Love in the time of children

G and I were in our early twenties when we met. I was living in Rome, struggling to navigate the mare’s nest that is Italian bureaucracy in the wake of my grandparent’s passing. He was a dark-eyed Roman who loved football and poetry and I was seduced by his gift for storytelling and his deep sensitivity to the offenses of exploitation.

It didn’t take long for the reverie to transform into one of the faces of romance that rarely seems to make it into the story line: panic.  I haven’t forgotten the way that my 20-something hubris was decimated by the urgent realization that I needed this lanky Italian boy.

I couldn’t have gathered much about practical matters like compatibility back then but time has revealed that we function well together. He is analytical and calculating. I am intuitive and idealistic. We are both drawn to living simply. And we happen to share a set of cultural traits whose importance I am only now beginning to understand.

We have now been through a lot of changes together but none has been nearly as profound as having children.  As a father, he is extraordinary.  Not only does he routinely neglect his own needs in favor of those of his children but he genuinely delights in their company.  And when we get to the hard parts, he taps into a hidden reserve of strength and composure that sustains us all.

The difficulties that besiege us come in the form of the day to day: finances, household maintenance, kids who refuse to learn the basic skill of sleep.  It is during those times when no amount of shoveling fills the trough of domestic necessity and, arms sore, we cast sideways glances that say you’re not keeping up.  I am prone to erecting defenses. I cleaned out the vacuum cleaner today.  But I too tend to forget that the real reason that the trough never fills is because there is a gaping hole in it.

Wise people point out the need to make time, the importance of date night.  I know that they’re right. How can we be sure that the bond that we take for granted is strong enough to bear the necessary weight if we don’t tend to it from time to time?  But if I had just one wish right now it would without question be for someone to just please please fix that goddamned hole.

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Soon

We are back to our old routines. The kids are in school. G is back to his usual work schedule and I have returned to reciting my old, well-worn script. Except that I keep stumbling over my lines.  I want to sort the bundles of litter that have sprouted throughout the apartment in the past few weeks: get-well cards, valentines, toys and trash.  And I really want to begin work on my dear list of projects: the space to clear, the planter boxes to build, the rooms to clean and paint to apply.  None of it is terribly important and yet there is this fresh sense of urgency, this desire to exert control, to express just how much the well-being of this little unit means to me. But right now I’m struggling just to satisfy the prerequisites.

There is much to be optimistic about. Daylight is stretching noticeably further, my family is coming to visit in just a few weeks, the kids are in good spirits and there is a job, or at least the possibility of a job, that could turn out to be really good, great even.

But when the sound of a simple cough in the middle of the night sends my heart sprinting, I’m forced to acknowledge that I have yet to metabolize the full impact of g’s illness.  Living well requires that we create a safe distance between ourselves and a true awareness of our vulnerability.  I know that I’ll find my way back there,  just as I have many times before.

Soon, I hope.

 

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Dear February, Thank you for being short.

Every year I celebrate the first day of February for the simple reason that it’s arrival means that we are that much closer to it’s eventual demise. I know it’s infantile to harbor such animosity against a perfectly irreproachable string of days but I can’t stop myself from wishing it away even in the good years when the promise of springtime draws me forward.  In the bad years there is just too much darkness and damp, illness and undoing.

This is a bad year.

g is home from the hospital and doing remarkably well. I can feel myself exhale as the color creeps slowly back into his cheeks and the angular contours of his body begin to soften.  And as I’ve come around to the sweet realization that he will be absolutely fine, the panic and strain that I had somehow managed to confine went off and jumped the fence, freed to finally express the full force of their destruction.

We are tired and weary. But I am earnestly comforted by the fact that I know of a remedy for it all. It is one that has proven itself many times in the past.  It’s name? March.

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The hard part of being a parent

I can still remember nearly every detail about the room where I spent my first night in the hospital when we discovered that g’s twin had died. The tension of my back muscles as they struggled to hold the weight of my big belly. The sterile smell of well-scrubbed floors and hand sanitizer. The multi-color glow of all those machines in the darkness.  I spent hours fixating on the baby monitor that measured g’s heart rate, using every last bit of my energy to will it to keep going. And so last night as I watched my beautiful 5 year old sleep in his blue hospital gown, my eyes once again fixating on the numbers on that screen, I could hardly deny that it all felt terrifyingly familiar.  This time I found that I could almost celebrate the moments when he woke, screaming in pain, using his very five-year-old words to relate to it all.  The bad guys are hurting me.

I took him in too late.  He had been complaining about stomach pain for several days and I stupidly assumed that he had fallen victim to the stomach virus that has been circulating.  When I finally understood, appendix, it was late in the game and he had already sustained a rupture.  They operated pretty quickly and the doctors assured me that he was going to be all right. But he’s struggling and I’m scared.

When g was a few months old, I remember my younger brother teasing me about the difficulties of parenting.  Oh man, you’ve got to change all those diapers and you never sleep.  I laughed. If only.  It’s only when you actually become a parent that you understand what the true hard part is. And some of us, the particularly unlucky, are given an even deeper insight.  But honestly, I didn’t need a reminder.

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Minimalism – slowmamma style. Part 1

A poor person isn’t he who has little, but he who needs a lot.

I call myself a minimalist.  It is a term, I realize, that can mean many different things.  A hasty internet search suggests that it is a style preference – something about clean lines and well-placed objects.  While I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject, I’ve learned a lot about what minimalism means to me and over the years I’ve come to see it’s value in my life, even if the vast majority of my own lines happen to be decidedly messy.

I suspect that at least some of my minimalist tendencies are a familial legacy.  Growing up without a lot of resources, I was able to escape some of the rampant consumerism that has dictated so much of American life in the past few decades.  I had little choice but to appreciate my Christmas gift (almost always singular) and the rare and exciting occasions when a piece of clothing was purchased just for me (I had an older brother and cousins who provided the vast majority of my wardrobe). We celebrated birthdays with a simple family dinner and a cake, which was, to me, exciting enough. It’s only very recently that I am beginning to understand that, thanks in large part to the cultural tendencies of my modest immigrant family,  I may be among the fortunate few who choose minimalism through a gradual journey rather than a dramatic break.

But, economic background aside, I don’t see minimalism as being about things.  Not really.  To me, minimalism is about reducing the TIME that I spend on undertakings that are not important to me.  Sadly, it is true that so much of our time is spent on things.  We spend time to make money to afford things: a house, a car, clothes, etc.  And then we spend more time and more money to maintain those things.

And yet, I don’t think that the most important part of minimalism is the challenge of finding a way to live with less.  To me, the key is to discover the “things” that you want to keep in your life.  It is about finding out what you want to spend your time and resources on. Working to make room for those things becomes a necessary byproduct of their discovery.  So minimalism, to me, is all about identifying what really matters to you and then making as much space as you can for whatever that may be.  It’s about maximizing.

My life, quite honestly, is not all that streamlined. I have far more crap than I need.  And there are many things that interfere with my ability to pursue my priorities. It is, and always will be, a work in progress. But I am convinced that the journey is worthwhile.  And I think it could benefit from a little re-branding.  I think I’m going to call it “maximalism”, slowmamma style.

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Marking the New Year

We don’t have any specific New Year’s celebratory traditions. Perhaps we will some day but lately I have been sound asleep at the moment of the yearly baton pass, and for that I’m grateful.  Still, I try to use this sacred passage as a time to pause and remember the year that was.  I’ve always appreciated the way that looking back on an entire year illustrates just how much life 365 days can encompass, how much we actually do accomplish (or fail to accomplish) even though the day to day so often feels like more of the same.

This New Year’s G (my partner, Big G) remarked that not much happened in 2014.  I strongly disagree.  2014 was the year that both of our boys started school. g (little g) started kindergarten and cast us into the forgotten world of institutionalized learning.  Mr D (our 2.5 year old) began preschool and I think it’s safe to say that surviving this double transition was my greatest accomplishment of the year.  Despite my fears, g braved kindergarten with a grace that I didn’t know he possessed and Mr D experienced preschool drop offs with a level of anguish that I never could have predicted.  In the end, we all survived and I came to appreciate a little more how strongly we are propelled along by the motive force of our lives, how no level of fear can fully stop us from the work of the living: growth.

2014, I tried to remind G, was also the year that we took our first vacation as a family for no other purpose beyond leisure, a sweet beach-filled trip to Mexico during which our children went from being siblings to being friends.  G shrugged this milestone off the way that only someone who never for a second doubted an outcome can but I celebrate it every single day.  It is not just that they now have built-in playmates to occupy their time, though this is significant.  It’s my realization that this is what I would have hoped for had I even dared to allow myself to want another child.  And now I see those hopes in the flesh, having practically fallen into my lap.  Thank you 2014.

I also like to take time every New Year to think through my hopes for the year that will be.  Some years I have made actual resolutions and some years I simply take the time to voice what is really important to me in that moment.  This year, oddly, it didn’t come.  It doesn’t make much sense. I have habits to eliminate and new ones that desperately need to be established. I have a house to de-clutter and a financial situation that needs tending.  Somewhere at the bottom of a waste basket are the remnants of my former career, caked in dried peanut butter and play dough. Yet, the urgency just wasn’t there.  I couldn’t find that level of longing of past years. There was no this is the year…… It occurred to me that, despite all the things I want to do, the lists to make and hopes to hope, I have what I need.  It may just be that right now I’m happy.

Thanks again 2014.

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Our Stories

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve thought about returning to this little blog over the past few years.  These thoughts are always hastily put on hold because a girl who can’t even find the time to perform the rites of basic grooming does not have the time to blab into the ether. But, despite the fact that my hair remains unkempt and I have yet to tend to those pesky stray eyebrow hairs, the desire to write always creeps back in.

Lately, I’ve been asking my neighbor, a curmudgeon in his mid-seventies, to tell me a little more about his life.  I’ve pushed for some insight into his experiences as a boy from a working class family in Boston, fresh from the service, who found himself on the Berkeley campus smack dab in the middle of the free speech movement. What comes back usually does so in fragments:  self-absorbed rich kids.

Despite his reticence, I approach from different angles.  Did you ever want to get married? Did you ever think about having kids? It doesn’t really matter to me that he barely answers. Because in the asking I am actually trying to tell him that his life is significant.  I want to say to him that it doesn’t matter to me what his social status is or has ever been.  Everyone has stories and every one of those stories is an access road into the fundamental meaning of the human experience.  I simply want him to know that his stories matter.

And so, it has recently occurred to me, do mine.

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