WOODEN EGGS, IMAGINARY OMELETTES, AND THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST

By Angel Underhill

It's time to make dinner and I am sitting on the floor in the kitchen pretending to crack wooden eggs into a colander with my almost two year old child. She likes to play in the pantry while I’m cooking. The good days are when she is content to whip up an imaginary omelette by herself. The hard days are like today when “Mama sit! Mama sit” is really code for “I need you to stop what you’re doing right now and play with me, or I promise, I will go crazy ass Gollum from "The Lord of the Rings" on you.”  But… I can’t.  My brain is spiraling into a vortex of reasons why I can’t stop:  the cats are about to jump on the counter to eat the salmon that I am getting ready to put in the oven.  I am tired.  I feel like kicking the cat that is circling my leg.  I want another glass of wine.   I don’t want to make a fake omelette.  Your papa will be home in 45 minutes and the house is trashed.  Annnd now you’re starting to lose it.  Just give me one second.  No don’t cry.  It’s okay….It’s okay...It’s okay.  I’m okay.  Breathe.  I hate this cat.  Dammit! I just spilled sauce on the floor. How do I do this?  Why can’t I be more organized?  I hate cooking.  I can’t do this.  Faaaabulous...now you’re doing that crazy Gollum sounding scream because you can’t get the empty spice bottle I gave you to play with open on your own….I am muttering to myself: “I--am--going--to--lose--my--fucking--mind.”  Shit.  Don’t say “fucking” out loud.  She will hear you.  Bad mom. Bad mom!

I shove the salmon in the oven and forget about the rest.  And that is how I end up on the floor cracking wooden eggs into a colander.   Some days its a kitchen dance party to Dora the Explorer or Elmo Slide that keeps both of us from the abyss of toddler meltdowns.  Some days, that’s my only cardio.  

Today is one of those days. We narrowly avoid falling from the precipice into a full on tantrum.  I have cracked enough eggs to amuse.  Her interest in playing on her own has been renewed; she just needed me to check in. I may now resume my household duties.  I straighten up some of the nearby messes so she can still hear me bustling around her and know that I haven’t gone too far.  The clingy stage we are in sometimes feels like a powerful wave pulling me out to a deep part of the ocean where I can’t touch bottom and I am, every moment, in danger of going under.

But the wave is not generated by her need alone. Mixed up in that is my internal chatter.  Like all humans, I have my own version of self talk, that inside dialogue that can either build you up or tear you down.  In the midst of this momentary calm, the somewhat hostile, hyper critical voice sometimes present inside me begins its litany of comparison with other moms.  “Should have let her ‘cry it out.’ Wouldn’t still be so tired; things would have been easier. You’ve made it harder than it needed to be with all your ‘attachment parenting’ choices,” the voice says when I recall wide eyed looks of barely concealed judgment from some who sleep trained their kids. I reflect back on the horror expressed by others over the idea of a family bed, and the voice says,” You’re a sucker, you’ve created a bad habit. You’ll never get her out of your bed now…” Then I start to visualize the disapproving looks from others upon learning that my  21 month old still nurses during the day. I hear that damn voice say, “Shoulda stopped a looooonnnng time ago.” And still another comparison crowds its way in as I recall the moms who say they don’t, and never have felt rage or resentment when their kids cry incessantly--either as babies or toddlers--and they didn’t/don’t know what to do, are exhausted and stressed, discouraged and overwhelmed. The voice chimes in here too, clanging loudly with shame ,  "Yeah, you suck.  Bad mom!  Good thing your ass is in therapy!”  And so on so forth, down the rabbit hole I go.

Jesus.  This “voice” is a stone cold bitch.  I think to myself:  But...is she right? Is it just harder for me than everyone else because I made the wrong choices? Or are these moms who seem to have it all together--or at least, so much easier--fudging on the truth of what its really like for them? Maybe they just have “easier kids”? Or more help? Why do I care anyway??

That question ushers in another voice, a kinder one. It floats on in and smashes the bitchy judgmental one like Dorothy’s house landing on the Wicked Witch of the West.  And suddenly, I have an idea: maybe it doesn’t matter.  Maybe none of the comparisons matter.  This is my experience.  Period.  I have enough tell-it-like-it-is moms in my life to know that parental experiences and types of kids reflect as much variety as a box of crayolas and beyond.  And just like that, the "crazy" passes--at least for the moment-- and I am back to rolling with my little toddler homey.

Pretty soon I am asking myself more important questions like: “What does it mean when the vaudeville style humor of Raffi’s song “Banana Phone” makes me belly laugh?”  “It’s a phone with appeal!” he says, a la Groucho Marx in between the upbeat swing of melody. I am heartily guffawing while my child looks on, eyebrows furrowed.  “You can have your phone and eat it too!” I’m kinda crying now. It’s one of those laugh/cries that washes a sense of relief and perspective over me until I am breathing easy once more.  “This song drives me... bananas!” he persists. “Ring, ring, ring...banana phone…”  I friggin love it.  I am grateful for how this little tune takes me away from the adult mess in my head and gives me back to Hazel.  

These are not easy times.  In fact as one cool, vulnerable, validating mom friend recently said to me “these under age 3 years can be ‘dark days’…” Indeed they can be.  Not in a sinister way of course.  But the level of isolation, too often a hallmark of modern parenting, the anxiety and stress involved in keeping alive a small human who seems to seek out danger with increasing frequency, the exhausting nature of second guessing and general feelings of cluelessness, the harrying, frazzled intensity of toddler emotional development--all of these hard things and more that often accompany this leg of the journey--can weigh heavily on a mama. 

But she also encouraged me and said there is “light at the end of the tunnel.”  She told me I would never regret the extra time taken, nor the challenges and difficulties associated with some of the attachment parenting choices my husband and I have made.  I believe her.  I am already looking back over nearly two years of life with Hazel.  I feel strangely nostalgic for those early “fourth trimester” days, so marked by the fear and sleep deprivation of a parenting neophyte.  Somehow, inexplicably, even the memory of those crazy cluster feeding sessions where all I could do was binge watch "Orange is the New Black" and "Gossip Girl" make me smile with longing. I cry each time I remove clothing from her dresser drawers that no longer fit her ever growing, long lean frame. And each time she sleepily says “hi mama” as I take her into our family bed at night, my stomach and throat are filled with that mysterious kind of heart ache that comes from loving something or someone so much.  

I lay next to her, my body curled gently around her, her little hand in mine. The whir of the white noise machine is like a long steady whisper in my ear. The night envelopes my little family with its darkness and I do not fear it or feel weighed down by it. It warms and comforts me, grants me refuge. I cling to it. I don’t ever want to let go.

A NOTE TO MY DAUGHTER: TIME TRAVEL IS POSSIBLE

You never really “woke me up” those first few months.  I don’t think I ever actually fell asleep.  I was terrified of SIDS and anyway my body ached all over from pushing you out of my vagina. Your papa and I fought like two people under an evil spell cast every night around 6:00 p.m.  He’d say “you’re shutting me out. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself with the breastfeeding.” I’d say “No I’m not!  You don’t understand!” And we’d transform into squabbling, sleep deprived ogres. Then, suddenly, the spell would lift, I would cry, your papa would hold me in his arms, bewildered and worn out, both of us staring at each other with matching “how the hell did we get here?!” expressions on our faces.

I remember the day I whipped my nipple shield across the room in a fit of rage, only to go frantically looking for it 10 minutes later when you wouldn’t latch without it.  I hated that thing.  Every day I’d watch through the clear silicone as colostrum or formula pooled around my nippIe. I obsessively looked at the mL markings on the SNS bottle clipped to my bra, inwardly lamenting over how slowly the amount seemed to be diminishing. And it never stayed behind the damn shield. Some portion always leaked out, running down the vastness of my size E boobies. That period of time: me waiting for my milk to be fully in, building up my supply, using the shield and the supplemental nursing system, only lasted for a couple weeks after bringing you home, but it felt like fucking forever.  Somewhere in the deep dark hormonally saturated corners of my mind, I knew even then, that I would laugh about it all one day.

You were so little then. Now you are weeks away from being a 1 year old. I’ve stopped reading all the breastfeeding books.  And the books on how to get you to sleep through the night.  We don’t need them anymore.  No more silicone torture devices.  No more pondering over questions that people ask about your sleep patterns like: “Is she a good baby?” or “Does she sleep in her crib now instead of in your bed?” We have made our choices. And for now at least, we are content with them.

I believe they are choices that have promoted and helped establish the bond we now share. We do everything together.  Every morning we get up and go for a walk, or a run.  We pass by the “Little Free Library” on our street and look at the selection.  In the house directly across from it there is a man who sits in his chair, in the front window, reading a newspaper. Each morning he’s there.  He looks up as we walk by; maybe one day we’ll wave.  For now I feel too reserved.  

But we do talk to the crosswalk lady who has a little patch of land in Ireland where she grew up.  She will spend part of her summer there once school has ended for the year.  I feel that familiar sting of longing for my old freedom as she tells us about it, when your papa and I could just travel to any place we wanted.  But you will go with us now.  And during the recent road trip to see your grandma and grandpa, I caught a glimpse of how fun it will be to have you as a travel companion.  You notice people. You charm them from across the room, in random hipster coffee houses and “Any Town, USA” restaurant chains like Applebee’s, until they can’t help smiling back at you, until they are compelled to cross rooms to talk to you, greet you as if you were an old friend.

You are always watching me now.  I have to be careful. My temper is quick. I am easily frustrated when I feel inadequate and overtired--not a winning combo but one I live with daily.  I think about that chapter in Little Women where Jo is struggling with her passionate nature which often manifests as a quick temper. She is surprised to learn that this was also once true of her beloved Marmee who has over time learned to control it. So much so that her daughter was not aware it had ever been difficult. That is what I wish for you and I. Not that you will see me perfect--I’d rather be real to you--but that you will see me modeling my ability to master my temper not be ruled by it..

You made me a mother. You are a very small person with no agenda other than to be loved and yet you’ve changed my identity. I have been altered by your small 18 pound presence in this world. And as you and I move together from one developmental milestone to the next I ramble on about all of it.  Documenting you, in my journal, in pictures and videos, on this blog. Like the first time you smiled at me, or held your head up on your own, or rolled over, or crawled, or most recently, walked. You took five steps in a row one afternoon at our Wednesday Waldorf class.  I wanted to memorize the event, hold it, like a yoga pose, and just breathe.  In spite of the desperate moments: the postpartum depression woes, the torturous, sleepless nights, some little piece of these experiences must remain close to me, available in my memory for re-visiting, re-feeling.  I don’t want to forget you as you are now.  I don’t want to forget me as I am now.  How we are together, at the beginning of things.  Memory is a time machine, so I must build a good one.  

 

ENJOY THE CUDDLES

 As I rock and nurse Hazel for her first nap of the day, I feel a surge of elation about our breastfeeding journey so far. We had lots of trouble at the beginning: lip and tongue ties, inverted nipples, a man handling nurse with bad advice about my supposedly non-existent colostrum. So on days when it all seems to be going right I enjoy and acknowledge those feelings of triumph. But the whole truth, is that breastfeeding my daughter has been both a joy and a pain. Just as certainly in one moment I may feel like a Disney princess with little blue birds tweeting sweetly around my head as I sit in some meadow, nursing away, Hazel bites my nipple--HARD--in the next, and I remember that this shit is not for the faint of heart.

 My goal is to nurse her for a year. We are only 3 months away from that goal.  I know it will be one of those things I look back on and cry because I miss it.  I will miss those moments when I can hear her breathing against my breast.  When a sweaty heat forms in the crook of my arm where her head rests because we've been rocking for awhile, but I don't mind.  I will miss her little hand stroking the skin on my stomach. This is something I've dreamed about doing since I was 12 years old watching my aunt nurse my baby cousin.

And yet there are times when I don't want to be touched. Where I want to be gone for several hours without having to hook my boobs up to a machine that squeezes milk out of them, in order to keep the fountain of "liquid gold" flowing. When night time finally comes my husband sits next to me on the bed and I know we only have another 30 minutes or less together before she wakes.  Thirty minutes before I have to go into the dark cave of her room and nurse her into her next sleep cycle.  Breast milk is the glue that binds each cycle to the next.  She hasn't learned yet to connect them on her own. 

I tell him about our afternoon, spent with a friend of mine who has a 13 month old boy.  We visited Garfield Conservatory for the first time.  Hazel loved crawling all over the floor--made of recycled something (tires, shoe soles?)-- in the children's garden. When they got hungry, we nursed them right there in the crawling infants only section.  I love the accessibility of breastfeeding. I have no real fear anymore of nursing in public, uncovered.  It genuinely surprises me that people get so annoyed or offended by it. But in the early days, I was self conscious and would often try to nurse with a cover. Hazel hated it.  She would fuss to the point of hysteria--in her and in me!  Several heart palpitations later I'd end up in the bathroom of wherever we were.  I once nursed Hazel on the floor in a bathroom stall at Gino's East amidst the stale smell of mildew, poop, and urine.  It was the last time.  

After our 3 hour stint with her in the crib--when we're close to tucking in for the night--we bring her into our bed.  She nurses a few times throughout the night, but mostly she just wants to be near me.  It's not always easy--so much interrupted sleep.  I try to forget about all the people I know who have followed the cry-it-out method for sleep training.  We have chosen not to do it and that choice suits us.  But like I said before:  this shit is not for the faint of heart.  And sometimes my heart feels like it might be.  I try to follow the advice of women in the online breastfeeding and sleep support groups I am part of: "This time doesn't last forever," they say. "Enjoy the cuddles."  

Her monkey night light is staring at me from the floor in our room. From where I'm sitting, on the couch in the living room, I can just make out her tiny shape on our mattress.  I am writing and falling asleep as I watch my words appear on the screen.  I catch myself doing that throughout the day: eyes drooping closed and then darting open again.  But I won't always be this tired.  She won't always be a tiny shape on a mattress, looking for me when she awakens and realizes my warm body is no longer next to hers.