Tuesday, December 29, 2009

making myself into a mother

To say that there is nothing than can prepare you for the shock of becoming a parent is putting it mildly.  What a shock it is.  You can read all of the books you want, make charts and diagrams for this, that and the other thing, you can research everything from birth to potty training until the cows come home.   But I've discovered that, for me at least, parenting is not so much in these details, in the preparedness or in the doing, but rather it is a crash-course in the feeling.   You can know that skydiving is a scary endeavour, but you can't know what that scary feels like until your ass is plummeting through the sky. 

Becoming a parent is like cutting off your limbs and trying to grow them again, in a weird way that makes them only half yours.  Or razing a house to the ground and rebuilding with new materials, like Extreme Makeover Home Edition, only the end result is much less grandiose.  It is simultaneously elating and depressing; joy and wonder at the new beings we've had a hand in creating, and sadness, even resentment at the seepage of our own selves, the hazing and blurring of our identity as individuals. 

As a bit of an aside, I think it's crazy that we treat post-partum depression like it's an anomaly, something purely hormonal, something that people can/should just "get over".  I think that in the face of the magnitude of changes to our physical and emotional selves and the incredible disruption to our lives,  experiencing various forms and severities of depression and/or anxieties post partum, though undoubtably unpleasant, makes a whole world of sense.   But I digress.       

My life, previously attuned to my own well-being and best interests, is no longer my own.   My time, previously devoted to my own projects and needs, has become someone elses.  I struggle to scrape together moments of solitude, write snippets and thoughts and memories of self on scraps of construction paper and kitchen chalkboards, beside grocery and to-do lists.  The mundane necessity of keeping chaos at bay, dishes clean, babies fed, toddlers and pre-schoolers amused, soothed and loved is an endless, and often unforgiving, pursuit- one that more often than not, I seem to fail at. 

I teeter between anxiety and pride about my small charges, who are at once so fragile and so unflinchingly fearless.  There are so many things to protect my children from in any given day, not the least of which is myself -- my own baggage, childhood and knee jerk emotional reflexes.  These reflexes too, have to be swallowed, thought about, revisited, smoothed over.

I have had my absolute best, and proudest moments as a mama.  I have also been taken to my rock bottom lowest as a mama.  The pendulum seems to swing back and forth between these highs and lows so often.  Motherhood has made me turn myself inside out and pull out my stuffing.  I'm restuffing bit by bit, and learning so much about myself in the process.  What a crazy, amazing, horrible, dark, scary, wonderful, exciting ride.  I have never felt so responsible, so fierce, so protective, so loving, so angry, so helpless, so grateful, so raw.  And we musn't forget so tired.

I've just started reading this really lovely anthology on mothering, edited by Eden Steinberg.  In her introduction, Steinberg writes:

"I realized that if I was going to survive this thing, I was going to have to grow and change. . . I also saw that I was ultimately going to have to let go of my very self-concept, my idea of motherhood, and my expectations of my child.  All of it had to go. . . . I thought that as a mother I would carefully mold and shape my children.  If I did my job right, my children would turn out to be well-adjusted, loving, thoughtful and interesting people.  As it turns out, motherhood is molding and shaping me.  At the end of all this, I am the one who could end up well-adjusted, loving, thoughtful and interesting."  (xv, 2007).

I couldn't have said it better if I tried.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

knowing one's audience

I don't know why I did it.  It must have been an unusual moment of sunny optimism.  It really seemed like a good idea at the time. 

It wasn't my idea to start with.  My friend Linds did it first, and my friend Heidi followed suit.  It seemed so creative, so free-to-be-you-and-me, so innocent. The sort of activity that results in delightful and splendidly messy kiddie pics to post on facebook. 

So, this morning, I set out the gigantic paper on the floor and taped it down.  I stripped my giggling fool of a child bare naked.  And then I did it.  I got out the fingerpaints.  Oh yes I did. 

Well, who's the fool now?!

In my defense, I think it bears repeating that my friends and their children successfully undertook and completed this activity.  What I seemed to have forgotten in this moment of optimism, is that their children are largely civilized, and mine, though 9/10's perfectly charming, is also 1/10 barbarian.

First the paper was painted.  This lasted about 10 seconds.  I got some cute pictures.  Then his body got painted.  Whoohoo.  More cute pictures. 

Then my floors were painted.   Not so much with the cute pictures.  My walls have hand marks streaked from the crime scene (living room) clear through to the bathroom.  It looks like somebody green died a horrible, unspeakable death in my house.  Or like L. and I have entered a phase of very, erm, "contemporary" taste in artwork.  (We have not). 

There was a rotten yelling bit, followed by more defiant wall "art,"  followed by more yelling, some crying and a longgggg bath.

I'm not sure whether to curse my friends for having civilized children and cute facebook pictures, or myself for completely forgetting my audience. 

I'll have to think about it while I'm cleaning up the crime scene.

Monday, December 21, 2009

my life of leisure....

I get a little testy when, after hearing that I am a stay-at-homer, people ask me "what do you do all day?"  And/or "Don't you get bored?"  Or, "Jeez, I sure wish I could stay home all day."   Or  "What do you do with all that down time?" 

Recently, I also encountered, after describing the birthday cake I made for my son (a rocking cool hot air balloon cake if I do say so myself), "hey that must be nice..." (in a voice dripping with insinuation that "it must be nice to have so much extra time on your hands"

Seriously?  Seriously?  No... seriously???  I'm not gonna list what I do all day because quite frankly, I don't have the time.  I do get bored, but it sure isn't because I have nothing to do.  And I made the damn cake after my 'dayjobs' were sleeping, while your ass was chillin' for the night, watching CSI Miami, or some other crappy show (I spent my 'down time' making the cake because it was important to me, just like you make time outta your busy day for things that are important to you).

Now if you'll excuse me, I hear some bon-bons calling my name.  I have to get back to my life of leisure.

Friday, December 18, 2009

mothering and identity

I think I may be losing my identity, or at the very least having some identity confusion.  I seem to have ventured, albeit not all at once, from being this person, Natasha, to being this entity called Mama.  Mama and Natasha aren't always separate (as in, I'm not developing some kind of split personality here people), but they seem to be getting further and further apart. Lately, it seems that I haven't seen traces of that Natasha girl for awhile.  As I struggle with the beauty and frequently (let's not sugarcoat things, shall we?) awfulness of being a full-time stay-at-home mama, I'm really starting to miss her. 

The Natasha I used to be was hella smart.  She got a Master's degree, and worked as a research coordinator in a country wide, big budget research project.  She read books about things that mattered outside the walls of her home.  She was approached by people to do book reviews for academic journals.  People actually sought out her opinion on things other than the grocery list.  She went out for coffee and had conversations with people, that were, like, uninterrupted and often intellectually and/or emotionally stimulating.   She went for pee breaks by herself.  People expected her to know things, to learn things, to do exciting things.  She was a lover and a friend and someone who worked toward the betterment of her community. 

Now I morphed into that person called Mama.  While I know that I am still Natasha, I am finding more difficult to locate any vestiges of the things that I thought made up my identity as a person.  My children, while hugely important pieces of my world, my work and my heart, are neither extensions of me, nor are they reflections of who I am as a person.   

I miss having external obligations.  A paycheque.  Being valued by people who aren't my wife and children.  I miss peeing by myself, and being by myself long enough to feel lonely.   I miss having better things to worry about than the state of my kitchen floors or whether my tykes are feeling emotionally and intellectually stimulated.  These are all important and worthy tasks, of course.  But I am starting to feel like
I'm drowning in my little pond, even though it is a pond that I love and call home. 

I think I need to make it my task and challenge for the New Year  to reintroduce Natasha to this person called Mama.... and see what new adventures they can come up with together.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

my boy

turned 3 yesterday.  It is almost inconceivable to me that this much time has elapsed since his birth, which rocked me to the core and changed my world irrevocably, wonderfully, totally.   Because of him, I became a different person entirely.  My life trajectory changed.  He made me a mama.

He is growing, physically and emotionally, in leaps and bounds.  His body, once baby-ish and perfectly fat, is getting so tall and lanky.  Any traces of baby have been erased from his once pudgy face, and replaced with little boy.  His expressions are as varied as his mood - bored, sullen, stubborn, joyous, contemplative, angry, thrilled, scared, loving, gentle, wound up.  What a little person he has become, with boundless energy and excitement about the world around him.

Today at 3, he is determined that he will grow up to be a pilot - all games and imaginative play revolves around planes and airports.  I wonder how this will change by the time he is 4, or if it will.

Though many days coming through the "terrible twos" have been challenging, today I am determined to take the time to marvel at the love, compassion and endless energy Oliver has, as we welcome in whatever the "threes" will bring.

As Oliver got ready for his birthday celebration on Sunday, he got dressed in his "big skater boy clothes," an outfit sent by my brother and sister-in-law.  He took my breathe away, and my eyes welled up.  All of the sudden, my little dude seemed so so tall.  So so grown up.  He noticed my eyes welling up and looked over at his mommy with concern.  L. said "it's okay buddy, Mama's just happy.  Those are happy tears."  "Oh yes Mama," he said to me knowingly, "because I'm all grown up."  What a kid.

Happy birthday sweet boy.