Sorry that I am late getting this weeks assignments up. Rigama, thank you so much for summarizing the conference call for everybody.
Your writing has been powerful, intimate and authentic so far. I support you in continuing to deepen in your writing practice and your voice. This week, allow yourself to move into an even deeper level of your story. Challenge yourself to drop down into your feelings and write from that emotionally connected place.
For this week, please write on 5 topics, 15 minutes each:
the kitchen table,
the year 2006 (or 2000, if you prefer!)
the year 1982
falling in love
Wisdom writing is like free writing, meaning you keep your hand moving, don't stop to edit, allow yourself to flow. The only difference is that you pose a question to yourself and allow your deeper wisdom self to answer it. Stay out of your head with this...especially if you feel resistance. It is not a process that works if over analyzed. The premise is, that you have your own internal guidance system or "inner knowing" that is available to help and support you when you call on it. So, think about an issue in your life that you would like help, support or guidance on and write it on the top of the page in question form. For example "how can I make more money" or "how can I best resolve the issues with my mother?" Then take a few breaths and allow the answer to write itself through you. You are accessing another level of thought/knowing in your own mind. Other topics I invite you to write on are: what do I most need to say?, what is preventing me from being in my full power? and how can I love myself more?
Please post at least one free write and one wisdom write this week. Next week's call will be on organizing your material and editing.
Love to all!
He was ornery but loving, a good cuddler even when I forced him. He didn't like kids so when I got pregnant the first time we wondered what we'd do with him. Turns out it was a non-issue. The second time it was, too. Xerxes died in my arms during that second pregnancy. The worst part is he almost died alone at a doggie day care. We were supposed to be out of town at a family reunion. We couldn't attend at the last minute because my cousin's family had Fifth's Disease and we felt it was too risky for me to be exposed in my first trimester of pregnancy, especially with the memory of my last miscarriage fresh in our minds. So we were with him. I sobbed, cried for days, missed a day of work even. I loved that old ugly dog. I stroked his fur for awhile afterwards, unable to let him go.
I still think about Xerxes. Very few people could pronounce his unusual name. And he peed all over our house and furniture, even my dad's head once. He loved my husband and put up with my suffocating affection for him. Good old Xerxes.
The house was so empty after he was gone. We couldn't stand it. We began applying to rescue agencies for another old male pug. We found one, a big boy we named Odin. He couldn't hear, had a wretched cough and an unsightly skin tag but we took him anyway. Odin really was a sweet dog, great with kids and happiest when he laid on the couch or in his cushiony dog bed. Odin got me through the worst time of my life like Xerxes had before him. He had to go too unfortunately. I still wonder about him and hope he is okay and that they found a good family for him.
Milk was split there mainly by me. My sisters weren't nearly as klutzy. Homework projects were completed there. I even deposited a dead garter snake there during junior high. I was coming back to examine it some more, but my mom quickly requested me to move it out to the picnic table.
Our kitchen table was where family gathered around for life events. Birthday parties saw family and friends crowded around the guest of honor for cake and pictures. It and its leaves supported Christmas dinners, New Year's lunches, and Thanksgiving meals. My sisters and I held our confirmation and graduation receptions around the table too.
It was large enough to hold the wrapping paper for Christmas gift giving time. Fortunately my parent's stereo sat near it so we could spend the day listening to the vinyl Christmas records. I have a found place in my heart for Elvis' "Blue Christmas" and family legend swears that "The First Noel" is my older sister's favorite. At Christmastime we would have an assembly line of my parents and sisters cutting out the cookies, frosting and then decorating them. Some eating too!
Unhappy times took place around the table. Then the table brought comfort with its familiarity and closeness. Funerals and miscarriages, sickness and healing found their way to the table. I witnessed my parents grieving at that table unlike anywhere else. Together they supported each other through the funerals and memorials of their parents. They worked their ways through the monthly bills while my dad was out on strike. They counted the weekly amount of money given to them by the local union and worried if it would be enough to support us.
It was also the table that held some of my own greatest personal moments. J proposed to me on one knee at Falls Park and this was one of my most romantic and dreamed upon moments ever in my life. Yet it was at the table where the wedding details evolved. The white rotary phone’s cord stretched to only one end of the table so after the number was dialed, I could sit in that one chair with my wedding planner before me. I talked to the photographer, the florist, and organist. My mom and I could sit and discuss what was really important about the wedding. She told me stories about her wedding. They could barely afford a simple photographer and my dad wore the only suit that he owned at the time. She commented about having her only sister as her only attendant. She instilled the value of family ties and closeness. How family are the only ones you can rely on. She complained still about my sister’s wedding four years previously and how it was incredibly difficult to include my sister’s best friend because she lived four hours away. That led into my rationale that yes my two sisters were to be my attendants, but so was my best friend who lived in our same town. Also I was planning on including J’s sister. She was going to be my family too even if she lived in Maine at the time. I prevailed and my mom continued her disparaging remarks about trying to fit the dress to someone who lived a plane ride away. The table was where she began to realize that she was losing a bit of control over me and that soon I was going to have other commitments that I would need to balance. The table and our time around it during those eight months brought us together more as adults rather than the mother and child relationship.
The table again had enough yardage to provide the staging ground for writing the invitations to our wedding. This part J and I undertook together. My task was the writing and his was the stuffing. This marked a great beginning to him joining us at the memory making of the table. Going through the names and addresses was a who’s who of important people in our lives (or our parents’ lives.) We learned from each other stories of these individuals and so began our foundation as a married couple. The table grounded us and gave us a place to grow from as we began as husband and wife.
The table now sits in my parent’s new house. The house they moved into so that they are now on one level. My dad has his tape measurer out prior to signing the paperwork to make sure that the table and its leaves fit into the new kitchen. Now my kids and their cousins are the ones making mints and coloring Easter eggs around it. They are one the benefiting from the memories of a strong family being built around it. It's comforting to see them there as other generations have gone already. My grandma Loretta, my grandpa Alvin, my uncle Roger, and my cousin Lynnette all had been a part of that table. No longer can they be at the gatherings, yet they did physically touch that table so I still have that link to them today.
That table is the model for the one I have at my house now. I traveled to many stores and researched them on line trying to find one that would come big enough. They are harder to find that you think now that families tend to come with only a few kids or most meals are eaten out. I even made the contractor bump out the one kitchen wall by two feet and another wall by four feet. I wanted my kitchen table and its leaves to fit so I could fill the chairs over the years for the celebrations that come with life. Many people want to replicate certain aspects of their childhood for their kids. I knew I wanted those extra leaves because I wanted to give my kids that place in their lives that they knew was going to always be there waiting and welcoming them. It doesn’t matter if we are celebrating the highs or lows of life. I want them to know that someone is always there for them.
My oldest daughter has Type 1 Diabetes. Her body no longer produces insulin. Insulin is the hormone that breaks down carbohydrates into energy units that the body can actually use. Without it, the body pees out the carbs and burns muscle instead. That leads to high levels of acid and ketones in the blood results in severe consequences. So sugar is her enemy, or at least many people are lead to think so. Really she needs the right amount of sugar to be in balance with the insulin she receives in her pump. Sometimes she even gets excess insulin which makes her blood sugar drop. then she feels weak, nauseated, and unable to concentrate. Then it is time to break out the carbs - juice, crackers, and milk to bring her back into balance. We seek to maintain that balance, but sometimes it is more like a roller coaster.
Another daughter and son have food allergies. For them, those particular foods are the enemy to their bodies both inside and out. They ingest the wrong food and instantly become itchy, rashy, nauseous, and start vomiting. For my son, it is only milk and eggs. For my daughter, once she had over 20 foods and now is down to just 8. Because of this, our pantry comes stocked with things I never ate as a kid: rice noodles, sunbutter, guar gum. The fridge has soy milk and soy yogurt. Who ever had such things when I was growing up?
So food is the enemy and we try to keep it from running our lives. Instead we get to experiment with new food products and see what happens.
That’s not too surprising for a former anorexic. I may not be a walking skeleton anymore, but I still despise my body just as much.
I remember the moment I decided to stop eating. I was fifteen and at 5”1’, less than 95lbs. I came home from school and grabbed a handful of corn chips. My mother looked at me and said “If you keep eating like that, little piggy, you’re going get fat.” I put the chips back and cried in my room. That’s when I decided to make her pay for her comment by not eating.
It wasn’t hard to stop. We were so damned poor that there was never enough food to eat, and I often gave half of my meals to my younger brother. Hunger, by that time, was like a comforting old friend. I was used to it and welcomed its presence. I felt strong for being able to deny my constant companion.
The less I ate, the more I was harassed at home. On my birthday I gave myself permission to eat dinner rather than scrape it back into the pot. It was so good that I wanted seconds. When I got up, my whole family stomped their feet to imitate heavy walking and chanted “Dannie, Dannie, two by four, couldn’t fit through the kitchen door. She kept on saying ‘Mmm mmm, I want some more”. I don’t think I ever ate in front of my mother the rest of the time I lived at home. At some point, when I started passing out and getting headaches, my mother pulled her head far enough out of her ass to be concerned. But by that time not eating was a habit that I couldn’t break. I lied and said I had eaten a big lunch or that I’d pick something up on my way to work.
When I was 21 I hit my low. I don’t know how much I weighed, but I was a size 0. That felt good. I felt like I was close to invisible and if I could get my jeans to fit baggy enough, maybe I’d just disappear. I lived with a roommate near the university and he was always trying to feed me lentils. One day he handed me a banana and wouldn’t leave until I ate it. I took three bites and stormed out of the house. I felt humiliated and disgusted. I thought I would throw up, but I didn’t. That was the last bit of food that I ate for nearly four days. Toward the end of the third day I fainted on my way to class. I don’t know how I got home but when I did, I allowed myself to eat little bits of food. Every bite made my stomach cramp.
When I was 24 I had been engaged for a year and a half or so. I was happier and I gained weight. I was 96lbs and almost a size 2. That relationship was borderline abusive and very toxic, but at least I wasn’t alone. One day I found a pro/con list about me. He was trying to figure out if he really wanted to marry me. The first item on the con side was “She’s getting fat”. And down I went.
I married my husband, who was not the fiancé, when I was 26. I got pregnant a week after my wedding. I don’t know how much I weighted, but my dress was a size 2. My mother said I looked good “chunky”.
Pregnancy was horrible I couldn’t get the concept of trying to gain weight, and for the first four months I kept losing it. My dr. said if I couldn’t get my weight up, she’d have to have me hospitalized so the baby inside me could be healthy. In the second trimester I was able to gain a bit of weight and by the end of my pregnancy I was at an ideal weight, but I sobbed every time I stepped on the scale at the doctor’s office or caught sight of myself in the mirror. My pregnancy was ruined because of my programming to be thin, and I am so pissed off that I didn’t cherish the body that carried my baby.
And here I am, at 35. I’m bigger than I have ever been and I can’t stand to see myself. I can’t stand to buy clothes or underwear. I’m ashamed of myself and I feel like a blob, yet I’m a perfectly normal mom. I’m a size 12. God, I can’t believe I admitted that out loud. Yes, I could stand to lose some weight, but I can’t go there. I’m so fucking scared to go there. I worry that once I start, I won’t be able to stop. I know I was dying. I know that it’s a bad sign to lose your periods and to pass out. But I miss the feeling of power I had. I’m like an alcoholic. The thought of losing 10lbs feels good enough that I know I’d lose twenty and then twenty more. And I know that losing all that weight would make me feel so, so powerful. And I know that’s all bullshit. That’s the seduction of the disease calling to me, and I can’t respond. My child needs a healthy mother and I dare not respond.
I didn’t lose anyone on September 11th, but it’s such a dividing line in my life as to then and now.
In the year 2000 I was a yuppie, I rode a ferry boat from a small beach town in NJ to Wall Street, NY every day, to and from work. The ferry cost over $500 per month but I was single with no kids and a reasonable mortgage on a tiny condo, so why not? The ferry took 45 minutes to get to Manhattan, where the train took 90 minutes. The ferry had bagels and coffee in the morning, and a bar and snacks on the way home. The train was just loud, crowded, and miserable. I had girlfriends on the ferry to gossip with. The ferry was also full of handsome guys who worked on Wall Street, and I could always count on someone to buy me a drink on the way home—whether it was someone young and fun or some lovely older gentleman that wanted to show me pictures of his grandkids—there was always someone interesting to talk to on the boat, and the 45 minutes would fly by. Once the boat docked, sometimes happy hour would continue at the restaurant in the harbor.
I had a raspberry colored Ann Taylor sundress with pink sandals and a matching pink sweater that was my sexy go to outfit. I always felt great in that outfit.
Spirits were high. Everyone was making money. The people were glossy and shiny and looking back now it feels like the roaring 20’s. I had a great job in Manhattan, working for an incredible book publisher, selling one of the best accounts—and my account loved me and my numbers were good. Good times at sea, good times on land… I was just thirty years old, thin and pretty and in a relationship with the man that would eventually be my husband. I had a golden retriever with some behavior issues, who didn’t like people—I spent a lot of time worrying about him. My condo was on a steep, steep hill that faced the ocean and backed up to a wooded parks, and I took Casey, the dog, on long, long walks to try to mellow him out some. My tush was very tiny back then.
And then September 11th happened, and everything changed. Most obviously, a lot of people that I commuted with died. The boat went right to downtown Wall Street and many of my fellow commuters worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, the firm in the very top of one of the buildings that had been hit first. Some of them, I knew, and had gone to high school with. But a lot of guys, I didn’t even know their names, just their faces. I wasn’t sure who they were—I just knew that after 9/11 I didn’t see them anymore. There were cars left in the ferry parking lot for weeks. I didn’t like to speculate who they belonged to.
I was actually one of the people stranded in Newfoundland because air traffic was grounded after 9/11 and it took me a week to get back. When I went back into the city, the boat was so quiet. Everyone was shellshocked looking. There was no loud chatter, no clinking of glasses on the boat anymore. Some guys sat on the boat and you could tell they had been crying in their car before they got on. But what do you do, you gotta work, right? People had families to support. People either couldn’t stop talking about what happened, or they walked away if it came up.
When the boat pulled into downtown that first day I went back, you could still see gray smoke coming of the remains of the WTC. And of course, it just wasn’t there on the skyline. I used to sit outside in the summer time as the boat pulled away from Manhattan, and either the skyline would be beautiful in the summer sunset, or it was late enough, lit up like crazy. Now it was smoking. When the boat docked, there were national guardsmen on the pier in riot gear with machine guns. I don’t know that I had ever really seen a gun like that, in real life? I was afraid to take the subway, so I stayed on the boat to 34th street and then walked 20 blocks to my office, arriving at 10 or so every day. It took me almost three months to get back on the subway.
I had to fly out to Michigan for my job, monthly or sometimes more frequently. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I had been an elite class flyer—I got to sit in the special lounge and preboard and all that. This time I drove out to Michigan, from NJ. That was miserable, took me 2 days each way, and I had to stay in a gross motel each way that freaked me out.
Everything turned gray. Sales plummeted. The economy started to tank. Shops downtown started closing. Everything changed. It didn’t happen over night, but first the joy was destroyed, the high times were no more…the fear took charge, my happy social drinking turned into something with a darker edge. I liked to say that Osama Bin Laden also made me fat, dammit, because I stress ate and drank so much that year. Some of my friends got divorced, I got married. I changed jobs so I wouldn’t have to fly so much anymore. Life moved on, but I do look back on those pre-9/11 days with wonder, there was just so much that I didn’t know then, so much I was taking for granted.
This school didn’t have fraternities or sororities. Instead they had “Social Service Clubs”, but it was the same thing complete with Rush season and Pledge Season. The whole concept of joining such a club seemed dumb to me. I was too much of an individual to conform to a group-think mentality. Plus, none of the groups bothered to rush me.
The clubs had a “Big Sister/ Big Brother” program. Big Brother…Remind me again why I would ever want to be a part of this group-think thing. The idea was that the females in the sorority type group would each adopt a freshman “little brother” to show them the ropes and help them feel at home. The guys would do the same, but with a “little Sis”. I thought it was insanely lame, but secretly I wanted someone to adopt me.
That day in the cafeteria, I was scooping ice out of the salad bar, closing it down. I smelled of Thousand Island dressing and onions, and my back ached from the bending. Earlier I had noticed this beautiful guy at a table with other guys, but I dismissed him. As the cafeteria emptied, he stayed. He and his friends kept looking at me and laughing. How I hated them! Spoiled rich kids who never had to work a day in their sheltered little lives!
I finished the salad bar and as I was leaving, Mr. Beautiful Rich Kid stopped me, introduced himself and asked if I’d be his little sis. He was too damned amazing to hate. Too gorgeous to deny. Wavy shoulder length blond hair. Blue eyes like the sky over the sea after a storm. And tall. So tall.
That year we became great friends, and I fell in love with him. I told him how I felt, but he never acted on it. Much to my dismay, he stayed chivalrous. Since he wasn’t interested in me, I found a boyfriend and moved in with him. At the end of the year I decided to transfer out of that school and move to another state with my boyfriend. Stirling asked if I was sure I wanted to go and helped me load the U-Haul.
In the following six years he got married, I broke up with my boyfriend, dated a string of psychos and got engaged to one of them. He kept breaking up with me and moving out. During that “off again” time a friend from my freshman year emailed me. The first thing I did was asked about Stirling. It turned out he was divorced and living in Texas. Our friend gave me his email address and I emailed him. The next day he called me and we talked for hours. Over the next month we talked pretty much every day. He asked if he could visit me in April and I said he could. That week was amazing. The moment I saw him, it felt like home. We took day trips. We stayed in. We had the time of my life. On the second day he asked if I’d run away with him. On the fourth he said he’d convince me to marry him. I was scared and freshly out of a five year engagement. I didn’t want to love Mr. Beautiful, and I tried not to. But the day he left, I cried like I’d die.
He called me every day and asked if I was ready to move to Texas to be with him yet, and after two weeks I agreed. I told him I needed a month to tie up lose ends and pack. A month and a half after his visit, I moved out to him. Six weeks after I moved in, we got married. One week later I found out I was pregnant. I guess we moved fast because we had a lot of time to catch up with.
The first month met with no success but the second we had a glorious plus sign! We were so excited! Then the morning sickness set in, so awful. Then the cramping and spotting. At 8 weeks and a couple days we had an ultrasound. My midwife said it was probably nothing. The date was September 11, 2006, a Monday. Much to our relief we saw a tiny beating heart.
A few more weeks passed. At 12 weeks more spotting, cramping. I went and saw my cousin's newborn, Samantha, at her house. I remember the cramping being more intense that night. I called the midwife, feeling badly that I was bugging her for nothing. She told me to take a warm bath and some calcium, let her know if that stopped the cramps. It didn't. Another ultrasound was scheduled. I looked forward to seeing how our baby had grown so when the scan showed our baby was measuring only days bigger than last time, I knew. I knew he was gone. There was no fluttery heartbeat this time. The midwife confirmed my suspicions of the Dr's report over the phone.
I wanted the miscarriage to occur naturally but after 1 night of horrifying labor and no progress, I was scared. And I couldn't just indefinitely take off work although they were gracious enough to give me bereavement leave with pay. The Dr. was cruel, called me irresponsible because I hadn't had my Rh shot yet, said I needed a D&C, that awful surgery where they rip your baby from you. He said I didn't have contractions, just cramps and there was no way I could handle a natural or medically induced miscarriage because I cried when he roughly examined me. I ended up needing 2 surgeries. The miscarriage went on for 2 months but in the end, my baby, teeny tiny, not even as big as a penny did come out naturally, by some miracle and we saw him, got to bury him.
So much of our lives seem to center on this bed - bigger now than when we first were married because it no needs to accommodate extra people. Bigger for us too since I feel the need for more space when I sleep. I feel slightly bad about this, but with three children I feel a little touched out by the end of the day.
So many things take place here beside sleep. Love between husband and wive, between parent and child, between siblings, between child and cat. It all takes a different shape and form. Babies are breastfed, diapers are changed, movies are watched, dinners are eaten. Morning comes too son after late nights are worked by my husband. He finds himself greeted in the morning with bouncing. "I bounce on Daddy," my two year old proudly proclaims. I encourage her to continue and she does so with obvious glee. My husband groans with that slowly creeping realization that sleeping time is ending. The two year old begins to pull his covers off, "Get up, Daddy" she yells. The five year old tries to pull him out of bed unsuccessfully and I laugh. They both ask me to help them and the three of us grunt and groan as my husband tries desperately to remain in bed. I know I should protect his sleep as I'm sure he's tired, but I don't. He may work second shift but the kids live on first. It's nice to have their focus on someone else for a change. It's nice not to be needed by a child for once. It's fun to watch their love for their father spill out all over.
We do less of this now because there's another child in the mix. She's too small to help and I'm afraid she'll be kicked or hurt in some way. "Shhh," we say now when the children come in. "You'll wake your sister." The kids head off to play after stopping for a brief cuddle. It only dawns on me now how much I miss those days. It reminds me how much having a baby changes your life.
Twice now I've laid in this bed after giving birth. Babies have had their newborn exam here, tears have been repaired, tears have been shed. The first time it was tears of frustration when my daughter's latch hurt and all she wanted to do was nurse. Tears were shed quietly while my son watched a movie, my oldest daughter slept while only five days old and I was alone. My husband took as much unpaid time as he could and we couldn't afford for him to take any more. There was no paid family leave available to him and the rest of the family in the area was working.
The second time around tears were shed early and often. Tears over another baby on the way. I'd lie down here, sink gratefully into my squishy pillow and let the sobs flow. I'd want to pull the covers over my head and stay there. Tears came later when the baby was overdue. Going on almost two weeks and still no baby. Contractions come and stop while the snow flies. I sit in the dark with the shade open and watch the snow fall. I hear the thunder roll. Thunder snow, how odd.
My husband sleeps while ill on this bed. He shoveled the snow from the driveway first before collapsing into bed sick and exhausted. Later that night I coax him from bed to watch TV with me and then the baby's on her way.
This time all five of us are piled on the bed. I lay with the exhaustion of a labor that came fast and furious and from having passed out after losing quite a bit of blood. The other three members of our family watch with adoring excitement as the newest member gets a once over by our midwife. I'm just plain exhausted and basking in that oxytocin induced glow. All of my worries and sorrows are far from my mind for awhile.
It isn't until one moth later when my husband returns to work after his paid leave that any of those thoughts come back. Sometimes now the tears flow again with the remembrance of a surprise pregnancy, a third child. I lie awake at night, now the few times that I'm not so exhausted and worry over what I'm going to do and if I'll ever get past how I feel. Will I ever be able to look upon her sleeping face, this child who wants only me and barely tolerates anyone else, and just lover her without also crying over what was. I often think to myself, "Thank goodness for oxytocin."
This bed really is the center of our family. It the sun and we the planets in its orbit. Even now I sit here and find the words flow more easily here than anywhere else. Maya lies next to me and kicks my elbow making it difficult to write while she's engrossed in the examination of her fingers. The laundry calls my name from the basement and I know I must leave my comfortable spot. Clothes won't hang themselves on the line. I'll return here, though, several times today just like the others to nurst the wiggling child by my side. It free my hands and mind to read or play solitaire on the IPod. Either that or I'll find myself daydreaming as I watch the leaves rustle on the tree outside my window. In spite of my feelings over finding myself in this stage of life again it's one of my favorite things about breastfeeding.
I think often to myself that you could move this mattress, with its pocketed coils selected when we didn't have children so I don't disturb my husband with my tossing and turning when I settled into sleep although that doesn't happen any more, and it would signal we were home. So much of what defines my sense of home is wrapped up in this mattress. I think perhaps it embodies the very essence of home for me.
I grew up knowing that my parents hated each other, they tried to keep a plain face, but I knew. So I peeled into two daughters. My mother's daughter, and my father's. And they felt so different. I had more empty space to fill in for my Dad. I must have been able to sense that he was the most heartbroken. My presence as a child renewed his experience of love, but also his suffering, and I could feel this, I still do. My mom was more righteous, reinventing herself, liberating herself through divorce, this was already her third, and there were more to come. I don't need to imagine how they screamed because I've screamed like that now too. And I've teetered over the edge of the precipice of divorce, but I knew better.
I've been more sensitive to the emotional aftermath of the divorce now that my daughter is the same age I was when it happened. In my adolescence, I moved beyond anger and disappointment into acceptance. Somehow the perspective that parenthood has given me has renewed the more fiery emotions for me and I want to scold my parents. I have in fact. It must have come from way out of left field for them, their daughter, now nearing 30, suddenly angry about something that for them must feel like 2 lifetimes ago. It felt so good to scold them, perched in a place of righteousness, of life experience, like, I know now and you can't hide your reasons because I've been there myself and its familiar to me, and I know you could've done better, so how could you? How could you look at my sweet 2 year old face and not step it up some more? How could you not do everything you could to keep a loving family for me, to show me what a home with two parents learning to cooperate was like?
I've felt the forces of alcohol induced belligerence and vocal battles of massive scope, I know now that adultery makes you go crazy, but none of it, none of it makes me want to walk away from my partner or the chance for us to keep growing together as a family. We have disappointed each other on a grand scale, all of us, but we also perform silent daily miracles, and this is what I live for. This is what I want to hold a space for. For the sake of my family because I love my daughter's father so immensely and I want her to see what that looks like, the hard parts and the incredible revelations and all that stretches in between.
I wish I could do this for her, for us, with endless grace and contentment, a steadiness. But somewhere deep down, urging their own occasional resurfacement, are these irrational foundational memories, moving me to act it out, to yell, to scream, to fight it out at all costs, to protect myself with a massive shield of righteousness. And in these moments, I forget how to love, and this terrifies me. And it takes me too long to remember. And I'm afraid of the damage that can take place in between. I wish I could just snap my fingers and return to my heart, but the anger buries it alive, into this icy core where it aches with utter unfeelingness. And I can't blame all this on my parents, but it must have played a part.
I am just so incredibly grateful that I've found such an amazing soul to walk through this with. His patience astounds me. The fact that he's seen my most ultimate ugliness, a ruthless crazed persona, and he's calmed himself, and walked with me back to my heart, and stayed there with me.
We spent our 20’s playing, and working and going to school and travelling and wasting money and living for ourselves. It was lovely and we grew up so much during those years. We’d comment often on how no child should have to be raised by a couple of goofs like us. Someday, maybe. When we were more settled, more ready, less self centered. I’d joke with folks who asked when we’d have a baby and tell them “when they can beam the baby out!”
One day it happened and I wasn’t even sure where it came from. I wished for a baby. I felt anxious, had unreasonable daydreams that my husband was killed in a fiery car accident and I’d have nothing tangible to remember him, no child to hold in my grief and to see his eyes living on through. My husband would be late coming home from work, and I’d think- “We don’t have a baby yet!” He travelled overseas for 3 months, an opportunity of a lifetime, and I fell into a funk, staying up until wee hours watching junk on TV, bummed because we hadn’t conceived before he left, wondering what was wrong with my body anyway.
He finally returned home and just over a week later, I listed to a news report that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. By the time I had parked and made it up to my office, the second plane had crashed. We all stumbled around, shellshocked for days, weeks. My sister, nine months pregnant, watched the towers fall and went into labor. Her baby was born on September 12th, and no one was able to fly in to see her, to support the new mother, love on the new life. My husband and I had long serious talks about whether we wanted to bring life into this seriously screwed up world anyway, maybe our troubles conceiving were a blessing in disguise. Not realizing I was already pregnant.
I visited my highly regarded OB/GYN, expected to have a smooth pregnancy, and laugh through my labor like my sister (why suffer? We’re in the modern age!). I casually mentioned to my husband my sister’s medically easy deliveries, my mother’s declaration that her last delivery with the blessed epidural was the best ever, and he shocked me with the strength of his revulsion. His mom had natural deliveries and he’d always expected his wife to do the same. What!? You’re just mentioning this to me now? Now that I’m already knocked up, you want to spring some martyrs code on me, guilt me into it with your concern for our baby? I was really angry, wondering if having a baby was the right decision after all. Easy for HIM to say “go natural!” Cheering from the sidelines is not the same thing. But I agreed to at least look into my options, to discuss them with my doctor, to consider the effects on our baby and not just my own comfort. I felt confident agreeing to this, because I was certain that there would be plenty of evidence to support the safety of medically managed, anesthetized birth- after all millions of women do it, and their doctors wouldn’t push something unsafe on them, would they?
I started reading and researching and reading, reading obsessively. I had a hard time believing that things could really be as bad as the books portrayed, that birth had become such a business, so far removed from the miracle of life and so focused on the bottom line. I made a list of the questions I should ask my doctor, even then naively believing that the doctor I trusted, who had seen me through a pre-cancerous scare and who had coordinated my care in the years to follow, sure that she as a woman must support birth as a natural, beautiful, normal event. I met with my doctor a few weeks into my research and thought I’d be congratulated on becoming informed, at finally having something to ask when she wondered if I had any questions. Instead, her eyes narrowed as I pulled out my list, her demeanor hardened as I asked my first questions. Gone was the pleasant bedside manner, now my concerns were patronized, she responded with blatant untruths, ones I could recognize even with my limited knowledge at that point. I asked whether episiotomies were routine, and she crisply insisted they were, but only for the good of the mother and child. First time moms especially pretty well always needed them. “How else,” she postulated “could I expect a great big seven pound baby to fit through such a small opening?” My brave, bold self asked her “How in the world did first time moms manage to give birth for the last few millennia, prior to the invention of episiotomies only 50 years ago?” My regular, non-confrontational self smiled sweetly, folded up my list of questions, and told her I had no further questions. I left her office, never to return.
I wasn’t sure where I was going, or how my precious little baby would make his way into the world, but I knew it wasn’t there. That pivotal day, I lost my faith in myth of medicine, that doctors are infused with a power beyond the rest of us mere mortals, and that we are but to trust in their superior wisdom. Yes, I lost my faith, but that day I gained something greater. I started to believe in myself, in my own power, in my own body, that God had endowed me with an inner wisdom and not just the ability to conceive a child, but to birth one as well. How little I knew that day how far this journey of transformation would take me.
~crunchy mama of four boys~
It’s something I learned from my mother, that attitude of “just going on and pretending nothing bad ever happened.” The nerves of steel, too. Growing up, this was all she modeled. You have got only yourself to depend on, ultimately, and people are inherently cruel. “Your father did have some good things about him, and I have some lovely memories too,” I remember she told me, over and over again, because, presumably, she had read that saying such things to your kids was healthy, somewhere in some book.
Whenever I went deeper, and really probed, whenever I asked what those good memories were, then... ...She admitted there were none. She remembered the time she had to reanimate my father and his best friend after an overdose. She remembered how he used to hit her, and how she used to walk around with black eyes. She remembered how her father, my grandfather, called her for the first time in six months and how she was having the greatest trouble trying to make conversation and sound normal while high on magic mushrooms. Oh, and of course, she remembered opening the door to two police officers while holding me in her arms, a six month old baby. She knew immediately what they came for, before they even said a word. My father was dead.
It was a life she talked about often; the life they lead before my father died, and before I was born. Drugs, overdoses, domestic violence and poverty. Before I was born she had told my father, “OK, we’ll do it - the whole baby thing, but we are moving back to my country, and I will never, ever come back here.” She talked about the horrors they lived through so often, probably to keep me from walking the same path. I was fascinated by the stories in a disgusted way, and terrified of the realities of life in my Fatherland. Those stories that I listened to so often growing up were filed away in my mind, and stayed safely on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Me, I grew up in a different country, in my Motherland.
My mother must have told these stories to me from a very, very young age, because she told me later on how I enjoyed shocking kids in the playground at four by saying, “My father is DEAD! He died from DRUGS!” when they asked me why I did not have a daddy. I am very certain that these stories played a very important part in me wanting to fight for social justice, likewise from a very young age. When I first joined a political party, I was 16. I frequently caused trouble in school when I went to inform the director that: “I would not be in tomorrow, because I will be participating in a demonstration” or a party meeting, or a conference of some kind, or volunteering. I wanted to change the world.
Journalism appealed to me because it would give me instant power. Power to reveal the truth. Power to uncover the injustice that was going on all around, and power to make people stop and think. Perhaps, people would be more active if they knew the truth. Party activities fed my need for activism while I studied to become a journalist. Covering local court cases for the local newspaper never did give me any satisfaction though I, like many other young reporters, did do that for a while. I was frustrated by the lack of recognition from older and more experienced colleagues, and by being on the receiving end of ridicule for my party activities. I wanted more, and by nature I gravitated to everything that was extreme, everything that was radical, and most of all, everything that was inaccessible.
When the opportunity to go and live and work in the world’s Most Secretive Country arose, I jumped at it. Like I said, I gravitate towards the extreme, the radical, the hidden, and, as I realize now, the dangerous. The Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, more commonly known as North Korea, was nothing like I expected it to be. I fell in love with its people, its natural beauty, its resourcefulness... I respected everyone I met there, more than anyone I had met ever before that. Pyongyang, of course, was but an empty shell. Clean, beautiful, so very organized. Years were needed to gain the trust of people with information, with power. Years were needed to catch a glimpse of the real situation.
It was during this period of my life that I became two people. One of them was the bubbly, persistent, somewhat hyperactive journalist who was dedicated to real journalism, and never stopped poking around for the truth. And the other one – the other person that we do not talk about at all. There is so much that I could say about this other person, but I will not, because this is something that I cannot talk about.
Everyone who asks now, close to a decade later, about my life over there gets to hear exciting stories told by the bubbly, persistent, somewhat hyperactive journalist. From the person who thinks nothing is hard, and the person who is somewhat crazy in the face of unexpected difficulties. The other person, the one we don’t talk about, stays quiet.
“I am sorry, there must be some misunderstanding. Can you tell me what is going on? Can I have some more information? Can someone come and talk to me, so that we can clear up this misunderstanding, together?” I said calmly, in still clumsy Korean, to the one-way mirror where I knew guards must be smoking horrible Korean Koh-Ma cigarettes and watching the state television channel. On the streets, it was freezing. There was so much snow that winter. In the prison, there was a huge collection of blankets placed randomly throughout the narrow but long space. There were three women and a man in the cell with me; Chinese traders, who had crossed into the country illegally and were now waiting to be deported. They were calm, and joking amongst themselves. They shared their Chinese prepackaged foods with me. I was grateful.
A woman in her fifties came into the cell. She was wearing the uniform of, I think, a colonel, but after being awake for days and nights, and not having eaten anything but the Chinese crackers, I was not sure. There were several other women accompanying the officer. One of them handed me a bunch of forms, on her orders. To write down the truth, to admit to my crime, to admit to being a South Korean spy. I remember that the form included spaces to write down name, education, employment history... It looked not completely unlike a job application form, until you got to the last bit, where there was just blank paper. I looked at her, not sure whether to plead with her or not. Not sure whether to be humble or aggressive. Not sure whether asking for consular assistance was the right move.
Weeks passed, and my Chinese friends were released from prison to be sent back to their homeland. At some point during this time, a lone Army General entered the space I was occupying. I still wonder about his intentions from time to time, but in my heart I believe they were genuine. He handed me a basket with assorted fruits and said something I remember as “I am sorry. Please accept my gift of fruits, because there is nothing else I can do to help you. I found out from my colleagues that you were staying here, and I decided to come in person. I wanted to thank you, and to let you know that I support you fully. There are many of us here who do, but for now, it is not in our power to act.” I wanted to ask him so much, but he left. I cried from gratitude because this person had made such a kind gesture. It must have been difficult for him.
This is where the story of the bubbly journalist stops. And, because the other person does not talk about it, this is where the story ends. I was, eventually, released. Three months from the moment of my arrest, and around three years from the time I had first arrived in Pyongyang. It was not until much later that I found out how much work had gone into my release. As the small, Soviet-built plane landed, I felt nothing. I was cold. The bubbly journalist was gone forever, and only the other, hidden, always hidden, person remains.
The bubbly journalist never did return. The bubbly journalist was consumed by PTSD for half a decade, while the hidden person still numbly denied that there was anything unusual, anything wrong - we should know how to deal with professional hazards such as three months in jail. But, with the birth of my children, somebody new appeared. Somebody nurturing, and loving, and caring. No, I don’t think that a person, a person’s essence, can be divorced from the sum of their experiences. No, I don’t think that they can be denied. Experiences are experiences regardless of whether we ever talk, or even think about them. Yet, I became someone else. Somebody who could feel, truly feel, with every little smile, with every new development, with every question from my toddlers. My children don’t care about the other person, the hidden person. My children only care about the love, and the fun, and the tears we cry together over bruised knees and torn books. About the colors of the cups in our kitchen, and about the warmth we provide to each other in the middle of the night. With my children the hidden person, who we don’t talk about, also died. Our family was born in a new country, a new country for all of us. A Fresh Start.
Wool-clad, black-stockinged grannies on the streets of our city, the city my children were born in, their city, often comment when they see us three walking home with our bags from the market, or on the bus, or while we enjoy a cake, and coffee and juice in a local coffeehouse. It’s always the same, the comment they make. I still have not figured it out, why they always say the same thing. “You’ve got your hands full there, haven’t you? It’s a big old struggle! A big old battle!” Sometimes I answer that no, it’s no struggle at all - instead I am blessed, so very, very blessed. Sometimes I just smile. But every time, my new self, the Mother, remembers her two, divorced selves from before. No, lady, this is, most definitely, not a battle.
It was not Plan B for me, or something that I spent many agonizing hours thinking about – since early childhood, I knew that I would love to have children one day, but that husband everyone talked about, I never did see him in the picture. I did do the whole relationship thing for a while, while I was studying. I have great memories of those years, and even of the man I spent them with. But there was too much wrong with that relationship for it to ever work, and after I came back from spending three years in the world’s most remote and secretive country, I returned to my original plan.
The process of choosing a donor, and choosing an insemination method, is one that many people ask me about all the time, when they learn I am a choice mom. For me, it was a means to and end, and not something I ever felt weird about. I am grateful every day that my donor helped make my children possible.
When I returned from Korea, I felt more disconnected from the country I grew up in than ever before. I felt the need to be somewhere else, more than ever before, and the feeling of not belonging was one that had been with me as long as I can remember. I spent some time traveling around the world, spending money and enjoying the things that I had missed in North Korea, primarily freedom and shops. Somewhere along the line I ended up working in Serbia for a while, and it was a country I liked. I felt physically and spiritually pulled in that direction, and I felt at home.
A job I could do from anywhere in the world with an internet connection and my laptop found its way to me – a stable, at-home writing job that would enable me to stay at home with my baby while still providing, if I chose a low cost of living country. Serbia was the obvious choice for me. I had people who could help me settle in, and it met all my criteria. More than anything rational, it just felt right to be there.
Never once did I consider that this patriarchal culture would be one that would judge my family. I didn’t know that every single choice I made would be considered extreme. But it was a familiar song, and I admit that I was always the odd one throughout my childhood, and that unusual life choices always made their way to me. Controversy follows me, or I follow controversy. We go together, me and controversy. Now I know that – and I take the liberty here to generalize enormously – Serbian people don’t like single mothers. Serbian people don’t like homebirthers of any kind, let alone unassisted ones. Serbian people don’t like vegetarians, or women who like to do DIY around the house, or those who don’t vaccinate, or those who do anything differently to what their post-communist society dictates.
I do realize now, why I was so attracted to this country when I first encountered it. Serbia struggled, very much like myself, with the marks that communism left on it and with the scars of life under a totalitarian government. Serbia was still in pain from the hurts inflicted on it, but struggled to forget, struggled to deny anything had ever happened, and struggled to move on and enjoy freedoms it had been previously robbed of. It also struggled, like myself, to reconcile the good times and great memories with the ultimate result of life in such a society. Serbia and me were much the same, and as I fought to overcome my own horrors and forget the years I spent in North Korea and my time in prison there, it offered great comfort to me.
Now, four years and two kids later, I also know that this is not the right place for my family in the long-run. For my children, I wish a life free of the immense pressure to conform, free of pressure to fit into the mold. For my children, I wish the liberty to find their own paths, discover their own inner-selves, their own ambitions and desires. I don’t want to pre-choose the path that leads to most resistance for my daughter, in whom I already see the stubbornness and persistence, and the determination to follow her own heart that have accompanied me all my life. I want to give my children the gift of allowing them to be who they really are in their deepest fibres, and that is not something that post-communist Serbia can offer them.
We, my family, have always been the International Traveling Circus in a way. The journey does not end here, that is something I know now.
Q. How on earth am I going to survive grad school and attain my Ph.D?
A. Graduate school requires patience and perseverance and it is going to take a long time to get through it. Especially with other demands, such as a child or children (if I have more) and needing to make money and my husband’s career as well. I think that I am just going to have to admit to myself that I need to slow down, and to take it slowly. I can’t be eager to graduate or else I will never graduate! I have to let myself plod along and chip away at it. Yes, it is death by a thousand paper cuts, but what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger, and all of that. And yes, it also means that I will not be eligible for that medical humanities post-doc which begins in 2012, but that is just the way it will have to be. I can find some other kind of job or way to make money or something if that is the situation, you know?
And my husband works ridiculously long hours, and my time is precious. I am in graduate school as a very specific means to a very specific end, and I am not necessarily in a rush to get to that end. And, for that matter, if I ever need to speed up the process—for example, if I suddenly find myself broke because my husband’s job appointment ended, or an unexpected pregnancy or a bout of illness (another bout of illness), I can either take a leave of absence, or buckle down and rush the dissertation process after all, whichever seems more appropriate. And in Houston, I can sing. Oh yes I can! I can see if the synagogue where my friends used to work needs a section leader. I can see if any of the churches need section leaders. I can sing weddings and funerals and ALL of that. I can see if my old friends the agents are still around for singing agency. I can do Living Christmas Card caroling. I know all of those people and I can do that. In Houston I know the performing infrastructure, and it is not so heavily tied in to the acting infrastructure the way it was in Los Angeles.
Plus, heck, I do already have a master’s degree. I can do a little adjuncting here and there if I need to. Or library work or admin-y work or whatever—whatever there is available to do. So, yeah, I guess the answer to my question is that after I finish my qualifying exams, I will be ABD even if the dissertation itself takes forever, and I can then take my sweet time and make whatever money I need to make, assuming my health holds up. Oh yeah, always assuming that! Maybe I can qualify for some disability insurance through my husband’s job, though.
So I guess the most important trick for me is to get through my qualifying exams—well, this paper that I have to write, and THEN my qualifying exams. Those are my requirements. After those requirements are met, I can do anything I want. And I know how to write the paper, that’s just a matter of getting enough time, which I guess means emailing my friend who offered to babysit. And then I know how to study for and do the quals, THAT is just a matter of cobbling together the time and money, as well. Well, there we go. Time and money, always. After the quals I’ll have all the time in the world and can make money. It’s the time before that—so I have about ten months of breakneck work to go. I guess I can use some Saturday childcare and babysitting in Houston if necessary. But before then, well. We’ll see. Maybe I can get one or both of my parents to come and help out. And what about in Michigan? Maybe a mother’s helper? Or daily swimming lessons for DS at the YMCA? I’ll figure something out, I guess. I just want to make sure that I have some time to write there. Of course now that DS is older, I think my husband can take charge of him more often, especially if we have a car there. A rental car, you know, all of that. Or a cheaply-bought car. Either way. Maybe we can get the Corolla to run, the old one. I’m spinning wheels here though…. I badly need a break this summer but I don’t think that I will get much of one, but maybe I will take one anyway.
I most need to say that I love my baby girl with all my being and don't care if that means I'm more "mother" now than anything else. I won't apologize for not wanting to leave her or for the fact we still co-sleep and I won't be ashamed that I like it that way.
I need to say that I'm glad we didn't go the conventional route even if I did end up in a hospital because I know I would have ended up with a c-section otherwise.
I also need to say that you're welcome to parent whatever way you please. I don't care. My parenting style is not a judgment or a critique on yours. I am not going to change the way I do things so you don't feel guilty for the way you raise your child.
I need to say that I wish my husband had a job, that it's embarrassing that we have spent 7 months living off the government. I am thankful we have no needs but it makes it so easy for him to not aggressively pursue work.
I need to say I am deeply grieved and always will be over what transpired in the month's prior to my daughter's arrival and that I will never be able to feel the depth of feeling I once felt for my husband. My love has been irrevocably altered forever. I am ashamed to say sometimes I wish it was just her and me even though I know deep down I don't really.
I need to say I hate the South yet have no plans on moving out of it.
I need to say that having another baby terrifies me but not for the normal reasons. I fear the hospital, the needles, my in-laws being here for the birth, the morning sickness and my house being a disastrous mess. If only I could know I wouldn't tear like that again or bleed like that again. If only I could know that my in-laws wouldn't be greedy and take my baby's first day of life from me. I wish they wouldn't be there at all, stay away for a couple months, let me start to feel some sense of confidence first, normalcy. I find it funny that they came to "help" but that was the week I was the most tired and stressed. It was the only time I had low milk supply and my baby wanted to nurse for long, long periods of time because it was the only time I touched her except at night. I was a glorified wet nurse. I resented her telling me I needed to pump so someone else could feed the baby and I could "rest" although I never once said I wanted a break or "rest" and I got plenty when they weren't around.
My best friend who happened to live across the street had a brittany spaniel named Rusty. We didn't play with her much. Once she had puppies and then we were constantly together with the puppies. Trying to hold them and touch them until Rusty had enough.
My grandpa had a dog named Queeny. I think she was more like a mutt. I remember her having the darkest black fur coat, so thick and long. She liked to play with old bleach bottles in her penned in area. Sometimes my sisters and I would climb over the fence and play in her dog house. Once she died, my grandpa turned her area into a garden that grew blue winner ribbon tomatoes and cucumbers at his local fair.
My parents didn't like pets. My older sister talked them into getting some gerbils so we had them for a few years. My mom still talks about not sleeping because of the wheel that squeeked all night. Years later, my sister won a goldfish at a local fair. The next morning it was dead. She was the baby of the family, so of course she was allowed to go to the pet store that day to buy another. That fish was dead by Sunday morning as well. For months her fish would be dead by Sunday morning and so every Sunda afternoon she was back at the fish store to get another. Finally after several months of this she got one that lasted. Al lived several years until she was senior in high school.
I'm the obedient middle child so I never asked for a pet. I did bring home the class pet in 5th grade. Her name was Tessie and she spent the weekend with us. She was an albino rat. My mom hated every moment she was there. My sisters and I constructed a maze for her and fortunately she never escaped from her cage while she was with us.
My parents never wanted pets in the house. They both grew up on farms, not in town like we did now. They never had inside cats or dogs. Those animals staid in the barn just like the cows and sheep. They thought dogs deserved a place to run not a cramped in yard or the inside of a house which is all that we had to offer a pet like that.
My brother is a mess now. A drug addict with a family of his own. While I love my brother, because he is my brother, I find him so unlikable. Who knows who my brother really is. Maybe the only true version of him is the one I remember from our youth, before adolescence brought out the beast. My brother has bipolar disorder. It must be hell living inside his head. He uses drugs to cope with himself and I can't imagine what that's like.
He recently confessed to swiping prescriptions drugs from his job. He then checked himself into a 28-day facility, leaving his wife and young son alone. At some point, he had a psychotic break and signed himself out of rehab only to come home and find his wife and son left his home to live with our parents. He is supposedly going to his NA meetings, but who knows. My brother is such a good liar and has been for the better part of 11 years.
When I look at my son, I fear that he could turn into his uncle. I look at this innocent, sweet baby boy and wonder if one day I will be fearing for his safety and for his life the way my mom does for her son. And if not this baby boy, what about my future baby boys? What about my nephew?
My brother attempted suicide once before. I fear that one day I am going to get a phone call that he is dead and I just can't separate that fear from my son and his future. I write this while he sleeps peacefully next to me. Just like I am sure my brother did in his infancy in 1982.
This Monday, I am presenting a case to the board of trustees at my job to propose a job share. I have no intention of going back to work full time. I could barely run to the post office, let alone care for my son with a 40-hour work week under my belt. No, I want to work part time, but the board doesn't want to give up a full time position. So I am making a last ditch effort to propose a job share. But you know what? I want them to say no. Sure, it would be a struggle to live on one salary. A real struggle. But the idea of finding day care and pumping breastmilk at work is overwhelming to me. I'm stressing! Big time!
On the flip side: I have way too much education to stay home and not work. I don't want to be a Stay-at-home-mom. I hate the title. If someone were to ask me what I do, I'd prefer to say nothing than SAHM. My friend prefers the title "Full-time mom" but I find that insulting to working mothers. As if to presume they are not full-time moms because they work. You are always a mother regardless of where you are. Anyway, so on one hand, I don't want to go back to work, but I need to make an effort to get some of my job back for both my husband's and my coworker's sakes. I work with a bunch of wonderful women, many who treat me like a daughter. I want to return to them, but then I just look at my kid and think who can I find to watch you. How can I be sure that the person looking after you won't make you cry yourself to sleep? If I don't go back to work, we hurt for money. I fear the bank statement. I'm still paying my student loan for graduate school. I have two Master's degrees but they mean little if I'm not working.
I love being a mom. I love staying at home. I love my job and my coworkers. I love spending money. I hate to sacrifice. I need to hit the lotto or inherit a boat load of cash. Someone make the decision for me.
The day we got him we were not expecting to have a dog come into our lives. But sometimes the tings that are meant to come to you just do, regardless of your plans. My husband is a life long cat person and my marriage came complete with three cats. I always told him it would be my turn for a dog someday and he’d joke and say no way.
We were going through a rough patch in our marriage and one weekend we decided to drive up to Santa Fe for a change of scenery and to visit a craft fair. The fair was a bus, so we went o ut to lunch. On our way back to the interstate we passed a side of the road swap meet thing. One guy had a truck with a plywood sign that said PUPPIES. Without a word spoken between us he turned around and pulled in.
There were two pups left, a black fuzz ball and a blond one with a black mask. I picked up the black puppy and my heart melted. I somehow felt that this was the dog I needed in my life. He already felt like family and we hadn’t even decided to buy a dog yet. Oh don’t get me wrong, the other puppy was cuddly and awesome, and quite possibly even cuter than the black puppy, but Harvey just fit.
When we got him his eyes were steely gray and he was so, so tiny. We were told he was six weeks old, but he may have been younger. In the almost year that we’ve had him, he’s grown to be nearly five feet tall when he’s on his hind legs, and he’s gained at least 140lbs. That translates to a lot of dog poop!
But he doesn’t know how big he is. He has the sweetest personality and Ethan loves having a dog he can roll around with. I am never afraid of Ethan getting hurt or of Harvey biting him. Our two geriatric cats don’t like having him around as much as we do, but they live with him. Harvey for his part, thinks the 13 year old cat is God and pays him deference in countless little ways. When I put fresh water out, all the pets come running but Harvey stands back and lets the old cat drink his fill first.
We aren’t sure what kind of dog he is, but we suspect Anatolian Shepherd mixed with Brontosaurus. He doesn’t bark at a knock or the doorbell, but he does run around the perimeter of the back yard. It’s like he’s on sentry duty, always taking the same path. He’s learning to fetch, but refuses to “come” if he’s on patrol. He is deathly afraid of any water that’s not the dirty old river, and between me and my husband, we’re not strong enough to bathe him. Oh and did I mention that he climbs trees?
We have a couple of junipers with low lying branches in the back yard. Harvey gets under the tree and then rests his front paws on the trunk. He looks up and if he sees a bird eh will put a back paw on a branch and try to bring his other paw off the ground. One day the branch broke and he hurt himself, but it didn’t teach him that dogs can’t climb trees. Did brontosaurs climb? I love that he thinks he can climb trees if he tries. I wish I had more of that quality. I worry so much about what I think I can do that I rarely throw my head up, assess the branches and just climb.
This mingles with the birth and mothering stories in a way that is big, holistic and moving.
I'm really excited to work with you on piecing the "pieces" together next week...
I'm going into an intensive 3 day process with one of my clients, but will emerge on Tuesday afternoon, just in time to read your new writings and get ready for our call...
Love and Bless....
We lived in “The Projects” in Denver and life was hell. At that point I was old enough to understand that the things that were happening were not good. I didn’t know they were abnormal, but I knew something wasn’t right.
My memories from 1982 are very strong and clear and I can see so many details. I hate to think back on that time because it’s easy for me to get stuck there and forget that it was a long time ago. The little girl inside, the Me who is jealous of Ethan and frightened and alone, lives in that time. I feel so sad for her, being stuck there.
Our apartment seemed huge. It had a basement a back patio with a yard area and an upstairs level with four bedrooms. Apparently it was a great place for a loud party because one was always happening. I remember being sent to my room and being told to stay quiet all night. At bedtime I’d be called downstairs and I’d have to hug and kiss everyone there- even if I didn’t know them. Sometimes I’d have to sit on the laps of strangers and smile sweetly while they talked with their stinky pot breath. I hated it but I knew I’d hate the punishment for disobeying more.
At one point my parents had some guy living in the basement and I remember being alone with him down there. He used to have me sit on his lap in the living room, and he’d show me different kids of kisses, like “butterfly kisses” with his eyelashes. The day I was alone in his basement with him is fuzzy. I think, I feel, that he did things to me, but what I remember is my dad coming in, kicking his ass and crying. Years later, when Ethan was two, this memory came up out of the blue. I asked my mom about it, but she didn’t remember that man. My brother did, though, so at least I know he existed. My dad was already dead, so I couldn’t ask him.
In 1982 my world was an upside-down, scary place. Some nights I would wake up to the record player scratching the label of the album and people passed out in naked heaps. Other nights the eerie silence would wake me and I’d go downstairs to find I was left all alone with my four year old brother. The first time that happened I was so scared that I thought I wouldn’t be able to walk. I can’t even describe how it felt to wake up, walk downstairs and find the house dark and empty. I guess I thought I wasn’t a good enough girl so they left me behind. By that time we had moved and left our belongings behind a few times. I figured I just wasn’t important enough to pack. I went back upstairs and fetl a rush of relief when I saw my brother asleep. I knew they’d never leave him behind forever. He was her favorite, her baby. I was still afraid, but I knew they’d come home.
So many memories flood me. Verbal attacks, beatings, fear, my mother o.d.-ing in the mountains and the scary drive to the hospital. Strange men, my mother’s tongue in my mouth, making peanut butter sandwiches for my brother, being passed from stranger to stranger, my mother telling me to take a hit off the bong…
Now that I am grown and a mother, I look back and wonder why my grandparents didn’t take me away. Why didn’t they rescue me? I look back and am filled with so much hurt and sorrow over the loss of my childhood, and I am so damned angry that so much was taken from me.
It’s hard, being a parent. It’s the hardest job in the world. Sometimes I feel like there is no way I’m equipped to be a good parent to my son I never had an example. I raised myself and my brother. I turned out okay but broken in so many ways. But my brother, well I did a number on him and he’s broken in many unfixable ways. Will my beautiful boy fare the same as my brother? But that’s the kid in me talking. That’s the fear that lives in my soul. I know that I didn’t mess up my brother. I know that a six year old can’t be expected to parent a four year old. I know, I know, my brain knows. But my heart doesn’t.
When I think of 1982, I feel fear.
Loving myself is a huge issue for me. I don’t really like myself, so I don’t even know how to imagine loving myself. I guess all the years of abuse at the hands of my mother, all the years of moving around and not having friends, has taken its toll on me. I felt unlovable at home because I was told horrible things while horrible things were done to me. I felt unlovable at school because I didn’t have friends or the skills to make them.
Of course I know that I should love myself. I’m 35 and I should be able to stop feeling like a little kid. But sometimes I sit on my back porch with my dog and cry. My own mother doesn’t love me. How can I e worth anything at all if my mom doesn’t even love me? How can I get past that thought- that feeling? I can tell myself a million times over that my mother is sick. She has something wrong with her mind and she’s an addict and alcoholic. Of course she doesn’t know what a treasure I am. She’s incapable of seeing me. But at the end of the day I’m still left feeling worthless. My brain knows what my heart can’t even see.
Over the last couple of years I have been working hard to cultivate friendships. That has been helping me love myself a lot more. By making friends I am showing myself that I am likable and people appreciate me. In the last six month or so I’ve been having weekly moms night in with a couple of friends and that consistent interaction has become a life line to me. It has made me feel like a normal human, not just some emotionally stunted weirdo.
I think I have to keep writing after this project is over. I’ve always wanted to write but her voice, my mother’s which has become mine, screams at me that I’m not good enough so I give up before I ever start. This seminar has given me the permission and accountability to write over the voice, and I feel so much more in control of myself, so much lighter and fulfilled, since I’ve been writing every day. I think that keeping up with it and finally writing the story in side me will help me love and accept myself more. Maybe I’ll finish it, maybe I won’t, but I need to try. And now that Ethan’s older, carving out 30 or 40 minutes a day is easier. I don’t think I’ll magically love myself unconditionally If I finish my book, but I do think that by telling my story I’ll get to know and love myself better one tiny piece at a time.
both my kids will know how to cook well before they leave our house. if i screw everything else up. i wont screw up this.
trottin', pole dancing, Norway and Sweden lovin' , ,WOHM Kiddos born 12/11/06 and 08/09/08
with #3 EDD:01/2013 So in love with my sweet Swede and my bonus-son 10/25/98
my daughter reminds me of who i was before i had kids. she is high strung and overachieving. control freak. she cannot relax. i still am but i have learned to enjoy life and let go a great deal. let things wash over me. my kids have forced me to do that. i got the kid that i needed as a first child. she made me realize that i had to change. she forced the transformation. she made me cosleep and babywear. shemade me nurse her all day and night. she cried and needed me. she demanded me. i could not schedule anything and i had to either let go or go crazy. i think that i needed to go a little insane so that i could find myself again. staying who i was was not an option.
she reminds me of this on a regular basis. all i know to expect is something different from her every day. some would say having kids ruined who i was. i think they make me into someone who really enjoys being who she is. even if it is not what i was expected to be at this age. yes, many dreams were stopped when i saw the third test in a row with pink lines. ok maybe they were shattered... not stopped. but new dreams showed up in their stead. the dreams that included others, not just me.
i was never supposed to be a mother.
trottin', pole dancing, Norway and Sweden lovin' , ,WOHM Kiddos born 12/11/06 and 08/09/08
with #3 EDD:01/2013 So in love with my sweet Swede and my bonus-son 10/25/98
i need to say that while i am ok with the fact that i make more that my husband i am dissapointed in how complacent he is. he hates his job but we need it and if he wasnt so lazy he would have a better job. so we are left paying for the fact that he dropped out of college now while he goes to night school at 43 years old. my kids miss their father and i never see him. he is exhausted all of the time and resent that i have a wonderful job but i am mad at him for wasting the first 35 years of his life. i am mad that he doesnt understand how much i have to sacrifice and take on so that he can do what he should have done 20 years ago. i wish i could tell him this but i know how hard he is working now and dont want to squash his little heart.
i am glad he is trying to get stuff done now and that he is putting so much of himself into it. i am proud of what he is doing and that he is actually doing it. i just wish that he wasnt having to sacrifice our life as a family so much because of his mistakes. i dont know why he decided to do this now and not before we had kids, had all of the time and money in the world, and i begged him to before. but i guess thats what i takes to get him motivated.
trottin', pole dancing, Norway and Sweden lovin' , ,WOHM Kiddos born 12/11/06 and 08/09/08
with #3 EDD:01/2013 So in love with my sweet Swede and my bonus-son 10/25/98
When I sit down with my family it brings back memories of my childhood. Certain meals that we eat bring back particular moments. When we have my family over for celebrations it seems as if the circle has been completed. Something about that feels particularly right to me.
The last time we had everyone over was for my husband's birthday celebration. Even though the table is in the kitchen I still felt like I missed a great deal with my frantic rush to get dinner finished. I did take a few moments, though, to pause and snap a few pictures. My Dad has cancer. It first appeared in our lives a couple of months after my husband and I were married. It was aggressive and though I didn't know it then the cancer's return was not a matter of "if," but "when." He's been undergoing radiation therapy. The name itself seems a bit odd since I tend to think of radiation as something that's destructive and therapy something that's restorative. He's only got a few treatments left now, but that night the journey had only just begun. We're hoping that it's successful. This is his last chance for a cure and we won't know until next year at least if it really worked. After that he'd have to go for hormone therapy and that's just an effort to buy time.
In light of all that I feel this insane drive to take a picture of each and every moment. I try to remember all the pictures I so adore of my father from my childhood and with my other children. I try to recreate as many as I can. I want pictures there so my children can remember my father if the unthinkable happens. I want to capture all of the warmth and love that radiates from his being when he's around them. I want their children to have the pictures in the event that he doesn't get the chance to know them. I desperately want all of this not to be a possibility, but having lost my beloved grandfather when I was in middle school I brace for the potential. I don't want my children to go through the same thing in losing their grandfather, but I have absolutely no control over what happens so I take pictures with reckless abandon lately entirely grateful for the digital camera and the fact that I don't have to buy the film nor pay for them to be developed. It's the only thing I can control so I run with it.
The pictures are just like that table. Somewhat tangible reminders of the good times and the bad. I'm hoping that they'll serve my children much the same way the table has served as an anchor in my life. It anchors us as we're buffeted about by the wind and the waves. It's solid feeling beneath us as we eat or create works of art helps us to feel rooted.
The table doesn't really fit in the space we have available, at least not like it did in our last house where it was literally the center of our kitchen. In our previous house the kitchen was larger than my current bedroom. The table sat in the center with the light fixture centered above it that we picked out and installed ourselves. It was surrounded on each side by the cabinets that my parents purchased for us and the countertop they helped us install. It was bordered by the sunny green paint I picked out and my mom helped put on the walls. The cabinets above and below, some new and some old, had been sanded, primed and painted by my mom and I. The table reminds me of those days. The bright hope I had for our future in that house. I could see us growing old there, raising our children there, and welcoming them back when they came to visit. It reminds me of the blissful ignorance that surrounded us before everything fell apart. When we left that home the spiritual impact it had on our lives is often still an open and festering wound. It scabs over and we try our hardest not to pick it off. The wound is open all over again, though we try not to pay attention.
The fact that we very seldom sit down at that table to eat together is mirrored in the joint kitchen and dining room space in our current house. Our last kitchen was a space meant to be used. You were meant to cook in it and to eat meals as a family. This kitchen reflects it's midcentury roots. It reflects the changing nature of family as women left their prior tasks as full-time mothers and wives for the workplace. It reflects the growing reliance our culture has on eating foods and meals prepared outside of the home. My kitchen table reminds me of this, sometimes it's more of a place to store all the little bits of clutter that our family tends to accumulate than a place to share a meal.
When we do sit together it at the table it's always bittersweet. My husband's second shift job and many hours of overtime lately means that more often than not it's just me and the kids at the table. Add in the baby and I feel badly that my children sit there sometimes by themselves when the baby's fussiness and need to nap always seems to coincide with meal times. I've never been all that great at multi-tasking nor finding a way to eat and nurse at the same time. I can only do one or the other so I tend to focus on the one that makes the most noise. I worry about what that means for my children. Will they have the same memories about this table from their childhood that I did from mine?
When I look at the table I'm reminded that I used to love to cook. Planning meals with my husband and cooking them together when we were first married was a lot of fun. Our diets were varied and colorful. I wanted to introduce my somewhat picky husband to all of the foods that he'd never had before. Now that it's just me and the kids the meals are simple and the fun is gone. It spoils the fun when you go through all the hardwork, get a bunch of dishes dirty, and then have the meal met with lukewarm acceptance. My heart sinks when I look over at my son. The look on his face betrays his true feelings even though he's saying he likes it. The food packed in his lower lip like chewing tabaco gives him away. "He's just a kid," my husband reminds me, "try not to let it bother you. You're not cooking for just yourself. I get to eat it at work and I really like it."
Somehow it's just not the same thing. Cooking was a way to share my love with my family and even though I know my kids appreciate it (or maybe rather they will years down the road) on some level it's still discouraging. The dishes piled in the sink, the dishwasher full of clean ones, and the counters messy seem like more than I can handle when it's all said and done. I'm the only one who will be home to take care of them and it doesn't seem like it's worth it.
Odd how a piece of furniture with it's scratches and dings embodies so many memories...so many emotions. Sometimes I wonder, if the table could talk what it would say about all of this.
He knows that I am his constant in life. I've been that constant from the moment of his conception. I'm what he knows best. He trusts me. If I'm with him then he knows it's safe to let go and go to sleep. Whenever he wakes up alone because I've put him down for a nap and tiptoed away, he usually emits a frightened cry. It's as if he's scared that I've gone away forever. If I go away forever, what will happen to him?
I know that he would be well taken care of if I were to die. I know he would be loved. But I fear that there would always be a little piece missing from his spirit. A consequence of his waking him and finding that I've gone away and that no matter how hard he cries, how long he looks at the door, I will not return.
I've often wondered about the grief that babies experience when they've lost their mothers. Do they desperately seek her smell? Her taste? How long does it take for them to completely forget her? Will they completely forget her?
My journey into motherhood has been fraught with such fears.
That's how my husband would tell people that I wanted a homebirth. He was joking but that joke unveiled a deep stereotype about homebirth. I suppose he had ideas that the birth would be like a scene out of Little House on the Prairie, complete with requests for him to go "boil some water." I don't think he realized how offended I felt when he made that "joke." The majority of our friends are not hip to homebirth. All of our friends who've had children have done so in the hospital. They did not understand why anyone would do things differently. But then, I'm the opinionated weirdo. I tend to do things differently. I'm always taking a stand in the opposite direction. When my husband told that joke it was as if he sided with the skeptics. It was as if he was one of my detractors. It was as if he pushed me into a thicket filled with wolves and then yelled after me, "Sink or swim! You're on your own!"
We didn't have the dynamic I wanted us to have while I was pregnant. I wanted what the movies said I should have. I wanted romance. I wanted to come home to a house filled with flowers. I wanted breakfast in bed. I wanted unsolicited foot and back rubs. What I got instead was his confusion. His confusion about what he should do, or feel. Yes, he rubbed my feet. Yes, he eventually grew to love rubbing my belly once he could feel the baby move. Yes, he massaged my back while I was in labor. But it still felt like he treated this pregnancy, this baby, as abstract. He's a very concrete thinker so I'm sure that abstract feeling was incredibly discomfiting.
But I can't help but feel disappointed even though I know his nature. Even though in the end he did the "right" things. I suppose I wanted him to be a romantic hero. But I got him. And I love him. I just wish him was a little more like me sometimes. Especially that time.
The years from 25 to 29 were pretty damn bad. I had just gotten married and neither of us expected any of this to explode nor did we know what to do about it. It was cruel timing on the universe’s part. But I know why it all happened and am better off now for having gone through it. But I’m scarred.
Having just made yet another appointment for a doc tomorrow because my hands seem to now be in constant pain all of the ‘shit’ and damage of years gone by are coming back to me. I’m 35 now and feel so proud to have come through the pain on my own essentially. My marriage barely squeaked by through all of that and continually suffered after the worst was over because we struggled through the depths of it.
I had always been interested in supplemental medicine, herbs, movement, yoga, etc. but I was forced into a journey that enabled me to become an expert. I found Dr. Christiane Northrup on this journey. The days I spent reading Women’s Body Women’s Wisdom were the mot enlightening of my life; I’d never read anything that resonated with me so much. I began reading every book in the back of that book and found this line of thinking to be my new life. I changed my mindset, learned about the power of my mind and healed my body. By this point my jaw joint had deteriorated beyond repair, my back permanently damaged. I was certainly injured and in pain but I was able to move forward and not backward through it all. No longer did I need to take arthritis medicine and be dependent on painkillers and therapies.
For years now I’ve just been maintaining myself and now I’m terrified all over again. I know I can handle it, but I just don’t want to. I have this baby now and he needs me. He needs me to pick him up without wincing and open his sippy cup without crying. I don’t want to creek out of bed and be faced wit the decision to stop nursing because I have to take meds. Sometimes I’d rather not go to the doctor and find out what’s new because maybe I can just ignore it and it will go away. All the positive thinking in the world won’t tame certain ailments. It’s just my lot.
Can’t I just cry and say ‘I don’t wanna’ ‘I don’t want this’ ‘Come on, I’ve already been tested, let up already’? Well I probably will and then I’ll get up, wipe away the tears and just carry on like we all do.
I need to be able to write and I’m afraid of this pain creeping through my fingers.
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