Scars

This was written as a Family Time article for The Chronicle, but I decided to withdraw it before it was published. I’ll share it with you here, though.

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I don’t really know what to say when my 18-month-old son Henry points to the scars on my wrists and looks at me with questions in his eyes. The first time, I didn’t say anything for a moment, then broke into singing “Baby Beluga.” The second time, I mumbled, “Yes, an old boo-boo,” and swiftly neck-nibbled him until he giggled; music to my ears.

To him, it’s just a question mark, like the glasses on my face, my bellybutton or the mole on my chest. Something to ask about in a matter-of-fact way. But I know that someday he’ll be older and he’ll figure it out.

I didn’t have a horrible childhood, just self-esteem issues, a philosophical mind and dramatic tendencies. My parents couldn’t have prevented those feelings, which is why I worry about Henry. A child’s self-worth is so delicate, and I hate that I can’t control external factors like bullies and the media.

I worry about scaring him. How do you talk about something you don’t want your child to ever experience? How do you make him feel safe, now that you’re here to stay and loving life?

Depression, to me, is like a Ouija board: The more you think about it, the more you run the risk of summoning demons. You keep your face turned toward the sunshine and if you don’t look, the darkness isn’t even there.

I don’t want to expose him to it if he doesn’t even know it exists. I don’t want to pique his curiosity. And I don’t want to overthink it myself and ever end up there again, either. I want to keep walking forward into light and love. I want Henry to trust me, and not worry.

In high school, it seemed contagious. I heard about a friend of a friend who cut herself. We had an intervention and told the school counselor. The next day, my friend was doing it too. I thought she’d gone crazy. But then I tried it, and it became a crutch I leaned on for a long time. It’s a teenage epidemic.

I worry about even mentioning it here. It’s not good, friends. You’re better than that and deserve to treat yourself with respect. There are more constructive ways to fight the shadows.

Speaking of which, I have relics around. Artwork, poetry, journals, and there’s plenty to find on the internet. I’ve been blogging since before blogging had a name, and my old life is kicking around dusty corners of the web. Henry will find my skeletons someday, if he’s curious. They aren’t well-hidden.

Then again, maybe he won’t be curious at all. Maybe moms aren’t that interesting. Maybe he’ll have the wisdom to acknowledge that it’s part of my past, and not that shocking or unique. Maybe my experience will steer him in the opposite direction. Kids don’t want to be like their parents, right?

For now, though, they’re just unremarkable marks on my arms, and it’s easy enough to divert his attention with raspberries on his belly and loud renditions of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

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The tragedy bigger than anything

I wrote this on September 3 and emailed it to myself. I’m newly vegan, though I have slipped up here and there – I’m trying my best. This piece of writing has been sitting in my inbox for more than a week, just simmering. I guess I’m going to post it here so I can clean out my emails… Not quite sure how I feel about sharing it, but here we go.

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Animal mommas love their babies. Source: http://www.mfablog.org/2012/05/honor-all-mothers-this-mothers-day.html

We are living in end times, my friends. And we did it to ourselves.

Whether or not you believe in God, you have to admit that it’s a crazy miracle that we’re here at all. That the elements bumped into each other in ways that created planets, and life on this planet, and all the species of plants and animals that live in perfect harmony. And us.

We don’t live in harmony. We destroy, conquer, eliminate. It’s all our fault.

Think about the story of the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man. That’s when we decided to take agriculture and farming into our own hands. We were just another animal until the agricultural revolution, when we figured out how to manipulate nature for our own purposes.

But it wasn’t right of us to do so. We live so incredibly comfortably now. Think about when our ancestors had to hunt and gather just to survive. And then think about when everyone gardened and had farm animals just to survive. And then think about now, with your iPhone and microwave.

Every animal is somebody’s baby. Source: http://www.tonglen.oceandrop.org/Truth_Behind_Veal.htm

I like to say that the word God is not a descriptor of some bearded dude in the sky, but a word to describe nature, chance, the universe, the miracle that made us happen, the chaos and perfect math that is responsible for our existence on this planet. It is so improbable that life came to be. So so improbable. And here, in this moment in time, that miraculous crazy ridiculous improbability is true. And we are trashing it.

It’s a beautiful tragedy. It’s the saddest thing ever.

Sadder still is that we don’t even know we are doing it. We aren’t even aware of what we are doing!

We go to our jobs, pay our bills, check our email, drink our cares away. Who wants to hear about this shit? No-one. But we have a feeling underneath, a feeling that things aren’t right.

We are animals. We are animals just like any other animal. Who can really argue with that? We are the smartest animal and we caged up all the other animals so we could torture, kill and eat their dead bodies.

Are we the smartest animal, or are we the animal who’s a big fucking jerk ruining everything?

Think about the world without human beings on it. Everything lives in complete harmony. Sure, animals kill other animals, but not to the point of extinction. Animals kill what they need to survive and that’s all.

Source: http://www.organics.org/the-last-thing-youll-need-to-see-to-start-recycling/

The trees and plants make air for the animals to breathe and the animals make carbon dioxide for the trees and plants to breathe. The ocean is self-cleaning. Left alone, nature is perfect. It’s perfect for all involved.

We are fucking it up and we’re going to kill ourselves.

We have fucked up lots of things, causing extinction of many species and cutting down rainforest like crazy. But the worst thing of all is this climate change. It’s going to get us, and I’m willing to bet it will happen within our lifetime.

The momentum is too strong. Just buying recycled toilet paper and driving your Prius to the Farmer’s Market isn’t going to cut it. There are too many people who are living the wrong way. It’s too late.

I’m just glad that I was able to experience love and motherhood before we all shit the bed.

Nothing like a baby laugh

There’s nothing like a baby laugh to melt away the day’s stress.

Today was one hell of a day. Just non-stop juggling at work. I got home at 7:30 and was still working via text and email, during dinner; hardly a minute to look the kid in the eye and say, “How was your day?”

Finally I put down my phone and nuzzled, bounced and nibbled the little guy, though. It was cathartic. He’s my therapy. He’s wonderful. Laughing, and laughing. Cory saying, “That’s no way to calm him down before bed!” We played the “I love you… So so much… I love you… So so much… So so much SO SO MUCH SOSOMUCHSOSOMUCHSOSOMUCH!!!” that always gets him going. Baby laughs to the rescue. The day dissolved with squeals of joy.

And then a little cuddle time. I curled him up in a ball in my arms, smelled his coconut oil after-bath smell, kissed him on his wispy blonde hair and said, “Oh, Henry. I just really love you.”

He stuck his fingers in my nose, put a fistful of my hair in his mouth, and said “Burgle bah.”

(Which I think means, “I love you back.”)

Parenting is just a bunch of letting go

Kid Henry
Kid Henry

Tonight Henry fell asleep in my arms, nursing before bed in the rocking chair in his bedroom. There’s nothing unusual about that. It happens most every night. But tonight.

Tonight I looked down at my sleeping baby in my arms and realized how big he was. His body’s bigger than my torso, now. His baby hands are kid hands. His baby butt’s a kid butt. Kid legs. Kid face. He’s not my little newborn Henry Austin-Avon any more. He’s crossing the baby line into kidville.

I’ve been so busy counting milestones, looking into the future. Excited that he’s sitting up. Excited that he can play on his own. Excited that he can hold my hands, stand up and walk across a room. Excited that he can put a carrot in his own mouth and eat it. That’s a good thing, probably.

Because the sadness, pain and loss in looking backward is almost unbearable.

Never again will I have to hold his floppy head to my breast to teach him to nurse. Never again will I cup his tiny little body close to mine to calm him, hoping he remembers the sound of my heartbeat. Never again will I have a six-month-old Henry. Or a five-month-old, four-month-old, three-month-old, two-month-old, one-month-old, three-weeks-old, two-days-old, newborn baby Henry.

Feeding himself.
Feeding himself.

The thought’s occurred to me before that it’s okay that time’s passing, because I want to have another baby. That I’ll be able to do it again; to hold my own little newborn baby, to be the only one to calm them down, to be so close.

But I realized tonight that it won’t be the same. I’ll have a two- or three-year-old son running around as a distraction. I’ll be worn out. And it won’t be Henry. It won’t be the first time; like watching a movie the second time or reading a book the second time. The surprises don’t hit you the same way.

I worry that I’ve missed it. I was on my phone, or talking to someone, and I missed it. Henry will never be seven months, two weeks and five days old again. That was just for today, and I was working, Facebooking, sending a press release, designing a postcard, chatting, hanging laundry, driving, in a meeting. I missed it. I missed him today.

Sleeping on Daddy.
Sleeping on Daddy.

Every day is letting go. Every day he is further from me. No longer a part of me. When he doesn’t want to breastfeed any more, our bond will just be a token. I won’t need a babysitter to bring him to me every two hours. We could go our lifetimes apart and he would probably be okay. Someone else can comfort him, after that’s gone.

It breaks my heart. Seriously makes me well up with tears to think about.

From birth, parenting is just a bunch of letting go. First he’s no longer a part of me. Then as he can hold his own head up, feed himself, eat food other than my milk, no longer needs to be carried around. Parents of teenagers, I don’t envy you.

I’m starting to realize why everyone glows at you when you’re pregnant or carrying a newborn.

It’s the best. It’s all ahead of you.

A fleeting moment.
A fleeting moment.

It’s the very very best. The closest. The part where your child needs you the most. The road into the unknown stretches out ahead, all sunshine and blank canvas.

My baby is growing up. He’s still so new, but no longer a newborn. This is so painful. I miss my newborn Henry so badly. It hurts, makes my chest cave in, to think that I will never hold my newborn Henry again.

He doesn’t exist.

My newborn Henry doesn’t exist any more.

I can’t think of anything more awful than that. I mourn for my son. He’s gone; the little curled frog legs, the long wispy brown hair, the twitchy breathing and high-pitched sleep squeaks. I wish I took more video. But it’s just not the same.

I console myself knowing that newborn Henry has grown into infant Henry, and infant Henry is the most beautiful, bright, happy, funny boy in the history of children. He’s amazing. He’s perfect. He’s a shining star, radiating joy and love.

And when he doesn’t exist any more, I’ll have toddler Henry to keep me busy. And then little boy Henry, and older boy Henry, preteen Henry, teen Henry, young adult Henry, adult Henry and beyond — all wonderful people I look forward to meeting.

… If I can just try to let go of his past selves.

Chasing the train

Parenting feels like a train I just can’t catch. The familiar scene where the hero races up on his horse and stre-e-e-etches out for the railing on the caboose to grab hold and triumphantly board the train. It’s going so fast, cacti whooshing by in the background scenery, hearts pounding, blood rushing, the horse’s hooves pounding as its mane whips in the wind and its muscles strain to go faster, then even faster – but that moment of triumph and relief where you hop on and can breathe for a split-second before saving the day just never comes for me.

Chasing the train

That second I think I’m finally up to speed and am reaching for the train, it speeds up again and eludes my outstretched fingers, again and again. Times I try to swerve and head it off at the pass, it takes a different direction, or just races by before I can grab hold. It’s impossible to stay ahead of, and impossible to catch. I just keep running.

But, you know… I get tired.

Henry will be six months old on Friday.

Suddenly he can sit up on his own, kind of. We should probably start to give him foods to try. He can wriggle around and end up feet away from where you put him down. He reaches for things he wants and grunts and pouts if he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t want to cuddle as often as he wants to stand. He picks things up off the floor. I haven’t seen it for sure yet myself, but babysitters swear he’s mimicking their sounds and facial expressions. He’s getting a tooth. He’s just so much more alert.

I feel like I missed something. Maybe I had my nose glued to my iPhone or sometime during my workday while he was with a sitter, he grew right up. It feels like I’ve missed weeks of development. Months, even. He’s not the same baby I knew.

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Sitting up already

I mean, he is. He smiles when he catches your eye. He loves getting his neck gobbled or legs nibbled (I’ve decided to call it “monstering”). He holds onto my necklaces or my ponytail. He tickles my side while he’s nursing. But there’s something new every day. I was shocked when I went to carefully prop him up in a sitting position on Saturday and he held it for so much longer than I expected. When did he learn that? Where was I? Have I been ignoring him?

He’s growing and learning so quickly. He’s a new baby every day. Before I know it, he’ll be a boy and not a baby. And then a man and not a boy. The train’s going faster and faster and faster. I’m never gonna catch this thing.

While I thought I was doing a good job of cherishing the moment, instead it passed me by. He’s so big already. Not a floppy baby any more. I’m not ready for this.

Not that it matters. The train rushes on.

And here we go. I thought he was down for a nap, but he’s up and noisy. Still haven’t caught my breath.

…But I’ve gotta keep running.

Down on Skid Row

As I read yet another post on Facebook about abortion laws, the thought occurs to me again. I try to enjoy the moment. Live in right now, where everything is lovely, people he knows are bursting with love for him and the only pain he feels is from gas bubbles. But with every news story, there’s that thought.

How do I tell my son about war? About hunger? Rape? How do I tell him about school shootings, about horrible deaths, about people forced to do unspeakable things? And never mind that… How do I tell him about heartbreak, and bullies, and disappointment? What about climate change, landfills and extinct species?

I don’t want to. Myself, at the ripe age of 30 – Even I don’t want to know about it. I stick my head in the sand more often than not. I avoid the news, most of the time. I don’t like to acknowledge that these things exist.

My theory is that if I allow myself to truly realize how awful things are, I’ll probably sink into a depression I’d never get out of, crawling into bed and never getting up ever again. So I just refocus. I narrow my scope and look at the things that I can change on my own. I try to live greener and strive toward a cruelty-free and ethical lifestyle. I try to be active in my community, to feel connected and to create and encourage positivism. With Advokate, I feel like I’m helping the little guy by facilitating success for small business. It’s what I can do, and it makes me able to deal with living in a world alongside the bad stuff.

Feed me, Seymour…

I remember being very young, under the age of five because my memory of this contemplation takes place in the living room of my old house – and thinking, no. Awful sicknesses and death can’t happen. It can’t exist. It’s not real. Monsters under the bed aren’t real… so this can’t be, either. My parents wouldn’t let that happen. God wouldn’t let that happen.

Not to good people.

I have never seen the end of Little Shop of Horrors because I am so upset by the fact that the plant eats an innocent person. Another memory from before I was five, and I’ve tried to watch the movie several times since, each with the same refusal to finish it after that point.

I don’t like thinking that bad things happen for no good reason.

And I don’t know how to tell my son that.

Luckily, I don’t have to, for now. I can just look in his eyes and enjoy his innocence. And take some solace in knowing that I will raise him to be one of the good guys.

Come here/Go away

Henry is bundled up next to me on the couch. He’s looking at me and sucking his pacifier. I know he’s sleepy because he’s been dozing on and off since 7. It’s 8:30 now and we usually put him to bed at 9. And this is one of so many examples of my holding two opposites in my head.

photo-2
Henry, now.

Am I ignoring him by typing this, or am I being a good mom for writing things down for him later in a moment while he’s mellow? Both.

Do I want him to be asleep so I can have a moment to myself, or do I want to treasure every waking moment of his life? Both.

I was thinking earlier about how I can’t wait to see what his face looks like when he is older, or to know what questions he’ll have about the world, or what philosophies he’ll invent or adopt, or what his little-boy laugh will sound like. But I also can’t bear to think of him not needing me any longer – to feed him, hold him upright, walk his little legs around, explain what things are, entertain him.

My dad used to goof around with us saying, “Come here! Go away! Come here! Go away!” It was hilarious. That’s what I’m feeling now, though.

When somebody else is holding him, I want nothing more than to be holding him myself. When I’m holding him, my back aches after a few minutes and I want nothing more than to hand him off to someone and have my hands (and time) free.

When I’m working, I feel bad that I’m not with Henry. When I’m with Henry, I feel bad that I’m not working.

When he’s not making noises or engaging with me, I want to get him talking and looking in my eyes and I’ll make noises to try and catch his attention. And right now he’s talking to the ceiling fan and I’m on the laptop.

Poor kid, with all these mixed messages. I’m wondering if this is always going to be there, though. The bittersweetness of momming. Always fighting with itself.