Transitions

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As I went through his things this morning, writing his initials: A.M. on the tags of his coat, his hat, his mittens, his boots, his backpack, his blue plastic cup, it really hit me that this is who he is. He is A.M. Different from the other kids. Different from me. I am T.B. And today, his first day in Kindergarten, he begins moving away from me, from my sphere of control, from my ideas about who he is and who he should be. He begins to move into himself, begins to occupy his own life more fully. He’ll do things I know nothing about. He’ll learn things that I didn’t teach him. He’ll say his own name and ask the names of others. And this doesn’t scare me. I am so ready for this.

And here I am: T.B. Moving into my own life a little bit more, feeling more space opening up for myself, my dreams. More air for me to breathe. More silent moments for me to slip into. This writing today and the writing I’ve been doing each day this month, is a part of it, a part of moving forward. A part of my claiming, my reclaiming of what is mine and not-mine. The clouds reflect in the glass tabletop where I sit to write; the sky is lightening and, also, still grey. It is in transition as I am.

It strikes me that transition, this particular transition that has begun today or perhaps was begun weeks ago, is much like the quality of the days at this time of year, this far north. These shortened northern days are one long sunrise that fades into sunset a few hours later. It is a transition with blurred edges. No edges. It’s muted pinks and greys and mauves, it is always beginning and always ending, too. He has always been going to kindergarten and I have always been sitting at this table writing and writing. He has always been A.M. and I have always been T.B. and here we are, here we’ve always been in the indirect light of this winter day. He’s always been both mine and not-mine, always spinning closer and further away from me and I’ve always been doing the same, spinning closer and further from my self.

I sit here and write myself into the perpetual transition of the day, the dark morning fading to light fading to the dark night again. The sun rising and setting, so low on the horizon that soon we won’t see it over the hills that surround this river valley. He’ll go to school in the dark, he’ll come home from school in the almost-dark. I’ll write in the light, in the dark, in the dips and silences of the day. I’ll write my way closer as he explores further and further away. And then, before I know it, the other two will spin off on their own trajectories; are already spinning off on their own trajectories. We’ll all orbit one another and the light will rise and fall.

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Potential

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Dried bits of rice from dinner two nights ago and curled clementine peels from this morning litter the floor and the kitchen table where I sit to write. One baby is in bed, another watches Dora, and the oldest baby is at his Tante’s house, due home for lunch. This morning I have made oatmeal, poured bowls of cereal and almond milk, and shuffled the dishes back to the sink. I have changed clothes, and diapers, and I’ve poked through poop to confirm that a little glass bead swallowed days ago has made its exit. I’ve dressed children as dragons, been chased around the house, taken the costumes off. I’ve arbitrated toy disputes, disciplined little scratching fingers, been kicked hard in the back as I sat on the floor, working a wooden puzzle. I’ve made a pot of lentil mushroom soup. I’ve eaten soft bread, piece after piece folded mindlessly into my mouth while I stand at the kitchen counter and stare at my phone, reading U.S. Election coverage.

Outside, it snows.

Internally, I wrestle with the looming decision to put Aedan in kindergarten. With feeling like a failure because I don’t wish to spend all of my days with my kids. I know that’s not true; I admire the women for whom childrearing is ultimate fulfilment, but I have to come to terms with the fact that it’s not for me. I need others to step in and take the wheel.

I think of Hillary Rodham Clinton, also a mother, and the fact that she is very likely to become the next president of the United States, and how that bears on my little life in this snow globe town. I’m no politician, I’m no HRC, but I watch the flakes coming down, Dora on in the background, and watch my sleeping daughter on the baby monitor and I wonder what I could be, given space and time. And although they drain me, exhaust me, frustrate me, these three new humans I’ve brought into my life and this world have made me take a hard look at who I am and where I’m going. Where I could go. For that I am grateful. It’s still surprising to me that they’ve shown me I don’t want to be a full-time mom. I still feel like I should want that.

Women like Hillary, women like those that fill my life, women like myself, have to find our unique path in this world. Once we discover our truth and our purpose, we owe it to ourselves and the rest of the world to live it fully, no matter how difficult, how uncomfortable, how challenging it might be. That includes everything from the challenge of being a full-time, homeschooling, stay-at-home mom to that of running for president of a country and everything in between.

Clear Skies

It wasn’t so long ago that I began to claim “writer” and “poet” as my identity. I put it on like a well-tailored piece of clothing: something made just for me, something that sets me apart and makes me separate from my identity of “mama”–because that particular identity is one that exhausts me. I don’t want to be solely defined by “mama”, in large part because it feels reductive. It feels like a threat to my perception of myself. But more than that, if I’m only “mama”, if I come to exist only for my children, if I am seen only in my relationship to my children, what happens when they grow up and move out? What happens when they don’t need me anymore, what happens if they move across the country or across the world? What happens if they die? Who am I then? If I hang all of my self on who I am in relation to other people, then when those people are gone, as they inevitably will be one day, I’m left groundless. So I decided that in addition to, or perhaps more than just “mother”, I am “writer.” I am “poet.” I’m more than mom. It gets me through the hard days, and it will carry me forward when the kids are gone.

But what about the times when I’m not writing? It happens frequently. It’s happening right now. As much as I’d like to establish a regular, daily writing practice, it just doesn’t seem to be a reality for me at this point in life. I’ve written about it before: as soon as I carve out a time for myself and my writing practice, someone drops a nap, or my partner goes back to work, or someone else needs me more. I haven’t written a poem in months. I torture myself, wondering if I’m still a poet, if I ever was a poet to begin with. How do I define myself now? What is my identity? Am I still just/only/forever mom?

In her book Love Warrior, and in speaking on several different podcasts, Glennon Doyle Melton, of the blog Momastery, says that we have an identity problem. She talks about how we (specifically, women) define ourselves by our relationships to others or perhaps by what we do for a living or as a passion. And when we inevitably lose those things, we’re left reeling. She has arrived at a place where she only defines herself as “a child of God.” She says that this is how she came into the world, and it’s how she’ll go out of it. That no one can take that away from her. That’s her truth.

And while “child of God” doesn’t ring true for me personally, I think I understand what she’s getting at. I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist literature lately, and in some Buddhist traditions, it’s believed that we all possess an inner Buddha-nature, our true selves that become lost in the identities we put on and the thoughts and emotions we’re constantly reacting to. A common metaphor used to explain this is that of a clouded sky. The sky may be obscured by clouds for days or even weeks, but we know that beyond those clouds is a clear sky. We catch glimpses of it as the clouds drift by. We are born with that clear-sky nature, and we’ll die with it. This really resonates with me. In the last few days, I’ve been turning this idea over in my mind, along with Glennon’s ideas about identity.

When I first encountered the idea of non-attachment, I felt immediate resistance. If I’m not a writer and a poet, I’m no one. And that’s scary. I clung to those for dear life. I did not want to let them go. But now, I can feel that resistance loosen its hold. I’m realizing that there is a great freedom in releasing myself from my many titles. If I don’t cling to “writer” or “poet” or even “mama”, then I can’t lose those things. I can still write: there’s no denying the fact that it fills me up and connects me to some greater creative energy. And I can still mother my children, respond to their needs, move through life with them for a time. I can even still grieve those things when I lose them. But it’s not who I am. I am the clear sky above the clouds. That’s my peace, my truth right now.

On difficult days, and there are many, I try to catch a glimpse of that clear blue sky. I try to take comfort in knowing it’s there. With practice, maybe there will be longer periods of cloudlessness. Sometimes, the sky will be dark and I’ll likely forget that there was ever a clear moment. But it’s there. It can’t be taken away from me. I feel more free in my writing since coming to this truth; instead of trying to fit myself into that well-tailored piece of clothing that now feels too tight, I clothe myself in the expansive sky. I write when I can. I let it go when I can’t. I know that the intensity of parenting will lessen with time, and space to write more will open.

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Baby Teeth

Aedan lost a baby tooth this week. It was the first to get wiggly, the first to be watched, the first to fall out on its own as he slept. It wasn’t his first baby tooth lost, though. It wasn’t even his second.

Brushing his teeth used to be a battle. I think it’s a battle I started, when I read on some parenting forum that moms pin their kids to the ground despite the tears, to get those little teeth brushed. So, I thought, brushing a kid’s teeth is a battle and I must sit on him to get it done. Needless to say, eventually Aedan would clamp his jaw shut tight. No amount of prying could get the brush in there. I could brush the fronts of his teeth, but never further than that.

I began to notice dark spots on his molars when he’d throw his head back and laugh. I’d peek in there when he yawned or cried. I told myself those dark spots were just food caught in his molars. I didn’t let him drink juice, I tried to keep him from eating sticky sweet raisins and dates. Those dark spots gnawed at my stomach just as they were gnawing at his precious little teeth. We took him to a dentist, but he would not open his mouth. The dentist shrugged his shoulders and couldn’t really offer anything more.

May 2015, the Friday night of the Victoria Day weekend, he started complaining that his tooth hurt. By Saturday night, his cheek was starting to swell. Sunday morning, we  started calling around to emergency dentists. It would cost over $200 just to have someone look in his mouth. We decided to take him to the emergency room. And we sat there for hours, surrounded by other parents and their sick or injured kids. When we finally saw someone, we were told that his molars had huge cavities, were abcessed, would need to be pulled. That day. In the emergency room.

I remember clearly the feeling that came over me when the intern delivered the news: massive failure. Shame. Total embarrassment. How could I let this happen? Are they going to call child services next? My poor baby, who is totally dependant on me, has to have his first teeth pulled in the emergency room. I started to cry. The intern looked at me kindly, thinking I was worried about my son, and told me he would be okay. I nodded, and choked out: “I just feel so awful.” Forgetting all of the other things I’d survived with him: birthing him in the backseat of our car, staying strong through his diagnosis of neo-natal diabetes at 7 weeks old, learning to use an insulin pump correctly, then learning to prepare Glyburide for him. Big, heavy things I’d carried on my shoulders effortlessly because it had to be done. And then, there I sat in that E.R., feeling ashamed because my kid wouldn’t open his mouth when I tried to brush his teeth. There is only so much I can control, as a parent. This is not one of those things.

After they pulled his molars and referred us to a pediatric dentist for follow-up, they handed me those two rotten teeth in a little blue plastic treasure box. As if I wanted to cherish this memory of total parental failure. It was so bizarre to me. All I could do was laugh, thinking I would throw them out as soon as we got home.

So when Aedan’s front tooth came loose this week, I thought about celebrating his “first tooth” on Facebook. And then I paused. Because that’s not the truth. That’s not authentic, not our story. Our story is messy and non-linear and all ours. I can’t run from it. All I can do is embrace it and share it and hope that some other mom with a stubborn kid will read it and feel a little less alone, and a little less ashamed. We are not failures. We’re doing our best with what we’ve got in front of us, right?

I think I’ve still got that little plastic blue box with it’s anti-treasure. Maybe as a reminder that nobody is perfect, nothing in parenting or in life goes as planned. And also that pinning your kid to the ground is not a good way to start off their life of dental hygiene. Don’t do that.

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Mama Magic

When I was in my teens, I went through a witchcraft phase. I have a feeling I’m not alone in this. I would watch The Craft over and over on our pirated Pay Per View. I read books and websites about Wicca. I formed a short-lived coven with a couple of friends: we’d go into the woods in our neighbourhood and cast our little spells to have our crushes return our affections. I dreamt of growing up to have a little cabin in the forest, herbs drying in the rafters. I imagined people would come to me for simples and spells. I’d be weird and a loner and I’d have power.

I’ve got the cabin in the woods, and sometimes there are even the drying herbs…but my power is one I never imagined for myself. It’s the power to soothe a crying babe with my voice alone. The power to heal a hurt with a kiss. When I gave birth to my first child, I was bestowed this strange power without even knowing it or ever asking for it. These children are enthralled with me, and I with them. They are my familiars, or perhaps I’m theirs.

There is a swirling flow of energy between the 4 of us; it feels impossible to break. The sour mood of one will affect the others until we’re all triggered, brooding under a dark cloud. But I have the power to dispel the cloud. I am the one who ultimately sets the tone. They look to me for their cues in our daily ritual. Each morning, I cast the circle we all dance in, I invoke the course of our day. If one didn’t get enough sleep, is lashing out, and the others retaliate, it’s for me to choose how it will go. Will I be triggered, too, and curse us all? Or will I be the benevolent one, choosing to remain steady through the storm? If I can manage to be the calm center, slowly I pull them back into me for shelter. I weild this power in the face of the powerlessness that comes with trying to navigate life with 3 very different, still developing little humans. It’s power over myself and my own reactions.

The rest of it, the power to heal with a kiss, the power to invite sleep with my presence alone, is all an illusion. It was those babies who bestowed on me this magic as each was born. And they’ll take it away as they grow older and leave our circle. It feels too big, sometime, too heavy, their intense need of me, of my body and my physical presence. But it’s transitory, I have to remember that when the need becomes overwhelming. At the end of these early years, they’ll comfort themselves, fall asleep in their own beds whispering their own secret stories, and what will I have left? Just the memory of magic, faded like dried herbs in a dusty glass jar.

 

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Image via Flickr user Gabriel Roja Hruska