January 2012

Post 45.

Once upon a time, I used to be a lyricist. i even dabbled in a lil storytelling. i used to spend hours coming up with words that rhymed across multiple syllables. poems were simply experiments in making flesh from the rib of a single sound, phrase or idea. i was the kind of girl who used to make up stories.

just give me three words, any three off the top of your head: fish, blue, german.

i’d come up with an on-the-spot story about a fish that lived in the tobago waters, who learned german from all the tourists who came to bathe in the sea, who began to have conversations about declensions with a corbeaux who, against all assumptions about corbeaux, used to fly to venezuela just to hear the rustling of trees in a true true jungle and who learned spanish from the pink dolphins who liked to laugh by the river banks. corbeaux would sit on the maracas coconut trees and whisper in different tenses to the blue crab, who’d scuttle back and forth to the ocean, and translate to the fish. in this way, when all three met ziya one day at the beach, they each taught her about tobago reefs and river mammals and moonlight runs across the sand, but because no one would believe that birds, crabs and fish could talk to little humans with curly hair, they told her to keep their stories a secret. that’s how she first learned what a secret was, first in spanish, then in german. and when mummy asked her how she came to know those strange words and what they meant, ziya just acted like she had a gundy, and as the crab showed her to do, she put it to her lips. then she made a funny face like a fish and pretended to fly away, fooling the silly adults into thinking that she was suddenly discovering her child’s imagination.

maybe this is what happens when you survive the first year. you begin to find again the parts of yourself that you lost in the deep wilderness of utter exhaustion. you begin to hear your voice breathing lightly in your chest and tickling your ear. you remember you loved words, stayed awake at night twisting in sheets of poetry, rested your head on the softness of stories, dreamed of pens chasing letters across recycled pages that floated out from the bedside table.

on those few nights when i defer overdue reading or i fall behind on keeping up with world news, sometimes the words return like distant friends, and i feel a little like an old self, from a lifetime ago, before motherhood, saving for a mortgage, staying on top of work emails, and managing the negotiations of marriage. those words actually, incredibly, make me feel young, light, happy. i had thought maybe they were gone, from a past time when i had more time and less adulthood. but these last few days, as i’ve started making up stories to put ziya to bed, i’ve caught glimpses of them in between the curtain shadows that fall across the crib. all of a sudden, zi has begun to discover words and so, in the midst of the blur of motherhood, it seems like i’ve kind of rediscovered a bit of myself that has nothing to do with her but has found an opening to emerge anew. in this way, the rhymes return shyly, slipping in with the cool night wind.

it’s a bit cheesy, i know. but what else can one do sitting in the dark, when you don’t want to turn on the light to read because it will distract her and saying ‘put your head on the pillow’ another time just means she puts her head down but keeps her bum up, and then pops up her head again a minute later to answer ‘up’ to your ‘down’, in that endless game you can’t win. when the youtube videos and universal children’s songs and lights are off, when you want just a tinkling brook to shhh her to sleep, you tell little stories, you make up mother’s songs. you remember that mummy once hoped to be poet and so has words hidden in every chamber of her heart.

i like to sing to her: little ziya, don’t be afraid, mummy loves you, dadday loves you, don’t be afraid. all your hurts and all your hungers, will go away. when we come to your rescue, no troubles remain. all your tears and any fears that darken your way. we are here to care for you so none of them stay. little ziya, let your light shine through day and night. have no worries because everything is alright. little ziya, live in the moment, let the past go. there is a future, that is waiting for you to grow.

and we’ve started to practice words together: goodnight trees, goodnight sky, goodnight stars, way up high. goodnight clouds, goodnight moon, goodnight animals, see you soon. goodnight rivers, goodnight seas, goodnight birds and goodnight bees. mummy, daddy i love you. goodnight world that needs love too. sweet dreams all when you close your eyes, it’s time to sleep, farewell until sunrise.

and you know, it works. i hear her humming in this high pitch like a little mosquito, with some tune she’s still making up to match the one she’s hearing. she hasn’t started to sing the words yet, but she listens. and she knows the cadence of a story even if she doesn’t know how it starts or where it ends. but the words will come to her, hopefully waterfalling into songs and stories, and loving experiments with rhymes and life, just as they are coming yet again to me.

post 44.

this sunday i had the kind of day i struggle hard to defend. and it was worth it.

saturday was spent zooming to san fernando, first through traffic and then rain. first, i had manically put together a food bag for zi, cooking pasta and veges, packing the very necessary crix supplies, bananas, grapes etc. i say manically because these days i do everything manically and because, shockingly, a friend had agreed on the spur of the moment to accompany us in case i needed another driver so i could feed or breastfeed zi on the way. i couldn’t make the trip alone, but needed to go. i tell you, mothers need their social networks. jah bless sistren.

anyway, after all that effort, zi ate none of my food and lived off crix, grapes and banana virtually from 11 am to 5 pm. this stressed me out, no, left me feeling guilty to no end. i have a hard time with the food business. i was such a terrible eater as a kid, i have no idea how my mother stayed sane (or if), but she’s worse at the guilt stuff than me so i’m sure it made her feel terrible too.

zi has been eating badly for almost three weeks now. not so badly that she’s not perfectly fine. just not well or at all between breakfast and dinner. and the straw was the doctor reminding me that she can look fine and still be mineral deficient if all she is eating is eggs, bread and oats. hence the ital pasta and vegetables cooked with love. when she has bad meals, i feel like somehow its my fault. it’s the food or the timing. it’s cause i work so i’m not around to establish a regular schedule, looked after as she is between my mother, my helper, myself and stone on different days. it’s cause i work so i’m not around. it’s cause i’m tired and low on patience. or because we’ve been on the road at odd hours or by someone who is giving us food later than i expected or in forms zi doesn’t like. or something. it’s generalized, obviously misplaced guilt, solely based on my sense of full responsibility for her, a little human being who can’t articulate what’s going on, whose need to eat, sleep, learn and laugh is in my hands, who i chose to bring into the world.

i guess i’m still getting used to the ups and downs of motherhood, and i’ve discovered that ubiquitious, irrational, seemingly-unending thing that is so hard to understand until you experience it: mother’s guilt. that thing mothers may still carry even when they have no responsibility for your life anymore. i get it. i’m not sure i like it. i don’t think i want it. but, i’ve met it.

so saturday i felt bad that i dragged zi to San do, throwing off who knows what factors that might have made for that good lunch which has been rare in the last weeks. thankfully she slept the entire way back so there were no crazy-hungry-and-simultaneously-sleepy highway scenes but i still racked my brain to assess how i could have done things differently and still got things done. in the end, i knew there was nothing else i could do. but i still felt bad at the increased sum of mineral deficiency from the additional missed lunch.

but sunday i stayed home. i manically did all my household stuff while she slept on her daddy’s chest. i napped. i spent the whole day with her. we ate on time. it wasn’t rushed. it wasn’t on the road. it wasn’t at someone else’s place. it wasn’t before we had to get somewhere on time. it wasn’t before i left for or returned from work. and, for who knows what reason (well zi may know, but she’s not at sentences yet), it worked. i covered the pasta, veges, mushrooms, everything with a little cheese, put on youtube videos, sang and she ate. and i felt good.

the eating/ guilt thing is obviously a stand in for the tension i feel trying to make maximum time for both my work and my baby, and knowing she’s losing out on the non-scheduled or flexibly-scheduled interaction that can be attentive, responsive, timely and successful. so, on weekends, as much as i can, i try not to book anything so i’m not seeing her only in between that, not to have to go somewhere so her whole day gets organized around that ETA, not to be rushed or pre-occupied or meeting anyone else’s expectation about what i should be doing. as i give full days to work, i try to give zi her due days, her rightful hours of undivided labour and love in the domestic familiarity and stability of home. someone with a different job could do it differently. i’m not sure i have another choice i’d feel good about.

sunday reaffirmed that mothering – and for me feminist – commitment, its joys and sense of fulfillment, its ability to give you the time, space and chance to get things right. at home by ourselves that day, in the rain-fresh glow of afternoon, we walked around the yard, with her in a sling on my back, touching flowers, smelling bay leaf, making shadows and discovering birds overhead. it was magic. then, we meandered inside and sat down together to eat.

it’s so small, so silly, but i felt like the best mom in the world to her knowing that, at that moment, she knew i was just hers, she was laughing and loving the mushrooms and beans i cooked for her myself, and after a great meal, there’d be snuggling seemingly without end if only for that one day.

Post 43.

What a grueling year! And it’s only day 16. With tenure ahead, I’ve been working like a maltreated donkey, spending 10-6 in the office, going home to see about Ziya, and then starting to work again, after she’s gone to bed, from 9-11 or midnight. And of course, Zi’s still up close to four times in the night, Goddess alone knows why.

Each time I think I know what exhaustion is, I learn more about just how penetratingly deep it can go…and you still have to get up in the morning and go to work…and you still have to be nice to your baby, despite the fact that she doesn’t have a pause button, when you come home. And, yes, in all this, I’m still wondering about having the second one…insane huh?

I tried to find a little nursery for Ziya to begin to attend one or two days a week, to ease up her grandmother whose looking a little peaked these days, and to give me an extra half day at the office, strictly for writing. And here I encountered the vast, undiscovered world of nurseries and pre-schools.

First there was the one I visited on what seemed to be a particularly chaotic day. The very nice Auntie had about eight children, where she normally had four to six. Zi and I went to check out the joint and I admit to wanting to run when the arms, legs, noise, crying, playing, pulling and TV singing-along simultaneously hit me. We have a lot of quiet time in our house. May manna from heaven rain down on those people who spend their days with babies and children. They have more patience than Mandela and they are very, very special people. I, however, am not one of them.

Zi on the other hand, seemed perfectly fine and cruised her way over to a toy which she played with by herself while keeping one hand protectively on me while I chatted with Auntie. At one point, Auntie’s adult daughter, who is autistic, came over and yelled at Ziya, who by the way did not jump as much as I did. The daughter thought Ziya was a girl, which she is, and didn’t react well to her as a new person in her space. We then had to convince the daughter that Ziya was a boy (??) and, despite that, she actually yelled at her twice in a manner that was clearly threatening and conveyed her feelings of being threatened. This was then followed by a stern talking to by her mom, tears from the daughter and further chaos when I tried to say, ‘it’s okay, everything is fine’ to the daughter and thoughtlessly touched her arm all friendly-like, which of course autistic folks often don’t like, provoking another round of intense, up close and rather alarming (at least to me) engagement between mom and daughter.

This doesn’t mean that I didn’t like Auntie. I did, but I still ran out of that place clutching my baby who, while I was there, was offered two small marshmellows by a little girl who had not washed her hands before she started to munch on the bowl of them given to her by her parents. Now you know, I’m not giving Zi marshmellows, and the wash hands thing just made me paranoid about flu, late nights, lost work time, extra doctor’s bills and overall regret that I just didn’t keep her home and take up telemarketing instead of trying to up my publications production. In the end, Auntie wouldn’t take her until she was 17 months, so I reached a dead-end there anyway.

Nursery no. 2 made me realize what goes on to make those parents you hear about want to join the right social clubs or tennis groups, so that their children could get into the schools they want them to. You need a recommendation letter from a parent with a child at the school to even get an appointment for an interview to have your child be considered. This, folks, is not a members club, it’s a day nursery. So, I said, well, I don’t know any parents with children at your school, is there any other way to be considered for an interview? Apparently, not. My mom suggested waiting outside the gate and stalking a parent, again all friendly-like, until I got a recommendation letter. Ever seen that Law and Order episode where a parent eliminates the kids who are before her child on the school’s waiting list? I can see how these places can make you crazy if you are on the edge already. Me? The secretary in my office organized a letter of recommendation from a parent whom I had never met but who had seen me on TV enough to be able to speak to “my background and character” as a parent. Oh yes, indeed. Anyway, that school was all booked and wouldn’t even let me in the door to look around.

Today, I visited two more, but neither would take her before 2 ½. I almost asked one woman today if they regularly steam clean the whole parcel of land, but I stopped myself. Then, I saw the mats for sleepy time and wondered if the same side is always put on the ground or if no one notices which side the baby puts her head on. Oh, the swimming pool with twelve at a time! As South Park said about the ph balance, is it all ‘p’ and no ‘h’? Anyway, I got numbers for two more who take babies from a few months on….so the search continues….though the more I look the more I’m secretly glad we’ve got her safe at home….regardless of what happens with my publications.

Post 42.

This year I am starting my second year as a working mother. It’s been both surreal and real. On the one hand, miraculous and awesome and heart-bursting. On the other, exhausting, challenging and daunting.

I took a moment to ask my sistren what their ‘resolutions’ were for this year. Maybe not resolutions, but thoughts or goals or plans or visions to mark the present, to improve their lives and stretch their reach, to articulate dreams that remain vital, and value each moment of the future. I know what I need to do, but I know such amazing women that there is always so much to learn from them, whether they are starting new degree programmes or looking for the right commune to live in or planning babies, being the shepherd to those they know need tending or just remembering to make time for themselves in the midst of their responsibilities.

One of these women said that her goal was to practice ‘fasting of the heart’, learning to live with less and be happy. Another’s was to walk with an open heart, learning an ability to look beyond what she knows and expects, to see a potential in that beyond. Both were beautiful and inpiring ideals.

My goal this year is of course to somehow get more writing done and more publications out, to be willing to be less good at other things so that I find more time. As I was saying to a friend, my new motto at work is f**k students, admin, emails, whatever…I. Am. Writing. Blessedly, she suggested instead saying ‘I’ll get back to you on that’, which is what she’s going to be saying at her academic post on the other side of the world. This is why you need friends, to remind you about tact when the going gets tough.

Aside from the writing though, what is clearly ahead of me is balance. I’ve known that balance is at the centre of my path since my ‘anew’ ritual with Elspeth and Hebe in January 2009. It replaced focus and discipline, and signalled that it was time for a new cycle to open. I’m aiming for balance in mothering Ziya, spending time with Stone, publishing, making time for my own needs and creativity, seeing my friends enough for them to know I care, and doing what little I can to continue to support feminist struggle. I am aiming to accept that maybe I can’t give 95% as I would have before, but that 70% may get me by and ensure both sustainability and sanity.

Somehow, no matter how I arrange it, things slip. The small things that slip might be appointments I completely forget about or reference letters I can only get out 5 days later than I hoped or the emails I just don’t get to. The big things are all the million things I’d be doing with my time, learning a language or doing yoga or hiking, but which have been squeezed out by that family-work nexus. Mostly, I lose time with friends, but I also lose space for real creativity and, increasingly, I’m being forced to cut back on activism. All I can do about that is sigh and tell myself that life is about phases and stages, and that this too will pass.

So this year is about words and love, balance and acceptance, single-minded focus and the instinct to know when to let go. This is the real part, always defined by the challenge to continue to see the magic in it all.