Single Track

I can still hear crying when I lock the door behind me, but M shoos me on. I can actually "hear" it all the way down the street, but at that point it's actually just a noise stuck in my head. Once I turn down the first gravel path into the park, my head starts to clear a little. By the time I get to the single track turnoff, my shoulders have lost their tension and my arms are swinging freely. My breathing slows and deepens. After an hour or so of walking in the park, I feel recharged.

I spend a lot of time with my kids right now. This is not a bad thing, because I have fun with reading aloud and painting and playing with Legos. Poop, pee, vomit and blood do not phase me at all (loose teeth are another story). I have remarkable patience for answering the same question over and over again. I would say that 90% of the time I'm really enjoying myself as a stay-at-home-mom. But still, the twenty-four-hour-ness of the job can be taxing. Taking a break is key. I try to do different things....hang out with friends at a bar, go to the coffee shop to write, or take a yoga class. But none of those are as effective as an hour of walking on single track paths in the woods.

It's rained a bit the last week or so and the trails are very muddy and slick. I like the focus that is required to remain upright with each step. I like how my eyes adjust to the wall of green and brown surroundings and start to pick up all the variations in color and texture. I like how the city noises fade into the background and what I mostly hear are birds and squirrels.

When I get back home, M has generally succeeded in getting all the children into bed and will have a dish towel slung over his shoulder, while he cleans up the dinner dishes. Our evenings together are much more pleasant when I've been walking. My birthday is coming up this week and the best thing about getting older is figuring out what makes me feel good and not worrying about whether it's what I should be doing or getting. Frankly, a haircut causes me great anxiety and a pedicure would probably put me over the edge. Walking in the woods does the trick, though.

Stop Biting Her Face!

My house is a giant mess. Marko gets into everything. Anytime I sit down, I sit on a raisin or stale Cheerio or a blob of jelly, even on days when I know I didn't serve anyone jelly (how do they reach that high?). Laurel's preferred activity is to make "art" out of little bits of garbage she finds. Max leaves puddles of drool. Most nights, I tidy the house but it takes only 5 minutes for it to look like burglars rifled through all our stuff but decided to steal nothing, because everything we own is a broken down piece of crap, or if it was once good, has since been destroyed by the children. But then we have a morning like this one, everyone hanging out in the dining room, painting and listening to music, Max looking on from his high chair. I have time for a second cup of coffee. All is calm.

I am learning that there needs to be a balance between structure and flexibility. I made a daily routine that includes post-dinner outside play, and that has turned out to be a really good thing for bedtime. Playing outside after dinner has become this privilege that I can use to leverage good behavior. I didn't intend for that, but that's they see it as a reward. We play outside before dinner, too, but for some reason, it doesn't seem to be viewed the same in their eyes. I'm thinking ahead to summer time, when I'll have all three kids all day long again and trying to get ready for that. I give them a bucket of warm water (because it's still kind of cool here) and some shovels and containers from the recycling bin and they pretty much entertain themselves with mud.

Laurel and Marko fight a lot. I try not to intervene, but you have to draw the line at face-biting! (Seriously, I said, "No face-biting" today.) If I stay back, usually they move through the conflict in 5 minutes or less. But there are days when they seem to pick at each other all day long.


Mother's Day

My gift from Laurel. She
was so excited to give it to
me and I love it.
Sunday morning I was awake at the very first light. I don't mean the sunrise, but long before that, before even the first bird songs, when the darkness of the sky shifts ever so slightly to gray, and you can imagine the end of night coming. I was sleeping in the back of our SUV with Max, which sounds horrible to every single person I ever tell, but is actually really comfortable. The seats fold down and it's pretty much flat and firm. M was in the tent with the other kids. We were camping with our neighbors, who have two kids. Other than that, there weren't too many people at the campground this weekend. It rained for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. It was dark, dark, dark.

I spend most nights in the well-lit city though, so even enjoying camping as much as I do, it can be unnerving to experience the darkness of the forest in the middle of the night. Max is five months old today, and wakes up several times at night to nurse, but last night I had no diversions to see me through these night feedings. No Facebook to scroll through, no Atlantic stories bookmarked in my browser. (Once I even placed a grocery order in the middle of the night.)

It's good to have some time to think, and especially on Mother's Day. Motherhood has been this hugely transformative force in my life these last 7 years. It's not easy all the time, but it has become a role that I find deeply fulfilling. And this is perplexing to me, because all the "doing" of motherhood is repetitive, messy crap that gets undone quickly, that mostly goes unnoticed by others and is highly undervalued in our society. The other tasks of raising up children...teaching kindness and empathy and conflict resolution....you can't actually be very successful at them if you set out to them "right." It's actually a lot more effective to just strive to do them well yourself. They will see. They see everything. At the end of the day, I have little tangible evidence of my work. I was me. I swept crumbs. How is it that I am so happy doing it and that it feels so worthwhile to be doing it?

I've written about this before, but motherhood feels like I am on a stage, constantly watched and imitated. As the children gain language they experiment with my phrases, with my tones. Their play mimics my work. My missteps are reflected back immediately by the expressions on their faces. But on the other hand, they are not growing up to BE me. I can't really make them be any kind of way. Admitting that lack of control over them is both freeing and terrifying.

Our camping trip - our first with Max - went well. We found sites at Ohiopyle that had a little creek flowing behind them so the kids had someplace to play. I brought just enough changes of clothes for Marko. Nobody seems to have gotten poison ivy, miraculously because it was everywhere. We had a really nice hike along the river and saw a water snake and tadpoles and tons of spring wildflowers. And my mother's day wish was fulfilled when we managed to get a photo with all five of us in it!