Order From Chaos

Despite my absence here for the last month and a half, I have not been master goddess of my domestic realm. I am always surprised when I take a break from blogging, I mean you’d think that the extra 1-2 hours per day would get me something. And of course it does, it gets me a slower pace of life, a calm that I do appreciate when I can manage to acknowledge it. But it does not get me a cleaner house or happier children. At this very moment (and most others) the kitchen is a mess, the table is stacked with four loads of clean laundry waiting to be put away, the floors are disgusting, and I have no idea what I’m cooking for dinner. I feel that depthless falling feeling lately. The list, by which I mean The List, is miles long and filled with projects like “replace linoleum in the kitchen,” “put up the year’s worth of salmon,” “rebuild collapsed woodshed roof,” and subsequently “cut and stack five cords of firewood for the winter.”

And I can’t even get the fucking laundry put away.

The disappointment of times like this always starts me to grasping for a cure, and lately my obsession has been the Waldorf concept of Rhythm. The idea is that a flexible but regular schedule is essential for children; that knowing, generally, how their days will unfold gives them a sense of peace and stability.

Duh.

One of the things I hate about parenting dogmas is how impervious they are to differences in personality. Although I think a predictable schedule is generally agreed to be good for kids, I suspect there are kids who will never adapt to a schedule and furthermore don’t need to, as well as kids who’s lives could be turned around by a strong rhythm. Those are the kids who thrive on Waldorf, and “prove” the success of the ideology.

What I am realizing lately is that I was one of those kids, who’s need for a predictable, peaceful and quiet daily routine was never satisfied as a child. And as happens in a developing brain when a need is unmet, I am consequently malformed.

I have always had a near obsession with routine and yet an inability to actually execute it to any satisfying degree. I need it because I didn’t get it as a child, but I don’t know how to do it, because I didn’t get it as a child. My journals are always studded with multiple attempts to corral the chaos of my days. Literally,

“Summer Schedule
6:00 wake up, coffee
7:00 breakfast
7:30 walk
9:00 outside chores”
etc, etc.

I write it all out, earnestly believing every time that the mere act of writing will create the calm rhythm and self disciplined schedule I crave. Later I am convinced that it hasn’t worked because I just haven’t gotten it right, haven’t divined the Perfect Schedule. Inviting yet another attempt.

That’s me– forever believing that there is a formula for perfection. Not universal, but personal to me. If only I could figure it out.

Having kids of my own I have only stepped up this madness. Desperate for a handle on life, I feel sure that I am just missing something. If I could just get the kids to eat right, they wouldn’t have these stubborn screaming fits. If I could just get the house clean and stay on top of it, we would all feel so much more calm and relaxed. If the 2yo would just consistently sleep enough at night. If I got the kids enough exercise and peer play every day. If… If….

And then the kingpin– If only I could get us on a schedule, then I would (magically) have time to fit all this in to every single day.

Then, then! Life would be all soft watercolors and silk scarves. Hallelujah.

Looking around online for Waldorf rhythm is excessively discouraging. The blogshine that I always rail against is rampant in the Waldorf crowd. One that I read this morning went on for an entire post about their morning ritual of waking softly, lighting candles and singing morning songs and how sweet and perfect it all was. Well, perfect pink wool felting mothers of the world, damn you if you’re lying, and damn you more if you’re not.

I started this post weeks ago, in the midst of an obsession. Now as I come back to finish what seems worth finishing, I am trying to divine the lesson. Did I learn something? I do in fact feel like in the last few weeks I created some kind of order in my universe– the house is clean, the laundry is caught up, the kids are happy. But as usual, in retrospect, I find myself wondering if I created that order and peace, or if it created itself.

Do I follow a pattern of sinking to the bottom and then pulling myself up by the bootstraps? Or does life follow a pattern of chaos and hard times, which lead inevitably to a relative peace and better times? Or is it (more likely) both? Do we feed off of each other, me and life, and oh– don’t forget the kids, in their own two separate cycles.

Waldorf appeals to my depressed self because it is based on the premise that if you do everything “right” (and they’ll tell you how) your life and your children will be sweet and quiet. It taps directly into my innate compulsion to believe that there is a Perfect Way, I just have to figure out what it is. It feeds heavily on my propensity for mama-guilt, because if my life is not so perfectly sweet and quiet, it is my own fault. I have failed myself and my family.

Like any religion, it takes a human being in their weakened state of sad, disappointed confusion, and props them up on the idea that there is a prescribed way out. Just follow the master plan, and it will all be taken care of. The idea that there is in fact an underlying order, a secret to life, is so incredibly seductive to us. We want so desperately to believe, to be Believers.

For whatever cosmic reason, me and the kids were at a real low. I was desperate, I was vulnerable. I delved into the ‘rhythm as panacea’ concept, even started doing a Waldorf circle time with the kids every afternoon. I summoned my will and attempted to implement a stronger routine than what we already had. I checked out Over the Rainbow Bridge from the library. I berated myself appropriately over their movie watching, the overflow of plastic toys and my own yelling mad self. (This last one works wonders– beat yourself up about being a mean mom. Just see how sweet it makes you. Wow. It was from this place of yelling at myself for yelling at the kids that I told them I wanted to chain them up so I could just please fucking carry the fucking groceries the two blocks up the fucking hill to our house.)

The problem, for me at least, is that feeding the belief in achievable order interferes with the work I really need to be doing. Accepting the chaos.

Submitting.

Shit, there it is again. Not submitting to motherhood this time. But submitting to life. The universe. Everything. The greater-than-me. The things I can never know, and never understand. The mystery. Submitting to the fact that I am not ruler of this world, or even my world. There is no plan so perfect that it will tame my wild children. Thank god! My life is not reducible to a calm, clean, quiet procession of handcrafts. It is an uproarious mess of bewilderment and kitchen projects. My kids are LOUD because they are full of piss and vinegar, they run around the house breaking shit because they are full of nearly explosive curiosity for how the world works.

We are movers and shakers, a whole fam damily of them. Our life together is bound to be complex.

I’m not altogether done with the rhythm concept, or Waldorf in general. Of course, just because they have not created The Master Plan doesn’t mean there isn’t some valuable takeaway. Just because a solid rhythm would not singlehandedly create peace on earth, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help create a bit more peace in our own household. Or at the very least, in my own brain.

As usual, I walk a weird line between wholesome organic crafty mama and ranting punk bitch, and it’s sometimes hard to know quite where to set my bags down. I guess my real work in this life is to just be without need to label, to search without need to find, to try without need to master, to take what comes as it comes. Chaos, order, chaos.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

Combating Conformity from Alaska to New Orleans to Bahrain

***Today’s guest post is excitingly international– Penny is a mama living in Bahrain, and writes at homeschoolingmiddleeast. Thanks for sharing a sliver of your life with us here Penny!***

I’ve been racking my brains as to what to write in my guest blog. I’m a homeschooler in the Middle East, living on the tiny and troubled island of Bahrain abutting the relatively huge, powerful country of Saudi Arabia. I really wondered about what I’ve got in common with Calamity Jane or Apron Stringz readers, what I could say that would be of interest to them. I can’t stand cooking (although I really, really wish I felt differently) and I’m not a gardener (again, I wish I were different). I would proudly dress my kids in hand-me-downs but we don’t have relatives living in the same country. There’s not much in the way of thrift shops either, just the occasional secondhand sale. So I can’t give tips on living a more frugal life, other than the obvious ideas.

I was intrigued by Calamity’s biography. She came from one kind of background in Alaska, with a certain set of expectations, and had to live a very different one for the 3 years when she moved to New Orleans and experience very different weather too! I came from a very different life to the one I live now (and weather too – from wet and windy in England to incredibly hot and humid in Bahrain).But I feel very blessed, in part because my life here is not often short of surprises, which suits me!

Both Calamity and I seem to share something else; we both aren’t looking to conform. She is trying to redefine the label ‘housewife’. She has done it through homesteading, I through homeschooling. She is trying to defy Society in her own ways, I in mine. Even though we are so far away, we share some fundamental similarities and I’m sure you, her readers, share these too. We also probably share an interest in reading about other people’s lives, especially people with similar values but practicing them, living them, in very different ways.

By glimpsing the life I lead on this unusual island of Bahrain you also get a look into lives that are very different not only from yours but from mine too – because we are surrounded by villages where people still live as if it were decades ago – where women are dressed top to toe in black which even covers their faces, carrying baskets of fruit and veggies from the market on their head and where boys drive donkeys, seemingly for fun but possibly to transport something from one place to another. Shouldn’t they be in school I always think? Homeschooling is illegal for Bahrainis so I think they probably should be there! It’s dusty and dirty. Everything looks run down and unkempt. The houses are entirely dilapidated, built without any kind of building code.

I used to drive through these villages on purpose, partly because the route afforded a short cut, but more importantly as an education for my children on how lucky they are and how other people live. I used to say, “Look at how these poor people live. This is why you have to work hard at school, so you can have choices in life and not have to live a life you don’t want to live.” Now that we’re homeschooling (for all of 2 months now!) I would say, if I still drove through the villages, “This is why it’s important to learn as much as you can, and find your passion, so that you can have choices in life and not have to live a life you don’t want to live.” Although I have always said that many of these people are probably much happier than others with a lot more money because they often have very close family relationships which are very nurturing; money can’t buy you something as important as a loving family. So, a multiple of lessons in our neighbourhood villages!

Why don’t we drive through the villages anymore? Because we’re too scared to, sad as it is to say this. Bahrain has become a very divided ‘them and us’ island. The poorer population, coming from the Shia’a Islamic sect, has taken their long-held grievances to a new level by peacefully protesting regularly but then regularly also burning tyres and throwing Molotov cocktails at the police. Expats have not been targeted yet, but we all wonder it’s a matter of time before the village people look at our houses and look at theirs and think, ‘Hold on! This is our country! They are foreigners! That should be ours!’ And an ugly situation gets even uglier. The problem is that the rights and wrongs of the situation are hard for expats (temporary workers) to navigate. Many of the grievances are wholly legitimate and if half of the stories are true, we really shouldn’t be here supporting this regime. But, we really don’t know what’s true. A lot of it may be exaggeration or even fabrication. Since the protests are regularly in the areas where expats live, the kids often have to run inside from the shared, communal garden encircled by the 9 villas on our compound, to avoid being overwhelmed by tear gas which stings horribly, making your eyes pour and your throat unbearably scratchy.  And boy are those burning tyres toxic, forcing windows and doors to be hurriedly closed! But many people love living here and we’ve got used to the problems and nobody could make the living they do here back at home, we’re all economic migrants desperately hoping everything will be sorted out peacefully one day.

But as crazy as this sounds, at least living in this part of Bahrain is a ‘real’ experience, where you see ‘real’ people, living ‘real’ lives. Living in the Arabian Gulf (comprising Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the U.A.E – United Arab Emirates which includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi) can be very artificial, very unrealistic. For some people, the Gulf is all about shiny high rises, expensive cars, houses bigger than anything they could afford at home, maids, drivers and cooks, drinking at the expat clubs.

I was thinking about how everybody does things differently. Calamity tries not to conform by homesteading, by trying to give dignity and modernity to that horribly degraded term ‘housewife’. We are trying not to conform by teaching our children about how other people live and how lucky we are. We are trying to live with our eyes wide open. We are not being lured into a life of fast cars, cheap nannies, late night drinking sessions in expat clubs, expensive restaurants and having no clue about how the other people living right beside us exist – people from cultures very different from our own – cheap labour from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.  We try and spend most of our time at home and we take the kids with us wherever we go. We like visiting friends and having friends visit us. We are very family-oriented and we never complain that our kids are driving us crazy and we can’t wait to pack them off to school/summer camp/with the nanny. We live in a rundown old villa that my husband feels embarrassed to invite people-from-work to, also because it’s permanently a mess, being a child-friendly, kid-heaven of toys, books, Lego and wooden train sets which just can’t seem to stay in one place for long! We like the kids to play outside in the fresh air instead of video games in front of the TV. We like them to play imaginary games and build forts instead of doing ‘enrichment’ activities like Taekwondo or Capoeira.

We like to SEE our kids, spend time with our kids, even though we homeschool them! People think we’re weird. No doubt about it. We don’t conform. But we think we’re the luckiest parents in the world, living in a fascinating part of the world and if more of us could count our lucky stars, even when the tear gas rains down, or the electricity bill comes in or the baby is awake for the fourth time tonight, maybe more of us could be happier. If we could all shrug our shoulders and think ‘How lucky we are’ and ‘If only they knew’ when people look at us as if we’re crazy. If we could smile serenely when people say, “That sounds lovely but I could never do that!” (code for “You’re crazy!”) whether we’re home educating or making nettle soup from the garden or making our own shelves or avoiding doing all the things people expect us to do, we’d all be a bit happier I think!  The world exerts a lot of pressure to conform. Society is like George W. Bush where ‘You’re either for it or against it’ and there’s no in-between. As Calamity says, “Join me in The Struggle! Let’s resurrect, renew and revolutionize housewifery together!” I concur. And let’s go further, wherever we live, wherever we can, let’s resurrect, renew and revolutionize Society with our positive life affirming family-loving, child-oriented attitudes.

Thank you to Calamity for having the faith in me to guest blog and please do drop into my blog sometime. You would be very welcome! You can find me at homeschoolingmiddleeast.

On Kiddlets

***While I am packing up our house like a woman possessed, getting our family ready to move across the continent, several generous readers have volunteered to keep you musing. This first guest post is written by Jasmine Johnson-Kennedy. Jasmine in an Alaskan off-grid homesteader (ironically, I do not know her from Alaska but solely from this virtual space). She also writes at her own blog, Bunchberry Farms.***

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You may think I’m crazy when I say this, but its true.  I have been actively talking myself out of having children for a decade.  How old am I, you ask?  I’m twenty six.

Why have I been dissuading myself from ushering new souls into the world for so long?  Because I want them SO DAMN BAD.

I actually give my younger self a lot of kudos for being so responsible.  As a highschooler, while I personally wasn’t sexually active until late in highschool, I had pro-condom bumperstickers on the back of my truck and in my bedroom.  I talked my friends through the process of getting on birth control.  I was decided that if I should ever need to, I would get an abortion rather than become a teenage mom.  And all the while I desperately desired kids.  I would fight the undertow of the longing.  I would find myself insanely jealous of the young single struggling under-advantaged moms that I worked with at my minimum wage part time waitressing gigs.  And periodically I would have to sit down with myself and have a good long chat about what the reality of kids would mean, about how having an underage mom wouldn’t be doing them any favors, and about how I wanted to be able to choose them at a time their nurturance would be my primary endeavor.

I played gypsy for a year, and then I went to college.  And for five years I indulged in academia and theatre.  I knew I didn’t have the time or energy for kids.  I knew that the time would come for being a mom, that that time was not the (then) present.  But I longed.  Oh, how I longed.  And I dreamed.  Oh, how I dreamed.  The dream of the homestead and the dream of the motherhood came to rival each other in depth and intensity.  They became entwined to the point of identity.  My mantra-goal became “Get the land” because once I had the land, the homestead and the kids could and would come.  I plotted and planned and despaired and hoped and leveraged will power and luck and fate and love to get the homestead.  Meanwhile I would read the parenting magazines at the Laundromat, hide “Fit Pregnancy” (the prenatal yoga issues) and “Natural Parenting” magazines in the wait-station at the restaurant, read the latest “Mothering Magazine” and “Midwifery Today” every time I visited my mom.  I would hide in the magazine section at the grocery store and read “Good Housekeeping” and “Real Simple,” skimming past article with potential relevance to where I was at, and instead focusing on the ones that talked about homework and kids organizational strategies, about family dinner plans and how to pack a school lunch.  I rarely babysat because I was always in rehearsal or on stage or waitressing.  I was engaging in the act of living the life-stage I was in while desperately and nearly obsessively longing for and planning the future.  I have always been the queen of ten year plans.  I am not entirely sure it is the healthiest way to live, expending so much energy and thought and time on a future that you are at the same time ensuring is distant from where you are.

Sometime in college I met my Darlin’ Man.  And as soon as we met, certainly as soon as we became serious, I realized that there was no way I could or would ever get the abortion I had always planned on if we accidentally conceived.  This realization scared the shit out me.  I mean, I thrive on planning the future.  The reality of children was always, always something that I knew I would invite into my life when the time was right.  I wished for them NOW, but I knew this.  When I was maybe 3, maybe 4 years old my little sister was a baby.  I have this vivid memory of sitting in my kid-sized rocking chair (the one that is in the attic space at my mother’s house waiting for the next generation along with boxes and boxes of kids books and toys that I’ve been saving all of my life), in the middle of the afternoon, and singing lullabies to my doll.  For hours.  We had this tape of lullabies, English on one side, French on the other – Lullaby Bersuese – and I distinctly remember one specific afternoon repeating and re-listening to the French side at least two if not three times.  Singing along and rocking my doll straight through from afternoon to dusk.  I wanted to memorize it so that when I was a mom I could sing it to my kids without the tape.  Ever since then, I have known, bone deep, that motherhood was something that belonged in my life, that it was something I would choose for myself.  Accordingly, it became the end-goal of every 10 year plan I ever made.  It was there and real and desperately wanted, but was always placed a decade or so away.  Placed out there in the future with a plan in place to ensure it stayed there.  So when I met my Darlin’ Man and realized that if we conceived I would keep the baby, it scared the shit out of me.  It took the concept of motherhood out this plane of planned activity at the perfect time – a place I had put it, and kept it, so that I would not be prematurely tempted – and (re)created it as a  thing that could happen by chance, something that could happen to me and I would do nothing to stop it.  I mean, no kind of birth control is fail-proof right?  And if the idea is that you manifest in your life that which you focus on, kids are an immanent accidental possibility, right?  And that’s scary stuff.  But even while recognizing the absolute havoc that untimed and unplanned kids would have on my life, on our lives, even while rebelling against the mere concept of the active choice being taken away from me – in my deepest self of selves I rejoiced.  I rejoiced because suddenly, miraculously, my most deeply held desire was a possibility.  Because even a 1 in 10,000 chance is a possibility, right?  And if I hit that one in ten thousand jackpot, well,  I could hardly blame myself for accidentally becoming pregnant with my beloved’s child, right?   It wouldn’t be an ill-considered decision, but fate.

And I rejoiced because I knew that the choice of pregnancy and motherhood was really and truly finally within my grasp.  And that scared the shit out of me.  Because if it was something that I finally could choose for myself, why was I not?   If facing the reality of eminence of the mere possibility of kids brought me such joy and relief, why was I avoiding it?  What was I doing with myself?  If I was defining fulfillment as motherhood, and I was denying myself motherhood, then what sort of messed up mind game was I playing with myself?

So I did two things, I sat down with myself and gave myself the permission to savor this pre-kid life for what it is.  There are many things I love about it that I know I will nostalgically savour when my proverbial style is cramped by the minute to minute reality of littles. This life I’m living now is a step along the way but not merely a means to an end.  (Or so I tell myself when I’m not assuring myself that AS SOON as we get enough student loans paid off, I can then get pregnant.  If that’s not a means to an end, I don’t know what is.)    And I asked myself what motherhood really meant to me.  I found that while the essence of motherhood in my soul stands alone and can be applied to or fit within any life scenario I can imagine, my VISION of my future motherhood was pretty specific.  Once, in the early and turbulent portion of our relationship, my Darlin’Man asked me if I knew what my purpose in life was.  I don’t remember the words I chose – I think nurture was one.  But I remember being very careful of what words I used because I knew the answer as clear as day, and I knew that English lacked a single word for the amalgam of creation and nurturing and tending and supporting and healing and reverence that gardening and mothering and animal husbandry and making art and feeding people and giving them medicine and tending their wounds all have in common.  There is a common element, and it is profound and resides in my soul, but I don’t know that there is a word for it.  I thought about all of this and I realized that my vision of my own experience of motherhood was all entwined in my vision of homesteading.  Raising kids and goats and gardens was all one life action for me.  Which meant I better get the set up in place if I wanted to realize that vision.

So I shifted my future focus onto the homestead (and by this I mean I took all of that near-obsessive planning and applied it to small scale agriculture).  I got married.  My mom moved up here in anticipation of being grandma in the not too distant future.  Last summer we bought the homestead.  It needs a lot of work in creating it as a productive home scale agricultural venture.  It craves digging and building and fencing and lots of compost.  But every time I think about a fence line, or the placement of a coop, I think in terms of little hands on latches, little feet in the grass, buoyant laughter echoing, trees for solace of little hearts.  As I think about where the fruit trees and the barn ought to go in relation to a future barn, and maintaining the direct sun on the solar panels, I’m also thinking of swings and climbing trees.

I’m now on the two year plan for getting pregnant and every time I sit with myself and examine my prospective reality of motherhood, it still scares the shit out of me.  In a deep and challenging way, a way that has within it the distillation of the visions of bliss and golden glowing mama-ness.  A way that encapsulates the dreams and the bone deep blood deep voice that knows about children belonging in my life.  A way that is also aware (as aware as one can be without the experience) of the work and the drudgery and the self abnegation and the frustration.  The responsibility and the giving.

And if the prospective reality scares the shit out of me and I still want it with the intensity of a decade’s longing melting into tender humbleness; that must mean I’m getting closer and closer to actually being ready, right?  Are you ever ready?  Probably not.

And the closer my own motherhood draws, the more I find myself open to following the lead of this land, our (future) kids, this life we’re choosing.  The ten year plan has opened to allow me to glimpse possible vistas of twenty and fifty years down the road – it is less rigid and encompasses much more possibility for change.  Which means I might just make it though, right?

                              –Jasmine Johnson-Kennedy, Bunchberry Farms

The 95%

Hey there friends,

I didn’t mean to alarm anyone. I’m doing fine, really. My thing on this blog has been to really bust out the shit that everyone feels and no one says. I give it to you straight. But since we are not together in real life, you don’t get to see the whole picture, just whatever extreme words I offer up on a given day.

Those words were all true, but only one piece of a big whole. You know how the acute emotionality of pms can make true things unbearable, wash away the good stuff and leave you just wallowing? The pain is real– the depression, disappointment, disillusionment is every bit true– but the enormity of it is false. That’s how it goes in the low times for me, be they hormonal or not. My heart takes out the little slivers that have been rubbing wrong in my otherwise very satisfactory life, and climbs into that raw hole, surrounded complete. The 95% goodness of life falls away and the 5% misery engulfs.

When I wrote that last post, I was actually already moving up, out of my hole. I can’t write from down in there in fact. I’ve tried a few times, it’s shit. But I needed to process it before it receeded, and also… I want to give you all the pieces of this weird gig, including the times I hate the job and doubt myself. I feel like that is an essential part of championing motherhood and housewifery– being honest about the whole goddamn thing. Ugly bits and all. If only we all knew how much we all struggle with life! Then maybe we wouldn’t have this ridiculous expectation for bliss and perfection that is really in fact the root of my particular turmoil. Nobody needs help to get through the happy times.

So, yes. I struggle. I get through. I keep on. As one commenter said about her own experience of motherhood, many years past, “I fell down got up fell down got up fell down got up and they were raised.” Amen to that sister.

I do feel like this last fall is a big, important one. A turning point maybe. The fact that my life is only 5% misery, the fact that bliss and perfection are mirages, doesn’t mean we should disregard that intensified emotion of hard times. I think of those times as lenses into an otherwise hidden world within myself. Not very fun to look at, but too important not to look at. Those emotional lows are my truthing points, and I’d better buck up and take heed.

Although life is complicated, and I can’t expect to fulfill my wildly high expectations, I do need to stop shelving myself and my goals. It’s not helpful to anyone. It’s the same old martyr bullshit that I am always fighting.

But. Let’s get on to that 95%, eh? That last post was written, not coincidentally, at the beginning of my true break. Christmas done, mother gone, flu averted and My Man still has another week before school starts. It’s just the sort of miracle I needed. I have had a few afternoons to myself already, and this morning begins a pre-arranged two whole days of bonafide vacation from mothering. Morning till night, two days in a row. All me.

It feels almost sinfully decadent. No, in fact it feels fully sinfully decadent. I had to force myself to take it since after my few afternoons I was already feeling so much better. Good thing I asked ahead for this weeks ago, locking myself in.

This morning, in the wee hours of dawn I crept out of bed. Alone! I quietly pulled on my clothes, packed a bag with entirely grownup things like books and computer, and stole outside. Sunday morning, no one out except the paper man. I rode my bike, no trailer attached, to the bakery and sat quietly ruminating over coffee and croissant. I have a sushi date with two dear friends for lunch, and the rest of the day deliciously empty.

And tomorrow too? My lord, what will I do with all this time?

Out the Other End

I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a fraud.

Lately, for months now, I just don’t feel like being a mama. My kids, my darling beautiful firecrackers, just seem like so much trouble. I have no patience for them whatsoever, everything short of perfect angels pisses me off.

At first I thought it was just because of our big scare, then because we were emotionally recovering, then because My Man’s finals were upon us, then again because we were recovering from those finals. But now he’s been out of school for two weeks, we’ve lazed around and taken it plenty easy, and I am not bouncing back. Some days even their angelic-ness pisses me off. There was one afternoon, frosting Christmas cookies with my girl, the 2yo napping so that she and I could delve deep into our creative task. It should have been a triumphal moment. Hallmark material. But she kept making these little happy noises and I couldn’t concentrate for want of some goddamned quiet.

That’s when I knew something was deeply wrong.

When one has a regular job, there are days, sometimes weeks at a time when you hate your job, when you just don’t want to get up and go to work in the morning. So you call in “sick” or take a vacation, sometimes you go to work anyway with a bad attitude. Eventually there is the big flat wall of burnout, when you’re heart goes out of it and the job becomes a drudge. It occurred to me that I have never kept a full time job for more than 6 months consecutively. I don’t like doing the same thing every day, day after day. I never have, and pre-kids I had structured my life so that I didn’t have to.

Now here I am, 4.5 years into the same job, no vacations to date, going to work anyway with my bad attitude. And let me tell you in case you haven’t been here yourself, it feels like shit to hate your job when your job is taking care of your babies. It feels like shit.

You know I have struggled all along to embrace this mothering gig. I go in and out of good times and bad, as do we all I’m sure. But lately… lately…

It’s not that I don’t believe everything I’ve said here, I do. Mothering is heady, important, pivotal work, we should feel proud, hold our heads high, regardless the lack of any other product for our days. We are raising the next generation, giving them the values and skills that we believe matter. It’s not just okay to stay home with our kids, it’s goddamned beautiful!

As chronicled here on this blog, I submitted myself to my work, I let go all my grandiose ideas for how my life was going to be. It was hard, breaking even, but I think I actually did manage for awhile. Submission served me well during that hardest year in my life, when surrender equalled survival. I survived.

But as much as I have tried to release myself from the cultural expectation of productivity, of ‘greatness,’ I have not at all succeeded. I am beginning to admit to myself that yes in fact, selfish or not, I do want to do something big in the world. I do want to make my little mark and be recognized for my accomplishments. I am beginning to suspect that maybe, for me at least, trying to jam that desire back down and down and down again is simply not going to work. Compression can be explosive.

The explosion came last week. My Man mentioned the possibility of working for his dad in August. It sounds harmless enough, right? If I weren’t such a spoiled twat I would be thankful that we have this incredible safety net, cushioning our re-entry into a world of doubtful income. But instead, I completely lost it.

To understand you’ll need some background, and I’m sorry to say I have to go way, way back. Before Children.

Before we had kids, the idea was that we would split the parenting. As much as I champion staying home with your kids, I never in fact wanted or intended to be the full-time parent. Splitting it down the middle seems so brilliantly perfect to me, each parent getting what seems like just the right amount of time with their kids, and just the right amount of time to invest in grownup endeavors. We are both very driven people. My Man wanted to stop industrial progress via legal monkey-wrenching, and I wanted to figure out how to live as much as possible independent of that industrial system– a perfect team.

But dear god, we thought we could do all that and have kids? Of course we had no idea how much time and energy kids would take. The split parenting would work if we were both just righteously kicking ass in those kid-less hours, but then who’s gonna pay the bills? Someone has to get an at least moderately real job, and splitting the job force just doesn’t often work in the real world. Jobs are not generally constructed to be done part time. So we fell, like most couples, right along the gender lines. Man bringing home the bacon, Woman cooking it, feeding it to the little mouths and cleaning up afterwards. It was not how I’d imagined it, but life never is.

Then it became apparent that My Man needed to go to law school in order to continue fighting his Good Fight. I saw that he was restless and dissatisfied with his limitations, I knew that becoming a lawyer would allow him to kick a lot more ass, and ideally put a bit more bacon on our table than the non-profit he had been working for. I knew that as far as kids and families go, the sooner we got the job done the better, so I said yes. Let’s leave for three years.

Our first 4 or 5 months here in New Orleans were rough for me. I was hugely pregnant and toting a two year old through heat like I had never even conceived of, My Man gone all day learning exciting new things. I had not a friend to speak of, no mountains, no forests, no gill nets, rifles, berry buckets, no chest freezers or stacks of firewood. Everything I had worked toward with my life in Alaska completely irrelevant to this one.

We had been planning to go back home in the summers, so that I could work and get a break from the parenting and My Man could be with the kids more. First hitch was the oil spill here in the Gulf, providing an opportunity for My Man to put everything he had worked for, both in school and before, to good use. But, in retrospect I see that going home for the summers was an unrealistic plan in the first place. Three plane tickets per summer, averaging almost $1,000 each. The logistics of subletting our house here and finding a place to stay up there. Just a big fat money-sucking endeavor, all for the sake of some mountains?

So. We stayed. And I had my next big crisis, seeing the realities of life and money and kids collide, the slow receding of my lofty dreams.

But I met a friend, a kindred; and then over time even a small handful of them. I began to feel at home. I rerouted my towering ambitions to the smaller scape of the household, made a little garden, got cozy with the farmers market, discovered a latent passion for writing.

I faced myself, squared my shoulders, and kept at it. The kids grew up a bit and I gained a little of that blessed distance perspective, remembering that this too shall pass.

I looked forward to the time when we would return to Alaska, my familiar things all laying in wait for my return. My pressure canner, my fertile garden beds, my hunting rifles, my chest freezer and 14 dozen canning jars– all my dormant skills tingling with anticipation. We would go back in May, but My Man would need to study for the Bar, and wouldn’t really be free until late July. Then– then! He would be ready for a break, we could split the parenting for a month or two while I played with myself.

I am very good, disturbingly good, at accepting just about anything so long as I am given time to prepare my mind for it, and an end date to hold out for. Outwardly I might seem perfectly adjusted, but inside myself I hold on to that end date with a frightening tenacity. If it’s taken away, or some relief that I had counted on falls through, I go ballistic.

And so it was that when My Man mentioned casually that maybe we could all go to Spokane in August and he could work for his dad for a month, I had a breakdown of epic proportions. All four years of putting myself on the shelf for later roared to life and I became quite an unrecognizable blur of enraged weeping.

He was blindsided. We need the money and almost more importantly, he needs the health insurance. Our other option is a patchwork of self-employment and part-times, paying out seperately whatever ridiculous insurance premium they charge for a cancer survivor. His dad (also a lawyer) truly needs the help, and after a month in Spokane he could work long-distance from Cordova and continue to get the insurance coverage until he muddled out his own work situation. It made perfect sense. He suspected I might not like it, but thought he’d just test the waters and see how I felt.

I felt like the rug had been ripped out from under me and the world was coming to an end. I felt like I’d been chewed up by this growling, frothing motherhood beast which had, at long last, spit me out the other end. Stunned, confused, bloody.

Which brings me finally to my point, dear patient reader. If I am that conflicted inside, if I am holding myself so violently hostage that just the mention of an idea like that throws me into utter oblivion, isn’t something wrong?

As it always goes, this was just the pus rupture of a big fat long-infected wound. I have been feeling a growing concern that I’m actually not suited to being this awesome rock-the-home mother that I write so radiantly about. I want to be that mother, I really do, and for a long time I tried. But maybe I am just not cut out for it. Maybe I would be a better mother if I put the little guy in day care.

I hope you know that I am not opposed to day care. I have always felt that every family must work these issues out for itself. I do believe that, all else being equal, having mom or dad nearby for the majority of the early years is probably better, but I have never been so shortsighted to think that all else is ever equal. Life is nothing if not uproariously complicated. All financial factors aside, mom and dad are no good to anyone if they’re not happy and healthy, more or less. If day care and the real live grown up job it allows preserve some sanity and joy in the home, then I say hell yeah!

But here’s my particular quandry– I don’t want to leave the home to go work at a job. My thing, what I want to do with my hours, doesn’t make money. It might keep a bit of money in our pockets at the supermarket, but I’ve been doing it long enough to know that the direct savings are nothing to write home about. It increases our quality of life, which of course cannot be valued and I never cared to try before. But now that we have a family and all the bills inherent in our (modest!) lifestyle, our days have come down to a tally of hours. For every hour that I wish to be able to weed the garden or can strawberries without the constant interruption of spill wiping, leg hanging and fight breaking up that whittles 60 minutes down to six, My Man must give up an hour of work. Or, alternatively, I put my kid in day care and essentially pay $10/hour to weed my garden?!?!?! What the fuck?

I know that in two more years, the little guy will start kindergarten and I will have 2 or 3 hours a day to do my thing, even more the following year. I know that my kids are growing up, and fast, and before I know it they won’t even want to be around me. I’ll have buckets of time on my hands.

And maybe that’s what this is all about after all. Some wiser, if a bit premature, part of myself preparing for the time when my babies will need me to step back and give them space. Maybe this is some kind of protective measure– me chomping at the bit so that when they open their doors to boot me out, I’ll already know where I’m going.

Or maybe I really am just tired, still recovering from one hell of a few months. Our two week “break” so far has included Christmas, a 12 day mother visit, and now the flu. Last night before bed, as I surveyed the wreckage of our unusually filthy house with dismay, My Man said hopefully that maybe tomorrow we’d both feel better and we could really get on with our supposed break. I gave an exhausted sigh, “Yeah. Tomorrow. Tomorrow we’ll take over the world.”

“No,” he said brightly. “You will take over the world. I’ll watch the kids.”

Stretch Marks

It’s 8 o’clock in the morning. I’m sitting here with a cup of coffee, quiet in a sleeping house, writing.

A few short month ago, I would have killed to get my little guy to sleep past 6:45 on a regular basis. Now he sleeps until 7 or 7:30 reliably, occasionally even later. Am I busy praising the stars and relishing my newfound extra sleep and more frequent mornings alone? No. This morning I didn’t get myself up till 7:30 and didn’t get myself coffeed till almost 8, so I’m busy wishing he’d sleep till goddamn 8:45.

And take a nap at 1, thank you very much.

When this mothering job gets really rough, kindly friends remind me that it gets easier as time goes on. But when things are looking up, and I gaze hopefully into the future for a time when things will be even better, those same friends soberly lead me back and say, ‘It doesn’t get easier, really. It just gets… different.’

What the hell? What does it get? Easier or not easier? Get your story straight.

I know kids (and parents) are all quite individual. Not all babies are as high maintenance as mine were. Some apparently sleep. Not all two year olds have daily 30 minute screaming sessions. Not all mothers need time and space for themselves as strangulously as I. Perhaps we, as a family, stir right up into an explosive younger-years cocktail.

Nevertheless I’m pretty sure that, apart from that long span of teenage years too far in my future to contemplate, when people say parenting doesn’t get easier, they are on crack. Parents of the 4-12 set have just plain forgotten what babies and toddlers are like. They have forgotten sleeping a total of 6 hours/night in no more than 90 minute segments and then waking up to a fussy baby and two shitty diapers before coffee. They have forgotten trying to control one child’s screaming fit in public with the other child strapped onto their body. They are under the spell of biological amnesia that allows our species to keep reproducing. I for one am writing this all down, so that I can never blithely tell a mother of a 2yo and newborn that what she is going through is not the very depths of what humans are capable of.

Fear not sweet mama, wherever you are, it does get easier. If you feel completely insane right now, at the very bottom of your barrel, it’s because you are. Things can only look up. Kids grow. It’s really true.

But.

I’m sorry to say, there is a catch. I have come just far enough now to see what it is.

Consider how you have stretched slowly over the years since your very first morning sickness. Things you never thought yourself capable of doing are now old hat. Motherhood is a million times harder than you ever could have conceived of. And yet, simultaneously, you are a million times stronger. You keep thinking ‘fuck me, it can’t get any harder’ and then it does! You keep thinking ‘I can’t hold out any longer’ and then you do! You keep thinking you are at the absolute bitter end of your frayed rope, but your rope keeps stretching.

Which is brave and wonderful and human. I remember one night, washing the dishes at 9:30 pm, after one of those insane days, thinking– I am a demigod. I will never be conquered again. I am now accustomed to working 15 hour days, on 6 hours of disjointed sleep, doing the hardest work of my life. When the impossible-ness of this job subsides, I’ll have the energy and the self-discipline to accomplish anything. The world will be at my feet.

The catch is– that stretchy rope? It shrinks too. It’s a goddamned bungee cord.

It gets easier, yes, but it doesn’t feel easier. When things ease up, I notice the change and appreciate it intellectually, but I still feel like I’m at the end of my rope, every day. I have to hang out with friends in the real crazy year (newborn + 2yo) to remind myself. Oh yeah, my life is hard right now. Plenty hard. But it’s possible. And immediately after that humbling thought, I go back to being mad that my now 2yo didn’t sleep till 8:45.

Maybe I’m just an ungrateful bitch. Maybe, as every little bit of new space opens up, I try to add in too many things. Keeping the house cleaner. Cooking extra for My Man. Writing more. Rioting in my spare time. Maybe it’s just that old ad-borne cultural expectation that we deserve to have it all.

Whatever it is, the outcome is that although it does get easier, it also doesn’t. You won’t have to wake up 6 times a night and then for good at 5:45 to a poopy diaper, you won’t have to strap on a 19 pound weight so that you can finally get the dishes done, you won’t have to listen to hours a day of full-bore screaming. You will be able to calm everyone down by reading a book sometimes, you will be able to leave the room for more than 10 minutes without catastrophe or injury ensuing, the kids will (not always, but often) begin to earnestly and happily play together.

But you will forget the harder times almost immediately, as your body prepares you to continue propogating the species. You will (if you are anything like me) suck down your newfound freedoms and instead of being sated, just want moremoremore. You will wake up one morning in your own bed at 7:30 and wonder honestly if it was all a bizarre dream. You still feel like you are operating at maximum. With a full 8 hours of sleep and 30 minutes of quiet morning, you still feel sparely armored for a day of what still feels like crazy hard work.

All you will have to remind yourself of those farther distances reached are the stretch marks.

You are a demigod.

Related post: The Glory Days

Who’s Addicted?

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the abhorrent sloth of our latest kid movie-watching binge. It was bad around here for a couple of weeks. The 2yo would wake from sleep crying for Dora. I swear there is some kind of actual crack in that show. Remember how light is supposed to be both particle and wave? I’m convinced that somehow the makers of Dora got the particle part to be crack particles. They radiate out with the vibrating spectrum of colors, straight into your child’s bloodstream. Highly disturbing. Highly effective. Especially, it turns out, on 2 year olds.

But more disturbing is what happens to a harried mama when she is given whole hours, relatively uninterrupted, day after day. I sat on the couch and read. I drank tea. I stared into space when I felt like it, peace marred only by the faint bounce of cartoon voices in the background. I hung laundry. I weeded my garden, not in the heat of naptime mid-day, but in the pleasant morning, after a leisurely cup of coffee.

I had forgotten.

Do you remember? Do you remember the distinct luxury of doing what you wanted to do, when you wanted to do it? That my friends, is some addictive shit.

As the days wore on, and the initial Dora-bender began to ebb, I found myself crashing hardest. ‘Fuck. I have to get up, yank my wastedly tired body out of bed, and right off the bat start mothering? Are you kidding me? How can this work?’ After two weeks of part-time digital childcare, I had lost the ability to mother for more than an hour or two at a time. Or rather, the ability was probably still there, but the expectation of that as normal was gone.

Then the inevitable set in. Movie-watching as crack can only last so long for healthy children in even moderately interesting environments. After a couple of weeks, the 2yo began to get bored of Dora. And subsequently Diego. (The 4yo, for what it’s worth, had been watching more than her share of movies too, but had not gotten the junkie eyes. Different stages of development, I guess.) After two or three depraved weeks, the little atrophied muscles finally rebelled. Earnest sibling fights began. Movie watching became as hard to referee as anything else.

When one day I actually yelled (yelled!) at the 2yo to go watch his movie, I finally woke from the reverie. Time for an intervention.

Here’s the good news, for any of you who may find yourself in a similar situation. So long as you let them run their course, kid movie-watching binges are not as hard to break as they might seem.

CJ’s Six Step Program for Digital Addiction in Children

Step 1: Accept that you as the parent are about to lose any and all ‘you-time.’ Don’t worry, you’ll get some back, later.

Step 2: Watch for the right moment. I have a friend who managed to pull her kids off the movies mid-bender, but with my two little firecrackers, forceful parenting almost never works. Instead, I wait for a natural wane in the fervor. In my experience, it will come after a couple of weeks.

Step 3: Offer alternatives. Not half-hearted bullshit like “Wouldn’t you rather color?” but something that actually excites them. This is a good time to become manically social, if your kids are into it that is (mine are). Unearth any hidden toy boxes, or pick up some new junk from the local thrift. Also, although this could backfire, certain food bribes can work so long as they are out of the house. For example, walking to the ice cream shop.

Step 4: Be patient. It takes a couple of weeks to get back into regular life. At first they will be excited to go visit friends but as soon as they get home, they’ll want to turn on the tube. They’ve forgotten how to play in a room with a screen. Like any addict, they have to re-learn, and disassociate certain activities. Yes, you can drink a cup of coffee without a cigarette, but it takes awhile to get used to. Thank fuck kids are so much more flexible than grown-ups.

Step 5: If your kids are as feisty as mine, nix any commentary about the process. At the beginning of this particular movie weaning, I made the mistake of mentioning the upcoming effort to my 4yo. I thought maybe she was old enough to participate. We’d sunk so low, I thought maybe even she would have noticed how it affected us all negatively, and we could tackle it together. She was in a good mood. I figured I’d give it a whirl.  She was horrified and threw a fit on the spot. “I don’t want to watch less movies!” she wailed, while I kicked myself repeatedly in the shins. I never mentioned it again, and thank god she seemed to forget the conversation. But we have had plenty of other experiences where my attempts to include her in my parenting agenda backfired in a big way.

Step 6: Determine your comfort level. I’ve talked this through before, but just so we’re clear, I’m not proposing no movies at all. I have a few friends who manage that, and I adore and admire them. But for most kids, an hour or two a day seems to be pretty innocuous. I feel like as long as the rest of their day is full of goodness, and mama gets the break she needs to maintain sanity, it’s a positive equation.

I’ll be straight with you, we’re still occasionally doing three hours a day here at Camp Apron Stringz. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true, so there it is.

Lastly, don’t underestimate your own addiction to their movie-watching. Modern, full-time parenting is some crazy hard shit. No grandparents next door to offer relief. The ingrown expectation that we are supposed to continue our adult lives at the same rate of productivity. It’s no wonder we are blinded by the mere possibility of a few hours of kid-less time. The idea is addictive enough, but the reality, oh dear. If you accidentally get a few days of it like I did, wow. That’s a hard habit to break.

But you can. You will. I did.

Prayer Practice for Atheists

Ever since I first named it and begun to explore it last year, the concept of submission has haunted me. The pea under my mattress, so to speak. I was raised by a very strong, strong-willed woman, and I have grown up into my very own fiery independent female force of nature. I do not yield unless I am overpowered. Yielding is weak. Surrender = defeat.

So much of the difficulty of motherhood has been releasing the reins of control. Beginning with birth and continuing every day since. I am overpowered.

As I’m fond of saying, it’s easy to get down on your knees when you’ve been punched in the gut. I’ve learned a few things down here in the dirt, gasping for breath. It’s a hard way to go, but I like to think I’ve matured some.

One of the things I have been taught, quite entirely by force, is that surrender does not necessarily equal defeat. That yielding can be strong, the ultimate strength perhaps. At first this seemed anti-feminist to me, but I’ve since conveniently re-written feminism to fit my own needs. Honoring the female. And who can argue that yielding is female? In the strictest biological sense, we yield and are thus given the greatest power on earth– to carry and birth another human being.

In a more metaphorical sense, I have seen how surrendering my ego-grip allows everything to happen, opens up whole worlds of possibility. Yielding to life allows me to move forward with grace and poise.

But how to yield? Can I fall to my knees without the punch in the gut? Shouldn’t there be another way?

Over the last year, as the submission pea rolled around under my mattress turning me black and blue, I have started to feel a pull towards some kind of spiritual practice. Some way to connect with that surrendering soft part of myself which lays hidden under the white knuckle grip of ego.

I don’t believe in any gods or goddesses, unfortunately. I have always believed in a spirit element to the world, just as I myself inexplicably have this thing called a ‘soul.’ But I have never been able to believe in a singular cohesive spirit, so religion is pretty much out for me. I did try the local Unitarian Universalist church a few times. They welcome folks of any persuasion whatsoever, atheists included, and carefully leave the word ‘God’ out of their service. I enjoyed it, enjoyed the opportunity to focus on farther reaching concepts than my typical diapers/dishes/clutter-management shtick, but the whole church experience really is just a turn off for me. And in their attempt not to exclude anyone, it felt sort of cold and spiritually sterile.

The classic for folks of my ‘alternative’ bent is Buddhism. I have several Buddhist friends, and I’m glad it works for them, but I have just never been able to swallow what feels to me like an inherent scorn for the physical world. I’m a hedonist above all else, and I will take my spirit world with a heavy crust of black dirt under the nails please.

Not to mention that meditating for my rat-wheel brain has been a big fat not happening. I know, it takes time. Zen with it honey. But, time is in short order around here.

On the phone recently with a friend, I said something like, “Dammit. Are you telling me I have to meditate? Can’t you give me something easier?” She laughed, “What, like 10 Hail Marys?”

Yes! That is exactly what I meant, exactly what I wanted. Meditation is fine for some, but it is some damn hard shit. Hail Marys, on the other hand, along with rosaries, 5 times daily bowing to Mecca, and prayer in general are for us– the common people.

Prayer is so completely wrapped up in religion for me, but as I picked it out over the next few weeks I realized that essentially it’s just a tool for submitting your ego to something greater, a formula to occupy your brain while your heart communes with the Great Mystery.

And so, after a little groping around in the dark, and a helpful Unitarian Universalist recommendation for non-denominational prayer, I settled on my own atheist prayer practice.

I really liked the idea of beads, a physical grounding element and focal point. As I walked around the the bead store looking for just the right stones to rub, I suddenly realized that I needed pink. I have always patently hated pink, which I associate with the cute, girly weakness I have so sought to eradicate. But standing there looking over the colors I realized that pink is yielding. It is exactly the stumbling block I need to get the fuck over. And didn’t I remember some witchy friend telling me that rose quartz opens the heart chakra? (Right after she told me that every one of my chakras was blocked…) That’s just what I need. Some heart chakra.

So I picked out a big smooth hunk of pretty-in-pink heart opener. I strung it up with 18 small “breath” beads punctuated by 4 turquoise “intention” beads. I wrote out a litany of words for myself, roughly following the UU recommendations which seemed to cover the bases. I don’t feel like the words are hugely important. More the intention, which maybe is different for everyone. For myself it’s about quieting my mind and opening my heart. It’s about remembering that I am small, that the wide world is big, that I can ask for help, and be thankful for all that I have. Surrendering with grace.

This new prayer practice is far, far from perfect. I’ve been trying to kneel down twice a day, once when I wake, and once just before bed. But I often don’t get the morning time alone, or the Babe wakes up halfway through, leaving me half-prayered. After the initial fervor of the new words running through my mind, and new beads in my fingers, my mind started to wander off a lot. And there’s a certain irony in devising my own prayer ritual in order to submit my ego to the Great Mystery. Not to mention spending almost $70 on pretty beads so that I can get in touch with my heart realm. But I figure the point is to focus your spirit towards your best intentions, and then let the rest work out in the wash.

That’s why they call it ‘practice,’ right?

Having it All

I always thought I would grow up to be a kick-ass Alaskan homesteader. By age 15 I had dreamed out in incredible detail how I would build my log cabin, milk goats that survived on willow scrub, tend a garden carved out of the wild bush, hunt, fish, can berries for the long winter. I made countless graph paper sketches of cabin and garden layouts, lists of the groceries my family would need for one year in our bush homestead home.

Oh yes, my future kick-ass self was always a mama. In the fantasies, they blended so seamlessly– homesteading and mothering. Fantasies are lovely that way. In my ‘pre-enactments,’ the kids were perennially about 10 and 12. They did chores and homeschooled. They more or less took care of themselves, Swiss Family Robinson style. I don’t remember ever washing their dishes or doing their laundry (by hand in the creek?) I was busy kicking ass, right?

After the reality of kids, and just life in general, my homesteading vision was tamed down a bit to this punk housewife gig. Lately, in addition to rocking the garden and kitchen, in addition to raising up two gorgeous kiddos, I want to be able to write. A lot, apparently. A friend recently suggested that maybe I’m not meant to be a full time mama. Maybe I should just bite the bullet and sign my kids up for day care. But I don’t want to have to give up being with my kids to write. I don’t want to give up punking my household for either. I want everything I want. I want it all.

Because I’m worth it.**

I am always so profoundly disturbed when I dig deep, deeper within my psyche and unearth– the advertising industry.

Fuck me.

Under everything, all my intellectualizing, my earnest desire to affect change, my renegade claim, my hippie upbringing, my alternative education– under all that self that should know better is a solid foundation of good old American free enterprise. Which has underwritten me with the belief that I can and should have it all.

Capitalism wants you to think that you’re “worth it,” so that you will buy it. Corporations profit hugely off of an infinite desire for more, and a faith in the god of ‘having it all.’ If they can keep us believing that ‘all’ is possible, we will keep spending until we get it.

And they can keep us believing. They have the big bucks to spend on the top pyschologists in the world, to determine exactly how to shape us all into perfect consumers. I hate to venture into conspiracy theory territory here, but if there is a ‘they,’ it’s the ad industry. They have the tools, the brains, the money and the motive to control the entire modern world. Because who is safe from media these days? No one I know, and I know some contenders, believe me.

Media is everywhere. Big Brother had nothing on us. Look around you right now and count corporate logos. How many electronic devices are within reach, how many of them are on? How often do you look at something designed by corporate advertising?

If I think too hard about it, I get completely creeped out. Horror movie style. They are in me! No one is safe!

My Man always laughs at conspiracy theorists. He thinks the government’s too stupid to pull anything like that off. Bumbling idiots, he calls them. And maybe the ad industry is too. Maybe they’re not even trying to rule the world. But no one can argue that they are trying to make the maximum possible profit. And nothing ensures profit like a captive audience with an insatiable appetite.

How does this fit together? The ad industry’s evil plan to take over the world and my worn out “lost dream” story?

Well, here I stand at the ready, insatiable appetite for coffee, chocolate, heirloom seeds, and self-images. I want to be all and everything. I think I deserve to be everything. Wholesome mama, passionate wife, punk urban homesteader, and now respected writer on top of everything else. Who the hell do I think I am?

This is such a big subject, I hesitated to tackle it at all. To plumb the depths of this one would take far, far more time than I have. But let me ask you this? Why do we think we can have it all? Why do we think we are worth it when people all over the world, throughout history have had to be just plain old whatever-their-families-needed-them-to-be in order to put food on the table? Why do we all think we can accomplish so much more in our small lifetimes than anyone else?

And why, oh why, is this even more prevalent among us ‘alternative’ folk? We think we’ve circumvented The Man and his evil plans. We think we’ve banished the rampant consumer instinct, the materialistic desire for moremoremore, when in fact, we just moved it over 6 inches. We want moremoremore life, moremoremore accomplishment.

When My Man and I got together, at some point as courting couples often do, I asked him what he wanted from life. Among other things, he said he wanted to be ‘great.’ I remember scorning him a little, his egotistical desire to make history. Many years later I have finally realized that I wanted to be ‘great’ too, I wanted to accomplish what so many people before me have failed to do, to succeed exceptionally in many things at once.

Everyone I know, same story more or less. We start out thinking we can have it all. When the natural limitations of life start to sink in, typically in the 30s, and we realize we are not going to get it all, we feel disillusioned. We start throwing blame. If we have a family, we blame it on being tied down. If we’re single, we blame it on loneliness. If nothing else, we can always blame it on our parents!

If we could just wipe that slate clean. Stop blaming, stop expecting to be superheros, stop thinking we’re so extra special.

If I could do that.

Oh how my life would be easier! If I could just vanquish the ads.

Because I am worth it. I’m worth not feeling perpetually dissatisfied because I can’t accomplish every single goddamn thing I ever dreamed up. I’m worth feeling worthy without the right mascara/handbag/woodswoman image. I am worth just being me, whatever shape that may take over the course of my lifetime. Homesteader, mother, writer, wife, frumpy stinky me washing my 659th load of dishes in a plain old sink with running water and Joy soap, like every other American housewife. No accessories, no glory. Just me.

We’re all worth it.

**For any overseas readers or folks who grew up under a rock, “Because I’m Worth It” was a slogan created for L’Oreal in 1973 to sell their higher priced hair products. According to AdSlogans: “The message was all about what the woman thought. It was about her self-confidence, her decision, her style. Over time, “Because I’m Worth It” has become part of our social fabric and today an astonishing 80% of women recognize and respond to this positive phrase and powerful sentiment.”

To the Power of Two

My first born turned two on July 9th, 2009. She turned three, not surprisingly, exactly one year later. For the duration of that year she was absolutely, without a doubt, every inch of ‘two.’

I’ve heard many different stories since. As she approached her third birthday, people started to say, “Oh, you thought two was rough, just wait till you see three!” But for our girl, it was like clockwork. From birthday to birthday, she fulfilled her 2yo duties. She raged at life. She could scream, like a banshee, like her life was ending, for forty-five motherfucking minutes, throwing her little body around with surprising strength. As with every other part of mothering, I had had no idea what a fit could be like.

They don’t call it a ‘fit’ for nothing. Like in an epileptic fit, she seemed to all but disappear. She became almost possessed, I don’t mean demonically, but in the sense that once she got going, all you could do was stand back, protect her from harm and let the thing take it’s course. They always lasted for at least 20 minutes, 30 was average. During her peak phases, of which there were a few over the course of that year, she had one to two fits per day. During the ‘lulls’ she would average probably 3/week.

I thought I would maybe die.

I want to write this post because I want to expose the possibilities of the two year old. Like everything else, I went into it completely unprepared. I suspect most of us do, removed as we are in this country from small children. I had heard about the ‘terrible twos,’ of course, but I thought screaming fits were a sign of bad parenting. A discipline problem that just required firm, consistent parenting.

I want to write this post, not to scare anyone with an approaching-2yo, every kid is different and what we went through was not necessarily normal, but to reassure anyone entering this difficult phase with a particularly stormy child that these intense fits are also not abnormal.

I don’t have any tips, don’t bother scrolling down for an acronymed ‘fit response system.’ After all that whole year I still have no idea if I could or should have done anything different. Instead of advice, as is my way, I want to offer solace, solidarity. Voicing of what typically goes unsaid.

You are not alone.

Your kid is not a demonic freak.

You are not failing as a parent.

Here’s one thing I did figure out. Parents with dramatic 2yos don’t go out in public. They are too afraid of the public shaming. The people you see, out and about, are the people with the naturally ‘well-behaved’ kids (there are a few in the world). The moms who can actually manage to pull it together to say, brush their hair. Who are relatively confident that their kid will not pitch a fit on them. And when kids do pitch a fit, they are taken kicking and screaming to the car. Out of sight, out of mind.

Because I don’t usually drive, we did have a handful of fits on street corners, and I am talking sitting on the side of the road, trying to contain a screaming, flailing kid for 20-40 minutes (don’t forget newborn in Ergo carrier!) One such occasion was extremely insightful.

We were having the classic, ‘I don’t want to walk home, carry me!’ fight, where I have 20 pounds of newborn strapped on, no stroller because it was such a short walk I wouldn’t need one, right? and I refuse to carry her two and a half blocks, on the principle of the matter. Because she’s throwing a fit about it, and I think I shouldn’t give in to her fits. So, we sit there on the side of the road for 25 minutes. She is screaming like I’m stabbing her heart out, picking up rocks from someone’s driveway and throwing them into the road. A car pulls up.

Fuck me, it’s the person who lives here. Shit. Son-of-a-bitch.

A well put together woman in her 50s gets out of the car. I am trying to physically pull my girl away from the driveway when the inevitable question comes.

“Is everything okay?”

I let out an enormous breath and force a smile. “We’re alright,” I say, “She doesn’t want to walk.” I give that knowing adult look that condescends the child.

The woman kneels down next to my wailing banshee and starts to talk to her. About the walk, the day, what it’s like to have a new baby in the house. At one point she looks up at me and says kindly, “I’m a child psychologist.”

Are you fucking kidding me? Great. Just what I need right now.

But she is just so gentle and understanding, reiterating several times about how hard it is to accept a new sibling, and how hard it is to be two. Eventually the tears dry up and we manage to walk the 2 1/2 blocks back to our own house. Me feeling humbled. My girl completely exhausted.

I want to tell you how you are not alone, but I also want to do what a good friend did for me– I want to give you license to feel empathy for your little person. I had judged so harshly before I had kids. Thinking that fits were to get something. That parents were being manipulated. I have no doubt that this happens, and no doubt it happened to us many times. But it is only one part of the story.

When her fits first started I remember thinking with surprise that they didn’t seem like an attempt to manipulate. Instead it seemed like just so much unbelievably intense emotion had built up that her little body couldn’t contain it and it exploded in one engulfing physical storm. Nevertheless, I thought I was supposed to not give an inch. That this was some kind of trial by fire, I needed to show her that those explosions didn’t get her anything. Not whatever it was she had been refused that had sparked the fit, but also not any kind of special attention that might make her think fits=attention.

Amazingly I would always become calm when these emotional storms hit. Maybe it’s the luck of personality. To me it felt like she just sucked all the air out of the room, like there wasn’t any left for me. I get plenty rageful as a mom, you know that by now, but somehow not when she was raging. One at a time I guess.

For the first few months, my tactic was to remain in the room with her, but withdraw myself emotionally. I felt that I shouldn’t ‘reward’ her ‘bad behavior’ with my attentions. This was extremely awkward, and several times felt downright wrong as she hung from my legs screaming my name in mortal agony while I did my best to ignore her. But as parents often do, I persevered because I thought it was the right thing to do. After about a month, the fits subsided a bit, and I tentatively patted myself on the back for showing her what was not an ‘appropriate’ way to behave.

Of course, that first wave was just one of many. The whole scene resurfacing several times over that year. As I watched her suffer these tremendous hurricanes of emotion, again and again, my feelings that she was trying to get something diminished. I don’t think I even once rewarded her with the original object of her fit. I can be strong that way. Whether I had in fact given her the attention I feared she might equate with acting out is harder to answer. But in the end it became a moot point for me, because I started to feel for her. I started to think how horrible if, during your moment of greatest distress, confusion, terror, your mama stopped being emotionally available to you. I had reassured myself that I had always stayed physically near to her, but have you ever had a lover who lay next to you, skin to skin, yet closed their heart? There are few things in life more isolating, few lonelinesses greater.

Then again, what can you do? Is it right to just sit there and focus on them for 40 minutes? There was nothing particularly I could do for her, she would never let me touch her once she got going. No alternatives were accepted, no derrailing or distracting ever worked. She would have turned down ice cream in the middle of a fit. Literally, all you could do was wait it out.

And what about, quite practically, siblings who need attention as well? Pots on the stove boiling over? Floors needing swept? When your kid is screaming for 20-60 minutes a day, you can’t really afford to just hang out with them throughout their many moments of need. Would it even be right for them emotionally to be the focus in that situation?

Like I said, no answers here. By the end of our year, although my routine was outwardly identical– I would stay in the same room and attempt to do something else– I had made a possibly critical change. I would try to keep my heart open to her. I would check in every few minutes with offers of a glass of water, a snack, or to snuggle on the couch and read a book. The offers were never taken until the storm was on it’s way out anyway. But I felt that offering showed I was still paying attention to the fact that she was having a hard time. I kept the line open between us.

Otherwise I would just let her rage. Which is not so easy as it sounds. She would often be hanging from my leg, screaming at the top of her lungs. I would try to pretend I was still cutting up carrots for dinner or whatever. I felt this conveyed the message that life goes on, that no matter how she felt the world was ending, I was confident that it would continue to exist. I felt like if I made too big of a deal out of her crying that it would reinforce her feeling that in fact something was horribly wrong. I wanted to keep a steady, calm anchor of regular life to her wheeling passion storm. But as I said, for me, the difference was all in my heart. I allowed myself to feel empathy. ‘I see that you are really suffering. I am confident that you will be okay. I am here for you if you need something, I’ll be be cutting these carrots up.’

I am telling you this, not because I think I have it all figured out. Maybe I ruined my kid by not sending her to her own room for these screaming sessions. Or maybe I ruined her by not sitting down to share in her rage. Hell if I know. But, in the end I did what felt right to my heart. And if I have any advice at all, it’s to do what feels right to your heart. I don’t believe as some do that our hearts always lead us the right way, sometimes hard things must be done, things that hurt. But as far as a guiding principle, I think it’s a good one.

Mostly I want you to know that things will change. Children change. Constantly. Fits at two does not mean fits forever. ‘It’s a phase’ always seemed so patronizing to me. Almost derogetory. But damn is it true! And when I take away my own baggage from that phrase, it’s so technically accurate. It’s a phase of development. Like the pupa phase. A fact of life.

I often look at my girl and find myself expecting a miniature adult. She is not an adult, she is four years old. She is a bit more than half her mature physical height and less than a quarter of what could possibly be considered a mature age. Why do I have such a hard time accepting her ‘immature’ behavior?

Your screaming banshee is going through a phase of growth. There are many things to learn, and many of them are very hard. She is becoming aware of herself as separate from you, finding out that she is master of her own self. She is struggling to learn how to wield this power. Imagine the exhilaration and absolute terror at such power!

Do not doubt that she is learning, just as fast as she possibly can. Do not doubt that she is growing and will become a 3yo, a 4yo, a 10yo, an adult. This distance perspective, so often lost to us when we are in the midst of a hurricane year, is perhaps the most important thing of all. Breathe. Open your heart. Stand up once in a while and look out over the horizon– somewhere beyond those black clouds the sky is blue.

Sharing the Burden, Sharing Ideas

Hey there friends,

Sasha at One Rich Mother left a link to one of her posts on the FB page, regarding the Mama Rage issue. I thought everyone should have a chance to take a look, her post is called The Lost Art of Chill. She lists out the ways that she has used to try to overcome some of her anger issues, or just deal with it more appropriately. While I write about just the emotions of it, Sasha thankfully offered some really good concrete tips. And, this woman has seven children, so she ought to know.

Of course, for us newer mamas, bear in mind that she’s also had some 15 years of practice to get her shit together! While we’re still stuck at the bewilderment stage. “What the f–? It’s like this?”

I think we should open this sucker right up. Anyone else have any posts on the subject they’d like to share, or just feelings, thoughts on anger/rage, or real-life ideas that might help? Leave a comment.

And in case anyone has missed out so far, Lucy at Dreaming Aloud started a ‘Blogging Carnival of Emotions’ with her post The White Heat of Mama Anger. There’s quite a few great links over there.

You non-bloggers, feel free to leave long winded comments, get it all out girl!

Parenting Advice and Where to Stick It

Our almost 4yo started her first day of camp today at the local Waldorf school. She has never been to any kind of camp/school/day-care before, and has only been left with a babysitter a handful of times. This is a big deal for our family.

Not because I’m worried about her– she is incredibly gregarious and was so excited that at 7:45 this morning she was laying on the kitchen floor, dressed for camp, with her backpack on, just waiting until I said it was late enough to get her lunchbox out of the fridge. She explained carefully to the 1.5yo that Papa would drop her off on his way to work and not pick her up until after lunch. Her eyes are wide open with excitement, and my only fear is that she will be heartbroken when the two weeks are over.

No, it’s a big deal because she’s growing up and this is the beginning of her very own solo adventures in the world. Because it means a shift for our family, a whole new era. Of course, it’s only two weeks, but this is the first tiny budding.

This whole school situation is such a perfect example of what I have come to think of as partnership parenting. I didn’t want to send her to school. I advocate being home with your kiddos, if you can and want to. I can, and want to. But she is so hungry for other kids, and in fact the whole school experience– the teacher figure, the cohesive group activities.

She wants it, and so I am doing my best to reconsider my ideas. In my fantasy parenting model, we are both partners, she leads her own life with great consideration for our family, and I lead my own, with great consideration for her. Freedom, not license.

In practice it looks like this: I am trying to find a way for her to freely pursue her desire for a school-like experience, while considering the fact that our family doesn’t have much money to spare.

This is not the way I imagined it. I thought I would be the Great Decider, and she would raft in my wake. Then again, I assumed she would be happy rafting in my wake. I had no idea how early and how extremely they become themselves. Full grown-up persons, in little pudgy bodies.

We always think so black and white. I try to see gray, but it’s hard, it truly is. You have to work at it. I have always thought whether a parent stayed home with their kid was a flexible notion, but before I had thought flexible to the parent. Did the parent want to be home? Did they have a job they were passionate about and didn’t want to give up? Was there childcare available that they felt good about and could afford?

As is continually happening since I had kids, I am realizing the enormous hole in my thinking where the kid’s very own disposition and desires should be.

Before I had kids, I knew there was a range of what was healthy and good. But I had no idea how vast that range was. The epic eye-opening started with pregnancy and kept emphasizing itself throughout the birth, and then every day since. I thought a woman might gain 20-50 pounds with her pregnancy, when in fact I know women who gained as little as 12 pounds and as much as 80, both perfectly healthy pregnancies. I thought labor lasted 6-24 hours. I didn’t know it could take three motherfucking days, as mine did (apparently quite normal for a first). I thought some babies cried more than others. But in truth some babies don’t cry at all, and I heard of one that cried 18 hours a day for the first three months and turned out to be, again, perfectly healthy.

Just as there is this fantastically huge range of pregnancies and babies, there is an exponential range to families considered as a whole. My mind boggles at the possibly infinite variations. That’s why I think parenting advice just isn’t that useful, and judgment is downright blaspheme. I always figure, the best we can do for each other is to pool ideas, to share our own experience in as much detail as possible. Then the other mama can compare notes and see what jives, what feels right for her own family, without fear or shame.

I like to think that’s my patent expression here at Apron Stringz. A resounding, ‘To each their own!’ It’s the honest way I feel, though I am as pulled as anyone by the inherent judgment of our human culture. In writing, I find it especially hard to keep the high-horse voice out. It’s the standard way to write, the formula. Conflict, resolution. Here’s a problem, here’s what to do about it. And consequently we are so convinced by what we read, as if the fact of print means someone didn’t just pull it out of their ass.

Please understand that no matter what I say, no matter what I commit to text, I am just pulling it out of my ass. Sometimes I might really hit the nail on the head for you. And that’s great, my words are true, for you. On the other side of the world some mama stares at her computer screen and shakes her head, ‘what a load of shit.’ And that’s the truth, for her.

To each their own.

So, my girl is off to camp. She has impressed upon the world and our family her very own vision for life, her very own agenda. I can only stand back in awe. What will she do with that beautiful, headstrong will? Where will her adventures lead her? She is at the beginning of her journey. I feel so grateful to be here, to pack her lunch and send her off with a kiss.

 

Mama Rage

Hey friends,

I’ve had a shitfuck coupla days. I feel ready to turn in my chips. I know it has much to do with the time of the month, but does knowing that help in any way? Not particularly.

I have a few posts in my draft box entitled Mama Rage. But nothing ever gets very far. When I feel like this, I write like crap. No one wants to read that self-pity/self-loathing shit scribbled in the full heat of the scream. And after, when I’ve come down, it’s the last thing I want to think about. Move on. Get away. Why dwell in such a nasty feeling?

But I know there are so many mamas out there, strangling sometimes in their very own Mama Rage. Someday I will get to that post, and free some tiny piece of all of us.

For now, tell me what I need to hear. Give me a boost, while I go write a post about something entirely unrelated to mothering.

Caution: Martyr in the Kitchen

Yesterday I did it again. I can’t be helped. After a few weeks of diligent survival cooking, I saw a recipe over at Food on the Food for goat gyros. I love Food on the Food. I love gyros. I had a package of ground goat in the fridge, a cucumber going soft, a vat of plain yogurt and mint growing outside. The stars were aligned.

I mixed and baked and pressed the goat loaf. I diced and salted the cukes, drained the yogurt, minced the mint. I had really intended to just use white flour tortillas to wrap it all up in, but I couldn’t bring myself to put those luscious ingredients on store-bought tortillas. So I made flatbreads. Proofed, divided, rolled, cooked.

I started, wisely, in the afternoon during the 1YO’s nap. I got back at it around 4:00, and by 5:30 I was setting the table, small children notwithstanding. I was even up to date on the dishes. I’d cracked open a beer while I was at it, and I was feeling pretty good.

As smarter people might have predicted, it played out like any other family dinner. Apparently no one had got the memo that I was making a “special” meal. My Man sat down saying “I ate lunch late,” as an advance way of explaining why he wouldn’t eat much. It didn’t really matter what he said, because all I heard was the lack of “Oh my god, you made gyros for dinner!!! Homemade gyros, hip-hip-hooray!” The kids, for their part, wouldn’t touch the meat, let alone the tatziki or (first of the season!) homegrown tomato. They ate the flatbread without comment.

I sat alone in my own world, tasting and remarking in my head. Mmmm, delicious. Pretty crumbly meat, but the flavor’s right on. Oooo, that tatziki’s good. It’ll be even better tomorrow. Bread came out perfect, if I do say so myself. Soft and so wrap-able. And all would be well if that had completed the conversation in my head. But unfortunately there was a rip tide of Bitch Martyr Housewife. No one appreciates me. I try to feed my family wholesome, responsible, delicious food. I cook all day to make something special. No one even notices. No one cares. I work my fingers to the bone. Etc, etc.

Of course, the kids would rather I just fry straight-up patties and serve them with boiled potatoes. 25 minutes. That’s all they ask. Simple, separate, plain foods. And My Man has never been a big food person. He eats to keep from dying of starvation. He tries to get in a ‘thank you, it was good’ at every meal, for my sake, but with the uproar of small kids at the table niceties are often lost in the shuffle.

Which leaves me– passionate eater, indefatigable cook. Setting my higher cooking notions aside to be a ‘mom cook’ has been a long, painful journey. I do have hopes for the future, the 3YO particularly had an incredibly adventurous palette and lust for food at the outset and may well come back around. But for now, my audience is callous. Cooking brilliances fall on deaf ears. Everybody (else) wants plain simple food. They sure as hell didn’t ask me to make gyros. I can hardly hold them responsible for being less than exuberant.

It’s selfish really, the fancy cooking. Selfish under the guise of generous. Which I guess is what turns a good person into a martyr. I’m doing all this for you, so you’d better thank me. Starts with ‘I,’ ends with ‘me.’

Every time I tell myself, ‘This time I won’t be mad. This time I know full well that I’m doing this for me. I will just eat it and enjoy it.’ And every time the Bitch Martyr Rip Tide comes up out of nowhere and cuts my legs out from under me.

No more! I say. Survival cooking from now on. Protein, starch, veg. Leaving time to clean the house, or read a book. No more guilt trips, no more terse looks at the dinner table. No more ranty morning-after blog posts.

Until I find another recipe I just can’t live without.

This time will be different.


A Day for Mamas

Been busy today– making mulberry/strawberry jam, fixing the bike trailer, unpacking, cleaning, and writing for the zine. Lord! What you can get done in just half a day when yer all by yer lonesome!

No time to fit in a Mother’s Day post though, almost forgot about it altogether. But, here’s a re-post from last year.
It’s good. You’ll like it.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

from Open House for Butterflies by Marice Sendak and Ruth Krauss

My first mother’s day was a revelation.

As in– the heavens opened up, Somebody came through, and slapped my ass into line. Old testament style.

I had been looking forward to it as a day of rest and indulgence. A day off from all my hard mama work. A queen-for-the-day celebration of MeMeMe and all my amazing-ness. I thought I would lie down my Renaissance curves on the couch and someone would feed me grapes all day (or preferably coffee and chocolate.)

Yeah, I was asking for it.

My mom called early in the day, after I had finished up a morning alone in bed with coffee and a magazine, to wish me happy mother’s day. After we had both congratulated each other, and done all the catching up, she said,

“Well, enjoy your day with your beautiful little girl. You are so lucky to be a mama.”

And I was knocked flat.

Oh. Right. Mother’s day. Not a day to escape being a mother. A celebration of motherhood– all that I give, and all that I am given.

An old friend visited recently. She knows me about as good as anybody. On her last night in town, as I was finishing up a mama-bitch session, she asked whether there were any parts of mothering that I enjoyed.

Ouch!

Apparently I have not learned my lesson.

All I can say is, parenting is like nothing else. Nothing. It all starts with birth, and carries forth on a similarly mind-blowing level. It is so far beyond the hardest thing I ever imagined, and so far beyond the most joyful. It is truly intoxicating. To seed and grow new souls into the world– what greater privilege could there possibly be? What headier work?

Some days are blissful. My babies are vibrant budding souls and I am the model mama, mindful and nurturing.

Some days are the depths of hell. I writhe in confusion/disillusion/resentment/guilt/self-loathing until I have to go back to bed and pull the covers over my weeping eyes.

And we must take it all, like communion, with bowed head and downcast eyes. We are humbled before our babies, and ourselves; our gratitude and our responsibility. Humbled before our own power.

A couple of weeks ago, we were all standing in the kitchen, doing something utterly banal, I think I was pouring the Toddler juice. She looked up at me, and said, “You are a gate mama!” then turned to My Man and said, “You are a gate papa!”

Happy Mama Day to all you beautiful, hard-working, earnest-hearted mamas out there. In between the grapes, let us give thanks for the babies (and the papas) who make us what we are.

The Way He Walks

I don’t mean to be all dark clouds and dirty underneaths here at Apron Stringz. It’s not what I started out for. I was going to write a fun, punky DIY homemaking blog. Do happy things like document my worm bin and the line walked between it and motherhood.

But ever since becoming a mama, the ground has been shifting beneath me. I sometimes feel cheated, pissed that no one told me. How crazy hard it is. Not the specifics of it, but the balancing of it. The emotions of it. The submission of it, worn on my radical freak frame.

When I entered the blog world I was as moony as anyone else over the vicarious perfection of Other Peoples’ Lives, but after a few months the same disillusionment crept in.

I started writing about the tangled ball, the dark threads of mama. Not because I’m so very dark myself, but because darkness is so under-represented, and I do love to champion an underdog. To my surprise, each time I turned over some new ugly rock, comments poured in, reader numbers spiked. Posts about the worm bin went unread, because of course there are a thousand posts out there about worm bins.

C.S. Lewis said “We read to know we are not alone.” And nothing makes a person feel less alone than reading what they thought were there darkest most secret feelings, given voice by another soul.

And so I don’t regret what has become almost A Calling. But recently it occurred to me that by writing so much about the hard, tangly bits of motherhood, I’m giving just as warped a view as anyone else. If you read this blog, and don’t know me in person, I wonder what you must think. Do I go around in a rage all the time, swearing up a blue streak and throwing chairs?

In fact, I’m a very un-rageful person. Before I had kids, I hardly knew what rage was. Even now that I’ve discovered it, it’s not like I am consumed. I have also a shocking quantity of patience. Reserves I never conceived of. And that’s my whole point really, even the gentlest of us feel rage and that’s okay. Mothering is a test of how we deal with that rage.

One of the ways that I deal with it is to write about it here. I spill my darkest moments into the light of the internet partly to purge myself. Here is a safe space. No one gets hurt.

That’s all well and good. But I want to start sharing with you some of the goodnesses of my every day too. Because there is so much of it and leaving it out is a story half told. Even aside from the spiking bliss, the polarity of ecstasy to my darkness, I just a generally enjoy being a mama. It’s crazy hard, yes, but I am present with my kiddos for most of their waking life. I do understand how lucky I am. I get to watch them unfold into the people that they are, and there is nothing, nothing like it. A big, full bloom of succulent joy.

So today, I want to tell you about The Babe. Who’s hardly a babe anymore. He is in fact 19 months old. I too often compare him to his older sister since, opposite to most everyone else’s experience it seems, my second is not so very different than the first. But of course he is wholly his own. How very much his own he can be! In such a small sized bundle of cuddly pudge, such a completely full sized bundle of person-ness.

Often times when people talk about spirited children, “spirited” is code for difficult, or even for bad. I catch myself doing it, putting verbal quotations around the words I use for my kids. Yes, she’s very… “passionate.” Babies with opinions can be a challenge, there’s no doubt, and I can fall into the martyr role sometimes. But in truth I do really deep down adore their fiery independence busting through.

My Little Man is the second in line, no getting around it. And second to a real force of nature. But he holds his own, oh my does he. He busts through.

He has this walk. I guess maybe all toddlers do. He strides around like he owns the place. Belly first, full bore, the rest of his body bobbing back and forth to keep up. He is so eager to discover what lies in his kingdom.

I love his vivaciousness, his appetite for life. I love his fearlessness. Oh, of course he runs from big sounds like any one year old, but the tangled kind of fear I talked about in that last post he has not known. All possibilities are opened. His heart, clear. The world is his oyster.

I’ve often wondered at the cliché of “If only he could stay a baby forever!” These cliché people do not have babies like mine, to be sure. But more than that, from the moment of birth I have so looked forward to my babies’ growth. Not in an “I can’t wait till they get out of here so I can have my life back” kind of way, but in an “I can’t wait to see what sort of person he becomes” kind of way. Not that I don’t miss every little lost baby sweetness, I do. Who wouldn’t? But watching my babies become their very own grown up selves is incomparably worth it, worth anything.

I watch his eager, completely confident stride and see a kaleidoscope of him at every age. The rambunctious 5 year old, the outraged 17 year old, the footloose 23 year old, maybe even a papa someday, watching his own son stride around. He will grow into a man, all his own. He’s already on his way.

Look out world.

Tips

Wow, thanks for all the great survival tips, ladies! Kylie, you really knocked yourself out. Though of course, brownie points go to Katja, who can always bring the blush out–

“My survival techniques? Well, that’s easy! Just keep reading the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about mamahood, as ably and humerously written by dear dear CJ!”

Everyone offered up goodies. Lots of things we already do, but it never hurts to be reminded about the importance of. Getting outside is one of the best tools in the parenting toolkit, for so many reasons. It’s easy as pie here, most of the year. Especially now with our new, improved, big yard.

I heard ya on the jacket potatoes. Check. I do them sometimes, but not often enough. What do you all like to put on them? Fried rice is a great one too, that for some stupid reason I never make. Will remedy that tonight.

Unfortunately, my used to be “great eater” has officially become “picky.” She hardly wants to eat anything but frozen berries and cheesesticks. Even used to be faves get the stink eye. It’s so discouraging. I know I just need to let it go. Roll with it, right? She’ll eat if she’s hungry. No one ever died of starvation with food on their plate.

I knew this would come. Pickiness is practically a rite of passage. And with her defiant personality, I’m just lucky it took this long.

But, shower before bed? Every night?! When am I supposed to clean up after dinner? Sweep up the day’s disasters? Talk with My Man for our daily 10 minutes? Wind down with my beloved blog readers’ brilliant comments? Not to mention, just go the hell to bed? Showering sounds so laborious to me at 8:30.

Nevertheless, I think you might be on to something, Kylie. I am a dirty beast. My usual schedule is shower once a week, on Saturdays. Yes, even in the hot sticky summer. Hey, I used to go months without showers when I lived in the woods. The dirtiness kind of plateaus.

But I’ve been getting sort of fed up with being dirty all the time. More distressingly, I’ve been having trouble some nights quieting my brain down for sleep. Laying there in bed, soooooo tired, but unable to go to sleep– my kiddos didn’t get their sleep issues from nowhere. I used to suffer terrible insomnia, my whole life on and off, until wrenching heartbreak somehow cured me. I know, doesn’t make sense, but it was like a light switch. Since then, I have had just a night here and there, which always terrify me because I think it’s coming back.

Anyway, there’s few things in this world more frustrating than lying in bed, tired as hell, not sleeping. As a mama, the frustration of it is doubled. So, even though it’s only happened to me a handful of nights, I had been thinking I need to nip it in the bud. To re-write my bedtime rituals.

As impossible as a shower sounds, it’s a good idea. I might just give it a try.

In amongst other good advice, Mutherfunker said to zone in on something lovely about each of my kids. This is a theme repeated in lots of comments, and in my own brain quite often.

I have lots more to say about this, but it will have to wait for tomorrow, Little Guy just woke up.

Good morning!

Survival Mode

We are hunkering down for the last few weeks of My Man’s semester. ie: Finals. Things have already been getting increasingly intense around here, but now we’re in it for real. I have curbed my expectations for papa to 1-2 hours/day. Nix on the Saturday=mama day business.

This last weekend I took the kids for a little trip, to give him some space to work on a paper. I have often found that trips aren’t any harder than being home if I don’t have help from papa at home anyway. Both our kiddos really thrive on newness, and it tends to keep them distracted from fussing.

But trips do of course take a certain kind of investment from me, a dive into mama-ness. Complete submission. And I’m afraid I just don’t have it in me right now. The weekend was okay. Won some, lost some. Might have added up to neutral if it weren’t for the packing and unpacking.

So, if I’m gonna stay here and be essentially a single mom for two weeks, I realized I need to batten the hatches. Stop unpacking boxes, even though I’m so close to done. Stop cooking anything but the most basic foods. Stop cleaning the house unless 1. we can’t walk or 2. we’re attracting cockroaches. Start taking more outings again, since they keep everybody happier. Especially to the Parenting Center, a local grant run place where I can really just sit and actually read a book while the kids play. A brilliant and sanity saving resource that all towns should have.

My main trick for survival mode:

Roll with it baby.

3YO’s eating store-bought cereal for lunch? Roll with it. Laundry still on the line 4 days later? Roll with it. Dust bunnies in every corner? Just kick some toys that direction so you don’t have to look at ’em.

Of course, there’s only so much rolling you can do. At some point I discovered that the house is an awfully lot faster to “tidy up” if I just go through with a laundry basket and put everything in it. It’s nice when the toys are somewhat organized, books all on one shelf, clothes in their own bin. But what the hell? Not like the kids can’t pull their toys out from the jumble when they want them. You can clean up a messy room in like 2.5 minutes if you just get down on the floor and throw all the shit into one basket.

Of course, a feisty 3YO can mess up a room in 0.5 minutes if all she has to do is upturn a laundry basket. Better put it on a high shelf.

And I can roll with it for lunch but a decent dinner I cannot let go. Doesn’t need to be fancy, just reasonably healthy. Starch, protein, vegetables. So many possibilites. Goat tacos tonight– fry burger, shred cabbage, heat tortillas, crack a jar of salsa. Dinner.

Hopefully I’ll still be writing posts over the next few weeks, since this has become one of my lifelines. But the new FB and HG groups will have to fend for themselves. Also, I doubt I’ll be answering comments for awhile. I was trying lately to respond to them more, since I do so adore comments and want to encourage y’all to speak up. But even though it seems simple enough, and there aren’t all that many of them, it takes me time to respond. Time that I could be writing another post, and have a much greater sense of accomplishment at the end. I need that sense of accomplishment.

I also really like the way writing posts makes my brain feel, compared to the other online stuff. Responding to comments is fun, chatting in the various chat hot spots, but all those things make me think and write in a choppy, disjointed, jumpy way. I don’t need help feeling disjointed.

Post writing gives me the space to see a thought through to the end, which is what is so sorely lacking in my life right now.

This all sounds so ominous, like I’m gearing up for a year in Paraguay. I guess I feel a bit like that. Two weeks is a long time to work 23/7. I just never can understand how you single mamas do it. Holy fuck.

What are your survival mode tricks?

Walking the Line

As I knew would happen, joining Facebook and starting the Apron Stringz page over at Homegrown has sparked a real computer bender. When I hit the start buttons for those groups, a little voice in my head screamed. But I did it anyway. I wanted to. I craved to.

Telling y’all about my struggles with the glowing box addiction is just silly. It’s like starting an AA meeting with a glass of champagne. “Here’s to a mostly dry week, friends!” But I do it anyway, because here is where I talk out all that kind of shit, and I know many of you struggle with the same balancing act.

The problem is, the more I use this cursed blessed WWW, the more I glue my eyes to the box, the less I want to do anything else. Particularly take care of two fussy little scraps. I start out by brushing them off like flies. Once the bender gets serious, I start heavy into the Mama Rage.

I get outrageously mad. I never had anger issues before I had kids, but here I am– the three headed hydra of rage again. And of course, being that mad at my sweet heart-of-hearts for simply needing my attention makes me downright depressed. Predictably, being depressed makes me stop cleaning the house, stop doing anything productive. Living in a disaster zone and feeling totally unproductive makes me more depressed. Being more depressed makes me want to veg out on the computer.

Ad infinitum.

Day before yesterday was a stupid, crap day. I got a sore throat from screaming “fuck” too long and hard. That’s no joke, and not the first time that’s happened to me either. I started a stupid crap post at the end of that day, but fortunately for all involved, I deleted it.

So, yesterday morning after a wicked seeming extension of the day before, I decided it was high time to pull myself together. No writing. Anywhere. All day.

I cleaned the house. I cooked, not just in survival mode, but some needed projects. I biked my kids to the zoo. I turned some dirt in the front garden bed. I cleaned more.

By the time I was setting the table for a nutritious yet savory dinner, including one thing I had grown myself, and one thing from the farmer’s market, I was feeling pretty good. ‘Look what I can do when I just knock that computer shit off!’ I said to myself proudly.

Then I realized. Other than about 40 minutes at nap time, when I cleaned instead of jumping onto the continually fascinating Homegrown discussion, where exactly had all that getting-shit-done time come from? Not from my self-restraint. No.

That time had come from the kids. They had just plain had a good day. The Babe had been happy. They had played sweetly. I had been able to stay home in the afternoon and get in some good work time, rather than having to escape the house in desperation with two fussy, fighting wildebeasts strapped into the stroller.

Oh, motherhood. The ups. The downs. My brain lags behind the actuality of change. Subconsciously I was still thinking we were in those Glory Days I wrote about in early February. And wondering why I wasn’t getting anything done.

How have I still not installed the fact of small children into my expectations? How can I still expect to be in control all the time? How can I still be getting down on myself when I fail to keep up with all the work which, haven’t I said myself, is not meant to be done by one person alone? Haven’t I read this damn blog?

Not to say that my computer addiction is a-okay. Of course if falling behind is what makes me feel crazy, then any time that I take away from catching-up is a problem. And what about the very real probability that my kiddos ‘good day’ was sparked by my own decision to just be mama for the day?

But it’s the confusion of the modern world, because doesn’t this writing feel good too? Doesn’t this help beat back the crazies?

Absolutely. That’s why I yanked myself up out of bed at 5:30 this morning so I could write this all out. Thanks for listening.

And now I’m going to go see if I can’t walk the line again. Another day, another load of laundry.

The Glory Days

I hesitate to say my life is easy lately. I don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea. I know there are some readers out there without kids and, no offense, but our standards are just different. I’m quite sure that if you spent the day with us, you would not consider it easy. But to you mamas out there, especially those with two little ones, I can safely say without fear of miscommunication that my life has gotten just a little bit easy lately.

Oh, there’s still screaming, daily. And plenty of long, drawn out nap fighting, and way too much night-sleep interrupting. And squabbling and pushing. Not to mention dinner to cook, diapers to wash, and my now endless list of things to clean.

But in between the squawks and squabbles, there are many moments of two little kids playing, happily. Sometimes they play for almost an hour, with practically no intervention. Giving me actual time to tackle that list. It’s glorious.

I mean, it’s great because I get time to get shit done, right? But what I really want to say is that it’s great because it’s great. I can work at my own project and every few minutes look over and watch them working at their projects. I can hardly get enough of seeing their little selves unfold. The ideas they get, the things they learn, the gears of their brains whirring. I get to be their mama! Here with them all day, every day, to witness this unfolding. I think often lately, “Oh, this is how it’s supposed to be!” The stuff of dreams.

For some strange and unfortunate reason, it’s much easier for me to write of hard times than good times. The gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair always sounds genuine. Everyone can relate. But it’s hard to write about joy and happiness without sounding cliche. Or maybe it just lacks a plot. No problem to solve? Boring.

Not to imply our life is problem free, by any stretch. It’s still really damn hard. So much to do, never any time with My Man, still tapping the bottom of my resevoir every single day. But not exceeding, that’s the difference. Having two littles has stretched me to previously unimagined dimensions. And I do feel like I’m still using all of that extra me. But now it feels like enough, life feels possible. I don’t feel like I’m mid-jump off a cliff with no parachute.

I think I’ve finally found the distance perspective, a hard-won and absolutely pivotal mothering tool. I can see how they’ve grown, how they’re going to keep growing. When you’re mid-jump like that, it doesn’t matter how many people tell you it’ll get easier soon enough. You listen and say, ‘mm-hmm’ and might believe it with your brain. But in your heart you know it will always be like this. Forever and ever, amen. Till the end of time, you will never get to sleep again, never get to crap all alone with the door shut, never get to cook dinner with both arms and all your legs, never be more than 15 feet from a poopy diaper, never get to wake up in the morning and ask yourself, ‘What would I like to do today?’

It’s not that I didn’t feel the impending loss of milky soft baby-hood. Somehow, even though I felt the hard times were here to stay, I was always acutely aware of how I would (if all goes as planned) never get to hold my very own, sweet flesh of flesh, tiny perfection of spirit again. This was the last time and I’d better goddamned enjoy every minute of it. Or else.

A few days ago I realized this is my blessed overlap. My glory days. I can see how they will grow and in a few years they won’t need me to do much more than feed them. But for now, they’re still babies really. There’s still time. I finally feel like I have the space and sliver of peace I need to step back, breath, watch, smile, and be the joyful and grateful mama I always wanted to be.