Frenemies

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Another week, another writing of the blog from the dining table while Paw Patrol plays in the background.

This past weekend, we took a family trip to Melbourne. If The Husband and I were on the trip sans kids, which we were not, we would have stayed in the city, wandering its quaint alleyways and drinking and eating our way through their restaurants. We would have lingered over brunch one morning, savouring mimosas and Bloody Marys. We would have caught a match at the Australian Open and ambled through the park afterward.

We did none of those things.

Instead, we stayed at the beach. At a family-friendly hotel. We eschewed dinner plans one night out of exhaustion (mine) and ordered in. We went to Legoland Discovery Centre and saw half of Coco after driving through the rain to find Paddington 2 was sold out. We went to Luna Park and endured endless whining there, and walked through Kids’ Day at the Open to watch a shitty PJ Masks concert while our children cried there too. All of this was after a solid month of my being with the kids day in and out, through plane rides and airport checks, in beds and pools over two continents and hemispheres. We have been solidly together, this family.

I’m so sick of them.

The Husband had planned another trip in two weeks’ time, a driving holiday to the Hunter Valley, a wine region near Sydney. The kids were coming with us. I politely (tersely) asked if we could cancel it. I think I’ve had about all the travel I can take: the laundry and the packing before, the unpacking and the laundry after, the unfamiliarity and the anxiety it entails for at least two of us. I love my family, they are driving me crazy, I want to be with no one else, I want to be away from them for a considerable length of time, and all these things are true at once.

The Kid has taken to asking hundreds of questions a day. This is not an exaggeration. He asks questions he already knows the answer to and questions he doesn’t. He asks questions that have answers and questions that don’t. I have no f-ing idea why it’s Monday, man. And if you ask me again I’m going to need more meds. Also, I love you more than almost anyone (excepting two) in the world. How is this all possible?

The Husband asked me, during one of my stares his way as TK volleyed another set of queries, if I remembered when I couldn’t wait for him to speak. He smirked, and I launched plans to find a slow-acting, undetectable poison.

I think about all we try to cover up and pretend is pretty because these contradictions, this ambivalence, might just make us look…well, crazy. We are only allowed to be one thing: grateful. Right? One of my friends (okay, many of them, which is why they’re my friends) will have none of that. Call a turd a turd and such. Especially the one you carry in your hand to the bin because your kid just excreted it in the shopping centre’s car park.

This is life: the people I love the most drive me the most crazy. They are most in danger of my ire, my impatience, my shortcomings. They require the most grace from me and give the most and then we fail and forgive each other. It’s not a dance, exactly, though it has a rhythm; it’s more of a flailing. We’re all Little Brother, swinging our arms and legs around to nonexistent music and praying it makes sense in the end.

Speaking of Little Brother–he is as emotionally authentic as they come. He will let you know if he wants nothing to do with you in the moment. He wakes up full of joy (except from naps) and he screeches when things don’t go his way. I don’t know what to do with all that honesty except learn from it.

I don’t want to sigh my way through my marriage or my sons’ childhood. Summer is hard, though. Togetherness can be fraught. Your confidante turns into your target, your kids turn into your therapy bill. But who else can you, at the end of a screechy, tense, trying day, eat fries in bed with? Who else will endure your Chinese-food farts (that don’t make sense because you haven’t even had any Chinese food)?

LB translated something TK said the other day when I didn’t understand. They are playing and laughing and conversing, and the next minute they’re at each other’s throats and crying, and I sigh again. As I do, I hear my sister and me across the decades, our afternoons spent playing and fighting and my mom’s sighing reaching across the years. The sighs don’t end anything; they give us breath for the next day, hour, minute. Maybe tomorrow we’ll do better. Maybe we won’t. But either way, we’ll be there together.

But thank God we canceled that trip.

Sun and Storm

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“One has to be done with the pretence of being just fine, unscarred, perfectly self-sufficient. No one is.” –Anne Lamott

My children are driving me crazy. My children are filling me with joy. My children are squeezing the life out of me. My children are bringing me to life. The king is dead. Long live the king.

It was winter a week ago, and now it’s summer.

My friend the Internet told me last week that this year’s colour (SINCE WHEN DO YEARS HAVE COLOURS?!) is intuitive violet. Isn’t that pretty? I’m confused, though, because I was pretty sure this year’s colour, based on recent life experience (recent meaning for the past six years) was a cross between urine yellow and fecal brown.

Potty Boot Camp 2018 started last week, and Little Brother was the only, and an unwilling, attendee. We were back from America and the kids’ club at the gym was closed so I figured if I were stuck with LB and The Kid, we might as well make it a productive time. And since I don’t do crafts, then toilet training it was. Which meant three days of housebound bliss (read: despair) filled with confusion, tears, standing piss on the floor, and boxes upon boxes of Swiffer wet. Like, seriously, I should get an endorsement deal. Three days of nonstop Netflix and DVDs, of my stationary exercises (read: hundreds of jumping jacks and a return to my kickboxing days of the late aughts), of never-ending laundry. Three days of disappointment and despair and looking at the clock to determine how early was too early to start drinking. Three days of taking breaks to swim and, while outside, saying things like, “Who wants to wee in the garden?!” Three days of LB proving himself capable of holding gallons of urine but unwilling to empty it where it belonged.

God rested on the seventh day. But LB? He finally got toilet training.

I had given up. I was wondering if we should call the preschool he starts next month and ask just how stringent their toilet-trained requirement is or I just send him anyway and let him decorate their floors yellow and brown. Then, yesterday, he turned and told me he had to wee. Later, he told me he had to poo. I’ve never been so happy to accompany someone to the bathroom. There were dances, lollipops, stickers, calls to The Husband. It was glorious.

But first, I remind you (and me), it was awful.

It still is sometimes. Last night, he dropped a turd in his undies and I tagged out on that one to let TH take over while I stared into the depths of my red wine and listened to Ed Sheeran sing about the past. Meanwhile, TK decides it’s time to rebel against his own training and drop trou on the couch for a golden shower. Today, it was LB’s turn to show ass in the barbershop chair.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not just always something, it’s always a bunch of somethings mixed together in a cocktail of alcohol and dirt, glory and pain, joy and disappointment. This is what life looks like, even though when I look back on my years in New York I seem to remember only good times without hangovers, dates without assaults, shopping without near-bankruptcy. I think it’s deeper than a grass-is-greener thing. I think it’s an inability, or unwillingness, to contain nuance: to make space not just for the intuitive violet but for the shit brown. We will polish those turds until we think we see the vague hint of a sheen and then keep polishing if it means a happier report or better Instagram rendering. But we won’t sit in the mess, in the standing wee, and admit that sometimes things just suck, and that this is just as vital a part of the story as what doesn’t.

Shit and love go together. Who knew? And why didn’t they warn us in the life manual?

I would like to now mention that I have spent a solid month with my kids–their summer break so far. That I’m writing this at the dining table while Paw Patrol plays a few feet away. That last week an electrician apparently let a bird in our house and it shit everywhere (because we didn’t have enough of THAT already). That I probably have PMS because this morning at the gym a Sam Smith video came on and I was reminded of how much I want to punch him in the face to make him shut up.

But I would also like to mention that it’s summer here. That I’m staring out at a harbour while my children (for the moment) sit quietly beside each other. That they’re both smashing their swim lessons. That the three of us go into our pool every day. That all of this makes it so different from last summer, when I was sitting on a hot deck feeding them iPads so I could drink rosé by myself and cry over This Is Us because I was on the precipice of a depression flare-up.

This summer we have friends over, and while their kids played outside with mine and we talked over wine, one of them asked me if I was able to relax while all those people were over. I feared for a second that she had spotted my butt sweat. I started to respond with the shiny turd answer: “Sure! It’s wonderful!” Then I ventured closer to the truth. “Oh you know…sort of…” Then a storm interrupted and we all gathered the kids inside and watched it from the window.

The next night, another storm. TK huddled next to me, all “Keep me safe” between ventures toward the window. The clouds were awful and beautiful, violet and yellow, and they made for the most glorious sunset.

No Fight, No Flight

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I have figured out the formula for the holidays: brief Christmas stop in wintry America followed by ringing in the New Year in summery Australia.

You’re welcome.

I realize not everyone has access to these choices; I wouldn’t have two years ago, due to grace not yet intervening and demanding it (although up to one year ago I would have written that off to my own refusal to participate in grace’s demands, i.e. a deluded sense of control over my own life, i.e. the operating system by which we all abide until the lid on our own plans is blown off and we realise we’re not running this show). But I’ve done the American Christmas/Sydney New Year Itinerary twice now and it works: short, cold days set to a soundtrack of carols; kicking off the year with a backyard BBQ by the pool.

It’s insulting what grace has forced me to acquiesce to, but I’m doing my best.

If I sound smug, it’s because I’m being a jerk. Every change that I’ve encountered in my life, every deviation from my plan, I have fought and resisted and complained about. I’ve requested a change in management. I’ve sputtered at the fact that this was all worked out a long time ago, by ME, and the rules I set aren’t allowed to change, DAMMIT. And so many of those changes were insulting: years of singleness during prime childbearing time, days spent in doctor’s offices and nights spent in hospital rooms, loss of a pregnancy in the bathroom at work, the internet going out for extended periods right when I was bingeing a new show. Not one of the changes to plan was without merit (except the internet failure; haven’t found the deeper meaning in that yet), but they all had their attendant struggle and pain that mired the good so much it seemed impossible to discern.

Sydney, though, after a year, seems without flaw. Without negative. Which is inaccurate, and revisionist history. Which is why I fight going “home” so much (quotations added for emotional analysis). Every time. You see, it complicates things: there is the re-encountering of family and friends and the re-realisation that it sucks to be away from them. There is the sense of familiarity provided by grocery stores that house all our bad food choices. There are the people whose accents sound like ours. There is crispy bacon, and there is (are?) grits. It’s much easier, emotionally and existentially speaking, to continue communicating with the people back home over internet apps and email and the occasional (gasp!) phone call rather than actually having to feel the feelings. Also, there’s no jet lag.

But we went “home” for Christmas anyway.

And while we loved, and were emotionally challenged by, the time spent with family and friends (really, we did and were), what stood out the most to me was the time spent with just the four of us. Specifically, time in the air and in hotel rooms, since that is where so much of it occurred, doors closed to the outside world and moments suspended in semi-wakefulness populated by just us: boredom and thrill, landing and takeoff, packing and unpacking, joy and utter irritation. Nowhere to go but to each other.

It’s about to be that way a LOT, especially for me and the boys, as we are staring down the barrel of a month of summer “vacation” (quotations added for sarcastic analysis) together. Blessed be the fruit, as they would say on The Handmaid’s Tale, which I watched through my fingers on the flight back to Sydney. A year ago we spent that time mostly alone but for us three, and by February I was on my way to a mental rupture in IKEA. This year, I have friends besides wine and the month is looking decidedly less…bleak. The boys and I know each other better, and this is not nothing. This knowledge has been forged in hotel rooms and on planes and in doctor’s waiting rooms and in hospitals and in all the ways grace has gently but firmly forced it to occur. We are reaping the benefits of staying; of saying yes (usually through gritted teeth). Of, really, grace not taking no for an answer.

I expect there will still be plenty of rough moments and regrets. But there will also be a higher dosage of Lexapro, and more support/witnesses. So what I’m saying is, I’m hopeful. And that ain’t nothing either.

On our flight back “home,” I took The Kid to the bathroom during one of those semi-wakeful moments, my contacts out and earplugs in, and as we navigated the tiny space together, he looked around and said, apropos of nothing, “This is where the magic happens.” I considered the surroundings: toilet, sink, questionable odors, our other two sleeping nearby, the four of us suspended between two countries, two continents, two homes. Magic in the moment, apropos of everything.

Bigger Than the Tree

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I’ve been waiting on something bigger than Christmas my whole life.

The sadness of the ending of a childhood Christmas–Santa long gone, school break zooming to an end–gave way to a post-Christmas depression for Adult Me: Christmas music silent, Christmas movies disappearing, the season of goodwill giving way to just…cold. The tree with no presents underneath became a burden, holding boxes of ornaments to pack up, the removal of each of them signalling the end of my favourite season.

A barren winter without twinkling lights and the promise of more on the horizon is perfect fodder for depressive tendencies to kick in, and I’ve battled them every year. Then, last year, instead of enduring that winter, we hopped on a plane and headed toward summer, and that move across the world–while allowing me to avoid climactically-generated blues–brought its own adjustments and breakdowns before joy and familiarity arrived.

This year is different.

The Sis said it in a message, how as an adult she’s always felt different about Christmas ending than she did as a child, and the word she used was one unfathomable to me before this past Monday night: relief. But this year I felt it too, the relief of Santa pulled off for another year, of happy children living still in the magic of it all, of a turkey cooked well and family gathered without bloodshed. And, not for nothing, relief at our family of four surviving yet another cross-country trip…and facing one more in the opposite direction. In another place that has become, also, home.

This Christmas night, a night that has always felt unbearably piercing to me in its comparison to the one before–the anticipation of Christmas Eve–I stepped onto our Atlanta porch and gazed at the twinkling lights, felt the icy air. My bare feet groaned against the cold of the wood beneath them, and I yearned: not for Christmas to swing right back around again, but for the warmth of another hemisphere, the longer days and the beaches and pools and summer break awaiting us. My feet firmly on the ground here while another place pulls me back.

And this being between two places, it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable and at times emotionally turbulent but it’s also this: a gift. A gift in the abundance it reveals us to have, family in one place and friends who are like that in another, but gift also in that it reveals, as all good gifts do, a deeper truth: that this yearning, this split way of living, this ache that never abates, is a sign of more. Of what is bigger than Christmas even as Christmas is what brings it, of what is bigger than twinkling lights and adorned trees.

Of what is bigger than unadorned trees, the limbs that are bound into crossbeams that shadow over a hill named Death. Of what is bigger than death and all the blows it brings before it comes. Because it’s just this year that I’m realising how Advent is not really a waiting, but an arrival. See, I’d always thought it was about me. Typical. But this year, from both sides of the world, I’ve known a love that chases me across the globe, that reveals itself in glimpses: the bi-continental blessings of those who show up for me, for my family. The army of people we never would have known without our move, without our challenges. I’d always wanted to dance through life, but now I’m to the part where I find out all I would have missed.

The old proverb goes, “God is not a kindly old uncle, he is an earthquake,” and I wonder if the dancers know him only as uncle. If the power of the earthquake is only met through struggle. An earthquake that is love that resettles families across the world and brings them back again, that shows up in every hello and goodbye and arrival and departure. That is, always, an advent.

When Doing Becomes Redoing

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The four of us sat around a bar, two on one corner and two on the other, because there was no room for us in the inn…or at least at the table one of us had reserved for the occasion, where four other women remained, lingering over a gift exchange. No worries, though, as the restaurant provided us with free cocktails for our trouble, and now, an hour into our time together, it was as though no time had passed since we saw each other months ago. The only thing that had changed, besides hairstyles and a delivered baby among our lot, was that we’d grown closer. So we talked, about family and friends and our favourite antidepressants, as always, and it could have been the same dinner as last year.

It could have been the same sendoff as last year, too, when our exit to America from Sydney for the holidays coincided with the end of The Kid’s school year and he and I stood in the schoolyard among friends, tears welling up in my eyes as they poured down the face of his therapist, a grown man who’s moving on to have his own kids, and I embraced the women who have become my friends, my life, their children an extension of my own. It could have been last year because we left feeling loved, feeling known. In two places now.

There are these reminders all around, repeats really, that pop up and each in their own way convince me further that there is design in this grand, beautiful mess of life. There is TK telling me he wants a dog named Max and one day, I’ll tell him that I had one–for one night during my residency–and that the next morning I was so sleepless and overwhelmed with the not-being-ready-for-it that I drove to the breeder and gave him back, my tears sourced by both grief and guilt, a fitting reaction and prelude to becoming a mother of anything. There is the trip to the grocery with TK while Little Brother, my usual companion, is at school, but on this afternoon TK has absconded early due to a Christmas assembly and early pickup, and as we amble conversationally through the aisles I remember trips here before that were not so similar, meltdowns barely managed and anger not even concealed, and I think that the repeats also serve to show us how far we’ve all come. How different things can be. Like the morning after a rough night with LB, when I left him to The Husband and exited his room to the sound of his crying and my seething after an hour spent lying beside him, trying to get him to sleep, and upon waking a few hours later I hear his tiny feet padding up the stairs. Next he’s at my bedside, holding his hands out, and I lift him and place him beside me, where he nestles in: all is forgiven. All is different.

Then TK enters the scene, grabs the iPad and lies down with us, and the familiar strains of Super Mario reach my ears both from this moment and from my own childhood. Everything old is new again. I read about the miracle of the loaves and fish, how Jesus snuck that one through management twice, the second time to a lesser degree, and after a moment I wonder, instead of why, if: if maybe these reminders are themselves acts of grace; there’s a reason the words assurance and reassurance both exist. I so need the re. The fact that it is given–through fish or moments–is a gift that feels made for me.

And at our Atlanta home, we’re lying in the same beds we were a year ago, yet so much is different. Outside the air is cooling and the day darkens and it’s Christmas once again, this season of second acts, and chances.

It’s a Bit Different!

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I’ve never associated the scent of gardenias with Christmas. But this year…it’s a bit different.

It was the first thing that hit me as I approached the new house we’re renting for the first time since we’d gotten the key last week. The fragrance of the white blooms by the front porch took me by surprise–I’m always surprised when there are things here that also exist in America–and I took it as a welcome into our new home. Much as I did the bottle of champagne waiting on the counter with a note to that effect, left by the owners. “I think we’re going to be very happy here,” I thought, atypically and unabashedly optimistic.

In the past week we’ve packed up one house, moved to another (one street over), unpacked there, and hosted The Kid’s sixth birthday party. The physical and emotional whiplash of such a combination of efforts has been eased by the fact that we love this house, and it’s on a street full of kids from TK’s school. And the party…it was like almost everyone we’ve come to know and love in Australia was gathered in one place to celebrate TK, and it was beautiful. Beautiful enough to bring tears to my eyes. Beautiful enough to give me a hangover the next day. Beautiful enough for me to see how far we’ve all come–like when TK’s friends started singing the Happy Birthday song and he ran around the corner, overwhelmed by all the attention, and when I went to encourage him back in, I was greeted with his grin–then we were greeted by the knowing laughs with, not at, him, the “Oh, that’s just James” acceptance that has been such a touchstone of our experience here. Not long ago, his running off would have wrecked me. Now, I laughed. That’s just James.

Also last week was his school’s dance performance, with each class performing their own routine, and The Husband and his therapist and I waited, not knowing for sure how he’d do. It was our moving day, and I was sweaty and tired and irritated, and then his class came on–and he was amazing. Not because he was perfectly coordinated or didn’t miss a step, but because he was there, doing it. He belonged. And most importantly, he loved it. At both (yes, both) performances. I sat beside TH and friends and we celebrated our kids together, from the one who nailed the whole thing to the one who overcame a history of stage fright to push through.

And his therapist told me later that at school, they had been talking about what makes each of them beautiful, and TK had said, “My brain is special. That’s what makes me beautiful.” Later in the week, his teacher told me about all the other teachers who had commented on his comfort onstage, and she said, “I know what his gift is. He makes people happy.”

It was a different week. It was a hard week. It was a wonderful week.

At another visit, I was talking to his occupational therapist about the adjustment to having a Christmas season in the heat–how different it feels. The beating sun and long days, they don’t feel like Christmas to me, as back in the States the snow falls. That feels like Christmas. Butt sweat does not. She articulated what I’d been trying to–that it lacks atmosphere here–and I realised that sometimes it helps just to name a thing. Different. The simple act of identification can lessen the grief over what isn’t.

So I listen to more Christmas songs to compensate, and stare at the tree a lot. The view from our new home doesn’t hurt, either.

When TK was born, and then Little Brother, they were the first boys in the family since my parents’ generation. I’d always wanted boys but quickly realised that some babysitting in my teens had not prepared me for the difference between growing up around girls and learning how to, for example, dress circumcision wounds. Or toilet train with different appendages. The differences to what I was used to were glaringly obvious, and I wondered what I had to offer this generation of small men. I’m slowly coming to understand that being around women much of my life is exactly what prepared me to raise them–that this is what I can give them, this different perspective, an awareness of who women are and how to treat them. The different, it becomes the integral. It becomes the beautiful.

TK often screeches in frustration, “It’s a bit different!” when he encounters a situation that presents him with the unexpected. It’s a negative commentary, usually. But last week at school, his therapist told me, there was a day where the schedule was chucked and everything was out of the ordinary. And at one point, TK turned and–with a glee-filled smile on his face–exclaimed, “IT’S A BIT DIFFERENT!” His joy at the new and unusual becoming an act of celebration.

Sad Things Happen in Australia, Too (Part 1 of?)

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Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems. –Sadness

I was walking home from the hairdresser’s, my newly lightened and shortened locks swinging in the sun, when the phone rang. Along with my hair, I felt lightened, the product of longer days and pleasant weather I guess, along with the wrapping up of a pretty amazing first year here. When I saw the name of The Kid’s therapist on my screen, though, I felt a pause in my mood. And as he delivered the news that he would be taking another job next year, my peaceful easy feeling dried up into ashes, the pendulum swinging wildly in the opposite direction from where it had been moments earlier.

He explained the reasoning, which was all sound and rational, and we spoke about it for a few minutes as I walked into the house we would be moving out of in a week’s time. When we hung up, I set the phone down and tried to catch my breath. Then I started sobbing.

It’s been awhile since grief visited us here.

The past few months–ever since our initial adjustment, my near-breakdown, and a fine-tuning of my meds–have, looking back, been somewhat of a dream. Daily drives by the beach, purple blooms on the sidewalk, glowing reports from both boys’ schools, growing friendships marked by bottles of wine shared and stories told. We’ve marked milestones and celebrated holidays, touted triumphs and made our way through this Sydney life as a unit of four growing closer all the time. It has been gift after gift. Sometime, the other shoe had to drop, right? Sometime, it all had to fall apart?

This is what the phone call did to me; this is how I operate: in the face of a bump in the road, I shake my head, say “I knew it,” and begin to despair.

And I used to stay there, hopeless and afraid, until denial floated along and I would grab it, or distraction came by and I’d cling to it. The urge to just dull my aching via Netflix was strong; I’ve never wanted to glaze my eyes with Facebook updates more. Instead, I cried. Hard. For awhile. Alone.

Fun, right? The End. Except…not.

I’m convinced that of all of our emotions (and I know everything there is to know about them, having watched Inside Out countless times with my kids), one of the truest is grief. It gets twisted into so many others–anger, irritation, fear–but underneath so many feelings is the grief that has a rightful place in our hearts, reflective as it is of the chasm between how things should be and how they are. In my draw-up, TK’s shadow therapist would remain with him until the end of high school, maybe on into adulthood (because that’s not weird), never requiring of me a hard conversation with my son, or a goodbye that breaks our hearts. Then again, in my draw-up, Australia was never on the table. I never would have met the two friends I told first: one who texted back that she’d be coming over that afternoon, and the other who booked me on her couch the next evening.

But in that intervening period, before wine and commiseration, even before I called The Husband in breathless tears, I just cried. I cried as prayer, a “WHY?!” that will never end this side of eternity, a “HELP!” that won’t either. I cried for the changing of a relationship that has meant so much to TK–to us all–this year. I cried for the loss of a constant for him, and us. I cried for all the goodbyes that should never have to happen, for all the sad that has yet to become untrue. I cried because I was sad, and I let myself be, and as I did, I felt less alone. I felt the peace–not of a good haircut and a sunny day, but the real, raw, abiding peace beyond myself–descend upon me, the knowing that the same grace that brought us here and gave us the gift of one good thing will not suddenly stop showing up. I cried, and I’m still crying, though less, yet always, because this side of eternity there will be grief and I’ll be damned if I numb myself to it.

Turns out we’re going to have to do real life in Australia too. Dammit. I wish someone would have warned me.

And as the Christmas season kicks in, salt rides on the hot air and I’m conflicted. It doesn’t feel like Christmas here, without icy breezes and crunching leaves. Yet Advent happens no matter how I feel.

I sat the other night on the deck that will soon be replaced by another and cried some more. I looked for Christmas and felt only heat, tasted salt. The wind blew mightily, another weather pattern here that does not fit into my Yuletide profile, and above me, a bird clung to the branch of the tree outside our window: the tree we love, that TK said looks like an alligator. I wondered if he was afraid, the wind seeming to push against him, to do battle against the wings he was given that should take him where he needs to go. He gave a few false starts and I began to think he might just stay there, in one place, forever. Then the wind blew a last time and he let go, riding on it or pushed by it, carried by it exactly to where he was meant to be.

Will Write for Attention

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Sydney is currently seventeen hours ahead of my beloved EST, the time zone occupied by my former homes of New York and Atlanta. Funny how waking up so many hours ahead can leave me feeling so far behind.

Most days our king-sized bed holds three to four people by the time of my sons’ circadian-induced awakening around 6 am. Our older son is burrowed underneath the covers between us, his feet unfailingly within inches of my face, and our younger boy is typically planted on the pillows between my husband and me, or upon my husband’s chest, telling the “lazy bum” to wake up (can’t imagine where he learned that turn of phrase). By 7 am, we have broken a half-dozen of the rules I set before having children, chief among them screen limitation and sharing our bed. Meanwhile, my anxiety over that thickens with the addition of overnight (for me) messages I’ve received and the urge to respond promptly (not because I’m such a good friend, but because I’m afraid my people back home will forget me).

What I’m saying is that what seems to be my biggest personality trait–anxiety–starts the day at a baseline level of “off the charts.”

Read the rest over at Mockingbird!

Too Much

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“So tell me about Will,” he said from across the table, and everything about and leading up to the moment was unusual: the way I’d kissed the male three-quarters of our family goodbye at church and set off across town on foot solo; the December sun beating down on me while Christmas songs played through my headphones; the quiet of a two-adult Sunday lunch; the bottle of rosé sitting between us. The company: one of my closest friends since our meeting in New York a decade ago. The question: an opportunity to discuss Little Brother, so rare in comparison to queries over The Kid’s well-being and my own progress reports on him. LB’s wellness is cared about, but not obsessed over. I battle guilt over that difference even as I often assume his happiness myself.

So I talked about LB: about his brashness and sensitivity, his boldness and shyness, his gentle reminders, when we’re focused elsewhere, about his presence. His specialness. My concerns over the potential of him feeling left out, less noticed.

We talked about that, then everything else. We laughed, and shared, and drank. It was soul-healing, being with someone who’s known me through time zones and across countries and through realness and over phone lines. So it had to go on, naturally, for six hours.

These spots are coalescing: the visits and the new people and the web of interactions and support and beauty that is making this place home. They’re each growing bigger and touching each other: old friends meeting new over a Thanksgiving dinner, my first big project in our Australian kitchen being a turkey for ten and a TOTAL SUCCESS, but not without the help of those friends, or their company. And when we gathered before the meal for what is customarily a prayer, I just said I was thankful, for all of them, for how we got here, which…is still a prayer. I forgot to serve dessert, so we had wine instead, the kids playing inside, the men around the table, and me with the only other woman in the lot, sharing life and our gratitude for each other.

The next morning I was hungover–of course–and the boys piled into our bed, the mattress overflowing with people, and it all felt like too much. The same kind of too much as a few nights before, when TH was at a work dinner and so I let the boys fall asleep with me, one on either side, their bodies pressed against me and my hands full of them, so little space for myself. “This is just too much,” I had thought. “Too much…” and I realised the word I was looking for was love. They love me too much for comfort, too much for space. What a wonderful problem to have, frustration and gratitude dawning simultaneously but less and less equally, because the love…it changes me.

It’s the only thing that changes me. The trying-for-a-better-attitude, the fear, the rule-keeping, none of it works or ever has. Now, when bad news happens–when a policeman pulls me over for turning left ten minutes before it’s allowed, or TK’s therapist calls to let me know he’s taking another position next year–the range of emotion, from irritation to grief, it doesn’t dissipate; if anything, it’s more intense because my heart is more open. But the question afterward–what am I going to do?–it’s gone, replaced by a new one: what are YOU going to do? I ask it to grace, to God, to the love that got us here in the first place. That has never stopped showing up. That fills my bed with family and my deck with people and my life with friendships. It fills my hands on Sundays, the blessing at the end calling me to upturn them, the weight on them, every week, mysterious…but not inexplicable.

And this love that is within and beneath and before everything, it shows up seemingly unexpectedly, but the surprise tends to wear off the more you look for it. My friend who, when she asked how Thanksgiving dinner went and I told her about the red wine explosion from my mouth all over my bathroom, instead of head-shaking responded with “I really do love you” alongside a laughing-crying emoji. Then there’s TK, who says it so rarely in comparison to LB’s constant attestations. The other morning, when we were the only two awake, he sat up, turned to me, turned back to the window with its view, and proclaimed, “I love you.” Apropos of nothing. Apropos of everything.

Full-On

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Motherhood: it’s full-on.

“There’s always magic.” –James Phillips

We’re moving house, which is Australian for moving into a new house, in a couple of weeks. The change will be swift–two weeks to pack up our Aussie life and unpack it again–but not far, as we’re relocating to a street just across the road, a couple of minutes closer to The Kid’s school on a block where several classmates live. It was a property that The Husband and I gazed adoringly at on our phones. There’s a wine fridge. Still, it will be strange to say goodbye to the walls that welcomed us our first day here and have held us every day in the year since.

But, as I mentioned, there’s a wine fridge.

I will miss the balcony off our master bedroom, which, when my first friend here saw it, prompted her to exclaim what a great place it would be to drink wine. Then she faltered, asking if it was a bad sign that she associated wine with everything. I don’t remember how I assured her this wasn’t the case, but I remember thinking that we were perfect for each other and she was always welcome here. I thought about that the other day, as I sat on that balcony while TH bathed the boys down the hall, and the sun dipped below the horizon. I took it in: the view of the suburb beyond ours, the countless trees, the harbour, the boats. I took it all in and considered how a glass of wine, like a good rug, would really pull the moment together, but I was done with my quota for the evening, and then I wondered, like my friend, why I felt I needed the boozy add-on when there was already so much beauty. And for once, it wasn’t guilt or accusation that spoke first, but this idea: that this need to celebrate beauty as fully as possible, with all resources available, could be a gift. A thirst that is a sign of design, of the ever-present more that is just beyond our grasp.

I mean, I’ve had a lot of therapy, and we’ve ruled out alcoholism.

The Australians have another phrase I love: full-on. What I’ve gathered from context tells me that this means intense, unabated, complete. What an appropriate time in my life to learn it, as I’m pelted with hundreds of questions a day from two boys, one of whom is making up for four years of silence and it shows: “what if we don’t” and other contrarian positions constantly offered up for my explanation; discussions of the shape of brake lights and other conversations I never expected to have; and, perhaps most fraught and wonderful, questions about his special brain and entreaties to tell me its story again and again. We have identified so far that within his head lies an Apple operating system while his brother’s is an HP; that he hears sounds, and sees lights and the world, differently, and that, as he repeated to his therapist the other day, God gave him this special brain for a reason.

It’s a weighty responsibility, to provide the framework for a narrative that will so powerfully impact how he sees himself for years to come. It’s all the things: hard and awful and wonderful and not enough and too much. It’s full-on.

On Saturday the boys and I went to a birthday party that, between lunch and cake, included a disco room filled with lights, music, and a vaguely menacing life-sized plush monkey who doled out hugs and high-fives. Taylor Swift blasted from the speakers and my two–at turns shy and bold, serious and comical, all in their own ways–took to the dance floor without a second thought and began breaking it down, limbs flying, knees bouncing, heads bobbing. It was gorgeous. Then they pulled me with them, and I hesitated before noticing the other parents out there. In another life or locale or from a more commonplace cynical attitude I might have later identified the moment as absent of dignity, but what it actually lacked was fear. We partied alongside our children and it was unabashed and beautiful. It was full-on.

The next day we had the family of one of TK’s classmates come over for dinner, and the adults sat on the deck while the kids played. “Isn’t it so amazing that we get to live here?” the other mum, a lifelong resident of this suburb, observed, as we all stared across the harbour. Before their arrival I had taken my first Xanax in months because of my social anxiety and, in the moment there on the deck, I embraced the help of it rather than the guilt that is so often more readily available. I had sorted out dinner for eight people and I was actually relaxed. Minor miracle there, perhaps. Or, as the kids might call it, magic.

I’ll go with grace. Like the rain that began falling while we sat protected under a roof, or the wind and salt that had ripped through me on a solo trip earlier to the beachfront: nothing lacking. Full-on grace.