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Posts Tagged ‘motherhood’

Here’s what I know. Mom and Dad were living on Neat Lane in Albuquerque’s south valley. There were four kids at home, three girls and a boy. Larry had been the youngest, he was four, and Mom and Dad were hoping for a boy to play with him. That’s one of the details of my birth that I grew up knowing.

I also grew up knowing that I was named after my mom’s mom and that Dad hadn’t wanted to name me that but they’d run out of names. They’d named the oldest daughter Patricia, after mom’s brother Pat. The next one Roberta, after Mom’s other brother, Robert. Janet must have gotten a name that came with no obligations; just a name that Mom and Dad liked. Larry, or Lawrence—his must have been a name they liked, too. I can’t think of any Larrys in the family. And then when I was girl, they gave me Roma. And Mom always says that grandma was “tickled.”

Mom had me in a hospital. The old Saint Jo’s. Whenever we drove on the freeway out to Los Lunas, Mom would point off toward the new St. Joseph’s and say, “See the older building? That’s where you were born.” All these years I thought it was this really old building that is about two or three stories, made of thick granite stone that has turned a sooty gray. I had taken to pointing it out whenever we were near there and telling my girls that that was where I was born. But just the other day, when I took my mom to the new St. Jo’s to get eye surgery, she pointed to a different old building and said that one was the old hospital. “Well, what’s that building over there,” I asked. “Oh, that’s the old sanitarium.”

So all this time, the place where I thought I had been born was actually the old mental institution. It was a letdown to know that the old St. Jo’s was not nearly as old looking. It just looked like a lesser, worn-down hospital.

I do know that back in the days when Mom had her kids, they let mothers stay for three or so days afterward in order to recuperate. I imagine that must have been the calm before the storm. Back home, waiting, there were a 4-year-old, a 6-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 12-year-old. Wow. Just tonight I went shopping with the girls for two hours and afterward, on the drive home, the girls were chatty and excited, and I had to say, “Hey you two, I’m a little overwhelmed so can we drive the rest of the way in silence?”

They were good about it, and so was I. Mom would have just screamed, “I can’t stand it anymore!” Poor Mom. Five kids is an awful lot to have.

That’s about all I know of my birth story. Everything fast forwards from there on out to when I got sick with the croup and the emergency tracheotomy. It’s funny, though. I can picture them coming back home with me. I think in those days moms held their infants in their laps in the car. I’m pretty sure Dad had a big car. I’ve seen a big car in the old photos. And I picture Dad and Mom walking into the small house they had, and all the kids being excited. I wonder if Larry was disappointed. I bet he was.

I think I slept in a crib in Mom and Dad’s bedroom for my first year, maybe two. I remember sharing a room with Janet, and did Larry share a room with us, too? I know the house only had a couple of bedrooms. Dad converted the garage into a den. There are a lot of gaps in my memory about the house on Neat Lane.

I don’t have a baby book, but we had lots of old pictures. I was in plenty of them, often being held up on Dad’s knee for the camera. And we have lots of old movies. Jim took them and had some made into a video for my parents’ 50th. Or was it for their 60th?




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the third of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to posts: PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE — Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by QuoinMonkey), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman); PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by ybonesy), and PRACTICE — Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? — 15min (by QuoinMonkey); PRACTICE: Do You Know The Circumstances Of Your Birth? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman)

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I have guided my two daughters—starting at about age nine—through Writing Practice. In both cases, my girls had graduated from chapter books to Harry Potter. Each was at the time steeped in weekly exercises for spelling, capitalization, punctuation. Each was heading into the season of independent school admissions, which would include a writing test. And each daughter wanted to spend time with me.

So I pulled them into something that was precious in my life. We whipped out our notebooks and fast-writing pens, grabbed a topic from thin air, set the timer, and wrote. And when the timer went off, we read our writing out loud.
 
I learned a lot about the mechanics of writing in elementary and secondary school. Mrs. Salisbury got me hooked on spelling bees. Mrs. Fiske, who wore her ginger-colored hair in a tight flip, walked us through the ins and outs of the paragraph. Mrs. Rhodes cried in class—overcome by the beauty of imagination—while reading The Hobbit out loud to us. But somehow I managed to get through twelve years without knowing how to simply compose.

And so it only seemed right that what took me until my late 30s/early 40s to figure out, thanks to the help of Natalie Goldberg and Writing Down the Bones, should become an early and natural skill for my girls. Like riding a bike or swimming.
 
 
 
How it works
 
 

  1. Start with three of the basic rules of Writing Practice–Keep your hand moving; Don’t cross out; Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. These three are tangible. Any kid can understand them. In fact, they will be music to a child’s ear. I don’t cover the other three rules of Writing Practice, which are: Lose control; Don’t think; Go for the jugular. These ones are, in my opinion, meant for us adults, who try to be in control at all times, analyze our way through most everything, and are inhibited. Kids don’t need to be told to lose control. (By the way, I also have never had to say, “You’re free to write the worst shit in America,” as Natalie does. Children don’t seem to worry about lousy writing at this age, even though they already tend to denigrate their art ability. My theory is that they never write in school; thus, they have no basis of comparison. Not so with art.)
  2.  

  3. Pick a topic that is easy to understand. It should be tangible, something like “Pickles” or “Socks.” The other day, I figured my youngest and I could use a recent topic from this blog, so I threw it out for consideration: I write because… “What does that mean?” my daughter asked. After trying a few times to explain how each of us might choose to write for different reasons, I went with something simpler. Apparently, she’s not in a place of needing to understand why she writes; she writes for the sake of writing.
  4.  

  5. Start with five minutes and work your way up. This was a precaution I took thinking that my daughters might get bored after five minutes, plus it was a gentle start to a new concept. However, we quickly worked our way to ten-minute stints.
  6. When it comes time to read out loud, remind your child that we’re going to each listen to one another with full attention, otherwise you might find her scanning her page. Also, the first time we read, I took the lead. Again, that was probably an unnecessary precaution, as neither daughter hesitated to jump in when after subsequent topics I asked if they wanted to read first.
  7. Do Writing Practice with one kid at a time, at least to start. This is one-on-one time. Having someone else there—even a sibling—might change the dynamic. There will be no trying to impress, no worrying about someone being better. Moms are safe. Plus, it’s an easy way to bond.
  8. When your kid questions the part about Spelling—and, believe me, she will—tell her that she’ll continue to learn how to spell in school and by reading books, but that this practice is mainly for learning how to write, write, write. Spelling is important, but spelling will come in its own time.
  9. Be aware that your own writing might go in almost any direction if you, too, are following the rules of Writing Practice. I try not to temper my writing, and consequently I have written my politics and at times my petty minutiae. You can always pass on reading, but doing so might send the message that not reading is an easy out.
  10. Get your kid her own notebook and fast-writing pen, and encourage her to write on her own in this same way whenever she feels like it. Kids this age know what it means to practice, perhaps for sports or music, so instill the idea while it makes sense. And when she comes ’round and suggests, “Mom, can we do Writing Practice now?” be ready to pull out your notebook and see Beginner’s Mind in action.




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Here are the Writing Practices (spelling errors corrected) that my youngest daughter and I did two weekends ago. Our topic was “Fall,” and we wrote for ten minutes.



Hers

Fall is when the leaves all fall to the ground. I like to jump into big piles of leaves. When the leaves start falling they change colors and they also crunch under your feet. Why is fall called fall? Maybe because leaves are falling. Another word for fall is autumn so I’m not sure why it’s called fall or autumn. The names have nothing in common. I also like sitting and watching the leaves fall off the trees. Sometimes all the leaves are a pain when you need to clean them up out of the pond and off the porch. Sonia likes fall I think because she has an excuse to stay inside. Otis and Rafie like to be inside too so they are happy when fall and winter come around. We have a lot of leaves to rake up so I’m happy because I want to jump in a big pile.




Mine

The trees outside the window make sure I know it is fall. They reach out over the window, and the sun shines behind them, shining through them, like light in a stained glass window. The colors are luminous, yellow shades and fading green shades. Even the dead tan leaves are beautiful, dangling in sparkling sunlight before letting go.

This morning I dress in a teal turtleneck sweater that I’ve had for ages, it seems. It’s too short from too many dryings, and it doesn’t keep my belly warm. Still, I head out to the corral with purpose, first holding my arms tight to try to keep the cold from hitting my core. But then I open up, drop my arms and swing them by my sides, in a sort of angry woman march. Except I’m not angry. I’m exuberant. It is cool but not cold. It’s early and the fall air feels new and fresh and good for me.

Dooley is waiting for me at the back gate. It’s a long walk down the service road, and the path is covered with leaves that have fallen from the trees that stretch like canopy over the path. Dooley is hungry for apples and grass and liberation. He will give a neigh and kick and run in a controlled run of his when I let him out.

I think all creatures must love fall. It is the best of times. The sun rises early now that we’ve set back the clocks, and even though it sets early, too, that feels right. Like it’s only natural that we would settle into our cozy homes, stews bubbling on the stove or a chicken roasting in the oven, and wait until it’s time to go to sleep.

Fall is also a time to prepare for the cold of winter. It’s a time to become more productive, less distracted by the never-ending light of summer. Yesterday I worked on my paintings for hours. I am finally becoming satisfied with Bush. He looks more real, red face and all, than he’d looked before. His eyes are scary, as you’d expect the eyes of someone like him to be. And his face has those plains to it that they have, a sharp face, pointy nose, pointy ears, straight lines for a mouth. He is an ugly man, as is Cheney and now Rove. Why is it that our lives get placed in the hands of such ugly men?

 

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Postscript: It is natural that parents want to guide our children, and usually in a more heavy-handed way than we might guide our friends or adult family members. When doing Writing Practice with your child, refrain from critiquing what she writes. Writing Practice is raw; it is not a final product. There is no good, no bad. It is what it is.

If you’d like to give your child feedback, use recall to do so. After she reads, recall a phrase or section of her writing, letting her know that those parts stood out to you. Try to do so without assigning value, such as, “I loved the part about …” If you can show your child how to provide input without labeling the input, you’ll also be role modeling how to listen deeply. It’s a wonderful skill to have.

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By Charis Fleming

 



I watch from across the room as the tow headed boy climbs into her lap and snuggles next to her chest. Absentmindedly she reaches into her blouse to loosen a bulging breast, the liquid already spilling from the nipple onto the back of her hand. He quickly latches on and suckles and grins as he gulps down his nourishment, already a boy in love with a boob.

She wipes the back of her hand and inner wrist against the cotton T-shirt and turns the page on her Parenting magazine. I supposed I nursed her as casually once upon a time, but I can’t quite remember the joy I know I must have felt each time she came to me for sustenance. My current feeling of neglect crowds out that piece of history.

I do remember gazing into her cherubic face as she pigged out for the first 14 months of her life, the last couple of months of which I spent wincing each time she utilized my elongated nipples as teething toys. She’s all grown up now and doesn’t need me for anything anymore.

When she was just a toddler she’d stand between me and her daddy, her little head halfway up my thigh, her arms pushing against me and him, the strength of her need to be center stage forcing us to step back from each other and notice her presence there between us as we tried to embrace. She never tired to separate him from his second wife and often boasted of her step-parents as being wonderful additions to her resources for learning life lessons. I felt inferior next to the perfect step-mother.

Now, 35 years later, I gaze at the duo, daughter and grandson, and I want more than anything to tell them both how left out I am feeling. I want them to know if it wasn’t for me, neither of them would exist as they are. I wanted to claim all the credit for her intelligence, poise, grace and beauty. I wanted her to recall the carefully selected man I’d married whose genetics mixed so well with my own that she could not have avoided becoming a magnificent being if she had tired to in some way. I wish her father could have survived his bout with pancreatic cancer to see the beautiful boy named in his honor.

I wanted to scream at her to pay attention to every minute detail unfolding before her. My head longed to urge her to enjoy the sensations her body was experiencing, to wallow in the amazing act of producing milk and then feeding a child, giving a little human life then sustaining that life with nothing but her body as the sustenance manufacturing facility. How could she take these precious moments so nonchalantly? I watched as the fine dining of baby at the breast continued. I wanted to tell them both I was still in the room, beg them to find a way to include me at feeding time.

The boy, sated and re-energized climbs down from her lap while she fumbles to latch the nursing bra. He crawls a beeline to my feet, raises his body against my shin and beams me a special smile as I pick him up and snuggle my face into the fresh milk smell of a perfect baby’s neck.

“Hey, Rat-boy,” my daughter chides, “I do all the work and Grandma gets all the lovin’? What about this old cow over here? I’m sacrificing mammary perkiness here and you scoot over to hang with Grandma? Thanks a lot, ingrate!” I feel her eyes lock on mine as we both cling tightly to the vast well of love we want to claim from this child.

Perfect off-spring of my perfect off-spring. Her green eyes subtly smile into my hazel orbs causing my face to split wide with a loving grin. Life doesn’t get much better than this.
 





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Charis Fleming received honorable mention in the Out of The Blue Films, Inc. ENVY Contest at red Ravine for her untitled essay.


Congratulations, Charis, from Out of The Blue Films, Inc. and red Ravine!




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red Ravine is not liable for any actions by Out of The Blue Films, Inc., nor the Film. red Ravine has no legal responsibility for any outcomes from the contest.

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hi mom I just got yuor e-mail on monday night at 6:42 the e-mail hasent been working but evrey once in awhile I love you verry very very very very very very very very very very very vervy very very very evry very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very  very very verry very very very very very veryvery very very very evry evry very very very very verry very very very  very very very evry very very very very very very very veyr very very very very very very very very very very very evry very very very very very ver very very very very very very very very very evry very evry vervy ervy very very very evry very ed very very very much and even more then that





This is an e-mail from nine-year-old Em, copied verbatim—exactly what I needed after a whirlwind trip to central and northern Vietnam, then back to Saigon. (Hanoi is gorgeous! I must go back and spend more than 24 hours there.)

It’s almost 11p, my ears are plugged from the plane ride, and my day starts first thing tomorrow. This is it for me tonight. I just wanted to say, kids have a way of making everything OK. How do they do that?

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I have a photo of me in Ray Bans and a bright green bikini top, climbing sandstone rocks on a beach in Costa Rica. I’m smiling, teeth white against my dark skin. On the back of the photo, these words in my handwriting: March 1996, for Dee, so you’ll know what your mama was up to six months after you were born.

Rosa from work snapped the shot. She and Kevin and I were on a two-week trip to Central America. Guatemala and El Salvador the first week, weekend at Manuel Antonio, and the second week in San José. Rosa and Kevin went on to Honduras and Panamá, while I flew back home to be with my baby.

It’s a long story, how I ended up in Central America when Dee was only six months old. Suffice to say that it had to do with a grant proposal I submitted on behalf of the university I worked for when I was pregnant. The proposal was funded, and I had to follow through with the trip or risk losing the money.

As with most international travel, it was Hell getting mentally prepared. A jet plane crashed in the region weeks before I left, killing everyone on board. All I could think was, I’m going to die and never see my baby grow up. Of course, once I got there I was pulled into the color and smells and sounds. I loved it.

Between appointments, I had to run to my hotel room and power on my little battery-operated breast pump. Waoo-waoo-waoo-waoo, it went, like a sick cow, for twenty minutes. I sat on the bed with my blouse unbuttoned and tried not to worry about whether I’d dry up by the time I got home.

Later, walking past indigenous women sitting on the sidewalk, infants in bundles on their backs or in their arms, I pictured my watery milk running down the sink and wished I could pick up a baby and feed it.

“Ew, that’s disgusting!” Rosa said when I told her what I wanted to do.

That trip, Dee refused to take the bottle. Typical conversation those first days I called home:

     Has she taken it yet?
     Nope, just spits it out.
     My God, what are you gonna do?
     Everyone says she’ll take it when she gets hungry enough.
     Have you tried other nipples?
     Yeah, went through four new ones today.
     I’m sorry.
     It’s alright. She’ll be fine. Don’t worry.
Click.

Everyone was wrong. Dee never took the bottle. No other options left, Jim finally introduced rice cereal.






I was thinking about that trip yesterday. The postcards I’d sent from Vietnam had just arrived, and I remembered how before I left for Central America I prepared a postcard a day for Jim to read to Dee. I didn’t actually send them; I left them for him to show her, a new one each day.

I went on a lot of trips while both my babies were young. I left the university when Dee was about a year old; new job yet one thing remained the same—still plenty of travel.

I remember sending baggies of frozen breast milk over dry ice for Em when I took a week-long training course in Eugene, Oregon. I became expert at pumping in mothers’ rooms at work and in airports. Life revolved around finding the best place and time to run my little machine.


I pumped milk in the Portland airport. I used the private kiddy bathroom, which had a plug so I could use electric. After 15 minutes, someone jiggled the door and it turned out to be a cleaning woman. At first she scolded me for using the kiddy bathroom; apparently a woman had complained about not having access to the changing table. But when I explained that I was pumping and that I appreciated the privacy, she seemed to understand.

I’m coming home with something for everyone: Em’s milk, a watch with a floating dinosaur for Dee, a Nike fleece sweatshirt for Jim.


Before we had kids, Jim and I made the decision that one of us would stay home full-time to take care of them. We both came from families where a parent stayed home, and we wanted to do the same thing for our kids if we could afford it. Which we could, barely at first. Jim got the role of stay-at-home Dad, and I got to pursue my dream of working in a job where I could travel.

But it wasn’t easy being away from my children. All the time I was on the road, I wondered if they would grow up and resent my being gone. Yet when I was home I was a present parent, more so, I imagined, than dads in my same situation. Bone tired, I took over the moment I got home. Evenings and weekends were always mine.

My girls are both old enough now that I can see they’ve not been damaged. On the contrary, they are bold and adventurous from spending formative years with a parent who let them walk on roofs versus one with a fear of heights. They love being outdoors, think nothing of catching snakes and frogs, and are up for long hikes.

They also want to get to know this world. “Take me to Vietnam,” they tell me. I promise them that I will. Hopefully next summer.

They’re in for a wild experience.




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Dee Butterfly, cell phone photo of my oldest daughter when she was about eight years old, photo © 2003-2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


I gave birth to Dee on Labor Day thirteen years ago.

“Some Labor Day!” folks joked afterwards.

It was a beautiful birth. I had her in our bedroom, attended by Jim, my best friend, and our midwife.

For a while I didn’t think I could do it. I was on my back pushing yet nothing was happening. Finally my midwife, who up to then sat quietly in a corner letting me be in control of my birth, came to check on me.

“Ah, your water’s not broken,” she said. I had told her it broke before she got there. “Go into the bathroom and visualize your water breaking. Once it breaks, the baby will come.”

I sat on the toilet and stared at the circles on the linoleum tile. Open, open, open, I said to myself. I closed my eyes and could see a faint imprint of circles in the darkness. Open, open, open. Splash! It worked.

Dee came in to the world in the early morning. I birthed her crouched on the floor beside our bed. The air was cool, sunlight soft. Mexican sunflowers stood guard outside our windows.

Every human being brings with him or her into the world a bundle of traits. Some characteristics deepen with love, others are quashed from lack of support. New talents and quirks emerge based on home life and the world at large, but I know with certainty that every one of us arrives with something and not as a blank slate.

Dee brought with her a fiesty attitude, curiosity, and a natural tendency to question and challenge. She was expressive, sensitive, argumentative. She held her fork in her fist while she waited for her meals, refused to take a bottle, and cried every time she woke up from a nap. She was serious and at times stern. She was also compassionate and could break out crying at the knowledge that someone or something was hurt.


Using the words Brave and Face in a sentence, Dee’s second-grade homework, image © 2002-2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




Jim and I each grew up in homes that stressed respectfulness, courtesy, and good manners. Jim’s parents, especially, valued proper behavior in children. My parents did, too—Grandpa’s motto was, Children are to be seen and not heard. However, Mom’s tendency to rebel against anything conventional translated into exposure to many vices (poker and Black Jack games at any family gathering, smoking, drinking, cussing, etc.).

It was apparent early on that Jim’s ideas about the right way for children to behave would not set well with Dee. Although she was often quiet and inside herself, she never hesitated in voicing her opinions. If she didn’t understand something, she asked questions and always in a way that sounded like she didn’t quite believe what was being said.

Jim’s sister came to visit one day when Dee was three. We were at the kitchen table talking about something that happened when Dee insisted that Jim’s recounting of events was not right and began telling her version. Just as Jim was about to reprimand Dee for the interruption, his sister stopped him.

“Let her be. If you teach her to not speak up when she’s a child, she’ll have a hard time finding her voice as a woman.”

I joined Jim’s sister in describing how so many women I see at work are reserved and conditioned to neither debate nor question, how they let men dominate conversations and meetings. While courtesy was important, we said, Dee carried an innate respect for all humanity. If it came down to teaching proper manners, wouldn’t it be easier to learn good etiquette later in life than it would be to unlearn reticence?

To his great credit, Jim listened to the women in his life. In bringing up his daughters (because he was the one who had the most influence in their early lives) he has resisted the urge to constantly keep them in check. That’s not to say he is overly permissive; he still appreciates a well-behaved child.

For her part, little Miss Dee is a confident, newly annointed teenager. She can be quiet, especially among strangers—another one of those characteristics she brought into this world. But among her friends and family, she continues to speak her mind.

This morning Dee said that tonight she’s not going to cry over leaving behind her childhood. She’s ready for what’s next. (I, however, might be a different case altogether.)

Happy Birthday, Dee! You are an impressive young woman and human being.





[NOTE: I don’t normally publish photos of my family, but this photo of Dee was taken so long ago, plus with the face-painting, I decided it would be fine to share this one.]

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anXiety, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




I want to write about anxiety. Not panic attacks, since I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those, but rather, the general sense of dread that covers me at times like a veil.

I want to write about anxiety, but not in a medical way. I want to write about the days I feel like I can’t possibly smile, can’t possibly let myself get into a good mood, so shellacked into place is my heart that if I allow myself to feel it pulsing in my chest I might just burst open.

I catch myself increasingly more in this predicament, anxious and paralyzed and becoming the impatient, often enraged woman I knew as…my mother.

Yes, my mother! She suffered anxiety for many years, and there is indication that, like brown hair or Diabetes, anxiety runs in families. As one article put it, “More often than not, anxious women grew up in anxious households.”


 



Mom must have been in a near constant state of anxiety. There was a 13-year spread between me—the youngest—and my oldest sibling, which means Mom was living and breathing children from the moment Patty was born until I moved out at age 18. That was 31 years of dealing with kids through every stage, and it doesn’t include my niece, who was six years younger than me and who Mom eventually brought into the fold.

I tell the story of being five years old and walking into my house one day after having spent a few hours across the street with my best friend at her grandmother’s trailer. My eyes were lined in black; we’d gotten into Suzanne’s grandma’s make-up bag. I came in through the back door just as Mom was getting up from a nap. Usually she made me take naps with her but this day I got to play with Suzanne instead.

I can see Mom now, making her way to the kitchen to find her cigarettes and maybe a glass of iced tea. I am happy and proud; it’s the first time I’ve put on make-up, the domain of grown-up women. Mom crosses the living room, I’m coming up through the den. She sees me and I am smiling, about to open my mouth and tell her “Look what we did!” but before I can get out the words she raises her arm. WHACK! In a throaty voice she screams, “COCHINA!” “PIG!





Later on, when I started school and life became more intense for Mom, it was hard to separate her meanness from her Meniere’s Disease. When I think of her during those times I see her in bed or on the bathroom floor or the couch, a wet washrag on her forehead and a glass of water by her side.

I remember one summer we drove to Juárez, pulled into the parking lot of the Camino Rael Hotel. Its pink stucco and turquoise swimming pool shimmered like a mirage just beyond the asphalt, and there went Mom, puking into a brown paper sack. The long road trip with three of us fighting in the back of the Caprice, plus the heat, set off an attack.

Always sick, always throwing out certain expressions: “I can’t stand you!” “You kids are driving me crazy!” “I’m a nervous wreck!” There were good memories, too, a flood of goodness, and I don’t want to make my mother sound like a monster. She wasn’t by any means. I’m just trying to understand the cycles of anxiety, what they transform us into, and how I might break the pattern.

Which reminds me, my youngest jokingly calls me Momster. Am I?

If not, I suspect I am on the road to becoming one. Like it did for Mom, my life seems to be getting out of hand. At times my emotions, even my physical being, are hijacked by anxiety.

I sometimes find myself driving in my car and thinking, I shouldn’t have become a mother, I shouldn’t have become a mother, and then I retract it all, convinced that God will punish me by taking away my daughters. This is anxiety talking, taunting in its urgent whisper, That’ll show you.



      


My friend Deborah calls it “middle-aged rage,” and maybe she’s talking about something different but I tend to think it’s just anxiety in its angry incarnation. Deborah says it stems from the pressure to be good – good mother, good employee, good partner. She also says it’s the mountain of responsibility that piles up daily – bills to pay, deadlines to meet, cans and bottles and paper to recycle.

“Passions unmet,” I chime in, giving away that for me the crux of the matter is almost always this balance between being the solid matriarch of my family and being myself. Artist, writer, and individual.

I do agree that middle-aged rage is a symptom of our inflated expectations. Disappointments taken to the nth degree. The bald realization that we’re not perfect. We’re smart women. We may or may not hold down well-paying jobs. We might be great gardeners, mostly solid friends. Our parents need us more than ever and we’re struggling to meet those needs, never mind looking and feeling good and meeting the pressures of being decent role models.

For me it’s gotten worse in the past year. It’s the perfect storm. Daughter in mid-school with those funky dynamics, another in elementary (and I can always find something to worry about in her life – too skinny, too sickly, too talky). Aging parents, stressful career, big house, new dog. You name it, I got it.

Anxiety becomes worse as women take the long walk toward menopause, and I seem to have been stuck on that trail for years now. Given the physical changes in my body (temperature changes, night sweats, weight) I think I’m heading deeper into the forest, but I wish this body of mine would just squeeze through the eye of the needle and emerge, with all the apparent downsides, into the desert of post-menopause. I will give up any day the last of my so-called youth for that long moment of calm.

I tell Deborah that we were stupid to wait until our mid-to-late 30s (her, early 40s) to have children, but she reminds me we would have simply had longer periods of rage and be less equipped to cope. I suppose she’s right.

I feel fortunate that she’s opened up this conversation. Over this past year I’ve felt the anxiety growing like yeast in my belly, yet I’ve kept a lid on it. But once I get something out in the open, exposed to air and light, there’s no hiding from it. I will talk, write, treat it to its pretty death. My submission will lead to its submission.

My annual check-up is coming up this fall, none too soon to get the medical help I need to get my calm back. Mean time, I’m exercising, cutting out the crap I’ve been eating, setting boundaries, and holding on tightly to daily practice and prayer. 

The girls still tell me I’m a nice mom. But I tell you, it’s a thin thread that holds me to that reality versus being Momster 24/7.

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