What we're loath to say

There are days in which the degree of highs and lows takes me clear by surprise. In my 40s, I increasingly rarely feel actual surprise. Disappointment? For sure. Disgust? Yep. A grim sort of foregone conclusion? Uh huh.

But outright surprise is harder to come by these days and is usually reserved for horrors like untimely death. Or the continued cancer of the current “president.” How that man gets grosser and grosser is truly astounding, but maybe that’s my naiveté and ever-hopefulness.

In any case, what I will say is that there are moments in which parenting cuts you off at the knees so brutally, so painfully, so egregiously, and so quickly that it takes your breath away. The method of harm, the size of the input force, is not directly correlated to the degree of issue or transgression; that, further, is part of the gasping pain.

I have largely stopped writing about parental challenges, recognizing that my boys, as they grow up, are more aware of what I do and share, more private and rightfully so, and more distinct as formed (forming) humans. Their voices are theirs; their lives belong to them. The space I have left as their mother, in terms of writing and public processing, is increasingly small. This is as it should be, in my opinion. What remains is MY experience as their mom, what I can capture as personal experience distinct from theirs.

This terrain is less charted with regards to the “mommy blog” and pediatric spheres. Sure, you have a general sense of tweendom, but each tween is such a unique being, interplaying in such specific ways with their hormones, family, peers, school, classes, personal struggles, interests, identities, and so forth. What you can expect at 12 years is infinitely more complicated, generally speaking, that what you can expect at 12 months. Perhaps this is actually what makes parenting adolescents so vexing: each of us is always dealing with a new challenge.

I’m actually not much interested, tonight, in delving into research or generalizations. What I am is tired and furious and in love and sad and over it. And tomorrow looms. And that stops for nothing.

What I want to say but am sometimes shy to say; what I think so many of us want to say but are loath to for a variety of reasons that irk the shit out of me, is that sometimes this whole parenting gig just sucks. It sucks and blows so hard that it takes my breath away and renders me speechless and pissed.

It leaves me having spent all day making a special meal to find myself standing in my pjs with the show I’d been wanting to watch all day on pause because a note from a teacher just came about a missed assignment that was now a zero and suddenly, everyone is screaming and in tears. Is someone kidding? It’s both real and absurd. It’s the complete opposite of how I envisioned tonight and so very much wanted it to be.

At the end of the day, the gumbo was one of the best I’ve made, and the fighting and crying probably made us closer, and that show isn’t that good anyway. But still. It all felt so damn fraught and not remotely easy and also not remotely efficient or timely, and seriously, WTF?

The gumbo was loved and there is more for tomorrow. The banjo was played, and lovingly so. The paper will be better, but still a deserved zero. The book remains forgotten at school for another damn day. The Bach on the piano is being studiously avoided. The wine bottle is less full. We are all tired. And maybe this is the best of family, and the worst, and real life. But sometimes I sure wish it was easier.

A swarm

I just scrubbed my table clean, which sounds much simpler than it was. Coated in pesto, blueberry muffin crumbs, salsa and all manner of grubby finger and food residue, wiping it down took some real elbow grease. As I sponged the kids’ side, I looked down onto their chairs and saw more crumbs, noodles now hard as crackers and blueberries mashed so deeply into the fabric that they’re now part of it. I sighed.

I got out the dust-buster, which is on its last leg. I glanced at the cardboard box-now-a-muffin-cart that Oliver made over the weekend. I saw a rumpled Harry Potter cloak infused with cat hair wadded up in the corner of the room, and two half-completed Blow Your Mind science kits waiting for what? To be finished? Hilarious.

I came across receipts and expired coupons and twigs and dust bunnies, a half-written birthday card that’s now more than belated, a blanket that smells of dog. A friend was to come for a visit and some tea, but she’s stuck at home with a diarrheic toddler; she is at the end of her rope, and I understand because I wondered this morning, as I dropped the boys at the camp bus, if ever I’d been so glad to do so.

Fruit flies are swarming my kitchen. I thought Tom and the boys would have eaten the last of the peaches while I was away, but like all fruits and vegetables I left for them, the peaches were ignored, and in the soft spots and thin seams where the skin just splits, fruit flies found a feast. I do not hate fruit flies like I do the mosquitos that make it a brave act to go putter in my back yard this time of year, but they are annoying. Like inside gnats from which you cannot escape.

It’s pea soup outside today, and I am glad I have nowhere to be.

Yesterday was my annual physical and a last-minute thyroid ultrasound because one lobe felt swollen. It’s fine, and I have a new medicine because I am a chronic underperformer in the T3 department. My internist said I was such a grounded, well-adjusted person. 
Yesterday I took a run, unpacked and showered.
Yesterday I started packing again, as we leave on Saturday.
Yesterday I made blueberry muffins, those that later caked my table and chair and car, because Jack adores them and I didn’t have time to refill our freezer stash before I left.
Yesterday I made a beautiful dinner for the boys and later one for T and myself. Yesterday T and I stayed up watching Bill Maher’s show from Friday and laughing ourselves silly and enjoying another glass of wine together.

This morning we were tired, and the boys were just awful. Awful and annoying, like those fruit flies and mosquitoes all wrapped into one mean swarm. My heart was sad during our drive, and I told them in no uncertain terms that should they consider acting like this in England, I would absolutely get a babysitter and leave them at home all the damn day long. I was not joking.

We talked about insincere apologies and how hurtful and damaging they can be. We talked about hoarding and why I didn't want Oliver to keep the half a lizard he found in Louisiana last month that was rotting in a jar and stinking so badly that I threw it out without asking him. He pleaded with me to take the old, broken pretzel out of the garbage can. And the expired coupons too. I do not understand. I did not expect these conversations.

When I try so hard and my kids hurt my heart, I feel blindsided. Every single time. That’s the thing about kids growing up. They can start to disappoint you in a way babies can’t. They can start to choose to upset you. And really, in that volition and decision-making is celebration of their burgeoning independence but also challenge like you’ve never seen before.

It’s a gnatty vortex. Sometimes you want to give it space and appreciation, but at other times, you just want to swat the shit out of it. You want it to be a round nail in a round hole that you can push flat and quiet and seamless against the wall.

Feeling better, feeling grateful

Round about 4:30 this afternoon, I started to feel quite on the mend. My babysitter had arrived several hours before, and I'd immediately jumped into bed and fallen asleep as she and O started playing. After I woke, I looked around my room which was in some sort of terrifying state and then organized what I could while in a seated position: folding not a few loads of laundry, finally (successfully!) throwing away half the publications that were taunting me from their "will you ever read me?" piles. I swear y'all, there is some power in writing things down. It's like the universe now holds you accountable. As you might recall, just last night I pondered to you about my complete inability to winnow through my stacks. And then today, done! Pow! I've heard this directive from two people now: my friend, Caroline, and acclaimed cultural/food/cookbook writer, Monica Bhide (whom I was lucky to hear speak and inspire at last weekend's Eat, Write Retreat). Write down your goals, what you hope and want to accomplish, and in doing so, you keep tabs on, inspire and challenge yourself. When Caroline suggested last fall that I do this on behalf of Em-i-lis, I wrote down 4 goals that seemed of various shades of possibility. Right before my family and I left for Italy in late March, I crossed #4 off the list. Did it feel good? It felt better than that, and I'm looking forward to thinking about what might constitute my next list of aspirations.

Last weekend, Monica took it a step further and pushed us to distill down to a single word, the voice/identity/sense-of-self we want to best define our work, and then assess whether or not our work and our word were complementary or missing one another. As the conference was geared towards bloggers, we were, unsurprisingly, focused on our blogs, but you could easily apply this exercise to any facet of life. My word is authentic which is what I feel (hope!) resonates throughout Em-i-lis. No bullshit, no fakiness, just honest thoughts on motherhood, things political, and loads of good food.

You might already know how much I value openness and honesty, and perhaps this is why it didn't take me too terribly long to decide on my word. It did take me years to really get to know myself, years more to pare away the layers of identity I'd accrued but no longer wanted or which never or no longer fit. The result has been a real sense-of-self, an honest appraisal and knowledge of who I am at my innermost core. As is most all serious growth, this introduction to ME was painful at times, with loss and failure and disappointment and rejection all swirling around just daring me to stay strong and true to what I felt I believed and wanted. Other moments were blissful or terrifying or thrilling- aha! Finally! Yes! And today, that I can say I think I really know myself -with all the weaknesses and foibles and strengths and hopes and still-to-dos therein- is one of the things about which I feel most grateful. It wouldn't have been possible without asking and answering difficult questions and it won't continue to be thus unless I keep challenging myself.

Which brings up another sense of gratitude I feel today: a profound sense of fortune for the children I am privileged to be raising. Some of my greatest growth has come in the crucible of parenthood; its challenges bring most of us to our knees on a regular basis. It is damn difficult to base your plan for facilitating the growth of totally dependent, relatively uncivilized beings into functional, happy, productive adults on your gut instincts and some reading you might have done while pregnant. Raising kids is like trying to play Quidditch while blind, deaf and mute. Good luck catching the golden snitch, folks.

Yet for those of us lucky enough to get through each day with no major injury, insult or issue, you realize that as much as you might be teaching your little ones, they are even more so teaching you. The unconditional love a child has for his mother regardless of how bad her (my) hair looks and breath smells and how sorry she (I) is at making up stories on the fly, takes my breath away at times. We could all learn from this utter lack of care about another's appearance, the generosity towards our weaknesses they often extend. If you weren't already, you will probably become infinitely more patient (or need to jump aboard the anti-anxiety medication train) and totally inured to poop/pee/boogers and so forth. You'll become an ace negotiator (or a complete pushover; I opt for the former, thank you!) and creative at all manner of distraction. Your thoughts about a good night of sleep will change dramatically and you might, during all this, become infinitely kinder to yourself even if it doesn't always feel that way.

About 5p, I felt like my nausea was at bay enough that I just might take myself out for a pedicure (another thing for which I am enormously grateful today). Traffic was the pits on the way home, and when I got here, both boys were fast asleep. When they sleep, they sleep like mummified trees, so going in and hugging, kissing, cooing over them and fixing their blankets is not a risk. That really makes the whole experience even more enjoyable! Anyway, Jack was in his regular position: white polar bear (once named Princess; now named Polar Bear) laying atop him, face to face, quilt pulled up chest-high (this seems claustrophobic to me, but who am I to judge). And Oliver in his: tucked into the corner of his crib he calls "my special sleep spot" and from which he rarely moves, fingers often wrapped around "my ties", the ties clasping the bumper to the crib rails.

And I just felt my heart pound with pride and joy and love for these precious little boys who often make me nuts but who just as often make me laugh and smile. Through them and my dear husband (huge feeling of gratitude for that guy), I have come into my own, a late bloomer who long sought the kind of confidence that comes through self-knowledge and who now has a real sense of what gets me up in the morning; I'm lucky to have the latter in spades!

Thanks for reading.