The seagulls

“I wanna watch mommy play rocks,” C says, making my husband laugh so hard he starts coughing.  C is referring to the times I often sit, meditate, and yes “play rocks”—hold in my hands the various healing stones I have collected, such as rose quartz, amethyst, and a smooth, heart-shaped rhodonite stone.  Sometimes I lay on a yoga mat in shavasna and place the stones on my stomach for healing.  It is weird, I know.  But it helps.

I start working with a clinical hypnotherapist/shamanic practitioner who helps me journey into my past and integrate.  As a psychotherapist myself, this time allows me to be the client so I can re-charge, connect with my inner strength, and clear away stuck energy that needs to move along.  However, unlike the traditional talk therapy I offer to my clients, this modality I have found for myself involves feathers and drumming and whistling and spirit animal calling—and I am not going to say much more about that, because, like “playing rocks,” it is hard to really describe in a way that does not sound, well, crazy.

J gets invited to a movie playdate and has entered the age when I do not attend all his social events anymore.  I cannot tell if I am excited or devastated about this.  Probably a little of both.  A few minutes before the friend’s parent picks him up, I cannot stand the anticipation any longer and erupt into a cleaning madness—spinning through the house like a whirling dervish—as if tidying up the house can somehow calm my chaotic mind.  The doorbell rings, J’s friend collects him at the door, and they go skipping down the walkway together.  “Bye!” The other parent waves from her car window.  “Bye! Thanks again!” I say and just like that, they are gone.

A friend of mine, who is very close to my heart, is getting married, so I spend a weekend away from the family for her bachelorette weekend.  I feel light and excited, thankful that I have cultivated and maintained nurturing friendships, a life outside of my children, which is not easy to do.  Each day is filled with laughter and sweetness and relaxation.  The bride-to-be is a best friend I grew up with, who has always been there for me as a solid force of unwavering light.  We have shared so many heartbreaks and celebrations and milestones that now, seeing her this happy makes me teary-eyed, like sailors undocking into the wind, gulping that fresh salty air as the seagulls swirl high above, chirping and wailing in celebration.

The second night away, I have a nightmare that I am standing alone at the post office and cannot find J.  I am crying so hard in the dream that I wake up with tears in my eyes, feeling disoriented.  I fight the urge to get in my car that instant, pajamas and all, and drive straight to my kids, my heart feeling like a coconut cracked in half.  That same morning, C is turning three years old.  In addition to the nightmare, his birthday also pulls me home, in an almost violent way—perhaps the spirits who helped bring him here, demanding to be honored.  I hug my dear friend goodbye, who understands these things, and make a beeline for home.

When I open the front door, J and C run to me, and I drop to my knees for a hug, my heart steaming with hot glue joining the pieces back together again.  I let out a cooling breath.  We settle into the living room and C plays with a new fire truck.  I mention to my husband that I rushed home a bit to be with the kids, and C looks up from my lap where he is playing and says, “Thank you.”  This startles me, his constant observation of life around him—and his sweet gratitude a surprise party, filling me with aliveness.

C’s grandparents give him a trampoline for his birthday and he jumps with glee until his cheeks turn red.  Before naptime, he wants to take a warm bath and brush his teeth.  He curls up with Blanky and Bunny and asks if he can snuggle with his brother.  I call down to J, who hops up the stairs, humming a song to himself.  They embrace in a hug and C laughs.  “You’re so cute,” J tells him sweetly.  J makes his brother a Lego creation for his birthday and wraps it in paper he colored in with little stripes.

Later that day, C asks me if we can go for a walk in the rain, so I get out our umbrella and rain boots.  He stops at a large storm drain, watching with fascination as the water whooshes down the grate.  Soon, hail starts to ping our umbrella and bounce all around us like popcorn, coating the earth with white specks that disappear as our footsteps crunch along.  Thunder startles us from the sky and he turns to me with wide, curious eyes.  Thunder, I tell him, and he says, “very loud.”  He asks me if we can run now and I say yes.  He laughs aloud as he moves his little body in a sprint, holding on tightly to a little orange kazoo in one hand.  I try my best to keep up, feeling bubbles of lightness as this moment, his birthday—this life—continues to unfold and freeze and rewind and charge forward into the water.

inspiration

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Day after day after day

When people ask me if my kids get along, I feel like there’s no simple way to answer that question. They love each other fiercely, are each other’s funniest comedian, crave each other’s company, but are also each other’s main competitor for attention—that spotlight of recognition we all so desperately seek out and require for growth, like sunshine or the earth.

The other day, when we went to the swimming pool—and J was occupied with a swim lesson—C spent the entire half hour walking forlornly around the pool in his swimsuit and goggles, calling out J’s name and refusing to get into the water until his brother could join him. It was clear that life without his big brother was no fun at all. Once reunited, J took C riding on his back in the shallow end and they spent the entire time laughing together, the universe back in alignment for C. J also so deeply connects with his brother, for example, insisting they share a room and do most things together when possible. One day recently, Grandpa M took J on a special trip to the science museum and was incredibly moved when, upon entering the gift shop, J’s first question was, “What can we get for C?” Their loyalty and love for one another gives life a layer of such softness.

At the same time, C, in full-blown toddlerhood, is fiercely competitive, striving so hard to be taken seriously, to be noticed, to be acknowledged—pushing himself to the brink of tears trying to learn new skills his brother is so nonchalantly trying out, like dribbling a basketball. Often, any attention towards his big brother cannot be tolerated for him. For example, I will ask a question like: “J, how was school today?” and C will immediately interrupt with literally: “What ‘bout me?” before I’ve even finished the question. Or, C wants whatever toy J is playing with and if he doesn’t get his way, he tries to grab it for himself, yelling “Da-dumb-face!” which understandably angers and exasperates his brother.

Sometimes all the mediating and explaining and working through and cultivating patience and love can get so exhausting. Like the other night, when I got hit on the head a with a Nerf ball from C, while J was reading to me from a Lego Star Wars book, and suddenly it was all just all too much—the circularity of it all, so deafeningly dull but also so piercing, like screeching in my ears that makes me want to scream or dance or sing or paint or jump out of a goddamn airplane. I went upstairs and meditated because I needed to gain a sense of freedom again, spaciousness, to know that I wasn’t trapped, but alive here—to just feel it, even if that meant thinking there was something wrong with my brain in that moment—because all that came was negativity, until finally tears arrived that made no sense, had no meaning, just traced the stillness of my face. And then C came into the room, followed by my husband D, who was laughing about something C just said, and then I was laughing too, because C said it again—and it was something no one else in the world would think is funny except the two of us, because there’s a backstory and a backstory to that, here in this strange existence of time and space and lives woven together in their own dimension.

I’ve been reading The Bonds of Love by Jessica Benjamin and feel so validated by how she describes toddlerhood, the “crisis of parenting” during this time, and the inherent tension: “Suddenly the child’s demands no longer appear to be merely the logical results of needs that ought to be met with good grace, but, rather, as irrational and willful. The issue is no longer what the child needs, but what he wants. Here, of course, is where many a mother-child pair come to grief. A variety of feelings well up in the mother: the distance from her no-longer-perfect child, the wish to retaliate, the temptation to take the easier path of giving in, the fear or resentment of her child’s will. What the mother feels during rapprochement and how she works this out will be colored by ability to deal straightforwardly with aggression and dependence, her sense of herself as entitled to a separate existence, and her confidence in her child’s wholeness and ability to survive conflict, loss, and imperfection,” p.35.

While of course, there’s never an easy solution, or a prescription for such messy life matters, I have found something magical that continues to help me and C during this crisis—and that is looking at family photos together. I brought them out one night when C was having an especially big tantrum about bedtime, remembering that J went through a phase where he liked to look at his baby pictures every single night before bed (I recall this got so exhausting, but that there was almost a spiritual sense to it that I had to honor). And, not surprisingly, this worked—immediately soothing C, bringing him out of whatever identify torment was happening inside his little body. Page after page after page, we looked at how he was once a tiny baby inside mama, and then—day after day after day—has grown into the big, separate boy he is now. They say the road to strive for during this phase is for both caregiver and toddler to be able to tolerate the inherent and unavoidable tension between dependence and independence. So perhaps snuggling close with these pictures, his soft sweet-smelling head resting on my chest, calm little puffs of breath in and out, little hands working together with big hands to gently turn the pages—is a way to accept and honor his journey into separateness while, at the same time, still feeling each other’s skin, that powerful force of our hearts forever intertwined.

Heart.jpg

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To the market

Never turn your back to the ocean, my dad told me when I was about J’s age.  He also taught me that sometimes, getting crunched by a wave is inevitable and that there are ways to reduce the pain—letting go, allowing the water to spin you around and spit you out, because if you fight—in this case—that only makes things worse for yourself. I remember these moments happening, rare but powerful, the deafening crash, being pulled underneath, losing all light and sense of direction, my limbs flung about like a rag doll, experiencing for an instant, a panic that feels near-death, like a jolt of electricity—knowing all I could do was wait and beg for breath, my life to return to me.

Last month C was playing around with a tape measure and cut his little thumb deep enough to warrant a trip to the ER. It was a pretty terrifying scramble getting out the door, with all the crying and blood and uncertainty and then riding in the car—me sitting in the backseat holding pressure to the wound—a similar panic inside begging for things to turn out alright, knowing the reality that sometimes it doesn’t. We were lucky, and it wasn’t serious. He was such a trooper, sitting still at the hospital, letting the doctors clean and help close it back up with medical glue. Later that night, he held up his little thumb and summarized the whole experience in four words: “Tape-measure. Hospital. Doctor. Band-aid.”

C likes singing the Birthday Song.  He makes us all laugh when he greets his dad in the morning over the breakfast table with, “How you doin’ Dada?” He says, “I want, I want, I want…chocolate, marshmallows, pizza, cake.”  One night he insists on trying raspberry jelly mixed with ketchup, and happily licks the combination off his plate. He says, “Go shoot hoops” and “Play rackets” and is quite serious about both activities, engaging with excitement and laughter, until sometimes tears of exhaustion. He often echoes full sentences from his older brother, trying desperately to be included, recognized, taken seriously. He brings me bobby pins he finds around the house, saying proudly, “Here Mama,” while opening up his little palm.  When he sees me doing laundry, he says, “Need help Mama?” and gently attempts to fold a pair of his little pants, wearing a serious look on his face. When he hears construction sounds coming from the garage, he opens the door and asks, “Need help Dada?”

J is such a big first grader he doesn’t want me to hug him at school anymore when I pick him up.  But at home, he wants snuggles at bedtime and asks for “This little piggy” where I sing that nonsensical rhyme about the pigs going to the market and tickle his toes and tummy until he’s rolling with laughter, and I feel like all sadness in my tummy dissolves into sweet strawberry taffy. He reads aloud from Henry and Mudge books (about a boy and his dog), cracking up at the picture of Mudge rolling around in Henry’s dirty socks. He delights in Legos and asks if he can give me a “Lego tour” where he tells me about the latest monster he built, the “good guy base,” and where the crystals are hidden. He performs in his first school play, and I am secretly nauseated all day with nervousness—until finally seeing him up there on stage, I’m reminded of the separate, amazing, confident person he is. There’s nothing to be afraid of, I remind myself. Never turn my back to the ocean, and I’ll be alright. And when I’m not alright, that’s okay too, just some darkness that will end and salt water up my nose until the earth is ready to spit me back out.

Splashes of wave at sunrise.

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Hard caramel

It’s never about the fucking garlic bread, and I knew that the other night when I became suddenly so irritable for no reason (literally internally fuming about an excess of garlic bread that I discovered sitting in the fridge past its expiration date) that I forced myself to take a short break away from the family to be alone and journal, meditate, and lie in shavasana while imagining myself as a pancake on the earth because that’s how I was feeling – flat, drained, limp, lifeless. I knew something had to be going on below this irrationality, because wasted food—though a shame—is never something to get deeply angry at those you love about. So I sat with this, and tried to be curious, and then realized that underneath were feelings of disappointment, sadness even, over something from earlier in the day that was just one of those things…pain that can’t be solved but perhaps needed to be internally recognized and validated. And so, seeing this, I suddenly felt better. My pancake self felt more like a waffle now or even a scone, vital lumps and ridges rising back into me. I went back downstairs and asked D to takeover making dinner and I had the privilege to curl up with J on the couch and read Harry Potter together, while C “helped” dad make dinner (which involved the little guy sitting quietly at the table munching on tortilla chips). All felt peaceful again and it was a good reminder to look deep when enraged by stale bread.  This reminded me of the idea of using potentially painful emotional experience as motivation and information (Sandra Buechler, 2004), and so perhaps a silly example of exploring what is resiliency.

Here’s something else I’ve also been thinking about: my wallet went missing this week and my body kept taking me back to the car, like one side of my brain was remembering something, but the other side wasn’t going to let me know just everything yet.  I had no recollection whatsoever of taking it out of my purse, opening the middle console, and throwing it in there.  As if that would ever be a good idea.  I keep a tidy car to the point you might call uptight—there’s no clutter on the seats or the floors or even the cup holders.  However, the truth is that inside the middle console is a sneaky pocket of total mayhem—mashed up post-it notes, tic-tacs, pencils, chargers, a baseball, bobby pins, permanent marker, eye-liner, a bottle of cuticle oil—all clacking around, having a party in there. It was just so weird that part of me must have known the wallet was in the car somewhere, as I kept returning there to look for it, but the more specific memory of actually putting it into the console was MIA, as if my daydreams could be so powerful, I went vanishing to other worlds while my body decided strange places for critical items to be placed.  Embarrassing.  But also amazing.

I needed to laugh at myself this week because there has been so much sadness in the air, in my body, in so many people’s bodies.  It’s hard to write.  I’ve cried more than once in response to the news lately, and I’m not alone, of course.  The other morning, I cried when I read about Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor who has visited almost 100 schools to tell her story, despite being called a liar and a whore, standing up so bravely to educate about an issue that has so much shame, so much confusion and darkness, sacrificing her own privacy and wellbeing and healing in order to initiate a greater shift—spreading understanding, empathy and change in a culture that continues to be so fucked up to live in.  So back to the wallet situation, I guess I had to play a trick on myself to lighten things up, or had to check out for a bit, lose a few things just to find them again.  I might recommend this to everyone, as it was so satisfying to find the thing that had gone missing.  But, of course, there’s also that chance of not finding it and then we’re just left stumbling through that middle console, hating the madness of it all—sifting through everything only to discover nothing at all.

“Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel…” I love this poem, “One Art,” by Elizabeth Bishop, as I feel like moments of disarray and confusion in life are unavoidable, no matter how hard we try to understand or keep things in order.  I think this speaks to change too, because its inherently flustering this traveling into the unknown, without knowing exactly where everything is and what is going to happen.  I love that Sandra Buechler mentions this poem at the end of her book, Still Practicing and writes, “I want to become a really good loser.  I practice every day. ” This makes me think that, perhaps, this constant losing of what we know is what makes us motivated to keep going and keep growing.  We “lose” so much everyday—our youth, our kids as we knew them in their youngest, most innocent versions.  How do we do this gracefully? Without gripping? How do we see what we are also gaining?  And then I go back to that thought about resiliency—as motivation, taking in new information, constant change forming new layers of age, pain toasting our outsides like a crème brulee, making us at a loss for words or reasons or understanding, and yet, somehow, more complete than we were the minute before.

Resiliency.jpg

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Kaleidoscope

I was thinking about ouroboros—that image of a snake from ancient Egypt and Greece with its tail in its mouth, continually consuming itself and being reborn from itself, representing wholeness or infinity.  For some reason, there’s something claustrophobic about this, reminds me of how I can never get away from myself—the raw material of outer life always filtering through my inner world that I can never escape, bouncing around in there like an echo chamber.  But, I suppose I can try and feel more fluid about it, not so trapped, like maybe it’s okay that we’re in a process of continually swallowing up ourselves—who we used to be from childhood, yesterday, one minute ago—digesting that person, re-creating into who we are today, right now.  Maybe this is freedom, the infinity of change, sustaining forever through this strange nurturing and growth process.

I’ve decided to take voice lessons, because I was recently inspired by a friend.  I feel like there’s always been a disconnect between how I sound inside to myself and how it comes out to the rest of the world.  It’s like the vibrations gets stuck somewhere in my throat, a tightening happens, like wringing out a towel, the end result lacking something important it began with.  Maybe that’s why I like writing so much, because the disconnect dissolves—what’s in here is now magically out there—and I like being heard in this way that feels so unafraid.  Of course, the verbal disconnect is most intense in certain situations.  For example, at Back to School Night for J’s new school, we had to share one “fun fact” about ourselves with a group of other parents.  I was surrounded by kind, friendly, eager faces but, for some reason, my body reacted like I was suddenly being held at gun point.  Please, God, no—I felt a churning sensation inside, an internal begging, pleading, followed by total shutdown, frozen, mute.  I stared at the parent who went first, her words seeming to just flow out in a way I could not comprehend.  It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t think of anything, although the thought did cross my mind that, Oh my God I have nothing, which I knew wasn’t true, and I was able to scrounge up something (um….I like to paint—is that fun?). It’s just the thought of the next step—releasing it into the air—felt like a belt tightening around my neck.  And I’m pretty sure it ended up coming out that way—like a strangled little bird.  So, going back to the ouroboros—maybe voice lessons will help me swallow up that little bird and release it again in new ways.  We shall see.

This week, C continued to insist on reading Goodnight Moon every night, repeating the phrases after his dad read them aloud, “goodnight bears, goodnight chairs, goodnight kittens, and goodnight mittens…”  Afterwards, he lovingly propped it up by his pillow so he could gaze at the last page while he fell asleep—peaking at the little bunny snuggled in bed, quiet darkness against the brightness of the stars and those tiny, warm lights of the dollhouse.  One day this week, his dad brought home a book called “Farts” and C laughed hysterically as he pushed the different buttons in the book to make the noises you can imagine.  At his preschool, “F” happened to be the Letter Of The Week so he brought the Fart book in to share.  Classy.  Recently, he also got a hold of a birthday card that plays the song “That’s what I like about you” every time you open it.  He carried it around with him for about a week and also shared it at school, referring to the card as “my book.”  He recently stopped crying in the mornings during preschool drop off, as if something clicked deep inside, integrating this pattern that loved ones leave…come back…leave…come back…we’re together…I’m alone…together….alone…with you…without…with you…without…and on and on and on…his little being swallowing and re-birthing into all of this, life’s constant cycle of loss and, hopefully, reunion.

For homework this week, J painted a cardboard box with brown, yellow, and red and used Scotch tape to add pictures he cut out of old Lego instructions.  He chose family photos to go inside that included one of him grinning toothless over his birthday cake and another of him kissing our beloved family cat.  He carefully chose special artifacts to go inside as well, such as a piece of lava rock his dad had as a kid.  After working quietly for some time, he seemed very pleased with himself and said to me, “Maybe when I’m a grownup and I can’t remember what I liked in first grade, I’ll look in this box and remember.”  This week he also rode his bike without training wheels for the first time, fighting back tears of frustration, that painful stage when succeeding at something new feels almost impossible.  The process was so painful to watch, I nearly cried with relief when I saw him picking up speed and wobbling along down the street for the first time, all on his own.  One morning this week he forgot his backpack and I fought the urge to go back and retrieve it for him, knowing it was important for him to make mistakes, to struggle—even if it was so painful for me to see his sad little face as he closed the car door, I had to cry a little on the way home.  This may sound overly dramatic, but it was symbolic to me—knowing I had to literally let him suffer (if possible only manageable amounts) from natural consequences, so he would know he was not entitled to someone else fixing his mistakes, and he could build the resilience to cope in a world full of inevitable failures and pain.  Maybe that sounds dark but there is also lightness, two sides of every coin, in that I knew he would be okay, that the sadness would pass, which I also think helped him know it too.

D went on a work trip this week and I missed him.  It was too quiet when the kids went to sleep.  I thought about our marriage like that ouroboros—an intricate balance of two lives, eternally returning to each other.  When he arrived home, we fell back into our comforting rhythm, cracking up about the boys, teasing each other about how we fold our socks.  We even got out for a date night and got to feel a different energy—escape that domestic web that contains our day-to-day life, which is beautiful but hard, putting aside what we are building—shared hopes and dreams—which again, I am thankful for, but also requires something else ingrained inside and brought out to the light, now and again, for air—that moment-to-moment experiencing of what drew us together in the first place, which is more free and effortless, not logical or orderly or even agreeable, but bright sparks of individuality like the shattering of an enormous kaleidoscope—enticing, unpredictable, magnetic.

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Around and around

Saying goodbye to J on his first day of first grade felt like I was sending him off into the open sea on a homemade raft—tightly woven together everyday moments of our family life that are a mixed-up, mismatch of colors and textures, a combination of past and present, beautiful and tragic, alive and dead, family and friends and ancestors all spinning together.  I felt comforted by this image, but also a little self-conscious, as if the intimacy of our family life was somehow a little exposed by this weirdly-shaped raft—not any stranger than the others as all are equally unique, but odd just the same.

We celebrated our last day of summer with a trip to the zoo.  J and I rode the train, laughing as the ride squeaked and sputtered and whistled down the rickety track.  Later we sat on a quiet, sunny bench together eating popcorn and churros, him wondering aloud what kind of powers he was going to get by drinking red Powerade.  He rode the merry-go-round, his long legs dangling over the plastic cheetah.  Every time he circled around, he waved at me, smiling big and sticking his tongue out the hole of his missing front teeth.  Around and around, hello-goodbye-hello-goodbye-hello-goodbye.

At the playground with C this week, he offered me a basketball and once I joined him, he gleefully shot into a mini-hoop, over and over until the sides of his face got sweaty.  He hardly ever made it in, yet he appeared to have so much fun, laughing when our balls collided or when he almost made a hoop.  Every now and then, he ran over to a nearby bench, sat for a few seconds, drank from his water bottle, and then ran back to shooting.  I was amazed by this—his determination and love for shooting hoops at age two-and-a-half.  It got me thinking about his dad and grandpa, who both played college basketball—of their spirits mixing together somehow, getting all jumbled up, intertwining and melding together, in this moment at least.

I guess we are all pieces of our family, of each other, breathing the same air.  Do you think we ever merge or collide into one another in some other dimension?  Could it be possible to somehow overlap when we are immersed so deeply in an activity in which our spirit experiences such passion it transcends logic?  We are clearly so affected by each other in the physical world, our own energy changed so simply by registering the expression of someone else when they enter the room.

Yet somehow our worlds are also so far apart, with impermeable boxes around them as we can never really know another’s experience, never feel it in the way they do. With all the information we know, no matter how hard we listen, how close we can relate, it is still just a guess.  Maybe that’s why love can be a rich, satisfying closeness, while at the same time, an isolation that is a sharp, unyielding edge.

“There’s so many worlds out there, it’s mind-boggling,” my husband said the other night.  We were looking over the Bay Area from the hills, in one of those rare moments of stillness together, when everything seems quiet, except for a comforting buzz, that is the movement of the world.  Then I thought of billions of homemade rafts, invisible pieces of past and present tied together with mud and reeds, carrying, loving, dreaming, drifting along forever, for all those people filling cars, buses, boats, planes—driving through, docking, taking off into the sky, overlapping, integrating, merging, pulling apart—circular and unending, hello-goodbye-hello-goodbye-hello-goodbye.

 

 

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The Hug Team

Have you ever used one of those shopping carts that has a pole attached, so it can’t leave the store, and failed to notice this important detail, until you tried to exit—while in a rush—and it crashed against the top of the door, causing you to go flying backwards? This has happened to me more than once, most recently, last week.  “Ma’am, you can’t go outside with that cart,” said the security guard in a commanding voice after my pole dramatically hit the doorframe. As if I still hadn’t realized my mistake at that point. No, pretty sure the moment I crashed into the doorway with an embarrassing clang and a jolt to my system, I realized immediately just how dumb I was, thank you very much.

“One of the most difficult human challenges is finding a truthful way to live within limits, whether these limits are imposed by our own fallibility, the needs of others, or societal dictates.” -Sandra Buechler from her book, Still Practicing.  I came across this quote the other day and it stuck with me.  It reminds me of how, sometimes, I feel the rush of life’s energy through my veins—so electrifying and clear—like a dog with its head out the window, sensing all that exciting animal and human activity, salivating over those fresh, nonintoxicating smells of aliveness, the earth.  During these moments, I feel closest to understanding the interconnectedness of it all, the universe, love. It is thrilling and expanding, and it feels like I will never come down.  Until I do. With a jolt. “Ma’am, you can’t go outside with that cart.” And suddenly, the universe is telling me, slow the fuck down, there are limits, pain, fallibility.  (And, of course, it’s not really about the grocery cart incident.) Often despair follows this and some existential questioning. Why bother when there’s always the inevitable crash, that acute awareness of tragedy and pain, death—the ultimate human limit.  And I see myself hating those setbacks, fighting against them, feeling angry, because, how dare I must suffer this way and can’t fly so high.  And, who suddenly took away my goddamn wings? No one.  It’s just life’s limits—boundaries that are real—boxes that shape a human life.  When I came across this quote, it felt nice to have some language around all this.  It was like being offered a hot bowl of soup when you have a cold.  It didn’t solve anything, but it did provide some nourishment, and maybe beginnings of a little joy returning—like a drop of fuel, starting to fill my tank for when it came time for soaring again.

I watch my oldest son, J, in his fantasy world.  Almost daily, he shares a running story plot about a monster called “the Lull” and its “Evil Biker Gang.” He says that he and a group called “the Hug Team” are constantly thinking of creative ways to outsmart “the Lull.” It’s interesting to me that this story he authors for himself, appears to take up a significant percentage of his waking thoughts.  And in this fantasy play, he creates powers for himself that are, of course, beyond his literal capacity.  So perhaps this is his way of dealing with that challenge of living within human limits in a way that feels truthful and free.

My toddler, C, points to pictures and tries rolling the words around his mouth: “motorcycle” “dump truck” “bath time.”  He has a clear desire to join the world of language, to be able to express himself, to be initiated into the club of communicating human beings. It is pretty mind blowing to witness this process, to really listen, and watch him making his way over this significant bridge.  “Kisses” “Ball” “Spoon” “Baby sleeping” “I don’t want that.”  C has learned that some words or phrases he says will elicit hysterical laughter from his big brother, like when he points to his own little backside and says matter-of-factly “big butt.” He seems to keep these phrases highlighted in his mind to be pulled out at critical times.

The other night, my husband showed me a YouTube clip of Noam Chomsky that went along with my latest wonderings about limits.  Chomsky argues that even the most free-thinking artists and poets are still creating inside some sort of structure or limits. And that this frame is what makes a poem so beautiful and differentiates it from free association.  It makes me wonder that if we didn’t have those limits of life (impeding death, illness, pain) would we operate in some sort of free association living? And what would that look like—a meaningless jumble of disjointed activities, unending maniacal euphoria? And that’s one of the reasons I love my husband so much, and why I would be so alone without him. He can join me in my weird thoughts and understand that I need complexity to keep on living. And I think he needs it too.  Maybe we all do.  And at the same time, what we need can also be so very, very simple.  Like he can hold me late at night when I’m crying. Or we can share a belly laugh, which is a type of freedom, when C thoughtfully points his pudgy finger in the air announces, “booger.”

J's art

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