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

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An Imaginary Exploration of Rohan’s First Birthday

Lucy is turning one on Thursday. To celebrate, I am buying mini muffins at Trader Joe’s and then dropping them off with her at daycare so I can work. But if I were the kind of mother who tooled around with Gwyneth Paltrow, or this fucking lady, I imagine it would go more like this:

I awake at 4am, perfectly revitalized, radiating the warm goodness of the sun goddess, even though she still slumbers (O, lazy empress!). I rise from my organic, lavender-scented cotton bedsheets and walk fiercely to my meditation room. I am surrounded by pillows, bejeweled by Tibetan monks in the brisk mountains of another Asia. I practice cunnilingal yoga, by curling my tongue around a single crystal while in Warrior 2 pose.

After my morning retreat, I levitate towards the kitchen, where I heat electrolyte-enhanced spring water in a small copper kettle. I add a squeeze of organic meyer lemon from my grandmother’s tree. I pour a small bowl of endangered tigers milk, and lap at it like a cat.

Before Rohan wakes, I quietly enter his room with a black velveteen bag of healing crystals. I pass each crystal over his small, perfect body while chanting in Sanskrit. His eyes peel open; they are laced with tears. “I love you, Mama,” he says. These are his first words. I peel a bursting breast from my silken robe and weep as he latches.

At 7am, Rohan and I sit down for breakfast, an alkalizing blended green juice of organic kale and seaweed, filtered through pristine white sands and moon rock. Rohan gazes up at me lovingly, and I down at him, and we stare at each other, getting lost in our love gazes while we sip. The breakfast nook is teeming with warm energy and thick linen curtains. “Happy year of your birth,” I declare. He nods, silently, and slowly sips his green-hued nectar.

We each chew a heaping tablespoon of bee pollen as I dress Rohan. First, his under layer of fine silk. Next, he is wrapped in hand-sewn organic cotton, and topped with a sweater knit from the fur of a single alpaca, who was fed a gluten-free diet of only elderberries and pistachio.

While in his room, I explain to him that the tradition of a day of birth anniversary is to receive a present. From beneath my robe, I pull out (as if by magic!) a small, earthen box. He gazes upon it with delight. “Mama!” he exclaims, stunned by his spoils. As he opens the box, beams of light protrude outward from its geometric prison. He dips his tiny hand into the light, and pulls out a single red ruby, affixed to a silver chain. “For your neck,” I say. He smiles, displaying both of his incandescent white teeth.

Now that the celebrating has commenced, I affix Rohan to my body with cottons and other fibres, and we proceed to walk the 7 miles together through downtown LA to my flagship juice store. He is hungry upon arrival, and requests a floral bouquet of cilantro and thai basil to nibble while I examine this mornings batch of raw almond cacao sea foam activated daisy milk. It is not up to my standards, and must be remade. “Do not waste it,” I explain to my employee, all patience. “Make sure this batch is delivered to the homeless youth.” The sun beams a single ray onto my heart chakra as I speak these words.

Rohan and I spend the rest of the day making pilgrimages around LA to my various juice stores. We stop for a lunch of raw, organic zucchini ribbons and seaweed essence, which we eat only until we are pleasantly full and revitalized. We can feel the cells of the zucchini bursting into our own, the flood of energy: we meditate, holding hands. I feed him a small chard of low glycemic vegan chocolate. Happy birthday, my son.

At the end of the day, Rohan again nestled into my heaping breast, I chant and hum ancient melodies. I catch a small beam of light glinting off his ruby necklace, and know that the universe is benevolent. I gaze upward towards the heavens, and smile. I lay my sleeping baby down, nestled into a cloud of blankets, and float airily towards the door.

Exhausted after a long day, the doorbell chimes. I perk up instantly, knowing that my guru has arrived for our nightly 3 hour advanced Savanasanali yoga session. I plop a single raspberry into my mouth, and feel light and joy course through my being. “Thank you for giving your life so that I may have mine,” I say to the raspberry.

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Bits and Pieces

I feel naturally unaccustomed to the phenomenon of things coming together in my life. I lived in chaos for so long; waking up every morning sick and groggy, doing the bare minimum at whatever job I hated, seeking refuge against myself and any feelings I had with socially sanctioned numbing agents. I both hated myself and wanted to control everything. No thing or body could help me, because of my devastating uniqueness. I was a very special piece of shit.

Unfortunately, I still feel. Fortunately, I get to feel things now like the sensation of being five and someone tells you a huge chocolate cake is right through that doorway and you can eat the whole thing by yourself, which is what it feels like every day at 4 o’clock that I pick my daughter up from daycare. Mostly, the feelings are good, and sometimes they are absolute magic.

But in allowing myself to be present for all of it, I’m learning to sit with the stuff that is more bitter lemon than rainbow sprinkle. Sometimes, there is the piercing shame of an old stunt remembered. Sometimes, it’s just a feeling in my body, a dark wave that rushes through me before my brain gets the heads up that we are now remembering what it felt like to give birth. I’m not having fantasy contractions, but there’s a peach pit in my uterus that says, “Remember when you felt the pain of everything that’s ever happened to you all at one time? Remember how you clawed your way through the dark? Remember how it felt to hold your baby for the first time and understand what light is?”

I still don’t understand it, because I can’t. I have to feel it.

I hardly recognize myself anymore. My skin is different, particularly where the belly used to be. My breasts hang low. I look more worried.

Lately, I’ve been so productive. I’ve been working almost all the time that I’m not taking care of Lu, or cooking or cleaning the house. It feels good.

But this is old behavior; this is me wrapping my fists around my tiny universe and saying, “I can control you, I just need to work harder at it.” Don’t rest. Keep all of the balls in the air, master juggler. You can do everything all at once, just keep holding your breath.

I can’t maintain it, because as soon as there is a hiccup (an unexpected event, a tragedy, bad weather), it’ll all come crashing down on me. I’m not taking care of myself, I’m working, taking care of other people. (Not because I’m a saint- because no one else will do things right. Because I need to do everything. Because I can’t ask for help. Because don’t you see how much I sacrifice? How much I do for you?)

Yesterday, I took the whole day off. I talked to friends on the phone, ate Pho in Connecticut, told my husband that I appreciated and loved him, and I made art, because it helps me ride the terror of an emotional wave.

Today, I’m committed to loosening the reigns. I will not check every box on the list today. Today I will admit that I am still fucked up from giving birth. Today, I will pick Lucy up at daycare at 4 o’clock and feel the Willy Wonka anticipation. I’ll see her face light up when she recognizes mine, and her crooked, stumbling run for my legs. I can feel it already.

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The Failed Listicle: Wear More Jumpsuits, Eat Mud, and Practice the 5 Second Rule with Authority

You know what I did last month? In the throes of a severe depression unlike anything I’ve felt since I was 15 and missed Ani Difranco on her Little Plastic Castle tour, I forgot to book Lucy a 4 month visit at her pediatrician. Forgot! You’re supposed to take babies in once a month for things like vaccines and making sure they’re still healthy and okay, and I just forgot to do that.  Then I beat myself up about it for two days before actually calling to make the appointment. Then the receptionist told me, “You know, it’s really important not to miss these visits.” Well thank you for letting me know.

There are so many small anxieties like these, and they happen all the time. I should really wash Lu’s pacifier more, especially since she throws it on the ground 400 times a day. Two times (okay, three) I forgot to buckle her into her car seat when I was driving (I had to tape a post-it to my steering wheel that says “IS LUCY BUCKLED IN??”). Pretty much every morning while she’s partying in her exersaucer I sneak in five games of candy crush when I should probably just be engaging with her and teaching her world geography. I love propping bottles instead of holding her when she eats, so I can use those 20 minutes to pick up the house or make dinner, but she will probably grow up to be a psychopath because she missed out on that mother-daughter bonding time where we shoot love beams into each others eyes while she drinks milk.

Please don’t let me be the only one who does this: constantly feels bad about my billions of perceived shortcomings as a mother.

In honor of the anniversary of Lucy’s 5th month on planet earth, which is today, I’m going to make a list of some things that I’m doing right. These are the things I need to be reminded of, and these are the things I need to remember the next time I want to shame-spiral because Lucy isn’t eating homemade baby food today because I slept 3 hours last night.

1. We go places. Everyday, rain or shine, I pack up Lu’s things and take her somewhere. Sometimes we go for a nature walk, and feel the sun shine and the wind blow on our faces. Yesterday, we drove all the way to Point Pleasant Beach so Lucy could take her first dip in a swimming pool and hang out with the huge ducks in my uncle’s backyard. Sometimes we go to the mall and people-watch. Whatever it is, I make sure she sees a little bit of the world each day.

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2. I should probably include in this list that Lucy’s every need is met. I feed her, change her, play with her, love her, and make her smile all day every day. Does keeping her alive, healthy and happy count as an accomplishment? This is the thing I need to remember the next time I get mad at myself for giving her a bath 15 minutes early because I’m exhausted and just want to end the day already: she is getting a bath. Wow! I’m the best.

3. God, I’m really hard on myself. I should probably feel bad about that, too. Speaking of, when am I going to lose the rest of this baby weight?

I’m the type who’s always been unnecessarily tough on myself. I’ve never lived up to my own expectations, which are very unforgiving and impossible to meet. But you know what? This is not what I want Lucy to grow up with. I don’t want her to grow up pinching her hips in the mirror and complaining she’s too fat to wear a jumpsuit. I don’t want her to think the B she worked her ass off for isn’t as good as an easy A.

So, in honor of that, I hereby forgive myself in advance for the next time I forget a doctor’s appointment or use the five second rule on her pacifier. I forgive myself for giving up on breastfeeding when it got to be too hard. I forgive myself for not vacuuming everyday and the fact that sometimes she eats a handful of dog hair. And I’m going to start wearing jumpsuits every damn day I want, even if I’m 15 pounds heavier than I was before I got pregnant.

The kind of mother I really want to be is one who drives far in a single day because I think she would like to hang out with backyard ducks. When she’s old enough, I want to take her outside in the dirt and let her get filthy making mud pies (I want to get muddy, too). I want to eat pixie sticks with her before dinner not even on her birthday. I want to teach her how to make costume jewelry out of (whole wheat) macaroni and then not feel bad after I leave the room for two seconds and come back and she’s feeding toxic Chinese paint to the dog.

Lucy, you are LOVED.

I need to work more on loving myself, too.

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