Friday, February 26, 2010

Free to Be

"Mommy, you a boy...and I a girl!"

"I'm a boy and you're a girl?"


"Nope, silly, it's the other way around! You're a boy and Mommy is a girl. Only girls can grow up to be mommies.... And since I think it's a little too early for gender theory, we'll leave it at that for now."

"I had a picnic!"

"Yeah, let's go have our picnic."


Friday, February 19, 2010

Pushing Back

I don't really know what happened. I'm not even sure it was my voice that I heard coming out of my mouth, to tell you the truth. I didn't see anything. All I know is that Westley, covered in playground sand, looked up at me with big, wet eyes and told me that someone ("he") had pushed him (Westley).

"Push him back!" I said.

In my peripheral vision I saw a mother's head whip around, towards me.

I focused hard on my son: "Tell him 'no,' and then push him back!"

I'm completely surprised that I said it. Twice, nonetheless. I am a pacifist, raised (on protest songs) by hippies. Yes, occasionally I do fantasize about punching someone, but if given the opportunity outside of a dojo, I'm not sure I'd be able to do it. In fact, I'm almost certain I wouldn't be able to. I don't even like to say mean things about people I don't know and whom I'll probably never meet. My political discussions with my husband go like this:
Him: I can't believe those fuckers from [conservative state, organization, or both] are attacking [human rights issue].

Me: That's so sad. I guess they really believe they're doing the right thing.

Him: Narrow-minded douchebags.

Me: I really wish we could find a balance between this whole national obsession with "majority rule" and minority rights.

Him: ...

Me: And could you use a word other than "douchebag"? I'm tired of it, and it's kind of misogynistic, if you think about it.
I guess what I'm saying it that I absolutely believe in kindness and compassion and non-violence...unless your three-year-old pushes my two-year-old.

I feel a real sense of hostility towards the other children at the park. At the play gym, I can (usually) see the kids as adorable and funny, even as they wrestle over a ride-on toy. But put them outside, and they instantly become awful and I feel Mama Bear waking up inside me. I try not to squint menacingly at the playground occupants, but I don't trust them. They all seem so loud, so mean, so unsupervised.

Maybe my feelings of hostility are actually feelings of jealousy...of these mothers who come to the park and seem to disappear. They're chatting with mom-friends, and I don't have one of those. Or else they're busy with cell phones, and I don't have one of those, either. I have a sleeping five-month-old strapped to my chest, a back that refuses to heal, and a toddler who's decided that today is the day to practice the phrase, "maybe I should"--"maybe I should go up dere," "maybe I should climb down," "maybe I should run"--over, and over, and over.

I've written before about feeling like every mother at a given child-oriented location is confident and happy but me. I know it's an illusion--or, perhaps more appropriately, a delusion--created by the Dirty Tricks Department of my mind. It's a kind of mental self-injury cobbled together from years of depression and insecurity. I push back against it, but sometimes my mind refuses anything that isn't, "Maybe you should stop saying 'maybe I should,' before it drives your mother insane," or, "The kids here today are awful."

I want to raise a child whose religion is kindness, who wouldn't hurt a fly. But, as a mother, I'm learning to trust my gut, and I have some angry-bear insides on occasion. I believe in kindness, but I also believe in self-defense (which shouldn't really be a revelation for me, come to think of it; I studied martial arts for 7 years).

Self-defense is a form of self-kindness. Being able to say "no" is crucial. But being kind to yourself also means it's okay to say and push back--against bullies on the playground, and the bullies inside your own head.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Mother Nose

February 2008

I pierced my nose when I was 13. I did it to look different, to look unusual. I didn't think facial piercings were attractive; in fact, I thought the opposite. But at 13, I was tall (a half inch shy of my adult height) and big (a good 40-plus pounds heavier than I am now) and thoroughly convinced by critical voices, both internal and external, that I couldn't "do" pretty. So instead, I did ugly. With torn black stockings, peacock-green eye shadow (and red eyeliner), and--the piece de resistance--a fat, silver hoop in my right nostril, I created on the outside the freak I felt like on the inside.

By the time I got to college, I still felt like a freak, but suddenly I was surrounded by a bunch of other women who'd spent the past five or so years of their lives also feeling like freaks. I threw out my shredded tights and adopted the unofficial uniform of the film studies department: black top, dark jeans, pointy-toed black shoes. My aesthetic with regard to facial piercings also changed; many of my classmates made them look not just attractive but downright hot. I started wearing a tiny gold "freckle" instead of a chunky hoop. My nose ring was no longer the finial on my "freak" flagpole. It was just part of my face.

I had 22 piercings when I got married at 22 (a total coincidence). I finally had to "retire" one that either never really healed or that my body was trying to reject, and I considered retiring others, but I was sure that I'd still be wearing my little gold nose freckle well into old-ladydom. Even though it was poorly placed and a little crooked, it was surely there to stay.

When I got pregnant, I became especially determined that being a mother would not affect my aesthetic. There was no way I was going to turn in my hippie-esque, mod-ish, punk-lite style for khakis, polo shirts, and sneakers.

Especially the "sneakers" part.

But looking around at the women in my birth preparation class, and then later in the (awful) mothers' group, I felt like a freak again. "Dress comfortably" the instructor's e-mail had said, so I came in a wrap dress and leggings. Other people wore pajamas. The only piercings in sight were your standard-issue earlobes, all sporting classic one-carat diamond studs. This time around, however, I didn't mind looking different. My clothes, my jewelry, my tattoos felt good, like things I liked about myself instead of apologies for not doing "pretty" (or "mom") right.

Last year, in the midst of sorting out my postpartum food sensitivities, I experienced a lot of terrible allergy symptoms. Among them was a chronic runny nose. Between the sniffling and constant nose-blowing, my piercing was constantly getting gunked up and irritated. Finally, I took the stud out, fully intending to put it back in when things with my health calmed down a little. That was nine months ago.

The little sewing-needle hole I was so sure I'd have for the rest of my life is barely noticeable today. And I'm not sure how I feel about that.


Monday, February 15, 2010

The Trouble with Sleep

It's the middle of the afternoon. Westley is in his room, peacefully napping in his crib under soft blankets, with the humidifier purring. I'm in the living room, feeling physically drained and stupidly caffeinated. I should be napping, too, but I'm too wired.

My on-again, off-again relationship with caffeine is most definitely on-again. My insomnia is also back, and regular coffee breaks seem to clear up some of my morning all-day fog. Not sleeping at night immediately translates to coffee in the morning. Yes, caffeine is terrible for my PMS and makes my chronic back pain worse, and--all right, you got me there--it's probably part of the reason I have sleep issues in the first place. But I seem to be incapable of placing the same kind of import on my own sleep that I do on Westley's.

Part of the problem is that I'm a terrible napper. I'll hear moms say things like, "I need to get my nap in when the kids nap," and I do not understand it. First of all, Westley's nap time is one of the only times I feel like I have to poke into other areas of my life: log on to the computer, for instance, or organize a grocery list in peace. But more importantly, I suck at napping. Unless I'm sick, a nap never leaves me feeling refreshed and rested. I wake up from a nap confused and grouchy, and spend the rest of the day feeling like I have jet-lag. Where are we? What's going on? Is it really dinnertime already? I'd just as soon skip the nap and go to bed early. Except that, naturally, I can't do that either!

Everything that I can't do easily (or at all) while Westley is awake--clean with smelly chemicals, work out, review the budget, paint my nails, have sex with my husband, watch a documentary, have a political debate with my husband--all gets crammed into the narrow window between the time when Westley goes to sleep and the time when I (supposedly) go to sleep. It doesn't help that about 85% of my Westley-incompatible activities are more likely to wake me up than they are to relax me.

As I look back on the first two years of my son's life, and then forward into a future filled with thoughts of more children, it occurs to me that my sleep-issues were a real contributor to my postpartum depression. Because I didn't feel like I could nap, and I couldn't sleep at night, I essentially gave up on sleep. Which meant giving up on feeling even somewhat okay.

The trouble with sleeping is that, in my mind, being asleep means missing out on time to myself. But, of course, not sleeping means never really feeling like myself.

Clearly, this is something I need to work on. I truly risk running myself into the ground if I don't. And I believe in the importance of sleep, I really do! I rock Westley to sleep for his nap, every day. He's 26 months old; many baby books suggest that parents stop rocking their children to sleep at 4 months. So I'm a baby-school drop-out, but my son is (usually) a crazy-good napper. And I watch him throughout the day for signs of tiredness, and give him a little chill-out cuddle-time when he needs it. I put his sleep--both for naps and at night--above everything else. I still skip events and get-togethers (even with close family members) if they're going to interfere with Westley's sleep.

But I never take my own sleep into account, until it's the morning after a sleepless night.


Friday, February 12, 2010

His Majesty the Toddler

Westley likes to bark orders at me. He's not trying to be bossy (at least, I don't think he is). Instead, he's realizing that as his vocabulary and articulation grow and develop, so does his ability to express in no uncertain terms exactly what he wants.

I'm trying to think of it as a positive thing. For one, I do almost no guessing now when it comes to his requests/demands (request-demands? requesdemands?). Not having to guess means that I can often get it right the first time, something that felt virtually impossible in Westley's pre-verbal days. But I do get bossed around. Often.

"Mommy!" (Sometimes he actually stamps his foot, too.)

And then it's: "I need," "I want," "do that," "hold this," and his new go-to phrase, "You wanna...?"

It sounds very sweet--"Mommy, you wanna go inna pway-room wit me?"--but it's a question built on a demand foundation. It has much more to do with telling you what you want, than it does with asking you if you do. It's a weird kind of two-year-old passive aggression.

On good days, when I feel vaguely rested and like my vitamin regimen is maybe doing its job, I can laugh it off. "Wow, Westley, you really like to be in charge!" So funny, bossing his mother around! What a knee-slapper! Ha ha ha!

But on the not-so-good days, and even occasionally on the mostly-okay days, I start to feel tight in my chest and throat when that sweet, lovely, "please"-, "thank-you"-, and "my-pleasure"-saying little boy brings out the tiny tyrant.

You are so not in charge, I tell him in my head, getting angrier by the demand. And if you're asking what I want--which you're not, but if you were--I'd really like to sprawl out on the couch with a warm, full-fat beverage and something in the DVD player other than fucking "Yo Gabba Gabba"!

I mean, really. If an adult treated me this way, I'd end the relationship!

Or, at least, that's what I tell myself, while also trying desperately to remember that he's not an adult, not even close. He's two, and part of being two is being the boss. Or trying to be, at any rate. And I remind myself that while yes, he is my kid, and it's my job to love him like crazy, nowhere is it written that I have to like him every minute of the day--especially when his undeniable two-ness makes me feel more like a slave than a mother.


Monday, February 8, 2010

He's On a Boat

It looks like I won't be putting the baby bathtub in the attic any time soon.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Little Less Conversation

I power up the car.* The radio comes on full blast. It's NPR, and someone is talking about America in a British accent.

Rob has been driving my car. I reach down to adjust the seat. As I slide forward, a little voice calls from the back seat:

"I can't wike dis talk!"**

"Yeah, I 'can't like' it either," I tell him. I press "disc," switching over to a mix CD. Westley listens quietly for a few bars before asking, "What's dis song called, Mom-mee?"

It's been about six months since Westley took a real interest in drumming and piano, and his love of music continues to develop. He wants to know the name of every song, and who sings it. Occasionally, he tells me, "I can't wike dat." But usually, he's more than happy to drum, strum, or bang (and occasionally dance) along.

It's killing me that I can't afford to absolutely surround him by music: thousands of records, music class every day, concerts, real instruments. I have visions of a dedicated "music room" dancing in my head. I fantasize about replacing the mostly useless cabinet in the playroom with a piano and moving the Brio into the living room to make room for drums. I wonder if Westley will want my old clarinet when he's in third grade. (I wonder if my clarinet survived the move.)

I've been getting more creative (and less self-conscious) about singing to him, and not just at nighttime. But he definitely prefers the sound that comes with some training--or at least some production value. Recently, I've noticed Westley treating music-heavy shows ("Yo Gabba Gabba," "Sesame Street," "The Muppet Show") as the soundtrack to his playing. He tells me he wants to "watch" something when what he really wants to do is listen to it.

This morning, tired of choosing between my own a capella performances and Rowlf the Dog, I hauled out the CD player. Because I'm old school like that. Westley ate his oatmeal to the sound of Fleetwood Mac, and, between bites, told me the names of all instruments he could hear.

* This is how I know I'm living in the future. I don't have a jet-pack or a meal-in-a-pill, but my car does have a Power button.
** Westley says "can't" for "don't." It's both my favorite and least favorite of his toddlerisms. I find it simultaneously annoying and endearing when he tells me he "can't wike" a song or a food or my directive that he go get his shoes.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Love Bomb

Westley has started to stop in the middle of playing especially to tackle me.
I'll be sitting on the floor, packing the diaper bag, minding my own business (maybe just a little distracted by the dance party in my head), and I'll feel 30 pounds of dude crash into my spine.

It's the best kind of jarring. I know it's his little way of checking in, touching base, telling me he's glad I'm around. And the more he strings words together, the more heartbreakingly sweet his gestures become.

On Friday morning, Westley caught me folding diapers. He wrapped his arms around me and squeezed.

"I love you so much, Mom-mee."

Ow, my heart.

The effort he puts into articulating "mommy" is so dear it's painful, but this? I had to catch my breath.

"I love you so much, West."
I couldn't help but wonder how Westley had decided to tell me that he loved me "so much." Whenever I hear a new word or turn of phrase come out of his mouth, I search my mental catalog of terms and expressions, tones and inflections, and try to locate the source. Did he hear that from me?

Then I wonder how much a two-year-old can understand "love." I'm pretty sure I don't understand it very well, to be perfectly honest. And I have to stop myself before I get all cynical and analytical. I make myself bask in the affection.

I breathe in the sweetness, the spontaneity, the unselfconsciousness while I try to locate the pieces of my exploded heart.