Why slowmamma?

I stumbled into the world of blogging through the most unsuspecting of channels: the newspaper.   The introduction came by way of an article in the local paper announcing the arrival of the annual BlogHer conference. It was 2008 and, while I was generally aware of the existence of blogs, I was astounded to discover the delightful reality of a vibrant community of women bloggers.

Just weeks before, my world had been shattered by the loss of my first pregnancy at 19 weeks and I quickly found my way to a community of women who were sharing painful stories of infertility and loss.  At the time, I didn’t have the energy to even comment, let alone write, but those blogs provided much-needed sustenance.  I went on to become pregnant again, endure another loss, and then to sadly blunder my transition into motherhood without so much as a hint of grace or ease.

Those years were nothing short of catastrophic. Thanks in part to crippling postpartum anxiety, I was  incapable of juggling work and motherhood and abruptly ended my career trajectory. And because so much of my community had revolved around my work life, I found myself painfully isolated during much of my first year of motherhood.

When I finally found the strength to dig myself out of the rubble, I discovered a desire to blog.  To actively join the conversation. For me, it was about regaining control of my own story and believing quite literally in the power to write it.  I already knew the narrative: I had been gifted the opportunity to construct a different version of my life, this time according to a value system built around the things that I now knew to be most important to me: family, community and the joys that can be found in choosing a simpler, slower way of life.  My undoing was my admission to something better.  I simply needed to sort out a few details.

Life, it seems, refuses to be confined to a linear path.  Soon after I began this blog, I became unexpectedly pregnant with Mr D. and after a surprisingly uneventful (for me) pregnancy and birth, we reverted to basic survival mode for a few years.

The blog fell by the wayside but in many ways, I have been successful in guiding us in the direction that I envisioned. We do live simply, minimizing consumption and commitments and maximizing our time together.  With only one small income, we manage to thrive in a tiny rental apartment and are mostly happy to call the Bay Area our home.  While in a parallel universe I live a self reliant existence on a sustainable farm within a community of like-minded dreamers, in reality I do manage to grow some of our food and cook most of it, make my own compost and even barter for quite a few pasture-raised eggs, all despite the fact that we don’t even have a yard.

But I’ve discovered that there are many layers to creating a simple life.  And many challenges. It is both undesirable and impossible to inhabit our personal spheres without bumping against the society that surrounds us.  And it is practically meaningless to change ourselves without changing the world. And that, I’m afraid, is no small task.

One of the greatest gifts of the internet is the opportunity to carve out our own reality from an unbounded space. We can consciously choose to “surround” ourselves with like minded people and filter out the naysayers.  Thanks mostly to other people’s blogs, I’ve come across an astounding amount of evidence for a very real momentum to change direction in a time of global climate change and cultural collapse.  And I’ve come to believe that the little choices that we make every day carry enormous power to affect that change, indeed that some of the smallest, most mundane actions may be the most revolutionary, especially when they come from a deep shift in our thinking.

Amidst all of the urgency, the thing that I appreciate most of all about the concept of slow living is the strong message that while we need to simplify because we want to save the very planet that sustains us, we feel compelled to change because we are drawn to what we believe is a better way of living, one that focuses on meaning and connection rather than accumulation and performance.

But first, we have to slow down.

Healing

The past few weeks have been a struggle.  A layer of tension has settled stubbornly on our household like tule fog, disrupting cycles and stirring resentment. It hasn’t helped that we made two trips back to the hospital with g, one for persistent pain and another after about a week for more pain, this time combined with vomiting and fever.  The first revealed what we already knew, g needed time to heal.  The second revealed more of the same; he was still weak and an intestinal virus got to him.

At some point I came to realize what I should have already known.  You can’t rush healing. In fact, it is much more productive to treat it as a respected guest, offer it a seat at the table and welcome it for the duration.  And gradually, it did happen.  g’s appetite came back and I now take it on good faith that his frame with fill in to it’s usual slender.  And better still, his spirit came back. He’s back to crashing cars into walls and transforming into black panthers.  And of course, we’re grateful for all of it, even if it drives us crazy.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.