Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Writing On The Bandwagon


I’m pretty pissed off about the Time magazine cover article, Are You Mom Enough? I can’t help but want to know what moron decided that mothers need more reasons to pin themselves against one another. Moms who work verses those who stay home, moms who breastfeed verses those who don’t, moms who co-sleep verses those who let them cry it out. Guess what, there isn’t just one answer for every mom! 

If you think letting your child cry it out is what is best for you, your family and your child – then go at it. I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t. I tried it. I was desperate – my first born never slept and hardly napped. I was willing to do just about anything to get her to go to sleep. So I tried letting her cry it out. I thought I would throw up. Then my husband would take her – and walk her downstairs so I wouldn’t hear her sobbing. But I could feel her sobbing. I couldn’t sleep. For a while, we did a version of the Ferber method, but checked in on her more frequently and gave up after a certain time period. It worked sometimes, and other times she was back in bed with us. She still didn’t sleep. She poked at me, twirling about the bed. But she was mostly quiet, and we slept. She’s nine now. And guess what folks? She sleeps just fine all by herself. When my second child was born, I didn’t bother trying to get her to sleep on her own. She was a sleeper. And she slept beautifully in bed with us. When she was around four – a few months after she weaned (yes, I nursed her until she was 4) – I did become aggravated with having her in bed with us every night. So we began the process of having her fall asleep on her own.  My husband or I would lie down next to her in her bed until she fell asleep. We did this for many, many months. She’s six now. She mostly falls asleep on her own, and frequently crawls into bed with us at night. When she goes a long stretch without doing so, I miss it. I miss her – and miss my baby snuggling close to my breast in the middle of the night. I’m happy I did it for as long as I did. 

My story is about me and my experience. If you bottle fed and had your children cry it out – I’m sure you did so because that was the best scenario for you. That’s what felt right for you. Amazing, isn’t it, how one thing can be so right for one person and so wrong for another? Really – mothers are all not the same. Children are all not the same. Why should we be expected to raise them the same? If there is no abuse or harm being done to a child –then shouldn’t we all at least respect one another’s decisions, even if it isn’t what we would choose for ourselves? 

It’s been said that a mother is born the day her child is. And I believe there is truth to that. However, motherhood lies in the heart of a woman - a woman with her own feelings, thoughts and passions - a woman with life experiences that have shaped how she goes about being a mother. And a child is part of everything a woman is. 

Is breastfeeding healthier? Yes, it is. However, if a woman is having a hell of a time, the baby is struggling, the breasts are infected, and the mother is in a pool of distress, it may be emotionally healthier to have other options. Of course, I would lean toward seeing a lactation consultant or join a Le Leche League – but that’s me. That would be my advice to someone. If you don’t want to take my advice – don’t. 

It’s interesting to me that this Time article has pinned attachment parenting types to be the ones hammering down mother’s throats how one “should” mother. For myself, I went to Le Leche League to get support from other women who understood the way in which I wanted to go about mothering my child. It really was the only place I felt I could talk to other women who understood me. At regular play dates and while standing in the pre-school pick up line – I heard mostly from moms who spoke harshly against those who still slept with their children, or breastfed after the teeth had come in. I heard all those voices shouting at me very loudly. It seems more socially acceptable to be “un-attached” - to cut the cord and teach your child from babyhood on to be independent and somewhat self sufficient. Oddly enough – I was the quiet mom (well – some of the time I kept quiet) – doing the exact thing these other women were telling me was so “weird”. I did fear that maybe I was attaching myself to my girls too much – maybe I was too in tune to their emotional needs. I struggled with my choices. In the end – I have to say – I have extremely independent kids. My nine year old is so independent it now pains me. I want her to be more attached. I miss my baby. But I love the little, independent girl she has become.

 I’m so happy I mothered the way I felt was best for me – and that I found women at Le Leche League who supported how I chose to mother, even if it wasn’t the “norm”. I see mother’s who choose attachment parenting as the ones constantly having to defend themselves – and are the ones most afraid to speak out on how long they breastfed and co-slept with their children. 

Then our little 80’s icon, Mayim Bialik, aka Blossom, had the nerve to write a book promoting attachment parenting. And to boot – she’s an intelligent doctor – who can speak eloquently and is familiar enough that many mothers identify with her. That really rubbed some the wrong way – how dare one way of mothering challenge another? So – let’s sensationalize the hell out of it – get an overgrown three year old – in the most un-natural breastfeeding position ever -  and have him chomp down on his mother’s breast like he’s eating a hamburger. That really should freak people out! The article should really be titled “Enquiring Minds Want to Know, How Disgusting Is Breastfeeding?”  Really now, this is the stuff playground fights are made of. Can’t we as mothers and women see above these bullying tactics? 

I see things from the other side now. My children are no longer babies or toddlers. I see other children – who did cry it out and were bottle fed – who are older now, and are kind, well-adjusted kids. These are family decisions. And as women, we should exercise loving one another as much as we exercise judging one another. The only discussion on the table should be how Time magazine has lost all journalistic integrity – and on the backs of all mothers out there.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Little Something Sweet

When I was in fifth grade, my favorite activity was swinging on my school’s swing set. At this age, my parents had me playing soccer and basketball, as well as taking piano lessons. In soccer, I received a trophy with the other team members that our very nice coach had taken the time to engrave with personal messages, such as, “Best Goalie”, or “Strongest Fullback”. Mine read, “Most Potential”… And in basketball, I was always being told to be more aggressive. During piano lessons, I never really understood why I should learn the notes when it seemed much simpler to follow the little numbers above the notes. I was that kid who was too afraid to ride on roller coasters, I ran away from the soccer ball more times than I ran toward it, and I cried the first time I shoved someone to the ground in basketball. I was a girly girl. I was not a tomboy.

But when I hopped up on that leather strap hanging from the rusty looped chain at my small Catholic school, I felt in command. I felt brave. The swing set was placed on a tiny dirt hill and had six swings hanging in a row. Across from the hill was our school building, which like most elementary schools, was short with a flat roof. My challenge was to swing as high as I could, and really high was when I saw my feet kick above the schools flat roof. As soon as I swung into that position, it was time to jump. I always jumped at the highest point, to all my friends’ amazement, as well as my own.

I can still feel the thrust of my legs as they would pump my thin, gawky frame, back and forth, back and forth. With each swing came a rush of excitement and anticipation of what was to come next. I kept my legs pumping until I finally felt that tingly feeling in the pit of my stomach. At that point I’d feel my cheeks grow red as my long, stringy hair would get caught in the corners of my mouth. My eyes watery from the gusty wind, I focused on that flat grey roof as it shrunk beneath my heels. I would count ten more thrusts into the air, and at number eight I’d start to feel scared. But it was the type of fear I dared myself to overcome. Was I too scared or not?

I felt my courage almost explode from my chest. I quickly loosened my grip of the rusty chain and flew out into the open air, my body soaring weightless toward the wispy white clouds until the force of gravity snapped hold of my flight, slapping me back down to earth. Boom! A hard thump of my feet hitting the dirt. Never did I fall. I always landed on my feet. And there was always a smile on my face as I pushed myself back up, rubbing away the dirt from my hands.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Do-over

Why not start blogging again? I don’t really have a good reason as to why I stopped. Actually, that’s a lie. I began to wish that I had written my blog anonymously. I was actually surprised I felt this way. I believe in the power of being honest through art – and writing is my art. I’m aware of how difficult it is to reveal your heart and soul for others to judge – but that’s not the point of the writing. It’s a personal response, how other’s take it has never really halted my process before. But now, as a mom, living in a smallish town where everyone knows someone who knows someone else you know…it’s different. And I’m older, and not as trusting and fierce as I was in my 20’s. Alas, I’m moving forward, with my fear, because I’m currently at an impasse, and I have no choice but to move in some direction. And I can’t bare to abandon all my dreams just yet.

I turned 40 last June – and went into this midlife transition with rose colored glasses. I was brought up on Oprah and I believed Oprah. 40 was going to be as fabulous as everyone on TV told me it was going to be. I wasn’t going to care what others thought anymore. I was going to finally be comfortable in my own skin, not slinking away from who I really wanted to be on this earth. And this was all going to spontaneously occur the moment my 40th birthday arrived. I was so certain and excited for this that I literally zip lined myself toward my birthday. I gathered some friends and off I went, flying on a wire through the forest, zooming right toward midlife with excitement and curiosity. Well, once the zip lining party concluded, and the birthday candles were blown out – I was left feeling old, overweight, underappreciated, and more like a failure than someone comfortable in their own skin.

On a daily basis I scan every little opportunity I’ve squandered and dissect every mistake I’ve ever made, and who I’ve hurt along the way. I then think of all the things I thought I wanted to be. Among rich and famous, I was going to be a news journalist, a novelist, a television host on E!, and a much better mom than I feel I turned out. Yay…40….!

So, fuck Oprah and all those other TV people who told me midlife was going to be fabulous. They left out the shitty part. I don’t care how fabulous it was for them – in the beginning – I don’t believe it was. And I think we’re all being lied to. Which brings me back to why I’m blogging again. The truth is important. I can’t go through this without responding artistically – otherwise – I fear I may drown in a sea of bad decisions.

The truth for me is that this 40 stuff is transitional. For myself, in order to transition, I must also mourn – mourn for what is not anymore. I don’t have to be stuck mourning, but I must recognize that the past is just that, the past. And I am moving forward into an unknown arena. I’m shedding skin. And it hurts. I don’t know if there’s another side to all of this once the mourning has ceased. Maybe it’s just wisdom. At the moment, dreams of forever frolicking in a field of sunshiny flowers have been put to bed. My optimism is hibernating. And today, to speak without optimism is like screaming FIRE in a crowded room. I get it. Yes, I will be grateful for all I have, and I know, I know, it could be so much worse. But you know what? I need to feel sad for a little while. It’s actually helping me to slow down.

I’m noticing things again that I forgot to notice for the last ten years. Motherhood can do that. You speed up so fast you get lost. I got lost in other peoples priorities. The pressure is tremendous. Every day I felt like I needed to do something in order to package my children into these successful, bright and motivated little beings. And yet, they’re just children. They’re growing. And now I can see that slowing down is imperative. Scampering around at this fast, fast pace just doesn’t suit me anymore – nor does it suit my family.

Through my tears, I’m breathing again, and I’m actually seeing more beauty around me. I feel the Spring breeze more sharply against my skin, and allow myself to linger to the sound of a birds morning song. I stop and listen to my daughters’ little chattering voices, embracing its sweetness, knowing it won’t last forever. And the feel of their soft skin as we snuggle in bed on lazy mornings makes me feel like a child myself – soft, cozy and safe. In essence, through my tears, I am seeing things more clearly than ever before.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Shedding Skin

I’m thankful for my local coffee shop today – to be able to sit – away from mommyhood – in an environment that makes me feel more like a person than a mom. Why do these two things seem so separate in my mind – me as a person, and me as a mom? Why can’t the two co-exist harmoniously? I feel split and lost with two identities. I know what I should be as a mom – what I thought I would be. A mom that’s on top of things – putting my children first – doing absolutely everything to make sure they don’t suffer in ways I did – to make life better for them – to educate myself – to push them and to ease up on them – to be loving above all else – to live for them.

And all of that depresses me. Spending my afternoons with only a sink full of dishes to clean, toys to put away, and fights to squander, makes me feel empty, lost, alone, and uncertain.

And yet, before I got married, before I had children, those very same feelings led me to believe that I was ready for motherhood – that I was done trying to fill myself up with career, wealth, and self satisfaction. Those things – of being in the city, modeling clothes for catalogues, and meeting friends in bars, fell short of “completing” me. So to the country with my new husband, and new baby in my new belly, I went. Off to a new home, in a new town, with new people to live a new life. I couldn’t wait. I was ready.

During that transition my former self melted away. There was a crossroads at one point. Funny how when a personal crossroads is depicted in a novel or film, it seems so obvious that this is THE moment of decision. Yet, in real life, I find those crossroads come and go in a blink of an eye. The decision made is only contemplated in detail until very much after the fact, and when all has already been set in stone.

I made that quick decision when my first born, Grace, was only 5 months old. I was solely nursing her then, and she was what the pediatrician called my “happy spitter”. Grace was constantly spitting up, or rather, she was gagging and choking on her spit up, before finally hurling pretty much everything she had just consumed, all day and all night. There was nothing “happy” about this, and caused me perpetual panic that at any moment she could choke to death. Therefore, I obsessed that she always be propped up at a 90 degree angle – creating a head rest on her changing table, and in her side sleeper – making sure her stroller, and car seat were always at an angle and never laying too far back. She was always in a bib, and I was always in my pajamas. It was winter – she was small – we stayed in a lot.

During one of these afternoons, while I was watching The View as Grace vibrated in her bouncy chair, one of my Ford bookers (model industry slang for agent) called asking me if I could make it into the city for a 2:00 go-see (again, model industry slang for appointment). I was requested by the client. Technically, this was not out of the question – and today, if I got the same call, I may find I would somehow spring into action to get myself there. Maybe. But on this day – being a first time mother – well, I laughed aloud into the phone receiver. My booker, Caroline, 28 year old single and child free Caroline, did not think it was funny. “What’s the problem?” she snapped.
“There’s just no way I can make it there by 2:00” I said.
“Why not,” she challenged me, “you’re only what – an hour or two away?”
“Yes,” I said, and sighed, and tried to figure in my head that getting my daughter dressed would take at least 45 minutes, since she abhorred being put into clothing and fought fiercely against it – and my God, what if she’s hungry on the way into the city, I’ll have to pull over and nurse her – but where? And then she’ll spit up and do that choking/gagging thing, and I’ll have to pull over to clean her up, and lean her forward – and shit, I haven’t even brushed my teeth today!

Instead of trying to explain all this to Caroline, who I knew wouldn’t understand or care, I simply said, “Caroline, I can’t explain why I can’t go in today, but in the future I’ll need more notice for go-sees in the city.” And that was the first change in me – to say that aloud to a booker – for part of a model’s job is to be available at a moment’s notice, and to never complain about it, because you risk never being called at a moment’s notice again.

But Caroline did call me again – about a month later, because Tommy Hilfiger (the brand, not the man himself) was doing a plus-size campaign and they put me on ‘hold’ for a job that would be shooting in Los Angeles. Clients like Tommy Hilfiger put a handful of girls on ‘hold’ for one job, and would decide at the very last possible moment who they would actually book, and then release the ‘hold’ on the other models. But still, I needed to confirm the ‘hold’, and confirm that I was available for the job if chosen. My first impulse was to say “yes”. And I did. I told myself I’d figure it out somehow – maybe bring my mother along, have her watch Grace while I was shooting. But the reality of that idea quickly set in. I remember talking it out with Michael while in Gracie’s room – I was rocking her to sleep – Michael was standing by her changing table. I’d be responsible for my mother’s plane ticket, which money I would get back from the job, but I couldn’t separate myself on how I would shoot for 3 days and mother/nurse Grace at the same time. I’d been on shoots before where I wasn’t given a moment to eat or go to the bathroom. Really, as a model, most clients treat you like a piece of furniture – a prop – and you need to be ready, and available to do what they want, when they want you. And it’s best to be quiet when doing so. I was a good model in this regard. I was known for not making a fuss, for being “professional”. How could I ask the clients – the photographer – to stop shooting so I could nurse my baby? I didn’t think I could possibly pump enough for my mother to give Grace a bottle. And what would the plane ride be like? How would Grace sleep with the time change – how would I? I couldn’t believe I was so freaked out – to the point of turning down my ‘hold’ status.

When I first started getting work as a plus-size model – real work for good clients that paid well – I worked alongside a “seasoned” girl who had been in the industry for what seemed forever. She was known as a successful catalogue girl who made great money. She was now married, and had one child. We were changing in the parked location trailer in New York City, talking about work, and the industry, when she told me about a $15,000 job she had just turned down because it was shooting in Japan. She explained that she just couldn’t travel that far away from her child. I nodded my head as if I completely understood where she was coming from – as if what she was saying made perfect sense to me. But really, in my then 26 year old mind, I was shocked and dismayed that she would turn down such a great opportunity, that at the time, I was striving for. I told myself that I were ever fortunate enough to get such a job, I would never turn it down, no matter what.

But here I was, sitting in my cushioned rocking char, cradling my soft, sleepy baby in my arms, deciding with my husband that the job in Los Angeles – the job that was paying a couple of thousand dollars we desperately needed – wasn’t worth leaving my baby for – wasn’t worth trying to juggle motherhood and modelhood. I was sticking to my decision – the decision I made when I moved out to the country with my new baby in my belly – that I was a mother now.

Caroline read me the riot act when I told her my decision. She went on and on about the other girls she knew who were mothers and still traveled for work. She was clearly disgusted with me. I never heard from Caroline again. My main booker and my friend, Garrison, would call me now and again concerning potential work in the city, but nothing panned out. Not too long after, I got pregnant again, and all was set in stone. I got what I wanted. I was a full time, bona fide, mom. I just didn’t know I would miss my old self, my model self, my city self, and my career self, so much. And these parts of me are my “old” self – not who I am now. I can’t go back. I’m not sure who I am right now, apart from being a mom, and I’m not sure how to move forward.

And now, as I sit in this coffee shop – me and my notebook – with only 30 minutes to spare before I need to pick up Rose from pre-school – Grace now in the 2nd grade, I’m stunned how motherhood hasn’t completed and filled me the way I imagined. I’m stunned that I fantasize about modeling again, and taking off to the city to be dressed up, made up, and propped up. I’m stunned how quickly my former life ended, and how quickly the future arrived to a place of questions and dissatisfaction that feels so familiar. I’ve been here before – so I can’t help but understand that I will be here again. Will I ever be completely satisfied with myself and who I am? Will I always be okay for a while until the moment strikes and I find I want more – to be more – to do more – to grow more? The only mainstay – the only constant that pulls me through – is me sitting in coffee shops, scribbling words into notebooks.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Limbo

Sitting on the couch, with Rose sleeping next to me, all cuddled up and cozy under her blanket. The peepers peep as the wind sweeps at the leaves on the trees. It’s a calm moment – a quiet moment – after a very busy, stress filled three week period of time. It’s the hustle and bustle of all – of new things happening – of energy reawakening. This time of year always throws my memories back to my college years. I loved college. I loved those first months – of wearing long jeans, rediscovering black eyeliner and leather jackets, after a summer of feeling clean and free. I loved pounding the cobblestone sidewalks of Boston, feeling the weight of my backpack on my shoulders. I loved holding hot cups of coffee - sitting on a stone step - feeling the bright fall sun sting my cheeks. I loved being away from my parents – finally delving into a life of my own. It was truly glorious. I never longed for what was. I never wanted to go back to high school, or middle school, or god forbid, elementary school. I liked college. I never imagined that when I had children, I would be forced to relive my primary schooling years. It’s like a nightmare come true – you know the one – “would you ever go back to school, knowing what you know now?” NO!!! Are you crazy?!? The only reason I survived high school, and all my schooling before that, was because I didn’t fully realize or appreciate the true horror of it all. It felt wrong, and scary. But I didn’t know any different. I hadn’t yet been to college. Only then – when things felt right, and free, and liberating, did I fully appreciate the hell I’d been living in. But now, here I am, completely aware and knowledgeable of how utterly terrifying and difficult it is to be a child in school, and I have to witness and endure these rough waters of emotion in my own children. Well, I should be clear – with my one child – my oldest - who has fought the transition from leisurely summer days to strictly scheduled school time, since her first day of pre-school. It’s not pretty or easy. And it eats at me every time I have to drag her out of the house, into the car, screaming and fighting, and force her into an environment I can’t blame her for not wanting to go into.

As time moves forward, and I brace myself each morning for an unpredictable roller coaster ride, I feel my strength crippling. For the first few days I roll with it pretty well. I’ve been doing this for five years now. I recognize the pattern. She’s going to fight, scream and pull at every emotional heart string. My husband and I will remain stoic and determined not to give in. We’ll drag her to the bus stop where she’ll finally calm down as not to embarrass herself in front of her friends. And she’ll be fine once she’s in the school. After a month or so, she’ll be (mostly) fine with going all together, at least until the winter break, and then we start the process all over again. Although I remain strong in front of Grace, when I am alone, after she has left, and the house is quiet, the emotional exhaustion and doubt overwhelm me. I become guilty that I can’t afford private education – because for some inexplicable reason, I’ve convinced myself she wouldn’t hate school if it were private. I then beat myself up for not home schooling her – for not committing to her the way I should. I forget how shy she is, and how easy it is for her to retreat into her own world. I forget that forcing her to socialize is actually very positive for her. No, I just torture myself with the negative, and all I want to do is crawl into bed and hide under the covers. I don’t want to go out – or get dressed – or feel good. My child is at school, miserable – so I must be miserable too! So when some friends invited me to a night out at the movies during the first week of school, I immediately cowered from the idea. Maybe I should force myself to get out of the house? But I can’t. I’m exhausted. I need my strength for the next morning. Because I don’t want to yell at Grace, “just stop this shit already and get dressed and go to school. I am sooooo sick of this.” And if I’m overtired, I may say just that. And I’ve learned the hard way it doesn’t work. For me, as a mother, in order not to completely lose my shit ALL the time – I have to preserve my energy.

When I told my friend I wouldn’t be joining her and the others at the movie, she snapped, “Alice, just get out of the house.” She said it as if she were mad at me for choosing to stay home. And maybe she should be mad at me. Maybe I say “no” too often. I am a homebody. If I’m undecided if I should stay home or go out, I stay home. I don’t know if this is right or wrong. I don’t know what it says about me as a friend, or a mom, or a wife. But it’s where I’m at right now.

These past three years, since Rose’s arthritis diagnosis, have been like living in a cave - a cave of huge disappointment and uncertainty. It’s aged me - a lot. It reminds me of those early days, when Grace was just an infant, and we were packing up for our first overnight away from home. I can’t recall where we were going or who we were visiting, but I do clearly remember being exhausted by everything we felt we “needed” before we traveled with our small baby. We made certain we packed every kind of medicine, diaper cream, specialty cradle cap shampoo, and baby powder. We had extra diapers, at least a dozen onesies, baby hats, little socks, bibs, pacifiers, and some shoes she never kept on her feet for more than 30 seconds. And of course, we needed to bring along the entertainment of rattles, books and toys. This was all just for the baby. Now came the daunting task of packing for ourselves – and all the breastfeeding apparatuses, and bras, and tops I “needed” to have with me. By the time we drove out of the driveway, hours and hours behind schedule, we looked as though we were going cross country. I remember feeling sick to my stomach as I watched our house - our safe haven - fade into the distance. This was the place I could freely hang out in my pajamas until late afternoon - smeared with spit-up and un-brushed teeth. I just cooked, and rocked, and nursed my baby, forgetting about the world that existed pre-baby days. My husband and I wondered “will it always be like this – how will we ever survive with two babies?” But in time, this stress of packing our life for a trip melted away – well, at least a little!

Just a few weeks ago, we managed to get out of bed, pack, and get on the road for an overnight in less than two hours. My husband and I didn’t even fight! Of course, this doesn’t include stopping for gas and parking the car to find out why the DVD player was busted – for we do truly “need” that for a long distance drive. None the less, our initial pressure and neurosis of having a new born have matured. We can handle these situations with out feeling as if the world is on top our shoulders. But when it comes to being a family - of taking care of two children and a chronic disease - of figuring our way through the maze of doctor appointments, health care costs, and decision making, on top of all the “usual” stuff, my husband and I are still in the infancy stages. In some respects, we still feel as though we’re carrying around a newborn – packing for our first trip away. We have yet to fully mature from this stage – to where we can handle things better, do more, and fight less. And until that happens, until I gain more strength and know-how, I’m content keeping still at home, and close to my family. Otherwise, I’m stressed out. Because as of now, I’m still just floating along. But hell, at least I’m not sinking! And someday, at some point, I plan on swimming again – right toward that same feeling I had in college - of being invigorated, inspired, and ready to take on the world, but this time, instead of carrying a backpack upon my shoulders, I have my family.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Waves of Friendship

I’ve lost my dear friend Olive…to the workforce! She was my “stay-at-home-mom” friend, even though she lives in another state. But it felt as if we were sitting at my kitchen table together over coffee, as our phone conversations hashed out the details of our marriage life, financial woes, and hardships of mothering children under the age of six. We shared recipes, took weekend trips to visit one another, and admitted those “bad” mothering moments, and also shared a few while trying to talk to one another on the phone.

Olive and I met in college. We were alike in the boys we craved – irresponsible, self-indulged artist types, who were very cute and fun to frolic with, but didn’t make for the best in “boyfriend” material. Without planning on it, we both lived and worked in New York City after college, and eventually became roommates. That relationship didn’t work out too well. I never realized how orderly and neat she was, and in respect, she never knew how un-orderly and, well, let’s call a spade a spade, messy I was. We began to bicker over petty things as our lives moved in different directions. I was leaving my full time job to freelance and chase my “dreams”, while she was becoming more serious about her corporate career in the fashion industry. Eventually, I got a boyfriend and retreated into his world, and away from “our” world. For until then, before we decided to live together, Olive was my “go-to” person. She was my weekend partner - my let’s meet at a grungy bar and drink till we can’t see, while pining away for grungy band boys, friend. But as our lives spun forward and away from our shared territory, into new and foreign places, our relationship lost its common ground, and became unsteady.

For a while, these differences almost ended our friendship. It certainly ended our roommate relationship. But as time passed, so did our anger and bitterness toward one another. In some cases, time can heal all wounds. For us, this fact was true.

After a long while apart, I met up with Olive at her new apartment, and as she opened the door to greet me, with a new haircut and bubbly smile, we hugged and kissed. We just looked at each other awkwardly and Olive finally blurted out with simple logic, “it was just petty stuff we fought about – let’s just forget about it.” I was so relieved and happy to move forward again, although it took a few years before we felt back on track. As we matured, we were able to let petty things lie, and reignited the friendship we once had. But this time we weren’t meeting for drinks after work, or going to see our favorite band. We were moving into the suburbs and country side, having babies, and staying home to mother full time. We understood the gravity of these changes in one another’s lives because we knew each other “back when”. There’s something easy about those friendships - of not having to explain who you are and where you came from. There is also a kind of fragility to our friendship that I think we both understand and respect. Since we almost lost it once before, we’re careful to not let that happen again. We’re kinder and more open with one another, and less judgmental, and therefore more honest. Olive knows who I really am as a mother and wife. She knows the layers in my life. And she’s there to help me navigate the negative with the positive. As she was “back when”, she is now again, my “go-to” person in this life called motherhood. But as of last week, Olive has left my kitchen table of conversation.

Olive has joined the other team - the full-time working mother team. She was uncertain about it. But the uncertain economy prompted her and her husband’s decision to give it a shot. When she called to tell me she got the job she was hoping for, I felt like I was about to lose my dear friend all over again. Here we were, like we once were out of college, a friendship built on similar interests and lifestyles, threatened to be undone by the tidal wave of life pushing us in opposite directions. As Olive acclimates to her new office, boss and wardrobe (so jealous), I’m only becoming more involved as a stay-at-home parent. I volunteer weekly at my daughter’s school as a reader, and teach her Catechism classes. And without Olive home to call on a whim when I desperately need a shoulder to lean on, or a sarcastic joke to laugh at, how will we ever stay in touch?

I left Olive messages during her first week of work, letting her know I was thinking of her, and hoping the transition wasn’t too difficult for her or the kids. She called me back to tell me how great it was all going. She found a good friend with kids the same age as her two boys to baby-sit, her husband is helping out with the house chores more than ever, and she’s thrilled to be wearing real clothes, and be done with her jeans and cotton t-shirt “mommyform”. Olive’s successful transition into this other realm of working mommy land, has me feeling a little insecure about myself and my decision to stay home full time.

It is a financial sacrifice for my family to have me stay home. Some days I wonder if the sacrifice is worth it. And other days, I’m certain it is. I secretly hoped there would have been a little chaos attached to Olive’s transition, so I could at least say, “oh well, glad I don’t have to go through that!” Instead she’s thrilled. And I now have a friend who has outside stimulation, unrelated to motherhood, that I constantly crave. I’m also scared of losing Olive again. Her life has changed. Our conversations won’t be based on so much similarity. She now has a daily existence that is foreign to me. Will the fact that she’s decided to work, and I’ve decided to stay at home, begin to interfere with how we relate to one another? But then I remember something important. Olive and I, more than anything else, are both mothers. No matter what happens in our lives, we will always be, first and foremost, mothers, just as I hope, we will always be friends.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sitting Still

Sitting on the deck in a lounge chair, listening to cheerful birds chatter as the soft wind whistles through tree leaves. Across the lake someone is playing Celtic music - just the flute playing – soft, mournful and simple - echoing off the mountains - hugging the lake with a sound of despair and hope mixed in a maze of sweet melody. The wind carries the lake water to the beach, as it gently licks the shore. The clouds above the mountains are grey and still, hovering like a crowd of people waiting for something to happen. But the clouds know better. Only they can make it happen – the outpouring and release of rain is up to them – only they decide when to crack open and spill all that has been held with in.

It has been the summer of rain. The clouds unable to retain much – always spilling out onto the land. And the days that do remain dry, carry a wind that is slow and wet, the clouds threatening to crack at any moment. It feels as though the earth is mourning – mourning for the spirit of a people that are broken – that hold onto hope and optimism – but who are cracking on the inside. I feel I need to take my cue from the clouds and stop waiting for something to happen. I must spill what remains in my cracked spirit – must spill the sorrow, hurt, shame and fear. And only when the last drop has been purged from the very depths of my soul, only then, will I begin to heal.

The flute music has stopped. The wind is still. All that remains is a cheerful chattering bird, and the heavy clouds.


The above entry was written two weeks ago while vacationing at my parent’s lake house in New Hampshire. This was only a few days after I wrote my first blog entry. When I first decided to start a blog about my daughter’s illness and its effect on my family, it felt uncomfortable and terrifying. But now that all is up and running, it actually feels more freeing. I was so afraid. I don’t want to whine and cry, and appear as though I’m feeling sorry for myself. Just now, I was web surfing through some JRA websites and support groups. One site had a young adult, in her 20’s, respond to some parents’ posts about their children’s arthritis. She was very adamant that the parent’s not make their kids feel like victims. They are much worse diseases one could have, right?

That’s what I kept telling myself when Rose’s Leukemia tests came back negative, and what was left was the clinical diagnosis of JRA. I told myself that I should feel fortunate - that this is a disease she can “live” with. I kept telling myself, “I can do this”!

I denied my grief. Instead, I got angry. I got red hot angry. I took it out on people at the health insurance company, a few administrative nurses, my husband….myself….my children. I would explode into rages - rages that would spin into thrashing, screaming fits. I was twisted inside. Who the fuck could I blame? But wait, I am lucky. This could be worse…

I watched The Secret. I talked it up to friends and family. I believed I could believe in it. It seemed easy. Just be positive. Just be grateful. Remind yourself what you are happy about. So I did. With a vengeance, I would look outside and try to feel happy about my house - my quiet, friendly neighborhood - my beautiful, gentle girls - my caring, sweet husband - my parents (that despite our rocky relationship) who really do love me….oh, I AM grateful, damn it! Then the rage would start. Because I wasn’t grateful. Because even though arthritis seemed like the “good” disease to get, if you were to get one, I didn’t want it. Actually, I did want it. I do want it. I pray to God everyday to give it to me. Take it away from Rose and give it to me!!!! I wanted a healthy child. I wanted to worry about sleep training and what dance class to sign up for next - and how to clean the dishes, and serve dinner, and get a load of laundry done, all in one day. I wanted those mindless worries that angered me when I would hear other mothers’ complain.

Then I tried to feel grateful that because I have a child who suffers, I now know better than to worry about such petty things. Fuck that! Give me the petty stuff. Take away the arthritis. Give me a healthy family who isn’t sinking in health care costs, whose marriage isn’t cracking under the stress of it all, a mother who’s not losing it….

I wanted to believe in The Secret. Amazing how we can fool ourselves in times of stress. I’ve always been one to outpour my “authentic” self. Why did I think, during a time when it was most needed for me to purge, that I could hold it all in? And then I went to a Memoir Festival at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. One of the featured writers, Abigail Thomas, read excerpts from her memoir, A Three Dog Life, describing her marriage with her husband after he got hit by a car in New York City, suffering a severe brain injury. She wrote about taking care of him. She wrote about the pain of it. And then Malachy McCourt appeared, so Irish and sweet and sparkling, and he started singing an Irish lullaby, after telling the crowd how ill his brother Frank was, and the entire crowd began singing along with him and I started crying. No, not just a whimpering, but an all out Oprah labeling “ugly” cry. And I didn’t stop. For two days, I kept crying and writing. And when I stood up to ask Abigail Thomas how to write about someone suffering from a sickness with out sensationalizing it, I started to cry mid-sentence. I couldn’t even get the words out. I am a big, fat, black cloud. And I can’t stop spilling. And I can’t pretend to be so positive anymore. Because I am so scared. And I have never felt more vulnerable and uncertain. And yet, since I’ve started to spill, and since I’ve started writing, I’ve also never felt better.