January 28, 2013
Adulthood isn’t what I thought it would be. Somehow I expected that getting here would mean being more clear and certain about anything than I’ve ever been and knowing exactly what the right thing to do is in all circumstances. Obviously, that’s not the case. Folks older than me might wonder at how I could hold such a commonplace misconception, but maybe they have forgotten that life lessons are learned in stages, and you can’t arrive before your time.
Youthful certainties about many things seem far away now. It was so much easier to be twenty years old and sure. On the one hand less disdainful than our parents and on the other more judgmental of human failures as well as falls through the cracks between black and white. I guess the more you have to forgive your daily mistakes and accept your decisions is the more you come to appreciate that the adults you thought should have known the answers were, in fact, just doing their best and being manifestly human.
‘Wait until you become a parent’, parents like to say and, of course, they are right. Nothing makes you finally learn patience with parents’ idiosyncrasies and fallibility like hoping that, one day, your own children will love you for whoever you are and whatever you have done even if you could have done better or differently at any number of moments in their life. You realize that beneath a surface of surety is an ocean of imperfection, making you only human too.
Ironically, it’s at that point that real connection with others comes. Your interactions are not directed by ideologies or ideals, but by greater understanding and compassion. We may expect logic or consistency, correct responses, moral high-ground and even a willingness to grow as needed, but what we do and what we get just is. It’s powerful stuff, getting to an age when, as neither youth nor elder, you are the most in control of your life as you will ever be and, yet, are immersed in the fullness of the world, the complexity of relationships and the depths of emotions which all provide rock-hard knowledge as well as ever unstable ground.
People – us, our parents and our children – can only try to keep our heads above water as life ebbs and flows in every direction. Forget black and white, all is shifting waves of in-between. Growing up is full of messy, contradictory opportunities to discover and practice clarity and, hopefully, multiple permutations of good intention, personal responsibility and thoughtful love.
Maybe there are no right answers, only the best you can do in the moment given what you are now discovering and what you already know. Maybe the things I am now discovering, about motherhood or marriage, womanhood, work or age, are no longer worth conversation amongst those who have been here long before, but every generation must discover for itself the experience and wisdom to which elders have grown accustomed. We need to hear, but also to feel.
Welcome to adulthood indeed. Give thanks.
January 21, 2013
After two years of no extra time and no sleep, I’ve been compelled to start looking after myself again. I’ve been up at dawn every morning to do yoga and meditate so that, before attending to Zi or anybody, I’ve put on my oxygen mask first, to use an airplane analogy.
I’m on the patio at 6am, ready to rejuvenate. I start to breathe. Three breaths in, Zi begins to bawl like an ambulance siren in the bedroom. Stone has been working all night on Bunji’s Differentology remix so I run in to grab her and bring her outside with me. An older woman, mother to four big adults and grandmother of one, sagely told me not to make it a problem, Zi will see me doing yoga and try to follow and all will be well.
I put her on the step in front of me with her chocolate rice milk. She gets upset that I’m using ‘her’ yoga mat and starts declaring, ‘it’s my mat, mummy, nooo!’ Thus, all stops while I explain that we have to share. Naturally, she insists she wants to sit on the mat ‘to share’.
Back to breathing. She spills the entire contents of the cup on the mat and knocks over her bowl of cashews too. I can only think angry, non yogic thoughts at this point and I’m looking at Zi without sympathy while she complains that her bum bum is dripping chocolate milk.
Five minutes later, she is sitting in dry clothes on a second mat.
I put her at the top of ‘our’ new mat, allowing me majority. I begin to breathe. ‘No, mummy! I want to sit in the middle!’ she insists. ‘Mummy can’t exercise if you are in the middle Zi,’, I move her back. Well, that back and forth – literally – involved a lot of flailing, kicking and protest. You can understand why at this point I’m centred and calm.
I pull my ace and threaten to put her in the crib and leave her there until I am done. I’m exercising zero tolerance about fussing, crying and tantrums, except for the kinds I’m clearly getting very close to myself. ‘I stop, I stop,’ she says as I start to haul her inside.
Back to breathing. She’s playing with her car. I’m doing sun salutations. I’m flowing into ‘upward dog’, lifting my heart to the sky, she’s climbed on my back to ride me like a maltreated Coney Island donkey. I try to breathe. I cannot. I get her off and explain again that I’m exercising. I start again, she grabs my leg like it’s the only thing holding her to earth and says, ‘I’m hugging you, mummy, I’m loving you up’.
I did not, at this point, think ‘awww’. I thought other, darker, non-parental thoughts. I try again, this time getting her to count while I go through the sequence. That works. We count. I breathe and stretch. Then, we sit and do Buddhist chanting while I rock her in my lap and clap her hands, trying to imagine myself filled with light, gratitude and peace. It’s wonderful and happy. ‘Mummy, I want to tootoo’, she says halfway through. Meditation? I can only take one big deep breath, feel grateful for the challenges and lessons the light of my life brings and find peace in the little I can accomplish before I make a mad dash into the day.
January 10, 2013
In marriage, trust is more fragile than glass and can break even without a fall, just from the pressure of being held without gentle care. Every decision counts from the words you chose not to say as you work out differences, disappointments and conflict to the effort it takes to continue to appreciate the person who blends with you into the mundane workings of your household. It’s easy to both forget to give time to communication and to let miscommunication build like dust in the corner, from sheer neglect.
Between jobs, traffic, chores and children, two people can fall into routines that enable them to manage everything plus exhaustion, but not much more. The emotional investment from the first years and the heady passion from the youth of a partnership can unnoticeably disperse like mist disappearing on a Santa Cruz morning. It’s ironic, the more you need someone and the more they meet that need is the more you can take them for granted, assuming that they will always be there to fill that role you assigned them and expect from them, as if you too are not changing everyday and constantly renegotiating who you are in relation to yourself, the world and love.
Coming from parents who did not stay married, I used to romanticize life-long marriages but as I’ve come to appreciate the complexities and considerations of commitment, I’ve come to see the cracks, silences, trappings and compromises of marriages in addition to their achievements. Relationships, even tried and true ones, are only, humbly, works in progress. All you can do is your best and hope that less than your best won’t cause hurt you can’t heal. All you can hope is that you know what the right thing to do is when it matters and that you do it with respect, responsibility and regard in your heart.
Consequences are out of our control, but choice, like trust, is entirely in our hands. Like all humans in all relations, mistakes or even decisions that are not mistakes but which compel fresh meditation and reckoning will be made. There are always signs, sometimes in the form of conversations or experiences or people, to help you still your mind, search for a way that feels right and remember this too will pass.
What does all this mean for love? Even in marriages, relationship to love is not static. How you understand love, what you want from it, who you want it from, what you are willing to do or not for it, what sacrifices you are willing to make and why, and what significance it holds in your life all change, sometimes quickly and momentously, sometimes imperceptibly and unconsciously. You can’t make assumptions about anything with anyone, even if you live with them everyday. It’s important to ask before the answers slip away from the possibilities of conversation.
In each look, each breath, each touch and each interaction, it’s important to know why you are there and whether you can be there in the way that you promised. If things are still good, make gratitude your practice. If not, this is simply another moment when the universe gives you a chance to choose. What happens then is just life, adulthood and growth, however hard that molting of old for new skin feels.
January 9, 2013
It’s a choice that has taken two years to make, but it feels like the decision of a lifetime. Mothers of children numbering anywhere from four to fifteen will no doubt look askance at my inability to manage it all as Caribbean women have always done, with a handful of pickneys milling around their skirts, and a world to get on with it and carry on their shoulders.
I’ve decided not to have any more children. Zi will be an only child.
That is not a bad thing, I know lots of happy only-children and lots of folks with siblings who nonetheless should take up several years of therapy, but I know from conversations over the last two years that lots of people – often other mothers – think it’s selfish to not have more children, that it’s better for a child to have siblings and that even if the first two years are hard, it gets exponentially easier as time goes on.
I don’t know what finally and only recently enabled me to make this decision. Maybe it was the fact that, now two years old, Ziya is finally beginning to be seriously fun, to be able to carry on full conversations, and to be less dependent and exhausting than before. Maybe it was just that I reached a cumulative point of tiredness, from being awoken on average three times a night for two years, that made me feel I just could not go through it again.
In another world where I didn’t have a full time job or just had a different job, I’d have another baby mostly just to give Zi company and family throughout her lifetime. In another world where I was 28 and not 38 or where my husband wanted any children at all and felt able to manage not only one but two or where we had already paid for our house instead of still having to save to get a mortgage. In another world where Zi had been a baby who slept at night or where we lived in more than a one-bedroom house or where my mom was able to cope better than she can. In another world, I’d make another decision, but this is my world and I’ve come to terms with its realities and what they mean for me.
In my heart, I feel like Stone, Zi and I could be a really tiny, happy unit together. I could jump on a plane and take her to see whales in St. Lucia and it would be easier than managing two kids on my own. Stone could develop the relationship that I see slowly blossoming and clearly come to love the bond he has with Zi. Zi could spend nights by any of the aunties who love her already and who would, as much as they love me, be less likely to take two of my kids instead of just one. The entire army of people who must be mobilised, my mom and her helper, my husband and our helper, and me, could maybe not be on call all the time. I could find the balance I am slowly rediscovering, a balance that enables me to meditate in the morning, do the academic and activist work I am committed to, explore all the creative potential I’ve let go of over the last few years, and enjoy my relationship with Stone as we both get older. I feel like we could be happy now and later if we just recognised that this is right for us rather than embarking on a path that meant we’d have to survive two or three years of tired, manic, on-24-hour-shift hell before things settle down again and I feel able to find myself somewhere there inside it all.
This decision makes me realise, not intellectually but in my heart, how personal choices are, how much imperfect contexts and conditions shape the options that seem right at the time, and how much you have to come to terms with the fact that you can only make the best decision for you at that time even if you don’t know how you will feel tomorrow.
This is not the decision I’d make in different circumstances, but after endless thinking, feeling, reflecting and imagining, but I think this is the best decision that I can make for who I am right now and for what I think is right for me. Maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow, but I feel a lot of relief so I don’t think so. I feel bad about that relief, like if I was a good mother, I’d make the sacrifice for Zi’s sake and with an eye to the future far ahead.
You never know if some decisions are right or wrong until much later. For that reason, motherhood – if it is anything at all – is about continually staying in touch with your own emotional truths and recognising that that may be all you can do in the present.