Surrounded by the Essence of Her

It’s an odd thing to wake up one morning and by the day’s end your family has shrunk a little. Not in a tragic way, thankfully, but by way of summer visit, a leaving for a few weeks, a vacation that I’m a little envious of.
DSCN1796I can’t figure out if Mia and I drive each other crazy because we are opposites or so alike. We argue a lot. I find myself trying hard to show her love and affection but it gets muddled and mixed up and we both end up frustrated and exhausted. When she started seeing a therapist a couple of years ago, it became obvious that we were in a sort of relationship counseling. Some days are better than others, but almost all are a struggle of battling wits, manipulation, and endless questions. I am raising a girl who wants to be close but pushes me away because she needs me to fight her to come back. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. I can’t be everything she needs all the time, and she has a hard time with that.
But then she leaves for these periods of time and I’m left surrounded by the essence of her. I become consumed with regaining my living space, rescuing it from her constant clutter. I rearrange furniture, bag up piles of papers and random toothpicks-in-putty creations that seem to be everywhere, all the time.
So I clean. I dump out the dozens of little bins in her room into a pile on the floor and separate the hairbrushes and doll shoes and markers with no lids. I throw broken toys in the trash pile, and other ones in a bag for Goodwill.
I often clean when I am angry, or when my life feels especially out of my control. Mia and I will argue and I’ll escape to the bathroom to wipe it all down with disposable wipes.
Today I cleaned because Cora is sick and teething and fussy and sleepy and I have too much work to do. Because she’s not adjusting to being at daycare so we’ll try again in a couple of months. Because I want to write and edit and maybe, just maybe, work on my book but it’s pointless to try. I have only so much patience for one-handed typing while the stuffy-nosed baby, frustrated and nursing, bites my nipple hard.
I need to lie flat on the floor until the carpet leaves marks in my cheek. I need to write fast first drafts to edit late at night. I need to spread piles of papers in front of me and tuck them back into appropriate folders. I need to get my head in order so when I sit down to work I stop thinking about money and hunger and parenting plans and my kid who cried out of fear her dad would be angry she’s getting her sister’s cold.
Then, there’s a part of me that aches for Mia. I know it’s not easy for her. To be gone, to be there, then return. When she was little, she’d scream for hours out of exhaustion from transitions. She copes with it better now, especially because her dad doesn’t know how smart she’s become in the last six months. The restrictions on screen-time and knowledge of what food she’ll eat don’t carry over.
It’s taken me two days to type this. I adjust my legs and wake Cora up and she cries from being too hot and too sick and too awake. But my foot was asleep. I had to move. I had to.

On Being Their Person

“The only creatures that are evolved enough to convey pure love are dogs and infants.”
― Johnny Depp

I dropped my newly-turned 8-year-old daughter off at summer camp this morning. It was in a basement, there were no windows, but they had a lot of the usual morning chaos happening. My daughter didn’t look too thrilled to be there. She knew one other kid, our neighbor, and he was already in a deep conversation over the foosball table. I said goodbye, kissed her, hugged her, and told her the neighbor’s mom would pick her up at 5. Then I turned on my heel and walked out.
I had no worries about her running, crying, clinging to me, asking me not to go. Those days were in the past, and were primarily for my benefit. Mia’s always been one for independence. When I’d called to check on her after an emotional goodbye, her caretaker chuckled and said she was fine as soon as I left. “I think the tears were for you and not because of you leaving,” one told me once. Whenever I picked her up, it was rare that she was happy to see me. Which, let me tell you, gave me a huge “horrible mother” complex. But I’ve also made sure to put in years of constant reliability, showing up when I say I will.
That’s always been 75% of parenting to me.
Mia was about Coraline’s age when I started her at daycare. I just learned the months from 10 to 12 are a separation anxiety phase. Mia, of course, loved daycare, loved naptime, loved to sit at a table and eat with her friends, and took to the head teacher like she was a grandma. Coraline is a bit of a different story.
I thought Coraline’s attachment to me was the result of my solo mom status, but it’s just who she is. Since birth, Coraline would cry so hard if someone else held her, it took me a while to settle her . The only time she cried was when I put her down for more than a few minutes. By the time I found a woman (known locally as “The Baby Whisperer”) to watch her once a week, Coraline followed me around the house, her little hands clinging to my legs. If I picked her up, she’d squirm to be put down, then cry with her arms up, wanting me to pick her up again. For the last few weeks, she’s spent a lot of time in the Ergo carrier. It’s like a neutral place for her. I’m not carrying her, but she also has her chest pressed against mine.
Then there’s the dog.
DSCN1780Bodhi’s separation anxiety got worse the more she bonded to me. I’d return and find her frantic, drooling, and the couple of times I had to leave her in her crate, she rubbed some of the skin off her nose. It’s already hot here, so there aren’t any times during the day that I can leave her in the car (which isn’t much better anyway). I’ve bought books, I moved her crate into my room and made it into a cozy den, I’ve purchased essential oils and thundershirts and better dog food. I have picked up my keys and put them down. I have walked out the door and left her for ten seconds, then thirty, and so forth. I’ve left her with my older daughter while I run quick errands (telling the neighbors across the hall of our building first). I think she’s slowly improving? I don’t know. If I move anywhere in the house, she’s so close she’s touching me. If I leave, she’s beside herself with glee when I return. I think I figured out a way to leave her alone for short times without her getting frantic, but I haven’t tested it too much.
This, of course, has been a lot of pressure on me.
I understand how she feels. I know panic attacks. I know that feeling of not being able to breathe, of feeling like you can’t move while your insides want to run. I know panic, thinking you’ll die, while your vision’s edges turn to black. I know it’ll take time before she doesn’t feel that with every trigger, and I know they won’t go away completely.
But I not only can’t walk around in my own home from a baby who cries if I avert my attention, I now feel like I can’t leave my house without doing some kind of damage to my dog’s recovery from trauma. At least with the baby, I know she won’t always prefer to take naps with her hands shoved deep into my armpits, grasping on to the hair there like a chimp. I know by the time she’s Mia’s age, she might be able to cope okay with being left alone for a day of camp. I hope so, anyway.
What I find most difficult about being a solo mom is being someone’s person without having my own. I am the end of the line. I have no one to turn to for emotional support. On days that Mia is unrelenting with arguing and my bank account has three bucks, I can’t fall apart and cry. I grit my teeth, clench my jaw, and take deep breaths. Tomorrow might not always be a new day, but it is closer to the end of this rough phase we’re all going through. It’s been my survival skill. I keep my mind a year ahead or sometimes more. If I don’t let myself fall apart, it won’t become a habit.
And we’ll get through this.

A Whole Year as Three

It’s been a year. Almost. Both of my girls were conceived on my birthday. Mia came on her due date of June 21. Coraline showed up five hours after hers had passed on the 16th. They both came so fast. Mia in four hours, and born at home. Coraline came in a quick, white-knuckled hour, and just barely at a birth center. In the next week, Cora will turn one and Mia will turn eight.


Photo by Logan Parson

A friend asked me once what my biggest fear was with having a second daughter on my own, and I said the exhaustion. I feared being emptied out to the point I wouldn’t be able to scrape together enough to be a good mom, or be good to myself. This morning we all sat around our kitchen table eating from a bowl of apricots, blueberries, strawberries, and plums. We all laugh a healthy amount, the baby smiles all the time and exceeds most developmental milestones, and Mia is advanced in reading, writing and math. I worked over 30 hours last week at three different freelancing gigs. From an outside perspective, it looks like we’re skating through, sailing smooth, and accomplishing life without a hitch. But a few things have become normal in the last year that I probably wouldn’t have been paid enough to do without them if you’d asked me a couple of years ago:

  1. I no longer eat dairy. Yup. I went from eating almost nothing but dairy before Coraline was born to feeling like I’d throw up if I ate any. I’ve tried bringing it back by sneaking it in here or there, but I always regret it. My diet was already limited by a lack of wheat flour, but since Coraline, I’ve removed all dairy (including chocolate), peanuts/peanut butter, pineapples, onions, garlic, bananas, most cane sugars, eggs that aren’t organic (expensive) and I think that might be it. The only explanation is a known grass allergy, so eating any plant that begins by shooting a single blade out of the dirt first doesn’t jive with me. I asked an allergist about this, and she shrugged, said that could be a good hypothesis, then added, “pregnancy fucks up your system.” Thanks.
  2. I don’t have sex. I don’t have sex with myself. The thought of it makes me nauseous. I have a hard time kissing Mia on the lips. I tried to overcome this last fall, and it was pretty exciting and great for a week or two, probably because I really really wanted it to be. I wanted Coraline to know some sort of male figure. I wanted Mia to have someone to play with. But having a horny, hairy man in my bed was not worth the trouble. He decided I wasn’t, either, pretty quickly in one conversation a week before Christmas, which totally sucked. But I’m pretty happy doing this gig with as little amount of boy drama as possible.
  3. Photo by Logan Parson

    Photo by Logan Parson

    I am always (besides one saving grace day of daycare) in a three-foot radius of a baby who cries if anyone else tries to hold her. Coraline is attached to me. She is my sweet, happy, cuddly monkey. Mia was a completely different baby. I was her caretaker and a point of reference in the wide radius that was her world to explore. By the time she was a year old, she’d mastered several words, had started walking (often away from me in large distances), and we spent a lot of time apart. She visited her dad and went to daycare. She slept in her own bed. She didn’t like to be held close. Coraline doesn’t like to lose eye contact with me. She sleeps on my chest or in my armpit. She’ll fall asleep in her car seat, but I haven’t had any luck getting her to sleep without touching me in some way otherwise. At near one-years-old, she still seems like a baby to me, when Mia was already on her way to being an independent toddler.

  4. I rarely drink alcohol, quit smoking, and don’t miss them like I thought I would in those times I said I should give them up. I also eat primarily organic, cook all my meals at home from ingredients and not a box, and, due to the recent acquiring of a dog, walk about two miles a day. I still haven’t gotten back into rock climbing, but it’s hopefully on the horizon.
  5. I don’t sleep. I mean, I do, but hardly. I stay up past midnight working most nights, and get about three hours of good sleep before Cora wakes me up to nurse or my back wakes me up because it’s in varying degrees of pain.
  6. I don’t give a shit what other people think. I don’t have a problem saying “no” to social things. I love, love, love spending a quiet day of just me and Coraline, which I often get to do.
  7. I work from home. Like, actually work on a computer, getting paid to write. People send me paychecks because I wrote something they liked. Okay, maybe this one will never be normal.
  8. We live in a two-bedroom apartment with our own washer and dryer that we can afford. Again, another thing that was beyond my wildest dreams.
  9. I don’t go out to eat. I don’t sit on patios to have a beer with friends. I don’t go out past dark. I am usually either working, taking care of kids or a dog, eating, sleeping, showering (sometimes), or watching a show on Netflix or scrolling through a Facebook feed until my vision gets blurry. I don’t read. I hardly write my own stuff. It’s a rare moment that I sit, relaxed, with my eyes closed and face pointed to the sun.
  10. I’m happy. Sure, I get grumpy, mad, sad, stressed to the point of anxiety attack, and whatever. But for the most part, I am possibly the happiest I’ve ever been. Maybe it’s the work-load. Maybe I’m just one of those people who’s only happy if she’s working all the time. Possibly. I am surrounded by laughter, ridiculously cute moments, sweet sighs, snuggles, and cute, comical antics. How could I not be happy?

DSCN1657It’s weird to be this healthy. I’m 36 and fitting into pants I never thought I’d be able to get past my thighs again. I’d love to get a vacation. Or even a staycation. I’d love to go out to eat with a friend. It’ll happen. Coraline, sadly, won’t be a baby forever, a thought that gets me through the frustration of not getting a break. I have years where I’ll be able to sit on patios over brunch and mimosas. But this time right now will be the minutes I’ll wish I could get back.