Thursday, June 7
what I think I need
I've made no secret on this blog of the fact that I have really struggled in my first year as a mother. Yet, it was always quite evident to me that the source of my troubles wasn't my son. I saw that he was a perfectly fine little human: he wasn't the best sleeper, but he wasn't the worst; he nursed like a champ; he let other people besides me hold and comfort him. While it can't be denied that he profoundly changed and complicated my life, still I have to admit that most of the trouble I've suffered through I created for myself. As best as I can figure, most if not all of said troubles come to rest in either of the following categories:
1. I need to get my own stuff done. First category of problems has to do with trying to assert my agenda regarding what needs to happen in any given moment, while at the same time trying to tend to the needs of my child. Sometimes, this works brilliantly, and mama can meditate while baby gurgles on the playmat, or mama can empty the dishwasher while toddler eats Cheerios and watches Elmo. (Sue me.) But then there's a whole universe of moments in which a child clutches at my pant leg while I try to fix dinner, or by napping or not napping at the wrong times messes up trips to the gym. Karen Maezen Miller writes "If I were enlightened I would know that things are still perfect whether or not I empty the dishwasher." I agree with her that there is very little that actually absolutely needs to happen in any given moment--save for tending to the very real and often urgent needs of a small person. Still, I have lived 33 years on this earth and have been able to do it my way most of the time for almost all of that time. Silas is still very new in my life. It takes a while to shift one's priorities, to recognize what's really important in any given moment. I am very much not yet enlightened. A lot of times, this burning need to do what I want to be doing stems from this nagging fear of being swallowed whole by the demands my child places on me. There's a little corner of ego that refuses to give up. But the odd time that, while in the center of this dilemma, I have remembered that pretty much anything can wait, and that my baby needs me first, the pain of being pulled in two directions lessened a little. There's even been a few occasions when I put down whatever it was that was so important, and went to read my child a book, or tickle his toes. Those were good times.
2. I need to figure this stuff out. The only thing worse than being up in the middle of the night--again--for the third time that night with a cranky kid, is being up in the middle of the night with a cranky kid and trying to apply one's sleep-deprived brain to the task of figuring out what to do to make this stop. Ditto with sitting down at the table with a toddler who's throwing every foodstuff you've prepared onto the floor with a look of disgust on his face. The pain of the situation itself, real as it is, pales in comparison to the anguished questioning of a desperate and confused parent. That feeling of it will never change, it will always be this crappy, I will surely die in this rocking chair holding this child who will not sleep. After you've been clocking in as a parent for some time, you start to realize that these little beings are in a constant state of flux, that their behavior, what works and doesn't work are always changing, and that if you can muster the patience to hunker down and wait out the phase, things will change. They may not get any easier, but in some ways they'll get better. If anything you'll be softer, will have lowered your standards, will have an easier time rolling with the punches. And one day, the hunger strike will end, your toddler will put broccoli into his mouth voluntarily, and he will, miraculously, sleep through the night. You will never have been so happy to get a 5:15am wake up call than after you have both slept through the night. Patience is a virtue: cultivate it.
I would love to tell you that the day figured out that most of my difficulties stem from stuff generated by my own brain was the day they all melted away. Far from it. But when I can remember all of this, I have a slightly easier time letting go of whatever it is I think I need, and instead I am able to attend to what the moment, what my child, does need. Which is usually a couple of deep breaths, a smile, a cuddle, and even more patience. Which I can usually manage without too much trouble if I don't think too hard.