my ego has started to freak out.

My actual accomplishments this morning include that I have washed at least several dishes, ate eggs, fed A, made and drank (yeah!) a cup of decaf, and continued to unpack the duffles from last week’s trip (day 3 of this project). All this while A pushed the furniture around the house. But I also started this blog, which I’ve been meaning to do for a decade.

Right now, in order to finish this post, I’m allowing A to tear all of my books off of the shelf again, and I’ll intervene only to keep her from eating my favorite ones (not Barry Lopez! not David Sedaris! Here, have a DVD!). This is not the only place where my theoretical parenting deviates wildly from my actual parenting (i.e. sleep).

My only explanation for my unprecedented burst of exposition, is that while before I thought about starting an online presence, maybe even wanted to, it wasn’t until today that I needed to. Because today, amidst the squirrel games, the need to dump my brain took precedence over the safety of privately and endlessly preparing my thoughts. For better or worse, allowing my words out into the world is one small but important goal that I can actually get somewhere on right now – even though nap time never lasts as long as I wish it did.

My kid needs love and care, but so much more. I want to be the first of many to teach her that effort makes a difference. I want her to grow up knowing that each of us has the power to make our community more whole and beautiful through conversations that matter, and that what we do is not half as important as who we are. I can’t raise her to be more than I am.

This essay will post at the end of the week, whatever state it is in. I no longer have time, or the necessary brain power (mom brain, it’s real), to agonize much over the details. I have just enough time to say what I have to say and move on. I still imagine that I will come back and agonize over every word, but I probably wont.

That’s all for now; she’s awake.