When I was much younger, I used to get panic attacks. I felt a clawing anxiety about things I couldn’t understand or control. Darkness, the world “out there” with people, fierce summer storms – all these were triggers.
I haven’t had a panic attack in many years, and as horrible as they were, they don’t compare to the gut-level anxiety that comes with having a child.
In our childless days, I would worry about my husband. Any time he had to trek to work on icy or stormy highways, any time he made longer voyages, cross-country or otherwise. I would worry that I’d never see him again. Not a consuming worry, just like a switch that would sometimes flip while I was doing the dishes or a yoga pose. I’d have the thought (what if he dies?), push it away, and carry on.
After having a child, I look back on this worry as laughably elementary. I still don’t want him to die, of course, but now if the two of them leave the house, he’s not the one I worry about. If he burns himself on a pan and spills a bit of hot sauce on the floor (as happened yesterday), my first instinct is to make sure our daughter is far away and unhurt. My distant second instinct is to see if he’s okay (he was).
The first time Jane was sick, when she was around 6 months old, I barely slept. She just had a regular cold and a small fever, but I listened to her breathe all night. Was she getting enough air? Is she breathing too fast? Is she going to wake herself up with all that snorting? I wonder if she needs medicine?
The first time (and only time – so far!) that she had a high fever, I stayed awake all night while she slept restlessly. I watched her sleep, I counted her breaths, I called the health nurse, I gave her Tylenol, I waited an eternity for the morning to (get my husband to) take her to the hospital.
Because taking your child to the hospital is terrifying. But Michael isn’t terrified; he’s unflappable. So he took her in while I lay in bed, trying to get an hour or two of sleep, but just worrying instead.
She was fine, it was nothing serious. Still, I clung to her tightly when she came home. This little lump that I love so much.
And then the first time (and only time) she caught a stomach bug. Michael was away, because the Fates have it that he tends to be away when she gets sick. It was bedtime and we were cuddling to sleep. She coughed, and I felt weirdly wet and warm. So I turned on the light, and we were both covered in vomit. I cleaned us up, changed our clothes, changed the bedding. Half an hour later, again. Half an hour later, again. I got wise to the routine and we started sleeping on towels. I lay with her all night, drifting into 15-minute pockets of restless sleep, to be woken to the sound of pre-vomit. I became skilled in jumping to the rescue with a towel to preserve her jammies.
I’d grab some fresh towels and nurse her. She nursed all night. I was afraid of her getting dehydrated. We made it to the morning and she was already much better. But all night long, the merry-go-round of terror.
If anything happens to a child in a movie, or commercial, or a story on the news, I can’t bear it. I cry. It’s too much. I don’t listen to the news at all if I can help it. Michael told me a story once and I haven’t been able to wash it out of my head. The story comes back to me and turns my stomach, hurts my insides. I never want to hear a story like that again.
We were watching A Quiet Place for the second time. In the movie’s intro, we looked at each other with tears in our eyes. Is there anything more terrifying than the thought of losing a child?
On a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis, toddlers and babies are so demanding of time, attention and energy. I’m not always (read: seldom ever) bursting with gratitude and lovebeams. I don’t spend my often-monotonous days as a parent in a blissful reverie, as much as I’d like to. It’s hard work. I try to be patient, I try to be pleasant, but sometimes I’m annoyed and tired.
Despite this, I feel a love on a deep, primal level like I’ve never felt before. Back in my panic attack days, I feared my own fragile mortality. But that seems like nothing now. I would give my life for hers in a heartbeat, without question. Now her life is the thing I most fear losing. Not mine, not my husband’s.
Is it biology? Is it how parents are programmed?
That visceral love is terrifying because it leaves you vulnerable. A sappy commercial can break you into a million pieces. Your child getting sick can crack open all your deepest fears.
I need to practice a new vigilance, a vigilance against allowing this terror to chronically encroach on my life. To allow her the freedom to grow and experience the world away from me. To not get in her way out of a desperate need to keep her safe. To hold myself together if she falls ill or gets injured, for her sake.
Before having a child, I remember fantasizing about the experience – what my life would be like, the funny things she’d do, seeing my husband be a father, and all the love. I didn’t fathom the terror in those dark corners of 2am, helpless against it all. Where you can do nothing but pray. I get why people pray. I really do.
It’s Friday afternoon and I’m wrapping up some work-related tasks for the week. The sun finally came out, though the air is cold for being the middle of summer.
After enjoying an Ethiopian buffet for lunch, I was waiting to pay. The owner had to go hunt down the debit machine, so while I waited, my eyes gravitated toward the television.
I’m not a news person. You might call me ignorant, and you might be right. But I’m a sensitive person and news has the tendency to quickly turn me cynical.
On the television, the news was detailing the most recent exploits of ICE. Pulling people from cars, separating parents from children. I almost broke down in tears right there. So easy to say from my point of privilege, as a Canadian woman. But how is it that these things are happening now, in this day and age? How has the fear of immigrants gone this far?
My problems are trivial, but they’re mine. I’m not at risk of deportation or separation from my family, which should be the end of that thought. But still, my own little concerns, little though they may be, feel heavy and weighty in my life.
We’ve been looking at houses in the city, closer to childcare, further from Michael’s work. Currently I drive 1.5 hours (one way) in order to have access to quality childcare. I’ve been doing this a couple times a week for over half a year, and the longer it goes on, the more rage I feel, rage against a broken system. Canada is better than the United States, but childcare is expensive and not readily available to all. It’s why so many moms decide to stay home while their children are young, permanently affecting their ability to advance their career in a meaningful way.
I want to be a mom AND have a meaningful career. It shouldn’t be so hard to have both.
Moving to the city means a daily commute of 1.5 hours for my husband, so it isn’t a fair trade-off. At the same time, it isn’t fair that I have to drive so far just to work, especially with a child who doesn’t always like the long drive. Few things are more stressful than inconsolable screaming during endless highway stretches.
If I could learn to be happy with what is. If I could embrace being a stay-at-home mom, and put work on the backburner. Even for a year. We could ride out Michael’s work contract and consider moving afterward. When I write it out, when I think about it, it seems like the obvious answer. Just deal with it, right?
Yet when I turn that over in my heart, I just feel blue. Heavy. Like the story of my next year will be defined by a resigned sigh.
Staying at home and being a good parent is challenging, but I don’t mind it. I spent the first year of Jane’s life scaling way back on work and focusing on being a stay-at-home mom. I made good friends centered around playdates. I cooked food and kept the house in order. It was fine. But now I’m in a phase where I want to focus on work. Especially because the possibility exists of becoming a parent to an infant again, which will reset the cycle.
The problem is the lack of choice. If I had the choice, I would work 3-4 days a week right now. It’s just too much driving, too much time away from home. A regular 8-hour day turns into a 12-hour day.
Still, there are real issues in the world and I’m stuck on this one. I’m complaining about a commute, but at least I have a family to commute to.
Many women would kill to be in my position. We can afford for me to stay at home with my daughter. Between my (small) income and my husband’s (slightly less small) income, we’ve been able to make it work in our little town. Many women work long hours with low pay and don’t have the option to stay home, even if they wanted to. Other women, like myself, feel somewhat forced into the situation, and a little resentful about it as a result.
Jane loves her current daycare. She’s excited to go there, and happily waves goodbye when I drop her off. Playing with the kids is a nice reprieve for her. The thought of pulling her out as the winter months approach, a real possibility, is a heartbreaking.
Where I live, winter driving can be unpredictable. Blowing snow, blizzards, fog, and ice are all reasonably common. In the peak of winter, we only have 8 daylight hours, and highway driving in the dark in these conditions only exacerbates them. Last winter I braved the highways once a week for daycare because I was desperate, but I don’t know that I’d do it again. It’s one thing if it’s just me in the car; it’s another entirely when my daughter’s in there with me.
So then Michael is supposed to drive in these conditions, and every day? Is that a fair trade-off?
We’ve been making serious plans to list our house in the fall and to start looking for a new place in the city. This should thrill me, but I’m left feeling guilty and a little bit blue. My husband is such a generous and kind person. Moving makes his life so much harder, but he wants to make my life easier.
Why can’t I do the same for him? Put it off for a year, or even half a year? Try to shove that resigned sigh back down and make the most of it?
So we’re floating in the ether of indecision, with no decision on either side being an easy one. I’m waiting for that alternative – that brilliant idea that is so perfect and I can’t believe why I didn’t think of it before.
Like maybe we just go travel. Do the opposite of settle down. Embrace the ether. But then I think about it, and it seems prohibitively difficult. Too difficult to be worth it.
What about getting a little condo in the city, so I can have a place to live during the work week, and then go home for the weekends? A temporary solution for the next school year? But that’s expensive and I don’t want to be away from my husband so much, and to have him be away from his daughter so much.
We’ve been having a wonderful summer so far. The pacing has been good and we’ve had lots of time together as a family. In some moments I’m blindingly happy. In some moments, it’s clouds over that sunny sky. It’s a little bit blue. Thanks for reading.
You won’t believe me when I say it, but Jane has grown a lot of hair since her first birthday in February.
My mother loves to tell me that I didn’t get my first haircut until age 3. So I guess her bald genes come from me. 🙂
Now that my husband is off work for the summer, we’ve been spending most of our time in the backyard, at the kiddie pool, and cooking great food.
(I also spend quite a bit of time at the piano, but that’s nothing new).
Jane’s got her own little chair for the backyard (though climbing up on our patio furniture is fun too). Our backyard is small but we were determined to make it usable this summer. Being childless and cooped up in the summer is no fun, but once you have children it’s basically impossible to stay inside (unless you want to deal with constant crankiness).
My lettuce box is growing nicely (with swiss chard currently exploding out of its boundaries). I have some crops growing in my parent’s yard as well, but those plants are much more sad. We had an early June frost that did some serious damage, coupled with random hot temperatures and drying winds.
Jane had her first sandbox experience at the town fair. She spent a solid 30 minutes in there. Michael and I had a real conversation. I guess we’re going to need to get this child out to the beach soon!
This Bach fugue will be the death of me, but what better time to tackle a project such as this than summer? I’m lucky enough to have a flexible schedule for the next couple of months. It’ll probably take a good 30+ hours to get this one to about 80% competency. Bring it, Bach.
Spent some time with petting zoo animals as well. Jane was interested in the animals, but a little nervous (especially of the big and friendly llama). Michael’s tattoo is probably a couple of sessions away from completion!
And what summer is complete without waffles?
With the approach and arrival of each new season, I start to get antsy. I complete goals I’ve been working on, and I start itching for a change. New ideas, new plans, new things to do.
It always starts with daydreaming. I would drive my daughter to daycare, hour-long commutes in the bright early morning of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer. I lost interest in my audiobooks and podcasts, normally so dear to me. Instead I opted for music. Sometimes I’d just let Spotify pick the tunes, and sometimes I’d listen to the same song 100 times in a row. But I chose music so I could think, and feel. Be inside my own mind instead of someone else’s.
With the daydreaming came reflection and forward-thinking. What would my 10-years-from-now self look like? What would she be doing? Where am I currently unsatisfied, and what can I do about it?
Hours and hours of these thoughts. What do I want my life to feel like? How do I be a better wife, a better mother, a better person?
These last few weeks have been so busy. I hosted an Online piano convention, and with the launch of that there were many little tasks, such that my mind couldn’t relax. I’d be at the dinner table with my family and be thinking about work. It would be 10pm and I’d feel guilty for reading my book instead of answering emails. I knew it was a small drop in the ocean of my life, that things wouldn’t be like this forever.
The convention is over now (and it WAS fun). Yesterday, the last day it ran, I took Jane to the paddling pool. I watched her pour water from the toy watering can, over and over. I watched her climb in and out of the pool, over and over. I watched her fill a bucket ever-so-slowly with small drops of water from little toys. And then I chased her around the pool when she ripped off her hat and refused to put it back on.
And in all this, I had one thought in my mind:
If I was given a death diagnosis – 6 months to live – this is exactly what I’d want to be doing. How lucky am I, to spend an hour of a hot summer afternoon watching my daughter play? What’s better?
And yet – and yet – until I actually started thinking about it, my mind was running thoughts like, Oh, I wonder if Logan took care of that task. Oh, I wonder if Michael remembered to rotate the laundry. Does Jane really want me to fill the watering can again, for the 100th time? Why is she just sitting on the edge of the pool – doesn’t she want to swim? Is she going to start freaking out if she remembers she’s wearing a hat and then tries to take her off? Am I going to have to haul her back to the car, kicking and screaming, if she takes off the hat and refuses to wear it?
(Sidenote: After chasing my hatless baby, and then scooping her up and committing to leaving the pool as punishment, she was chipper as a bird, waving and saying “bye” to everyone and anyone there.)
These thoughts run like rivers and are inevitable, I know. But when I caught myself, when I put on the 6-months-to-live lens, it took the 100 scattered pieces of my mind and drew them all back into one coherent whole. And the whole said, “what is more important than this, right now?“
Not work, as much as I love giving and contribution and meaningful endeavors. With six months to live, I would certainly find a project or two to throw myself into, to leave my mark.
But I was so lucky to be there with my daughter, and I’m so lucky so often, and yet I grumble and forget and blink and my day is gone and without gratitude.
For the last few weeks in my daydreams, I’ve been flashing 10 years ahead. In that vision I have plenty of time for my friends and my husband and my family, and I also have the freedom to do meaningful work. But more than just a vision, my 10-year idea comes with a feeling. A feeling of flow, a feeling of wholeness. The 100 bits of my mind, unified.
And that feeling, it isn’t 10 years away. How depressing if it was! I can have that feeling – fulfillment? – right now, if only I look for it.
It’s not hard to find.
So often we think of the future as something to reach for, goals to check off. And that’s a fun thing to do, and to think about. But what we really want from our future is a feeling. Freedom, happiness, confidence, fulfillment. We might say we want money in our future, say, but what we really want is what the money will give us – freedom, happiness, confidence, fulfillment.
I don’t have the freedom to hop a plane tomorrow, it’s true. But I have the freedom to go on a random road trip if adventure is what I seek.
I don’t have the things that I imagine would bring me more happiness, such as a house in a city. But our house in a town is better than any house that I know. It’s got great ratty hardwood floors and color and spunk and personality and lots and lots of plants (thanks for that, Michael).
I don’t have some things I imagine would bring me more confidence, such as really nice clothes. I have okay clothes, some new, but lots of items that are many years old. I also don’t have the 125lb body I had pre-pregnancy. But I’m fit and hearty and healthy at 140lbs. And maybe not having all the nice things is its own little gift. If I only had a few main outfits, could I not be happy or confident? If I can’t be happy or confident without a variety of trendy outfits, what does that say about my life and my priorities?
And if the things I imagine will bring me fulfillment aren’t already present in my life, then that’s a significant problem. Fulfillment comes from meaningful work and healthy relationships. I’m lucky enough to have those right now if only I notice them and invest in them.
My 10-year future is here, right now. Less grand, but the feelings are all there for the taking, all the goodness of life before me like a buffet, if only I notice and take a bite.
I’m finally back with a video update featuring the life and times of my daughter. I talk about things like nursing and cloth diapering, and what developmental milestones she’s going through – as well as giving you a peek into life with a small and active child.
That’s the million dollar question: Am I happy as a mother?
And therefore am I happy as a human on this planet Earth? As Allysia? But specifically in my role as Allysia-the-mother?
Well I started this blog, an answer in and of itself. There was the need to write and share, a weight of things to remove from my shoulders and toss in your direction.
Doesn’t that imply a lack of happiness? A happy person doesn’t need to write in a diary to find relief. When I flip through my diary entries throughout the years, happy times are notably absent (weddings, travel, all the good stuff I wish I penned for memory’s sake).
Here’s the problem.
Up until now, for the last 32 years of my life, I’ve expected the world to make me happy. Happiness is something that happened to me. Not something I found or worked for. Something that just came about – poof! – in waves forever. Now you’re happy, now you’re not.
A sunny day – happiness. A cuddle, a hot cup of coffee, a warm blanket, a private moment away with words. A piece of chocolate, a waffle, a bowl of mac n’ cheese, a Belgian beer.
Rainy skies – dreariness. Cancelled plans, a stubbed toe, finding out I’m all out of oatmeal right at breakfast. These are the antagonists of my life, the things that place the collar around my neck and drag me around my day.
When happiness is out there, I don’t control it. I’m a victim of it. Sometimes the Universe smiles upon me; sometimes the Universe could care less about me. I’m blown around like a paper doll. Dust in the wind.
But the happy times feel so good. Sunny-cuddle-coffee-blanket, it’s a high. What’s wrong with creature comforts, with happiness that exists out there?
Who am I to say anything is wrong with it? Life is life, life is made up of these glorious moments. But it’s also stubbed toes and cancelled plans. You can’t get one without the other.
I don’t want to splash around while the waves happen to me. I want to learn to surf.
If someone has this surfer’s manual, please deliver it to me.
I was thinking about this while Jane and I were having lunch. My phone was only a foot away but I refused to look at it. This is a moment for just us, I thought. Me, my mind, and my daughter. This is a moment to think my own thoughts. I kept the phone out of reach.
Am I happy as a mother?
My answer is that for the last ten months, probably not really. Not overly. I was happier last year, in the sense that I had time, freedom, and control. The things that happened to me were nicer things. In my 10 months of being a mom, the things that have happened to me are hard. Early wake-ups, constant dependency, a complete lifestyle change. So from an outward point of view, I am not very happy as a mother. Not right now. Not if I’m being honest.
I’m not depressed, though. That’s a different animal. It’s just that life is harder, and my mood is all tangled up in Jane’s. Her bad days become my bad days. Her storms are my storms. And – truly – her happiness is entangled in my own too. It’s not all such a grim story.
But that’s the problem. I’ve never learned how to properly draw happiness from within. I’ve always just sucked it out of the world around me.
So how you create happiness? How do you surf?
I don’t have an answer but I suspect it’s nestled in spirituality somewhere. Or – secularly – in gratitude. In little rituals, little rememberings about the precious nature of each moment. In being really present. Present for the rain, present for the shine. Present for this sweet little girl of mine, now just 10 months.
When I take a bird’s eye view, I can see the beauty. Because I find perspective beautiful. But I don’t think that’s enough. Life is more than the long view. Life is more than the retrospective. Life is ordinary moments, waiting to be noticed. It’s attention that ignites the magic.
I know I know I know.
The way I feel when I look at these pictures is how I want to feel when I’m inside the picture the moment it’s all unfolding.