For You, Mom

 

Mother's Day Nosegay, ©amomnextdoor, 2014

Mother’s Day Nosegay, ©amomnextdoor, 2014

I have spent the past four Mothers’ Days alone with my children, while Mr. Banks was away on business. Every year, I have wondered if he would remember what day it was, following a foreign calendar all the way across the world. Every year, I have stepped into the bountiful garden we have grown together, and seen the flowers he had already given me. So I would pick myself a Mother’s Day bouquet, and then send those flowers to you, honored mothers of my life. At some point later in the day, the doorbell would ring, and Mr. Banks would deliver his love for me, from all the way across the world, in yet another fragrant extravagance of flowers.

California is facing a serious drought this year. We ended winter with just 5% of our usual annual rainfall, and by the end of spring had only edged up to 30%. We have decided not to water our garden this year. Out here in the valley, our garden needs irrigation from Spring to Fall Equinox in order to truly thrive. We’ve had just enough rainfall to bring out the blooms and the grass. Now we get to watch everything die. It makes spring flowers that much more precious, when we’re unable to artificially extend the growing season with imported water.

I noticed the Mother’s Day bouquet really changed in character this year. Usually I end up with armfuls of giant blooms, and still have flowers left in the garden to enjoy. This year harvested every single stem, and ended up with this little nosegay. The flowers are different, too. Instead of roses and tulips and lilies, I’m getting the self-seeders–forget-me-nots and bachelor’s buttons and carnations–and the hardy perennials. It will be interesting to let our garden go back to what it was meant to be, to start over on the canvas nature intended for this region. To tend my little corner of climate change. And still find flowers, for you, for Mother’s Day.

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A Mother’s Day

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11:00 p.m., Mother’s Day Eve–I creep into my children’s bedroom to take my son’s temperature as he sleeps. He tosses his head irritably away from the thermometer, but I still get a read. 101.7, down from 102.5. According to Tripit my Fictional Husband is about to board a preposterously tiny plane from Frankfurt to Dusseldorf, so it’s down to me if the fever spikes. Still, I think it’s safe for me to go to sleep at last.

4:00 a.m., Mother’s Day–Dink dink dink dink thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk. The Birthday Girl comes scattering into my room, followed closely by her big brother. We all cuddle for a little bit in the big bed, then I lead & carry them back to their beds. I know I’m going to need my sleep for 1-2 sick children, wide awake in just a few more hours. I tuck them in and lay with my hot boy until he falls back asleep.

(I find out later that he had woken up scared in the middle of the night, crying. Me sound asleep at the other end of the house. “What did you do?” I ask. “I called for my sister. She woke up and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I told her I was scared to go through the dark house. She said, ‘Come on, I’ll take you.'” And so the three-year old led the six-year old safely through the frightful night.)

6:00 a.m. The Birthday Girl totters into my bedroom, crawls up in bed with me, and falls promptly back to sleep. She’s too tired from night duty to even cuddle.

6:45 a.m. Agent 006 is back. He comes in loud, in his hands a homemade card. I’m so touched I just hold it and gaze at him, stroking his arm, now thankfully a bit cooler. Finally he says, “Cards open, you know!” so I sheepishly open the card. It’s double-layered, one page from my son and the other from my daughter, facilitated by the babysitter who’s been taking care of our kids since she was twelve and is going off to college at the end of the summer.

We read the card together, Agent 006 lying next to me for the barest minute. Then he leaps out of bed and my eyes drift closed again. I dream to the metallic clatter and bang of vigorous kitchen activity. A short while later, he comes back in, two bowls sliding precariously on the cookie tray he’s carrying. In one bowl are washed cherry tomatoes. The other bowl has a grapefruit, crookedly sawed in half, each triangle of fruit carefully loosened with the grapefruit knife.

Over a three-way breakfast he narrates making breakfast for me, how he knew I wasn’t eating wheat so he couldn’t make toast, and he couldn’t toast it anyway since he’s not allowed to use anything that makes heat. I love hearing the rambling story of how he arrived at grapefruit–which he could only cut with the grapefruit knife, since he’s not allowed to use other knives unsupervised–and cherry tomatoes for breakfast. Sweetest of all he said,
“At first I thought my fever would ruin Mother’s Day for me because then the mom would have to take care of the kid and it’s supposed to be the other way around, and Mother’s Day only happens once a year! But I got rid of it.”

8:30 a.m. Breakfast entertainment over, facing a long Sunday with a still slightly feverish boy and energetic little girl. Grass is still wet outside, so I start by showing the kids selected shorts from the Ironman movies, just the lab scenes where Tony Stark is inventing or trying out his new suits.

9:30 a.m. Run the hose to the sandbox, where Agent 006 constructs a river and dam in spite of his sister’s interference. I finally get her productively engaged at the outdoor easel. She starts with blue and yellow, and suddenly shouts, “Green!” Her brother overheats, so I set him up inside with a bath and the audiobook The Cricket in Times Square, which we got from the library.

11:30 a.m. Sister joins brother in the bath, mostly for the pleasure of splashing or talking over the story.

11:45 a.m. Two children crying in the bathroom. Agent 006 is cold and miserable. The Birthday Girl is rejected and miserable. Really, they’re both just hungry and I’m late with lunch, instead arranging stems in the annual Mother’s Day garden bouquet.

© amomnextdoor, 2013

© amomnextdoor, 2013

12:00 p.m. Kids gobbling the carrots, hummus, olives and cucumbers I have slapped on their plates while I finish boiling water for pesto tortellini. They are quiet. We are officially halfway through the day.

1:00 p.m. I tuck the Birthday Girl into her bed and set  Agent 006 up on the couch with plenty of blankets and books, hoping that in separate rooms they might both actually sleep. I am the only one who manages to nap, a refreshing 45 minutes of silence in the house–the outer limit of my children’s capacity to control their need to be with me every instant of the day. But their long experience with awakening Tired Grumpy Mama prematurely has actually taught them to enjoy having some down time to themselves, so “Rest Time” is now officially established for the summer and for ever.

3:00 p.m. More movie time. Yep. Again. This time they watch by themselves while I get the audiofile of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban set up on my iPhone, since I’ll no doubt have Agent 006 home from school with me tomorrow, and Cricket will be done by 9:51 a.m. Normally a work day for me, but maybe the sitter can watch both kids here while I barricade myself in the studio to get some needed revisions done on my manuscript.

4:00 Sitter cancels. She’s afraid of fevers.

4:01 We all watch a consolation movie together, Monsters vs. Aliens. I have not previewed this movie, and would prefer that my children had never seen agents entering a secure facility via “butt scan,” but…the homemade popcorn is good.

5:10 We all pile in the car to go get take-out Indian. I have a coupon–the curry will last for days of no cooking. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, both my children put on their shoes and are waiting by the door when I ask them to get ready. I am floored. Cabin fever?

6:30 Back outside after dinner. Agent 006 falling apart and Birthday Girl having a tantrum. Lack of naps is showing all around. I bring the boy inside and tuck him into bed. Tantrum continues outside.

6:32 Sudden silence.

6:33 “Mama?” from outside.

6:33 Two large soft poops on patio by easel. I lead a dismayed and distressed three-year old inside to the potty.

6:35 Both children brushing their teeth, in bed.

7:00 Agent 006 laments his day as I snuggle with him in bed. “That was my worst Mother’s Day ever! We couldn’t do anything fun because I was sick.” “Well, I had fun,” I tell him. “Really? What made it fun for you?” he asks, genuinely surprised and relieved. “I think it was fun because we all just did whatever we needed to do in that moment.” My son feels the truth of this in his body, which relaxes against mine. I kiss his brow and climb into bed with the Birthday Girl. She hooks her hand around my bicep to draw me closer. I feel her eyelashes on my collarbone. She rubs her feet together against my shins, just the way I rub my own feet together to soothe myself to sleep. (Note to self: Cut children’s toenails tomorrow.) “I love you,” I whisper. “I love you, too,” she whispers back. “Happy birthday.”

It has been a good day.

 

Climbing Out of the Past

Photo by Paul Downey

Photo by Paul Downey

We were talking about fathers, and their legacies. I told her that I have recently discovered my purpose in life: to end the abuse of my past with me, to let none of it creep forward into the generations of my children and their children. Abuse has that way of climbing out of the past. Its shadows creep over every relationship, tainting them with roles and expectations never chosen. My friend worried aloud about a young woman she knew, bullied by her husband. She wondered what she could tell this young woman, how to change the course of her marriage, how to change her life. I began thinking about my younger self, and what I would have told her if I could reach back across time. Continue reading

The Mother’s Day That Didn’t Happen, and the One That Did

Happy Mother’s Day to all you goddesses out there! Here’s a little something I wrote last year when my Husband was on a business trip for the entire week of Mother’s Day. Rereading this was a glad reminder that as hard as it gets, Five-and-Two is effortless compared to Four-and-One. If you’re in the thick of it, one of those ambitious mothers who had two or three in a row to get all the diapers out of the way at once, it will get easier! May your day be simple and blessed with what is most precious and nourishing to you.

May 8, 2011

Well, I didn’t get enough sleep last night, that’s for sure, and I certainly didn’t get to sleep in. It was already 11 p.m. when I finally got the house pieced back together last night, and although my fourteen-month old only woke up to nurse twice—and the cat only once insisted on being let out—my toddler believes, like many roosters, that sunup should be the beginning of everyone’s day. And since my DH is still in Dusseldorf, there was no one else to take the baby.

In retrospect, those sacred morning moments alone with my daughter were some of the most peaceful of my day. Because as soon as my four-year old son made his appearance, she screamed in complete disapproval, and immediately made a bid for the entire occupation of my lap at the top of her lungs.

This continued, continuously, all morning.

Continue reading

Me! Two!

I cannot see your face in the mirror.

Standing behind you at the porcelain sink,

I lean forward so my arms circle you.

Your hair tickles my collarbone.

The green stool is pushed too far under the basin’s edge—

your feet balance precariously on its very back, heels in the air.

But you pushed that stool into place yourself, so I say nothing.

I carefully watch the edges of your scrunched up sleeves as you stretch for the faucet’s stream of water to make sure the water doesn’t creep up your arms,

soak your cuffs. You probably wouldn’t care,

but I learned handwashing from your brother, who always did.

If I put my hands below yours under the water you don’t mind.

Otherwise you say “Me!” and push back against me with your shoulders.

I turn off the tap, give you your soap first.

Lavender fills the small room.

Dissatisfied with your lather

you present your hands to me, thrusting them forward into mine.

I hold your right hand in my right,

your left in my left.

Neither of us speaks.

No sound but the soap as it slips and pops and slows the circles of my thumbs—

mesmerizing circles.

I don’t think about teaching you the right way to wash your hands:

the number of seconds, the length of the ABC song,

sequence of fingernails and wrists.

I feel your small hands submitted to mine like an offering—

slices of mango laid reverently on an altar,

a candle lit beneath a photograph.

These small hands that came into the world curled up under your chin,

remained that way for months

before you reached out to the world,

before you learned to push a flat palm out to say Back!

Stop! Or with a slight flick,

aWay!

Slow bubbles over your upturned palms

One fingernail cut crooked to leave a tiny triangle on one side

scratching at my skin as I massage the tips of your fingers the way I would knead your father’s scalp or rub my  mother’s feet

Thread my fingers gently between yours, softly separating them, not too far apart

Your head turns back and forth to watch my fingertips intently

palpate one hand, then the other.

Soap casts its spell over us both,

and for as long as you are willing

has the power to stop time,

here at two.

Ten Things She Can Do For Herself: Apologize (less)

Part I: Apologize (Less)

I still recall with great tenderness the woman I became upon the arrival of my firstborn. Suddenly dependent, physically limited by recovery from birth, exhaustion and my inexperience with the quotidian tasks of caring for a newborn, hormonally irrational, new in my marriage…this fragile woman had none of the competence or independence by which I defined myself professionally for so many years. Yet, in those first two weeks before I slipped on some Baby Blues and skidded into a downward spiral of post-partum depression and marital confusion, I had a laugh like none other. My newborn son, belly to belly with me, delighted in the great rolling laughter that shook through his mama from her breath to her bones.

I still have days when I feel like I have lost my smile. A grimness settles over me when I know I have deeply failed my children. I recently read that having a reason to rage does not give me the right. I know this. But there are days when I still do not know what to do with the rage that overwhelms me when my children choose escalation and I can’t unstick the conflict. I’m not Cast-Iron-Skillet crazy, but I can tell from the look in my children’s eyes that even Get-to-Your-Room-Now-and-Stay-There-So-Help-Me! disturbs and intrigues them in ways I would prefer not to repeat. They simply don’t realize what I am trying to save when I-Have-Had-Enough! Continue reading