Tag Archives: mommyhood

Full Mind, Full Heart…

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There are a lot of things in my head right now. The song is “I Can Her the Bells” from “Hairspray Jr.” which we saw at the middle school four blocks from our house on Friday. Several alum from our elementary school plays were there and in good form. The steps under my feet and in my head are for “Make ‘em Laugh” which we will choreograph this week.

I’m rereading Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, a fantastic novel that throws together everything that interests me into a lovely disastrous science fiction salad, languages, medicine, with some alien life forms thrown in. I am emotionally tired from our community group’s project on Saturday to feed breakfast to seventy five people through City Hope, our church’s community center in the tenderloin district of San Francisco.

I met a young lady named Ari. When I had talked her inside off the wet street she left moments later with tears in her eyes. She had been looking at my kids. Out of prison for five days, her seven-year-old son is with his father in Alabama, her two-year-old daughter is in Petaluma with friends. We talked about being mothers, she talked about the weight of the family she was raised in, the weight of caring for children on her own, the weight of her addiction that led her straight back here to the streets of San Francisco.

She came in again, she ate, she met my children, I connected her to our pastor there. We found out where she could get clothes. She went to use the bathroom. I sat with her bag.

When she came back she said, “I’m glad you watched my bag. It would’ve been too hard not to — if I had had it with me.”

“You have drugs in there right now?” I asked.

“No,” she said after the slightest pause.

And this is how far I’ve come, I’m still naive enough to be surprised that a drug addict has drugs on their person. But, as it turns out, I’m not naive enough that I didn’t recognize that she was lying to me in the second instance. So, that’s something.

The emotional response in my body brought to mind another instance of similar discordant realization. We were in Manila on a mission trip. We were touring lots of areas and different ministries. One night we went down to the slums to meet some of the thousands of orphans left on their own to form families. We had a group of about twenty boys, six to ten year-olds. We told them Bible stories, learned their names, fed them. We had been there for hours when I began noticing that they were leaving one by one and coming back after a while. They would come back a little happier, red eyes, a little less attentive, distant.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked one.

“He’s high,” the boy answered succinctly.

As it turns out these beautiful brown boys were taking turns leaving to huff glue out of discarded glass jars.

One of our set up guys at church has been clean for two years. He posted on Facebook. “Two years off the needle by the grace of God.”

Another time in college a young man, long blonde hair in a ponytail, a smattering of tattoos, was a friend of a friend of someone in En Christo, our ministry to the poor and homeless in Spokane, Washington. He showed up for a month of Saturdays, handing out bagged lunches to the residents of the hotels we had established relationships with. He gave a powerful testimony of God’s saving grace to release him from his addiction to heroine. He was witness, it could be done. He didn’t show up one Saturday. We heard the next week, through a friend of a friend, he had died of an overdose. I don’t remember his name. I remember thinking he was cool.

I am thinking of the second grader, a little brother, who told me he has begun reading the Bible when he’s bored at home, mostly the story of David and Goliath.

I am thinking of my volunteer who has rekindled her years of ASL and is practicing the story for this next week so she can communicate with two deaf boys who have been coming to our program.

I am thinking of two third grade girls who haven’t had a friend in their all-boy children’s worship class. Two Sundays ago they finally found each other and told their mothers about their new friend.

I am thinking about the two first grade boys who are a little intimidated about transitioning out of their comfortable Kindergarten class where their little brothers are. One is autistic and finally yesterday didn’t look like a caged animal when I gave him another tour of the “big kid” room.

I am thinking about all the slogans I have read off the posters of all my friends who went to many women’s marches all across the country. I didn’t think about going. I served breakfast with my community group to seventy-five inhabitants of the tenderloin and met Ari and was tired and went home and thanked the Lord for whatever combination of grace, provision, chance, will, or wisdom that has allowed me to have a house and the right to mother my children.

I thanked the Lord for a rug to vacuum, dishes to do, so many bananas that they had gotten old, and the baking space, that no SRO hotel room has, to make banana bread. There was so much joy in making banana bread for my people, so much flour, so much sugar. I thanked the Lord for the bathroom I had to clean even though I swore on Tuesday that anybody but me was going to be scouring it this weekend. I was grateful for the fridge full, the laundry basket full, the arms full of my children.

I realized that I was being domestic even while I was admiring signs, even while City Hall was lit up pink. I laughed at myself.

My favorite quote, the last sentences of Middlemarch by George Eliot. The great heroin Dorothea, who is described as having the energy and righteous ambition of another Joan of Arc, spreading out her energies into domesticity like the delta of the river Cyrus. “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I think about how distasteful it is sometimes to my ambition to rest in the small things, how difficult to be satisfied in diffusion.

I think of the one hundred sixty-nine kids in the school play that I get to know and encourage. I think of the eighty-five to one-hundred fifteen kids that we have in children’s worship on Sundays that we get to know and welcome. I think of the three who I kissed awake this morning with many kisses, the little one’s cheek smelling like his sweet mouth from falling asleep sucking his thumb.

This morning I don’t feel so far away from every other woman in the world. This morning I see more parallels than differences between me and Ari who is somewhere just outside this coffee shop window, maybe still trying to find her cell phone so she can see that last picture she took of her little girl. I feel my energies splitting and irrigating many tiny fields, for each of which I am very grateful.

My Fault…

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I thought I could go back to bed and lie there for a bit without incident. So, technically, I suppose it was my fault. But I heard everyone helping each other get breakfast. It sounded peaceable.

So, forty glorious minutes later I walk out. The weather’s perfect. It’s sunny. Even the introvert in me is charmed.

“Let’s go to the park,” I say, “Shoes on.”

At this moment in the hallway the little guy passes me holding a spoonful of milky cereal in front of his belly and marching into his bedroom. Curious, I follow him. Then I watch as he stops, calculates, throws said cereal onto the carpet, touches one foot on top of it delicately as if to evaluate his success and turns, I’m assuming, in order to get more.

Well, I stop that nonsense and on the way to the kitchen with the spoon I notice several other arrangements of cereal on the floor and realize this is an installation piece, probably entitled “Scourge of My Mother”. There is also one very wet towel lying in a square on the floor.

“Hey guys? What’s with the wet towel? Did he have an accident?”

“No, Mom, he spilled a cup of milk,” said the eldest.

“He did it on purpose. And it was my milk,” said the girl.

Mixed media.

(There are many moments like this when I’m glad I don’t have a nice place. I can’t stand how my kids treat my two-bedroom rental. What on earth would I do if they treated my dream-house this way?!)

I proceed into the kitchen. And the baby has tried to make a smoothie.

Here is a picture of that baby:

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I sigh and scrap my plans for the park. I place the baby in the tub (the only place he will remain contained) and wipe counters, do dishes, unload dishwasher so I can load dishes, start laundry from last night’s pee debacle(another long story), scrub and baking soda a square of carpet, sweep the kitchen, vacuum and four hours later it’s nap time and I’m sucking down coffee and eating some Go Diego Go cereal. For some subliminal reason I wanted some.

The first baby, that’s not anyone’s fault. You’re naive; you’ve never had a baby. You don’t know. The second one, well, that’s not technically your fault either. You and your husband have seven siblings between you. Let’s blame family culture. But three, well- the third one’s on you. You asked for three. This is on you.

Mr. Dinty Moore…

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The only reason we were in the grocery store on a Friday evening at four o’clock is because I signed up to bring a meal to a family in our church that had a new baby. I am not normally on the meals ministry because these days I can’t seem to make a meal larger than the appetites of the growing humans I’m responsible for.

Tonight was case in point because my tasty plans had fallen apart to the degree that two frozen lasagnas were cooking in my oven and I was at the grocery store on a Friday evening to buy bread and a ready salad.

By Friday evening my kids are tired after a week of school. Also, it is May, so my kids are also tired from a year of school. The little guy is potty training and missed his nap today and I am dragging them all through food-option-nirvana on empty bellies.

My daughter refuses to walk and is sitting in the cart pulling it around by reaching to whatever half-permanent object is closest. Every time I turn around the cart is five feet away. My little one is standing in the cart and eating grapes off the produce shelf. My seven-year-old has his nose buried in a book and is basically stopping wherever is most inconvenient for everyone else.

(“Put down your book!”)

As we make it to the checkout, things are devolving fast. The toddler has figured out how to lift the bottom of the cart and slide to the floor, which he is doing. My almost-six-year-old daughter is trying to read the US Weekly (“I want to read a magazine!”) which I am trying to distract her from.

(“Read this food magazine.”
“It’s boring!”)

I have fifteen items in a fifteen item express lane and three of my items are a twin loaf of bread, a bunch of bananas, and a bag of grapes. I am pushing it across the board.

The guy behind me strolls up, middle aged, glasses, with ten, I swear, microwavable ready-packs of Dinty Moore beef stew and about seven pounds of zucchini. I don’t know what the heck he’s got going on tonight but this bachelor sure as hell doesn’t have time for the circus I got going on right here.

My eldest has stopped reading his book long enough to make his sister dissolve into a puddle of indignant victimhood on the floor.

(“Just, stand over there and read your book!”)

My baby is back in the cart via “the new route” and is shaking the coin machine at the checkout.

At this point a fellow mother from school comes in (you know who you are). She’s alone, has her cart, takes one look at me, and laughs. That was the picture I was painting at that moment.

So, the middle-aged Chinese lady, that is my sympathetic cashier (“You very busy.”), scans my beer.

“You get some beer, I need to see ID.”

I, getting out my driver’s license and trying to placate Mr. Dinty Moore who is strangely unresponsive as my daughter wails at his feet, crack a joke, “And I earned every ounce.”

And this is why you should never EVER card a mother of three children. Because, people, my driver’s license had expired… on my birthday… in January.

(My eldest was loudly fascinated, “Mom, your ID expired?! What does that mean? It’s expired?! Can I see? So, you can’t get your beer?”
“Go read your book.”)

The Chinese lady grimaced as she slowly removed my beer from the belt. She regretted checking my ID now, thought it was going to be a great treat for everyone, and as much as it hurt me I could tell it stung her a little, too.

I don’t mind admitting that it’s a defeated Barbara who wrangled three kids into the car, without beer, and now thinking about DMV visits. (Argh!)

These days the toddler takes a while to get into his seat. He likes to play this really funny game where he jumps into the front seat right when I open the back door and jump back into the back seat when I open the front door. So, as badly as I wanted to be gone and home it took us several minutes before I could sit back in my seat.

Then, there was a knock on my window.

Who is it, but Mr. Dinty Moore himself and— he’s holding my beer.

“You bought me my beer!” I yell at the window. I rolled down the window.

I swear he said nothing, just smiled, handed me the beer, and walked away.

(“He bought your beer?! That guy bought your beer? Why did he do that?! You couldn’t buy beer because your ID had expired, right?”)

Well played Mr. Dinty Moore. May your meaty morsels be flavorful and your zucchini bread be moist. By blessing a mother with beer you have blessed us all.

Poop Part Two: Life of Poop…

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So, we are potty training the baby. I remember with my first child praying about the potty training. I remember strategizing and having interminable patience. I remember having the epiphanic moment at the grocery store, slowly scanning the produce department, “Every single one of these people was potty trained by someone.”

Somewhere in between one and three whatever novelty there was to potty training has worn off and I’m left most of the time thinking, “This should be done by now. How come he’s not already potty trained? Wait, who’s supposed to be potty training him?”

He’s doing really well and today was a no-diaper day. I got home from work and Dad and baby happily reported no accidents. So proud. And then Dad left.

And now it is my turn. It is bed time. I am tired. It is still light outside and there are complaints from all children that they have to go to bed while it’s light. I explain AGAIN about how the light gets longer but our daily hours don’t change for two more weeks, only two more weeks! “When school’s out it’s going to be different, but for now we still have to wake up at six-thirty.” And waking everyone up was a killer this morning.

I think I’ve got everyone down. Then I hear, “Poop coming, Mama.” I run to find a tiny well-contained turd on the floor and rush the boy to the toilet. One additional tiny turd plops in the pot. There is excessive wiping with a yard of toilet paper that has been squashed into a sphere the size of a golf ball. The pajama pants are poopy enough that they go in the laundry. The boy goes back to bed and I entertain with slightly less patience another complaint of going to bed in the light.

(“Poopy enough” is a term utilized by parents of multiple children to indicate the item’s position past a threshold marker on a long gradient scale that moves in correlation with the inconvenience of adding anything to the laundry pile.)

Two minutes later, “Poop coming, Momma.” I come in to find a larger, yet, still-contained turd on the floor. This one left a trail down the leg. I wipe the leg clean. One additional turd in the potty later followed by excessive wiping and yet another pair of pajama pants. The boy is back in bed.

And yet again, “Poop coming, Momma.” This time we make it with the turd still firmly clenched between his butt cheeks. Now we sit on the potty. One tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. Three minute hiatus. Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. Three minute hiatus.

“Are you all done? No more poop?”
“No. Poop still coming.”

Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. Some gets on his fingers, he wipes it off on his shirt. I realize we’ll need a new shirt. I wipe the fingers.

Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. He lifts up his penis to see the poop. He gets pee on his hand and wipes it down his leg. I realize he is now dirty enough for a bath.

(“Dirty enough” is a term utilized by parents of multiple children to indicate a child’s contamination level past a certain threshold point on a long gradient that moves in correlation to the parents willingness to snuggle said child.)

Another tiny turd followed by excessive wiping. I try to explain how to wait and wipe just once at the end. He doesn’t buy it. I eye the dwindling roll of toilet paper and tell myself to let it go. Take your victories, leave some battles for later. One square to get the drip of pee off the tip of his penis. We flush to make sure we don’t clog the toilet.

Forty-five minutes later AND a bath AND an entire roll of toilet paper, a fourth pair of pajama pants, a new shirt, kisses, hugs, and covers, and we are in bed again.

It is now dark. No one is complaining about going to bed. The girl is already asleep.

And I realize again that the two greatest things I may ever do in this world are teaching three human beings to read and teaching three human beings to poop on the potty.

The Multitasking Poop Post (Contains Expletives)…

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I just had the poop sucked back into me. I’ve been having trouble with my bowels and have also been sick for a few days. I was looking forward to a satisfying poop. And I’m sitting there on the potty and my two-and-a-half-year-old is climbing into the tub and my five year old girl is in the room getting naked on top of my feet and my seven year old has a book open in the doorway trying to get me to commit to the type of tree that is growing in his pot (breaking news: it’s a weed, not the peach pit or the plum pit or the apple seed you planted in the backyard. “But MOM, I’m pretty sure it’s a peach tree.” “It’s not a peach tree. I’ve seen lots of peach trees. We used to have four peach trees. They have long thin leaves that can be slightly fuzzy.” “This one HAS fuzzy leaves, Mom!”) And I had to tell my daughter to please go take her collection of clothes off of my feet and into the room where they go and her brother beaned her for fun on her way through the door and she yells at him and the oldest is shoving the book in my face and the water is roaring into the bathtub next to me and my long slow comfortable poop climbed back inside my rectum and said, “Well, then, I think we’ll just stay in here.” Yes. Yes, Poop. I would, too. I would go hide in that quiet dark place, too, if I could.

I’m writing this post about multitasking. I began about two hours ago and have had to stop for innumerable reasons: unloading the dishwasher so I can load the dishwasher, washing the banana off the kid-scissors. finding the banana from this morning in the colored pencils, cleaning poop out of the bathtub, assuring my eldest that I have cleaned the baby’s poop out of the bathtub, singing Aladdin Jr. songs to the baby for twenty minutes in hopes he squeezes the rest of the poop into the potty, wading through two giant north american classification tomes trying to prove this damn weed, picking up all the baby wipes that were thrown at sister, crying for a minute with sister (she had her reasons I had mine). I mean…

I hate the way my brain is on Facebook. I tell my kids that you are good at what you practice and I practice the Facebook bounce, boy, do I. Political essay, kitten video, necessary social justice article, pictures of Kate and William and the babies, the latest Jimmy Fallon video, don’t vote for so-and-so article, photo of a sunset, vaccinate your kids, totally meaningless sentimental meme, blah, blah, blah… an hour later, AN HOUR LATER!?!?

They used to say multitasking was a good thing. Those were supposed to be the capable talented people. But now we’re learning that human beings aren’t supposed to multitask. Human beings are supposed to concentrate on one damn thing at a time, like pooping. We’re supposed to sit on the toilet and poop in one giant unified movement of bowels and brain. I have never been a multitasker, most creative people aren’t. Multitasking is very very bad for creative people. You need to sit with a thought or an idea. You need to let ideas tumble on top of each other organically. It get’s crazy busy up there.

Only now I’m a mom so now when my brain begins a blog post, for example, and I’m thinking about what I want to write I have to stop because some weed grew exactly where my son remembers planting a pit or a seed last fall and it is now in a pot on my kitchen window sill.

Motherhood makes you a multitasker by necessity. And now that I have three and they are each older with unique trains of thought on different rails (and this includes the little guy now, too. He’s verbose dammit.) my train keep jumping tracks a zillion times and, well, my life is a giant Facebook bounce all fucking day long and that’s why a stupid hour can go by without me realizing I’ve only been scrolling Facebook because this is what I practice!

So, I’ve been having trouble with my bowels, like I’ve said. Last week I actually went to the doctor. And then within two minutes of telling her my symptoms she pops out with, “Well, we’ll do the medical tests just to make sure we can rule things out, but did you know they call the intestines the second brain?” No. Who? Who is calling the intestines the second brain? I’ve watched every single season of ER, House, and Grey’s Anatomy and no one has ever referred to the intestines as the second brain. At any rate, she then says, “You’re stressed.”

“I’m stressed?”

“What do you do to relax?”

“Well, I’m a creative type, so it really depends. If I have hours or a day, even, I—“

(I just had to go take a break to change a poopy diaper because I put the baby in a diaper at bedtime. He was so coy.)

As I was saying, “I’m a creative type so if I have hours or days I might try to write or paint but if I have less than that it can actually be more frustrating than ever starting in the first place.”

“So, what do you do if you have less than an hour?”

I kinda laugh, “Uh, well, the same thing as anybody, I guess, have a drink, eat some cookie dough and watch a show.”

That’s when she made me take the depression test. It was this basic ten question test that any mother would fail, I mean, am I tired? Do I overeat or not eat? (YES.) Do I ever feel guilty? (Uh…)

And she brought in a very nice therapist for me to talk to and THEN they heard more about my life and THEN they agreed that it was indeed stress. I felt horrible. How can I claim stress? I’m really happy with my job, my kids’ school. I get to do this awesome school play. My husband is actually very helpful. Everyone’s in good health. I don’t overcommit; I have no problem saying “no”. My kids have zero activities outside of school. What a luxury for this white American mom with a full fridge to have nervous bowels because of stress?!

But maybe, they said, stress doesn’t have to be big or hard or negative things, just lots of things. Well, I have lots of things. Yes, they said, you have lots of things.

And my wise boss lady, when I told her about it later said, “You’re thinking about the stressors you don’t have because you live in this culture, but don’t forget that this culture does come with a lot of stressors of its own. A person in Kenya has a sky full of stars and not a lot of options. You have a few stars and are inundated by a surplus of options every where you go.”

(And now, would you believe that the moment the kids go to bed I need to poop again. It was a nice comfortable poop. I lit a candle, for ambience!, and now I am typing by candlelight.)

A multitude of options has always been stressful to me. (Remind me to tell you the story of how I broke down weeping all over my stoic Japanese advisor during freshman registration. “There’s[heave]too many[heave]classes[heave]that I want[heave]to take.” It’s a good one.)

I love my job. I love my kids. I love a lot of things. I have a lot of interests. And the feeling like I need to be creating goes with me everywhere. I KNOW I am grateful. I guess I am stressed. And according to ten questions I am also “moderately depressed”. I also have a higher blood pressure than I usually have. And I am also the thinnest I’ve ever been which is slightly alarming considering all that cookie dough.

Anyway, reader, here I am, trying to figure it out. Trying to un-Facebook-bounce my very bouncy life. (Which is a little like being the one person of five who stops jumping on a trampoline, don’t you think?)