Thursday, January 5, 2012

What I Am...

I play with dolls all day. I also play with large-piece puzzles, coloring books, I run a mean game of chase, and I can throw together an impressive meal from a pink plastic shopping cart filled with wooden food. This is, mostly, my work.

Of course you know. Of course you understand. I expect many of you live here too. But do you respect this? Do you see this as real work? Is this a job that deserves credence, credibility, and admiration?

I ask 'you' but really I mean ME. Today, playing actively with my daughter in front of a woman about to head to her academic job, I felt- embarrassed. I thought, what is she thinking of me right now? No, that's not true. I assumed what she might be thinking. I assumed there was amusement, a little sympathy, pity, perhaps a touch of contempt. This is how she spends her day? This fulfills her?


Well, yes. Of course. This is my child. Spending my time with her is fulfilling, enriching. Mostly.

Of course I have other passions. Doing this- one word after the other, watching a page fill up- in a flow, it thrills me. I love it. I stopped caring if anyone reads it. Currently, I'm not even concerned with content or rhythm, simply the exercise of putting one word after the other, flexing these muscles again after a season of dormancy. This is a passion for me.

I have always said, I could read forever. I could read away most of everyday, probably everyday, and never mind the scenery around me never changing. Look at this book! Look at these words! Look at these thoughts, these ideas. Breathe them in.

What might, in olden days be called domestic work interests me. Not cleaning so much. Ask anyone who's been to my house. Ask my parents. But cooking, knitting, learning about a garden, there are little delights here.

And most of my day is motherhood. And most of my devotion given is playing. Most of my day is on the floor, shifting around, holding some small inanimate object- a doll, a stuffed animal or maybe the flat one-dimensional puzzle piece Dory's given life and personality and breath to by bringing it into her game- and speaking in funny voices. I play 'baby', I play 'mommy,' I play 'Dory,' I play her best friend 'Lily,' I play 'daddy.' She wants them all in there and I mostly oblige.

For reasons I will not go into now, it is important to me that Dory be home, that she's been home with me these last few years. We have worked- oh we have worked- to make that a possibility. I do, actually, work even now, a nanny-for-hire, you might say, taking her with me, as watching another person's child affords me the luxury to spend time with my own.

Yet even as I feel inspired to this, I work to value it. I learn to see this time as worthwhile. I learn to regard our interactions, her play, as important. I write these words as no lecture, no higher ground attained, simply a message of what I hope to one day know. Here is the divine understanding I hope to reach: being with my child is important. Playing with my child is important. So much happens right now, on this subterranean level, bits and pieces of a soul and character and spirit taking shape. I will only know the fruits of this labor, and even then only a fraction of them, after she is grown and gone.

Louise Hay's affirmation today feels fitting: My life is a mirror. The woman, academician from earlier, the one trying to convince herself to head to work, the one openly dreading getting into her office, she is nothing more than a mirror. Her thoughts? Her assumptions? All mine.

I am only reaching, working, trying to remember: my child is important.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Writing some thoughts about the New Year tonight, I realized, unintentionally, I made a Mother's New Year's Resolution list. Without going into details, in my mind I held a conversation about my parenting style with another mother. In fact, I asked her (again entirely in my mind but in preparation for a conversation where we might be working together and would need to be clear and open about how we mother) about her parenting. Reading through a few questions, I turned the spotlight on myself. How do I handle these things? Sharing, hitting, saying 'please' and 'thank you,' ideas like 'time-out.'

Lately, I haven't considered these ideas so much. Do you know what happened? Dory turned three. Almost six months ago, she turned three, and a shift occurred. A maturity blossomed that once was not there (or I had not seen). Interacting, play, coming and going, it all got easier. Her verbal skills soared. Her understanding (to my mind) expanded. Her interest in cooperation, with me, her dad, her friends, exploded. Everything got so much easier, pretty quickly.

Suddenly, I could whisk this girl, who once balked passionately at her car seat, into the car, go see a friend, then back in the car, off to the market, then back in the car and home again with little or no trouble. In, out, in, and out. You know, the way we're supposed to breathe. Easily.

Parenting a three-year-old started to feel more like what I expected all along. In only a few years, I whipped between loving parenting to rueing the day I decided it would be 'fun' to have a baby. I loved babyhood. I loved long nursing sessions, lots of eye contact, using slings and backpacks, cloth diapers. It felt right, I felt right, it felt good.

Then, somewhere around fifteen or sixteen months, this little person became to emerge from the round, sleepy baby I knew. This person with clear feelings, strong confidence and precious few communication skills. The tantrums! The refusal to cooperate or work together. Who was this kid, a protestor from the 60's reincarnated? How did she know to go limp in just that way, that dragging an unmoving toddler was nearly impossible, incredibly tiring, and mostly infuriating? I felt a lot of battle happening between us, I held a great deal of fear about responding poorly. Parenting materials became my only occupation. I read, listened to and watched anything I could get my hands on, anything a friend recommended, a litany of material that I rarely retained the details of but well recalled the feeling and intention to. And to respond to a willful, determined, confident (all characteristics I wanted to see her maintain) baby-toddler, I strove to be more patient, thoughtful, and compassionate.

Continue for about one and a half years. And then three. Three came and It. Got. Easier.

And perhaps, at least a little, I took that for granted. Looking over this random list I jotted down, I realized, I might pick up the ball, get back in the game with a little more gusto.

It's a long and rambling list, but I thought I would share a few ideas here.

1. I want to remember to listen to her. To hear and consider her request. To take her opinions seriously and to remember she is a part of her growing-up too.

2. I want to say 'no' less. When I say 'no', I want to remember, and to say to her, "I am saying 'no' to this request, not to you. I always feel 'yes!' to you.'

4. I would like to be, more often, the mother I want her to remember. The mother who took time to listen to her stories, the mother who did one thing at a time well, the mother who took care of herself, the mother who had time for others and interest in what happened to those around her. I want her to remember a mother who was untidy, had too much clutter and too many un-done 'to-dos' but was present with the people in her life. I want her to remember a mother who made missteps (many, many missteps) but did her best to do better. I want her to remember a mother who laughed far more often than she worried, who found humor more than often stress.

A light list, huh? Should be able to check it off in about a week or maybe a lifetime...

Still, nothing like a list to retrain my focus and remind me of what I have. And it surprised me to realize, even as I wrote this, how appreciative I am of what being a parent means to me. Yes, motherhood can incite the worst in me, the short-temper, impatience, anger, frustration. Yet so often, Dory's very presence seems to pull or to summon, or to demand the best I have to give.