Ah, spring break?scantily clad humans cavorting in tropical places, drinking too much. Or: if you have children, a chaotic trip to Disneyland. No?Legoland.
Or, if you’re me, an entire week to yourself.
The way our calendar works, my spring break falls a week before the kids’, and if this was once a little frustrating (I want my trip to Hawaii too, yo), in the last two years I’ve come to see it as The. Best. Thing. Ever. Basically, I have a week of paid vacation while everyone else’s life trundles on. Of course this year I was determined to make the best of it: writing, organizing my house, a decent nap or two, some good books, a yoga class, a haircut, what-have-you.
I’m not always great at relaxing, though, and I’ve had moments this week of feeling like I’m trying so hard to take a load off that I’m not really enjoying the rest. But I’ve also been trying as hard as I can to find some spaciousness in the daily grind, and here of a Friday morning, I’m feeling pretty successful. Yesterday, I did something that always makes me feel like a million bucks: I drove up to a meditation center north of here for a two-hour yoga and meditation class.
And the topic of the dharma talk was wisdom.
Now, I don’t always resonate with the teacher. I like her classes, but at times I’m not on the same wavelength as she is. But yesterday, perhaps because it’s the end of a week of spring break, I felt like every yoga pose was a balm for the soul, every word out of her mouth, brilliant. At the end, she asked us to think about wisdom, and the ways we cultivate it. She reminded us that wisdom isn’t a set of knowledge you acquire; it’s a skill, almost like a way of approaching certain things with confidence. Somehow in there she circled to this notion of choices, how we can be wise about the choices we make, and how, in different areas of our lives we might feel we have a great deal of wisdom?and in others, very little at all.
In the abstract, it might sound a bit, well, abstract. But it turned out the talk was exactly what I needed to hear at this point in my life, this week, when I’ve been writing but also feeling quite muddled about the different paths my writing could take and whether I’m taking the right one. There’s this God-forsaken novel, and then there’s this still-unpublished memoir, but what’s really calling to me are these poems about motherhood, and instead of being the kind of wise soul who thinks to herself, Gosh I’m lucky to have all of this creative stuff spinning out of me, and maybe I just need to make a clear choice down one path and see what happens?instead, I’m the kind of soul who immediately goes to God, I suck. I can never finish anything. I’m doing it all wrong.
The other perhaps more surprising revelation was when she asked us to think of a realm where we did feel wise. Perhaps mundanely, I thought straightaway of my new habit of meal planning. Then I thought of child-rearing. I thought how actually, in the domestic sphere, taking care of my people, getting dinner on the table, dealing with an emotional 8-year-old and a baby who likes to bite, I feel pretty solid in my wisdom. I’m not saying I don’t make a shitload of mistakes, or have dark moments, or even that I’m necessarily a “good mom,” but I don’t feel angsty about my ability to keep things together on the home front. And I feel centered and grounded in this path I’ve chosen, like it’s the right one. Even if I second-guess a decision (time-outs for the biter? Something more holistic?), it doesn’t destroy me. I don’t spend hours worrying that I’m doing something wrong.
And wow, talk about luck. I have more than one friend, amazing, amazing parents, who struggle so much with it, who worry all the time about whether they’re doing it right. (I also have more than one friend having to make the kinds of choices for her kids that are beyond anything I would wish on anyone.) I worry about EVERYTHING, you guys?but, I realized yesterday, not that much about my parenting or my ability to provide for my family. I figure (as this imperfect but charming article suggests) that I’m doing pretty well, and that might be good enough.
It was kind of amazing to put these things side by side: on one, my ingrained belief that every other writer on the planet is doing it better than I am (don’t even get me started on the amazing Lauren Groff?if you haven’t yet read Fates and Furies, get thee to your local independent bookstore), and my sometimes pathological inability to see my own strengths, opportunities and choices. On the other, my realization that if someone ordered me, “Make a palatable dinner for ten out of whatever’s in your cupboards, while both of your kids are home, NOW?” it would be stressful?but I’d do it.?So now, of course, I’m wondering how I take wisdom from the latter, and contribute it to the former.
Maybe that’s a project for next spring break.
Where is YOUR wisdom? Where do you need more? Comment it up.
A hearty thanks to everyone who bought my book or came to my wonderful book launch at Octopus Literary Salon on March 10! I’m now suggesting folks buy it on Powells.com, since Amazon is still all messed up, or directly from me (link on my homepage).
For me, and I think for most, the writing life is feast or famine: years of not much happening, then little periods of publication or great strides on projects. And occasionally, it comes all at once.
To wit: I had two essays published this week, within minutes of each other. I’m thrilled. It was a nice personal moment in what’s been a very difficult week politically and globally. I think it’s important to mention that: wildfires in Oregon, the end of DACA, hurricanes everywhere?my heart goes out to so many people, right now.
So if you want a diversion, I’ve got two essays for you.
I kept the rejection letters because I was told to.
In my first year of graduate school, a professor described a poet who?d wallpapered the bathroom with his. Without questioning why one would want their failures staring them in the face while they did their business, I nodded gravely and made a note of it. Apparently, writers saved?and sometimes displayed?their rejection letters.
That first year of grad school I learned all kinds of things about ?what writers did.? For one, I learned to say ?I?m a writer? when anyone asked, because if you didn?t believe it yourself, then who would? And that night, I went home and started a “rejections” folder, eagerly awaiting my first one.
The second essay is completely different; it’s called “In Praise of Mindful Birthing,” and it’s about how I harnessed a technique I learned through meditation to get me through Baby S’s birth. You can read it over on Elephant Journal. Here’s a teaser:
Fast forward to week 40: I?m sitting on my back porch on a swelteringly hot day. I had a castor oil smoothie for breakfast, followed by a trip to a delightful sadist of an acupuncturist who made me stumble around her office with my feet full of needles. The doula has arrived, and so has my friend Steph.
The candles have been lit.
On the stereo, sacred music by Hildegard von Bingen plays.
I am in labor.
I don?t have time to think about how different this birth is so far, with my candles, my team of women, and my sacred chants, because I?m breathing. I?m having a contraction, in fact. It?s painful, but I don?t think about the next one. I don?t panic waiting for the pause.
And?there it goes. I look lazily around the yard. A bumblebee nuzzles the late summer flowers. I can almost see the pollen on its back as it lifts off. A hummingbird stops by. My feet feel hot on the deck. The birthing ball beneath me sways lightly.
I am not in pain, I think to myself?not at this moment, anyway.
I’d love to hear from you! Got a question or comment? What’s YOUR experience of rejection–or giving birth? Drop me a line, below. And follow me on Facebook, where I just might read aloud from one of these essays a little later today.
Confession: I get really annoyed when people bandy about the phrase “carpe diem” or otherwise remind you to live each second as though it’s your last.
Sure, if you’re some privileged, white, yoga-going, money-possessing, unemployed, free-spirited amazing soul, that probably works for you. The rest of us, however, are?working, raising kids, going to school, and fighting the good fight.?It’s just not practical?or very pleasant, to my mind?to act like death is imminent so we need to freak out and cram everything in NOW.
That said, I’ve been really loving the mantra I picked up at a women’s meditation thingy I went to a while back: There is all the time in the world. The phrase, which is kind of like the opposite of “carpe diem,” has been getting me through some tough moments of late. The thing is, and this is mostly positive?I’m just wanting MOAR of everything as I emerge from my first year postpartum. More writing, more yoga, more time in nature, more music, more quality time with my kids, more political engagement, more relaxation. Is this possible? Probably not; there are only so many hours in the day. But instead of focusing on the lack of time, or being a maxed out, American mom on the brink, I’m focusing on this idea that there’s enough time to do it all. If something doesn’t get done today, it’ll get done another day. It’s deceptively simple, and sometimes, anyway, it works.
Here are some ways I’m voicing my?new mantra:
Sure, spend only ten minutes on the novel. When it gets to feeling crunchy, don’t force it. Take a break and work on something else.
Go to yoga on a Monday even if it means an hour less of writing. Likely, the calming aspect of the class will make you more focused, anyway.
Sit still and watch Baby S play without panicking about what’s not getting done. This will be a blip in the scheme of things. Besides, it’s a real delight to watch him go.
Be in control of your space, but don’t panic if things feel a little chaotic on the domestic front. You can correct them later.
I feel kind of ridiculously new-agey as I write this, but I’m really finding the idea of there being all the time in the world revolutionary.?I’m so good at telling myself I’m not good enough, that I don’t work hard enough, that I suck. But if I attempt to approach the world with just a little more space, I find myself a little more spacious: more open to creative ideas and opportunities, more open to joy.
One thing?I want less of in my life? Social media. I’m really addicted right now. Some of it is fun?my Facebook author page, where I post articles and photos and updates of my new life with two kids, has been a fun venture. And I’m tryyyyying to pin all my blog posts on Pinterest (follow me!). But it’s too easy to give “all the time in the world” over to trolling friends’ status updates and depressing political news. It’s easy to see time spiral down the drain.
And another thing I want less of? Drinking. We spent every night of our vacation back East on the verge of tipsy. It was fun, but unsustainable. When we got back we teetotaled and ate vegetarian for a solid week (stay tuned for “A Week’s Worth of Vegetarian Dinners”! I also want MOAR food writing, and cooking, in my life). It felt really good to clean up a little, to emerge into my favorite season?trying to find my own way to carpe diem.
What are YOU wanting more and less of in your life? I’d love to hear from you.
A good friend from college and her partner just had a baby, and last Tuesday, I gathered together a bunch of hand-me-downs and goodies and packed them all into a box to send to Boston. That wasn’t the only thing I managed to get done that morning: I sealed up a birthday package for my mom, addressed a few birth announcements, cleaned the kitchen, checked my email, swept. Then I went in and woke up the baby, who’d been sleeping peacefully in his crib, by himself, white noise blaring, for two hours. After a feed and a brief period in which we managed to get out the door to the post office, get me a flu shot, and say hello to my acupuncturist, he took his second two-hour nap of the day. Oh, and there was a third. By 5 p.m. my house was the tidiest it’s been in weeks, dinner was made, emails were caught up on, an episode of Project Runway Juniors had been watched, and a part of me felt completely at loose ends, like: what on earth am I going to do with myself if this kid sleeps six hours every day? The thing is, he’d napped like that over the weekend, too, and I thought maybe, just maybe, he was setting a sleep pattern that would change my life for the better. Dare I say “revisit that neglected novel?”
You know how this story ends: on Wednesday, the baby’s naps totaled a cumulative 3 hours: two 40-minute jobbies in his crib from which he woke cranky and sweaty, plus some afternoon chaos that involved me nursing him into oblivion while lying in a semi-prone position so that we both could sleep, the kind of sleep that, before I had a small baby, I would never have considered “quality” (I mean, it’s okay having someone gnawing on your nipple for 90 minutes while you get a crick in your neck and torque your low back, but it’s not as awesome as some sleep I’ve had in my day). By five p.m. the house was still in shambles, I’d had at least one good cry, and dinner was going to have to wait until Papa Bear got home. Then we had a rough sleep night, too. The day after, same routine, from morning until night.
When L was a baby, my anxiety about his sleep took up about 90% of my brain space. At about six months I invented something called The Sleep Lab, which is to say, I undertook an exhaustive study of his sleep patterns, writing down his every night wake-up on the back of an envelope or a notebook and trying, in the daylight, to make sense of the notes. But because he was waking up every ninety minutes on a good night, and I was so tired I couldn’t see straight, my data just showed that I was completely and utterly?not slated to ever sleep again.
Note from the sleep lab. “Rig” stands for “that crappy rigamarole where he won’t accept the pacifier and won’t calm down, so I’m losing my mind.”
This time around, I’m playing things a little smarter. I’m getting B more involved in the night times, and I’m not giving in and giving the baby my boob every time he cries. Baby S is already on a better trajectory at 3.5 months than L was at nine, and that gives me a lot of hope. But nonetheless, life feels like?a game of Jenga: every time I balance one piece, another?goes out of whack. And I’m not just talking nighttime sleep. It’s the whole picture. It’s waking the baby early to nurse so the?pick-up of the seven-year-old isn’t tainted by high-pitched shrieking. It’s the constant question of?whether dinner is take-out or fried eggs on toast or a balanced, healthy meal. It’s making sure L doesn’t feel left out when so much of my time to goes to Baby S. It’s signing L up for summer camp before I even know my summer work schedule. It’s planning for a short-term nanny share while looking for a long-term daycare situation. It’s finding time to call my senators about the Affordable Care Act. It’s the aged car and the ant problem, the writing career mostly on hold until I can predict. One. Thing. About. Any. Given. Day.
I’ve never been great with spontaneity, but I’m doing my best to hold onto what’s solid?both kids seem predictably to be in bed by eight!?and roll with what’s not (the night waking, the naps). And I’m grabbing these little moments every day to blog, to read, to journal, and most of all, to sit with this time?that, I have a feeling, will feel like a simple Jenga game?one I’ll dearly?miss playing?ten years from now.
Hey! I’ll be presenting at the San Francisco Writers Conference again this year. If anyone’s planning to attend, drop me a line or look me up. It would be great to see you.
Thank you, egarc2 (via Google Advanced Image Search) for the great Jenga picture.
All morning I’ve been imagining The Onion-style headlines that would appeal to women who’ve faced the uncertainty of giving birth. You know, headlines so obvious and wry they’re hysterical to those of us who’ve been there: “Local Woman Can’t Predict When She’ll Go Into Labor” and “New Study Reveals Ina May Gaskin, Birth Guru who Claims Labor Can Be Beautiful and Orgasmic,?Full of Shit.”
Yesterday I was in for some routine testing at the hospital when the nurse got nervous. “Do you know you’re having contractions?” she asked. I did not; I was chilling in the chair with the contractions monitor on, drinking an Izze, excited to spend time?with B, who had taken the afternoon off. We’d just come from a meeting with our midwife, Gwen, and were planning to do some shopping as soon as I was finished. A trip to prenatal yoga, dinner out, an evening doula meeting (yup?we packed it all into one day), and home to bed. I’d been looking forward to it all week.
But then there was a doctor at my side telling me we should go upstairs to?check my cervix, make sure I wasn’t?effacing or dilating.
Going into labor? At 36 weeks? When I wasn’t feeling a thing? Of course, if I was honest with myself, I was having some Braxton Hicks, and yes, they might have felt a little stronger than before, but still?
No, I thought to myself. No, no, no, no no. And then: I’m not ready.?
And then: panic.
I am not good with uncertainty; I am not good with change. I always think, in times when I don’t know what’s going to happen next, of a line from a Mark Halliday poem that goes, “I am not?at all a?Hindu, I’ve never been a?Hindu/I want to keep things?” The thing about birth, though, is that you don’t get to keep anything, really; not necessarily your dignity, and certainly not your general belief that you’ll know what comes next. And not your schedule; you don’t get to keep that. To wit: the shopping trip, the dinner out, these plans were aborted as I sat in triage with a bag of IV fluids dripping into my arm, my eyes glued to the contractions monitor, trying to remember everything I know about giving birth, trying to stay calm, trying to not feel guilty for having been more than a little dehydrated (which, apparently, can cause contractions).
“I think they’re slowing down,” B said, and then there would be another one, and we’d both feel that same sense of panic.
The thing is, at 36 weeks, this baby is really almost quite to term. If I did go into labor, they probably wouldn’t stop it. The baby would (likely) be fine. I would (likely) be fine. But somehow, despite knowing about the vast uncertainty around when labor will start, I’ve been holding tightly onto my last four weeks: my last four weeks with my Triangle Family, before we become a square; my last two weeks at work and finishing up the writing deadlines I’ve made for myself; and most significantly, my last two weeks to process both the difficulties of what happened when I gave birth to L and the confusing feelings?of having wanted this all these years but now, faced with it, feeling afraid of the change.?Because a lot of old dark feelings have been welling up, a lot of anxiety and trauma and sadness and I’m just not quite ready, emotionally, to hop back in. I realize I may have to, but I’m not quite ready to.
“The contractions have spaced out since we put in the IV,” the nurse said after a while, and I felt a wash of relief. There they were, on the monitor, looking less like seven Golden Gate Bridges stacked end to end and more like some gentle, rolling midwestern hills. “The midwife says you can go home,” she continued, and we walked out of there shaken and fragile but not, at least, in labor.
At ten p.m., back at home, B pumped up?the birthing ball and I packed?a hospital bag. Just in case, I told myself. Just in case. It’s a good reminder to get our ducks in a row. The emotional stuff, I can’t predict when that will be resolved, but at the very least I can have my bags packed and my car seat installed and my birth plan written.
And I can remember that this is the great reality of childbirth and of everything that comes after: there’s no predicting. You just have to stay in the moment and take what comes.
I am not a Hindu; I like to keep things. But I also have to let them go.
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