Parenting H

Month: April, 2014

A flash of metal catches my eye as I fish my toothbrush from my toiletry bag.

It is my wedding band.

I had squirreled it there months ago, in a side pocket, when I first took it off. The toiletry bag had been shoved to the back of the vanity under the bathroom sink, behind unused soaps, lotions, shampoos, and toothpaste, and that is where I had put it back. The ring will be safe there, I had thought, and I will be safe from it. I can forget about it for a while and decide later what to do with it.

I have forgotten about it mostly, except for those times when my thumb, out of habit, moves over to my ring finger to turn the absent ring, or my pinky slides over and rubs up and down to do the same. The ring is the last thing I expect to see as I get ready for bed, glinting from a jumble of toiletries that I have been carrying around with me for a week and a half, back and forth between our apartment and the place H and are staying at night. It surprises me to see it, but not that I feel sad when I do.

I leave the ring in the toiletry bag. I carry it around, back and forth, and while I invariably forget something I need at one place or the other, I always have the ring. It is a perfect ring, one that felt like me every time I looked down at my hand for the almost nine years I wore it, and now it makes a perfect metaphor for all the things I have been carrying around, back and forth and everywhere, since I took it off. There is my ego protective anger, dagger sharp, that screams, “How could you have done this to me? You are wrong and terrible for not even trying. I do not deserve this.” There is the pain that lies just beneath the anger, a quiet ocean of tears and sadness. It is a blameless, million-shades-of-grey kind of place, this pain, where we each did the best we knew how. It is the more liberating place to be, and it is almost unbearable and exceedingly difficult to stay there long.

I carry the hopes and vision I had for an intact, loving, warm family for H to come home to; of family-oriented weekends spent at the zoo, at apple orchards, at the Arboretum; of honoring our families’ traditions and creating new ones of our own; of secret wishes that a second baby would be a brother for H; of me and H’s father growing old and happy together through all of life’s seasons, through the children coming and growing and going, through job transitions and wild, impossible-seeming dreams hatched and realized, through the good and the muck and back to the good again. I carry around these things with me still. It is not as easy to shed them as it was to hide that perfect wedding band in my toiletry bag. These things are sticky.

I carry worry now that I did not before. I worry about H and how he is experiencing this separation. He does not have the words to tell me, so I do not know for sure. When he has a hard day, when it seems as if he is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, when nothing seems right, is it because he is feeling acutely the pain of the rift in our family or is it something else, perhaps merely typical toddler growing pains? Your papi has a bed in a new house now, I told H when his father first moved out, but how does he understand this? He must notice that he does not sit on his father’s lap before bed every night anymore and that we do not wave at the kitchen window every morning as his father leaves for work. Both of us have agreed to do our best to shield H from our feelings about one another, but there is no denying the gaping hole that has been torn into our small household. We creep around it, cautiously approaching the edge from time to time, but mostly we stay away for H’s sake. What does H think of it? How does he feel? I do not know, and I worry.

I carry things from the apartment to the new place we will stay until I have a better handle on myself, on my finances, on life. Some things I pack for storage until some undetermined time in the future when I will want or need them again. Mostly it is a mechanical process of sorting, discarding, and packing, but then I find the pain I carry. It is hiding in a photograph of me that H’s father had on his desk at home for as long as I can remember. He took the picture soon after we moved to Seattle together, before we were married. We are in the Jetta, me in the passenger seat in the black leather jacket I never felt quite right about wearing, my head tilted and resting on the grey cloth seat of the car. I look serious. I find it face down in the closet, on top of an unopened Christmas gift. What is inside the package? Who gave it to him? What is he hiding from me? I ponder these things, and it hits me again. It is over. He took my picture off his desk. This part of my life is coming to an end. The hopes and dreams I had for my marriage and my family need to be released. Things need to shift and change. I am shifting and changing. It is painful, and I do not want it. It is forcing me to carry so many things I would rather have never picked up. It is forcing me to put down some things I would rather have held onto.

I do not know what to do with the ring. It lives in my toiletry bag still, to the right of the bathroom sink in the place H and I have landed for now. I do not know what to do with it, so I do nothing. It is in an in-between sort of place, just as I am, caught between what was and what will be. I am carrying too much of the past and too much pain and anger to see the future clearly, and although a part of me wishes I could accelerate this process and bypass all the parts of right now that I do not like, there is a larger part of me that knows and accepts that this is not possible and that it would not serve me or H in the long term. When I have carried the past long enough, when I am able to tenderly turn it over to the universe, sending those things I wished for away with love and gentleness instead of with bitter resentment, I have a sense that something beautiful will open up for me and for H. And perhaps then I will know what to do with the ring.

Waiting It Out

Making it to bedtime after a long day caring for a toddler while sick. Planning on going straight to bed with him. Watching while his grandma, at his request, puts on his nighttime diaper. Working every angle to get him to brush his teeth. Giving him the choice between reading books or having milk. Reading Good Night Gorilla until he emphatically points to himself and grabs the book away. Watching him look over a page or two before he drops the book and starts to roll around on the bed. Wondering, as he punches at my Kindle with his tiny index finger, how he always manages to find the panel for writing a note. Brokering a deal for the Kindle. Setting it aside and settling down to nurse. Letting him switch from side to side himself, back and forth so many times I lose count. Reminding him that twiddling hurts mama. Reminding him again. Feeling the burn on my nipples if he so much as grazes them with his delicate fingers. Focusing on my elbows and feet to distract myself from the discomfort of the nipple twiddling. Despairing that he will never sleep. Deflecting his second and third requests to read books. Singing, humming, murmuring. Drifting off to sleep, finally, as he does. Waking each time he wakes to let him latch. Looking at the clock as he falls back asleep to reassure myself it is not yet time to get up. Switching sides of the bed with him at one wake up. Lying down in a pool of wet. Trying to convince myself this wet is no big deal. Feeling the wet spot again to judge its size. Feeling H’s diaper. Feeling the bed. Feeling the wetness on H’s torso, too large a spot to ignore. Getting up for a diaper and pajama change. Resigning myself to the resulting 2:30 am baby party. Slumping against the bed as H plays with the shape sorting toy. Struggling against my sore throat to swallow as my head throbs. Musing about what life would be like if I were perpetually awake. Deciding the world would look as it does in Blade Runner. Wondering if I am dying. Making it through the baby party with hazy memories of what actually happened. Crawling back in bed at 4 am. Asking him to sleep on top of me when he struggles to resettle. Feeling the pressure of his little body against mine. Dozing through the early hours of the morning with him nestled beside me. Smiling at him when he sits up in bed, looks at me seriously, and says up. Asking if he would like to get up. Smiling more at his vigorous confirmatory nods. Picking him up. Climbing out of bed for the day. Knowing, with certainty and conviction, that the rough night was worth it, that H is worth it. Hoping against hope the upcoming night is easier.

H loves to feed the cats. More, he signs enthusiastically as soon as we walk through the door, meaning something along the lines of, “The kitties surely need more food.” Or maybe, “I want to give the kitties more snack. RIGHT NOW!” I hold him aloft at the cupboard, and he removes the food storage bin with eager nods. Sitting on the floor now, legs in a V, toes pointing up, H scoops cat food from the square bin into bowls, a few pieces in one and a few more in the other. The cats have not embraced H the way he has them, but one approaches warily and stops a good six feet from where we are sitting. We wait, H quiet and still. No one moves. Finally, I set one bowl to the other side of me and H and push it an arm’s length away. The cat comes closer to eat H’s small offering, keeping one eye on us the whole time. I can tell by the way she lingers and eyes us that she would like more, but she will not walk past H to reach the second bowl. We wait. H looks at the cat. He gestures wildly at the second bowl. The cat does not move, but she does not run away. H looks at the bowl, and I see the plan hatching in his mind. He picks up the bowl and places it on his other side, closer to the cat and as far away as his little arm will reach. He sits back and waits. The cat comes and eats. H sits still watching her.

I watch H watch the cat. This, this moment with this child, witnessing his enthusiasm and love and gentleness, yes to this. This, as we sit in a dirty, dusty basement with unfinished concrete floors, boxes piled on all sides, exposed carpet tacks everywhere, yes to this. This, as my life is shifting in seismic ways and falling apart around me, yes to this.  This life with H is a gift. Yes to every single part of it.