Happy, Sad (and that’s okay), and Hopeful Thoughts for the End of the Year.

It is after lunch now, and that I have been awake since 2 a.m. is only a slight exaggeration.  I decided earlier in the week that I needed to do something to lift a cloud I’ve found over me a lot lately, so I aimed for a 6 a.m. yoga class that would’ve taken place today.  After another (another. another.) Eli-filled night of screaming and nursing and rocking, I dragged myself out at 5:45 to get my Zen on and my chakras aligned and my hips released and, oh please, just to make me all happy and buzzed like I get after a thorough yoga sweat.  It’s really a bit misleading to make it sound like getting to the class was hard.  I was inhumanely tired, but I had a chance to go and do something. Something nice. And something alone.  What was hard was getting there and seeing that the studio was closed for the holidays, and trying to observe instead of implode when I found myself falling to pieces over a trivial matter.  It’s been one of those weeks.

And it’s also been one of those weeks when you try extra hard to hang on to all of your gratitude.  Last week was the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, an event so layered with horror and sadness in every direction that my mind has never found any entry into saying word one about it, except to ask my husband whether his work holiday party, which was held on the day of, was cancelled.  So I hugged my babies tighter along with everyone else.  And I said my prayers out there, to whatever there is, for whomever could use it.  But gratitude doesn’t cancel out stress, exhaustion, and one’s personal hardships.  And beating yourself up over that fact doesn’t serve a soul.

I remember after my sister died, on top of mourning, I felt sick with guilt for that very same mourning.  I seethed at myself for daring to wail over the loss of someone I bickered with so often.  Someone I didn’t call enough.  Someone who I judged and who judged me.  God yes, we loved each other.  But it was the love of two sisters in their twenties, each fueled by their own life’s drama and nowhere near the place where you can sit back and appreciate, with true perspective or real maturity, what was before you.  We were closer to that point, though, and I was so very angry we didn’t get to finish our story.  More so that she didn’t get to finish hers.  There is no sense to be made of accidental drowning of a 28 year old who’d been a lifeguard as a teen.  And I didn’t want to pretend it made sense.  And I really, really didn’t want to pretend that those who grieved her had a right to act like we had done enough, known her enough, tried hard enough, such that the story was done and we could say good-bye.  It took me a long time to make any peace with that feeling, and the peace has all come from time.
 
I’m not sure it makes sense, but this feeling I have now – one that I have often but is especially acute at the moment – is familiar to me because of losing my sister.  It is a sense that I don’t deserve to feel negative emotions (and therefore certainly do not deserve any sense of catharsis) because I don’t really appreciate what I have.  It’s the “Of course, my kids are great” syndrome.  Needing to remind yourself, others, the ether, that you know this time is precious in spite of your complaints.  That these people you are raising are miracles.  I know I am wrong to begrudge myself the right to feel lousy – without layering it with shame.  But it is hard to really let that sink in.  I’m working on it.
 
It’s been an exhausting year.  New house, new city, new (old) country.  New friends, new baby, and for Will, a new job that is poised to swallow him whole if he lets it.  Not to mention we did a different version of all those new things not two years beforehand when we moved from California to Germany.  Will and I have grown up immeasurably in the last few years, and we’re solid.  We’re solid but we’ve got little or nothing left for “us,” which neither of us spend much time complaining about, but it still takes its toll.  In the past few weeks, Eli has nearly stopped napping, stricken apparently with late-onset colic (that’s not a thing, but it feels like a thing), spending much of the day screaming.  And my reaction has been less than exemplary.  Lately, we’ve decided that two kids is all we’re going to have, which makes sense, and on almost every level it feels like (these) two kids are all I am equipped to deal with.  Except the level that that is heartbroken at the thought of never holding a new baby in my arms.  Maybe it’s the confluence of events today, from winter solstice, Eli’s 6 month birthday, to the not surprising (but still somewhat relieving) non-happening of the Mayan foretold apocalypse, but my heart feels heavy and so full.
 
I was going to write about how I worked out in loafers this morning because I forgot to wear sneakers to the gym.  That would’ve been a funnier and more chipper story.  I looked like a fool, for the record.  I’m talking blue denim loafers, which already verges on silly without pretending they’re appropriate for an elliptical machine.  Alas.
 
None of this is not to say that I think complaints and laments are good to dwell on.  Indeed, they are nothing less than toxic.  But to deny the feelings as they arise?  That’s not good.  The whole “two arrows bit” – pain is not avoidable; but suffering is.  For me, pushing down the pain I feel from an objectively simple but subjectively challenging and wearing life always comes back up as suffering.  The pain from when my nerves are shot from my son screaming for hours on end, unable or unwilling to get the sleep he so apparently needs.  Or the pain of losing my temper at my daughter for the umpteenth time, and seeing her wince at the sound of my loud, shrill voice.  It’s a tricky line to walk: openness and release versus glum self-pity.  And rarely can I come to any internal consensus on which side I’m on.  But I’m trying.
 
It is crystal clear at times, though, that I let suffering get the best of me.  And because I’m working on “it,” because I am trying, the person who manifests during those times no longer feels like me.  And that seems like a step.  Where I’ve not been able to get yet, however, is the presence of mind to talk this being when she is stomping around, sniping at her husband, being dismissive of her children, and generally stewing in problems colored heavily by theatrics and self-martyrdom.  I go quiet and let her run the show.  And I know that in order to get further, I need to give myself some space to feel lousy, sad, overwhelmed without a voice judging me for my pettiness.  Because that voice? The one that says “BUT YOU SHOULD BE GRATEFUL!” All that voice really wants is a whole lot more darkness.
 
Today I had the opportunity take the kids and spend a couple hours with other moms.  Women I met only months ago, some of whom have become absolute pillars to me.  These are people who make you understand how villages raise a child.  It’s not about cooperative preschooling, or tag-teaming diaper changes.  It’s about culling the strength of many so that when one of us wanes, there is still enough to go around.  On days, like today – and a lot of days lately, it is a place for me to speak about my pain and watch much of it evaporate after a sincere “Oh, I’m sorry.  That sounds terrible.”  When the baby who I don’t have patience for at the moment gets cuddled by a friend, giving me the space to go and take a precious moment with my older child and feel my cup get fuller.  Getting out and seeing people during dark moments, for me, is real progress.  I am tremendously grateful to them, and, as hard as it is to say because it is against such deeply ingrained habits to be kind to myself whatsoever, I am proud of me, too.
 
I don’t like to get this lofty on paper.  It makes me feel like a fraud.  I do not believe myself an expert on anything, let alone contentment.  But as this year comes to an end and in the midst of a dark time on which we all work hard to shed our (twinkling) lights, I guess I just had some thoughts on it all. So, the good can’t cancel out the bad.  Expecting it to and bullying yourself over the inevitable failing makes one’s load that much heavier. 
 
Thank you to my friends, my family, my amazing, loving, devoted, forgetful, over-worked, and determined husband, to the best teachers a mom could ever ask for: my (im)perfect children, and even … thank you to me.  Here’s to room to cry or laugh, to release of both, and to the true gratitude that can finally settle in once we let go.
 
Thanks for the gifts and lessons, 2012!  I am hoping to get at least a couple good nights of sleep before we start in on all that 2013 will bring.
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My Son’s Pink Boots

Now that I’ve got a son and a daughter, my usual levels of hyper gender-awareness are even heightened. It was easy to put my daughter in whatever clothes I wanted.  Dinosaurs or kittens.  Pink or blue.  And I did so at my whim, trying neither to diminish the feminine nor glorify it; an attempt to postpone the day that my wild, sensitive, stubborn, perceptive, loving child absorb a sense of the power or importance of “prettiness” before the world shoved it down her throat. 

Up until quite recently, it was a common occurrence for people to mistake Edie for a boy.  I keep her hair short, and on the days she had no signifying pink on her person, she was often thought a lad.  That does not happen anymore, because preschool happened.  And that means my sponge of a daughter now has an intricate classification system of what is for boys and what is for girls, and even tells me the exact source of her gender attribution from time to time.  “That,” she’ll say “is a Matilda shirt.  Da sleeves are puffy.  Wookit dat.  I smoosh dem.”  One morning, as I tried to get her to put on some grey sweatpants, she collapsed on the floor in anguish, and after a some indecipherable blubbering, I gleaned between sobs that she was begging me not to make her wear “boy” pants.  These were in fact from a girls section of a store.  But they were 100% grey.  I’ve since sewn hearts on them – it’s come to that.  Sometimes she’ll wear them now, always taking the time to point out the embellishment that makes them acceptable.  This did not happen just a few months ago.  She wore a dress as happily as she wore a boxy navy blue tee shirt.  These preferences do not stem from her DNA. 

But I am decidedly not trying to raise Baby X, either.  I certainly read “female”.  My family is not a performance piece, and I totally understand and respect Edie’s desire to fall in line.  It’s the pull to be part of society. It’s natural. It’s limiting. But right now, it’s simple.  There will be days to come when it all gets more complicated for her, so I do appreciate the grace of this moment, knowing it won’t always be so easy.  But I can’t pretend to like watching my daughter in emotional pain over the thought of not displaying her gender the way she’s been shown she ought to.

And then there is little guy Eli.  If you know me, you may have told me how much he looks like a little boy.  If you do not, you may well have told me how pretty my daughter is.  Both of these things happen. A lot.  I don’t correct people on the s/he issue unless not doing so will result in my dancing around pronouns in a disingenuous way.  I mostly hate the correcting because people look positively stricken when they realize they’ve called a boy “she”.  As a “she,” who is raising a “she,” I’m a little put off by that reaction.  Moreover, Eli is a baby.  He’s not macho.  He’s not femme.  He’s cuddly and needly and giggly and drooly.  And, yeah, there is some male genitalia up in that diaper.  But besides a higher risk for getting your shirt peed on, it truly makes no difference at the moment.  I know that won’t be the case forever.

Because as sad as it is to see Edie turn away from ways to express herself and to expend her precious energy on performing “girl,” she does not devalue that which is for boys.  Not the way we all do when it comes to “girl” things for our boys.  Even me.  Even women’s studies major feminist stick-in-the-mud me.  I didn’t know the sex of either child before they were born (and folks: it’s sex. Babies have a sex. You don’t find out the gender.  You presume the gender and statistically speaking you may well be right.  But it’s the sex the ultrasound tech can discern.  Not the psychosocial, behavioral, cultural, etc. experience of being a boy or girl.) So, I had lots of yellows and duckies and beige as far as clothes.  And, some boy stuff.  That is, clothing or decorations that say: boy.  But none that read: girl. I have had to face that a lot more this time around.  I have given away truck loads of Edie’s old clothes only to replace them with the drab palette of little boy.  It’s not just blue.  It’s navy blue.  And his career choices seem to land him as either fireman or quarterback. Just aesthetically, it’s depressing.

But again I am NOT trying to make a statement with my kids.  I don’t mind a good statement, but I’ll go ahead and make those myself.  So it’s a fine line I walk.  I’m not about to put Eli in a tutu just because, hey, why can’t boys wear tutus?  Because he’s got no horse in this race at the moment.  And what I want for him is to feel love and comfort, and that means going with the (sexist) flow.  Now if he wants to wear dresses and tutus one day?  Well, he’s going to have a mom who is particularly (perhaps peculiarly) ready to fight for his right to do that.  If he wants to denigrate dresses and tutus?  That will be a whole lot harder for me.  Especially considering I feel like a contributor to that eventuality at times, trading perfectly good butterfly shirts for yet another puppy dog brown number.

He will, however, be wearing pink boots this winter.  Because while I don’t want to make him a walking (um, rolling) statement, I also can’t help but want to push back on an impulse to keep pink away from my son.  Because there is endless beauty in the feminine.  And until the world and preschool comes in and teaches him otherwise, I do want him to develop as freely as his sister was allowed to.  Not in some gender vacuum.  But, ideally, with thoughtful and careful parents who try and stay mindful of not labeling our children and their preferences, behaviors, or other traits in limiting ways.  And because, these boots, these are really nice boots.  Thinsulate.  They stay up and keep him warm while he swings in the baby swing at the playground, babbling and laughing at his big sister, looking at her with pure love and admiration, not colored by pink or blue.

On Borrowed Time

The baby started to stir, and so I braced myself for his hostile takeover of my existence, but he inexplicably fell back asleep. Yet dinner has been prepped, I’ve worked out, I changed out of my flannel pants (questionable whether this is progress or regress), and have positioned the double stroller in the ready-to-go position once he awakens so we can go get big sis from school.  It’s 2:30 pm and I am reveling in some sweet, sweet borrowed time.

Dad’s annual poinsettia arrived.  Big smiles ensued.

Staying on theme, here’s some other sweet, sweet stuff.

Last night, I went out with an old friend.  Not only was it great to see her, but she let me vent about why I really love vampires, but really really don’t like Twilight.  Like, she let me talk about it for verging on half an hour.  Also, it made me think about the time in college that she and I went to a psychic for no other reason than we drove past a psychic.  Oh, to be 18 and in the company of someone great enough that you can dabble momentarily in the black arts without risking any judgment.  Shout out to Suze D!

Edie, as always, is into imitating everything I do.  Since I spend a lot of time cleaning, she’s interested in cleaning as well.  But, she’s also a free-thinking little lady, and if I get too pumped, she will put down the child-sized Swiffer forever.  It’s a careful mix of encouragement and nonchalance, plus a genius selection of a task suited perfectly for her 3 foot frame.  So, I don’t want to jinx anything, but I am on the verge of getting her to be decent at cleaning base boards.Yyyyyessssss.

The house is getting all holiday-spirit-y.  Not in a haunted way.  Just that we’ve decorated it. And I’ve had time to get crafty lately.  I’ve made yarn wreaths, felt rosettes,  and I just ordered some chalkboard contact paper.  It’s enough to make Pinterest itself gag.  But it’s good clean fun.

I went to a mall yesterday, Eli in tow.  And he didn’t have a meltdown.  AND I got some jeans that fit, for 50% off their manufacturer’s suggested retail price no less.  I did a little bit tear off part of my finger while over-zealously shutting an umbrella.  BUT, I had baby wipes to sop up my blood and a nice lady at Bath and Body Works gave me an excellent band aid.  Slam. Dunk.

Then there is the weather.  Not everyone is happy. And I get it.  It is borderline eery warm outside.  Like, mosquitoes tricked out of hibernation warm.  But. It’s in the 60s and 70s.  Let’s set aside notions of “should” and just agree that this is the best temperature range one could ever be in.  It is December and yet I am taking hour-long walks with the kids and dogs, everyone taking in fresh air without having to wrap oneself up in Thinsulate or slather balm on the babies’ faces lest their skin get chapped.  It is phenomenal. 

Geez. I am so chipper, I might even go pet my dogs.