Not So Great

I wanted to post a link to this blog, Little Brown Mushroom, which was just sent to me by my friend B. The latest post, “On Being an Artist and a Mother–A Conversation,” really hit the spot for me today. I was frantic to turn in progress grades (the bane of my existence, progress grades), dealing with a student situation, lamenting the fact that two of my childcare days are done for the week and I haven’t even looked at my book, and wondering how I was going to wrap up all of this angst in a little ball and bury it before it was time to go get dear sweet L. Then I read this:

I just… [listened] to my two and a half year old yell from his bedroom in both in joy and despair for two hours in an attempt to not go to sleep while I sat in the living room trying to prepare tomorrow’s photo history lecture.  I can definitely relate to finding it difficult to focus.  When Oliver is talking-whether in the same room or not-I find it extremely hard to concentrate on anything else. Having a child and an art career, and teaching is a lot to juggle.  I always wonder and ask other women how they do it. The most helpful response was from a photographer that I greatly admire who said “sometimes you are a not-so-great artist, sometimes a not-so-great mother, and sometimes a not-so-great teacher.”  Hearing that made me feel not so bad about being not so great all the time at everything I was trying to do. Since grad school I made the decision to define success as continuously moving forward in some way, even if very slowly. And while I continue to ask artists with children how they do it, always hoping for some bit of wisdom that will make doing it easier, I realize that I am doing it too.  For me, finding some balance (though that word makes life seem a little more stress-free than it is) happened when my son started going to day care two days a week and I had those days as studio days.  I could focus on my work those days, teach a few mornings and be genuinely present when I was with him.

How I long to be fully present with L when I’m with him. It’s been a struggle of late, my desire for a job I don’t have to take home–but is still as fulfilling as working with students–so that on the days it’s Mama and L we’re really with one another, and I’m not worrying over whether I said the right thing to my student or what we’re doing in class next time or whether I’ll have time to finish up progress grades and lesson plan while L naps (or doesn’t). I am practicing detachment, but most days it doesn’t work that well. I found it really comforting to hear from someone else about trying to lesson plan while your kid refuses to nap (you all know I have blogged about this very phenomenon before). Childcare is such a blessing. L has been napping at Lorena’s very faithfully, and when I pick him up, he is happy and healthy. Repeat: this is such a blessing. Balancing it all is still a challenge, though, and I’ve been very busy and pretty stressed out the last 48 hours. Sometimes it occurs to me that life will always, always be like this, and that even an office job would leave me with angst to ball up and take home. Teaching, writing, and child-rearing seem both perfectly suited to one another and extremely conducive to burn-out.

I didn’t intend to write today so I will leave this here and now. More soon, comrades.

 

Decisions, Decisions

I’ve had one of those days with L where, you know, I nearly lost my cool a couple of times. Really it’s been a lovely day: the weather here in NorCal has been utterly perfect of late, and we spent a long morning playing at our favorite park. Then I pushed L a little too hard by attempting a market trip on the way home when it was too close to naptime. When L dropped to his knees in the middle of the street and refused to go on, I found myself feeling pretty weary. The thing about two-year-olds: they’re not rational human beings. As my friend C says, their brains head in one direction a while and then completely short out and/or go in a different direction; there’s not a lot of follow through. So even though we had a deal–the groceries would ride in the pram, and L would walk, since Mama has a busted rib–L decided to change the deal at the last minute and get seriously annoyed about the pram sitch and thus, throw a mini-fit. I can’t remember my tactic, but disaster was averted, we made it home, and L slept for three hours, so, all was well that ended well.

But. Of late I find myself repeatedly…repeating myself. “L, please put these toys in the basket…L, please put these toys in the basket… L, please put these toys in the basket…” until I eventually threaten something like, “Put the fucking lotion in the basket!” (Kidding.) B and I discussed it last weekend and agreed that it’s been a stress of late, L’s REFUSAL TO DO WHAT WE WANT HIM TO DO and our FAILURE TO COME UP WITH A GOOD SOLUTION TO THIS PROBLEM. I know, I know, I push him too hard. He’s two, right? And, in case you’re wondering, yes I DO use all the solutions in the handbook of two-year-olds: I give him warnings, I set clear boundaries. Yet L is the kid who, when you have very carefully established that something is happening in two minutes and then you say, “Okay, L, it’s been two minutes, time to put the toys in the basket” holds up his hand and says, “FIVE more minutes.” And will argue with you until he’s blue in the face (or you are).

I should insert here that my kid can be one of those infuriatingly nice children who drives other parents crazy. As a general rule he’s not aggressive; he shares, usually; he sleeps well; he can articulate what he needs; and he has been known, when seeing another kid in distress over a toy, to just give the toy to that child. He appears often to have empathy and he’s really, really sweet. Over the weekend, in fact, L pitched a fit in front of his aunt and uncle and Aunt C said, “wow, this is rare, huh?” She’d never seen him pitch a fit before. For a second I thought about lying. “Yeah, he never does this. Ever.” But as I am compulsively honest I had to admit that since L has turned two fits are pretty much an every day occurrence. Generally, I don’t sweat it. But his whole thing about refusing to do what we ask him to do has been seriously bugging me, maybe because I have this rib thing going on, and laryngitis, and B is working late all week. When your kid pushes you over and over, and you’re already tired, you just feel defeated and like he must be the most ornery kid in the world.

This is not L.

And then it occurred to me. L is just like his father. B, my husband, may be the sweetest man in the world. I mean, total love muffin. Kind even when I’m acting like a real pain. Giving. Affectionate. And the most argumentative SOB you have ever met (he says the same about me, but we know better). His parents report that he used to say, “You’re not the boss of me.” Even now, if I say something to B like, “Ooh, you know what you could do for me–” he is likely to set his jaw and give me the bilious eye. HATES to be told what to do. And L is, apparently, very much his kid.

And now I know what you’re thinking: who does like to be told what to do?

Eek–me. I do. I admit it. At least three times a day I wish someone would waltz into my house and tell me what to do. I swear to God. I’d like advisers in the following areas: child-rearing; career-development; house-cleaning; and cooking. I’d like someone to come along and tell me what I’m doing wrong exactly with L, and how to minimize onion smell in my house, and which magazines are likely to publish me, and how I can get rid of that nasty mold in my bathroom. I know this makes me a consummate dork, but I’m comforted by this myth that there are experts out there and that I can benefit from them, that they know better than I do.

Something tells me that B, and L, would rather figure those things out on their own. Anima, animus.

Thank you to everyone for your well-wishes. I have costochondritis, which basically means the cartilage separated from the bone on one of my ribs. As L would say, owee. In fact, he offered to kiss it the other day. See what I mean? As long as you don’t demand that he kiss it, he’ll very lovingly do it on his own. Hmm, maybe I’m onto something.

Magic

I’ve been thinking a lot about magic.

I find that magic shows up in my life when other things feel completely prosaic and mundane. I’ll be totally fed up with my work and my writing, parenting or my relationship will feel humdrum, and then there will be this little glimmer of something–an interesting coincidence, maybe, or a good turn done unexpectedly or even something strange and painful that makes me pause (magic isn’t all good–remember Lord Voldemort). The magical: A few weeks ago, when I did that great yoga workshop, I had an intense moment in meditation when the word “cleave” starting running through my head. For some strange reason–maybe because I am one of those types for whom strange words running through the head is sort of normal–I wasn’t alarmed. More than that, I got it. I have felt since I gave birth to L that the experience caused me to sort of split in two, in a very weird, esoteric, almost-too-deep-to-access (and really too personal to talk about) sort of way. So I’ve been kind of carrying that word around a bit. And this week at a doctor’s appointment I learned that, in fact, part of me did split in two when I gave birth. You ever have something happen that you would never have known was about to happen but then, once it does, you realize you knew it was going to happen? That’s what I’m getting at. It’s a little…magical.

So then, this morning, I was chatting with a friend on the street. She’s not been having an easy time of it, and I remember a week or so ago her telling me that she had been so out of it one day that she’d forgotten to put her son in a nighttime diaper and generally made a right mess of things in her life. I don’t think she told me but she also lost a favorite earring that day. This morning, as we were chatting on the street, I looked down and said, “Oh look, an earring”–at which point she went ballistic with joy. I’d found her lost earring and the weirdest thing was that it was lying at a place on the sidewalk where anyone could have stepped on it. In fact, it was directly in the path of a car that could have backed out of its driveway at any time and crushed it. She lost the earring ten days ago. But it was beautifully, perfectly intact. To me, this was sort of medium magical, but she is convinced I’m the next Hermione Granger.

Well, okay, if you say so.

And oy, here’s the mundane: I had a rib injury in December, as I think I’ve mentioned. I either cracked a rib or pulled a muscle from a particularly violent bout of coughing. This injury was healing, slowly. But yesterday I sneezed and I literally felt something pop in my side. Then: agony. I’m very barely mobile on 600 mg of Ibuprofen. I’ve been able to sit at the computer for a while but I should probably go lie down again. Doctor’s appointment at 2:45.

And can I just say, toddlers are not capable of empathy? Trying to explain to L this morning that Mumma had a really big owee and I needed him to cooperate–failure. After B left for work L climbed back in his crib. He climbs in, but he doesn’t climb out. I couldn’t really go in after him so I had to wheedle to get him to the edge, then one-armed drag him out. He gave me hell putting on his shoes, etc., and all the while I was trying to find some adult place to connect to that would understand why he should be ginger with me. Not happening. Good to know he’s developmentally appropriate, I suppose…

Oh, hey, a plug. If you’re reading my blog most weeks, why not click the “Follow” button? And if you really enjoy it, send it to a friend or repost it. I’m done with privacy. I want a fan base.

Love,

Susie

Hey Babe, Where’s the Mayonnaise?

Something I’ve struggled with since I started blogging, and writing such a personal memoir, is the fact that we Americans just love to talk about ourselves. It’s not lost on me that psychoanalyzing my two-year-old and rehashing the events of my week, though cathartic and, I hope, marginally enjoyable to read, is a pretty privileged vocation. I belong to that camp that believes that human pain is human pain; even the most privileged people in society have problems. And I think if you spend all your time saying, I don’t deserve to feel what I feel, because of the starving children in India, you’re going to wind up with some really specific and bad neuroses. Nonetheless, there are vastly different human experiences, and sometimes it boggles the mind. I always remember the time my good high school friend L said to me, when things were awful in Haiti about two years ago and we both had small babies and were sleep-deprived and generally unhappy, “I do not even know what I would do if my kid was crying because she was hungry and I didn’t have anything to feed her.” I remember we both sort of stopped short and thought about it for a second, feeling very, very grateful.

I have very little idea about what’s going on in Syria at the moment, mostly because my experience of listening to the news goes something like “Scott Horseley, NPR News. In Damascus today“—”Mom! I need more milk!”—forces pushed into—”Mom! I need a snack!”—UN Resolutions—”Hey babe? Where’s the mayonnaise?”, but yesterday in the car I heard that children are involved in the violence and have been murdered, tortured, kidnapped, and sexually abused. I’m not sure whether the horror of those crimes is more horrific to me now that I have a child myself and can imagine being in a place where children were caught up in something like that—but any way you slice it, it’s horrific. And I just wanted to acknowledge that, I guess.

Hmm, mayonnaise

Close to home, things are going well. February has thus far been kinder to me than January was (which strikes me as odd since I think of February as the cruelest month. The kindest? September). You’ll remember I took that yoga workshop last weekend, and it changed my life. Not my life life, but my immediate actions, attitude, and the day-to-dayness of here and now. We started off by writing, and in that brief ten minutes I articulated for probably the first time how depressing and demoralizing I find the competitiveness around trying to get published (a man in the workshop helped me come to this, when, after 20 people had introduced themselves with variations of the phrase “I’m a writer” he said, “I’m an author,” and, well, I did not feel the yogic loving kindness heading his way). Then, we did some asana, just simple yoga but at a perfect pace and difficulty level. Then some meditation, during which time I had my second important realization: that my next project will be about childbirth. Then came the best part. One of the teachers pointed out that many of the students had said that they were feeling “stuck.” “In my experience,” he said, “being stuck just means that you’re hammering away at something from the same angle over and over again. Try something new.” How is it that something so obvious could have been so completely lost on me until that moment? And that was realization #3: I need to stop sitting in the same coffee shop day after day pulling my hair out. I need to go for a walk with a tape recorder so I can hear my own voice again. Or put the book away for a while. Go to an art museum. Do a prompt. Write a poem. Do yoga every day (I have been; just ten minutes in the morning, but it’s ritual, and it’s good).

In other good news L has started at his new daycare. Those of you who have been around me of late know how worried I have been about my dear sweet L, who proved to be sensitive, clingy, sad, and whiny at his old daycare. I assumed for four months that this was just who he was when I wasn’t around. But now after two days–two tiny days–at Lorena’s he is a new man. He didn’t ask for me once. On the ride over, he said, “you dropping me off, Mumma?” And I said yup, I sure am. See you after lunch. No problem at all. I am cautiously optimistic that this will keep up. He even told me he’d like to try taking his nap there on Friday. Could be a disaster; we’ll see. And as though to drive home the rightness of this decision, today we visited his old daycare, to say a proper goodbye. I noticed that while I was enjoying the camaraderie of the women, who are chatty and fun and sweet, L was sort of lost. He didn’t want to ask for things. He didn’t have any skills when another kid didn’t want to share. He was out of sorts. So I think we have made a good choice.

This is getting awfully long, so I’ll stop there. Blessings to you, party people.

Short Shorts

I have a sleeping child. I’m so much calmer when L takes his nap. He didn’t, yesterday; instead, he took off his diaper, peed all over his crib, and then drove me crazy all afternoon. Around 5:30 I was heard to mutter sotto voce, “you’re a real pain in the ass, you know that?” I’m not sure he heard. Let’s hope he didn’t.

***

Funny story: we have a bad habit of leaving a wine glass out on the kitchen table or coffee table and the next morning our long tall drink of an L discovers it, drinks a sip, and then comes gleefully in to tell us all about it. “I drinking wine!” he said once, with a purple mustache. Oops. You think we’d learn, but no: this morning there was a (luckily-almost-totally-empty) glass on the table. L comes into the bathroom where I was just getting out of the shower.

L: “I drank some wine, Mumma.”
Me: “You did? Sweetie, wine is for grownups.”
L, cheerfully: “Oh, it was just a little bit. Don’t worry ’bout it.”

This is not L.

In moments like those–and like this afternoon, in the car on the way home from daycare, when L told me “I need a snack and I can’t hold my horse”–he is an utter and complete joy to me.

***

This morning I had coffee with MB, the husband of a dear friend from college. They live out in the sticks in Colorado, where they have a farm, and he’s in town doing some music gigs at local open-mic nights and the like. Some of you remember that lately I have been lusting after the “simple life,” and I found myself peppering MB with questions. I hope he didn’t mind. It was pretty wonderful to hear about their plans (to support themselves, and when they need a little more money, sell some wool/mutton/chickens/garlic/eggs); their sheep (five of them!); and their childcare woes (1+ hour drive to school every day). Lately I’ve been really interested in farm stories. Two books recently have been rocking my world: The Urban Homestead, which is a how-to guide for turning your small urban rental into a miniature farm and canning, harvesting, and eating your way to the good life; and The Dirty Life, which is a memoir by a woman who falls in love with a farmer, moves to upstate New York, and starts a full-service farm, which is to say, a farm that supports up to 30 or 40 local families with everything they need: organic vegetables, meat, eggs, beans and grains, dairy, and maple syrup.

I think farming and urban homesteading are hip right now, and I can get into what’s hip, so maybe that’s the reason for my interest. More, though, I think I have been so in my head lately I’m likely to topple over. I think I’m really craving more manual labor and physicality and less cerebral work. I’m no couch potato–I have to exercise fairly compulsively or else I explode, and I’m back into running again–but when MB sat down across from me at a very urban coffee shop and told me being in the city was freaking him out, and I could see how much time that man spent outdoors working hard, I felt a little jealous.

***

I’ve decided to take a yoga workshop this weekend! I’m so delighted. It’s called “Yoga & Creativity: Building a Practice as a Writer or Artist” and I saw a flyer for it when I went to a Pilates class this morning. It’s a short one (essential, when you have a 2-year-old and your husband thinks he has to spend some time at the office) and I thought it might be a really good way of moving the energy down from my head and into my body a bit. I have this sense that if I can feel my book more than think my book, I’ll have some success in moving from a very stuck place to a more open one.

I know, I know, I sound so California.

***

Speaking of which: L was hamming it up at the produce market yesterday (un-napped, the kid turns into a madman). He was dancing and twirling and frenetically being crazy and this very eccentric woman came up to us and said, “Oh! What’s his name?” I told her. “Is he a Leo?” she asked. I confirmed that in fact he is a Leo. “But what’s his moon sign?” she asked. I told her I didn’t know. She put her hand on my arm and said in this very conspiratorial voice, “You have to get his charts done. There’s something else in there besides Leo. God, he’s just darling!” (L was dismantling the juice machine at that point. This was about 15 minutes before the pain-in-the-ass business.) She couldn’t take her eyes off him and gave me her card. Now, cynical B told me that of course she was just drumming up business, but I have to say that this is the third or fourth time a total stranger has come up to me and told me how…X…my kid is. One dude, who also put his hand on my arm and stared into my eyes, said, “I just have to tell YOU about the intelligence simply exuding from that child.” Not sure why he needed to emphasize “you.” Maybe he thought I didn’t already know?

***
Yesterday morning I had a little crying jag, and called B, as I always do (what did I do before he came along?). Last night he brought flowers and I promptly started to cry again.

B: “Whoa, it must be a long time since I brought you flowers, if they made you cry!”

Yeah, well. Tears of joy, I guess.