Category: Big Thoughts
Spending the morning alone with CJ is taking me back a few years, to the first year-and-a-bit I spent alone at home with my first-born (his younger sister arrived not quite eighteen months after him, at which point, life became considerably more chaotic). The house was so quiet. I used to turn on the radio, or the television, for company. We were living in a new city and knew no one. I didn’t feel lonely. I was 26 years old, and utterly thrilled by motherhood, captivated by this newfound, instant purpose to my life. I am thinking about this not only because my feelings have changed in ways profound and subtle over the last eight years, but also because we have been discussing the implications of stay-at-home mothering in my women’s studies class. For most of the students, fresh out of high school, this is purely theoretical. For me, it feels deeply personal. That slogan “the personal is the political” is suddenly relevant. At times during last night’s lecture I felt hurt and upset, as when the professor said rather casually something along these lines: most of you aren’t planning to get your degrees so you can stay at home and bake cookies and raise children, are you? Her point being: at this stage in your lives, all of you fresh-faced, ambitious first-years, you’re harbouring bigger plans, right? But that’s me. That’s me in a nutshell. I am the woman with the master’s degree at home with my children baking cookies. My professor was essentially sympathetic to the quandaries and choices families have to make, husband and wife together, in order to raise children in a society that hasn’t really figured out how to support young families: is daycare the answer? Early childhood education? Paternity leaves and benefits? Why is there this unspoken concept of “the mommy track”? Her answer to all of these: it’s the patriarchy, stupid (I paraphrase).
I can’t do this topic justice in one blog post, so herewith, I present a few random thoughts. First, I refuse to think of this (at least) decade spent primarily with my children as lost time, or a waste of my talents and abilities. There was nothing I wanted more than to stay home with my babies. Nothing. No amount of subsidized daycare could have driven me back to work, when I had the option, financially speaking, to stay home. I asked Kevin whether he felt a horrible pang upon returning to work, leaving his babies at home. He couldn’t remember. He is, however, a very active involved father, and I know his feelings toward our children are just as strong as mine. But the truth is, had he wanted (and been able) to stay home, I would have fought him to get to stay home instead. I didn’t want to leave my babies and go back to work. On the other hand, what Betty Friedan was addressing in The Feminine Mystique, “the problem that has no name,” that puzzling, weary, unspoken malaise experienced by many stay-at-home mothers (in the 1960s, and now) is a real phenomenon. It’s a feeling of spiritual lack, unfed by middle-class wealth and comfort; and of personal, often secret, longing. The feeling of being unfulfilled. And guilty, too, becase our children are supposed to fulfill us, somehow–I would argue that still remains the overwhelming trope.
I would like to counter this with a baking-your-cookies-and-eating-them-too philosophy: my own, which is unfolding even now. We live our lives in stages. I’m not a big believer in being able to do–or trying to do–everything all at once. If I am fortunate, my life will stretch long enough to be lived in quite different ways at different times. (Though this is not without compromise). I am coming to the end of the young-child stage, the every day, every minute, pre-verbal, breastfeeding, diapering, lost sleep stage. Of course, my children will continue to need me, but not at this same level of simple intensity. The problems become more complex, but children grow. It’s what they do best.
For me, spending this young-child stage so completely with my young children has been deeply fulfilling. But, like my professor suggested, it is not the only thing that I want to do. I’m getting ready to move along, to enter the world, on occasion, unencumbered by my children (I mean that literally; as a young mother, I felt naked on the rare occasion I was out in public without my kids, I wanted to tell every passing person about their existence; and I don’t feel that need anymore, which is an interesting shift).
What fascinates me about life is how much there is to learn from every situation, every pain, every contact, every seemingly ordinary moment. No one told me to take this class at this moment in my life; in fact, it seemed a bit silly, even self-indulgent. (I am taking it because, should I choose to pursue a degree in midwifery, this course would count toward that). But it has become, like so many of the things I’ve chosen despite no one telling me that I should or could, another entry point for these random pinpricks of light that illuminate my path.
Thought of the day: obligation and responsibility make us who we are, and by living up to these, we are molded and changed by the things we choose to do. This may explain why children respond so well to routines and (small) responsibilities. Kevin and I held an impromptu, late-night parenting meeting on the weekend–initiated by Kevin, which I appreciated–and we made a master list of all the things we’d like our children to do. Such as: practice piano, set the table, clear their plates after supper, use manners, better behavior in the car, help tidy the house, clean their rooms once a week, brush teeth, wash hands. Very simple, basic stuff. The table setting routine was easily put into play: a simple rotation, one child each evening in charge of helping mama. I remind them in advance that it’s their evening, and so far the response has been cheerful. Fooey is especially pleased to be my helper. We’ve also returned to holding hands and singing a prayer before we begin serving food, as a way of pulling all of us together. And this is a very basic parenting tip, but just reminding the kids of the plan, well in advance, and repeatedly, makes everyone more open to it. Nobody likes to be told, cold, while in the middle of building a gigantic Lego ship, get your boots on we’re leaving Right Now! Much better to call out a five-minute warning … even if it means you’ll be five minutes late.
No photos, because I’m upstairs.
Obligation also works for grownups, too, I think. I’m terrified by the concept of retirement. Sometimes I wonder why I’m so driven, why I layer my life with extra reponsibilities away and beyond what is already required of me, and wonder what exactly I’m hoping to achieve, or even what achievement means to me, and worry I’m hiding from something inside myself–hiding by working so hard and being so busy. Um, that sentence was way too long. But conceptually, it encapsulates the inner trackings of my brain, when I get a spare moment to think Too Damn Much. Which perhaps is why I appreciate being busy, being active, doing rather than thinking. I question less, when I’m doing.
Life isn’t all about action, of course. It needs to be about contemplation, too. And even about rest. And occasionally, leisure. I’m always trying to make use of everything, every scrap of experience. I want it to be useful, somehow … educational, or fulfilling, or meaningful, or something that brings pleasure. I hope this makes me more open to experiences; but maybe it just makes me more introspective. Like, alright already, just enjoy the moment, Obscure Canlit Mama, don’t try to make it into something else!
Part of growing up has been accepting, with humour, who I am. Even while trying to alter in many minute ways, and hopefully for the better, my public and private self.
Listen, as penance for this blah-g entry, my next is going to be brief, maybe even glib, and accompanied by cute photos of my offspring.
Here’s what’s on at our house … the crockpot and the oven. And the television. And the computer. And the baby monitor. This morning, I was browning beef at 7:45. Not, perhaps, the ideal odour to send wafting through the house at that hour; the recipe is for sweet and sour beef. It also has chunks of green pepper, onion, and carrot, and I’ve added a block of tofu, just to ensure no one will like it. You know, it wouldn’t feel like supper if someone wasn’t exclaiming, “Ewww!” I’m also baking brown rice. Have cleaned green beans to be cooked up fresh when we burst through the door after 5 o’clock, having run the music marathon: pick up children early from school, plus neighbour friend, burn carbon across town to piano lessons and early childhood music class. Tonight, I’m adding in a quick trip to the shoe store to buy Albus a pair of non-destroyed runners. He and Apple-Apple are participating in running club at school, and after the first session, last week, Apple-Apple was glowing, she loved it, and Albus said, nope, not much fun. Too much running.
Tell me about it, kid.
But here’s the thing, I’m running, but I feel happy. I’m trying to fit perhaps slightly too much into this raggedy suitcase called Life, but I’d rather do that than the opposite. To everything there is a season. I appreciated the summer season a great deal. It was languid and a bit boring, as perhaps it should have been, because I’m filled with renewed energy.
No time to elaborate; but hope to soon. It’s time to wake a sleeping babe …
**written at the “new” cottage, The Treehouse, Seeley’s Bay, Ontario**
Afternoon. Too beautiful to sit indoors. Shadows of leaves, the bay water, wind, Fooey watching videos, CJ asleep, big kids and Kev trying out a round of pitch-and-putt golf. I spent yesterday and this morning reading, all in a big sustained gulp, The Girls, by Lori Lansens, a book found here in the cottage. Couldn’t resist (despite bringing along two library books, now untouched). This was not deep literary fiction, though well-crafted and appealing. Lightish. I appreciated the small, quiet observations, such as how the most extraordinary situations don’t seem bizarre while they’re happening, it’s only afterward that one has to cope with them and reflect upon them and place them, name them–not just experience them–that the reverberations are felt. The narrator wonders whether perhaps we never get over our losses. It is funny how we’ve accustomed ourselves by that phrase to believe that human beings “get over” things, as if we could ascend a loss and then descend on the other side, walk so far we couldn’t see or remember it anymore. It’s more like the effects are embedded within us. Not that we’re doomed to spend our lives sad and ruined, just that life doesn’t permit us to be the same.
Is reading a distraction, or does it pull me into a different kind of now?
I worry often that I’m not present enough. And then wonder what presence really means.
Wondering–what will make me happy, satisfied, content, or is that mining false gold even to seek such ephemerals? Wondering–what will I choose to do with my days? Is it enough to cook, clean, preserve, parent? What more, exactly, am I craving? I want to fill these days absolutely to overflowing with meaningful actions; and feel a simultaneous and contradictory pull to let my days fill themselves naturally.
I used to think that writing was a way of seeking and perhaps finding permanence; certainly it’s been for me a form of solitary meditation. I’ve begun to think, however, that it leaves something out: the body. And I wonder–is doing, experiencing, being present oddly more permanent? I think about the families I got to know through doula’ing, and how my life and theirs are, for that speck of time, embedded with each other’s–because we were present and together at a significant moment of transition and becoming. My part was small, and it wasn’t my story, but I bore witness. Bearing witness … that may be where my talents lie.
Writing is one way to bear witness: the private distillation of experiences, physical and emotional, into words. It can feel intimate, but it’s also crushingly lonely. Reading may be another way, opening oneself to a larger world, to different stories. Also solitary. The appeal of the doula experience, upon reflection, is the shared human interaction; yes, it’s a way bear witness, but in a physical, corporeal way. It happens and then it’s over. You can’t write about it afterward (I can’t, anyway, not descriptively). The fact of it happening is enough, more than enough.
Come to think of it, that’s a lot like parenting.
Okay, that handwritten scrawl of a self-indulgent text required way too much editing. Writing directly to blog is much more efficient. And I didn’t come around, at the end, to any satisfying conclusions. Sorry folks. Above, an inundation of photos. Sorry, again. Guess I really really really missed blogging.
“Bocs, bocs, bocs,” says CJ, and his big siblings go to play blocks with him. CJ is showing such excitement about communicating. I think of him as being a late talker, but in fact he does have words, they just aren’t always immediately recognizable. It gives him great joy to snort like a pig, woof like a dog, run to the door to shout “Dada!” and a sound like haaaaa! that means Hi. I remind myself to explain everything to him (this helps slightly with tantrums), because he understands a great deal. The other night I took all four kids to the little park after supper, riding in the wagon, and CJ took along his talking doll (“didi”). He cradled her all the way there, handed her to me when he wanted to go play, and collected her when I said, “Don’t forget your baby doll!”
Yesterday, of necessity because Kevin had our vehicle, I ran while pushing the stroller, with Albus on his bicycle, all the way to Apple-Apple’s daycamp to pick her up (Kevin had dropped her off in the morning with her bicycle so she could ride home). It’s not a small distance, and I was dreading the errand, while talking it up to the kids as an adventure. We currently have no working way to transport small children via bicycle; so I had to run. New running shoes helped, but what surprised me was that I felt pretty fit. I arrived somewhat red-faced at the daycamp site, but much earlier than anticipated. We took the long way home, stopping by our favourite City Cafe Bakery for a treat. I’m thinking we’ll repeat the experience tomorrow (today we’re combining camp pickup with CSA box pickup, since it’s nearby).
The bike stroller … this is a story that keeps brewing. You will recall that our former stroller was stolen off our porch several weeks ago. Much mourned, then we moved on as friends supplied us with a replacement (for which we’ve yet to purchase a bike hookup). Well. End of story? If only. Last week, our neighbour (the one who gave us a little red wagon awhile back) knocked on the door early in the morning. He’d found our stroller, could we come and confirm that it was ours. Kevin went first, came back ages later looking confused. He thought he’d recognize it, but it was so changed, he wasn’t sure. I didn’t really want to go, but of course this stroller was my fifth baby, and I was the one who’d spent all that time strapping children into it … Fooey went with me. I saw immediately what Kevin meant: it was hard to tell. The fabric was already sun-faded, there was green mould on the inside, it had some new rips and tears, had been stripped of many of its parts. Our neighbour flipped it over to show me the squirrel holes (a squirrel ripped through the bottom seat netting last summer to get at some cookie crumbs; pretty distinctive). Yes, they were there. Then I looked inside at the straps. They hadn’t been adjusted, and were set up, as always, for CJ on the left, Fooey on the right. CJ’s strap was always twisted, I could never figure out how to untwist it, and that was the final confirmation. Our neighbour had quite a story about how he’d recovered it, but suffice it to say the stroller was being used to transport beer bottles and other junk.
I brought it home, though I didn’t want to. The smell that now permeates its fabric is astonishing, and despite a concerted effort by Kevin and me involving bleach, scrub brushing, the hose, plain old soap and water, vinegar, et cetera, the scent doesn’t budge. Though at first we’d thought we could still hook it to our bicycle, I can’t imagine putting my children into this stench, and while scrubbing the other afternoon felt almost murderous rage toward the person who had taken our stroller and ruined it. But that emotion is so fruitless and destructive. Who am I, that I’m so privileged I can throw away the thing stolen and then returned? I wonder if I’m a wasteful person. The stroller’s return has made me reflect on how much easier it is to cope with something that is permanently lost to us; it’s almost as if absolute absence invites acceptance. I was at peace with the loss. It didn’t bug me. Seeing that stroller, what had happened to it, how it had been abused and destroyed, now that bugged me. But I’m not entirely sure why. Is it because I feel an emotional obligation to this wrecked object, an obligation which I resent? Makes me admire the father of the prodigal son who welcomed him back with open arms. Or maybe I’m investing too much emotion, value, and meaning into a Thing.
In any case, for now I will be running instead of biking with children, because it seems wasteful to buy a bike hookup for the new stroller when we have a functioning stroller that we could hook up to the bike; that I will, however, refuse to use. How dumb is that? Except the run was so good yesterday, maybe it’s a fine thing. I find it so much easier to exercise, to make the time, when it’s somehow encorporated into my children’s lives and to their direct benefit. This is why I so enjoyed being pregnant: I could take special care of my body and feel I was taking care of someone else, too. If it’s just for my own benefit, it feels … selfish (and, yah, I get that having a mom who is strong physically and emotionally benefits them too, it just doesn’t compute in the same way; but you’re looking at someone who actually feels guilty using the bathroom some days).
Apparently typing this blog doesn’t apply to the guilt factor.
We are having our back porch ripped down and rebuilt right now. CJ is engrossed. “Will they find any rat’s nests?” Albus wonders.
Well, it was amazing.
Last night I attended, for the first time as an adult, a birth that did not involve me pushing out a baby. I volunteered as a doula, or labour-supporter, for a young couple having their first baby. Herein, a few general observations about the birth experience, all of which threaten to sound terribly cheesy, the way all big life-changing transitional events do when translated into words. But here goes …
The most ordinary space can be transformed into a holy, sacred place.
A woman’s body is an extraordinarily powerful entity, and in birth it just really knows what to do. Travelling emotionally and mentally into that place where you can allow the body to do what it needs to do can be really frightening; at the very least, there’s some resistance to letting go like that. I remember feeling that in my own births. That sensation of oh no, no, I really am not prepared to go there, do I have to go there? “There” is an extremely focussed, interior, almost animal place inside the body and mind. “There” will get you through just about anything, I think.
We really earn these babies.
How profoundly my experience of the spiritual is linked to my body, to physical reality.
Birth is this crazy intense moment in a life–the moment of parents becoming parents, of a new human life entering the world, of vulnerability, and of strength, which is parenting distilled–and which could kind of define love, really. How vulnerable it feels to love somebody the way I love my children; and yet in no other role could I feel as strong, if I’m called to be, for their sakes.
Let’s see, what else. Yes, I cried a bit at the end. I also laughed, and found myself feeling weepy at moments during the labour, overwhelmed by the amazingness of the body, by the strength this woman kept finding throughout, and by the connection to this individual yet collective human journey. It’s ordinary, and it’s extraordinary.
Will I do this again? During the labour, I couldn’t imagine NOT doing it again (doula-ing, I mean; not giving birth myself). But I’m exhausted today, and know that choosing to do this more regularly–as a job on the side? or pursuing midwifery?–will mean choosing not to do other things instead. Reflection is in order.