Here Now

I’m writing this knowing my bank account is overdrawn, because I’m still waiting on four, unexpectedly late paychecks. I’m writing this from my couch, where my 19-month-old is sleepily nursing in my lap. I’m writing this two hours before I was supposed to meet friends for lunch, but had to cancel because of lack of funds. I’m writing this in between the tugs on my heart strings and knots in my stomach and angst of being alone.

Yesterday I went to bring my friend who’d just had a baby dinner. While I sat at her table, doing the familiar action that was holding a small baby while trying to eat, carefully picking food I’d dropped off of her incredibly new little frame, I started to seethe in jealousy and self-loathing.

My friend had a housecleaner. She had a mother-in-law staying with her. She had a husband at work who made enough to support the three of them and their house, two dogs, and two cats. She had a pile of boxes of things people had sent her, and a lot of things she’d planned to return because they ended up not needing them.

IMG_6450I looked over at my girls, playing so sweetly together, and thought of when Coraline was just born. I was completely on my own in an empty house just two days after I’d given birth. My cousin had stayed with us for a few days, and left us with a freezer full of pasta dishes, and some friends had brought us some food. Other than that, I was alone with a newborn who screamed if I put her down, and a rambunctious 7-year-old who, though I didn’t know it at the time, had hair completely full of lice.

Though Cora’s dad wasn’t there then, he’s here now. For the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen him almost every day. He got a full-time job and has committed to helping me pay for daycare costs while working with me on a schedule that gives him ample time with his daughter.

Mia’s had a hard time with this, of course, since she just returned from being with her dad for a week. Last night, after the visit to my friend’s house, Cora’s dad came to hang out with her for a couple of hours. I turned to Mia and asked her if she wanted to go to the store for cupcakes.

We live next to this ritzy hippie store, full of organic produce, but they also have baked goods that we can purchase with food stamps. On the way there, Mia skipped along next to me, holding my hand.

“Have I told you how much I love you lately?” she said.

I laughed and said not really.

“I love you so much, Mom,” she said. “You’re the best mom anybody could ever have.”

We ate our cupcakes, and I sat across the table from her while she talked about school, and mentioned one of her friends who was really really grumpy that day.

“Am I ever really really grumpy?” I said, knowing I was often.

“Yeah,” she said. “Like if I’m not listening and I know I’m not listening.”

“I feel like I’m kind of hard to live with sometimes,” I said.

“You’re a great mom,” she said. “You get grumpy, but you just had a baby by yourself. I know it’s hard.”

Lately it’s come to my attention that I’ve exhausted myself for a long time, and I’m beginning to feel the mental and physical toll. My hair’s about half as thick, and going gray. I don’t sleep for more than three or four hours. There are always about five things I need to be doing, not including taking a shower or going pee.

I’m looking for a therapist, though I’m not sure what it’ll do to help.

DSCN2248Despite all of this, I’ve already been published several times this year, and am putting the finishing touches on a book proposal that I hope to send out in the next week. My article through the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago made it to print in the newspaper. An essay featured in the Style section.

These last few months have been life-changing with Cora’s grandparents and father becoming a part of our little family. It comes with its own realizations of my own issues revolving around trusting others. In that sense, sometimes it’s easier to be alone.

IMG_6480Coraline took to her dad instantly. I’m pretty sure on some level she knew she was his. Watching them together has been full of moments of unexpected sweetness. She wraps her arms around his whole head, and runs to him for a hug when he leaves.

All of my desires to find a suitable partner have faded. It might be from a mix of no longer having the ability to put energy into it, to wanting to focus on my family’s recent expansion and how that’s affecting everyone. I published a piece about it in the Washington Post the other day, ending with saying I’d try some sort of casual thing, but even that was too much.

I think it’ll be a long while before I can jump into anything like that.

But Coraline’s finally starting daycare two days a week. I don’t think I even need to say what a huge relief that is. It seems like things are always just on the brink of sailing smooth. Or sometimes they do for a while then dip back down to weekends like this where I have absolutely no money.

Darkest light’s before the dawn, you know.

 

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These Twists and Turns of Fate

DSCN2235Christmas comes and goes here. It’s a chaotic whirlwind of buying, wrapping, and opening presents that I spent money on which I didn’t really have. I do this for the joy of watching their faces light up, just like any parent does, I suppose.

Christmas also brings a day of preparing Mia to travel to her dad’s via airplane. She’s grown accustomed to flying alone–she’s been doing it for a few years now. Tonight, the day after Christmas, I got us ready, thinking if we left by 6 o’clock we’d have plenty of time to make the 6:50 flight. Missoula has a tiny, very empty airport. There’s never a line, and usually when we get there 45 minutes early, we end up waiting for a half an hour.

We got there at 6:22. I know this because the woman at the counter said it three times. When she thought it was me traveling with two children, she said there’d be just enough time to make it, since they had just started boarding. When I said Mia was traveling alone, she said she couldn’t let her on.

“What?” I said. “But it would take us ten minutes to get to the gate.”

“There’s paperwork to fill out,” she said. “There’s just not enough time.”

For the first time in my life, I begged and pleaded. I asked her again. And again. She said there was a flight leaving in the morning that she could get us on, and waived the fees and extra cost. Someone called her on the walkie-talkie about a passenger with a medical problem who had to disembark and get on a later flight.

“Is there a delay?” I said.

“No,” she said.

“Please, isn’t there anything you can do to get her on this flight?”

“Ma’am, there’s nothing I can do here. You got here after the 40-minute window to check-in and board. I’m waiving the fees for you to get on the morning flight but that’s all I’m going to do for you here. Now do you want the morning flight or not?”

Mia was openly crying, the baby was squirming in my arms, and I was desperate. I knew Mia’s dad would be upset. Mia was now refusing to go at all. I called to tell her dad about it and he also couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let us through. But he’d missed a flight before, too, for the same reason, and was forgiving. Maybe it was the tone in my cracked voice, and my apologizing. He talked to Mia a bit and I went back to the counter to change the ticket.

I sat with Mia for a few minutes before leaving. I was shaking a little with anger, stunned that we’d missed the flight for the first time in these years of back-and-forth traveling.

“I’m so sorry, Mia,” I said.

“It’s okay, Mom,” she said. “It wasn’t your fault.”

It actually was. I’d taken out the trash, had to defrost the windows of the truck, and ran back inside twice to grab things we’d forgotten before we left. I’d figured if we’d gotten to the airport with 30 minutes to spare we’d be fine, and was obviously wrong.

I got both the girls Happy Meals, got home, and started scrubbing the house, as I do when I’m frustrated with something I can’t control. I took down the tree, picked up the living room a few times, cleaned the kitchen, and scrubbed the bathroom. Mia wouldn’t go to sleep for a couple of hours, a trend she’d started since not going to sleep until two in the morning on Christmas Eve.

We’d gone to Coraline’s grandma’s house for the evening, much to the horror of our dog, who rarely gets left alone for more than an hour. Coraline’s family in town has quickly become ours. Mia calls the parents of Cora’s dad “Granny” and “Grandpa,” and they treat her like a bonus grandchild. We laughed and told stories and the girls opened a small pile of gifts. I even got a scarf and money for coffee, along with a gift certificate to go on an ice skating date with Mia. I got choked up at one point, sitting there amongst Granny, and two aunts, an uncle, and a cousin who is just six weeks younger than Cora.

“Thank you so much for everything,” I said. “And for accepting us like this. This is so unexpected. I haven’t spent the holidays with family in four years.”

DSCN2238Christmas morning came after a few short hours of sleep. Mia quickly tore through her gifts, and pretty much opened Cora’s as well. After the late night, I was so grumpy about basically being a vessel for gifts to flow out of and not much else. But I was able to get Mia one really nice thing, purely by donation of a couple of musicians in town: her very first guitar.

I cringed at her wanting to carry it around, knowing that it was worth almost as much as my new laptop. She spent hours in her room, trying to play “Wagon Wheel” and singing and dancing to Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.

Most of the day was spent in pajamas, and by the time we got ready to leave to a friend’s house for dinner I realized the only thing I’d eaten was various chocolate treats and bacon.

Mia joined the crowd of kids at my friend’s house like she always does, while I shyly spoke to the adults like I always do. Coraline walked around, letting people dote on her and pick her up and help her up and down stairs, which has been a new personality trait in the last few months. Before that, if anyone tried to engage with her at all, she clung to me even harder and often cried. Being able to sit and relax knowing other adults were keeping an eye on her was incredible. And so was dinner. And the company. We left with very full bellies and leftovers, which I ate most of today.

I know I probably won’t sleep tonight, nervous about getting up at four, getting everyone out the door, and making the flight in time. Most of the time when Mia’s gone I camp out on the couch watching whatever I can find on Netflix, too mopey to venture out much at all.

This week will be a little different. I have a large book proposal to edit. There’s also this gentleman who wants to cook dinner together and spend afternoons giggling. It all feels so promising I get a little caught up in it all. I guess we’ll just have to see.

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A Letter to my Second Daughter

DSCN1452My dear Coraline Cairn,

We’re sitting at the kitchen table together. You’re eating banana pieces. You pick a chunk up with your long fingers, squish it inside your chubby hand, and raise your fist in the air. I imagine you thinking, “Behold! Banana!” but I know you’re not. Before the banana, you ate a puree that came out of a pouch. Whenever you see me take one of these out of the drawer, you start bouncing in your seat and laugh. Eating’s kind of your favorite thing in the world.

I needed to write this months ago. I should have been writing this sort of stuff down in the past nine months that we’ve been getting to know each other. I hardly have pictures of you, let alone a baby book.

What pains me is I know I’ll forget most of this. I won’t remember the sounds you made this morning as you woke up, but that you screamed at the top of your lungs for a whole month. This first year with you will fade to a blur, like your first months already have. I’ll be left with impossibly small onesies, a few photos, and some Facebook posts. My hope is, when you’re hurt by this as an adult, I’ll whisper that you’ve always been my favorite, and all will be forgiven.

Your sister doesn’t have a baby book, either. I did write about her all the time. I’ve been reading those scenes late at night. I can see your big sister at two so clearly through what I wrote. I remember how wispy her hair felt on my cheek. I remember her voice. I remember how impossible some days felt. Some minutes, even.

Even if I don’t end up writing about you as much as I’d like, or take pictures of you other than crappy ones from my flip phone, know that I am mindful of how short of time you’ll be a baby.

With your sister, I fought to own my physical space again, and spent most of the day preparing for bedtime. Almost every decision I made revolved around 7:30 at night when Mia went to bed. I sat in the next room, hoping she slept long enough to give me a break. Your sister started her years with a mom who clawed up the slippery slope that was completely losing herself in motherhood. She had a mom who struggled through depression, questioning her self-identity. Her mom was insecure, anxious, and so stressed.

You, my darling, don’t have to deal with that shit.

DSCN1431You were born to a mother who’d been doing this on her own for quite some time. Being home with you is like a sweet Saturday afternoon instead of crippling isolation and loneliness. I love our little bubble of an apartment, where I plan to keep all of us in for years, instead of moving every few months.

I kiss your sister goodnight in her own room with her big bunk bed and walk out to her Taylor Swift CD. She sets out her own clothes, bathes herself, and even ties her own shoes. Sometimes I offer to make her pancakes and she’d rather play outside with her friends. She reads to herself at night, and has math homework. She talks about boys and watches horrible TV shows that make me miss that blue puppy.

You watch her dance and jump around and laugh. And you’ll be just as big so fast, oh so fast.

So even though I lack in recording memories, know that I hardly ever put you down. I love when you sleep on my chest so I can rest my lips on your head, inhaling deep enough for your hair to tickle my nose. Know that even though we’ll forget most of these first years, you were rarely far from my arms, looking up and smiling at me.

With love.

 

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