Mothering Hacks Picked Up Along the Way: Everyday Magic, Day 898

First day home from the hospital

We were exhausted and exuberant when we brought Daniel home from the hospital intensive care following some complications in his birthing center debut. We were also wildly ignorant, especially about what we were wildly ignorant about from the complex and profound, to the ordinary and necessary. So when Joy dropped within hours of us landing at home, just in time to change his diaper, I paid close attention.

We had cloth diapers, what we carefully researched and planned, but for the last week, it was disposable ones. Now it was time. “Let me,” she said, and I studied her every move in folding the diaper and how she inserted the safety pins to avoid sticking herself or him. As soon as she left, I called out to Ken, “I just figured out how to diaper the baby!” He rushed over, “Show me before you forget,” neither one of us having had a clue before she arrived.

This is just the first of thousands of mothering hacks I picked up along the way, which was important because my usual ways of learning things by reading books didn’t work out so well when Daniel was born. My experience of being a mother who suddenly found her baby encased in a plexiglass neo-natal unit box with all manner of tubes coming out of him just didn’t match the pile of books I had read to prepare myself. Then this first child, as he grew into a speeding and singing toddler, continued to defy convention, so much so that I actually ripped up a mothering book into tiny shreds one day out of exasperation.

Instead of books and the conventional wisdom of the day, I found my answers through family and friends to questions such as:

  • “Will he ever sleep through the night?” Answer: “Eventually.”
  • “How do I sleep through the night and still nurse on demand?” Answer: “Put that baby beside you, plug him in when he wakes up, then go back to sleep.”
  • “When should I feed him solid food?” Answer: “When he grabs it off your plate.”
  • “Which daycare, school, and which teacher?” Answer: “This one, and that one.”
  • “Is this when I call the doctor?” Answer: “Not yet,” or “Yes!”
  • “Should I let her join a soccer team just because she wants the trophy?” Answer: “It can’t hurt, and she’ll get good exercise along the way and learn more about teamwork.”
  • “What is this rash?” Multiple answers involving roseola, heat rash, poison ivy, and reaction to insect bites.
  • “How can I make him be a better student?” Answer: “You have no control over what kind of student he’ll be.”
  • “What if she doesn’t want to wear clothes right now?” Answer: “As long as you’re not leaving the house, pick your battles.”
  • “Is it okay to have ice cream for dinner when it’s 100 degrees?” “That’s what I’m doing tonight.”
  • “Am I doing too much or being too controlling?” Answer: “If you have to ask, probably.”
  • “Am I screwing this whole mothering thing up?” Answer: “We all feel that way. You’re doing fine.”
  • “How will we ever get through _____ (fill in the blank)”? “This too shall pass.”
  • Most of all, “Is this normal?” Answer: “Yes,” or “Who the fuck cares!”

Since our oldest son was born close to 28 years ago, I’ve hit the wall on this mothering thing more times than Trump has tweeted. But I’ve had great role models to help me find the path through the bramble, hand me clippers to clear some of the bramble away, or console me on how it’s normal to be very lost on no notice so often. From my own mother, I learned the value of perspective and humor through hundreds of conversations when she burst out laughing, reminding me that kids doing this or that was completely part of the deal, and in time, things shift. From my mother-in-law, I’ve witnessed the power of unconditional love, a good rocking chair, and Shirley Temple videos.

Dixie taught me I could get Forest to sleep by counting backgrounds from 1,000 each night, naming each 10 numbers for one animal (999 sheep, 998 sheep….). Weedle showed me the importance of game nights, and especially the games “Taboo” and “Apples to Apples.” Kat and Nancy exemplified how sharing stories of your wild young adulthood could make your kids rebel by being less dare-devily in the all the worst ways. Kelley told me stories of how her mother gave her freedom to create. Kris reminded me on many a brunch at the Roost how the human brain isn’t fully developed until the kid is at least 25, and when I called her freaking out about my worries about my something my kids did, she shrugged and reminded me how we did crazier shit. Judy listened deeply however long it took. My sister-in-law Karen continually modeled deep generosity and engagement, especially when the child in question feels isolated or confused. My sister Lauren reminded me of the importance of making everyone feel welcome. Victoria laughed with me at the outrageous corners, and helps me tilt whatever worries I have toward greater light. Suzanne demonstrated how essential both adventure and gardening are in a life. There are surely dozens others I could name, but all these women have given me another line or page in the book I’m living on how to be a mother.

So on this Mother’s Day, I’m indebted to all this lantern holders along many a dark path full of ticks, projectile vomiting at 2 a.m., chiggers, overdue library books, sudden immersions into diseases I never knew more than the names of before, listening to the cassette tapes of The Wizard of Oz on many a road trip, late-night trips to the drug store, and a thousand drawings from adoring children who also gift-wrapped forks to show their love. Thank you, and may all of us find such help when we most need it no matter what or who we’re mothering or being mothered by in our lives.

IMG_0984The grass of our lawn is so high that I can’t find our push mower, but since it’s likely broken, what’s the use ? Another thunderstorm pushes toward us, and once again, the humidity soars and the wind picks up energy. All night I dreamt of my dying friend after a weekend that includes many varieties of the wild, the woolly and the too-muchness.

This Memorial Day weekend, I wrote and revised an obituary and memorial service after meeting with my friend’s family, organized some of the tools in the basement, shepherded ingredients for a barbecue to my dying mother-in-law’s house and occasionally tried to get her to engage in almost saying “yes” as she becomes increasingly non-verbal, swam in the too-luscious but also too-warm pool waters with my delightful sister-in-law, hauled a bunch of boxes of broken things to the trash, spent inordinate time on the interwebs to find one great b &b in Kansas City for an overnight escape next week, made mashed potatoes, talked to several people about the close ones dying in our lives, watched videos of otters eating cereal, wrote a letter to a student, swam some more, and entertained bouts of “when-will-this-too-muchness-end?” despite the futility of wondering. I almost cried, almost wrote a poem, almost started a mosaic with newly-found old tiles (nothing like cleaning out the basement), almost finished the top of a new quilt, and almost freaked out (or maybe I actually did that).

There are times when everything grows exponentially from the lawn, to the sourdough starter our son is making, to us, but like most growing pains, it can be crazily confusing, uncomfortable, and over-the-top intense in how long it takes to get footing on new ground. It’s also hard to imagine a day of low humidity, clean-cut grass, and the dying loved ones dead and missed, and what it will be like to walk through that next life. I look out the window for a reminder of how much the scenery changes, one seasonal tilt at a time.

IMG_0947For the last three nights, I’ve been accumulating assorted sizes of plastic containers, sorting 1998 holiday letters and tiny tank fireworks, and tracking tornadoes. “Look at what I did with the boxes of paper on our highway fight and our old baby blankets,” I said to Ken. “Look at the radar,” he answered.  When it’s dark out and the tornadoes tend to be rain-wrapped, such nights mean a lot of time cozying up with half a dozen weather websites.

It’s been a whirl of excessive humidity, insomnia, drawings of monsters from another planet, long-track tornadoes, and rusted ice cream makers. Because of mice and mildew invading our bevy of cardboard boxes, I’ve been putting my hands on all our stored history — from my labor history term papers from 1980 through Ken’s junior high yearbook onward through our kids’ baby announcements that thrilled us, elementary school music programs based on deep surrealism, and college grade cards that depressed us all. Meanwhile, the heat and humidity drenched me in contemporary sweat, Daniel yelled, “Oh my god!” while following live cam storms, and Ken explained to me that the tornado near Harveysville, if it kept going straight, then died its way north just a bit, could wipe out our home.

In between it all, I work a little, guzzle iced coffee, pack up Ken’s teenage ice skates, and return to Target each day to fill the back of the CRV with more purple, blue and gray giant plastic bins that will find a new life holding letters from dead relatives and hundreds of video games that might be worth something in 2070. There’s something very grand and satisfying about putting the pieces of our old signs and wonders into some kind of order, one bin at a time, clearing the first chakra of the house while the big sky of the world remakes itself in its wildest high wind unfoldings.

1395194_10151778218117684_495372906_nA bit over 30 years ago, just a few days before we got married, Ken and I jumped up and down, screaming and hugging each other and a bunch of his cousins in a Kansas City basement. The  Kansas City Royals staged a wild and unlikely comeback to win the 1985 World Series. A few night ago,  when the Royals did it again, we leaped out of our chairs to kiss and jump around, this time in a small cabin in the woods where we went to celebrate our 30th anniversary, but not without buying a radio so we could hear the game. Helluva anniversary gift, and one that’s been making me think about marriage and baseball.

Of course, there’s huge differences. Marriage is not about winners and losers, unless that marriage is not really all about marriage. Marriage isn’t dependent on superstar power, one savior to rescue the game, but then again, neither are the Royals. Baseball is a sport, multi-million-dollar-paycheck business, and it won’t do your dishes or laundry or remind you to change the oil in the car. But both are institutions imbued with certain habits and values:

  • In baseball and marriage, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens, everything happens.
  • Even in the nothing happens moments, there’s a lot of work to be done: throwing yourself into the wall to catch the pop-up, staying up late to resolve the stupid argument about who is more exhausted, and making contact with the ball — whatever is speeding toward us at the moment, even and especially when the pitch is tricky.
  • It almost goes without saying that working together as a team is essential in both enterprises although in marriage, it’s not so much that you’re working together against a common opposition, but for a common proposition.
  • Watching what happens with great awareness, curiosity, care, and tenderness is vital to both. If you screw up, if your partner or teammate screws up, you need to walk it off, work it off, brush it off. That requires a lot of on-the-fly forgiveness: letting go of grudges (even if they resurface later on) and aiming your attention toward what’s possible with all the strength and courage you can muster to make happen right now.
  • Celebrating the wins and mourning the losses — honoring the rituals of the life cycle as they unfold — speak at the core of marriage and baseball although I haven’t (yet) dumped a cooler full of iced Gatorade on Ken.
  • Begin again: while this is the best slogan I know for life, it’s obviously deeply inherent to baseball 12191709_10156164857440484_2573764896691263636_nand marriage. We will completely fuck up in horrendous ways sometimes. We will unwittingly hurt each other out of laziness, fear, anger, or grief. We will forget the one essential ingredient for the big meal and have to go back to town, miss the doctor’s appointment, eat the wrong thing and suffer the consequences, say the worst thing without meaning to, wear the shirt inside out when giving a public presentation, just miss the car in the lane we switched to, and give the wrong directions. Likewise, baseball players will miss the easy catch, strike out all four times at bat in an evening, get nabbed stealing a base, lose it and call the umpire a name that gets them thrown out of the game, say mean things to players on the other team or their own, and do all manner of mistakes. Each game, each day, each inning, each series, each trip into town, each night we crawl into bed exhausted — all are moments we begin again.
  • Comebacks are mysteries, but then again they’re not. My marriage, like any marriage tattered and shined up by many years, has had lows lower than I can fathom, particularly one afternoon many years ago when we were driving through desert in western Colorado, and I was sure this marriage wouldn’t survive this family vacation (then again, we’ve had a lot of lows — and outrageous highs — on family vacations).  But we found our way back to each other and through a morass made of inertia, anger, exhaustion and fear. The Royals have shown us throughout this series improbable comebacks, like the last game when, in the 9th inning, Eric Hosmer’s steal — diving into home base to score the tying run. It was composed of instinct, running fast, thinking that this was a stupid move, and sheer guts. It may not always be so dramatic with millions of fans around the world cheering when we turn back to each other for a comeback — walking into a room for marriage counseling, stopping in the middle of a fight to apologize, taking the other’s hand when we’re sure such vulnerability will break us open — but it’s a comeback all the same.

So here’s to holding it together and looking for the magic everyday in marriage, baseball, and all else that gives us the same possibilities: friendship, good work, following our passions, awakening to the beautiful earth, loving our animals, and celebrating our turns around the seasons together, alone, in community, and in our hearts.

“You were saved by an enchilada,” Kelley said to me the other day. Often profound things we stumble into become the basis for songs we co-write, but this statement landed me here where I tell you, yes, it’s true.

What happened was, the same night I was to make enchiladas, I decided to start transferring all my data from an old computer to new one, which is a lot like a brain transplant but without all the blood, and with plenty more glitches of mysterious nature. I called the computer tech support person, a very kind woman we’ll call Maria who was somewhere in lovely Northern California giving me instructions. “Plug the transfer cable into the USB in each computer,” she said. “Done!” I called back happily only to realize the call dropped. Did I mention I was only hold for 27 minutes before I heard Maria’s voice?

I tried to reach her but had no luck, so I headed to the kitchen to finish sauteeing onions and mushrooms for my self-proclaimed famous spinach enchiladas, which I was making for our friend Doug who miraculously survived an horrendous car accident with his spirit not just intact, but high-voltage shining. I stirred the refried beans into the melted Alma cheddar cheese until Maria called back. Wisely, I shut off the burners and dragged Shay the dog, who would like to make the enchiladas his own way, into my office with me and closed the door.

“I’m so sorry the call dropped. Did you get the computers connected?” Before I could answer, the call dropped again. She called back and gave me her number for when it happened next. We went back to data migration land where all the highways were closed, and the map didn’t match the journey. She had an idea though, and she was about to tell me when the called dropped again. I tried to call back, but couldn’t reach her, so I returned to the enchiladas.

I turned back on the burners, and started mixing everything together with the steamed spinach and salsa into a gloppy and delicious mess. I was about to start rolling the glop into the tortillas when Maria called back. Back to the office with dog and all manner of fire off.

This time, we got five minutes before the called dropped again, and when she called back, she explained something (not a surprise to me by now) was wrong with their phones today. We continued a staccato dialogue of starting one thing, losing the call, getting re-connected, and finding out that what we started wasn’t working. In the end, it was impossible to migrate my documents, music, photos and more with the cord I had (days later, I would discover it was impossible with the cord Maria suggested instead too), and the call dropped another 5 times.

By the time it was over, there were just the enchiladas to attend to, and because I was making them for a friend who had been through such trauma and danger, I had to let go of attending any bitchfest, and instead, sing into those tortillas as I placed them, side by side, in the pan. As I poured shredded cheese and more salsa on the whole of them, I realized how grateful I was to able to escape the virtual world for the real one, which — I know because I made another tray of enchiladas for us too — tastes far better.