Getting Your Body Back, Losing Your Mind

posted March 18, 2009

I was under the delusion that at some point this parenting gig would get easier. I thought that eventually, perhaps by the spring, I would regain my former life, or at least the part where every single moment wasn’t accounted for by someone other than myself or my own most basic needs (not including showering). Today ignited that hope and then, just as quickly, extinguished it.

One of my new year’s resolutions was to reduce the items (read crap) in our house by 10%. In a fit of spring fever, I have been madly sorting, unboxing, resorting, folding and Freecycling all our extraneous stuff away. It feels better than going to get my teeth cleaned, an activity I love. I have let go of so many unwanted things, (though for some odd reason I can’t part with the hideous gold floor-length bridesmaids dress with matching shawl in the back of my closet––tomorrow I will post a photo of it). This task also brought me to the attic, where I gingerly brought down a big plastic bin marked “Favorite Performing and Other Clothes”, a relic from my pre-pregnancy days. Lo and behold, garment after garment fit! Yes, I am still a bit fluffy around the middle, but the clothes essentially covered me in a way that didn’t make me feel like a stuffed sausage.

I felt like myself again. I foolishly believed that because I had my body back, I might have my mind back too. Not so fast.

I had made a play date with one of my favorite moms and her two daughters today. Lila had been completely on board, even enthusiastic about the date up until the moment I told her it was time to get dressed. She immediately went boneless, as Mo Willems would say. Then the kicking began. Fortunately, my brother-in-law Dave was over with Lila’s beloved cousin William, so Dave could hold the baby while I took Lila into another room, screaming notes I didn’t think possible for the human voice. I wondered if I were a terrible parent for inflicting this kind of control over her, then rejected that; if we only went with Lila’s whims, we’d make a million plans and then end up sitting in front of Sesame Street all day (a valid description of many of our days.) Then I wondered if she were a horrible child. Maybe she will be one of those kids everyone hates. Maybe she will be miserable and lonely in pre-school (like I was!) Maybe we will need an intervention or therapy or meds.

Fortunately, I didn’t believe any of these thoughts for too long, or at least I didn’t believe them solidly. I had a sort of Swiss-cheese relationship with the thoughts. Moreover, I stayed present while she tantrummed, under the theory I’ve heard that kids need to rely on our nervous systems while their young tender fragile ones are developing. So to that end, the calmer you can be with your children, the better. During the hole-in-the-Swiss-cheese moments, I had an awareness that anger comes and goes, and that Lila’s will burn hot and fast and then dissipate.

So I breathed, and after I wrestled her (gently) into clothes that were not pj’s (“I.Want.To.Wear.My.PJ.Top!”), I held her close to me and rocked her gently as she sobbed. After about three minutes she bounced up and ran to the stroller.

As I walked into town, I thought about my delusion, the one where things are kind of hard when the baby is a totally helpless infant who can’t tell night from day and who pees in your face if he’s a boy and how it all gets easier from then on, for after all, people took maternity leaves in the first 12 weeks, right? That must mean it gets easier, right? Wrongo, Buffalo. Lila takes up so much more of my brain space than she used to. When she’s awake (which is a lot more of the time than it was when she was an infant), she demands almost constant verbal engagement. She wants me to play with her, to tell her stories about Scary Elmo Woodpecker, to animate her dolls, to explain why she can’t have honey for dinner. Ever since I got back from New York, I feel as though I’ve barely even seen Johnny, even though he pretty much lives on my body. But when Lila is in the room, she takes up 95% of the mental and emotional space. So I don’t think things are going to get easier. And I have to admit, I have a good friend with three kids, all older than mine, and she doesn’t seem to have any more free time than I do. Less, in fact.

And one more thing. Even though I gave up life-coaching, I still go around all day with the feeling that I’m not doing enough. I’m not being enough in the present moment. So today, after we got back from lunch, Johnny had fallen asleep in the stroller. I rolled it to the back yard and closed the fence and let Lila out. The two of us ran around in circles and kicked the big ball and then snuck around to the back of the barn to find the cave where the bear lives. And something another mother told me today came back to me: “Hang in there. The playing gets more fun. You will feel like playing at some point.” Being in the cool of the shade of the backyard on the first warm day of the year, grinning at my two-(going on three)- year- old, I could see that Promised Land ahead, if I weren’t there already.

The mom I had lunch with rolled her eyes when I asked if her two angels ever, ahem, had a tantrum. “Uh, like this morning,” she laughed. I decided we should be best friends and have a mom group where everyone had to wear the ugliest bridesmaid dress they still kept in their closet.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, a totally random video of our visit to the Galleria Mall at Tyson’s Corner, VA.

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