parenting

Resolution: Relax

Having two children is next level in every way imaginable: the busyness, the joy, the lack of sleep, the love, the extremely fast and disorienting pace in which it all goes by. Miles sits up now. Lewis reads (he reads!). The two of them cuddle and stare deeply at one another, full of adoration. Future arguments and fist fights feel far away; I’m sure when they arrive, they will feel too soon. Despite the fact that I spend a good chunk of my day staring at dates on a calendar, moving the logistics of our lives around like a near-impossible jigsaw puzzle, I can’t believe it’s already 2020. Time has become impossible to comprehend.

The passing of a year has marked me, too. My face and neck are wrinklier, my hair longer and wilder, my nerves a bit more frayed. Yet I am also happier, more focused, more impressed and in awe of myself than ever before. There is no confidence booster like birthing a baby in the backseat of a car; I can do anything now! And somehow, in the middle of this barely-controlled chaos also known as raising two kids, I feel more at peace than ever—or perhaps just more acquiesced, which, I suppose, is a version of peace.

PC243409.ORF.jpgMy mom’s birthday recently came and went, another marker of time that continues to confuse me. She would have been 66 this past Christmas Eve. We ate pinto beans with a ham hock over cornbread, followed by cookies we’d made from her handwritten recipes. She was all around us, happy in our offerings. I like how death and birth stop time. Or rather, how they take us beyond time. Time doesn’t stop, it refuses everything except forward motion, but in death and in birth, we go beyond.

2019 was so extremely full. Beautiful and powerful and transformative, but also, A LOT. I am ready for a year of less, though of course I have no control over how much, or how little, comes my way. Perhaps it’s wiser to let go of any expectations and instead find more moments to relax even within all the muchness. Time won’t slow down, but I can.

What is Work? Why At-Home Work Matters + New Essay in MUTHA Magazine!

What is work? Why do we value one type of work and not another? What are we teaching our children about work?

IMG_1119.JPG
“It’s All Hard Work,” my recent essay published in MUTHA Magazine, explores the day-to-day of raising a kid, teaching, homemaking, and trying to find peace in the middle of it all, which can feel like a real challenge sometimes given how much work there is to do. And this is how I feel with a partner who does laundry, shuttles pets to the vet, drops kids off at daycare, and even cooks. Can’t imagine parenting with a partner who doesn’t contribute like this!

But the sad truth is, many people around the world still believe that at-home work is “women’s work,” despite the fact many women work outside the home. More insidiously, this line of thinking enforces the gender binary while erasing the male, transgendered, and nonbinary folk who contribute to the housework and/or stay at home with their children. It also perpetrates the false idea that gender somehow affects a person’s ability to wash a dish, fry an egg, or change a diaper.

IMG_0324Another false idea that too many people still believe: at-home work doesn’t contribute to our economy. What bullshit! People who do this at-home work are enabling other people to do their work; no one can focus in an office with unsupervised toddlers running around, no one can wear smelly clothes to a meeting, and no one can complete any kind of work without eating. If someone else is cooking for you, washing your clothes, and taking care of your kids, you’re presumably also more rested and thus able to work better, as you aren’t doing any of this extra work for yourself. Stay-at-home parents should be getting paid for their contributions; the fact that they aren’t isn’t a reflection on the person but rather on our society. 

But an even bigger reason to call bullshit on the economy argument: people DO get paid for this work! 

Enter the intersectionality of sexism and racism. Our society devalues at-home work in part because the home was historically the woman’s domain while the professional world was created for and by men, but we also devalue it because of our country’s history of slavery. Our collective definition of work, and of worth, is based on a set of systems and beliefs created and held by colonists, mainly rich white men who owned slaves and thought  \black people were not even fully human. When our founding fathers wrote our constitution and created our legal system, they were not thinking about how to protect and value all types of people and all types of work. They viewed childcare, dishwashing, housekeeping, etc, as chores that were beneath them and therefore to be completed by those who were also beneath them. To earn money for this type of work was unfathomable. Even more unfathomable was the master of the house contributing to this work.

33861787278_ab5f44b708_o.jpg
In our post-slavery, post-Civil Rights era, things haven’t changed all that much. Most housecleaners, nannies, dishwashers, etc are BIPOC and/or immigrants. Most are working for white people of a higher socioeconomic class. Most are paid under-the-table without any benefits or protections, some not even earning minimum wage.

I’m not saying that all white men are racist, that they’re all in a position of economic stability, that they never work in any of the jobs I mentioned above. What I am saying is that our society’s racist and sexist ideas about work are learned. They are woven into our economic, legal, and politic systems and passed down generation by generation. When I observe and listen to my four-year-old child, it’s clear that he finds at-home work to be valuable, to be worthy, to be completed by every member of our household. The idea that this work is undignified and should be relegated to women and/or BIPOC is not innate. This means that we can unlearn these ideas. We can also stop teaching them to our children. But that alone isn’t enough. We also have to try to fix the damage that’s been done.

To start: tip service workers better, including those who clean your house, wash your clothes, prepare and serve your food, and take care of your kids.

Other ways to act: support organizations that demand fair wages and protections for these workers. Present your kids with a model in which everyone contributes to at-home work. Analyze our country’s inherently sexist and racist systems and elect people who will change them. Dig deep into yourself and examine your own biases. Write about it. Talk about it. Change it.

Another idea: read my essay in MUTHA. 😉

Two-Kid Full / Two-Kid Tired

Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to have two kids. It was just one of those things; I wasn’t going to be fully satisfied until it happened. And now I have them, and they’re amazing, and I am so full of love that my heart explodes a little every day.

But holy shit I am also so exhausted. Like, layers upon layers of exhausted. My head hurts. My eyes are sticky. My muscles are sore, and not from the core-strengthening and cardio my body craves, but instead from the repetitive use of the few muscles it takes to hold a 15-pound creature in the exact same position every day, to the point that my bicep now clicks and my lower back tingles. Throw in the neck aches from breastfeeding and the torturous routine of sleeping in three- to four-hour spurts, and I am wrecked. Yet I still have to perform at work. I still have the unignorable urge to write and sing and create new music. I still want (need!) to be a regular person who does things like go out with friends, have sex, and watch Netflix without passing out immediately.

I know it will change. I know it will get easier. I know I will one day look back and think of how quickly it all went by. It already feels fleeting, like time just passes through me and constantly catches me off guard.

And yes, I am very much enjoying the squishy cheeks and squeezy thighs, the sweet cuddles and easy giggles, my four-year-old’s sense of humor and his passion for dinosaurs. I am especially enjoying my two kids together – witnessing the love they already share is one the best experiences of my life, and I get to have this experience on a daily basis.

img_9666.jpg

But despite this, it also feels like I will never feel rested ever again. Like my body will always hurt, my mind will always be foggy with exhaustion, my life will always be centered around children and their needs. I am content, but also, it sucks sometimes. So just let me be in it, let me whine, let me wallow a little, or else my easily-accessed hormonal anger will flare up and I’ll say something I won’t have the energy to regret.

*****

P.S. I have no idea who created that hilarious and accurate meme, but if you do, please leave the source in the comments.

P.P.S. There is so much spit-up. Just so much of it.

Mama Dog, my Horror Story, Published in Tiny Town Times!

IMG_9538.JPG
I’m thrilled to announce that my horror story, “Mama Dog,” has been published in the Tiny Town Times, a great little paper produced by Tanline Printing out of Tucson, Arizona, featuring interviews, poetry, art, jokes, and all kinds of other goodies. Check it out here – my story is on pages 20 – 22.

Happy Halloween, everyone! Hope you’re enjoying the skeletons, pumpkins, and warty gourds as much as we are.

Not feeling the spirit just yet? Give a listen to Jonathan Toubin’s Haunted Hop Halloween Mix; it’s a blast and will get those spooky vibes flowin’.

Your Sister’s Ghost

It is 6:30 pm, Father’s Day is tomorrow, and we have nothing ready for your dad. To be honest, I was relying on your daycare teachers – for Mother’s Day, they helped you make this adorable and extensive art project that I completely love – but it seems like they don’t feel the same about dads. Your dad is a particularly chill one and not into fake holidays, but still, we have to do something. Or rather, you have to do something – I have to cook dinner.

“Why don’t you draw a picture of MommyDaddyLewis for Daddy’s special day tomorrow?” I suggest.

You run with this idea, literally, straight to your art table where you pull out a piece of blue paper and some markers. I wait until you’re settled then return to the kitchen to boil water for pasta.

August 2018 Drawing on the Balcona.JPG

A few minutes later, I walk back in and glance at the three figures you’ve drawn in the middle of the page. I’m impressed; they’re the most detailed, complete images you’ve ever made, and I’m ready to burst forth in motherly praise. But before I say anything, you start drawing another figure in the top left corner, smaller than the rest of us and clearly separate. Without prompting or even a word from me, you say, “That’s my sister.”

“What?” I reply, taken aback.

“My sister.”

“Your sister?”

“Yes.”

I am stunned. We haven’t talked about Baby Wow since right after I lost her six months ago now. We actually haven’t talked about siblings at all since then. While her recent due date certainly triggered many things inside of me, I’ve been very careful not to mention this around you. In fact, I never even told you she was a girl. I first shared with you that I was pregnant when she was eleven weeks in utero, but then had to tell you just one week later that she wouldn’t be born. You were sad, but only for a couple of days. By the time the genetic test results came back and we’d learned her gender, you were long over it.

Thinking back to those days surrounding the procedure still hurts. But I have to put my own emotions aside so that I can be present and explore this moment with you. I don’t want to put words in your mouth or sway your thoughts in any way, so I decide to begin with, “Do you have a sister?”

“Yes,” you reply in the same intonation as an older kid might say, Duh.

“Okay. Where is she?”

“Here,” you say, tapping your drawing of her.

“I see. So do you have a sister for real, or just in the picture?”

Seriously and without hesitation, you say, “For real.”

“In real life, or just pretend?”

“In real life, Mommy.” I can sense the annoyance seeping into your voice, but I decide to push on just a little more.

“Okay, where is she for real?” 

“Mommy, she’s right here,” you say, pointing to the air beside you.

Lew's Family Portrait 2018.JPG

Writing While Mothering

NanaLewTea9.2018.jpg

Lew and Nana sharing some morning tea in Massachusetts.

I am alone this weekend for a writing “retreat,” and while the mental and physical space is glorious, I miss my little bug.

It’s so strange how parenting never stops. How it’s all or nothing. How it simultaneously feeds you and feeds upon you. The act of finding balance is constant and crucial.

I’m lucky and grateful to have my in-laws. And I’m thrilled for the opportunity to once again dive into my stories and not resurface until I damn well please.

But also, I’ll be looking forward to those sweet texts with pictures of Lew, enjoying retired life with his grandparents, without me.

To all the mama writers out there – you got this.

Remembering Rain

downpour.jpg

I am six-years-old in the backseat of my family’s blue Oldsmobile. My father is driving through a patch of heavy rain and my mother is nervous, she bites her nails and spins the radio knob in search of a local weather report. My older brother, however, is fascinated; he presses his fingers to his window and traces streaks of water as they race down the glass.

The rain somehow beats harder against our car. My heart beats faster along with it. I am worried this much rain means a tornado is coming and I know a car is the worst place to be during a tornado. There is so much I don’t understand yet – the nature of storms, of my mother’s phobias, of my own mind – and I am too young to find the words to form the right questions, much less accept that they don’t have answers. I am confused and I want to cry but everyone tells me I cry too much and I don’t want to prove them right. My brother can sense my disquiet, he turns to me and reaches one hand across the middle seat, pats his lap with the other. I lie down on him and am instantly soothed. He drapes his arm over me and tells me that he likes the rain, I shouldn’t be scared, rain is fun. I love him and the soft way he speaks and also how safe it feels to lie in his arms. My body relaxes and I think that if my very smart big brother likes the rain, then perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing after all.

— ◊ —

The rain stops right as my husband pulls into a hotel parking lot. I release our boy from his seat and he is thrilled to be free after all those hours of driving. He skips across the sidewalk through the front doors and into the lobby, climbs onto the couch and bounces three times before jumping down and dashing off again. I check in with the receptionist and then corral him back out through the doors to our car. My husband, laden with bags, comments on how beautiful the lightning is. He hands me the stroller then slams our trunk right as a loud crack of thunder rattles the sky, cracks open the dark, heavy cloud hanging above us, and releases an onslaught of rain. We squeal and run into the hotel, our clothes and hair drenched from mere seconds of downpour. The boy is beaming, he dances in circles around the lobby, delighted he is wet enough to leave puddles of water behind him. “Watch me!” he shouts at the receptionist who obediently walks around her desk and watches his clumsy rendition of a frog. She asks him if he likes the rain and he nods enthusiastically. She then asks if he is scared of thunder and he pauses, cocking his head in thought. After a moment, he leaps up to his feet, sticks his arms out behind his back and runs to the couch, shouting “Nooooooo!” as he throws his wet body against a cushion and bounces off of it, laughing hysterically.

 

Photo Credit: Downpour by Vaidehi Shah