Monday, August 19, 2013

16 months (and a half or so).

If I were to base my recollecting of July—leading up to you turning 16 months on August 2—on pictures alone, it’d go something like this:
Water. Friends. Horses. Playspaces. Stubbornness. Silliness. Popsicles. Dada.
And as I’ve tried and tried to write this letter, I’ve wondered many times whether that's where I should leave things. Focus on joy. Meditate on gratitude. Remember you bringing me a pair of my shoes and asking “Pretty?” Recall the pure wonder in your eyes when soaked to the bone at Alondra Park splash pad or astride your first pony at Irvine Park or the first time I threw Nahe in the bath with you. Laugh fondly as I cast even your stubbornness with charm: You hate vegetables! I can’t believe I have that kid. Haha! Exclaim over your strength and temerity: I can’t even get a clean diaper on your butt unless I (a) throw a leg over your middle or (b) just change you standing up in front of your kiddo-karaoke machine. Talk of Gymboree and swim classes and play dates galore. Detail here the dreamy mornings, the sweet cuddles. Keep life seemingly bright and breezy. Polish that surface version of us.
But July was those beautiful bits knotted carefully in place along a month-long string of tantrums—yours and mine. More notably mine. I never thought parenting would be easy, but I wasn't prepared for it to get this hard this soon. Lately, my empathy tank has been running low. I go from zero to sixty quick. After a beautiful morning out adventuring, if you whine “mamaaaaa” one too many times in the kitchen while I’m trying to fix your lunch, I snap: “What do you want from me?!” And then, when you start to cry, I feel terrible and ashamed—and, yet, I still feel irritated. I put a lot of thought and effort into making your days fun—planning our days around outings and adventures and social calls with your friends, not our family’s needs or my own desires—so when we go home and I need to be able to make your lunch or load the dishwasher (or, ok, keep it real, Instagram six photos), I tend to take it personally that you don't let me. You get needier at home, but I think it is because you must. Out in the world, my focus is you and our adventure; at home, my attention is divided.
I have even become impatient with nursing, when before I could have lay beside you all day, brushing the hair across your forehead and staring into your gorgeous eyes, watching your cheeks grow ruddy with nursing and sleep.
It’s not you, it’s me—it’s that I need a break, I need family to live closer, I need to not feel like I’m betraying you or failing you or abandoning you or scarring you when I leave you with others. (And by others, at this point, I only mean Dada, as I’ve been too scared to leave you with anyone else.)
It’s not you—except sometimes it’s you, you wonderful, willful, stubborn, demanding darling of a boy.
After my last few therapy sessions with Aubs, I realized that the reason—at least partly—that I struggle so with your tantrums and recent irritability is that they are the antithesis of the PURE JOY I’ve watched burgeoning in you since you first started emoting—so much so that one of my first nicknames for you was “Joy Boy.” In July, you were not filled with joy. Perhaps it was a growth spurt, or you didn't feel good, or … well, god, it couldn't be teething still unless you’re working on a second set …. whatever, I don't know. Since July, I’ve thought so often of your Auntie “Hee” and her personal arguments against bringing new life into “this world of suffering.” Since I’ve known it about her, I’ve held tenderly and up to the light, examining, her bald statement that while she would not want to kill herself, if she were an unborn soul being given the option to live, knowing what is ahead, she would say no thanks. On a conceptual level, this used to totally puzzle me. I can try to understand: pain, hunger, suffering, poverty, disease, heartbreak, cruelty, etc. Still, knowing all that, I’d choose life. But Hee comes at life as a Harvard-educated, animal-rights-champion, environmentalist, anticonsumerist, philosopher-thinker-baker-wonderchild-writer-BRAIN, so her set of variables are different from mine. My inability to agree with her grew more indignant once you were here in the world, and especially once you went from a bundle of reptilian need to a living, breathing, emoting human animal. I hadn’t lived, loved, or experienced such pure joy until I saw you learn to smile, to laugh, to show pleasure, to express your love for us, for Nahe—but especially for your mama. Oh, how you loved me in the last year-plus! How you delighted in my presence, constantness, my opening for you the doors of the world … and, later, boosting you up so you could try those handles yourself … and, later still, letting you do it yourself but standing behind just in case you fell.
Thus, the difficulty of witnessing your displeasure with my person, with entire stretches of days, with living itself, it seemed, on a few days. Thus, my discomfort—near panic—at being unable to fix things for you. My exasperation so easily followed: Kid, do you even know how hard I try to make you happy? Why can’t you just be happy like you used to be? But all of that would be paired with or alternate with empathy and chagrin and really soul-crushing stuff like more panic and doubt and … well, anyway, I was plagued by this horrible feeling of O gawd, would you also not choose to be alive if you had the choice? Am I not making life beautiful enough for you? Basically, AM I FAILING YOU?
This brings me to the crux of the problem of writing about July. I’ve been having an existential crisis about my performance of motherhood. The daily doing of it—the work-life balance, the troubles with tantrums, the daily quandary of what to do with your active little being, this refillable chalice of your soul—as well as the Instagramming of it, the blogging, the Facebooking. The bright neon flashing sign that seemingly proclaims: SEE! SEE! NOW I AM MOTHER. RAWRRRRR.
I am alternately shameless and ashamed. I am shameless in the photographing, in the selecting and editing and posting, in the checking-in at this place or this other. I am shameless in the reaping of likes. But comments more often than not shame me:  as well-intentioned and complimentary as they are, they call my bluff. They say, I see you pointing out your performance, so, fine, here you go, you are doing an awesome job. Should I feel ashamed? Don't we all go around, putting in effort after effort and being secretly let down when the efforts aren’t noticed? I think always of Wife advising me that I must throw my own parade. And this is my parade: your every step forward. On the eve of you hitting the sixteen-months mark, I browsed my Instagram account from its start. It begins with you and gets incredibly more and more detailed. A picture per week to six or more per day. Not every day, but still. But you know what? It didn't shame me; it filled me with gladness. Seriously, what a life you are living. I am turning out to be a mother in the mold of my own in many ways. Oh, the adventures you’ve had! And the beauty of your little face beaming in so many of the photos. I get to watch your person BECOME. A lifetime of this witnessing. How lucky I am. How lucky, how lucky, how lucky. It’s like a mantra. It's like breath.
But the posting. Why do I need to blog these letters to you? Why do I need to relive every adventure through a fancy filter and with a round of applause? I’ve been worrying and considering taking a step back on this blog, on Facebook, on Instragram. Pulling it all back in, making life private again. I got into a brief, somewhat heated discussion on Facebook with some other writers about oversharing—especially as it pertains to children. What about our children's privacy? What constitutes “sharing” and “over”? How does posting too many photos or bitching about difficult parenting or sharing cute anecdotes differ from the writers who write essays about their children’s lives? I have no idea where I stand on any of this, only that it’s all percolating in my brain and SOUL and it has been crushing my ability to write, and not writing has in turn been crushing my ability to cope and exist in a non-tantrumy manner. I am so filled with doubt. Yes, it is more than my own life being represented; it is yours. And you are your own ship, except that I'm in charge of captaining yours until you fully can. Am I doing the best job as temporary captain as I can? Am I doing the best I can for you--or for me? People “liking” everything I share about you sometimes fills me with camaraderie but lately has more often been filling me with embarrassment, shame. Why do I need people to “like” me so much?
It is a dumb question. I know exactly why. I am still living down a year ago to myself.
A little over a year ago, when you were so new to the world, I had baby blues. Baby blues that quickly took a sinister turn such that I missed an entire week of your second month of life because I was hospitalized with panic attacks so severe and all-day that I--new mother who had never been so in love as with your gorgeous child self, devoted partner who would never want to leave your father with the grief as well as a family-sized share of burdens--wanted to kill myself.
So now, I want to take you to every zoo and aquarium, I want to show you fine art and dinosaur skeletons and eighteen species of orchid. I want to take you for long walks; I want to carry on long, mutual talks in a pidgin made up of English and dreambabble. I want you to see how bright the stars are above, and how far away, and I want you to test for yourself how tenacious roots are in soil, and how they flourish if planted well. I want to boost you up and cheer you on and be there every time you wake, while you sleep, if you fall, if you don't, when you say this word, or do that cool thing. I just want to be there and be there and be there. 
For now, all I can do is promise that your mother is thinking about all of these things. I don't have the answers. In that heated Facebook exchange, my writer friend cautioned that there is a fine line in writing about our children (let’s add: and parents, and friends, and loved ones, and even enemies, probably). I agree. But I think we get to toe the line, trip on it sometimes, be on the one side and then the other and then the other again as we figure out where we stand—which continually fluctuates. For now, I need the freedom to carry a big fucking flag that says: I fed my child three times today and he took two naps! And he saw dinosaurs, and we made art, and we’re still breastfeeding at almost 17 months! And though a year ago, I could not be much of a mother for a while, though there were times I couldn't even hold you or look at you, though I wasn't sleeping or eating or managing to not vomit, times I couldn't get out of bed or finish hysterically crying or stop thinking of ways out of this horrible feeling, a whole week where I was in a psych ward trying to just settle my nervous system, nevermind figure out how to mother … now I can. Now I am. RAWR. ((It’s a very large flag.))

There. I finally said it. Some of it, anyway. I haven’t and I haven’t, but then at a baby shower this past weekend, one woman said her husband didn't believe in postpartum depression, and after I finished freaking the fuck out, I was left with a vibrant reminder of why I write. I write to understand my own life. I write to hear back from others that my words, my experiences, helped them through their own experience, helped them find their own words. I write to share stories. I write because people are what matters, people and the fine filigree that strings us together—connections we often don't know about unless we open our mouths and share what to some seems like too much and what to others is just enough.


Lorelle said...

Please, PLEASE keep sharing. The impossible climb to effortless perfection got so much steeper the minute my baby was born. The more we share--all the joy, all the mess, all the tantrums, all the breakdowns, all the good and all the bad--the less each of us will feel alone with our imperfections, the kinder and gentler we will all be to ourselves. It is not possible to always be the parent we pictured ourselves being before we were actually parents. What is possible is being the best parents we can be in any given moment. But being aware of where we fall short, forgiving ourselves, doing our best in any given moment, and loving ourselves through all of that? That's an example to set for our little ones. That's how we're going to raise up good people. You are doing every little thing right, mama, every little thing right and right on time.

woodbird said...

Oh thank you and bless you for writing this, Mayumi. This is beautiful, true, honest and oh-so-familiar to every mother I know. And yes--the reason we write--or should write--is so that we all feel a little less alone. Mothering one's first is one of the most isolating (without ever having a moment alone) times in one's life. These media outlets sometimes help curb that, but also easily set up more illusions/comparisons, etc. Each of us projecting our ideal, polished versions of life. Don't you want to write an article about this?! I think about it with blogging all the time--I use Woodbird as a meditative place where I can focus on the positive. It's healing for me to do so. But is that thus a lie? Or is positivity healthy for all of us. To remember what's important. Kids running around but I could talk about this forever. For now--thank you. And much love. Your honesty and heart make you an absolutely super mother. No other definition matters one wit. xxxxxx

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