parenting

Remembering Rain

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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 lightening 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 hair and clothes 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
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Gratitude, A Photo Journal: Brain-Picking Becky #14

I just can’t with the news this week – so much violence, anger, fear, greed. I decided that rather than focusing on how awful our world leaders are, I needed to take a break from current events and focus my energy on the little things in my day-to-day life that make me grateful. In the past, avoiding the news felt like I was being irresponsible, neglecting my duties as a citizen, but now, taking the space I need to focus on gratitude seems like the best way to resist the hatred and negativity that’s spreading through our country, our world, like a disease. It’s a lot easier for me to be kind to others and treat them with respect and compassion when I’m feeling full of gratitude, and kindness, respect, and compassion are exactly what this world needs more of right now. So whether you continue to tune into the news or not, I strongly encourage you to also tune into the grateful wavelength. It might take some reminding at first, but we are all capable of making this choice and sticking with it. Here are some photos and thoughts to hopefully get you started.

IMG_1027I very much appreciate green things growing out of rocks. I also appreciate the sound of lapping water and my silly/awesome star tattoos and the way sunshine feels on my
bare feet.

IMG_1019There is beauty everywhere if we allow ourselves to see it, even in steel and machines and concrete. I also love the fact that five different countries were represented on this single subway car; NYC is proof that people from all of the world can live together in harmony.

IMG_1024From the subway to the bay to the ocean. My commute is special. When I look out at this body of water that goes on and on until it reaches another continent where someone of a different race and a different language is, like me, staring into its depths, I feel grateful that I am so small yet also connected to something so tremendous.

IMG_1016Not everyday can be sunny. And that’s okay; I appreciate a gray sky and the smell of rain and the sound it makes as it falls against my umbrella.

Okay, I confess it’s perhaps ridiculous to have this many animals in a Brooklyn apartment, yet at the same time, it’s magical. I love my little menagerie and I love being loved by them. I greatly appreciate that we all make it work.

IMG_1059And, of course, this boy. Every day I am grateful for him; becoming a mom is the most incredible and rewarding thing I have ever done.

BeckyLewCryingAlso, the craziest. But I’m grateful for the imperfect moments, too, for the screams and the exhaustion and the ink stains on towels. I’m glad that life is complicated.

IMG_1077And I’m glad that in the midst of these complications, we find opportunities to relax and reflect. As a child I dreamed of something different than the cow farms and cul-de-sacs I grew up with, and now here I am thriving in New York City. May all people have a dream and the gumption to go for it.

IMG_1084And may all people also have the luxury of a summer afternoon with Prosecco, good friends, and a beautiful view.

Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.

Brain-Picking Becky #11: Good Morning, Anxiety, Sit Down.

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This has been a profound month for me and my anxiety disorder. Fortunately and unfortunately, there are three big reasons for this. Fortunately because it used to be that my entire existence was one big OCD attack no matter what was going on, so the fact that I only get like this for real reasons now is a great thing; unfortunately because in some ways, it’s easier to deal with generalized anxiety, to convince myself that nothing is wrong, than it is to convince myself not to stress over things that are actually truly wrong.

Trigger #1: My father is having an aortic valve replacement surgery next week, and while it’s a very common procedure with a 99% success rate, we were given the date over a month ago and this kind of waiting period wreaks havoc on the anxious. Trigger #2: My husband’s place of employment is closing on August 9th, and we don’t know what he’ll be doing afterward. He’s experienced, connected, educated, friendly, hardworking – it shouldn’t be difficult for him to get something. But the anxious brain hears the mouth say, “He’ll find a gig, we’re not worried,” and laughs heartily. Trigger #3: The state of affairs in our country right now is overwhelmingly scary and enraging, two emotions, like most emotions, that transform into anxiety inside of me.

It somehow feels childish that I can’t just be a little worried or mad and then set it aside and move on. I feel like I should’ve outgrown anxiety by now, or at least be farther along in the process of dealing with it. But I have to remind myself that this disorder is powerful, mean, and tricky, that it creates these negative, self-critical thoughts in an effort to keep me in its grip. It doesn’t give up easily. But neither do I.

billieholiday“Might as well get used to you hangin’ around.
Good morning, heartache, sit down.” ~Billie Holiday

I started therapy back when I was fifteen-years-old, and throughout all of high school and most of college, my sessions focused on my eating disorder, specifically on cognitive behavioral therapy to retrain my brain surrounding food and not so much on the underlying anxiety. Even when I’d reached a point where I honestly wanted to be healthy and eat like a regular person, my body just wasn’t used to it. I had to wear an ugly, bulky sports watch that did not at all go with my cute hippie skirts, and set multiple alarms that would beep at meal times to remind me to eat. I also had to work on identifying the voice of my eating disorder and separating it from my own voice, then replacing an “Ed” thought with a nicer, more positive one (e.g., Ed: You are so ugly. Me: That’s your eating disorder talking. You are not ugly.) This was a long process. Yes, I wanted to get better, but it was hard to believe my thoughts over Ed’s. In time though, I did it. I distinctly remember a moment from my senior year of college, six years after I’d first started therapy, when I was wiping down the surfaces at the coffee shop I worked in and caught my reflection in the refrigerator door. For the first time in my life I thought, Oh my god, you’re actually pretty. That evening at home in my bedroom, I examined my naked body at length in the mirror and thought, Wow girl, you ARE pretty! And then I burst out crying; past examinations in the mirror had been the exact opposite of this experience. It was a huge leap in my recovery.

Therapists at the time were big on reminding us that we’d have our eating disorders forever and the goal was to manage it and stay healthy, not recover. Jenni Schaefer, a mental health activist who coined the “Ed” concept in her transformative book Life Without Ed, wrote in a later novel of hers, “I would not encourage you to go through the sweat, blood, and tears of the recovery process only to reach some kind of mediocre state where you were just ‘managing’ the illness. It is possible to live without Ed.” I agree with her, especially now that my eating disorder is a decade in my past and I love to cook and eat. But I also still agree with the therapists. Eating disorders tend to develop as a result of other things, like anxiety, depression, or environmental situations, to name a few. Ed is no longer a part of my life, but the obsessive thought loops, the heart racing and stomach churning, the desire to be perfect and make everyone happy, are always there in some capacity. And I would never do something like a juice cleanse; it’s not that my relationship with food is that precarious, but rather that avoiding any kind of cleanse/diet is an offensive move on my part. I know how easily I obsess over things and how easily I act compulsively on these obsessions. I also know how sneaky my disorder is. OCD has an excellent memory. Once it sets in, my whole system reverts backwards; my body seems to like it in a way, like, Yeah, we’re so good at being an anxious mess! It’s familiar, and it tricks me into thinking that because it’s familiar, it’s comforting. In fact, it can set in without my even realizing it. I’ve had many moments where I’m playing catch up, where I find myself furiously scrubbing behind the stove while rapidly repeating the same thought about a conversation I had earlier in the day. Then I stop myself like, Becky, it’s 11 pm, why are you doing this? What are you actually upset about? There are also other moments where I’m fully aware of the trigger and the progression of the process, but my efforts to stop it are slower than the OCD’s efforts and I end up in the midst of it all despite my awareness. And then there are moments where I succeed before it sets in (high five!). So, when I say that I agree with both Jenni Schaefer and the therapists, I mean that I’ve recovered from anorexia, I no longer focus on my food intake or my thoughts surrounding food, but OCD, the underlying reason for my anorexia, is like high blood pressure – I will never “recover” from it but instead will always be managing it.

meincollege (1)Me in college. Cheers!

This thought is actually encouraging, believe it or not. I’m fairly good at dealing with anxiety by this point – my awareness of it has increased exponentially, I’m familiar with many effective techniques (meditation and acupuncture being the two most useful), I have a wonderful support network, and, most importantly, I’m not as scared of it as I used to be. It still frightens me sometimes, but I’m able to recognize that even this fear is a part of the disorder and that my job is to simply chill out about it. I’ve come up with a new mantra that I really love: Just let yourself be okay. I feel like this responds to all aspects of my anxiety, the over-analyzing, the worrying, the intrusive thoughts, the expectations and criticism. I don’t need to be perfect or always joyful or on the up-and-up in every aspect of my life. Even in the middle of an anxiety attack, I am okay. Just let yourself be okay.

So what does anxiety actually look like for me? On a day-to-day basis, I experience only very mild symptoms that don’t affect my life at all, like I get startled easily and my heart swooshes and sinks into my stomach and then races for a few seconds before going back to normal. Most often it doesn’t phase me; I’m used to it by now, and for this I am grateful, to myself, my therapists, my practitioners, teachers, friends and family – getting to this point took a lot from a lot of people. I’m also able to see how my OCD brain can be a huge boon to my life; it gives me motivation and energy, allows me to productively analyze and act accordingly across various situations, and enables me to multi-task effectively. But the spells are a different story, and while I’m grateful they only happen for specific reasons nowadays, they’re still very challenging.

And this is where my frustration comes in. Anxiety is a hot topic in the media, Twitter, even fiction right now, yet most people don’t actually understand what it really means to live with it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad people are talking about it. But I want people to see it and get it, not just talk about it. Therefore, I feel compelled (haha) to describe it for you, so here’s my attempt at explaining a recent morning.

5 am. Your heart swooshes and sinks, waking you up with a jerk. It’s racing and pounding against your chest as if you’ve just finished sprinting. Your throat is tight and you’re having trouble breathing. A short gasp. No, no, don’t gasp, you’ve got this. Breathe in deeply, it’s hard, you’re still gasping, that’s okay, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Your heart is slowing down now. You’re fine, try to sleep.

7 am. You shoot up to a sitting position, heart racing. The baby is awake and screaming from his room, “Mommy, get up!” Breathe in, breathe out, slow down your heart. You love his little voice. Just listen to it for a minute. Such a wonderful sound. Now go squeeze him. You feel a little nauseous as you walk to his room, so you reflexively do that weird tic cough thing that drives you crazy (it’s so strange and it doesn’t even help the nausea, why do you do that?). No, you’re fine, just let yourself be okay. Breathe in, relax your neck. Remember how in college you used to throw up every morning on your walk to class? How you knew all the trees on campus with trunks thick enough to hide behind so no one would see you? You’ve come a long way. Don’t be mean to yourself. Mornings are the hardest and you’re strong. Be here, be present, get out of your head and just be with this little creature and all this love. Also, you actually fell back asleep for a bit, so that’s a win.

7:15 am. Why did your Facebook comment piss her off? You were just trying to help. Women should not turn on each other so easily. If we don’t support each other, who will? Should you reply? Yes, you have to. No, no, don’t, it’s dumb, you don’t even know this person.

Your heart is racing again. Get off the phone and focus on your kid who’s so patiently reading a book by himself while you waste time on this bullshit.

LewReading
7:25 am
. Why did your Facebook comment piss her off? You were just trying to help. Women should not turn on each other so easily. If we don’t – Stop it, you
’re thought looping, and your heart is now pounding in your throat and you feel nauseous again. Don’t cough, it doesn’t help.

Wait, when did you even pick up your phone again? Just reply and be done with it.

7:35 am. Why did your comment piss her off? You were just trying to help. Women should not turn on each other so easily. 

Stop the loop. Slow down your heart. Breathe.

Why did your comment piss her off?

Stop it stop it stop it!

You shouldn’t have replied. Should you check for a response?

NO, YOU IDIOT!

And seriously, do not look at the news right now. Don’t do it. It will only make things worse. Don’t you dare do it. Put the phone down NOW.

7:40 am. Oh come on, “Meh, whatever,” is the best reply that asshat could come up with in response to your very understanding reply? Your heart is pounding in your face now. This is fucking stupid. Why do people have to be so mean? Women should not turn on each other so easily. If we don’t support each other, who will?

PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE AND GET OUT OF THE APARTMENT RIGHT NOW.

But you haven’t packed anything, and now you’re walking frantically around the living room picking up objects you don’t need, and Lew thinks it’s a game and is laughing, and you wish it were just a game, and now you’re shaking.

mydresser
7:45 am. Hooray, you have successfully straightened every single knick-knack on every shelf while simultaneously singing songs with Lewis. Now you get to enjoy the peace and calm of an apartment filled with straightened objects! Except that your heart is racing again. Because this has absolutely nothing to do with Facebook or women or having an organized home. Really this is about Dad. You simply can’t lose another parent right now, you cannot become an orphan. 

Ugh, why do you have to go to the most morbid place imaginable? What is wrong with you? 

Shit, you’re nauseous again. Sit down. Breathe in, breathe out. Everything is going to be fine.

HA! You wish. No seriously, it is reasonable to assume it will all be fine. But you know what’s not reasonable? Losing both of your parents before you turn 33. You could deal with it, you have to, you have a kid and you have Dave and your writing and your music. You could write and sing through the pain, maybe even help someone else deal with their grief.

Come on, don’t be so dramatic. No one is dying. It’s like, a statistical improbability. Your neck is so tense is hurts. Relax a little, let yourself be okay.

7:50 am. So, you just texted like, ten people to see what they’re doing today. You cannot hang out with ten people today. You also somehow read three books out loud to Lewis while sending those texts. Wait, did you make any typos? Go back and reread them.

No. Get outside! It always helps to just get outside. Grab the bag and go – it doesn’t matter what you’ve packed.

7:55 am. Excellent work! Those books Lew ripped yesterday are now all nice and neatly taped up, and look at how happy he is reading them! I can’t believe it took you so long to repair them. Anyway, what can you do next? Yes, prop up the stove and clean around the burners, you love doing that.

todolist
8:00 am
. Beautiful! The stove is cleaned and also you made a to-do list with 36 items for your week off of work, including ‘shower’ just in case you forget. But that’s silly because you love showering. Cross it out. No, don’t cross it out, you haven’t done it yet! Oh and also, you
 haven’t applied for that tutoring job, don’t forget to add that to the list.

Ahhhhhh, what the hell are we gonna do if Dave doesn’t have a job come September?

Heart swoosh, sink, throb throb throb.

Oh no, your eyes are glazing over, you’re doing that thing where you’re pulling away again, where it feels like there’s an immeasurable distance between you and your surroundings, where you have trouble interpreting other people’s body language and expressions and then just analyze it all on repeat. You’re getting dizzy, your throat and chest are tight tight tight. Don’t do this, don’t float away. Lew finished his puzzle. Put him in the stroller, get outside. You are fine. Just let yourself be okay.

8:05 am. Phew. We did it. But you’re walking really fast. And dammit, you forgot that you have to move the car today!

Swoosh, sink, thump.

Dude, seriously? Your heart’s doing its whole thing over something as simple as moving the car later on? You need to slow down. Feel the sun, hear the birds. Smile at your beautiful baby boy. No matter what happens, you will be okay.

Breathing in, I calm my mind. Breathing out, I smile. Breathing in, I am dwelling in the present moment. Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment. And yes, it truly is.

The most fascinating thing for me is that most of you can probably relate to much of what I just described; it was a huge breakthrough in my process when I realized that everyone has these thoughts and fears, just not everyone has the same physical reactions to them as I do. I’ve really worked on viewing my anxiety disorder as a set of physical patterns and not as a reflection on my sanity. This separation allows me to observe it without feeling lost in it. But it can be difficult, especially in a society that devalues women and the mentally ill.

I see it as a personal mission to be honest about my experiences so that people can better understand and empathize with hopefully everyone who suffers from a mental illness. Please, keep in mind that you have no idea what a person is going through based on their outward appearance. In fact, people are often shocked to learn that I have OCD; because I’ve worked hard to maintain it and incorporate mindfulness and relaxation into my life, I often come across as laid-back and easy-going even when I’m having a spell.

I guess what I’m saying is, try to be more understanding. We need to love and support each other right now. No matter what happens with my dad, Dave’s job, the Senate, Supreme Court, or the White House, we all need to practice more compassion for one another. An act of kindness can multiply and multiply and make a tremendous difference. Just let everything be okay.

bexndaveinLA

Writer’s Note: I totally broke the rules and spent over four hours on this piece and then edited it again later for at least 30 minutes.

Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.

Brain-Picking Becky #10: Still A Feminist

There’s no shame in craving domestic order, only shame in genderizing its production.”
  ~Sarah Curtis Graziano

From when I was a baby until I was in middle school, dolls and stuffed animals were my favorite toys. I talked to them constantly, brushed their hair and washed their faces, made dresses for them out of leftover scraps from Mom’s and Granny’s sewing projects. When I turned eight, Granny hired me for my first job, cleaning her house from top to bottom once a month for $50, and I saved up all of my profits for our biannual trips to the flea market in Louisville where I splurged on Madame Alexander porcelain dolls (the seller told me I was the best bargainer she’d ever met). I displayed all 30+ of these dolls on a shelf in my bedroom, and I’d often lie on my Pepto-Bismol-colored carpet and stare at my collection, admiring how beautiful they all were.

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This passion for taking care of things didn’t stop with inanimate objects. I regularly played with the little kids at church while the girls my age played their own games, I started babysitting when I was 14-years-old, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, I taught in a daycare after college, and I always dreamed of having my own baby one day. While the environment I was raised in may account for some of this, a large portion of it is just something that’s been inside of me ever since I can remember.

I’m gonna get even “girlier” on you: I also love to cook, and even to clean. Some of my favorite memories are of Mom, Granny and me making big dinners together in the kitchen. I baked my first strawberry pie when I was seven, took it to a church potluck and hid near the dessert table so I could watch people eat it without them knowing I was there. The enjoyment in their faces, their generous second portions, their unsolicited compliments, all filled me with so much pride that I decided I was going to be a baker when I grew up (spoiler alert: I didn’t). And when I say I like to clean, I mean it – the act of it in addition to its results. This is probably connected to having OCD, but it’s also connected to those sweet memories of long Saturday afternoons cleaning Granny’s house, smelling her shirts as I folded and put them away, rubbing my fingers over her silk pillowcases as I made her bed, dragging dust rags across framed photographs of her in younger times. I remember feeling so satisfied at the end of the day, especially when Granny showered me with compliments (and, let’s be honest, also when she gave me that $50 bill).

Dolls, cooking, cleaning… Some people might say I was trained to be a perfect little wifey. But you know what? Those people are wrong. I wasn’t trained to take care of a man – I was trained to take care of myself. I was taught how to be independent, to make my own choices and feel good about them. These ideas of independence, freedom, and confidence are at the root of feminism, yet I hear over and over how being domestic means I’m not a real feminist. All of this infighting and nitpicking amongst modern feminists is killing the entire movement, and, in my perspective, is exactly the opposite of what the movement is (or at least should be) all about.  

So yes, Mom and Granny did all of the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. But that doesn’t exempt them from being feminists. While they always wanted me to get married and have kids, they didn’t want me to need this. They never once positioned marriage and motherhood as opposed to my dreams of pursuing my education and being a writer. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to cook with them until I finished my homework, and they often told me to stop washing the dishes so I could go write a story I was blabbering on about. And guess who else also had to cook and wash the dishes? My older brother. But he was so lazy and annoying about it that while they still made him regularly contribute to the chores, they didn’t take his food to the potlucks or hire him for the big cleanings. And they encouraged me to get married and have kids because they wanted me to be happy, not because they saw this as the only path available to women; they equally encouraged my brother to get married and have kids. Turns out, they were right. I love being a mom. I love being a wife. I love it when my husband tells me I’m beautiful and I love watching people eat my food and I love when my kitchen is neat and orderly and smells like fresh mint. None of these loves of mine have anything to do with whether or not I’m a feminist.

I think a lot of this current backlash against domesticity comes from that idea that second-wave feminism in the U.S. revolved around the renewed, forced domesticity of women post-World War II. But the key word here is “forced” – the deeper-rooted issue was that women didn’t have a choice. They were shoved into a role based on their gender and were held back from other opportunities as a result of these roles. To me, feminism is about equal rights between men and women, about having the same opportunities and the same options to make our own choices, not about whether we as individual women are traditional, domestic, radical, or rebellious (or, crazy as it sounds, all of these things simultaneously). Women should have the same freedom as men to forge our own way. Some of us will choose domesticity, some of us won’t. That doesn’t mean that some of us are worse feminists than others. Feminists come in all kinds of shapes, colors, sizes, and forms, and it’s time that the greater movement focused on how to embrace this rather than argue over it.

Mural: Las Milagrosas: Tribute to Women Artists by Franco Folini / Creative Commons

Earlier this week, a friend of mine, Leigh Hecking, tackled modern feminism’s inclusivity and race problem though analyzing Hulu’s recent release of The Handmaid’s Tale, and she came to an insightful, eloquent conclusion that sums up my sentiments exactly: “We need to approach feminism from a place of empathy, openness and inclusivity. We need to challenge our own views of what it means to be a woman (women don’t need to have a vagina or breasts, for example). We need to stop viewing other women’s lives as fiction and ours as reality.” I LOVE the way she phrases this. Honestly, everyone in the world needs to practice more empathy right now, but it feels especially awful to hear women attacking other women over if they’re a good enough feminist or not. The fact that feminism is super white is a real issue, but you know what won’t solve it? White women yelling at other white women over what is and isn’t a feminist. You know what will solve it? Practicing this empathy and openness that Leigh is calling for. Being supportive instead of overly critical. Listening, honestly listening, to each other.

So on this note, I’m asking some friends of mine who identify as women of color to answer two questions: 1. What does feminism mean to you? and 2. What is your advice to white feminists on how to create a more inclusive movement? I hope you check back next Friday for their answers, and please feel free to offer your own answers, as well – as long as you’re nice!

Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.

The Terrible/Terrific Twos


Lew is two-years-old now, and it’s like he received a text message on the night of his second birthday: Time to be terrible! Literally the next morning, his tantrums escalated from the occasional, short bursts of frustration that marked the past few months, to long, frequent, very loud, full-blown screeching, in the morning, the afternoon, bed time, any time. The craziest things set him off, completely nonsensical to us but SO REAL to him, and then, as quickly as he goes off, he comes back. “All done crying now,” he said the other day, quite calmly despite the fact his little neck vein was still taut and his face still red and tear-streaked from screaming only seconds earlier.

But, the other side of being a terrible two is all the amazing developmental leaps. He helps with the chores (like, actually helps), talks nonstop, recognizes letters and numbers, even pranks us (seriously – he hides our keys! – which is funny when it happens to Dave but not so funny when it happens to me). We’ve got an actual boy on our hands who does all the things an actual boy should be doing, and that’s a good exciting thing.

At least this is what I tell myself. And, as you probably guessed, it doesn’t provide much comfort in the middle of an outburst. So here I am, blogging about the ridiculousness of toddlerhood so that we can all laugh at Lew’s expense and thus make me feel better about having made the decision to create a sweet, beautiful baby that turned into a Jekyll and Hyde toddler monster.

Mr. Hyde: Top Ten Reasons Why Lew Was VERY ANGRY This Week

10. He ate all of the blueberries in one sitting – literally the whole pint. When I said that we’d go to the store later to buy more, he lost it. “Noooo, I want Mama go buy bluebeggies NOW!”

9. The dog walked into the room and sat on her bed. The bed that was way across the room from where Lew was playing. The bed that Lew has never expressed interest in before or since.

8. I gave him banana/milk/water/puzzle when he asked for it. (This happens so often with so many things, and it drives me crazy).

7. We went to the park instead of riding the subway to nowhere.

6. I took a sip of my coffee.

5. After watching 28 videos of sea lions, YouTube loaded a dolphin video. “NO! I WANT SEAYIYON!”

4. I refused to eat the soggy, chewed-up piece of rice cracker he’d taken out of his mouth and thrust in my face.

3. He got cream cheese on his finger while eating a bagel. (This one was particularly pathetic because it happened every time he took a bite until he finally finished the bagel, which was a feat considering the amount of screaming/crying/tears/snot.)

2. I sang “pat your head” instead of “nod your head” during If You’re Happy and You Know It.

1. I took off his poopy pants and suggested that he put on pajamas. “NO JAMAS! I want sleep pants wit poop!”

Dr. Jekyll: Conversations With Lew

Cuddling in his bed on the night of his zoo birthday party where we spent over 45 minutes watching sea lions.

Lew: SEAYIYONS!
Me: Yeah, we saw sea lions at the zoo today.
Lew: Mama, seayiyons go poop.
Me: Yep, sea lions poop.
Lew: Seayiyons go poop make mess.
Me: I guess?
Lew: Poop on floor.
Me: A lot of animals poop on the ground, it’s true.
Lew: MAMA!
Me: What?
Lew: SEAYIYONS GO POOP IN AGUA!
Me: Yes, I suppose they do.
Lew: No no no, Mama! Seayiyons go poop make mess in agua!
Me: Oh, it’s okay. There are zookeepers, the people who work at the zoo, who take care of the sea lions and clean up their water.
Lew: People clean up mess agua.
Me: Yep, they clean it up.
Lew: SEAYIYONS GO POOP AGUA MAKE MESS CLEAN UP PEOPLE POOP SEAYIYONS MESS AGUA CLEAN UP SEAYIYONS –
Me: Lewis.
Lew: Mama.
Me: It’s time to go night night.
Lew: Okay. Night night.
Me: Night night, my love.

Six seconds later

Lew: Mama?
Me: What, dear.
Lew: Monkeys!
Me: No honey, it’s night night.
Lew: Mama, monkeys!
Me: Okay, fine, what about the monkeys?
Lew: Monkeys trees!
Me: Yes, monkeys live in trees.
Lew: Monkeys go poop in trees!
Me: Probably some of them do.
Lew: Monkeys poop trees.
Me: I’m so glad you had fun today. Happy birthday, baby.
Lew: Lewis birfday.
Me: Yep. And now, it’s time to go night night.
Lew: Time go night night.
Me: You got it. I love you, honey.
Lew: I wub oo.
Me: I love you!
Lew: I wub oo!
Me: You’re the best.
Lew: Monkeys go poop trees!
Me: Okay. I’m gonna get up now and give you a kiss and you’re gonna go night night by yourself, okay?
Lew: Okay! Night night, Mama.
Me: Night night.

I give him a kiss, walk halfway across the room.

Lew: SEAYIYONS!
Me:
Lew: Mama, seayiyons!
Me: Goodnight, Lewis.

I leave the room and close the door.

Lew: Seayiyons! In the agua!

Brain-Picking Becky #8: This Extreme Love

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Dave and I recently took our first vacation without Lew, a glorious five days in Los Angeles in which our main concerns were things like how bad the traffic was on this or that road, if we needed a sweater or could get away with just a t-shirt, and if my new diaphragm felt better or worse than condoms. Yes, we missed Lew like hell, and we even missed our pets, our home, and our busy little New York life, to the point that by day four I woke up feeling melancholy, but that California sun, the crisp Pacific water, the happy hour cocktails and fresh fish tacos and the not at all worrying about things like nap time or diaper rashes or how many hours had passed since we last let the dogs out, was enough to dampen the longing. I spent the week relishing in my husband, in the beautiful, sexy ways he smiles, laughs, talks, and I let myself feel everything that bubbled up, the love and happiness, the angst and anxiety, the joy and the fear, and I thought, Whoa, it is such a luxury to just be able to sit here and think and feel. I’d never before considered ruminating to be a luxury, but in my regular life where someone needs something every thirty seconds, it’s nearly impossible to follow a thought through to its end. Passing all that time just breathing and thinking felt lavish.

~

Ever since I can remember, I’ve operated under the idea that I was supposed to make everyone happy. In order to do this, I had to be perfect. People loved me because I was pretty and nice and smart, and it was my duty to be all of these things so that they could be happy. I honestly don’t remember a time in which I didn’t feel this way. In fact, I distinctly remember being four-years-old, emerging from the basement of my childhood home into a kitchen crowded with family members, and delivering a serious but also sarcastic speech about the food we’d just eaten (yes, I was a hyper-verbal preschooler who used sarcasm). At that young of an age, I knew I’d said something funny and that I wanted to be funny, but even more so, I’d said something serious and wanted to be taken seriously. But when everyone laughed and no one engaged me in a real discussion, I burst into tears. Mom rushed over, gripped me in a tight hug, and said, “Honey, that was funny, we’re just laughing because you’re so smart, not because we’re making fun of you.” This made total sense to me, and I remember formulating the idea for the first time that it was okay if people laughed at me without understanding what I’d said, because laughing meant I’d make them happy.

BexVampy

This idea came to rule my life. Getting straight A’s, being first chair in band, memorizing verses for Sunday school, cleaning the house, learning to cook, reading college-level novels when I was 12 but also still playing with the dolls Mom had bought me – all of this meant everyone else was happy and therefore I was good. Sure, some of this was motivated by my personal likes (reading and cooking have always been favorite activities of mine), but there was a constant current of pleasing others that ran underneath all of it.

Of course it exploded. How could it not? I was primed for an eating disorder and it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It just was.

~

After years of working on the project of myself and my life, I’d made my way to the milestone of the first vacation as a new mom without the kid (two years later, parenthood still feels new). My husband and I were lounging in Topanga Canyon on a breezy spring day, surrounded by horses, donkeys, birds, and roosters, listening to our friend tell a story about walking his dog with a neighbor who he later realized was Laura Palmer of Twin Peaks. I laughed and then turned inward as he moved onto an anecdote about Gary Busey. I noticed I felt heavy, emotionally weighed down somehow, but also excited and inspired and eager to be creative, and I realized that all that hippie shit about California and its vibes is so real, like straight up totally for real. Somehow, the strange land of Los Angeles is genuinely healing, filled with an indescribable magic that vibrates in your bones, yet is also completely consuming, devouring, even devastating. No wonder people do so many drugs.

IMG_0456I couldn’t put these feelings into words and I didn’t even try (a rare moment in my life). Instead, I just sat in them and let the vibrations do their thing. I thought about my own healing process, my own magic and potential, my own ability to consume myself. Out of all the remaining pieces of “residue” (as I like to call my old bad patterns and habits), the idea that other peoples’ happiness is my responsibility is the hardest to kick. I’ve made progress with this, but it’s an ongoing struggle. My brain wandered on to how crazy it is to have a child, to have this part of yourself walking around outside of you, how being separated from it is so relieving yet also terrifying. I thought about how much parenthood has changed me, how it’s brought me closer to my understanding of humanity, closer to my core. I see so much of myself in Lew. The way we both move through an empty room, the way we love Dave, the way we need to talk. He’s got my boundless energy, my desire to help and please, my fast-paced brain, my passion to express and to learn. “I’m running in a circle, running in a circle, running in a circle!” he shouts as he literally runs in circles.

Oh dearest Lew, you act out the inner workings of my mind, I thought as a rooster crowed somewhere in the canyon hills. But I will teach you how to breathe and to meditate and to reign this all in. Our kind of mind is a power and a curse, and I’m going to teach you how to use it. The real gift is in accepting how the you and the now are always changing, and just letting that be.

~

The sunbathing, hiking, ocean swimming, sexing, thinking, feeling, breathing, all did me good. I left LA relaxed, refreshed, eager to tune in to the NYC vibes I love yet take for granted, ready to reunite with my family and bring this tranquility home to them. But then, within a mere three hours of picking everyone up from the grandparents, I found myself with Lew’s shit on my pants, a dog peeing in the house, my keys dangling from outside the apartment door, my shoulders tense and tight, Dave unreachable at work, and I thought, “THIS is what I missed???”

I took a deep breath. Yes, this imperfect life with its messy emotions, these constant yet gratifying responsibilities, this extreme love, this is what I missed.

Baz&Lew

Click here to learn more about the ongoing column Brain-Picking Becky.

Ella, The Man and The Dog

An original short story by Becky Fine-Firesheets

Motherhood filled Ella’s days with meaning yet also made them meaningless, made the whole world meaningless. How much this little creature needed her, how every task served a clear purpose of keeping him alive, yet how unimportant this actually was, how it absolutely didn’t matter to the greater planet or its billions of inhabitants if her baby lived or died. Late at night when she was awake despite the fact her baby and boyfriend were sleeping, this awareness of her own smallness and futility terrified her. But most of the time, it was relieving. Freeing, even.

snowmountain

— ◊ —

The sharp yip of the neighbor’s dog. Ella came to and immediately scanned the room for Dylan, found him on the floor nearby with his manic grin, his fat hand clutching a Lego.

“Oh my God, oh my God, honey.” She stood up – a rush of vertigo. Fighting through the dizziness, the fog, the fear, she stumbled to her baby and collapsed around him. He screamed and kicked; she’d interrupted his game. She released her grip and rolled onto her back, heart pounding so hard she could feel it banging against the hardwood floor beneath her.

It had been over a decade since she’d lost time like this, and then only once and only because of The Man.

— ◊ —

After it had happened, after The Man had leaned in for a goodnight kiss but instead forced himself into her apartment and then into her body, she dreamed of poisoning him. It would have been so easy, just a quick dash of almond syrup in his morning latte would have been enough to trigger his allergy. The key would be to fix her lips into the same tight food service grin she faked every day, to control her shaking hand as she offered him the drink, to turn to the next customer like nothing was out of the ordinary. But she felt sure she could pull it off – her anger gave her confidence – and she even came close enough once that she’d unscrewed the cap and gripped the bottleneck in her fist.

He was asking for it, she would say afterward, just like she’d overheard him say about her. But doubt rushed through her, and then she lost time and her job and never saw him again.

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 — ◊ —

The relentless barking. Her head pounded with it. The dog had barked all day long before the baby, but Ella was working a 9-5 office job then and hadn’t noticed. Now that she was a stay-at-home mom, her life split into blocks of play, eat, sleep, repeat, the barking was ruining her life.

My God, she thought, how much did I lose? Misty, her old therapist, had sworn this wouldn’t happen again, but here she was after all these years, and alone with the baby no less! If only the dog would shut up so she could think. Ella pulled back the curtain of her kitchen window and scanned the neighbor’s yard – watching the poodle shake in desperation, completely immersed in his own anxious hell, gave her some satisfaction (at least he, too, was miserable) – but she didn’t see him anywhere. So why the hell could she still hear him so clearly?

— ◊ —

Of course the original time loss had coincided with a double at the cafe. And of course she got fired for running off and never explaining herself. But she was okay with that; brewing the espresso, steaming the milk, pouring it out into the shape of a flower then handing it over to The Man with his reeking cologne and thick fingers was killing her day by day, and she knew that despite the holes in her plan (what if he spat it out? what if he had an Epipen?), she was going to do it one day. And then what? Losing the job was for the better.

Still, it took three months to mention the time loss to anyone. It wasn’t meant to be a confession, just a distant, asking-for-a-friend kind of thing during her annual gyno exam, but the doctor’s probing fingers, the questions about her sex life, the sticks and brushes twisting inside of her unleashed a flood of anxiety and suddenly she was rambling like a child about the missing hours. The doctor suggested she find a therapist then said that otherwise, she was well and healthy. Ella was shocked; she was sure the markers of her pain were glaring from her every pore, much less the inside of her vagina.

Another month passed before she mustered the courage to go to Misty. Their first appointment was strained, but Misty was naturally kind, and her cardigans and baggy pants, hoarse yet soothing voice, her wrinkled hands and eyes, made Ella feel safe enough to let it all out by visit number two. She hadn’t spoken about The Man to anyone, hadn’t even allowed herself to think of it as a rape, and the realization that this had actually happened to her was nauseating and exhausting. By the time she got around to the missing hours, she’d gone numb.

“This kind of thing is scary, yes, but also within the range of normal. Many people disassociate when they’ve experienced a trauma like yours. Together, we can work through it,” Misty said with so much certainty Ella almost believed it.

But later that night, as she rolled the word ‘disassociate’ around her tongue, examining its different parts and what they meant for her, Ella did not believe. She tried out the idea that her brain had become disjoined, dispartnered itself from itself, and now it was her job to bring it back together. But how? She stared at the two shitty choices splayed out in front of her – to get over it or to get lost in it – and the fear of succumbing to the latter while attempting the former left her paralyzed.

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— ◊ —

A knock on the door, aggressive, urgent. Ella opened it to find the poodle’s owner, a well-intentioned but neurotic old woman, frantically turning a wrinkled napkin over and over in her fingers. “I can’t find Moxi she’s been missing for hours have you seen her?” she asked in one rapid question.

Ella felt high, fuzzy; only bits and pieces of the words reached her brain. She focused in on the patch of blue nail polish remaining on her thumb, tried to slow down her heart beat.

“Did you hear me? Moxi is missing!”

“That’s awful,” she replied, voice steady despite the knot gripping her throat.

“She’s never run off before, never. And the craziest thing is that I haven’t even heard a peep from her. For hours now! I just don’t know what I’d do without my dog.”

Ella opened then closed her mouth. The dog was still barking, she could hear him barking. What the hell was going on?

“Dog!” Dylan shouted from the floor, a word he’d never said before. “Dog dog!”

“I’m so sorry. I’ll keep my eyes open,” Ella managed to say.

“Please do, I’m just desperate. You have my number, right?”

Ella nodded and shut the door, leaned her back against it, slid down to the grainy welcome mat covered in ink from the pen Dylan recently broke.

“Dog dog dog,” he repeated. Then, “Mama. Mama dog, mama dog.”

— ◊ —

Eventually, Ella believed. She talked and sobbed and shouted her way through it, and even though the missing hours never came back to her, she emerged with The Man safely in her past and the shocking ability to fall in love with another man when she wasn’t even looking for it. Motherhood was similarly unplanned, but she was tough, a survivor, and her boyfriend was the good kind who massaged her feet and brought home flowers and cooked lasagna, her favorite, at least once a week, so Ella allowed herself to relax and balloon up with hope.

When Dylan first heaved out from between her legs, slimy and pruney and shrieking, Ella felt the strange twist of unconditional love deep inside her gut. Becoming a giver of this kind of love transformed her so intensely that she was positive everyone she came in contact with would also be transformed in its presence. But no one, not even her boyfriend, reacted to it, and the long stretches of motherhood with so much downtime yet also no break sent her mind on a freefall (thus the ruminations on meaningful meaninglessness), and then one day not so long ago, she found herself in a ball on the kitchen floor, absolutely repulsed by the fact that she’d still love Dylan even if he raped someone.

— ◊ —

Ella scooped up her baby and slid him into his high chair. She had no answers to any of her questions (how long was she gone? why had she gone? where the hell was the damned dog, and why could she still hear him barking?), and the anxiety was getting harder and harder to breathe away. She turned to the island in the middle of the kitchen, grabbed an apple from the silver fruit bowl and instinctively reached for her favorite knife in the block, but its slot was empty. She looked in the sink, the dishwasher, on all the countertops. Where the hell could it be?

Yip yip yip, throbbed in her ears. “Just shut the fuck up!” she shouted, then, turning to Dylan, “I’m sorry baby, I’m fine, we’re fine. I’m sorry.”

He looked up at her with an unfazed smile and said, “Mama dog, Mama dog, Mama dog.”

Photo credits:

  1. 39: Høgevarde by Norefjell / Creative Commons”
  2. Futile by ~Morgin~ / Creative Commons”
  3. “Toaster Oven” by Me 🙂