To be held

Chloe clutches her baby blanket and rubs her stuffed monkey “Rahanukkah” on her cheek.  Her big eyes gaze up at me, already between wakefulness and sleep, and she asks for one more kiss and hug before I go downstairs to my bag of schoolwork.

“You really love that blanket.”  I mean this as a question, but it comes out as a statement, and she nods her head in wordless agreement. “It makes you feel safe.”  Again, she nods, and snuggles further, the look of contentment so apparent that it takes my breath away.

I remember my own childhood feelings of being held, feeling safe.  I can picture myself curled up in my top bunkbed, my sister settling underneath.  I remember the glasses of water, run from the bathtub tap because my Dad humored the six year old Sarah’s idea that it was the coldest of any faucet in the house.  He would check my ceiling for spiders, and close my closet door, and then he would kiss me and tuck me in, saying “sleepy tight.. don’t let the bed bugs bite”.  There was so much comfort in this routine.  I felt cared for.  Held.

As the years come and go, it’s this feeling that I miss the most.  Perhaps it’s one of the struggles that many people experience, but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s something unique to me. I recognize that I was lucky to have a childhood like mine.  I recognize that so many children grow up never feeling safe, or held, or loved.  I also recognize that our society is not one oriented to talking about our feelings on a regular basis.

As a grown up… a momma, teacher, wife, etc..I find myself frequently in the position of being the holder.  At school, I try so hard to hold on to my students… I don’t want any of them to fall through the cracks.  Some days I feel like a rubberband. On these days, holding can feel like containing, stretching, struggling.  They move in so many directions, and I try to be everywhere at once.  Then I go home.  Here, my own babies spend so much of their time away from me that I feel like I have to make the most of every moment, to be sure that they feel held as well.

At the end of the day, so often I feel depleted… like I have given all that I have to give.  I yearn for that feeling of comfort… that feeling of being held.   I know I’m not the only person who has a default setting to achieve comfort in unhealthy ways… things that feel good in the moment… a bowl of ice cream, zoning out on my phone, binge watching netflix.

I’ve gotten better at monitoring myself when I slip into these routines, for I’ve learned that things that feel good don’t always make me FEEL GOOD.  In fact, many times they make me feel emptier than how I felt to start.

What I’m working on is how to achieve balance… how to take care of myself, hold myself, in the midst of an insane schedule and life.  And here, things can get complicated.  When I’m exhausted because I’ve worked until 11pm (because my job demands this sometimes), and I skip my 5:30 exercise class to get more sleep, that’s self-care.  When I stay up until midnight watching netflix, and then skip my workout, that’s self-indulgent.  There’s a difference.  When I am careful about my sugar and starch intake, but allow myself to enjoy a homemade cookie with my family, that’s self care.  When I start to reach into the bag of pretzels or reach for the animal crackers because I’m stressed, that’s self indulgent.

I need to be firm and loving with myself, just like I’m firm and loving with everyone else I hold.  And when I am, when I do the things that are truly nurturing and caring, I do feel good.  Putting myself to bed, writing, lighting a candle, turning off my phone, passing on the junk food, going for a run, hugging my husband, calling a friend… these may not be a cold glass of water from the bathtub tap, and they may not be a “sleepy tight, I love you”  from my dad…

but they make me feel held.

Home

Maddie doesn’t fit onto my lap anymore.  It happened suddenly… one day I could lift her, and contain her limbs, and the next I could not.  Now she tries and her legs hang awkwardly, her arms akimbo…she squirms, but can’t get comfortable. I have to physically restrain myself from grunting at the sheer weight of her on top of me.  At times, I feel pain. At times, I feel smothered.

And yet I can sense that her need to feel held is even stronger now than it was when she fit within my arms with ease.

I remember how it felt to outgrow my own Mother’s lap… to suddenly become aware of how her bones shifted beneath my weight.  I remember how desperately I needed that connection, especially when everything around me was new and different.

Now I watch her as she stretches and flexes and grows away from me, our bond still strong but more elastic somehow.  She leaves and she sees and she plays and she learns, all completely separate from me.  When she comes back, she looks for the security of me… looks for the safety of my lap, her home.  I need to remind myself to be present, to feel not annoyed, to lie with her and hold her tightly against my heart,  to listen to what she’s trying to say when she can’t find the words.

I want her to always think of me as her home.  Someday when she is grown, and the strength of her body surpasses that of my own, I want my arms to be her home.  I want her to know that no matter what happens outside my embrace, she is safe and cared for and held.

Once she’s grown, maybe with babies of her own, I want my voice to be her home. I want to be the person she calls first, the person who she knows will listen completely.

Someday, when I’m no longer living, I want her memory of me to be her home… my lap, my arms, my hands, my heart, my voice, my presence… something that she can call upon to feel safe, and held, and loved.

Holding On and Letting Go

Have you had the experience of having so much to say that you’re rendered speechless?  These past few months of blogless-ness have not come from a lack of things to say.  I have so much swimming in my head, and it seems that as soon as I sit down to write, it spins faster and more out of control, and I can’t catch a single word to put down.  I’m struggling… this much I know.  Struggling partially in the way that I’ve grown accustomed to as the mother of three little children…the struggle of relentless needs and limited independence, coupled with my own frayed patience and fatigue.  This struggle is familiar to me. And, I’ve been lucky this summer to have had some breathers… hours on the beach with entertained children, time to read and to sleep.  I am so very grateful for these gifts…

And yet.

And yet I’m feeling restless, sad, and overwhelmed.

Summer is coming to an end.  I go back to teaching full time tomorrow, coupled with my per diem job as an SLP.  Maddie moves on to third grade, and my babies go to Kindergarten.  Part of me is craving the adult interaction of my job, for the routine.  Part of me is desperate to have a me that is separate from them again.  I’m looking forward to the ability to put on a skirt or a dress, confident that a child will not wind up beneath it. To drink a cup of coffee as I drive to work, alone, for the first time since having children.

But… part of me is devastated.  Devastated as I pressed kisses through their preschool window screen for the last time.  Devastated as I drove them home from that last day and listened to their happy twin babble.  Devastated as I’ve seen them lengthen and slim and become five-year-olds this summer, and now as I watch them leaving my nest with their fledgling wings. This is my new struggle.  This is the struggle of holding on and letting go.

An example…Today I held my Chloe for an hour post wasp sting to the finger.  I think this was the most traumatized she has ever been.  And for the first half hour or so, as she alternated between sobbing and howling, kicking and writhing, I alternated between feeling suffocated and terrorized.  I wanted so very badly for the pain to go away, for her to stop hurting.  Just as intensely, though, I wanted her to get off of me. I had PLANS.  Things to DO.  This was the last day of summer vacation and I wanted to clean and paint the deck, run errands, make lemon bars for lunches, etc.  It was hot, and she burrowed her way deeper into my breasts and belly with jagged elbows and feet, I’m sure sensing my level of irritation… desperate for the complete comfort of her Momma. I gritted my teeth and passed soothing words through them, patting her hair, breathing deeply to keep from screaming.  Suddenly, her little voice said, “Mommy, are there wasps in Kindergarten?”  My irritation flew away.  My throat grew tight.  I gave in to her, and I felt something release…

I’m amazed at how these two feelings, overwhelm and desperate love, can exist simultaneously in a mothers heart.  How I can feel such an intense longing for time to stand still even while I’m drowning in the moment.  I know the sentiment many mothers relay to those in the trenches like myself… “Hold on to these moments… you will miss them when they’re gone.”

I imagine my future self regarding present me in the same condescending tone that I use when I think about my past self and her obsession with registering for matching linens and tableware.  I imagine her memory-faded regrets, as pervasive as her empty, quiet house.  I imagine her telling me about how I should have held them more, played with them more, been more present.

I want to remind her, remind every mother past this point, of just how hard is to hold on and let go simultaneously.  How easy it is for your heart to swell and break, both from yearning for freedom and from attaining it.

I want her to remember the disgusting kitchen and filthy bathroom, the piles and piles of laundry, the overgrown yard and prolific weed garden and how they got that way BECAUSE we tried to savor the moments, sometimes at the expense of our own sanity.  I want to think back to how hard I tried to balance my needs with the needs of them, to preserve the “ME” inside the Mommy.

I want to remind her of the feel of Chloe’s shoulderblades as we snuggled post wasp sting on the couch, and how I likened them to her very own set of wings… ready to be tested, ready to fly.

The After Belly 2.0

  

From 2011:

She nestles her head into my stomach,

my “no touch zone”.

I try not to flinch.

I play with a particularly perfect curl
a bit of her coiled ’round my fingertip

Her little voice rises up so innocently,
“Why is your belly so jiggly?”

And I feel shame as if I were 13 again
lusting after those Jordache jeans.

Mad at my body for all that it’s not…
skinny, little, graceful.

But then, there’s shame for feeling shame,
I’m a Mother after all…

I pick my words carefully
Perfectly selected, delicate fruit for tender ears.

I want to nourish her.

I want her to know no shame.

“Because it’s full of love.”
“It grew three beautiful babies.”
“I love my jiggly belly because it reminds me of you.”

And for a moment, I believe
My mothering words
to my five year old daughter.

How do you teach
What you’re still learning?

From 5/2015:

No longer my “no touch zone”

This sacred place that grew my babies,

stretched by 9 pounds, and then by 14…

Still cradling curls and reddened cheeks.

My hands find my belly before sleep,

a moment of mindfulness in place of prayer…

thankful for life and love.

My husband’s hand rests upon my belly,

his arm gently draped over the curve of my hip.

We lie quietly in the sanctuary of our bed,

and the world falls away.

My belly is where I hold my strength,

for crunches and squats and sometimes burpees…

But it’s where I hold my STRENGTH,

for saying goodbye,

and watching them grow,

and speaking my mind..

An atlas of imperfections, it has navigated 38 years of life.

Perfectly imperfect,

Beautiful,

at least in my eyes…

 and they are the only ones that matter.

  

The Village

Image result for village

Expectations can be devastating… the way they fester in the absence of truth.  I was told of the village through the stories of my childhood.  I expected it.  That soft-hued vision of the other mothers, nurturing and ever present… nursing circles and casseroles… that village did not, does not, exist for me.

My village of place exists in the community I cultivate around my coffee cup.  In the exhausted eyes of the other working mothers I pass in the halls at school.  Our plates spin in concentric circles and there is community in that chaos.  We support each other.

But one can’t give from an empty well, can’t nourish others from a depleted source.  The village of my soul is fed by moments and memories, layered snapshots, of people then and now.  This is the village I pull from to mother my others, and to mother myself.

Motherhood is vast, without the boundaries of time.  We learn from those who are with us and from those who learned before us, and they are here.  They are all here… the men, the women and the ghosts… they follow me wherever I go.  The snapshots…they are the scar tissue over the old wounds, and the balm that soothes the new.

In my first snapshot I am curled in blankets, a baby bird nestled onto my Grandmother’s bed.  I am sifting through her jewelry box with my nine year old fingers, lingering over stones and twirling gold chains around my wrist.  She sits beside me, completely present.  I’m talking and she’s listening, twirling my hair.  I know she truly hears me.  The conversation is lost to the years… but I remember the presence.  That moment is what I call upon now when I curl up in the nest of my own baby birds for bedtime lullabyes, when what I desperately want is to be alone.  My Grandmother’s presence is what I remember as I curl fingertip mantras in my daughter’s ringlets as she relays her day to me.  Does she feel safe, and loved and heard?  My  Grandmother is gone from my sight, but her legacy of presence lives on in my village.

In this picture, I am lying on a stretcher in the Ultrasound room, 5 weeks pregnant, a deer trapped in overhead lights.  The tech spurts blue gel on my prematurely swollen, tender belly and I clutch my husband’s hand. I’m positive there’s something wrong, as the wand moves slowly across the landscape of my womb.  The tech is stoic, silent… she measures two spots repeatedly.  I’m sure they’re tumors, sure I’m dying.  I can’t find my voice.  “What are those two spots?” I manage.  Cold prickles on my spine.  “Those are your babies.  You’re having twins.”

This is our pivotal moment,  what defines our before and after.   Now the years have come and gone, and we’ve learned the way a blink of an eye can feel like an eternity while you’re blinking.  There is one constant in our chaos… the cornerstone that has held us through the birth of those two unexpected, beautiful babies, through my subsequent postpartum depression, and through our life of perpetual motion…his hand in mine.  His hand has held mine throughout my becoming… first as I learned to mother others, and then as I learned to mother myself.  This partnership is ever-present in my village.  He is my love.

In this photo I am sitting in a wheelchair parked before the reception desk at the ER.  I am two weeks post c-section, swollen, empty.  I’m still wearing the only mumu that could accommodate my twin belly.  Physically, I hurt all over.  Emotionally, I am in agony.  My father stands behind me, hands on handles as if to guide me through the pain.  It is the only time in my life that his presence didn’t soothe me.  I haven’t slept in days.  Can’t calm down, can’t stop my nerves from firing in icy blasts down my spine.  I want to disappear.  I want him to scoop me up and bring me home, back to my childhood of circus print wallpaper and muffins in the oven.

My Dad knew it was postpartum depression before anyone else… before even I knew.  He was my advocate that night in the ER when he tried to convince the on-call psychiatrist.  “I think Sarah is suffering from PPD.  She is not herself.”  We didn’t believe him… but he was right.  He was there through it all… as I hit rock bottom and clawed my way back out.  He would come and sit with me for hours, holding steadfast to the real Sarah, tucked deep inside my postpartum husk.  My Dad is my champion.  Everyone needs a champion in their village.

In this picture my Mom has just awoken from hip surgery, her third surgery in a year.  Her eyes are cloudy, her voice is hoarse.  The pain must be excruciating, but it’s not what she focuses on first.  Her gaze rests on me standing at the foot of her bed and it’s me that she’s worried about.   It’s a late winter’s night, and I have an hours drive ahead of me.  This is my Mother.  Selfless, stoic… a pillar of strength.  This is the woman who balanced her broken hip on a hard kitchen chair for hours the week before her surgery in order to do a puzzle with my son, the determination radiating from her like heat off the sun.  My mother has always been the strongest woman I know.  I’ve lived my life in awe of her.  I call upon my Mother often, not always with my voice.  It’s her resolve that has helped me to find my own.  Her strength, her determination, they fortify my village.

In the last snapshot, I am bringing the barbells down to rest at my sides again, palms gripping, slipping, as rivers run down my cheeks and chin, pooling in a puddle on my mat.  The scent of sweat on metal reaches my nostrils, and suddenly I am seven years old again… gripping the ballet bar with nervous, sweaty hands. The smell of sweat on iron’s there, and I can see that girl, vividly, in the mirror of my memory.  I see her in her black leotard and pink tights, both too small for her ever-growing body, and her ballet shoes which were made for daintier feet.  I can feel her thoughts inside my own head again, “Too big.  Too clumsy.  Too… not like them.”  I can see her there, faintly, along the wisps of my peripheral vision, but I choose to focus straight ahead.  I heave the weights up and down again, and this time my hands, the metal, they tell a different story.  This time it’s one of strength.  Of fitting perfectly within my own skin.  Of loving my body for what is, and not what it isn’t.  This story is what I borrow from when I tell my eight year old daughter, taller than any other classmate, that she is fierce and beautiful on the basketball court.  The 7 year old is but a snapshot in my memory, but she’s a part of me.

I am in my village.

Gym

Today was Chloe and Ben’s Kindergarten screening day, which meant that I had the van to myself on my 40 minute ride home from school.  This ride was only slightly ruined by the fact that I had forgotten my phone cable that would have allowed me to play the Black Keys at an auditorally unsafe level.  I took advantage of the 23 degrees and cracked the window, breathing in the silence and the (very early spring?) late winter air.

I hate to run errands when I have the twins with me, because four year olds and productivity hate each other.  So, I made a few stops on the way home.. one of them being Retro-Fitness to get my receipts for taxes, and to cancel my membership.  I haven’t been to the gym in months, not since I started working out at my local community center with an awesome group of “boot campers”.  This group has done more for me (in so many ways) in three months than my gym did in four years.

They handed me copies of my statements, including my membership contract.  The woman behind the counter made a comment about how I was a “longtime member” and wondered if I really wanted to quit.  As she did this, she pointed to the date at the top of the paperwork, written in my handwriting, 8/26/10.  It took my breath away.

I remember that day so clearly.  Ben and Chloe were about six weeks old and I had just come from my post-natal checkup the obstetrician’s office.  I was close to crisis, having just been diagnosed with Postpartum Depression.  The obstetrician had answered my questions about recovery from PPD by telling me that “most women recover”.  My skin was absolutely crawling with anxiety that I would not be one of those “most women”.  I remember driving home and feeling so desperate to feel normal, like myself, for even a minute, that I pulled into the gym parking lot and went inside. I think I did this because I had read that exercise helped with depression.  I think I also hoped to find a community to help guide me through.  A woman with PPD can feel alone even in a room full of friends.

Today, as I stared at my writing from almost five years ago, I could detect the tremble I had in my hand as I wrote.  I had the desire to touch it… to outline my writing with my fingers… as though I could somehow reach through my writing to hold my own hand.  I wished I could have told myself, five years ago at this very same counter, that I would be OK.  That’s all I ever wanted… for someone to tell me that I would be OK.  That I would, someday, be me again.

I think the woman thought I was misty-eyed because I was leaving the gym.

On to new beginnings.

Seeds

As a teacher and member of a professional community, I pass my voice… my stories… through a filter.  I worry about saying too much, saying the wrong thing, coming off in a negative way.  But the filter sometimes hurts, sometimes suffocates.  Why write anything at all if I can’t write what I’m really feeling?  I’ve been thinking about this lately… how isolating it can be when we don’t tell our truth.

Today was hard.  Everything about it was hard.  I felt like a rubber band about to snap for most of the day, like a juggler trying to keep many balls aloft, teetering on the edge of everything crashing down.  That’s a hard place to spend 9 hours.  As I packed my bag to leave to pick up the twins, I thought about how unsuccessful I felt.  I rehashed every part of the day, every difficult moment replaying in my mind.  This is what I do… this is how I take everything way too personally, take everything to heart.

I climb into the van and I bring work with me.  I pick up Ben and Chloe and I’m focused on my day, not on their happy little faces.  I’m thinking of a meeting I had earlier when Ben reaches up to hand me a little baggie filled with apple seeds.  “I told Patty that I wanted to bring these seeds home to plant a tree, so she put them in this baggie for me.  Look, Mommy…” and then seeing that I was distracted, “LOOK, MOMMY!”  I smile, and I absentmindedly stuff the baggie into my pocket and focus back on work as I guide them to the car.

I’m thinking about that moment now, and tears are falling.  I am just one person.  And I am trying to be so much more.  That apple seed moment, that excited look on Benny’s face… that’s something that I can never get back. I could have nurtured that moment.  I could have knelt down to his level and talked about the seeds.  Planned what we would do with the seeds.  When we got home, we could have nurtured the seeds, and his excitement, in some way, together.  But… I wasn’t present… wasn’t being Momma in that moment.  I was still stuck in teacher mode, because I couldn’t let go.  So now, the seeds sit in my coat pocket, and Ben’s tucked into bed, and the moment is gone. So many moments pass me by in this way.

I am just one person.