Antidote to mommy guilt?

MOMMY_guilt__470x4510One of my boys has

Challenges.

I won’t get any more

Specific,

Because it’s his story to tell

If he ever wants to tell it.

But he’s got some

Characteristics

That are going to make his

Journey

A little more

Strenuous

Than the average

Kid his age.

And it’s funny.

As I’m discussing him

With his various providers and advocates,

I’ll make a

Weak

Joke

About damage

I must have caused him,

And they always look at me

Sharply,

Concerned.

“You don’t blame yourself,

Do you?” they ask.

Their attention suddenly shifted

From my boy

To his mother possibly about to

Start weeping.

They’ve seen weeping mothers before;

They know the signs.

I want to laugh.

Of course I blame myself.

Are you kidding?

You can slap down

All the research you have about how

This doesn’t cause that, etc.

But I want to smile kindly and say,

“I know you’re trying to make me feel better,

But please,

Don’t bother.

No matter what you say,

No matter how many studies you show me,

I will blame myself.

You might be able to

Convince my twitching brain,

But in my gut,

I know

It’s my fault.”

The guilt and self-blame feel as inevitable as

Winter.

You can’t stop it.

It will have its way with you

And leave you pale and depleted.

The saddest thing I heard about

Motherhood was how

Guilt

Will put up a

Wall between

You and your child,

Will hinder you from loving your child

Wholly and completely.

I’ll admit I’ve

Given in to it,

Let it so twist me up that

All I can do is gaze down on my boy

From miles above him with

Mortified eyes,

Or snap and growl when he only needs

Softness and warmth.

But there’s this

Woman

I think about

Who gives me hope.

A mother of four boys,

I knew her when she was

Already elderly and

Dignified.

Two of her boys had had

Very difficult

Tragic lives.

Addiction and violence killed them

When they were young men.

And I remember her saying things like,

“He wasn’t able to get well.”

Or

“He wasn’t willing to use the

Resources available to him.”

And somewhat even

Shrugging her shoulders.

Now,

Some might see that as

Cold or cruel,

But the way I saw it, she was

Placing responsibility for her sons’

Dissolutions

On her sons.

She didn’t blame them,

But she didn’t blame herself,

Either.

I wish I had gotten a chance to ask her

Before she died,

How she at least seemed to not

Blame herself

For her children’s suffering.

I imagine she would’ve talked about

Using her own resources,

Because I saw her doing it.

She was busy with church

And service and grandkids.

I’ve been talking to

A lot of people,

Friends,

Who’ve shared their own stories,

And given me information,

Tools,

Support.

A friend just yesterday

Observed that

This is probably a lot harder on me

Than it is on my son.

And I had to stop and frown,

(I frown a lot when talking about this)

And contemplate that.

I think she’s right.

I guess I’ll take a cue from my elderly friend:

Give my boy all the resources I can,

Then step back and let him use them.

And if at some point in the future he

Stops using them,

Let him do that, too.

And meanwhile,

Stay busy, looking around me

At the world

Instead of staring

Hysterically only at

Him.

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My $200 walk around Como Lake

ImageI drove over to

Como Lake recently

With my Baby Boy

To take a little

Winter walk.

Just the two of us.

It was the day after Thanksgiving

And there were

Only a couple cars in the parking lot.

It was overcast and

Cool but not cold

And utterly still in that

Wintery calm way.

As I walked pushing

The stroller, I was

Enjoying the sunlight

Through my eyelashes,

The light refracted by cracks

in the newly

Formed ice,

The hay-colored

Dormant pussy willows

And long grass

Along the shoreline.

As I rounded the

Bend near the

Parking lot to

Start my second lap,

Coming up on the driver’s side of

Our

Big

Black

Suburban

(We have four kids

And a poorly plowed alley,

That’s why)

I could see that

Something was

Weird about the passenger side window.

At first it looked like a

Frost pattern in a sunset shape,

But as I got closer I saw that

For the first time ever,

I had been the victim of a

Car break-in.

My luck had run out

And tempered glass was

Everywhere.

At first I laughed

(Humorlessly)

For three reasons:

First, this was one time I

Actually didn’t have anything

Of value in the car.

No wallet,

No cell phone,

No laptop,

Nothing.

Second,

I realized that what they’d taken was an

Empty cloth library bag that

Had nothing in it,

Not even a library book.

And third:

I have comprehensive

Car insurance.

(Turns out there was a

$500 deductible on glass.

I didn’t know that at the time, though,

So my laugh was naive.)

Ha ha, stupid robber,

I thought.

And I even just

Continued with my plan to do

Another lap.

Not gonna let this

Asshole

Change my plans.

But as I walked,

I started thinking about

The person who had

Done it.

Who had smashed my car window

On the chance that

The bag

In the foot well was

A purse,

Contained some

Cash or credit cards

Or a phone.

I had recently been listening to

Some Buddhist talks online,

And one phrase had

Stuck with me:

“If you live an

Immoral life,

You will suffer.”

And this is

Buddhist suffering:

The irritability and restlessness of

“Dis-ease.”

I know that kind of

Suffering well.

Like everyone,

I behave in

Varying degrees of

Immorality

Constantly,

And so am more or less

Continuously in a state of

Dull psychic pain,

Rattling around this earth with my

Character defects

Dangling from my

Being like the

Ghost of Marley with his

Chains in

A Christmas Carol.

So I had a moment of

Identification with and

Even true compassion for

Whoever it was that,

On the day after Thanksgiving,

Felt it necessary to

Lurk in the parking lot of

Como Lake and

Put a blunt object through my car window

In hopes that the

Bag down there would have

What

He

Needed in it.

I totally get it.

Even the violence of it

I understand.

It felt like such a

Desperately

Human

Act

To do that,

And then go out into the world

Sliding that new shard of

Suffering into the

Hole in his

Gut or

Head or

Heart or

Wherever it manifests for him.

God,

I just really

Feel for that person.

Sitting here writing,

My chest swells a little bit

Thinking about him.

It’s not even,

“There but for the

Grace of God

Go I,”

Although that’s true.

It’s just,

I understand

Suffering.

I have suffered,

And you,

Robber,

Have suffered,

And here we are,

Two humans whose

Pain-paths crossed

The morning after

Thanksgiving in the

Parking lot of Como Lake.

It’s not because I’m a

Good person

That I can say,

“I don’t care.

I forgive you.

Peace.”

It’s precisely because I am a

Bad

One

That I can say those things

To you.

Weight gain and anxiety: survival mechanisms turned against me

Evolution-of-ObesityIt would seem that this

Bag of bones I’ve been

Knocking around in for the past

38 years

Is not

Optimized

For this world I’m

Living in.

This from an

Evolutionary biologist

I heard on the radio

The other day,

Who explained it all to me:

How we’re

Wired for

Starvation and

Physical privation,

Our bodies finely tuned

Through the

Millennia to

Survive in a world of

Lack,

Of intense caloric output,

To reproduce

Ten to fifteen times,

Nurturing less than

Half those offspring

Into puberty

And then

Dying

At age twenty-five

Of an abscessed tooth-

Turned-brain-infection

Or some other such

Horrifically painful

Stone age style of demise.

All the physical problems that plague me,

He would say,

Are a result of

Our

Physical

Mismatch

With our environment.

Like polar bears in a desert,

He called us humans.

Many of our

Physical advantages in a world of

Lack

Turn into

Liabilities

The way we live now.

How I jones for sugar

Like a tweaking addict,

And then eat myself sick on candy when I

Succumb to the

Imperious urge–

Especially when I’m tired:

Supposed to be that way,

My new scientist BFF said.

We crave the

Quick energy burst

Sweets provide as a

Survival mechanism to

Get us through times we’re

Physically

Depleted.

Anxiety that can

Awaken me at 2 a.m. to

Worry about

NOTHING

AT

ALL?

Need it

To alert me to and

Help me outrun

Predators.

I imagine even

Having to pee all the time

Is partly because my

Kidneys are meant to

Process as much

Water as I could

Lap out of a puddle,

Not what I could

Guzzle out of a cardboard

Grande cup from Caribou.

Weight gain?

We’re programmed to do it.

The drive to

Not

Starve

Is about as strong an

Urge as

We

Animals

Will ever experience.

It’s actually kind of cool,

If you step

Way

Back

And think about it,

That we can

Store calories–

Energy–

In the form of fat deposits.

Imagine how very useful

That was

Back in the day.

This guy helped remind me that,

In a sense,

It’s not my fault.

There are very good

Design

Reasons

Why we’re built this way.

All this kinda

Makes a girl want to

Go live in the woods.

Get back to the

Physical survival mode

I was designed to exist in.

And it’s not because I’m romanticizing that time.

The only romantic part would be

Cutting my weight by a third

(Although all the other hardships might be worth it,

Right?)

I just want it to be

Easier to

Give the

Ol’ girl

What she was made to do.

Do you think the people who

Invented all these

Amazing labor-saving

Devices could ever have imagined

That their

Descendents would

Try to avoid using them?

I like to contemplate what will happen

Now,

If I have faith in the

Human body’s ability to

Evolve

Quickly

I could imagine a day–

Soon–

When we could metabolize thousands of

Extra calories a day,

And our bladders would double in size to

Allow for the Starbucksization of our

Fluid intake.

Will we convenience ourselves into

Extinction?

We’ll have to see.

Meanwhile,

I’m going to go

Have a Snickers bar and a pee.

A chat about fear with an 8-year-old

Jaws Movie Poster iPhone WallpaperWe were at the school bus stop

When my

First boy

Dropped one of his

Existential bombs on me:

“Mom,

What are you

Afraid of?”

Oh my son,

Where to even begin?

A litany ran through my head

Starting with the ones that had

Awoken me at two o’clock

That very morning:

First Boy,

Getting hit by a car.

Baby Boy

Choking on a piece of food.

Or vice versa:

Getting a call from school that

First Boy

Had choked on a carrot at

Lunch, or

Baby Boy darting out into traffic and getting

Spun

By the fender of a car.

(I can envision it in

Precise

Detail

In my mind,

Watching his perfect blonde head

Explode red

And our lives in that instant

Deformed

Into something I cannot imagine.)

A car accident (Joe).

A bike accident (me).

Paralysis, long-term illness, loss of limb, sudden death of any of our

Many loved ones.

Just pull out the

Fine print section of any

Life insurance policy,

And you’ve got a good idea of the

Possibilities I can

Give space to in my

Mind

When I’m in that kind of mood.

And that’s just the

Base

Instinctive

Type of fear.

There’s still the ego-fears to cover:

Job loss.

Loneliness.

Relapse.

Obscurity.

Poverty.

And oh yeah:

Sharks.

First Boy was watching me.

He wanted an answer.

What was he thinking?

Ghosts?

Robbers?

Thunderstorms?

Darth Vader?

“I think the thing I’m

Most afraid of is

Something bad happening to you

Or Baby Boy,” I said.

First Boy considered this for a moment.

“Like us getting hurt

Or something?”

“Yeah,” I said.

Then I perked up at the

Chance to impart some

One-day-at-a-time,

Power-Of-Now

Wisdom to my

First-born,

Thus:

“But you know what

Grandpa once told me

When you were born,

And I told him

I couldn’t believe how much

I loved you,

And I didn’t know

What I would do

If something bad ever happened to you?”

“What?” said my First Boy.

“He said all you can do is

Be grateful,

At the end of the day

When everyone you love is

Tucked in bed,

That everyone was

Safe and healthy

On that day.

‘Cause you can’t do

Anything

About tomorrow.”

My First Boy

Stared off into the

Middle distance,

Frowning.

Pondering the

Metaphysical wisdom just

Bestowed on him

Through the generations?

Or wondering if

They were serving

Chicken nuggets

For lunch at school

That day?

I’ll never know.

The bus pulled up

Just then and

My First Boy

Got on without responding to

What I’d said.

“Have a good day,

Buddy.

Love you.”

“Love you, too,”

He said over his shoulder.

Fear and attraction: women friends

photo credit honestlywtf.com

photo credit honestlywtf.com

I romanticize a time

And a place

When women would

Work together in the

Fields, or at the river,

Partaking in each other’s births,

Deaths,

And all the mundane living in between.

I’ve had short stints of

Intensive

Female relationships:

Situations in which

Friendships with

Women

Flourish as a

Product of

Prescribed activities

Like high school.

Or communal living

Like college dorms and

Roommate scenarios.

I wish I had

Relished

Those delicious,

Hilarious moments of

Living with women

Instead of

Longing for the

Boy to

Call me back.

I didn’t realize at the time that

The majority of my

Adulthood I would spend in a marriage,

Making those girl-centered times

Rarefied and fleeting.

Mobility.

Has stretched thin some

Critical friendships over the years.

A sister-friend moves away,

Or I move away from her,

And am petulant that things

Can’t stay the same.

And yet,

Making new friends feels like

Dating:

A careful,

Choreographed dance of

Nonchalance and

Attraction.

I’m wary of drama;

Done that,

Don’t have the appetite–

Or time–

To do it anymore.

I say that,

But the truth is,

I hide from you

Behind my husband

And kids.

They can take up

All my time if I let them.

And they need me

(Supposedly).

I envy my single friends

For their investments in their

Women friends.

(While they probably

Envy me my

Husband and kids.)

I admire how men

Seem to form friendships

Around activities:

To be blatantly stereotypical,

–Or use my husband

As an example

–It’s sports or

Music or

Spiritual interests.

They do stuff together.

It looks so fun.

While I text women for coffee,

Which really does feel like a

Date.

The fact is

My friendships

Change.

Sometimes they end

But not often,

Thank God.

When they have,

It’s been with pain

Just as traumatic as any

Romantic break-up

I’ve endured.

Maybe even more.

Change,

Not dissolution.

That I can be peaceful with.

I was in an art museum once,

Alone in a gallery

(That’s how this

Introvert likes to roll

At art museums:

In solitude.)

I was examining this tapestry of

Colors and

Pictures

That was so vivid,

It gave the illusion that the

Bits that made it up were

Moving and

Growing and shrinking.

Two young women

Came into the room;

They were lovely–

I think it was somewhere in Europe.

They were laughing together,

Clearly close friends,

Or so it seemed to this outsider.

They passed by and

One of them

Smiled at me.

I looked back at the

Tapestry and saw it as a

Metaphor for all the

Women friends I’ve had over the years.

Dynamic,

The sizes of individual

Pieces growing and shrinking.

And It’s okay for one friend’s tie to

Stretch across time zones

And even oceans,

And another friend’s tie to

Pull her closer,

To my neighborhood

Or my church

Or my 12-step meeting.

It’s okay.

It’s supposed to do that.

For my part,

Friendships don’t end.

They evolve.

Even if you move away,

Even if we don’t talk for months or

Years,

Even if we never speak again,

I am still your friend

And will love you from a distance

As well as I am able.

And for you whose faces I can set eyes on

Regularly,

It’s up to me to

Stop hiding out.

Modernity has put up some walls,

But I can have as much

Female community

As I want

If I’m willing to

Get out of my house

And myself

And find it.

Find you.

Gonna write another novel

photo-46I’m going to write another novel.

I surprise myself by

Saying it/

Writing it

Out loud.

There’s a certain hubris to saying

I’m going to do something like that,

Like saying I’m going to

Run a marathon

Before I’ve gone out for my first jog.

In fact,

They are not dissimilar,

Writing novels and training for marathons.

I’ve never run a marathon,

But from what I understand,

It’s a lot of

Inglorious training:

Getting up early in the dark

When everyone else is still asleep.

Sacrifices and trade-offs made.

Can’t stay up to watch

Sunday night football.

Gotta get to bed early,

Get up early for my

Morning training.

I feel okay telling you

I’m going to write a novel because

I’ve done it before.

Twice, actually.

(Both unpublished!)

So I know I can do it.

I think it would be possible to

Write one or two novels,

And run one or two marathons

With your eye on the result,

Yet hating the day-to-day training.

Bumbling out of bed,

Dreading the blank page or the

Cold concrete.

And making yourself do it

Anyway.

Because it’s one of your life goals:

To write a novel,

Or run a marathon.

But to keep doing it

Year after year,

Marathon after marathon,

Novel after novel,

You’d have to figure out

How to enjoy the daily training.

To not dread it.

To go to sleep at (8:00 at) night

Looking forward to your alarm going off at

4:00 a.m.

Because you’ve built your

Life around this

Hobby,

This passion.

Because you love it.

You love not just

Completing the marathon (the novel)

Or even the daily training exercise.

You love the daily training

Itself.

My first two novels

Were so willful.

I was so fixated on the result of

Having Written A Novel,

That I dreaded the practice of writing.

“I hate writing;

I love having written,”

Said one famous author.

But that’s not sustainable.

What’s the point?

It’s very possible I

Won’t make a cent on my novels,

That they’ll get rave reviews from

Close friends and family,

And that’s it.

They might completely suck.

It’s a hobby,

And a pretty demanding one,

So I’d better enjoy it.

It’s taken

Years

For me to learn how to enjoy a

4:00 a.m. writing session.

Mornings are best

Because I don’t have

Time to talk myself out of it.

Alarm goes off at 4:02 a.m.,

No snooze,

No thinking,

Just up.

(That’s the name of my alarm:

“Up.”)

Creep around the bedroom with my

Flashlight app,

Pulling on my training clothes–

Running shoes because

I write standing up.

Downstairs in the dining room,

I set up my writer’s space.

Virginia Wolff was wrong.

A woman does not need

Money

And a room of her own

To write fiction.

The dining room table is my desk.

In the still-dark early morning,

I fill it up with candles, talismans and tchotchkes.

I provide myself tiny comforts:

Hot tea,

My cozy red bathrobe,

Thermostat set at a decadent 72 degrees,

Thelonious Monk or Miles Davis on Pandora.

It takes patience

To settle into the

Experience

Of the daily practice of writing.

And strangely enough,

It’s the disappointments

(Two novels, not even published let alone

Best-sellers)

And a little suffering

(Drunkenness and then the bracing sobriety journey)

That have given me this

Patience gift.

Writing novels takes the ability to both

Be in the moment,

And have the long view.

I can sustain both best in the early morning quiet

Of my candle-lit dining room,

My family sleeping around me.

In the soundtrack to my life,

This scene of me starting to write novels again

Would be set to

“Fire On The Mountain,”

Grateful Dead:

Long distance runner, what you holdin’ out for?
Caught in slow motion in a dash for the door.
The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor
You gave all you had. Why you wanna give more?
The more that you give, the more it will take
To the thin line beyond which you really can’t fake.

Fire! Fire on the mountain!

Just another liberal on the bus

One day last summer

I wanted to take my infant son to a festival and

Since my husband had the car that day,

I decided we would ride the city bus.

My son was in his stroller–

The kind where you clip the car seat in–

And his huge diaper bag was stuffed into the undercarriage,

And my purse was swinging from the handlebar.

Like any infant/parent duo out for an afternoon,

We had as much

Equipment as we had

Pounds in our two bodies.

Now,

My experience with public transportation is

Informed by the five years I lived in

Scandinavia

Where parents and kids in strollers

Ride for free,

Where if you’re getting on a train or tram with stairs,

Strangers will pick up the front of your pram without a word

And help you and your kid on board,

Where other riders will

Uncomplainingly

Make way for you and your stroller.

It felt like

We were all in this together.

Everyone invested in raising these kids–

Even those who didn’t have kids–

A value exemplified by the

Public transportation system:

Institutionally, with the free fare;

And culturally, with the unspoken agreement that

Someone will help you

Get your pram

On the damn bus.

So as I was pushing my

Stroller system to the bus stop,

I got a sinking feeling:

I’d ridden the bus plenty as a commuter,

And I’d seen that

Wheelchair elevator thing they have,

But I’d never seen a stroller on one…

Sure enough,

The bus pulled up to the stop and the doors opened,

And the bus driver looked down at me and my

Grapes of Wrath-esque stroller system and said,

Skeptically,

“You’re gonna have to fold up that

Stroller to get it on here.”

I looked up at her,

Starting to panic as I

Envisioned how I would

Sherpa a

Folded-up stroller,

Car seat,

Diaper bag,

Purse, and

Oh yeah,

The baby

Onto the bus

In one load

With no help.

Reader,

I lied.

“My son has a head injury and the

Doctor said

We can’t move him.

He has to stay in his stroller.

I can’t take him out.”

The bus driver looked at us for a minute,

Then pushed the button, and the

Elevator contraption

Beeped its way down to the ground for us.

I crammed us onto the thing

Diagonally–

It’s not meant to have someone standing behind the

Wheelchair–

And we got on the bus.

Not only did people

Not make way for us,

But they glared at me.

Annoyed that I was making the bus run behind schedule,

And probably seeing through my bullshit line.

The whole bus ride,

I fumed.

How is it

Safer to have a

Folded up stroller and a

Loose infant rolling around the

Inside of a

Moving bus than a

Stroller locked in place with a brake system

And the infant buckled inside?

It seemed designed to actually

Discourage

Parents from using public transportation.

As I steamed,

I made this into an

Example in my mind

Of everything that’s wrong with our country,

Of an individualism that borders on

Absurdity.

It’s your kid.

You decided to have him.

You decided to ride the bus.

You get him on board yourself.

You don’t want to ride the bus with  your kid?

Then get a job

And get a car.

Oh, and by the way,

Same goes for his health insurance.

But all of a sudden–

Maybe it was the evil eyes boring into the back of my head

From the ridership sitting behind me–

I could see myself like I think

The

Other side

Might see me.

The assumptions I was making,

The language I was using in my mind.

Wow.

I did sound entitled.

(I even lied to get my way,

Which is another whole issue.)

I’ve been given the gift

In recent years,

Of having

Politically conservative

Friends.

And though we don’t talk much about politics,

I can see from the way they live their lives

What they mean about

Personal responsibility.

They see a problem,

And I see the same problem

And we see different

Reasons for that problem,

And we have different ideas for

Solutions to the problem.

I can look into their eyes and

See that they’re not

Evil or

Mean or

Vindictive.

My problem–

And it is

My problem–

Is when it’s a whole

Half a country of them,

And they become faceless,

And I don’t get to look into their eyes

And see that their motivations are true.

It hurts.

It hurts me to feel so

Disconnected from seemingly

Half my countrymen and women.

(It felt like

The bus was

Full of them

That day.)

But all I can look at is myself.

My assumptions.

My senses of entitlement.

My distrust of

The other side.

Where does it come from?

It doesn’t even matter.

I’m pretty sure that

Any of my conservative friends would’ve helped me

Carry my stroller off the bus–

Though they might not have thought I should have

Free fare–

And maybe that’s a start.