Thursday, April 20, 2017
This morning, while getting ready to use my four-year-old son’s new crayon maker that, despite being purchased at Goodwill ,actually has all its working parts, he flung a crayon directly into my coffee. Not on purpose of course (or was it?), but a funny, unintentional accident. I was still upset. I screamed out “there’s a crayon in my coffee” when I really wanted to say “theres a god damned mother fucking crayon in my coffee!” You see, this morning was a bit rough. He woke me up around 7 am to yell that he had wet pants and underwear. So I got up, changed his piss soaked clothes, took off his sheets, and grieved the last unsoiled mattress in our home. (We’ll hold a funeral later) But, I stopped myself from cussing like a sailor (which was my natural pre-child proclivity) and simply stated the facts, laughed, and picked the crayon out of my golden elixir of life. I honestly wouldn't have made it this far in mommy hood without my precious coffee.
So, to keep things humorous so as not to lose my shit, I will list the top 10 things (that my low functioning brain actually remembers) that I never thought I would say that I have said as a mother.
#1: “I feel like my organs are going to fall out of my vagina.”
Yes, this is real. This is the raw, unspoken truth. The first couple of weeks after giving birth, I felt like my vagina did not in fact exist but was instead replaced with a big, gaping void. I felt like, every time I stood up my internal organs might just plop onto the floor. “Oops, there goes my kidney”. You are never warned about this and you feel like this will always be the case. Like you will have to carry around a large ziplock bag to carry any organs you might lose along the way. Luckily, this only lasted a couple weeks (I think).
#2: “I feel like a factory farm cow.”
Everyone speaks of breastfeeding as this beautiful, natural, other-wordly experience. This was so far from the case for me. I felt like I was a cattle being used and grabbed in all the wrong places. The first time I used a medical grade pumping machine it was horrible…the worst. I have always been compassionate to animals, but I finally really felt like one of the cows in the barnyard. As this machine sucked the milk (and dare I say soul) out of my body, I cried. I felt used and degraded. Needless to say I never used that torture device again. But breast feeding never became the pinnacle of life that I thought it would be. It’s not even in my top 2000 experiences in life. There, I said it.
#3: “I got 4 hours of sleep in a row! (said in a super excited and non-sarcastic tone)
Sleep deprivation is a real struggle to say the least, especially for this gal who likes to get her solid 10 hours a night. I realized that babies wake up in the night, I just didn’t realize how often and for how long. For my son it was about every 2 hours for a feeding. He napped more during the day and I, being unable to nap and a compulsive cleaner, got very, very little sleep during those first few months. He didn’t fully sleep through the night for about 7 months but during the first few I was lucky to get 3 hours at broken up intervals. So the first time I slept 4 hours straight, after checking to make sure the child was still breathing (another nightmare that kept me awake), it was like arriving at Disney World for the first time. I felt like I could take on the world….or at least another breast feeding session.
#4: “Stop slapping my butt!”
I like a good ass-slapping as much as the next girl, but, in this case, it’s my son and its just plain wrong. For some reason he absolutely loves to slap my rear. Ok, it could be that he is mimicking behavior that he saw and it also could e because I occasionally do the same to him and laugh hysterically. But now he is 4 and getting ready for pre school and it needs to stop! I am trying to teach him it is not ok to go up and hit people’s asses randomly for a laugh. The struggle is real.
#5: “I just want to poop in peace!”
I am directly quoting my own mother here too, and I’m sure countless generations of women before her. The simple and unappreciated act of your pre-parent life has now been ripped away from you forever, in one fell swoop. You don’t even realize its coming. When they are babies you try to fit it in while they are napping or you bring them in the bathroom with you in their bouncy chair. They stare at you creepily and it causes a great deal of performance anxiety. You try to imagine they are dolls but then they laugh and scare the poo right back inside of you. Then they learn how to walk…fuck! You are no longer safe to do anything alone (lets not even mention masturbation). They are everywhere at all times. Kind of like gods. So you eventually give up and no longer even close the door. it’s over. Give in to the not-so-sweet defeat.
#6: “My boobs are mine!” (said in a lion-like roar)
They are! For 14 months they belonged to the tiny dictator. I might as well have detached them from my body and let him put them on display in a glass case, to use at his whim. But now, and for the rest of my life, they belong to me! Stop touching them, poking them, laughing at them, and trying to get back to those precious months. They are over….deal with it.
#7: “Is your penis still there?”
Once my son was potty trained (fucking finally), he became obsessed with the new found feeling of his member (or cock if you prefer). He pretty much had his hand down his pants 24/7. I knew this was normal and didn’t make a big deal out of it at first. Then months went by and he was still doing it, and in public. Others were starting to notice and make comments. I was constantly asking if he had to pee. It became a bit much. So finally I just started asking him if his penis was still there. If he said yes than I said “then please stop checking. It’s not going to fall off.” Is this the best parenting I’ve ever done? Probably not, but it needed to stop. The last thing I want is my kid being sent home from school for being a perv at 5 years old! In fact, I never thought I would be saying so many penis related comments and instructions in my life. This is where being a single mom gets a bit weird. I’m really looking forward to the puberty talk.
#8: “Eat 2 more bites of your pizza and you can have dessert.”
Say wwwhhhaaaa? I’m telling my child to eat more of his horrible, greasy, cancer mush in order to be rewarded with more awful, sugar-filled meth food. Wow. I never thought this would be me. But after months of sleep deprivation and indentured servitude mixed in with your body not being yours and your mind becoming less and less sharp by the hour…you just don't give a fuck sometimes. Some days you cook the organic meals from scratch and feel proud (and then homicidal because they refuse to eat it) and other days you just give them the fucking hot dog or pizza because you don't have the god damn energy to cook, argue, or breathe. So yes, this has actually been said by me, more than once.
#9: Don’t leave with that other family!”
Is this only me? I hope not. My son is an over-the-top social butterfly which is in direct opposition to my introverted anxious wishing-for-an-invisibility-cloak ways. He loves other kids. He loves big families. He loves to try and sit with other families if we go out to eat and yes, I have caught him trying to leave with other families more than once. Is this scary? Yes. Do I sometimes feel like saying “go ahead, I’ll pick you up on Tuesday”? Also yes. But, in the end, he is my monkey and I love him so I stop him from leaving with strangers. This has ceased in the last year (thank god), but I am still always watching out for it. I’m scared of the day a man offers him a lolli to get in his fun van!!
#10: “That is not your daddy.”
Ok, this one is kind of sad. It used to happen every single time we were at a playground. I would catch him following some man around who was with his kid on the playground and start asking for help on the monkey bars and then it would happen…he’d call him dad. Talk about awkward. Usually I’d laugh nervously and pull him away as fast as I could to explain that was not his dad, but the other kid’s dad. I know this is a tough one and unique to our situation so I tried to be sensitive. But what I really wanted to do was un screaming like my hair was on fire!! The dudes probably thought I was some spinster trying to find a man by training my son to call them daddy! Eeek. Luckily this habit has passed as well.
In conclusion, I hope this does not make me sound like a horrible mom. I’m just spitting the truth as always. I love my kid more than anyone ever and would take a bullet for him any day of the week. Or for that matter, I’d live it all again if it meant I got to spend my time being his mom. That being said, this shit is hard and, sometimes, you need to laugh at it all in order to keep going. Right now, my child is pacing and asking a million questions and drumming on a box. He is angry at me for ignoring him and its taken me a couple of hours just to type this in between his demands so I must say adieu. Back to the grind.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Guilt plagues me as I spend a day trapped in mental depression and physical exhaustion and discomfort. It is a bright and warm day outside…one of the nicest so far this spring. This only intensifies the self judgments and guilt. I feel sorry for myself but also for my child, who (I tell myself) suffers with me. I keep having thoughts of what a bad mother I am and how he doesn't deserve this. I get lost in this awful cycle for a while and get little accomplished but rumination. Where did I go wrong? When did I lose my sense of magic?
I mean I still take care of him of course. I get up and get him breakfast, I pick him out clothes, I wipe him after he shits, I build him a fort, I feed him when he was hungry, I give him hugs and kisses, and I reassure him that “this is mommy’s issue, not yours” and “ I am sorry”. But the self judgements come in a steady stream. I should be grateful, happy, energetic. I should be taking him to the playground, into the woods, or up a tree. I should be meeting friends and arranging play dates. I should be different, better…more.
Benny begs me to go in his fort. I say no at first but he begs and begs and finally, out of guilt, I agree. He is always inviting me into his world like this. Like a court jester trying to make me laugh or Peter Pan reaching out his hand. Most of the time I refuse in order to attend to my boring adult chores. Dishes need to be done, meals need to be made, bills need to be paid, hair needs to be plucked. But when I do say yes to his invitation I am always transformed. He teaches me exactly the lesson I need to learn in a matter of minutes.
Now, this child in no way has been deprived of time outdoors or adventures. He has been up and down various playgrounds of the east coast. He has been to numerous children’s museums, amusement parks, trails, lakes, and waterfalls. He has swam in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Atlantic/Caribbean oceans. He has traveled more and had more experiences than most do in their first 30 years of life, if ever. So one day inside, on a sunny day, wont kill him. But I still feel awful about it.
The lesson he teaches, however, is so much deeper than this. So much more impactful.
So…I go into his fort; his world. I lye there in this space, made up of a few blankets, pillows, and a couple of chairs and I feel magic. He giggles as I awkwardly crawl inside. He shows me around his “home” and then gets out his light projector so we can make art. I begrudgingly comply and draw a monster. He loves it. I, lying there and barely doing anything, am making my son overjoyed. Then it hits me all at once: presence. It is not at all about what we do but only about how much we care and pay attention. About how engaged we can be in any given moment.
This is a complete parallel to what I have been dealing with on an emotional level too. Our emotions are like children. It doesn’t matter what you are feeling in any given moment but only how aware you are with the emotion. Be present with what you feel. Give it your full attention and compassion. Treat it like your child.
In this society we are taught to value action only, and it is all supposed to be done with a “positive” attitude. We are taught that it is not ok to feel the darker emotions, that they point to something being inherently wrong within us. Don't cry…take a pill! Don't dwell…go on a run! Don't play or rest….work! and so on and so forth until we are shoving our emotions down and shoving our kids to the side. Down the road, the emotions are still there but unprocessed and the kids are all grown up and repeating our unhealthy patterns. They learn to repress their emotions along with their magic.
I will not do this to my child, or myself, any longer. In order to live fully and recapture magic I will be present with both my emotions and my child. I will set aside time to play and time to feel. I will pay attention to emotions as they arise the same way I would pay attention to my child’s boo boo. This is how we heal. This is how we become whole. This is how we find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Friday, April 14, 2017
Over the last several years of my life, I have been moving around with my son….from state to state and even out of the country. We have been on many adventures and have documented them on social media. My loved ones have been following and liking our multitude of photos and posts along the way. I used to post every thought that popped into my head on facebook, but my friends and family would sometimes take it the wrong way and get overly worried or say I was sharing too much drama, so I stopped. I started only posting positive statements and fun photos, during those rare moments when I was feeling “good”. I noticed that people responded to this much better and I stopped posting when I was feeling anything but ok.
This is the lie that is perpetuated online, and I believe, throughout Western society today. We are all expected to be happy, with our perfect white smiles and thin wastes. When I was going through a severely abusive relationship I lost a lot of weight. I was down to 109 lbs and I am 5’ 8”. This is considered a dangerously underweight BMI and is also the BMI of most supermodels. During this time I got so many compliments about how beautiful I was (with the exception of a few family members who called me skeletor!) and how lucky I was to be so thin after having a child. I was also suicidal and no one knew it. I only posted on social media when things were looking up, because when I did complain or reach out, people would just say “chin up” or “it’s not that bad” or “look at your beautiful son”. On a normal day, under normal circumstances this may be true, but under the extreme circumstances I was living in, this was not acceptable. What I needed to hear was some truth. Some real, genuine, helpful words. Like, “do you need help” or “you need to gain weight” or “can I come visit” or maybe just someone showing up on my doorstep and being there. I did get this from a few close friends and family, but most people just wanted to turn a blind eye and believe that everything will be ok. And honestly only 3 people came to visit me during that entire year and a half…2 of them being my teenage nieces.
Truth: everything will not always be ok. Life does not always turn out ok in the end! Life is full of ups and downs and every emotion and tragedy and surprise and joy and grief and depression and betrayal. It is varied and confusing and exciting. It is sometimes peaceful and happy, but my guess is this is not the norm most of the time for most people. Sure, we have a lot for which to be grateful, especially in a first world country…but we also have much for which to be deeply sad, angry, upset, frustrated, confused, crazy, and scared about. Let’s try and honor the entire spectrum instead of just one small part of the whole picture. Let’s be open and honest with one another and be compassionate and open with others. Let’s vow to not turn away when someone is reaching out and feeling alone and daring to admit it. Let’s not try and smooth things over or give them a pep talk. Let’s face those places within ourselves that are not ok and maybe never will be….and accept that. Be with that. Honor that. And let’s put all of it up on social media!
If we would only stop pretending our lives are perfect and dare to be brave, so much could be healed. We would discover that everyone is hiding behind their profile pictures and joyful facades. That no one really has it all figured out. That we are all deeply and imperfectly human. And, you know what, maybe we would all feel a little bit better about ourselves. Which is exactly what this world needs.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
I have never not been a single mom. Not for a day, an hour, or even one minute. My partner died in an accident when I was just eight weeks pregnant. We lived together, were in the midst of planning a small wedding, and had planned to have a baby. When I found out I was pregnant I waited all day to tell him the good news. When he got home from work I sat him down and told him I was with child. His smile was profound, the biggest I had seen on him yet. He looked over at me and said “I’m gonna be a dad” and jumped up with his sports fanatic zealousness that I had grown to love. We had spoken about this many times before and immediately began arguing about names, whether our child would be allowed fast food, and how many hours per day “it” would practice basketball! He did not hesitate to announce it to the world although I preferred to wait a bit.
I took a trip to see my family soon thereafter, several states away. They were all excited for the new addition and were helping me plan the wedding. I picked out a dress (an unconventional purple) and invitations. I booked the venue. I asked for my partner’s input on songs for which he replied “I don't care” and then, after I pressed him finally responded with “Love is a Battlefield”! We weren't the typical couple. We were on opposite sides of the fence on a lot of big issues. We debated often. But, in the end, we both carried the same core of integrity and had each others backs. He was the best man I’d ever known and I was proud to be planning a lifetime with him.
Then the day arrived. My bags were packed and I was heading towards the airport to get back to my life with my love. My wedding dress was neatly folded in my suitcase and all I could think about was giving him a giant hug when I saw him that afternoon. I missed him greatly after only 6 days apart. I was beyond excited.
I had left my phone in my back pack and I must not of heard it, because when I pulled it out I had 7 missed calls. (It was only 7:30am). I listened to the first voicemail and my heart sank. It was the HR person at our job (we worked at the same place) and she said that my love had been in an accident. I couldn't believe it. Thoughts and fears flooded my mind immediately. Had he been in a car accident on the way to work? Did he break any bones? I called back and got the news. A keg that he was cleaning had exploded, and he was in the hospital. I was in shock. The next minutes were consumed with worry and various phone calls. Now I was beginning to worry on a deeper scale. Could he be paralyzed? Brain injury? When I spoke to his best friend it was clear that this was far more serious than a broken bone. Finally, I got a call from the hospital. The nurse told me I needed to get there immediately, but I couldnt! I explained that I was on my way to the airport and I would be there later that afternoon. Then the doctor got on the phone. He explained to me exactly what had happened to my love. When the keg exploded, pieces of it had impacted his head and chest causing “irreversible damages” and sending him into cardiac arrest. I asked how he was and what this meant. He said plainly, without emotion, “He didn't make it”. The next hour was a blur. I remember screaming, punching the dashboard, crying hysterically. I remember my sister pulling over and crying. I remember my young nephew in the back seat freaking out and not understanding what was happening. I didn’t understand either. I couldnt understand. It had to be a horrible joke or a dream….a nightmare that I could not escape.
My sister did not want me to board the plane alone, but I had to go. I needed to be with my love. I needed to see him and hold his hand. I couldn’t get there fast enough. In the airport my tears would not stop. I was crying uncontrollably the entire wait and then the entire flight. No one spoke to me. No one asked if I needed help or even needed a tissue. A couple sat next to me on the plane and the man was blind. The woman (I assumed his wife) was reading aloud to him. They were very affectionate with each other, touching and kissing the entire fight. I just wanted the plane to crash. I wanted to die.
When we landed my friends were waiting. They had a blanket and tissues and they drove me directly to the hospital, which was still an hour away. We went inside and had to wait even longer. Then we finally went upstairs. We talked to the doctor and he asked if we had any questions. I said no, that I just wanted to see him one last time. A nurse walked us into the morgue and into a small room off to the side. I felt faint. I felt out of my body. This could not be real.
There he was, lying on the cooling board with his body covered in a white sheet. His face and hands were exposed. The first thing I noticed was one of his eyes were open. His beautiful blue eye. I got to see it one last time. I walked up to him and rubbed his eyebrow as I often did. I held his hand and I cried. I have no idea how long I stayed, but I never wanted to leave. This was it. There was blood in his teeth and he was so cold. When I left him, just 6 days before, he had held me all through the night with those perfect warm hands. This was the last time we would touch.
Fast forward five years: I am a single mother to an amazing four year old son. He is joyous, vibrant, even-keeled, extremely energetic, and has big, beautiful blue eyes just like his dad. We have been through a lot together. We have moved too many times to name across four different states and even lived abroad. We have been on many adventures and visited loved ones all over. Most important, we have survived. We have made it through the most depressing, difficult days together. We have escaped a house fire. We have made it through my exhaustion too many times to count. We have laughed, we have cried, we have danced and gone crazy. We have done it without the support of a grandmother since my mom passed a year and a half before my partner. Now we have settled into a home and plan on staying, plan on building community. This is the scariest part of all for me.
For years we have been on the go. Experiencing life, I have had one boyfriend (another long, horrible story of its own), traveling, playing, and not really making any new friends. You see, when you are a non-widow widow, it is tough to explain. The benefits of being a wife legally are non-existent when you weren't married yet. People like to ask questions, and when they discover the answers they usually walk away never to return. (A dead partner and mother!). It’s too much for most people to face. It’s too hard. It is unimaginable to most.
I get that, but I also get how hard this has been and how resilient we all are. How much help is needed and appreciated by single moms. How much friendships are needed. It’s ok to talk about grief and hardships. It’s ok for everything to not be ok. If you can laugh with me, play ball with my child, run an errand, or just sit in silence as we feel the sun on our faces…I appreciate you. We are all going to experience tragedy. We are all in this together. Please don't shut those out who have lived through grief. One day you will be there too and those who have come before will be able to stand by your side and be strong for you.
And please, if you see someone crying in an airport, hand them a tissue.