Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Weight and Wait of Parenthood

[Author's note: This post is a little more raw (and long) than most that I put up... I've just had a lot on my mind and I'm trying to "Shake some things out". To all our peeps out there who are going through crazy shit. We love you. The greatest gifts include friends that will not only support you, but turn to you and lean, rely, and/or involve you in their sorrow. The friends that wade around in the muck with you are treasures, but the ones that ask you to be in the muck with them are truly a gift. To all of you who are willing (and even eager) to read the multitude of words below- and read this blog on a regular basis, I hope you know that supporting my writing this way is a gift that I can't really repay except to say, "Thank you for hanging out with me in the muck that my mind creates. I really appreciate it." This post has taken me about 2 weeks to write and another week to "clean up". It's still a disaster and probably not fit for public consumption. HAHA! Enter the Blogosphere... especially after that really sweet thank you that I wrote up there, you're practically emotionally blackmailed into reading the snivel below :)!!!]

I'm in one of those "things" right now. It's a warm, sunny 65 degrees out. The mild winter has given over to an early Spring. Our bellies are full. Our money is sufficient. Our careers are fulfilling and still full of promise. Our children are healthy and beautiful, talented and delightful. Our family and friends abundantly generous and loving. But...
Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play

And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn
It's always darkest before the dawn
I'm in a tender spot. When I just carried a sleeping Milo from the car to his bed to finish his mid-day nap, I nearly broke apart into tears- tears of happiness, tears of sorrow, tears of worry, tears of heaven only knows what. Carrying him, I couldn't help note the weight of him- symbolic of so much contradiction: He's so big and so tiny at the same time. He's everything we needed to complete our little family, everything we wanted and dreamed of... he's so needy and so independent. At 2 1/2 years, he has already changed me, taught me things I didn't know I didn't know. I went to put him in his bed and stopped and held on. I cradled him close for a few more moments. I thought of our friends and family members who have lost children and pushed that terrible terror back down into my gut and summonsed the happiness and clarity of this perfect moment. His weight and beauty so tangible. This is parenthood, the weight of holding on, the weight of letting go. The joy and grief of holding on to something that you are simultaneously preparing to let go of... Like the very breath in your lungs.

"Waiting for the other shoe to drop" used to be something I did with intense vigilance. But for most of the last 10 years, I've gotten better about it. Be present, be zen, consider the lilies in the field... yada, yada.

I think I've mentioned it here before, I come from people that tend NOT to be superstitious; but sometimes one or two living ancestors will admit that within the core values subtly passed down (especially to and from the women) is embedded a belief that you can somehow ward off tragedy if you put enough effort into preventative forms of worry.
And I've been a fool and I've been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I'm always dragging that horse around

All of these questions, such a mournful sound
Tonight I'm gonna bury that horse in the ground
So I like to keep my issues drawn
But it's always darkest before the dawn
The last several months, life for me personally has changed considerably- almost entirely related to changing jobs. I had to say "I'll see you around" to some very fun, lovable, trustworthy friends that I worked with every day. And then I started to spend my days as a stranger on foreign turf with people I don't know well, if at all. I left a position where a lot of decision making authority was in my hands, to take a position where there are several more layers of managers above me, weighing in on decisions that would have been mine at the other shop.

Due to the size of the institution that I currently work at, earning trust, making a good first impression, and doing lot of homework to understand history and context has become the most important aspect of my daily professional life for the past 3 1/2 months. Learning a bunch of new names, systems, and the rules of an odd new game is the kind of roller-coaster excitement my brain thrives on, but the kind of "why am I stuck to the side of this centrifuge?!?" nausea that my intestines just can't wait to be over.

Concurrently, longer work hours mean that the family dynamic has shifted slightly. The boys (who were theoretically equally reliant on both Mommy and Mama) have grown to expect more time with Mama during the work week. The job is going well, Katy has been amazing, but I have to admit all of this has left me to feel a bit vulnerable and somewhat insecure in my roles both at home and in the office.

Frankly this is an unsettling side-effect of what should be a win-win scenario. By all accounts, I am doing well in the new job- getting great feedback about my performance and feeling at least an intermittent sense of accomplishment. Additionally, our family structure is a might bit stronger now owing to the increased money and stability, that accompanies the new job.

It's confusing to just not feel "happy-happy-happy" when all indicators (seasonal, economic, social, professional) indicate that conditions are more than ripe for contentment and bliss...
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa
For whatever reason, my reaction to the stress of these "life-changes" includes a heightened awareness of all that can (and does) go wrong in life. And an empathetic desire to run to people that I love who are in heavy-hearted times and wrap them in some magic blanket... Maybe as a way to deflect my own fears and insecurities.

At this very moment in time, we have friends that are sick, dying, have cancer, have children with cancer, are on the brink of divorce, trying to forgive a spouse for cheating, are losing their parents, are losing their jobs, are reeling from the suicide of a friend, are trying to recover from depression, illness, injury, addiction, are picking up their lives and moving across the country to follow their dreams... I'm not generalizing here, like, "We mostly likely know people who are going through these types of things..." I mean there are individuals that we care about very much that all of those things are happening to.
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
And given half the chance would I take any of it back
It's a fine romance but it's left me so undone
It's always darkest before the dawn

Oh whoa, oh whoa...
One of the mornings in the last several weeks, both boys were in bed with us- a surprisingly rare occurrence- and Jake, recovering from his 2nd bout of pneumonia in as many months, hacked a junky hack without waking; and Milo put his hand on my face and sighed a sleep-drenched sigh. I reached over and touched Katy with my palm, the underside of my arm resting on the two small heads in the middle. In that moment, I felt so light. Yes, our days were slightly too filled with mucus, yes we are a bit over-tired, and yes, I was awake at the unGodly 3:44 AM... but this was the exact type of moment I yearned for all those years ago when we were ready to have a child, and it wasn't working.

I had this private moment of pure contentment and gratitude and then a few days later, C texted me from CA.

"How's it going?" I inquired which has recently become shorthand for "How's life in the strange, stressful land of baby-making?" (Or Turkey-baster-ville as we're inclined to refer to it with our lesbian friends).
She texted that they had decided to take a break from "trying".
"oh..." I replied.
"It was just a little too sad."

Yup. That wasn't just a text to me. Ugh. The memory of that place is not so far away. It came flushing back like a big wave. Reading that message on my iPhone, I FELT that sadness. It brought all my (current, unfocused, and practically unexplainable) sadness to a sharp point and in solidarity, I wanted to jab that point into my forearm.

Oh, that place of ache- Where you finally put out into the universe what you really WANT and it is not something small or material, but something tremendous and life altering. And you do it in humility with an understanding that you don't always get what you want; but you do it intentionally and you try to be patient in that place of uncertainty and vulnerability... And when it doesn't work, when the pee stick comes up negative month after month, at first it catches like a hangnail on your psyche, and then it starts to feel like something life-threatening. And you don't know why it hurts that much because you look around and your life is pretty damn good. It's confusing to feel such gratitude and such grief at the same time.

The very same hour I received the text from C, I heard this story on NPR. And I just couldn't believe the timing. I had a little epiphany, and got a little closer to understanding it.

I think the reason it hurts so much is because your kids are out there, and you're worried about them even if you haven't met them yet... You can feel these little spirits out there- the ones that are to be your children. You feel their breath on your neck sometimes, even before they exist. You feel it so real it cannot be mere imagination. And you want to trust what you've been told (what you generally believe) that everything happens for a reason... all in good time, etc... but still, ask any parent... being away from your kids is really quite devastating.
And I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't
So here's to drinks in the dark at the end of my rope
And I'm ready to suffer and I'm ready to hope
It's a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat
Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Well what the hell I'm gonna let it happen to me
One of my best friends from childhood, A, is in the last heat of the parenting Olympic trials. The event is a new one called: "You think you've had a bad year? You should see the shit I've been dealing with for the last 12 months!!!" If you turn on the news on any particular day you realize that she's probably not even in medal contention, because there is no limit to the amount of heartbreak in the world. But last May, her oldest son was convicted of a serious crime. After sitting through a trial during which the police involved contradicted their own testimony and perjured themselves, and the "victim" denied the original accusation on the witness stand, she started to believe that everything was going to be okay. And then had to listen to the jury return a guilty verdict that was beyond the understanding of most of the legal experts in the room. Her son has been in a maximum security state prison since he was sentenced and though it's been nearly a year, there is no word on when the appeal will be scheduled.

The physical, psychological, and societal separation from her full-grown (but-still-her-baby) son has been shocking. Yet, as she walks around, people can't even perceive the sadness she has endured. She's one of the strongest, most loving, generous, resourceful, lacking in self-pity, and rational people I've ever known. In the mean time, her 18 year old (second) son has told her she will become a grandmother in a few months. Not a tragedy by any stretch- but still- could we just possibly have dealt with one thing at a time. Speaking to her on the phone, I'm all like, "Don't buy one, single baby thing without checking with me first b/c we are about to unload everything you need from crib to boppy and I even have a whole bunch of stuff you'll probably wish you never heard of..."

I try to talk to her about what she needs, if there is anything I can do. But mostly what I want to ask her is, "How is your heart? Is there anything I can do "mother-to-mother" to help plug up any of the holes in your armor that might leave you exposed and vulnerable?" She tells me nonchalantly that this has taken it's toll on her relationship with her husband. And more pressing, he is finally working on treating his addictions. My heart sinks. Not really surprised at this news, that this has been happening in the background too. I just want to shake a fist at the furies and say, "GIVE HER A BREAK"!!!

"I don't know how you're holding it all together," I tell her.

"As if I have a choice" she says. And then she puts it out there and wraps the truth around both of us: There is nothing that matters as much as these things. This year of razor sharp heartbreak somehow brings with it validity and redemption. Sorrow to better enjoy the sweetness of life. There is no choice but to experience sorrow in life, but if there were, it might not be the best idea to opt out of it.

I do understands what she means. If you've never spent a day clawing out of a cave, or stroking a hand in a hospital room, or anxiously waiting outside of an ICU or a courtroom, it's hard not to pity your innocence. Blessedly rare are those individuals that are able to look upon and recognize actual happiness without the focusing lens of sorrow and heartbreak.

All I can say, to our friends C and L (struggling in Turkey-baster-ville) is, "I know. I'm sorry. Hang in there." I want to leave it at that because in my experience, when you are trying to get pregnant, people offer way too-fucking-much in the way of opinions and advice. But since no one has ever accused me of talking too little (why use 5 words when you can write 2500?) I'll add an encouraging, empathetic, tender-hearted:

"Get used to it".

Barely relying on metaphor, this is the start of parenthood. That negative pee stick, and all the things that will happen before and after you and your children are reunited it's like boot camp for your hearts; for the endurance marathon that follows. Stretch and pull and run, and use ice and heat intermittently to soothe your aches, and start to believe that you can do it, because you can... (but believing that you can is really half the battle).

It's already started, you don't even really have a choice in the matter.
It's both a long wait and a heavy weight.

But you can do it.
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa


andrea said...

wow some DEEP thought and feeling! and my tidbits of contributions to such intense wisdom- my 2 personal matras that i repeat over and over in this crowded, clouded, head of mine: "keep on keeping on" and "it is what it is"!!!!!

Adam Hirsch said...

Nicely written! And a very generous opening of your heart and mind to share with us. I've got a sleeping infant strapped to my chest who I'm trying not to wake up when I hack up my own excess mucous, and my own relative in prison, so more than one of these threads tugged at me. Much love to you all.