Friday, August 30, 2013

. Lighten Up

Yesterday afternoon, Scott, Max and I went candlepin bowling. We were all excited about the rare chance to spend some time together doing something that would be challenging with our toddler in tow.

Something that most people don’t know about me is that get very competitive when playing games, which vacuums all the fun right out of it for me and those playing with me.

I managed to hold myself back during bowling. I will admit to smugly thinking I was winning the whole time, only to realize at the end that I was looking at Scott’s score, not mine. The mild deflation I felt was redeemed by knowing that Max had a blast, slamming the small balls down the lane, equally distributing them between the left and right gutters. In between turns, I sipped my ice coffee and looked at Max, trying to figure out once again how he morphed from the tiny, red-faced infant into a small person who could walk and talk, play the drums and bowl. Earlier in the day, Scott had told me I needed to, ‘lighten up.’ I was trying to take his words to heart. Trying to be present.

After we finished the thread of bowling, we migrated to the small arcade behind the lanes. Max wanted to play air hockey. I was delighted, as I love air hockey. And by love, I mean it sends me into a frenzied fight or flight cortisol party, where my pulse ramps up and I slam the puck around as if fighting for my very life.

 Which would be okay, except I was playing against my four-year-old. “Too fast, Mama!” he whined.

“Sorry bud! I’ll slow down.”


I couldn’t slow down.

“I want to play with Dada instead!”

I reluctantly handed the paddle to Scott and positioned myself on the sidelines.

Scott and Max gently passed the puck back and forth, back and forth.

Oh, I thought.

Maxie giggled and cheered as he scored on Scott. “Yay, Maxie!” I yelped.


Maxie and I cheer again. Scott made a pretend pouty face.

It was at this point that I realized Scott was letting him score. The thought never would have occurred to me while I was playing.

 “Mama, do you think you can chill out a bit and play with Max again?” Scott asked.

“Of course. Sorry, Max. Mommy gets a little excited when she plays air hockey,” I said. “I’ll relax.”

I glance at my sweet, fiery four-year-old. So big, yet still so little. Lighten up, I thought.

But the minute the paddle was in my hand, my wrist flicked, firing the puck off the sides of the table and slap, right into Max’s goal slot.

 “MAMA!” he cried, throwing himself onto the carpet.

 “Baby!” Scott said. “What the heck?”

 With my head down, I silently handed over the paddle to Scott.

Lightening up, relaxing, having fun—these are challenges for me.

Later that night after we picked up Violet from daycare, I had another opportunity.

Max loves music. It is like breath for him, and it has been since he was an infant. We encourage his passion, though it is often very, very loud. For reasons that I can’t quite explain but blame solely on Scott, lately Max has been into “Africa” by Toto, circa 1983. Most nights, he asks to watch it on Scott’s iPad while he slams away on his drum set.

Last night was no different. Scott put the song on.

I hear the drums echoing tonight
We huddled around the drum set while Max crashed about on his drums with abandon, not unlike the way I had become possessed with the air hockey paddle in my hands only hours before. I listened to the song, which somehow sounds better and better each time I hear it. Which is often. The melody washed over me as I watched the musicians on Scott’s screen, and I found myself swaying.
Hurry boy, It’s waiting here for you
I listened and I watched. I didn’t even stop to make any jokes about the curly 1980’s mini-mullet on the lead singer’s head.

Or the keyboard player, who looked like this:


Without really thinking about it, I zoomed upstairs and may have came back looking like this:

I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become

I lightened up. I grabbed my son’s keyboard and rocked the hell out. Of course, even as I was lightening up, I was thinking, Hey! I’m lightening up! This is me, lightening up! Hey, do you guys see what’s going on here? I’m all light and stuff! Weeee!

We played the song another time or two, and then the day was done. Without too much ado, the kids were in bed and quiet. I collapsed onto the couch to watch some Netflix. We had bowled and air hockeyed and rocked out. I had possibly found the seed of an idea for my Halloween costume. I settled into a long, deep sleep. Lightening up is hard work for some of us. 

How do you lighten up?

Monday, August 26, 2013

High Needs Mother

When my son was a baby, I wanted answers.

This new little red-faced infant wanted to nurse every twenty minutes. Max was up six times a night. The ‘quiet alert’ phase that we heard about—the one we imagined where our peaceful, silk-cheeked baby would silently gaze at us—was non-existent.

Long days dripped by in a haze of milk and tears—both of ours. Our pediatrician said that he didn’t have colic because he could be soothed by nursing. And Max didn’t save his sadness for just the witching hour—any hour of the day or night was fair game. In my attempts to ‘fix’ my son, I lugged him to osteopaths and homeopaths. I went on an elimination diet consisting of brown rice and carrots. I spent hours with him hooked to my breasts while I surfed the internet for solutions. For a way to make him happier. To make us both happier.

I came across an article by Dr. Sears, a leading proponent of attachment parenting. In the article, Dr. Sears described ‘High Needs Babies.’ These intense babies tended to sleep poorly and required constant holding and attention. Max fit ten out of twelve of the criteria. The article suggested that it was possible that my son’s temperament was just who he was, who he was born to be. Not something to fix. I was a bit devastated by this theory; if I couldn’t fix it, the tears and sleepless nights would continue. We were already utilizing many of Dr. Sears’ suggestions for calming the ‘High Needs Baby’—co-sleeping was the only way for any of us to get any rest. I carried him in the Ergo so often that I felt like the straps were melding with my skin. I nursed on demand—and the demand was high.

The only thing that really helped was time. Ever so slowly, our nursing sessions stretched out. After about sixteen months, Max finally started piecing together four or six hour stretches of sleep.  

Max is four and a half now. He’s been weaned for a few years now, and he usually sleeps through the night. But he is still intense. When he’s happy, he’s down-to-the-toes effervescent. And when he’s not—which is often— he’s shrieking, writhing puddle on the ground miserable.

We have a daughter now, too. She smiles and laughs easily and often. Loud sounds don’t phase her, and she weaned with little effort. At 21-months, she still requires a lot of care. But her whole being vibrates with ease, with lightness. I sense that life is much easier for her than it is for my son.

Than it is for me.

You see, I’m a High Needs Mother.

Before my kids were born, I practiced extreme self-care. I went to yoga and dance classes. I attended twelve-step meetings and therapy. I took long walks and joined a Unitarian church. I signed up for retreats and workshops. I did all of this to help me simply feel normal, which has always seemed much easier for most people than it did for me. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert. Maybe it’s because I struggle with anxiety and depression. Maybe it’s because I’m what Dr. Elaine Aron describes as a ‘Highly Sensitive Person.’ Or maybe I’m just in touch with myself, and aware that humans weren’t really designed to withstand the fast-paced, over-booked life that much of the western world thrives on.

My husband and I vowed that when we had children, I would keep up my rigorous program. We promised we would support each other in doing the things we loved and the things that kept us sane and happy.

And then my son arrived.

And I was the only one who could sooth him.

I fantasized that my husband could induce lactation so my nipples could get a break. I pumped milk during the three minutes a day that my son wasn’t nursing. After a few months, I went to a yoga class by myself. As I backed the car out of the driveway, I felt half giddy to be on my own, and half naked, because my constant companion wasn’t strapped into the empty car seat in the back.

At the class, I breathed. I tried to root my body on my yoga mat, to let the ground cradle me like I so often cradled my son. In between surrendering to gravity, my mind wondered how my son was. If he was screaming. If he would take the bottle. If he would nap. During the closing shavasana, I felt the sharp zing of my milk letting down. In those days, I rarely went an hour without nursing.

I kept attending yoga classes, though I’d often return home afterwards to a sobbing child and a frustrated husband. The classes were a small burst of freedom, but it wasn’t enough. I fantasized about the day Max would start kindergarten, the day’s hours stretching ahead, all mine. But kindergarten was still years away. Between working so hard to meet my son’s high needs, and my inability to take care of my own, I felt withered.

When my son was twenty months old, we discovered that my husband’s work would subsidize part-time child care. We enrolled Max two days a week in a nearby daycare. The guilt I felt was expansive. I had wanted children, badly. So why did I so need to be away from my son? And how dare I ask other people to care for him two days a week when I wasn’t going to be filling all of that time with paid work? When I might use some of it to go to a yoga class or do laundry or lug my laptop to a coffee shop and write?

My guilt was huge, but my need for a break was bigger. When I dropped my son off that first day, I came home, melted onto the couch and cried. When I finally peeled myself off the couch, I wrote Max a letter. In my home, alone, all I could hear was the hum of electricity. For the next several hours, my body was all mine. I felt guilty and blissful, free and lost.

With time, the guilt shrunk.

I hate that as a mother, I felt like I had to choose between caring for my child and caring for myself. Because really, I can choose both. I can teach my kids—by example, which is perhaps the most potent way of teaching—that they are worthy of listening to their own needs. To the quiet, still voice that might tell them they need a break. That they need to lie on a yoga mat and sink deep into their own body and breath. To wander through a cemetery, alone, slow enough to read the names on the gravestones. To sit down and write about how they’re feeling, or to surrender to sweet sleep for an hour.

Maybe you don’t need to hear this. Maybe you are a working mother who longs to be home with her kids but needs the paycheck. Or a stay-at-home mother dreading your child’s first day of kindergarten. Or a home schooling mom who finds that the daily tasks of child-rearing light you up from the inside out. I honor you. We are, like all humans, all mothers, the same but different.

When I take good care of myself, I am more present for my babies. I can play air guitar with my son and orchestrate dance parties to Footloose. And when I don’t take care of myself, I’m a stringy, soggy, limp wash rag of a mother. Slowly, over the years, I have been able to add more and more self-care back into my life. To come back to myself and meet my own needs.

Over time, I learned that there was nothing wrong with my son. He just happens to be a lot like me.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


So, this really amazing thing happened this week.

I sent one of my recent blog posts to the Huffington Post and they published it. And all these friends and family members on Facebook have been complimenting me and sending love and it feels like a really great birthday, like going from celebration to celebration and getting piles of cards with little notes from all my favorite people. It feels like lying at the beach and letting the sun sink into my skin. It feels like being at my own funeral and soaking in all the really sweet things people have to say. Except I get to be alive.

There's been some hard stuff this week, too. Someone close to my husband died. The kids were a bit spasmic. I worried about some people close to me.

Life is hard and good. Parenting is hard and good. Love is hard and good.

But right now, I'm going to do something I don't do so often. I'm going to soak it all in and enjoy it a bit.

And then I'm going to write.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Good Mother


I remember talking to another new mom at a mom’s group at Birth Roots when my son was a newborn. The other new mom was clearly connected with her infant daughter; I could almost see the cord of love twining them to each other. I could see it in the gentle but sturdy way she held her daughter and the way she smiled and gazed at her. While my son alternated nursing and crying, nursing and crying, we chatted.

“I have this ‘good mother’ voice in my head sometimes,” she admitted. “The other day, Julia was napping and I realized I’d forgotten to turn the baby monitor on. I checked on her and she was still sleeping, but I thought, ‘a good mother wouldn’t forget to turn the baby monitor on.’”

I nodded, but not because I agreed that a good mother wouldn’t forget to turn the baby monitor on. I nodded because I had that voice, too. It seemed to have arrived about the same time as my son’s placenta and was equally unpleasant, but unlike the placenta, it carried no nutrients. It said: A Good Mother wouldn’t forget to bring extra clothes when her baby has a diaper blowout. A Good Mother would read her baby books every day! A Good Mother would be fully focused on her child instead of surfing the internet while she was nursing. A Good Mother would know how to soothe her baby.

Unfortunately, four and half years later, the sneaky, unpleasant voice still pipes up. I was bringing my son to school this morning, and in the bright sunlight, I noticed that his shirt had a few small pink smears on it, most likely dribbles of frozen yogurt. My mind raced. Getting dressed this morning had been a battle, as my son is still in his monochromatic clothing phase. It is “Wear your class color” day at his school today, which meant his friends and teachers from the Green Room at his preschool would be wearing green. After a brief, heated discussion, I realized that my son would wear his favorite matching grey shirt and shorts instead.

“I want to be in the Grey Room,” he sulked.
“Honey, there’s not a Grey Room at your school, unfortunately,” I replied.
“Mama, make it the Grey Room!” he demanded.

So as we were walking and I noticed the stains on his grey, not green, shirt, I quickly decided that the easiest thing would be to let him wear his soiled shirt. He didn’t care. But the Good Mother did. A Good Mother wouldn’t let her son wear a dirty shirt to school! And a Good Mother would’ve noticed the stains before she left the house, she hissed. I shooed the voice away, but she popped back up when we arrived at my son’s school and I saw the sign for the school potluck, which happens to be tonight. I had forgotten all about it, and I have no idea what to bring. A Good Mother would have a casserole, the voice whispered. Apparently, the Good Mother voice comes from 1955.

I am curious about whether dads have a Good Father voice. I often hear people saying, “Scott is such a great dad.” My husband is a great father. He is affectionate and fun, and he spends a lot of time with our kids. He bathes them and changes diapers and takes them out for ice cream and tries to soothe them when they’re sad. But it occurs to me that we set the bar much lower for fathers than we do for mothers. Because all those great things that my husband does, I do, too. I smother my kids in hugs and kisses. I say, “I love you,” with my words and my actions throughout the day. I take them to the beach with their friends and keep them reasonably clean and reasonably well fed. I read their favorite books to them over and over again until the words feel like they’re melting my brain. And still, the Good Mother voice pops up to remind me that it’s just not good enough.

One of the hardest things for me about being a mom is that I make about 107 little decisions every day, and most of the time, I am totally winging it. Unlike work at a paid job, I don’t get regular feedback on how I’m doing.  

So I think that as moms, we need to tell each other, “You are such a good mom.” And we need to really hear it when our friends or family says it to us. We all parent differently. We parent from our personalities and from our wounds. From our heads and our hearts. We parent from our unconscious family patterns and from tips on books and blogs. And it is never perfect because we are human and messy, and our kids are human and messy.

Maybe someday I’ll know what to bring to the school potluck and be more caught up on my laundry. But maybe not. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad mother if I don’t do those things. And it doesn’t mean I’m a good mother if I do. Honestly, the Good Mother— the one in my head— is not much fun. She doesn’t laugh when her son makes a joke about boogers. She is so busy baking casseroles and folding underwear that she misses out on dance parties in the living room.

When I quiet the Good Mother down, which requires a good deal of mental duct tape, here is what I think makes me a good mom: My kids know they’re loved. They are growing. They trust me. I keep them safe. And they go cuckoo with delight when I pick them up from daycare.

And maybe, just maybe, by cozying up to my imperfections, my laundry list of weaknesses, I can teach them that they don’t have to be perfect, either.

I’m a good mother. Say it with me, even if your kid is wearing a yogurt shirt today like mine is. Say it if you have no idea what’s for dinner. Say it after you raise your voice because your kid won’t get in her freaking car seat. Say it out loud to yourself. Say it to your friends or your wife or your own mother. Keep saying it, even on the hardest days.

Especially on the hardest days.  

You’re a good mother.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Come on Over....

I'm over at the elephant journal again today with two articles:

5 Tips for Increasing Kindness on the Road


Parental Overload: A Parenting Lesson from the 1980's
(You may have caught this over at another Jennifer.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Migraines, Mojo and Moments

Last Saturday, I got a migraine for the first time in about fourteen years. It started as a lingering headache, which stayed at bay while my husband and I went out on a rare dinner date. The moment we got back home, a small squiggly, clear worm floated into my field of vision, and I knew the headache was about to get worse. I went to bed at 7:30 PM and slept and slept and slept. The next day, the headache felt like it was resting in the nape of my neck, ready to uncoil and spring back into action at any minute. I felt spacey all day, like I probably shouldn’t be driving and what the hell am I doing at the gym? and there is no way I can go to the potluck for my kid’s classroom. I handed the kids off to my husband and slept for most of the day.

When I woke up on Monday, the headache had retreated a bit more, but I still felt spacey. In fact, I felt spacey all week. I started googling things like migraine brain tumor and sleepy aneurysm head. I finally went to my doctor on Thursday, who theorized that my body was just all freaked out from the migraine, and I probably wasn’t dying. This was good, relaxing news, and I felt ready to re-enter my life and start writing and exercising again.

That night, my daughter came down with a fever and was home from daycare with me the next day, so my plans for writing and running were replaced with incessant reading (“Elmo book! Elmo book!”) and naps and lying on the couch while my daughter watched Thomas movies on Netflix.

I don’t like it much when things don’t go the way I plan them to. I complain and I pray and I try to go with the flow and then I complain some more. Despite the fact that so much of life consists of things not going how we plan them to, I still fight it.

Yesterday, I heard a man say, “Around every corner is another spiritual experience.” And I thought, Oh.

Things had felt good lately. Writing has helped me circle back around to myself. When I’m really in the flow, it feels like a spiritual experience. Like I’m doing no more than just sitting here, letting the words stream through my fingertips.  And running, or yoga or dancing brings much needed endorphins my way. So when I miss these things, for even a handful of days, I feel bereft. I feel like I’ve lost my mojo. Instead of not being able to wait to sit down and write, I want to avoid it. Same with exercise.  

Maybe the spiritual experience of this unplanned week is that life is about moments. That despite the crappiness of that headache, damned if it didn’t feel good to sleep. That in between being grumpy that my daughter was home sick, we nuzzled up to each other, and I felt like a mama cat with my little kitten, close and warm and right. And maybe getting my mojo back is as simple as sitting down and writing even when I don’t feel like it, even when the words are trickling instead of flowing, and running that eleven minute mile even when it feels like slogging through mud.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Head and the Heart

The band is from Seattle, where I lived for a year half a lifetime ago. I try and focus on the strings and drums and words, to let the music swirl around me. But most of my attention is on my son Max and his friend Iza. They shriek with joy, tossing fistfuls of grass at Iza’s dad, Patrick. I laugh, too, and I listen. I glance around the large crowd a bit; it’s an eclectic mix of families, teenagers and older couples.
My friend Dorota, who sits next to me, asks, “Have you ever been to Seattle?”
“Yeah, I actually used to live there.”
“Really? How old were you?”
“Twenty,” I say. This is what happens when you become friends because your kids are the same age. You start off in small conversations, a baby clamped to your breast. You talk about the babies and how they eat and sleep. Slowly, over the years, between trying to stop the kids from hitting each other or running into the road, between feeding them and fielding a constant stream of hey, mom’s, you weave in stories about your own life. The parts of you underneath all the diapers and bisected grapes, all the fatigue and fidelity, and slowly, you find out what each other’s lives were like in that alternate reality Before Children. And if you are lucky, and Dorota and I are, you find out that the Before Children versions of you would have been friends, too.
“Twenty,” she says. She shakes her head and smiles. “Can you imagine?” I imagine we are both thinking all that freedom. All that youth. We will both turn forty within the coming year. I think for a moment about that twenty-year-old me, and how she is both still completely me and not at all me.
The kids are screeching, and before I can shush, a lady with red glasses yells at us. I assume she’s telling us our kids are too loud, or that we’re outrageous failures as parents, but I honestly can’t hear a word she’s saying. I just see her angry red lips moving and her narrowed eyes beneath the red glasses. Her husband stares at us like a principal. We gather the kids and try and separate them in hopes of dampening their volume.

At twenty, I had short, purple-tinted hair, a beautiful little loft apartment, my parents’ full financial support, and I was miserable. Which seems impossible, because I was so free. So much of what I struggle with now comes from being so tethered, so owned, so consumed by our kids. I want to tell Dorota about how lonely I was, and how I used to chain smoke on the roof of my apartment while scribbling out lyrics to songs no one would ever hear. How I didn’t know how to make friends. I want to tell her about the beautiful little loft with candles everywhere, and how I couldn’t enjoy it because I was so completely untethered, so alone in that big, wet city. But I can’t say any of this because the music fills up the air and I’m trying to divide my attention between the sweet sounds and keeping my kid from making the lady with glasses yell at us again.
It is after nine now and Max is fading fast. He morphs from the bright-eyed, excited kid who gets to stay out past bedtime with mom, to a wiggling, pushing, irrational version of himself. Every time I try and exchange a sentence or two with Dorota, he karate chops the space between us. The sky has turned navy and the band is finally playing their hit song, “Down in the Valley.” I pick Max up and he is wriggly and yelling, “I don’t like being a kid!” I want to tell him to enjoy it, please, please enjoy it, because it feels like just yesterday that all I had to do was ride my bike in wide loops around my neighborhood, and today my to-do-list is as long as those loops.
Instead, I close my eyes and the music sinks into my blood and I breathe. I just want to swallow the song, but Max is kicking at my shins and I can only give the song a sliver of my attention. And at the same time, I am a little bit afraid to really let the music in because it might hurt, it might leave me restless, the way music sometimes does.
I look behind us for a moment. Three girls huddle close, singing along. They are seventeen or eighteen or nineteen. One has her eyes closed, and her face looks so content, so smooth, so blissful. I release Max to the soft grass. He says, “Mama, look at all the stars!” I smile wide and stare at the lady with the red glasses, daring her to complain.
Then I close my eyes and decide to let this be enough, this smallest moment of stars and violin and curving words: I am on my way back to where I started. The words make me want to drive and drive and drive, all the way back to Seattle, all the way back to twenty. So free.
I open my eyes, and there between my friend and I, is my son. His face is so beautiful in the diffused glow of light from the stage, and for just this second he is smiling and flirting with my friend. I look over at Iza, who is falling asleep in Patrick’s arms. Her eyelids flutter like Violet’s do when she’s falling asleep, and I think when was the last time I saw Max’s eyelids flutter like that? And I think of how less lonely I am now than when I was twenty, how much I’ve opened to love, and maybe right now— and maybe forever— love takes the place of all that freedom. That freedom that was so endless that I didn’t know where or how to start carving a life from it. I pick Max up again. He is so heavy, but I wonder if he will remember this, if he will be imprinted by this moment of music and mom, and that thought lifts him up, makes him buoyant.
And there’s that song, oh god, that song, and I feel like I might burst because this moment has to be enough, it is all we have, and so it is enough. I think of that twenty year old me and this almost forty year old me, and how we both have something the other aches for. The warm anchor of my son and the weightlessness of the music both fill my chest and I think thank you, thank you.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What our parents can teach us about parenting....

Hi there! I'm over at another jennifer's blog today. Find out what I learned about parenting from growing up in the 70's and 80's.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Outwards and Inwards

it's a spiral party!
The other day, I wrote about the concept of an upward spiral. In a nutshell, if we are mindful and conscious about our lives, I believe we move forward. But sometimes as I move forwards, even after much work and therapy and training and re-training, I feel stuck. The old issues rear up again, and it feels like I haven’t budged an inch. Instead of thinking I’m backsliding, I like to think that this means I am moving up and around. And as I do, I’m bound to revisit the old, hard stuff.
I’ve been thinking about the space around the spiral. On the outside of the spiral are all the material parts of life. Our jobs, how many likes we get on Facebook, our homes, our clothing, television. The things that are mostly solid and tangible and exist outside of us. These are fine and fun and mostly necessary things, but I don’t think they’re the most important things.

The best stuff is on the inside of the spiral. Our souls. God, or whatever I call something bigger than me: love, the ocean, music, sunlight. The things I can’t touch with my fingers, but that pour into me like blood and fill me up.

Lately I’ve been focusing too much on the outward stuff. Countless times throughout the day, I check my texts and my email and my page views. It is unconscious and mindless and it distracts me from slowing down to breathe and pray and eat foods from the earth and remember that I’m enough, this very second, exactly as I am, I am enough.

When I focus outwards too much, I get lost. I get dry. I eat more food than my body needs. I get snappy and distracted with my babies.

Balance has always been hard for me. So I’m trying something new. Each time I find myself reaching for my phone or my laptop, I’m going to remember the inside of the spiral. I’m going to pause and whisper a quick prayer. I’m going to take a breath big enough that I can hear it. I’m going to read a meditation or listen to a favorite song. Maybe I’ll simply put my hand over my heart until I feel a small shift, an opening, a quiet, steady beat.

How do you fill up and re-center?