The truth about my first day of maternity leave

My first day of maternity leave.

My last day, Friday, was uneventful. Everyone was busy. They had a sweet farewell for me on Tuesday – with snacks and prosecco – and Friday felt like this non-event. So strange cleaning out my desk with no one around.

I was excited – ready.

Today would be perfect. James had a doctor appointment in the morning and we’d spend some time together. Then I had a pedicure booked.

But when we tried to leave the house, James melted down into a puddle when I put him into his warm coat instead of the blue coat he’s suddenly become attached to. He screamed and cried and hit me on the head. I sat him on my knee and explained to him that we never hit and he listened quietly before lifting his hand to go for another swipe. I blocked it and accidentally scraped his cheek with my thumb nail which sent him for another round of screaming.

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We finally walked outside into the cold morning to see Daddy off to work. “Let’s go to the playground,” I said.

“Yes. Playground,” he repeated.

I packed him and all his things into the car and we drove to playground and as I opened the door to get him out he said: “No playground.” And pushed away my hand as I tried to get him out.

At the doctor, he flattened himself out on the floor like a starfish—screaming—when the nurse tried to weigh and measure him.

Forget about finishing the morning together: I couldn’t wait to drop him off.

Of course as I pulled away, I felt horrible, relishing the silence in the car.

What if I just can’t be around my kid all day? What if I can’t handle him? What if I actually don’t like him that much? (Sometimes the voices in our heads can be really mean you guys!)

I came back home and stuffed my sandals in my purse for the pedicure. Should bring my book? Why no! That was trashy magazine time. I scooped up about five issues of People and settled in. Turns out People magazine makes you feel bad about everything in life.

What made me think I deserved this day – to be off work at a mere 37 weeks? Yes, my midwife had recommended it, but I was fine physically, if you don’t count not being able to walk for more than 15 minutes without slowing down my pace to that of an 85 year old, thanks to the insane pressure on my pelvis and bladder. Sure I was checked out at work but I could show up and do things for another week or two.

You’re a big bellied self indulgent piece of shit. I leaned back into the pillows and closed my eyes and tried to focus on very nice Thai basil sea salt foot rubbings.

The sun is shining through the window now – and I am trying to get grounded here.

When I am a sleep deprived, hair-in-all-directions mother of two who hasn’t brushed her teeth in three days, what would I have wanted to do with this time?

  1. Set some goals while you have any headspace. Not crazy ones. Small ones.
  2. Write.
  3. Try not to judge yourself too much.
  4. Spend a day all to yourself being as totally lazy or as active as you like—just don’t spend it online (and stay off Facebook always and forever).
  5. Make time for your husband and your marriage.
  6. Take lots of long, indulgent showers.
  7. Be patient with James. Something big is coming for him too.
  8. Listen closely to and enjoy the silence.

So I’m going to go take a shower now. Tidy the house. And go get my little guy.

Finding your way back

YOU GUYS. Hi. I’ve missed you.

I could give you 100 excuses for not writing here—but the fact of the matter is, I’m now on the third season of The Americans, so let’s be real. Time is in my life, I just haven’t used it very well.

The thing is I’ve been in a funk lately. I feel deflated—work-wise, life-wise, emotionally, physically, creatively, spiritually.

I’m in this place where I feel like I’m just going through the motions, rushing through the day and waking up to the next one. I feel buried in house to-do’s at all times.

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Hike I’m going to tell you about in just a second

And I feel like I’ve abandoned something essential.

Here are some of the things I think when I’m in a rut like this:

  • Everyone is killing it and has their shit totally together but me.
  • My education was wasted on me.
  • I’ll never be brave enough, smart enough or dedicated enough to make what I want to happen, happen.

Tracing the path to how I got here seems like a fruitless endeavor. I’m interested in how we get out.

How do you get out?

One day, I left the boys and the house and went for a hike with a friend.

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My hike with Sara

One day, I had an extra long lunch with another friend.

I keep looking for the right book. The one that will say all the right things.  (Any ideas?)

But of course I have been avoiding the one thing I need most: Writing.

I read this from Jennifer Egan in Brain Pickings last week:

When I’m not writing I feel an awareness that something’s missing. If I go a long time, it becomes worse. I become depressed. There’s something vital that’s not happening. A certain slow damage starts to occur. I can coast along awhile without it, but then my limbs go numb. Something bad is happening to me, and I know it. The longer I wait, the harder it is to start again.

James has been sleeping until 7 a.m. I can’t really explain how miraculous this feels after a year plus of obsessing about sleeping and longing to be well rested. I AM WELL RESTED. I am sleeping for 9 and sometimes 10 hours a night.

It’s hard to think about setting an alarm. I feel like I deserve to sleep and sleep and sleep.

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But this morning I couldn’t. At 5:45 I turned over. And here I am with my own quiet, not brain-exhausted-end-of-the-day, hour. (Plus I promised Dan one blog post this month and I gotta get that guy off my back.)

I wonder why it’s easiest to avoid the things we need most. They seem so hard sometimes. So daunting. So rife with the potential for failure.

But in the end, those very things–whatever they might be–are the only way out. Right?

What do you do dear friends? To find your way back to yourself?

P.S. Listen to Dear Sugar: How do I find the courage to be my own guide

55 of 100

After so long away I don’t know where to start, so here are a few things:

  1. Inertia’s a bitch. When you’re in the groove, it’s all flowing. But when you stop, it’s hell getting started again.
  2. Also, when you haven’t written in a while you start to hate every word that hits the page.
  3. Work is busy. And being a working mom is busy. The days fly by in a blur. When we get home it’s a flash – eat dinner, play, bedtime-and then James is asleep. Sometimes I don’t know what to make of this pace.DSCF5290.jpg
  4. The other day he woke up sort of fussy and I wrapped him up in my arms in bed and he lay there clutching his blanket and sucking his thumb with his eyes closed for about 20 minutes. He hadn’t slept on me like that since he was probably four or five months old. It was like a narcotic.
  5. Have you listened to The Accidental Gay Parents Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 on The Longest Shortest Time? It’s amazing and you need to. Please do it right now. (This podcast I am loving so much right now).
  6. My desk is very cluttered. We are endlessly trying to keep our house clean and it feels impossible sometimes. I have to take deep breaths.
  7. In fact, I have moments when I bring up the laundry, see dishes on the kitchen counter, pans that need washing, James’s food not yet cleaned up on the high chair, toys on the floor, paper on the desk and I almost lose it. One thing at a time, I tell myself. It will get done.
  8. We’ve gotten into the habit of driving to the mountains on the weekends. Just for a day. James sleeps on the way there and we do a little hike or a picnic and just take it in. Whenever we are driving in we sigh at the beauty. We’re so lucky we say. So very lucky. It still feels insanely exotic to be in these giant mountains for a few hours on any given week. Here we are at Goat Pond with Erica, Matt and Lucy:DSCF5298.jpg
  9. A colleague commented on my ‘perfect Instagram life’ and my heart fell. I’m guilty like everyone, posting when we’re somewhere beautiful. Where life looks pretty. (hey look: I’m doing it here in this blog post!) I felt ashamed. Things are not perfect. And I’d 10,000 times rather be honest than perfect.
  10. In fact, I’ve been in a bit of a slump. I’m trying to dig into work; to navigate this crazy busy-ness and maybe I’m not doing the best job. I feel lost.
  11. Sometimes I wish someone would hold my hand and show me the path. Do this, they would say. And now this. I’ll sit here until you finish. Now you are ready for the next thing. I keep having to remind myself that that person is not coming for me. That I have to pull myself into the future.
  12. I pitched a story to Rebecca Egbert, creator of Little Mother’s Helper. I was drawn to this project and to Rebecca from the moment someone sent me her kickstarter campaign. The cards cover post-partum body, soul, heart and mind. They are both honest and comforting. They answer so many questions to the things I would madly google in the early days. And Rebecca’s newsletter and Instagram account are big heart-ed. Plus she was from Minnesota – and so. She’s obviously awesome. I pitched her a story for her blog. She opened up her arms to me. After so little writing, I was nervous that I couldn’t pull it off. I’m still nervous about what I sent her. It felt a little raw.
  13. After she accepted the piece by saying “I love you- I love this” she wrote: Now it’s my turn to give back to you. What else can I do for you, to help you? I was so taken aback that I didn’t know what to say. I mean: it’s not often that a near stranger asks you that question.
  14. Maybe I should stop dwelling on my own life and start asking more people what I can do for them. To help them. To give back.
  15. The post went up on Monday. My 35th birthday. I’m 35.
  16. I’m still not very happy with this post which I’ve been fiddling with for too many days now. But maybe that is what this year is about. Nothing at all being quite as you want or imagine it to be. But going with it anyway. DSCF5308.jpg

I love you guys. xo Sky

 

Good morning – 54 of 100

It’s morning and I’m here. I’m here at the computer and the house is dark and silent – except for the coffee brewing. I told Dan yesterday that if the coffee isn’t brewing, there’s no way I’m getting out of bed early.

I’ve been meaning to do this. I have been meaning to find space that is mine.

I’m weird about writing. Dan will always ask me what I”m working on. Or he’ll tell me “It’s fine! Write!” but then he’ll be sitting on the couch behind me and I just can’t. It’s like I need my own private planet to write on. And I really really don’t like talking about it – whatever it is – until it’s live in the world somewhere. Until then it is between me and my crazy writer head.

Now it’s 6:15 – in 15 minutes everyone will probably be up. Fifteen minutes.

I don’t know what to write right now except that I am here.

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And that I’m enjoying the littlest things right now. Maybe it’s because the weather has been so warm and the trees are just starting to bud. There’s that close feeling of the season changing – of promise for what’s next – and the way the warm sun feels on your skin.

The other day my work friend was telling me about her mother in law and their wedding. And I said: “I really understand the way moms are about things like weddings now. It’s just that you love them so much, it’s embarrassing.”

It is a little embarrassing! I asked Dan the other day: “Do you ever feel like we are living with a magical creature?”

“A magical creature?” he said, raising an eyebrow.DSCF5181

What I’ve been thinking about is how every day babies do things. The most simple things. They walk. They laugh. They sleep. They hold a toy up to you. They point to their belly when you say “Where’s your belly?” But for some period of time, the miracle of it all is never lost on you.

When do we all stop being these little miracles? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been walking around and looking people who look troubled or sad or funny and think: They were this totally innocent baby once too. This blank slate. This miracle.

James has been a bit of a snuggle bug lately. And snuggling him is like a drug. I have never wanted so much closeness. Sometimes in the morning, after milk, we’ll lay back on the bed and watch his tranquil turtle and make hand shadows for a while. He makes little coos and we just lie there together.

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Now it’s 6:31 and I need to get going. I am already thinking about my little boo. About his drowsy early snuggles. Our quiet dark time for little miracles.

 

Meeting Charlie Russell – 53 of 100

Dan met Charlie Russell on a windy day in Waterton Lakes National Park. He and his friend, on a boys fishing trip, found themselves at the far end of the lake with a powerful wind blowing towards them, making a paddle back to the parking lot a difficult thing. As such, they decided to make themselves a shore lunch, have a beer and wait it out.

While a few attempted the paddle back, some getting stuck and some having to be saved, they saw one silver-haired man point his paddle in the air, use it as a sail and glide easily to their end of the lake, start casting lines, into the wind, and catch fish after fish.

Charlie Russell

The man slowly made his way over to them and they offered him a beer. He took them up on the offer and they started chatting.

Dan and Chris say they had a feeling about this man–a feeling that he was someone special. They talked about the parks and fishing and wildlife and bears and then the man sort of off-handedly mentioned that he once lived with bears in Siberia for a long time.

“Wait? What?” Dan asked him.

Yes, he had written a book about it. Grizzly Heart. Dan had the book before I even got home and as he told me little tid bits as he devoured it, I kept wanting to grab the book out of his hands and read it myself.

The barest smattering of details were intriguing enough: a couple, in their fifties, go to a remote wildlife preserve in Russia to live among grizzly bears. They want to prove that grizzlies are peaceful–not violent–creatures. He builds his own plane. They build their own cabin. They raise orphan grizzly cubs.

Yes, it’s all true. And when you read the story it’s

Here are a few things Charlie and Maureen came up against:

  • Canadians that didn’t want him to do his project.
  • Russians that didn’t want him to do his project.
  • Russian bureaucracy (I can’t even describe)
  • Coming up with the funding.
  • Extremely long unpleasant storms, during which the wind sent the smoke from their fire back into their chimneys – leaving them the choice to stand outside in the brutal storm or inside in their smoky cabin
  • More and more unpleasantness from the Russians
  • Possibly life threatening health issues

Among other things. If I came up against just one of these, I’d probably give up on it. But they never did. In fact, the truth is that if I ever came up with such a wildly controversial idea I’d probably think to myself, hmmm, maybe, and then never do anything about it.

But I did decide to pitch an article about Charlie Russell to Crowfoot Media. I drove up to meet Charlie Russell on  warm winter day. He had sent me directions to find his long driveway – of course, unmarked, because he lives on a whole lot of beautiful land around Waterton Lakes National Park. After one wrong turn, I found it and followed it up to his house – the Hawk’s Nest.

The little cabin is filled with game from his grandfather’s hunting days–a bighorn sheep, an eagle. A stone fireplace sits at the center and books are everywhere.

We sat on his porch for two hours looking out at Waterton together. The sun was so hot, I had to take my boots off. The snow melted. We saw a coyote dart across the field below. He pointed to the creek where hi s mother taught him to fish. It was so quiet. All you could hear were snow dripping and birds twittering.

Charlie RUssell's house

I’ll let the article speak for what we talked about in those two hours, but afterwards, his brother Gordon invited us in –he had made us a big salad. So Charlie and I ate salad and talked a little more. Here are a couple of things that I remember:

#1. He said, I never really like to call myself this or that. A writer. Or a grizzly bear activist. etc. Because it closes things off.

#2. He was telling me how he never really the learned the names of wildflowers. But in a way, he said, I’m glad, because I feel that I can just experience them for what they are, rather than run through a checklist of fancy names in my head. I told him it made me think of a short story I once read – about a man who decides to abandon language and how it frees him to experience everything in a new, exalted way. He discovers how language diminishes everything – breaks it all apart. I thought about how James, with no language, experiences the world that way. Just the way that it is.

Later, I sent him the story.

He wrote me back: “I thought that you did not get it.” and then he wrote that  quote I used for the piece.

“One cannot have lived as long as I have, alone in a wordless world that was as wonderful as I had with my bears, without struggling to be courteous in the human world where most people think…that we are superior to every living thing.”

Charlie kept telling me how difficult and unliked he is. And the truth is that he’s a little (a lot) fed up with humans.

But Charlie had an impact on me before I even met him. He had a really unpopular idea and he made just enough people believe in it – then he made a lot more people believe in it. And even if his work didn’t have the far-sweeping changes he thought it might, to quote Charles Jonkel, a biologist, from the Outside magazine article: “What Charlie does is not science. He knows that. It’s got value, though. Over the years he’s taught even the most diehard so-called experts to take another look at how we think about bears.”

I’m a little more optimistic than him. Maybe, as he suggested himself, I have to be. I have a son. I can’t believe we are doomed. But Charlie makes me want to stop thinking that I am this or that, to believe that I can be the many things that I am, he makes me want to stop asking for permission, he makes me want to seek out that wordless place–where everything is just what it is.

 

Whirlwind – 52 of 100

Well it’s been a while and I want to write.

Dan is out for drinks and James is sleeping – a rare moment of silence and solitude.

It’s funny, on maternity leave I felt lonely a lot. Now I’m never alone and I crave solitude. It’s hard to carve it out. Especially when there’s so much to do.

I thought I would be better about it – I thought I would go back to work and wake up at 6 and write until James woke up. I thought I would save Tuesday nights or Sunday nights or at least one night for writing. But it hasn’t happened. Not yet anyway.

It’s not like I don’t have time; I mean, I’ve watched a whole entire new season of House of Cards! (God that Claire Underwood. I love her hate her so much.)

What’s it like to be back? (Does anyone care?)

The truth is, (I keep telling everyone,) is that being at work all day is way easier than being at home with a baby all day. There are rational people making rational demands. Using my intellectual brain feels good. In a lot of ways, it’s great.

But then our day home lady told us James walked a little today and I almost started crying because I had to stay late for a meeting and I wouldn’t even see him again on this special day that he walked.

Every day feels like such a whirlwind: we are up, we are eating, getting ready, out the door to work, work work work, pick James up, play, feed him, bath, put him to sleep, make dinner, eat dinner, watch a show, go to sleep.

I guess there’s less room for that emotional brain work. To take stock.

It’s a little easy to get lost in this. This being Life, I guess. When people ask me how it’s going I usually say ‘Fine’ which I think it is – for the most part – but I also feel like I haven’t really processed this crazy transition from focusing on one clear objective: raising my child – to suddenly have all the complications of life slamming up against me : work, buying a house, taxes, what’s the five-year plan? Ten year plan? Are we doing all the right things to make those plans happen?

If I had a bigger readership, I could hear them now telling me how privileged I am, and I am. I get it.

Maybe all I’m looking for at this moment in time is what I have right now: A quiet room. A beer. A keyboard. Some time. Space enough for thoughts.

Anyway, I’ve missed you guys. Hi.

(There is no) End of the rope – 51 of 100

Having a sick child chips away at you. You are worried. No one is sleeping. And when no one is sleeping, everyone gets cranky. And when everyone is cranky, Mom starts to lose it.

You think: no more. If he gets up at 5 a.m. again, I’m not going. I’m going to burrow under the covers and let him scream.

When he doesn’t eat (again) you think, that’s it. I’m just going to leave him with one of those catfood dispenser things and he can feed himself.

When he screams bloody murder when you put his coat on, you think: FINE. I’ll put you in the bathroom, close the door and let you unroll toilet paper all day.

But of course you don’t do any of those things. Angry mom is a close companion of worried mom, who must try and do everything in her power to coddle, to try this and that and everything she can possibly think of to make him happy to find that one smile in that sick little body.

Then, last Saturday, he woke up at 4:30 a.m. I went in to feed him and put him back in the crib. But no. He cried and wailed and would not have it.Yes: I knew he had been sick. Yes: I knew something was probably wrong. But I was TIRED. And I was PISSED.

“I can’t!” I whined to Dan from under my pillow. “Your turn.” Dan went but given the  wails I knew that no one was going back to sleep.

By 5:30 we were playing. Oh joy. Dan and I could barely hold our heads up – literally. You know when you’re so tired your stomach eats itself? We took turns, playing with James and then dozing on the living room couch. It reminded me of the very early days, when it was all I could do to be alert enough to care for him. When I would wait in the darkness for 6 a.m. to wake Dan. When I was afraid I’d drop or hurt him out of sheer exhaustion. It was like living in pea-soup fog.

This is it, I kept thinking. The end of my rope. No more.

Finally, around 7, we got him back into bed and we collapsed into our own bed.

When he woke again, I took him for a walk to give Dan a break. We walked through the neighborhood, up a hill. Just me and James, like all the mornings that came before it this year.

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He was just himself and I was just me, his mom. I unclipped him from the carrier and I pointed to the buildings: “Do you see the city?” I asked him. “And what about over there?” I pointed to our right. “Do you see the mountains?” The trees. The birds. An airplane. I pointed to them all. I held his hand and he waddled around and explored.

There’s no end, I thought. I’ve learned it again and again this year. I learned it in labor. I learned it every night when I thought I couldn’t go on. Every day. Motherhood stretches you, breaks you, pushes you past where you ever believed you could go. And you cannot turn your back. You must keep on. You must find your frayed threads and knit them up as best you can.

(It’s like those goddamn spinning classes. 10 minutes into it, I’m like: ok, done! Enough! I’m miserable! Fuck it! And yet somehow, there I am, sweating out of every pore, red as a boiled-alive lobster 40 minutes later.)

I am sure other people realize this in other, more profound and much more challenging ways.

But I’m a slow learner and I guess I have had a lucky life. I wish I could push myself so far in other aspects of my life.

And I guess I am sort of amazed that we always have more. That when we think we are out, when we feel like we can’t hold our heads up any longer, when we venture into that dark, lonely pea-soup fog–you think you will find weakness, but you must find strength. Your most deep, true, sacred heart.