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Posts Tagged ‘single motherhood’

NOVEMBER 11th

Time moves slow.  The ache of the heart a long slow cracking after the initial break.  Thousands of aftershocks that travel across a year, add months, count the days.  New mistakes stream in and stretch out inside the ravines, touch the canyon walls, and flow on top of the scars.

Take stock of the present.  Orange lamp hangs overhead and casts its familiar glow on the pillow and couch, on my fingers as they move over keys and trace lines in my journal.  Silent apartment, save the passing the planes and occasional scuffing of boots on the sidewalk or wheels turning over wet leaves.  Yesterday’s breakfast pan soaks in the sink.  A cold beer on the windowsill.

From my ledge I see other people in the open sky.  The vast space around them as they touch hands, unwrap gifts from tissue paper, smile in ways that communicate the complexity of joy and sadness and living.  I see what I hoped for in my life and my family and my love, and know that it didn’t complete me the way I thought it would, the way I wanted and needed, because I wouldn’t let myself be whole.  I cannot imagine building a new life, although I know I’m doing it everyday.  Dish by dish, word by word, moment to moment.

2010 harvest moon photographed by chris updegrave

Notice that my body marks its own time, with signals that fall outside the calendar of dates and anniversaries.  Another harvest moon rises and pins me to the spot, to the moment.  Memories stored in the quality of light, released by the Fall chill settling in the air.  The memory of organs swell the body.  The well of sadness opened by the senses and the body’s recollections.  But this time there is a quiet joy marching alongside.  It’s new and weak at times, but gaining strength and momentum.  I stand on this edge and my lungs clench.  I see the size of my wounds, so long in the making and don’t know if I can cross to the other shore.  If the scars can soften and stretch and let in the light and air.  I hear another bottle break on the sidewalk outside through the closed window and know there will be something to clean up in the morning.

Time moves fast.  OWL’s growth, so ordinary and so exceptional, impossible to track.  Loose notes on the calendars waiting to be transcribed into a baby book.  The feel of those moments so vivid at the time hardly seem describable now.  Watch as baby C, now 4 months old, gorillas sits with his fists on the floor as he slumps forward, and marvel as he pops up.

NOVEMBER 7th

In the morning after a previously amazing day and an evening spent writing in tears, I lay across my bed and mark what is right.  What is going well.  A two page list in columns, turquoise ink.

OWL is healthy.
He talks & talks & signs.
Trots around with little stroller.
Sleeps clutching books like The Secret Life of Plants and Crime & Punishment.
We have heat.
The cat snuggled me through last night’s sadness.
I can read.
I have a practice.
I write.
I walk and run, and sometimes cartwheel.
OWL stomps through puddles in frog rain boots.
OWL & baby A hold hands.
He kicks a ball.
I laugh, cry & feel.
Sweep the floors that ground us.
Cook the food that nourishes us.
We ride buses.
Have teeth to brush.
Bodies to wash.

On the cushion later that morning, the sangha shoulder to shoulder in staggered rows, I open without cracking.  I carry myself back up to that eye-level view of Mt Rainier, and sense my presence among the other mountains, my icy peaks rising above the blankets of green.  The sky passes and mingles, the clouds appear and dissipate.  And I think, I could do this anywhere.  On my feet.  In a courtroom.  At breakfast.  I can be this mountain among mountains anytime.  Struck by the sheer confidence of the open sky.

By nightfall, I slip back down.  Self-arresting, I land not at the bottom, but catch myself in a point of utter aloneness that is sad but not sorry.  It carries me a ways outside the room.  To a place without walls.  All I want is OWL in my arms, in this room, among these friends.  Wait anxiously as the openness battles the rising fear of seeing the ex in the coming exchange.  The fear of directly seeing the embodiments of my failures and success from the open sky where my heart beats raw and tender.  I feel exposed by the moment where everyone around me seems transformed and held by something that I’m not even sure I get.  I feel quiet.  OWL arrives and my world tumbles together and in to pieces all at once.

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Halloween.

I want to write but I’m exhausted.  Exhausted by this day and this month, only an hour away from being over.

OWL’s owl costume that I started last year, a seemingly simple Martha Stewart piece, sits in the same state it was in this time last year – pieces.  The three sections of each wing unattached.  The elastic bands for securing the wings to the arms missing in action.  The ears cut but without a hat.

Start the day in a haze of 3 hours of sleep (my fault) and Larabars and dozing on the couch between readings of Where the Wild Things Are and Mr. Brown Can Moo Can You? and Farmer Grover.  We brunch on 15th – OWL drinking cream from the small dark green pitcher, using a big fork to stab eggs & polenta & sausage.  Excitedly signing egg and meat and milk while shrieking moo.  Booster seat in the wooden booth.  Pointing at the walls.  Bird!  Dog (really a deer)!  That!  Steps into his store-bought hand-me-down elephant suit without struggle.  Wiggling tail as we walk down the street.  He says tickteet before we get inside any of the stores, and I help him hold open his canvas tote bag with the jungle print.  The bag I sewed for him.  An October sun is shining and warm and the clouds overhead white.  Red and yellow leaves line the dry sidewalks.  My elephant waves hi and bye to people who stop and smile, and to people who hurry past with iPod buds wedged into their ears, eyes down.  We miss our friends for trick or treating, so we do none.  At 8:30 pm we slip back into the suit.  He visits the upstairs neighbors.  I let him walk our street in the dark, standing a few paces behind as he teeters forward, beeps into reverse, and trips over the cracks in the sidewalks.

And for all that perfectness, for all the sweet wiggles of his tail and shrieks of delight, I can’t help but feel the sting of having not done it quite right.  Of doing it alone.  A splinter that is still growing out from under my skin.  Surface unbroken.

The rain starts to come down, moving with force and sound.  This day and this month less than 30 minutes from over.  This moment already vanished.  In five days I turn 33.  I remember that time last year, at dinner with family and friends, then-husband turned traitor sitting at our house in which he no longer lived, watching our baby.  I drank coffee then wine.  Walked among Calder sculptures suspended from the ceiling and encased in glass.  I wanted to be swallowed up by the earth.  Immersed in culture and life and the rain and the cold and my sister’s umbrella.  But I felt so dead and sad and hopeless.  I smiled.  I ate.  Laughed.  I even remember having fun.  But tonight, in some ways, I still feel the same.  Like there’s some answer out there, out there and not in here.  Like I could be different.  Like I should be different.

Heart and soul on the floor in pieces.  Partially sewn together, still needing to be joined.  The anchor to hold it together MIA in the closet-that-holds-everything, in a pile among stacks of books and toys and and fabric and grocery bags.

Tomorrow it’s rabbits if I can remember.

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It’s been a day.  A good one, mind you.  But short short short naps.  Wailing, screaming, pillow-over-the-rail-of-the-crib tantrums & tears.  At least 47 minutes of it, from when I started tracking the time.  And this surprising rage welling up from somewhere deep inside me.  Mind travels a million miles an hour over that talk that I must have immediately with his father, who, I think, should maybe even come and pick him up for the night.  Because if OWL had a bed over there, if he napped OWL when he was supposed to nap and didn’t feed him to sleep and so on….  Well, my little prince would be sleeping soundly on his own.  All bullshit, I know.  At least 93% of it.  Truth is, I was unable to maintain our boundaries around sleep.  I chose comforting the achey mouth with 4 new teeth and molars pushing the pink gums to white and the runny nose.  In my bed.  Instead of letting him cry it out.  Alone.  In the dark.  In the walk-in-closet-turned-bedroom with no window or heater (not that my heat is on either).

All struggle.  Can’t get a word in edgewise.  No calming.  My requests for him to lay down so I can rub his quivering back unheard.  Rage seeping up from top of my rib cage and the bottom of my lungs.  And I look and see this glow in the dark skeleton, with an enormous head in proportion to its green glowing bones, throwing fits and weaving and stomping.  Laugh and cry, hand over mouth.  Another example of farce disguised as tragedy, although in my laughter I still feel the seething rage.  That forever feeling saying I cannot handle these moments.  The humor and anger holding the space, each looking at the other.  Not competing, but not giving way either.  Each holds its presence.

Meditate my way through the anger.  Put on water to boil and steep the tea.  Light evening blessing incense, thinking that the night could use any sort of offering.  And I sit.  The rage emerges so strong it burns and radiates from my chest.  Like throwing a rock through a window.  But only for a moment, and it quickly dissolves into a sadness.  A deep sobbing sadness that reaches back through the years, the decades even, and finds me as a frightened child.  An unworthy daughter.  An untrustworthy friend.  A never-to-be artist.  An unloveable lover.  An average student.  A failed wife.  A struggling single mama.  This moment so alive and far-reaching.

I desperately need to do my homework, which I’ve been trying to do all weekend.  A last-minute drop opened my wait list space in a UW program – great news.  But I missed the first class, and I have that wrong side of the bed feeling about that.  Quite a task just getting the books that evening, hauling a sleepy OWL out in the cold in the big stroller after dinner.  Next night he won’t sleep until I lay down with him, lights off, my book away.  Mr. Short naps these past 3 days.  No time no time no time.

In sitting, this is what I see.  This program is the first thing I am doing for me, just me, in a very long time.  It’s new.  Going through with it, I am committing to the discipline of learning, to working on my work.  Honing my craft that means so much to me I spent years ignoring it out of fear.  Not just first thought best thought not good enough stop trying.  I’m stepping out of my OWL bubble and in to a world where there are – imagine this – people.  Which means opening myself up to who knows what.  Our world treats the homeless shopping cart radio man the same way we treat our friends and the co-op employees we see everyday.  OWL embraces each leaf and rock and tree stump and utility vault cover as spectacular.  He babbles and I endlessly explain the world.  The difference between trees and bushes.  Why we don’t run in the street.  He makes his own version of signs for meat, butterfly, cracker, cookie, and juice.  I reinforce with praise, and make the sign properly but without correcting him.  It is so sweet, so humbling, so tender a place to inhabit.  But in my recent glimpses of the so-called real world, I experienced such hostility.  Degrading chatter disguised as humor.  Possessive body language slamming the doors of connection.  And now I see my task ahead.  To carry out the simplicity of knocking letter magnets off the refrigerator.  Maintain that openness.  Hold the space for the tantrums and wonder.  Remain awake.

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Cool morning warm day cold night.  Scarf and coat to none to leggings.  Sleep-weary too early, OWL runs through the park across the street under the faded day, steps up and steps down low stairs on his own two feet.  No knees.  No big hands holding his tiny hands lifting & steadying.  His body sways and balances.  About face at the top and down.  Something new.  Just today.  Shriek & go-go-go to the alley.  Big hands call & make freeze.  Learning the boundaries, an edge of predictable safety. Planes as lights in the darkening sky.  Tramping along the garden path, learning boundaries set by twine & enforced by big hands.  Walk benches like a tightrope, small hands holding big index fingers.  Smiles in the dark.  Lap-sitting and snuggles on the cool concrete.  Skips the bath for a bottle.  Stories in mama’s bed.  The Ear Book.  Owl Babies.  Who Hoo Are You? Diaper & PJ’s & Goodnight Moon. Rolling snuggles.  Lullabies.  15 seconds of tears.  Sleep.

Garbanzo beans begin their evening soak on the stove.  Tomatoes red & yellow & purple & green ripen on the windowsill, inching towards the altar.  Tomorrow we bake a chicken and beans with yogurt sauce & smoked paprika.  Need to buy more tomatoes.  Cookies if I pull it all together.  This is the mama I want to be.  Prepared. Cooking & baking.  Fresh food.  Made with love.  With care & mindfulness.  With small hands stirring veggies as they saute, mixing flour & salt, nibbling chocolate chips, cutting shapes from freshly rolled sheets of dough.  Tomorrow, I think I can pull it off.  Even though I sleep to a sink full of dirty dishes and dream about SF’s 50-lb bag of flour & non-existent glass jars full of pasta & cornmeal.

OWL’s appetite graduates to teenager.  He sneaks off with 2 pears, one right after the other, out from the fruit bowl & into the living room.  Eats them both entirely. Including most of the seeds from the 2nd one since it was hidden from my view longer than the 1st.  Dinner plate full of turkey sausages & chard & yogurt.  2 cups of water.  Slice of almond butter toast before bed, eaten like a cat.  Face & mouth & tongue & no hands.   The bulk of yesterday spent scrambling eggs, slicing up cheese & plums, toasting crumpets, sauteing squash (from SF’s garden), cutting tofu into squares, dishing up 3 servings of pasta….  16 months today, but I cannot imagine him any other way.  “Old” videos prove me wrong.  Learning to crawl, inching & grunting forward off a blanket.  Fingers clumsily find a chunk of avocado and rub it across his once-chubby face.  Fingers and fruit finally find mouth.  One tooth vs the now 6.  Crawling now a novelty, an act undertaken with great laughs.  Forks & spoons & open cups.  The banana-lock on the back right side of his head made by many meals & a dislike of wet soapy hair.

Another day.  Beans cooked before 9:30 am, scents the apartment with an earthy sweetness.  Talk on the phone with a good friend that I miss even though we are less than 10 miles apart, prepare and bake the chicken.  Drop the raw breast halves (yes, plural), on the floor.  Forget to reserve some of the spice mixture for the chicken.  Forget to add the salt.  So much for made with mindfulness. But the baking is at least completed.  And she was the only one who called about the latest articles in the papers, and it felt good to talk, even when I was spinning backwards in time.  Sometimes reopening things brings compassion and dissolution.  Funny word. Tomorrow the house forecloses.  Working to finish the divorce before a January trial date.  Ugh.  Ready for closed chapters already.  Ready to untether.

What are you afraid of? I am afraid of what I cannot provide my son.
Thank you.  What are you afraid of? I am afraid of being a single parent.
Thank you.  What are you afraid of? I am afraid of never working again.
Thank you.  What are you afraid of? Decisions that I need to make.  Decisions that impact my son, my future, my ex.  Grad school.  Moving.  Moving him away.
Thank you.  What are you afraid of? That things will never change.
Thank you.  What are you afraid of? Bell rings.  Exchange stops.  Silent.

Contemplate.  Bring the fear closer.  Gentle.  Explore.  Accept.  Open.  My fear diminishes, although it doesn’t disappear, as I feel myself say the words out loud. Air passes through my throat.  Sound emerges.  Audible breath.  I hear my voice. Eyes and eyelids and cheeks feel the tears.  The heat.  The clenching lungs.  The taste of salt.  But in the silence that follows my confessions, I cannot recall my fears, their feel & presence & my experience.  I sit in silence and think of kissing.  Not anyone in particular, just the peculiar nature of two pairs of lips meeting, tasting, playing, exploring.  Teeth and tongues.  Softness and sweetness and dry skin. Placement of hands.  What the leafy shadows outside on the rail would look like cast across two necks leaning towards each other.

Walk downstairs.  OWL toddles among the legs, clad in airplane PJ’s, tote bag full with his shirt & pants.  His cheeks rosy red from the cool outside and sleepiness.  I catch his eye & he smiles, teeters forward, shows me his bag.  I slide the straps over his shoulder and he prances forth, back the way he came.  He eats cookies and sips my cooled tea.  Follows SF into the bathroom, TA chases him from the kitchen with smiles & giggles, and he climbs the couch to visit RR & D.  He runs circles.  I stand in place, roar as he passes.  He laughs that OWL laugh.  He is home here.  Comfortable eating & playing & hanging out while mama sits upstairs confessing her fears and practicing the presence of mind he masters without a thought, without a second guess.  Roar again as he passes and know.  This is all worth while.

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A day of touching sadness.  Touching and not turning away.  No running.  Stopping the (in my head) conversations before they ran wild.  Breathing through.  Leaning in.  Moist eyes easily disguised as water from the bright sun.  Squinting down the hill, feeling the heavy mask of sadness as I board the bus.  As I flip through a magazine in the waiting room.

The list of what I want grows longer and longer.  Adding every day.  Someone to help change the crib sheets.  The surprise of an empty kitchen sink.  A grilled steak. Snapped back to the moment by dancing descent of yellow leaves as they catch the sun like coals from a fire and glitter on-off on-off on-off like fireflies but in the blue blue sky of this day.  And I wonder about my list for OWL.  What do I want for him? Health.  Nourishment.  Knowledge.  Confidence.  Love & happiness.  Fearlessness. At home with himself.  To see me happy and….  I don’t even finish the thought in words.  Funny, how that inserts itself into every nook & cranny, every list, every hope & fear.  Almost a year and I am still not comfortable.  This feels a mess.  Divorce.  Foreclosure.  Unemployment.  Living in the land where it seems like everyone is either married or gay.  Or 23.  Flying solo.  Wandering the trails, OWL in pack, while friends hunker down for family time.  Cooking 3 meals a day and at least 2 snacks.  No yoga.

But I also know that we are all very lucky.  No one is being beaten.  Or overfed like the sad 14-month old giant I saw on the bus this afternoon.  Or underfed.  We never worry about where to sleep.  OWL  is surrounded, blanketed, by love and acceptance and encouragement.  He learns.  Absorbs like a sponge.  He watches and imitates and acts.  He is bold.  Independent.  A snuggler.  I talk to his father often.  The three of us have polite family lunches where OWL is the star, even though I am at a slight distance.

But lucky because things could be worse does not always cut it.  Today it doesn’t calm the sting of the sadness.  But it doesn’t pin me to the floor me either.  I look at it and see my fears and hopes for what they really are.  Alone is scary.  Terrifying even.  Mama & OWL do not fit the definition of family I never even knew that I carry so very deeply.  The presence of absence surrounds me, not him.  Because what I want for him is to have my definition of family right here, in our apartment, and this alternative version we have reflects that I cannot give him everything I want. Whether it’s for him or me or for us, I am not enough.  Today, touching that sadness, not turning away and leaning in, I begin to see that this okay.  It may even be good news.  A relief.  I grant myself permission to not be everything.

Looking at OWL through this broken heart, I am learning that I truly have nothing to do with who he is, and yet everything to do with nurturing that being and opening the space for him to flourish.  Introduce him to the world.  Watch him try new things and have the wisdom to let him fall sometimes.  The compassion to wipe away tears, blow on “ouies,” and hold him to my chest when he just needs to scream it off.  And looking at myself through this broken heart, I start seeing the wisdom in a cooling sheet of fresh-baked cookies next to our dinner plates full of tofu, kale, potatoes & corn.  Seeing and tasting and smelling the fruits of our family night.  Permission to redefine it all by looking honestly below the surface and leaning in.  And in those moments of squinting damp eyes and aching, joy joins the sadness as I begin to understand that everything I need, I already have.

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I always like starting with some grand epiphany. Something big & slick with the promise of becoming more. But this is just how I am. Always waiting for the start, for the right moment, for the stars to properly align, to wake up in a different state…. Perhaps that is why I hardly ever start much of anything. So much living in wait.  Holding it all at arm’s length until the day of arrival. The day that is always somewhere & anywhere but here.

So this seems like as good of a place to start as any. A 32 year old single mama after a relationship of 7+ years with a marriage and a house and all of that. But there aren’t any words to neatly package it all up. And any explanation of why I am here & how I arrived does not cast a particularly favorable light on either party, I’m afraid, although it can certainly be easy to place it all on him or myself at any given point in time. Mood & audience depending, of course.

There are days that are beyond hard. Many tears erupting, an almost sobbing presence. It has some words, but not too many. It’s an ache with a sound. A splinter served with salt. A longing disguised as hopelessness that has me stepping aside to dry off. A heavy judgement drawing water to eyes, wiping away on the walk home. It has the feel of gasping, the quality of quick & sharp. The weather of the heart dry & brittle. The weather of the eyes the fruition of the storm.

And other days are stepping out in boots & worn in lipstick with sleeves rolled. An unexpected long sit & talk with a neighbor. Trees rustling drying leaves above as two soldiers unload duffel bags from the trunk of a sedan and three women across the street stand in the bed of a pick up truck and calculate how to move a black leather love seat. Catching an eye on the way toward the lemons at the store. A fancy dinner for one and the latter part of the evening spent in good (better) company. There are days when OWL naps beautifully, his mouth relaxingly puckered in sleep as he ghost-feeds, perfect child’s pose. I shower. I meditate. Wash the remaining breakfast dishes. He awakens in giggles and I find him surrounded by books he’s pulled off the shelf that’s bolted to the wall of his walk-in-closet-turned-bedroom. We walk slowly & deliberately to the grocery store, cook dinner, and dance to Leonard Cohen or Dolly Parton, his tiny feet on my mine as we move slowly & deliberately, mindfully & with love.  We hike & camp. Ride the buses & trains. He loads the dryer while I fish for quarters. He says noodle and turtle and thank you. And it really cannot get any better that.

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