Bless This Mess

There’s something wrong with me. Lungs on fire, acid stomach, twelves hours of sharp, jutting pains through my midsection that came and went. I went to the doctor after a quarter of a yogurt made my esophagus light up like a Duraflame. He called for a nurse to be present while he dug his fingers into my midsection: Where does it hurt you, baby?

Maybe an ulcer. I bought $80 worth of prescription drugs at Walgreens on 23rd street and went back to work.

My colleagues asked me how it went. Their eyes clapped shut and opened wide in disbelief when I told them what it might be. How old are you? None of them have children.

The days are so long now. I used to have time to breathe. I remember when weekends were for recovery, when rest was possible, when sleep was more than the gulp of air needed to dive back underwater for another 15 hours. When I find little pockets of space now, a few minutes on the train where I’m not answering emails, half an hour after my daughter finally falls asleep before my face hits the side of the pillow with a splat, I am numb. I play Candy Crush. I have nothing left.

Feeling Things is not my forte. Feelings are messy, uncooked. I’m a planner, an organizer, a doer. I will acknowledge them only when they press me, or are not my fault. They get hurt and I will ask for your repentance. There now, it’s been handled. Keep swallowing.

Feelings have a way of rising up. They do not appreciate being ignored. I drank them down. When that stopped working, I spent hundreds of hours stroking and fondling them in recovery. I opened the door and let them in. I decided we could all live in this body. They settled in, despite hating the furniture.

Now, I’m a mother. There isn’t time.

I leave for work at the crack of dawn, before the sun or my daughter is awake. I walk the dog in the pitch dark freezing night. I pick his steaming shit up with a black plastic bag and feel it warm my hand. I sit on the commuter train with business men in suits with mouths like parentheses who skim quickly through the Wall Street Journal so they can watch Family Guy on their iPads. They wear wedding rings and don’t smell like anything.

At work, I think about cancer. One guy has six kinds of cancer and half an arm. He is not old. My heart breaks open. My brain says, “You are going to die, too.”

There is nothing I want to do more than this work. To keep the anxiety at bay, I walk to the water machine and push the button. Cucumber seltzer. It’s a good prize.

I leave a meeting early and hustle to daycare to pick up Lucy. She doesn’t want to leave. I bribe her into the car with a two-pack of Saltines. At home, she throws a tantrum when I put her down, pick her up, give her milk in the wrong plastic cup. I offer TV and she is happy. She doesn’t want dinner. I microwave something. I eat it out of the plastic tub on the couch while Lucy sits engrossed in cartoon mermen. I love her so much in this moment, where she is happy and my attention is not required.

I try to read her books but she’s impatient. We look for everything in her room that’s yellow. She wants banana, a yogurt, sweet things. She refuses pajamas. She smells like pee. I bribe her to change her diaper. Once the lights are out, she clings to me with force, won’t let me put her down. I sing Baby Beluga over and over again in the dark. When she’s almost asleep, she shoots up, realizing how I’ve tricked her eyelids into heaviness. She shouts for Dada, who is more fun. I leave, and they throw all the monsters out of the bed.

My bedtime routine is 5 things, and I hate them. I do them anyway, and crawl into bed. I play more Candy Crush. I look at Instagram. Women are wearing bikinis and cooking beef short ribs from scratch. I compare myself to them. I click the lamp to black and let a podcast lull me to sleep, filling my brain with someone else’s story.

I take it back. I feel constantly. I feel guilt and shame about not spending time with my kid, and then guilt and shame about being so tired that when I do see her, I want to check out. I am sleepwalking through a room full of people shouting, “Wake up! You asked for this!”

I did. I want all of these things. I love Lucy, how she puts all of the monkey things together in one pile, how she grits her teeth for the camera, thinking that’s what a smile is. I love my job more than any work I’ve ever done before. I love the man with 6 types of cancer and half an arm and I want his suffering to mean something in the larger context of research and fighting and fixing and curing.

Here it is, everything you asked for. Job, daughter, husband, house. Meaning.

I love it. Please don’t take it away. Just tell me: how do I not self-destruct?

I took the day off today, my first day off. I didn’t need to. I feel okay. I am not shitting blood.

I’m reading. I’m lying in bed in a sweatsuit listening to Arvo Part with my dumb cats, feeling stuff. I’m moisturizing. I’m waiting for this aromatherapy diffuser I ordered to be delivered from Amazon. I haven’t decided yet which smell to experience first.

I think they call this a mental health day.

Tomorrow I’ll commute into the city for an endoscopy. An invasive medical cherry on the proverbial cupcake. As a former drunk, I am not not looking forward to the procedure’s required black-out. Sounds like rest, to me.

Bless this mess. Good things are rarely easy.

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via @taprootdoula

I Stopped Feeding My Toddler Dinner

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They should really stop calling it dinner, which sounds innocent, pleasant even, and rhymes with “winner.” A more fitting, if less mellifluous phrase, might be Apocalyptic Hell Hour or Lucifer’s Food Time.

My daughter, Lucy, thinks the effort I put into preparing food for her is quite funny. Regardless of what she is served, it will be smooshed, flung, dropped onto the dog, or rubbed vigorously into her eyes. She will apply yogurt to her face like an all-over beauty mask. She will get ketchup on the ceiling. She will not eat.

I went out to lunch with two mom friends last week, one of whom has a son Lucy’s age. He sat in his high chair without complaint, smiling, and lapped up a quinoa, shiitake, and broccoli frittata. He devoured a savory beet yogurt by the heaping spoonful. What that actual fuck? I balked at my mom friend’s parenting wizardry. I studied her child like a buried treasure map as he nibbled his way through a mushroom, the floor beneath him pristine, not a swipe of pink across his cheek.

One evening a few weeks ago, I made Lucy a very innocuous bowl of boxed Annie’s mac and cheese. Yes, I threw a few very offensive green peas in there to appease the part of me that doesn’t want my daughter to become a carbohydrate. She wouldn’t try a single bite. She alternated between screaming like a goat and barking like an injured seal. She communicated to me via our complex system of pointing, yelling, and grunting that she wanted a Brocolli Little, which is, despite its name, a small potato cake in the shape of a triceratops. I stuck the dinocarb on a plate in the microwave. She shattered all the windows and mirrors in the house with a high-pitched scream, apparently because she wanted to push the buttons. She pulled the microwave down off its shelf and it nearly fell on top of her. Then there were tears. Then she wanted a veggie burger instead, with cheese and ketchup. I’ll let you guess how much of that made it into her mouth.

Like every other mother I know, I decided when my baby was a baby that she would “eat what I eat”, and that I “wouldn’t be one of those mothers who cooks fifteen separate dinners a night.” I realize now that this is the language of a presumptuous asshole who has never experienced Chobani as a hair mask.

After I gave up trying to feed my pig-tailed tasmanian devil and combed the cheese out of her hair that night, I called my MIL, who is the gatekeeper to the land of parenting Oz. “Maybe she’s not hungry,” she said. “What is she eating during the day?”

During the week, my 18-month-old goes to daycare so I can work. Behold, a sample menu from a single weekday:

Breakfast: half banana, cheese omelette, milk

AM Snack: Ritz crackers, water

Lunch: Veggie burger, peas and carrots, mashed potatoes, pasta with mixed vegetables, milk

PM Snack: Pouch, banana, water

She is being fed like an animal about to hibernate for 6 months, like a competitive eater training to take away that little Coney Island hot dog guy’s untouchable title, like me 3 days before my period. No wonder she’s not hungry for dinner; she’s already eating enough calories a day to sustain a family of elephants.

So, I stopped fighting with her about dinner. Now on the weeknights, she lets me know when she wants a snack. I’ll give her whole grain crackers with almond butter, a veggie pouch, popcorn, or yogurt, and she’ll eat happily while she plays. Instead of spending our evenings screaming, crying, and cleaning condiments off the ceiling, we now stack blocks, read books, and lick crayons.

Her disinterest in sitting down with me at 5pm to eat curry and talk politics doesn’t mean she’ll only eat white foods forever or never appreciate global flavors. She’s one and a half; dog hair is the height of culinary sophistication to her right now. Also, she’s full, and I don’t want to teach her that eating is required method of torture. This whole idea of eating three meals a day plus two snacks is just another thing someone somewhere made up, and now is law. It’s not actually important.

Over and over again, my daughter teaches me this: let go of your expectations. Trying to bend her spirit to fit into my idea of what kind of schedule she should be on doesn’t work. What does work is listening to her, letting her guide me to be the mother that she needs. It also results in less airborne applesauce.

Linky Link Round Up

I’ve been writing less here and more on other sites that, you know, pay me. Here’s a round up of some of my recent stuff:

I updated my piece on being an alcoholic mother for Buzzfeed, adding in more of what it’s like now to be a sober mom.

I’m super excited to be writing a weekly column for Ramshackle Glam about motherhood, anxiety, and those pesky things I sometimes have called “feelings.” I wrote about being the wrong kind of mother a few weeks ago and was pretty floored by the response; apparently I’m not the only one who feels like she has no idea what she’s doing. I also imagined what it’d look like if my 1.5 year old pitched her game concepts to the CEO of Hasbro, and what happened when we took her to the amusement park and lost Monk Monk.

Here are some tips on cool Amazon features you might like if you’re pregnant.

My first and only ever (I’m sure) magazine centerfold for Kiplinger’s is about the gender pay gap (of course).

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My Cesarean

I did not want a C-section.

I wanted to give birth the “normal” way, which is to say via a nickel-sized slit that had previously only been used for sexy purposes.

I also didn’t want an induction, but I got one of those, too. I was 43 weeks pregnant when “I don’t want an induction” turned into “induce me right now or I’ll slay you.”

I labored for 50 hours before they wheeled me into surgery. I was 5 cm dilated and decided I couldn’t labor for another 2 days before starting to push, if that’s what it came down to. My husband sat by my side and held my shaking arms down as they sliced me open and pulled out my daughter. That was birth.

Physical recovery was difficult. How does one recover from major surgery while also not sleeping and worrying constantly and feeling emotions that had not previously existed? Very slowly.

Emotional recovery takes even longer. While I’m grateful my daughter was born safely, I didn’t want this. I didn’t execute my plan. I failed to give birth the way I should have been able to. These are the thoughts that creep in and strangle whatever ownership I’ve managed to take of my experience. This is the shit that gets to me.

One night, I was laying in bed with my husband and just happened to brush my hand across my scar. I broke down in tears.

Shouldn’t I be over this already?

Does any woman, ever, anywhere, get over the experience of giving birth? No. You’re not supposed to.

This 6 inch slice that cuts across my abdomen exists to remind me that I cooked up Lucy right inside of there. Thanks for the sperm, but I did this myself. I made dozens of small decisions every day for 10 months about what to put in my body, how much to move it, and how to take care of myself in order to grow her exactly how she is. During labor, I made the best decisions I could through excruciating pain, tremendous fear, and piercing self doubt. When they carted me into surgery, I was unbelievably fucking brave. I meditated, I counted, I breathed deeply as they slit me open from one hip bone to the other. “You’ll feel some pulling,” they said, as they lifted my 9 pound baby up into the air. I did that.

Birth is birth, and it made me stronger, softer, braver, and better. And I got this kid to prove it.

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You can read my full birth story here.

Sometimes, I Just Don’t Want to Mom Right Now

At some point, without my permission, my baby turned into a toddler. Now, instead of carrying her around, I’m following her (unless there’s something I really need to do involving two hands, in which case, she absolutely must be held at that moment or it’s power tantrum time).

My one-year-old’s main interests include the following:

  1. Pulling tissues filled with snots out of the bathroom garbage can and trying to eat them (and if you take them away from her: power tantrum).
  2. Trying to get into the dishwasher to play with knives.
  3. Dipping her hands in the toilet.
  4. Throwing 100% of the food you give her at meal times off her high chair tray and onto the back of the dog (think “spaghetti comb” because that’s what I have to do after dinner).
  5. Pretending not to understand what “no” means.
  6. Attempting to fling herself head-first off the couch.
  7. Insisting that you read the same book to her 18 times.

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sharing used toilet paper with mama – so thoughtful

There are moments in our days that are really nice, like when she cracks up about something, or figures out how to put a puzzle piece in the right spot (GENIUS), or makes adorable sounds. But also? Having a toddler is really, really hard, and exhausting, and it caught me by surprise.

Now, in addition to the having to feed, clothe, bathe, care for a baby thing, there’s also a constant battle of wills. She does NOT want you to wipe up her nasty boogers as they slime their way into her mouth. She NEEDS you to let her eat that applesauce pouch right this second or she’s gonna lose her shit. She will look me in the eyes as I say “Lucy, No” and fling spaghetti onto the dog’s head.

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spaghetti

So, I’m tired.

And honestly, if I didn’t have the luxury of part-time daycare (to cover my part-time work schedule), I would be looking for a full-time job. Because honestly, I don’t know if I’m cut out for this all the time. I love every squishy, boogery ounce of Lucy, but doing this for 12 hours a day 5 days a week? Nope. I couldn’t do it.

Admitting this to myself isn’t easy. I still operate under the (incorrect) default assumption that the parts of me that are wrong are just things that need to be fixed, so that one day I can be perfect. It’s like I want to take my 1997 Honda Accord to the mechanic and have him turn it into a Tesla and then not charge me, just because I’m so great. I just want my therapist to boop me with a magic feelings wand and all of a sudden I’m an infallible mom machine.

But instead of doing everything right all the time, I get exasperated a lot. I get impatient. I look at my iPhone.

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here she is feeding printer paper to the dog

I know better than to feel guilty about this. If any of my mom friends admitted to me they felt guilty for this shit, I would tell them they’re nuts. This is totally normal! So what if you look at your phone! So what if you want nothing more than an hour alone after a 12 hour day! That is NOT WEIRD.

And yet.

The internet is a place full of faerie moms, who breastfeed their 11 year olds, and cosleep with their 12 year olds, and whose 1 year olds gleefully slurp kimchee without ruining their clothes. They have faerie babies who never get sick, and all they do all day is run around together holding hands in fields of wildflowers.

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don’t ask me about the last time I vacuumed

By 5pm (or, ya know, noon) I am desperate for reprieve. I am counting down the minutes until my beautiful girl is tucked into that crib, and I can finally sit on the couch with a cup of decaf and watch Top Chef totally alone.

Sometimes I miss it; being alone.