Friday, September 28, 2012

my little barometer

Years ago at the end of my pregnancy with Princess Commando, I sat in my midwives office expressing my concerns about pressing my luck with a 3rd child (and first girl child) after having been blessed with two easy going boys. She recalled the challenging infancy of her own daughter, her first child- telling me that her daughter's colic was so bad that she would have given her to anyone who offered a nickel. I felt fortunate, in that moment, that I had never been driven to the desperation of wanting someone to relieve me of my child. 

But then, 8 years later, Violet came along. I was a seasoned mother, but I found myself in uncharted territory. She was colicky, inconsolable unless wrapped tightly in a cocoon adhered to my body which was forced into a monotonous rocking dance. For three months, her mouth was permanently drawn into broad ‘O,’ letting loose banshee wails- the soundtrack of our nights. My enervated eyes longed rest upon a peaceful face. 

During one of her cloudy days, The Mr. and I ran an errand to our local butcher who affably asked if we were exchanging our 'adorable' infant daughter for a cut of meat. We replied in bone-tired unison, ‘Yes. Please take her.’ Our frank response took him aback. But we were so weary.

At 2.5 years old, she has outgrown her colic. But being very much in the throes of her second year, she is possessed by that gremlin that occupies two year old bodies. She slips into orneriness all too naturally. She is a tornado. She is feral, fickle, contradictory, petulant. She is masterly at knowing which buttons to press and when to press them- crossing my wires, until I short circuit and become the nasty robot mommy.

This week we had one of those days- a truly sucky day. A day when No!, Stop!, Don’t! was our only discourse. I had the rare opportunity to work on an illustration. For money. I knew it was going to be a challenge to try to complete it in the company of a 2 year old; but there are only so many hours in the day when my creative state and my dexterity align, producing quality work. Violet had other plans. From the moment she woke up (at a super special 6 AM), she was ON- deliberately dumping cereal (the kind that requires the big vacuum), ripping books, breaking crayons, demanding things we did not have (green juice! purple juice! Indian food!) unfolding freshly folded laundry, spitting her chocolate milk on the couch, dismantling her sister's bed, sneaking candy, flooding the bathroom sink, bringing back the banshee wail, trying to ride the dog or ‘snuggle’ the hamster, pooping in her pants, pressing every button, challenging me to the edge of the allegorical cliff.  And that was all before 11 AM.

‘I don’t like you. You’re not my parrot!’ She yelled. She meant parent and she was right- in that moment I was neither her parrot nor her parent. I was convinced that I should resign, that there was another woman, a better mother out there who was the proper fit for Violet's puzzle piece. I was ready to take an ad out in the paper to find her.

‘I don’t like you much right now either.’ The response was almost involuntary.

‘I am not really listening,’ she admitted shamelessly. ‘I’m not very nice to you.’

When she demonically laughed in the face of the most sacred of hours, naptime, I lost it in the confines of my own bedroom and dissolved into tears. I began to cringe at her sticky, angry voice demanding, ‘Mama!’ Guilt buckled over my ribs, my heart ached to be filled with compassion and patience because all I wanted to do is sell her to the gypsies. 

It wasn't until the last ‘Mama!’ faded into the bedtime hour that there was space for quiet. And then there was clarity. She had been trying to tell me something all day. I was the one who needed to be bartered to the gypsies for my sour behavior.

I have been on edge the last two weeks. There has been stress in the house. The Mr. has been working on a project which has left me to parent alone many days from sun up to sun down. We have been facing a difficult decision regarding our financial health. It has lead to many heated discussions.  My anxiety and self doubt have inflated monumentally. I am unsettled. I am guilty of wearing my emotions on my sleeve. Violet is a sponge. She soaked up my frustrations and vexations and poured them back on me. Violet was only acting as the barometer for the muddle I had been grappling with out in the open.

With the consciousness of my behavior awakened, I could make the choice to try better, do better, be better. While I tend to ferry the insecurities, worries, and regrets of days past into the next day, every morning is a fresh start for Violet. When she woke the following morning, she danced down the wooden stairs with her ruffled, flame colored head and sought me out for a hug. She sighed ‘Mama’ into my neck with warm breath. It was infused with love, faith, promise. How could ‘Mama’ have ever sounded like anything other than a melody? 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Still Coming into Focus

Mamalode has been so kind to me-especially when I have not been kind to myself in measuring my worth as an artist and writer. Today they are running my poem Coming Into Focus, originally posted here in June. Please click here to read the poem on Mamalode's website. More visits/ hits to the page result in a paycheck for me:-) So please feel free to share the Mamalode published piece with others.

Never has the sentiment expressed in Coming Into Focus chimed with more truth than today as I bear witness to Princess Commando shedding the last traces of young girlhood. She entered middle school this year. I want to revert back to the coddling exclamations, "Wow, you're a big 5th grader now!" as we did when she was entering kindergarten or 1st grade. But, she would scowl at me- not just for the implication that we thought she was a baby needing a boost but for the fact that she is clearly not BIG at all. In fact, she is facing a new vexation as one of the youngest members of the Frederick Law Olmsted School at Kensington and also having the distinction of being one of the smallest in stature. She has fallen victim to relentless, but well- meaning head patting. "My head hurts. I am going to start to wear a jagged crown."

To be fair, for two years, our 5-12 program was split between two different buildings due to an extensive renovation in our permanent building. This is the first year we are all back under one roof (hallelujah for not having 3 kids in 3 different buildings!) The upperclassmen have not been in the presence of the "little kids" in quite some time. It is so tempting to squeeze unblemished doughy cheeks, pat little silken heads and squeal, "Aww, look at the little 5th graders. They are so cute!"

"I am not cute! I don't want to be cute!" Princess Commando asserts. I try to remind her that it is better than the alternative. But, if this is the most severe annoyance of 5th grade- I'll take it.

 And then there are boys. They change in middle school, you know. She has always operated with such ease in the company of boys. She speaks their language. She has older brothers and all-boy cousins and a troupe of fantastically boyish, wonderfully inclusive neighborhood boys. She is not shy or awkward around them. And up until September 5th, her male classmates had regarded her with the same comfort and ease. But, now boys sit with boys in lunch. And girls sit with girls. By choice. But, not Princess Commando's choice. So lunch is filled with a longing for friendships that are fading before her eyes.

We had prepared her for this in a lecture titled, What to Expect When You are Expecting to Survive Middle School- which included, among other topics-Those are not mosquito bites, those are boobs; How to defend yourself in a knife fight (did I mention that our kids attend public school in an inner city school district?), and, of course, Boys are muttonheads (Before mothers of boys take offense,  I have two teenage sons- I love them, but it's true- even of the best of them). We tell her that it is truly nothing personal, it's just the natural development of the social dynamic in middle school. I think she knows that this is true; but it doesn't make it any easier-especially when she attempts to engage one of her male friends in conversation and the rest of her classmates take turns taunting her for her breech in the social norm. "Haha, you like So and So."

There are times when I feel like I have it all figured out- motherhood, counseling. All the light bulbs turn on. Creativity, critical thinking, problem solving kicks into high gear. I am actively contributing to their growth, helping to steer their ships, offering up valuable wisdom. But lately, I am all a tangle- often forced into the role of spectator- holding my breath throughout the game- crossing my fingers, praying to the universe that they make the right play, that they rally, that they put their best foot forward, that they learn how to win and how to lose. I am split between standing at the top of the mountain- encouraging them upward and onward and anchoring myself at the bottom ready with the net in case they stumble. My wise mother tells me- to get used to it- it never changes even when our babies are 37 with babies of their own. With that in mind, I think I am due for some new mountain climbing shoes.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

first day of school

In the still new hours of the morning
in the still fresh breaths of September
down the stairs, to the corner
with burgeoning packs on their backs
like little beasts of burden
The older brother
the younger sister
her first year in a new school
but, he's got it all under control
He won't tell her that he cares
but he won't let her get off at the wrong stop
he won't tease her today
like he taunts her within his brother's rights at home
The bus groans and swallows them whole
They are growing up
but their faces still look so diminutive behind the glass
Their mother watches them shrink to little smudges
until they could be anyone's kid on the bus
She thinks of the first day of pre-kindergarten
when they were still small enough to carry
It always feels funny to send them off into the world
and find faith that they will honor and be honored
they will be nurtured
they will be safe
they will learn
they will return
She holds the hand of the littlest one
too young to be at the mercy of other teachers
too young to understand why her siblings have abandoned her
She asks to ride the bus tomorrow
Someday, someday
Soon, soon
Mother and little one sit in a quiet house
the day is drawn out slowly
like the measured steps of a tortoise
until ache of absence slowly dissolves
into an embrace of the clamor and hubbub
of 3:00, the hour when they return

As I write this, the house is devoid of all drumming, squawking, disquietude except for the steady whirring of the oscillating fan in the other room and the intermittent sighs of The Dog on the floor. The Baby started her first day of daycare today. It had become increasingly apparent toward the end of the school year that she needed a little bit more than what I could offer her during the day. She said to me once, in a fit of frustration, "You are mean. You don't know how to play with me." She is in the best hands- she is in a lovely home next door to my mother's home- with three other children for company. Aside from my final semester when I was finishing my undergraduate work, I have never put my children in daycare. It is only two half days per week but I feel a little bit guilty about it as I do not have a good reason other than The Baby and I needed a little break. And my guilt is more inflated by the fact that she cried and screamed when I left her, " Don't leave me here!!!" I know she will be fine. She will be home soon enough.  I just need to get used to the sound of my own noise in a peaceful house.