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.