Taking Strategic Withdrawals

IMG_0237Mornings have been different lately. We all get up together, and if Cora is extra grumpy, Mia and I switch duties. While I am outside, waiting for the dog to sniff out a good spot to pee and poop, Mia is inside, getting Coraline out of her rumpled, just-slept-in-pajamas, changes her diaper, and puts her in an extra-cute outfit for daycare. I hear them laughing and singing as I walk back inside, a sharp contrast to mornings when Mia was in Kindergarten, when we’d scream at each other in our fight to get out the door.

As a single mom, when you’re in the thick of things, you never see it getting any better. You can’t tap out to take a break, a breath, and do whatever mantras you need to get you through hard times. You have no way out. You just have to grit, duck your head, and push through. So when these sweet moments happen, a type of presence is required to soak it in, in the hopes that the memory will surface when the next tornado of chaos tries to sweep you away.

This morning’s sweetness wasn’t an “I have made it” moment as a mom. Last night, I was in tears over not being able to find a sitter to go to a reading by one of my favorite, and most influential, authors, David James Duncan. I saw him read almost exactly ten years ago at a church in Seattle. There, he mentioned he lived near Missoula, Montana, and that is how we ended up here.

I’m not sure what an “I have made it” moment would be in my field. I’m a writer. I support myself by writing. Living the dream, right? Sure. This month. I have a hard time believing that this life will sustain itself long enough for me to call it a career. I know it could if I wanted it to. If I wanted to continue fighting daily, weekly, monthly, to carve out ways to get paid.

Last week, last Monday, I was on the front page of our local, state-wide, daily newspaper. Even Mia commented that it means I’ve now “made it.” I’m a pro, as she said.

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Being on the front page of the paper made things a little odd for me as a writer, and as someone who had a fresh “Tinder” account. There was no longer an intrigue of “Hm, I wonder what this lady’s all about?” Even going to the grocery store, I avoided eye contact with strangers looking at me, trying to place where they’d seen me lately.

Then I had a spot on a national TV show.

The producers for the show “The Doctors” had reached out to me, but Coraline wasn’t in daycare full-time yet when they recorded the segment. I’d scheduled a sitter, then they pushed it back a week, I canceled the sitter, then they called about five minutes before they were going to record the segment and by the time I’d sloughed Cora off to my incredibly understanding neighbor, they’d already talked about my article and it was over.

Which was fine. I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk about it, in fear I’d be met with criticism. The article, on that day, had been warped on a tabloid in the UK. It was about to go very, very viral worldwide. For the next week, I’d have reporters emailing and messaging me to the extent that I’d shut down the ability to send me messages through my public Facebook page.

IMG_0256For the next couple of weeks, Coraline started daycare full-time, and I worked a staggering amount. In the week I had the reporter and photographer from the newspaper come interview me, I wrote about 11,000 words. I didn’t think of this as “writing.” This was producing.

Producing from a place of raw skin from a controversial article going viral. This was different from imposter syndrome. This was writing with the knowledge that every word I submitted could be rearranged to appear not anywhere close to the meaning I had intended.

Maybe it’s a “with great power comes great responsibility” moment. Suddenly, everything I wrote had weight. A heaviness. Maybe it was imagined, and the only reason I thought people gave a shit about what I wrote was because for a few days they cared a ton. I don’t really know. I write from a small apartment that faces north. It’s dark and cold. By the time I get through my morning rush of writing, reading, answering emails, pitching, and finding interview subjects, I stumble outside, in two or three layers, to find it’s 70 degrees, sunny, and a beautiful day.

*

I hid most of last week. Then I went to a reading on campus, and saw many of my old professors. I talked shop with them about agents and publishing. The heads of the English department shook my hand, hugged me, and congratulated me. John D’Agata raised his eyebrows at me telling him I supported my family by writing. I’d studied his books in school and he signed the one I’d just purchased “From whom we expect great things.”

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Once, being addicted to the rush of freelancing pushed me forward. Now I’m just being pushed.

*

Through all of this, I’ve been single, and a single mother at that. I do not get time off. Almost every moment I have away from my children is spent worrying over how I will afford to pay my bills, which have recently doubled with the addition of daycare and the loss of government assistance.

But when good things happen, when the really really good things present themselves, I don’t have anyone to turn to and point at it and say, “Hey, come’re. Would you take a look at this shit? Isn’t this crazy? I mean, this is some fuckin’ rad stuff happening right here!” and they’d say, “Whoa! That is crazy awesome! Congratulations!” and then we’d hug or something and maybe go celebrate with ice cream and smile and I don’t even know what that would look like in real life. Because my real life is diapers, and tantrums, and caring for two children to the point where, after a weekend with them, I am completely hollowed, and crying over not being able to go see my favorite author read.

So last night, we were all sitting on the couch, snuggled together in a heap of hugs and “nigh-nights” and kisses and the dog trying to get in on it all. I asked Mia to get down a book of essays by David James Duncan. She had to get a stool. He’s on my top shelf. I read the essay he’d signed for me at that reading in Seattle a decade ago called “Strategic Withdrawal.”

            Strategic withdrawal: this prayer: When I’m lost, God help me get more lost. Help me lose me so completely that nothing remains but the primordial peace and originality that keep creating and sustaining this blood-, tear- and love-worthy world that’s never lost for an instant save by an insufficiently lost me

            “We’re all in the gutter,” said Oscar Wilde in the throes of just such a withdrawal, “but some of us are looking at the stars”

            strategic withdrawal:

            look at the stars

 

And look at the stars we shall.

 

-step.

On Working

“No, I don’t like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work – no man does – but I like what is in the work, – the chance to find yourself. Your own reality – for yourself, not for others – what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.”
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the work that I do. For a long time, I never felt like I did enough. I thought “work” didn’t count unless I logged in specific hours for pay. I didn’t think domestic work counted. I didn’t think doing dishes, laundry, shopping for and preparing food to feed my children (and myself, for that matter) and even playing with my kids counted as work.

The last few days especially have been a fog of fatigue, of exhaustion that causes my eyes to close if I sit down for too long. On days I have my children home with me from when I wake up to when I finally tell myself to go to sleep, I spend every waking minute caring for the two other people (and furry beast) in my home. I eat, hunched over the kitchen counter, in between gulping down coffee or sometimes water and in the evening a blessed glass of wine or beer. I often do not shower. It’s a constant, grueling mess of two children tugging at my legs or mind or emotions.

In between all of this, I fight to work at my job. I email editors pitches in between flipping pancakes. I keep up on the social media side of being a published writer. I field phone calls and texts and emails about different groups and organizations I’m involved in. I have conference calls while the toddler takes things out of the fridge and spills it all over the floor, much to the delight of the dog. I struggle to put pants on her kicking legs, and sometimes start screaming and flailing myself before walking into my bedroom, embarrassed and angry, heart pounding, and wanting to sob.

IMG_0174There is beauty, of course. There are moments of laughter and joy. There are friends who check in, who come over to talk, who invite one or both of my children over to play.

But I can’t get away from this overwhelming desire, a primal need to just sit down and write. I’m caught up in freelancing to the point where I could probably write all of my waking hours and still not feel like I’m caught up.

This does not coincide with the work I do at home at all. It is not a gentle give and take. It is an inner battle of fighting to love what I hold most dear.

I love writing. I love that I’ve chiseled out a career where I am a writer by trade who is paid well for it. It’s living a dream. Being a mother, well, I can’t say that has been something I’ve dreamed of being since I was in elementary school. Writing was my first love. It is how I identify myself. It is what I will do until I can’t any longer.

IMG_0168Being a mother is also something I do very well, but I can’t say it’s my passion. I don’t enjoy playing, or going to parks or story time at the library. Although I am a good mother, it’s not because I mother my children directly all the time. I outsource my mothering duties. As a single mother especially, there’d be no way I could possibly be everything to my children all the time. I’d have nothing left of me. I’d have no career. My life requires a rotating, constant set of characters that step in to replace me for a time, or I would surely dissolve.

Coraline starts daycare full-time next week. Up until this point, it’s been a hodgepodge conglomeration of a couple of daycare days, a babysitter, family, and friends who all pitch in to give me precious hours to work. I started freelancing in earnest a year ago, and have finally reached the point where I easily log in 50-60 hours a week of writing, researching, interviewing, or keeping up on administrative duties. Then I wash, I cook, and I love on my kids until I am falling asleep sitting up on the couch. Having a full 40 hours a week to focus on work, whether it’s direct or domestic, will be huge for me. I hope to shower, and maybe get back into climbing and hiking. I hope to start cooking again, instead of dragging myself to the store and picking up whatever is easiest.

IMG_0166I always return to that quote by Joseph Conrad. He focused on the rivets, saying it was the little things that made all the difference. An article published on a platform I’ve pined for, being fully present while my toddler goes down a slide, laughing with a friend: they’re the little moments that keep the ship together, and chugging up the river.

I’ve worked two or three jobs for most of my adult life. I am a person who enjoys working, and gets a little nutty if I have too much downtime. Judging from my family history, it’s in my genes. But in these days of feeling so entirely wiped out, I start to wonder if I’ve pushed myself too far, while still getting caught up in the rush that is pitching and getting published. It’s necessary to celebrate the rivets. They keep us together. They keep us moving forward. They are so small, yet vital. They are what holds our life together.

 

-step.

A Mother’s Instructions

I’m leaving my kids for a few days. I’m leaving Coraline for pretty much the first time ever. I’m flying out to the East Coast. I haven’t been on a plane in over seven years. My job’s covering all expenses, and it’s blowing my mind a little.

Tonight, past the time I said I should be in bed, I drafted these instructions for their caretakers:

“Cora has a cold. She’s got the sniffles at night. You might have to take her in the bathroom and turn on the shower at its hottest to clear out her nose. Mia’s been coughing. There’s some medicine in the cabinet in the bathroom if she needs it.

Cora gets rashes easily. There’s a bunch of lotions and creams in the bin next to the kitchen table with her wipes.

Mia’s kind of good at regulating herself and her schedule, but she might need help with reminders to get to bed. Bedtime is 8 o’clock. She knows what to do. I turn off the TV at 7.30, and the kitchen is “closed” at that time as well. Don’t let her drink a bunch of juice before bed. She’s usually asleep by 9, but comes out to the couch in the middle of the night. It’s not okay for her to watch TV.

DSCN2272Cora’s clothes are on a shelf in my closet. Her socks are in the top drawer of the pink dresser in my room. For daycare, she needs what’s in the black bag in the bin next to the kitchen table. They go outside, so she needs a warm coat and boots.

There’s a ton of food and coffee. Feel free to help yourself. Non-drip coffee supplies are in the far right cabinet.

Mia will want to pack a lunch, and she’s pretty good at it. She needs help getting up in the morning, and staying on task in getting to the bus, which leaves at 8.10. She comes home at 3.20 or thereabouts. Make sure the back door is open.

Mia can sleep with “magic monkey” if she wants. Try not to let her take any toys/dolls to school.

Cora eats and poops constantly. Best of luck. There are crackers in the middle cabinet. She loves bananas, oranges, and apple slices with the peels removed. Mia is a picky eater, but I bought her some of her favorite junk foods (crackers). Try to get her to eat some protein (cheese, meat, etc.) before letting her pig out on cheese crackers.

I don’t let Mia have her laptop currently, but I’ll leave it on her desk so she can chat with me if she needs. You’ll need to close it at bedtime so she doesn’t wait for messages from me or her dad.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me for any reason.

I don’t know how Cora’s going to react to me being gone. Just remember: putting her in the Ergo and bouncing to Pearl Jam played loud will get her to sleep. She usually naps in the afternoon, and is asleep by 9. She wakes up every couple of hours. I don’t know how that’ll go, given there’s no boob to offer. You might just have to wrestle her back in the Ergo and bounce again.

Thank you, all, for your willingness to care for my children while I’m gone. It’s a huge trip, and a huge opportunity for me to leave. Thank you so much for this.”

I guess these are quirks only a mother knows, or maybe they’re common sense. I’ll post about my trip, I’m sure. I don’t think I realize the magnitude of it yet: a chance to learn how to write op-eds from some of the best.

But all I can think of are the dozen pieces I’m working on, and how wonderful it’ll be to get some time on the plane to write. No kids pulling at me. No toddler nursing all night. Just me, and a focus so strong. It’s like that speech they gave the pilots at the beginning of the first flights in the movie Top Gun. This is what I’ve been trained to do. Now go out and kick some ass.

Which is exactly what I intend to do. Even if I’m wearing unfashionable Carhartt pants.

 

-step.

Say “Bye-Bye”

Through a good amount of grace, giving, and pure luck, I have found child care for Coraline. Or, rather, it found me, really.

I’ve had a hard time lately. I have a list of several pieces I need to work on. Things I’ve agreed to do. Things I should probably be writing instead of blogging. But I need to write freely, without a numbered list with added sass or a structure and voice I’ve pitched and must maintain. I just want to have a minute to have a glass of wine and let my fingers tap and dance and let out a mental sigh.

DSCN1963Mia listens to a Taylor Swift album at night. I’d added that “Oh Darling Don’t You Ever Grow Up” on the end, and it plays about an hour after we’ve said goodnight. It’s playing right now.

We had a fight tonight and I told her she was being a jerk. I’d wanted to run to the store and she said I couldn’t because she was playing outside. Then later I couldn’t because I said I wouldn’t buy her ice cream bars. I told her to go to her room, but she kept calling out demands and asking questions she knew the answer was “no” to. I took away her Netflix queue for our television in the living room (we don’t have cable) and walked into her bedroom to take her netbook computer away. She asked why and I said, “Because you’re being a jerk.” She melted. And cried.

We’d played a board game after school. She’d freely told me things she’d learned that day and talked about her friends without me asking how things went. I fed the girls mac ‘n’ cheese and fruit and watched them eat. I had to go to the store. We were out of coffee and eggs and milk and hummus.

I know Mia’s been having a hard time lately. I know this because she starts having melt-downs and argues more and cries over little things and has temper tantrums that remind me of when she was two. She just started a new school. I know that can be rough. I did it when I was her age, too. And she won’t see her dad until Christmas after only seeing him for a few weeks this summer. I told her I know how that goes, too. I haven’t seen or talked to my dad in a few years.

I did make it to the store. I left Mia at home with the dog who still suffers from separation anxiety, even through the Prozac. Mia’s fine, though. She has a cell phone, and our good friends are right across the hall in case something happens. The store is a few minutes’ walking distance and I usually only grab a few things. When I got back, we all sat together at the table for the third time today.

The girls split a slice of cheese pizza while I gobbled down steamed greens and roasted chicken. Mia and I talked about our fight. My voice was silent and hurt, but hers was bubbly and normal. She asked if I’d play a comedy stand-up acting game.

“I don’t want to, Mia,” I said. “I’m sad, and tired, and really just need to sit and enjoy eating some food.”

She came over and hugged me then. I kind of wished she would apologize for being a punk earlier but she didn’t.

“I’m sorry you got so mad you couldn’t buy me ice cream bars,” she said.

But every night that god damned Taylor Swift song plays. It plays while Mia is sound asleep in her bottom bunk with a stuffed animal tucked into the front of her shirt so she doesn’t lose it when she rolls around so much. She’s in matching pajamas with cartoon horses and purple and pink and blue daisies.

Coraline’s walking all over and squats when she gets mad, straightening with a scream. I used to look at the contrast of Cora and Mia and think that I had such a short time of Cora being a baby, but now I think “Oh god, I have five or six years before this kid can be trusted to get herself a snack.”

0829152311My motherhood journey right now is of the days being long and the available time to work being short to non-existent. But somehow I get it done. With a baby sleeping in my lap on one of those “C” shaped pillows called a Boppy for some reason. That’s how I write. I take breaks sometimes to doze off with my chin on my chest, then wake up again and write a few more lines with blurred vision.

I wrote about 10,000 words last week, and did about ten pitches. I hope Coraline’s new child care situation is one that will give me solid time to work, and write, and maybe shower or nap or cook or shop. Tuesdays and Thursdays will be for Cora, and Bodhi, and me, who needs a good walk as much as the dog.

But, for now, I’m still struggling to teach my toddler and dog the concept of leaving and that I’ll be back. I’ll always be back. But bye-byes are good. Even necessary. For a little while, anyway.

step.

That and the Irony

On Productivity with Nursing Toddlers

I just watched Mia drive off to go camping with a friend. They’re meeting up with other friends of mine, going to a drive-in, and heading to some hot springs tomorrow. I didn’t go for several reasons:

  1. It’s like 100 degrees outside and I’m from Alaska.
  2. Coraline being outside means I watch her constantly because she likes to eat rocks and whatever else she can find that’s just the right size to induce choking.
  3. I need to work. (I know, I know.)
  4. The shelter dog that is a tad more work than the baby would hate it.
  5. I haven’t slept well in a few nights, so why pay for or do any of these things when I will most-likely just want to sleep or will sleep and then who wants to sleep anywhere but their bed?

Snapshot_20150801But now I’m sitting here, typing this out one-handed because Cora’s doing that nursing thing where she’s almost asleep but if I move she’ll be wide awake with the renewed energy of a thousand naps. I tend to sit at my desk a lot, trying to write out things, read things, look for places who might want to pay me for written things, and learning on how to cope with this freelancing career I’ve chosen to entangle myself in.

Sometimes I end up on Craigslist.

I’m not sure why I’m addicted to looking through the pet section. I think it’s the drama. I find it fascinating how worked up people get over someone trying to find a new home for their pet when they are obviously sad because they can’t care for them properly. Or god forbid you breed your purebred dog purposefully and disguise selling it with asking for a rehoming fee. You will get called out on that shit.

I wish for honesty in Craigslist ads. Don’t say, “Sometimes she maybe kills chickens.” Say “This dog has a lust for feathered friends’ blood like none other. She’d kill the first robin of the spring.”

Then, you find ones that are too honest, like the mother who got rid of all of her son’s belongings just days after he’d died of SIDS. Every post was more heartbreaking. She even listed those toddler teething crackers, mentioning she’d just bought them and he’d never be able to use them.

I’ve spent the whole summer, the whole last year, doing this.

I make a list of excuses or I guess reasons for why I don’t want to go out. Then I sit at home, nursing Coraline in the hopes that she’ll nap long enough for me to get some solid work done.

I forgot how hard it is, this toddler stage. Coraline’s already wearing 18mo clothes and she can swipe things off my desk with ease. She doesn’t have any solid words in her vocabulary yet, but whenever I chase after her saying, “No, nononoNONO” she smiles, and starts wagging her head from side to side, still moving to throw the remote in the toilet.

She has learned to wave, though, and it’s damn adorable.

I feel myself swinging on this pendulum of depression. Not in a serious, clinical way. There are so many times that you think of how great it would be to go sit at a river and go swimming before reminding yourself that I’d have to bring someone else, and the dog, and if I did go in the water Coraline would start screaming because I’d gone outside her radius, probably choking on a river rock. So what’s the use? I’ve found over the years that it’s worse to plan for a fun, relaxing time and not get it. I’ve learned kids will fuck up any plans you make most of the time.

Last summer I kept telling myself that this summer would be epic. I’m doing that now for next summer. We’ll get out, we’ll go camping, we’ll do hikes where the dog can run off-leash, and, you know, all the stuff I wanted to do this summer.

The girls’ ages have a good contrast to them. I look at Coraline, eating stale Cheerios off the floor, then see Mia packing herself a lunch, getting dressed, and really looking more put together than I ever am, and I can see that this is so temporary. When Mia was little, I had no idea it’d ever get better. Every day was a hopeless situation I’d gotten myself into.

Mia’s going through a phase where she’s not arguing with me constantly and I only make it to the number two when I count to three. It’s weird. I know next week might be different, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

My life is kind of like that right now. I’ve been working for a year to build a platform and get a freelancing career going and it’s dare I say kind of taking off right now. Not so much that I trust it, but the writing comes easily when you’re doing it a lot and sometimes you start typing and everything just makes sense and sounds beautiful and people like reading it so much that you think it’ll last forever.

DSCN4722All of these things are why I had “Nothing is Permanent” tattooed on my arm.

Well, that and the irony.

step.

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.

step.

On Being Their Person

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

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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.

step.