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Posts Tagged ‘love’

in the shadow looking on

Well, it turned out I was not pregnant after all, though it took a considerably long time to establish the fact. The odd thing was, so invested had I become in being prepared for the possibility, that when all was made absolutely and finally clear, there was, I had to admit to myself, a little regret mixed in with the relief.

As one part of me kept listing all the many reasons a third child would be a disruption to an already syncopated family rhythm, another grew excited at the prospect of feeling again the flush of new life and all the promise it holds. The possibility of beginning again, reveling – perhaps even hiding – in the uncomplicated newness of an infant, the simple care of love, feed, hold, nourish.

So much of my life now is governed by uncertainty and worry, there is an appeal in retreating to the safety of that warm, post-partum bubble. My many now-pregnant-with-their-second-baby friends would guffaw (if it didn’t put them in danger of vomiting) at my romanticizing life with a newborn, and while I understand it’s not all sweetness and light (particularly with older children still carrying on demanding things), and that things like colic and reflux and sleep deprivation can really rip a hole in one’s sanity, I still think of those early days as beautifully simple.

My oldest is entering the tween years, and my youngest is dealing with a mental disorder. As exhausting and uncertain as their early childhood was, it all seems even more so now. And perhaps all of parenting feels this way, to everyone, no matter their situation: always new and difficult and slightly opaque. Always the questions of what to do, how to navigate challenges, how to help your children grow and learn and love and be healthy, happy, independent people. From here, the diapers and the sleepless nights and the breastfeeding saga, even at their worst, look so manageable. But I have to remember that I was operating far out of my comfort zone then, just as I am now. It felt then there was just as much at stake as it does now.

The difference is, the further along the path you get, the farther your future’s endless possibility recedes. The lens narrows, the children take shape, your faults helping to form them as well as your better aspects. I don’t feel that I have failed my children, but I do see now that I could have done better. If only I could have carried that protective envelope of love forward, that their lives didn’t need to become burdened with such pain and confusion. Naive, perhaps, but isn’t it human?

In wishing, however faintly, for that third baby, I think I was really wishing for a chance to try again with the two I already have. When it became clear there wouldn’t be one, it also became clear that the only steps I can take with them are forward. We are where we are. It’s the curse of the path not taken – you don’t even see it until you have missed the turn.

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wonders in the deep

If you follow me on Twitter you may know I’ve been ensconced in the throes of a drama entirely too comedic and youthful to be my real life. On the evening I was due to remove my Nuvaring, I discovered it missing. Tormented by visions of it floating lazily, Saturn-like, somewhere in my abdominal hinterlands, I phoned the doctor the next morning. Much embarrassing discussion resulted in an appointment for the next day, and, on her own thoughtful initiative, a prescription for Plan B. Which, as supportive as I am of the existence and availability of Plan B and many choices for women and family planning, I elected not to take it. My father always said not to look a gift horse in the mouth, and one may suppose that goes for any prize chute, including fallopian tubes. So, uh.

A rousing game of speculum peekaboo revealed I’d indeed been correct in my assessment of the situation, and even worse, it had probably fallen out a week or so ago, meaning the, ahem, relations I’d had with Monsieur Shriek more recently had been of the very unprotected sort and a biological supernova could quite possibly now be taking place Within. I bought an EPT at the pharmacy on my way home from the doctor, and have been staring apprehensively at the box for the last twenty or so hours.

It’s funny to be on the other end of the stick – in years past, I couldn’t wait to test because my hope of two pink lines was so overwhelmingly great it nearly undid me. I wouldn’t say my hope of a negative this time is in equal proportion, but. We are done. Or – we were done. Our two are so wonderful and amazing and impossible that adding another seems absurd. Unfair, even. With the youngest’s developmental issues lately, even the oldest has gotten shafted in the time/attention department. What would a squalling pooping sleepless infant – even assuming (ptui ptui) a normal, healthy one – do the two who are already here and struggling for secure and happy childhoods?

It’s an infinite loop, this line of worrying. And I am trying to give it up. What dreams may come, et cetera. I cannot know how it would work, only that that we would work, my husband and I, to make it the best it could be. We have our struggles, this family, yet more and more what they reveal to me is that we have enormous strength in love. Even as the world seems to be collapsing around us, my faith in the human heart grows every day. And perhaps even a new heart grows within me, too. I’ll let you know.

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At pickup one afternoon this week, my kindergartner’s teacher asked if I could stay and chat a few minutes. I turned my kids loose on the playground, and followed the teacher inside. She talked about how he has been acting out, how he is so easily angered, how he hits and pushes and yells and threatens. How he’s been sent to the principal’s office because his level of disruption was just plain unfair to the other students. She also talked about his sweet side – how he engages with the work, helps her with various things, asks interesting questions, cooperates in joint tasks.

It was clear to me that she really sees the whole child, and wants to work with me to be his advocate. He’s not a problem, she said, but he does have problems, and we are all going to help him. She’s already spoken with his private therapist, and arranged for him to have regular pull-out sessions with the school counselor. She reads books with the class about feelings. She told me she can see that I’m doing all the right things, that this isn’t my fault. And then she looked at me with such gentleness, such concern, and said, “You must be so worried.”

Of course I started crying. Mostly with gratitude – that she understands, that she really sees him, that she’s not writing him off or giving up on him. She suggested trying some approaches that she has used successfully with autistic kids (“not that I’m saying he’s autistic,” she quickly added), some activities that can be calming & therapeutic for kids with sensory issues. She loaned me a book. She described how she would modify some expectations for him in order to build his confidence and let him experience success. I felt so hopeful about the potential for helping him this year, that maybe, even, with love and understanding and help on all sides, he could become a “regular” happy and healthy kid.

And then at back to school night, several parents accosted me with tales of my son acting out. I couldn’t tell if they innocently thought whatever they witnessed was an isolated incident, just a quirky kid getting all up someone’s grill kindergarten-style, a fun and amusing little anecdote. Or if they truly see my kid as That Kid, the jerky, out of control one, and were uncertain how to tell me this directly so instead relied on a lame, jokey delivery. What was clear was that people were noticing he’s outside the bounds of expected, acceptable behavior, even for 5 year olds. I put my best Stepford smile on and thanked each one for letting me know. “Boys,” they all laughed. “What are you gonna do?”

Good question.

I came home and told my husband, and he reminded me that we have to have faith, that we’re doing everything we can, we have support and professionals on board, and most of all that we love him. He’s right, it’s all true. So why do I feel so sick?

 

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forever dimly seen

I’ve spent the summer telling myself “he’ll settle in, it just takes time” and while I still believe this to be true, it is now also clear that it will take a lot of time, and a lot of help. He’s been seeing a child psychologist for the last several weeks, and I met with her recently. The nutshell is, I’m not crazy, he’s not crazy, but he has… issues. Problems with sensory integration. Emotional development deficits. It is possible these things are contributing to his rages and his shutdowns, to his violence and aggression. She – the psychologist – is still exploring possibilities. (It is amazing to me what she can extrapolate out of a sand tray.)

Anyway the sensory stuff, even though I know about it, even though I read many of you describing your children with sensory issues, even though he has sensory-induced freakouts on a regular basis… it never once occurred to me that he has sensory integration issues. Not once. Now, of course, the hindsight makes a neat little clicking noise as it all falls into place: the faucet is too loud, the fan is too loud, the socks are too bumpy, the fleece is too scratchy, the sunscreen is too gooey, the light is too bright, the car is too fast, the peanut butter is too smelly, TAKE IT OFF GET IT OFF ME MAKE IT STOP TURN IT DOWN DON’T TOUCH ME I CAN’T EAT THAT. How did I possibly miss this? He was so obvious in his distress, so unable to cope, so much in his world was and is completely unbearable to him and I wondered why he had so many tantrums?

And the emotional deficits… you guys. He can’t recognize emotion in other people. How did I miss this?? I am a feeeeelings kind of person. I always acknowledge feelings, whether they are mine, my kids’, other peoples’. I name them, I honor them in that way only a child of the 70’s can. And he… just never connected with that. Certainly I knew he couldn’t talk about his own feelings, but I assumed that was because he was having such intense and painful emotions that he was unwilling to deal with them head-on.

Right now, I’m trying to identify and reduce his triggers, the therapist will keep working with him and trying to uncover more of the pieces contributing to the picture. I don’t know what it will look like in the end. This feels like a jigsaw puzzle without the box to refer to. I’m stomach-clenchingly afraid of what it will reveal, and at the same time relieved to know we’re in good hands and there will be more and more opportunities to help him. It is agonizing to realize what a struggle each day is for him. But I am so hopeful we will learn how to work through the challenges, that one day he will be happy, and comfortable in his skin. I have to be, right?

 

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division

I saw Tree of Life yesterday, the latest film from Terrence Malick which has garnered numerous walkouts and lengthy, irate spiels from various critics. Maybe I don’t possess adequate critical chops, or am just plain simpleminded, but you guys, I was deeply moved.

It opens with with the idea that there are two ways through life, the way of grace or the way of nature, and proceeds to illustrate both paths as they were forged by a semi-fictional family in 1950’s middle America. While the plot is inarguably nebulous, if not quite non-existent, the emotional force of the film is undeniable.

As each character struggles to understand both life and senseless loss, the loving yet hurtful ways of human relationships, we see them superimposed on the lens of our collective beginning: the big bang (divine or evolutionary, take your pick) and our eternal, impossible remove from its source. We hear our own existential questions asked in whispered voiceovers as lowering sunlight plays through gnarled branches and underwater grasses sway in unseen currents. The abstraction of creation only magnifies how astonishing it truly is; that consciousness emerged from particles of dust, that life grew from light and heat, that cells divided, spheres fell into orbit around each other, and the entire universe expanded into infinite possibility.

And to my eyes, all this humbling cosmology makes the faltering, painful steps of human nature somehow more forgivable and innocent. We see a child struggling with what he perceives as his father’s cruelty (nature) and his mother’s loving acceptance (grace), and it is too easy to see them as battles of dark and light, evil and good, played out on the screen of the human psyche, but I don’t think the director means us to. We are instead meant to see how as parents, as creators, we will always be distant to the understanding of our children. They will only see us as they need to, as their own narrative circumscribes. They will ask us why, just as we ask God; and we won’t answer, not because we don’t have one, but because it is beyond our ability to contextualize the truth for them.

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a small armoury of daggers

There’s this poem I’ve known for years, possibly decades. It’s by Sharon Olds, called The Clasp, and when I first encountered it long ago, it stunned me, sickeningly, in its acknowledgment of maternal brutality. And I don’t mean force — though she did use some — I mean more an emotional brutality, of a mother toward her child, a vicious rage that wells up suddenly, out of the silence and the love, out of the place she thought was sacred and immutable.

But now as a mother myself, I’m no longer shocked. I’ve felt it spring out of that dark limbic place with an almost quantum suddenness. I’ve found myself ugly-faced and hissing through gritted teeth, grasping a little body by the arms and sitting it down hard for a time out, throwing an armful of toys across the room in helpless fury. The rage comes of its own accord, preceded by an almost audible snap, even as my conscious mind is thinking, No. Don’t.

I’ve been wrestling with it, this strange demon that unseats my well-intentioned heart and replaces it with petty, explosive intolerance. This wrestling has taken many forms: pledges, vows, late-night whispered apologies over their sleeping bodies, self-help books, tears, more tears, and still more. And always, the question, Why?

The more I circle it, the more I see it for what it is.

A mirror.

Yes. My trigger is when my kids exhibit those aspects of myself I hate. Narcissism. Incompetence. Selfishness. Dishonesty. Impatience.

And of course these things present in ways that are developmentally appropriate. My children are seven and four, so of course they are going to be selfish and dishonest and not good at everything. And I know this, and I am ok with this, in the way we all accept that children are learning and we are their teachers.

But what I’m talking about is when I see something that resonates appallingly closely with my own secret shame and I am struck with this loudly ringing fear that my child is becoming the worst of me. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is like an arrow between the eyes. Do you know what I mean?

And this leads me to thinking about all the ways I hate myself. My crooked teeth. My fat — but more than that, my apparent lack of the necessary self-discipline to lose it. My social anxieties — skipping kid functions because I can’t bear the thought of interacting with parents, borderline agoraphobia, spending more time with online virtual friends than nurturing the relationships I have in the physical world. My depression, my hypochondria, my hesitation. My laziness. My mean streak. My missing libido.

And it’s not like I manufacture this all on my own: our culture promotes self-hatred because it is profitable. It’s what gets us to buy mints and mousse, deodorant and doritos, beer and bikini waxes, ice cream and insurance, therapy and thigh masters, pharmaceuticals and fish oil, and on and on. And in my own little circuit of the inferno, the fact that the only response to a resumé I’ve gotten in more than a year is from someone who wanted to pay me half of what the industry says I’m worth. That my hairstylist asked if I wanted to start coloring over the gray. That my husband even mentioned he’s “tired of looking at it” — my overweight body. The self-hatred reinforcements, they are everywhere.

I think of my grandmother, who was a blessing to me but a terror to my dad: abusive, reclusive, tormented by demons of her own that eventually returned to rule her completely as she slipped into the black, grasping fingers of dementia. I wonder if there is a genetic danger, if I am more prone to the darkness because I have her blood beating in my heart.

And what keeps ringing in my mind is this bit from the closing line of the poem: near the source of love / was this. I suppose we must all learn the yin and yang of it eventually, the binary nature of our souls. It’s why all our literature, our religions and philosophies are so preoccupied with good and evil. We manufacture complicated fictions that go to great lengths to explore, explain and contextualize it. But when the darkness wells up unexpectedly in ourselves, we who work so hard at becoming light, it completely unhinges our sense of identity.

And because my primary identity right now is as a mother, a good mother, the sudden springs of rage make me go all vertiginous; I almost leave my body because it’s completely alien to feel so wrathful, so hateful. Even worse is that it is directed at my children, that I am working out my own issues on the unmarred surfaces of their souls. I have to stop, before the toxicity eats into their very beings, if it hasn’t already. But to stop, I have to start loving myself first. And that seems an impossibly tall order.

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on a lonely shore

Thank you to everyone who commented or tweeted or messaged me your good wishes and encouragement. I’ve been keeping my head down and trying to follow the advice of that WWII poster while coming slightly unglued at the seams nonetheless. The short of it is, my husband was laid off, so we’re scrambling to get one or both of us employed, and my son has some medical conditions that fortunately aren’t horrific but will require a long road of daily management. So, worry and relief in various measures vie for position on the scales of my frontal cortex, keeping me awake nights and running the daytime gauntlet in efficiency mode. That is to say, no room for psychological processing, rich as the factory floor could be with all the fatty trimmings. Though I suppose this is where I come to examine my emotional offal, and now that I’m here I may as well see what the last few weeks have netted:

When I’m not worrying that the sky is falling, I’m neurotically ping-ponging back and forth between the idea that human consciousness is nothing more than a weird, electro-chemical blip in an otherwise meaningless universe, and the idea that I personally was put here to learn or accomplish something specific, under the guidance of a deity or omnipotent whatsit. The two ideas could not be more oppositional than the Senate floor, yet they both occupy legitimate space in my inner narrative, taking turns fillibustering me into philosophical paralysis and putting tacks on my seat.

Because the idea of being a mere fluke in meaningless cosmic chaos is too dismal to contemplate right now, I’m currently more inclined to believe that I have a purpose. And given how many challenges, losses and disappointments I’ve experienced in recent months, I’m beginning to wonder if that purpose is to learn… something embarrassingly simple, actually. That life is hard, and so what? It doesn’t entitle one to mope or pout or be crabby at one’s family, or to navel-gaze excessively, or cease functioning in general.

It may strike you as a somewhat sad bafflement that a person is having this epiphany in her late 30’s. But then, I think I’m always having this epiphany, just in different shades of cluefulness and about various facets of my life. Right now, it’s mostly about letting go of self-indulgence and the idea that my suffering is noble or even interesting. I have a life I’ve chosen and that I want to love. I have children who need me to model strength and perseverance and compassion and optimism and joy, rather than the glum face of just getting by. I have a husband who deserves my partnership in every aspect of our marriage. I have parents who have given me boundless love and support my whole life, and their faith in me should count for something.

But somewhere in the worry and obsession over my son’s medical issues, I let go of my lifeline to life itself, surrendering to fear. Fear of what was wrong with him. Fear of losing him. Fear of losing other people I love. Fear of what took the people I did lose, what they lost of themselves, what we all eventually will lose. I know I need to re-engage with the world and with my life. I can see where I need to be, and it seems just a simple matter, getting there, yet feels more like swimming against a strong current, the shore receding with every stroke.

But the piece of it is, as my old therapist used to say, that every stroke has its value, measurable or not, and the point is to keep swimming. While the known shore may be lost to me now, a new one awaits. And frankly, the old one sucked anyway.

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