I screwed up this weekend. I'm writing again and in an effort to please new editors I bit off more than I could chew. It's nothing irreparable, I'm working steadily in a rare morning at home alone but I'm also beating myself up needlessly about those little errors. Listening to the composer for one of the pieces I'm writing about reminded me that I am allowed these mistakes. I am a collection of parts: mother, wife, friend, writer, worker, woman who hasn't slept a full night in 20 months. Perfection of all parts at all times would be inhuman.
"Collection of Pieces", by composer William Yin-Lee: https://soundcloud.com/williamlinyee
My brain isn't working. I'm sitting in a cafe on Saturday morning trying to write my first theater review in over a year, and I've got nothing. My mind is buzzing with worries about the state of the exhausted baby I just left with my husband, reminders that I forgot to pull the laundry out of the washer, buzzing, buzzing, buzzing with its own extreme state of sleep deprivation.
I've had one full night of sleep since October 2015. West doesn't sleep all night, I'm a light sleeper, and we've decided to continue to breastfeed until he's a bit older, maybe two, maybe beyond. When West wakes up at night and cannot be comforted by his father, I go to him. We don't let him cry himself to sleep. We waited until we could afford to live on one income so that I could stay home with him in his early years, so that we wouldn't have to chose between our sleep and his personal sense of security, his trust in his parents. So I'm really fucking tired.
I thought I'd be able to write a bit during these years. I went to a ballet last night so I could review it for City Arts Magazine, planning to go to a pub after the show, write the review, edit it over one hour in a coffee shop this morning and send it off to the editor before noon. It's 11AM and I have 700 jumbled words on the page, mostly adjectives. My brain is on my child, on the sleep that I didn't get last night. My hands are heavy, my eyes near tears of frustration. And yet I'm right where I want to be. I don't want to be a writer right now. I want to be a mom. So I guess that's what I'll go do. As soon as I finish this fucking review.
I started bawling while spooning oatmeal and strawberries into my son's mouth this morning. Between bites of coagulated mush he would sing his little ode to nursing "side-y, side-y, side-y," and I realized that it's time to wean.
I love breastfeeding. We had our first conversation when he was about five minutes old and I'd unswaddled him and put him to my bare skin as we were wheeled out of the operating room. I could hardly feel my arms and chest after a brutal labor and delivery, but I knew how to guide his tiny mouth to my breast and he drank hungrily while peering up at me through his squinty little black eyes. Over the last 18 months we've learned a lot about each other during feeding time conversations. It is our sacred time. And it's coming to a close.
We sing to West all the time. One of his many nicknames is "Tiny Hansen," from the hours of time spent listening to Elton John during his first few weeks. Elton John is incredibly cathartic for postpartum hormones. This morning while I was sobbing over porridge, KEXP played Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." I cried some more, cleaned up the oatmeal, and nursed West for probably one of the last times. It was but one of the thousands of moments of letting go I'll experience for the rest of my life as West grows up. It is devastating, satisfying, and human. It is why I am here.
I ran into an old friend today while out walking with my son, and in an instant went from feeling on top of the world to shoulder-slumping despair. My friend is beautiful, ten years my junior--and not a parent. I am 40 and a stay at home mother to a teething one year old with a cold. I began this morning with a 5:30 AM shift at my twice-monthly volunteer job after waking every 90 minutes all night to breastfeed a cranky baby. I came home to a sleepy family who giggled with me over breakfast. I ran around the house doing chores with my 25 lb son on my back, bundled him into the stroller mid-morning and walked to the store with a big sense of accomplishment sitting on my shoulder whispering "Good girl, rock on girl."
As I type this, my crappy mood is fading. When I met my friend, I glimpsed myself in the window behind her perfectly-pinned hair, flawless makeup, painted toenails. The bags under my eyes were visible in the reflection, frizzy post-pregnancy hair flying away in a hundred directions, baggy sweater over jeans mottled with old oatmeal and rogue baby loogies. And after everything I'd done already today, that was how I judged myself. Not as the sleep-deprived mom who still got up before dawn to work at a women's shelter, not as the domestic goddess who made breakfast from scratch for three people in ten minutes flat. Not as the wife who spent five minutes oogling and kissing her husband before sending him off to work, humming and smiling to himself. With each of these actions, I was healing the people I love and preparing them to meet their day with healthy bodies and hearts full of peace. And that, right now, is how I fight. Not by going to every demonstration or teach-in, not by writing every senator and politician, not by posting my thoughts on social media. But by feeding those around me, sometimes instead of brushing my hair. I resist the dangers of our world, at this particularly scary time, by love.
I threatened a big white man in a pickup truck today. I road raged. A big Chevy truck pulled in front of me when I had the right of way, almost hit my car carrying me and sleeping infant, and when he rolled down his window at the next stoplight I told him that I was going to follow him home so that he'd know what it felt like to be intimidated. I didn't, but I did scream at him to go fuck himself as I pulled away. Classy. Now I feel like shit, a typical angry mommy in a Subaru who deserves every judgement you're thinking as you read this.
But I'm not angry. I'm scared. I get scared when I drive and when I bike and when I cross the street with my son strapped to my back. People in this city drive like shit. A woman in our neighborhood was killed crossing the street in front of her house last week. I'm terrified that me or my son or my husband are next. And so, I scream at people who don't pay attention. If I were a daddy, yelling out of fear to protect his children, I wouldn't be made fun of. But I'm a woman and women aren't supposed to get angry. Men are strong when they express strong emotions. Women are bitches, or crazy, or on their periods. What does that bumper sticker say, something about "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention?" I guess I'm paying attention. Close attention. And I'm angry that we don't watch out for each other in this increasingly dangerous, unloving world. So don't pull out in front of me. I just might follow you home.
Apart from a brief mention in a 2013 article I wrote for the Stranger about male birth control, I have never spoken publicly about abortion. I understand why people who base their ethical principles on religious ideals and scripture oppose abortion, and I respect their freedom to voice their opposition and to handle their reproductive health in ways that fall in concert with their values. I also believe, with every fiber of my birth control-practicing, abortion-having, child-bearing body that women have the absolute freedom to decide what to do with their own bodies. Any restriction on abortion access, whether legal, financial, or social, is a violation of human rights.
I listened to Jose Antonio Vargas speak last night. Vargas, a Pulizter Prize-winning journalist and fierce advocate of human rights, taught me two things: One, that human rights are not granted by laws. You're human? You have rights. Two, that shielding ourselves from people who have different beliefs about what these rights mean is destructive. Without engagement, we cannot progress toward equality and peace in this country. With this week's announcement of Ohio's potentially devastating ban on abortion access, my fear of talking about my experience of having an abortion is overshadowed by my fear that we are about to have our basic human rights to determine our reproductive health destroyed. So I'm going to fight. And I'm going to write. And I'm going to discuss. If you agree with me, awesome. If you don't, let's talk about it.
I learned to trust my gut today. Early this morning, I could tell that my son was feeling off and I almost texted my friend to suggest we take our babies to a park instead of a busy cafe. Our sons' favorite pastimes at the moment are spitting food while saying "yeah!" and chewing on our shoulder blades--we're just not urban lunch crowd material right now.
I left the restaurant before my friend arrived. Ushered out by icy glares after my tired toddler grabbed my straw and flicked frigid iced tea onto the business meeting behind us, we stumbled back onto the street with my son in tears and my nursing bra unclasped and dangling out the bottom of my blouse. It sucked. I said "fuck" a lot under my breath and cursed the people around us for not appreciating their iced tea shower. But fifteen minutes and three blocks later we were sitting in a huge pile of fallen leaves with our friends, munching on soggy gas station sandwiches and laughing. My friend's son is learning to walk, his eyes huge with pride as he took tiny steps toward his mom before collapsing into giggles in her arms. My son continued to eat large amounts of dirt and leaves, evened out by small bits of hard boiled egg that he spit out and rubbed into the concrete before putting back into his mouth. I've never been prouder to be by his side.
The walker, not the leaf eater.