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
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