fault lines

My husband and I don’t agree on everything politically or socially. On most issues, we are like-minded and we cheer each other on. But on some, we argue about things (or if you ask him, we discuss them) on a regular basis. And you know what? It sucks to disagree. It would feel so much better to have the person you are committing to love and cherish all the days of your life saying, “Yes, honey, I completely agree!” all the time. But we don’t…and that leaves some conversations a little unfinished and uncomfortable.

One thing we can agree on is that something this time around with our new presidential administration is different. And that different is more bad than it is good – which leaves a spectrum of possibility for our future ranging from “just a little fucked” to “royally fucked”. And within that space, I am unsure how to navigate my world. I do not have the political knowledge that I probably should. I have vague recollections of my high school Government class but it’s spotty at best. (It didn’t help that the answers to the questions on the matching section of the test spelled out a word when you finished. They were more like a crossword puzzle than proof of my solid political understanding.)

And so every day I am searching my phone like an addict – scrolling through articles that predict the fall of our great empire and liking posts (but not necessarily sharing posts) that tell me I’m not alone. All to find some solace in a very anxiety-filled and unpredictable time. Most of this happens in a fake little digital social-world that I wake to in the morning and say goodnight to at night. On Facebook, I seem to have created a cushiony community of like-minded friends who make me feel good about my beliefs. It makes me feel like the majority of the world thinks like me! Though I know this is not true because, scrolling on his phone next to me, is my husband with a very different newsfeed and headlines.

Aside from the very obvious issue I have with social-media addiction, (Are therapists starting to see people about this yet? Would I be the first to admit I have a problem?), there is another one I realize I need to address. I really don’t like it when people have different beliefs than me. The other day I hid someone’s posts from my newsfeed because they disparaged Beyonce. So you can imagine what this means for friends who I disagree with politically. When it comes to disagreement, I am very much flight and not an ounce of fight and Facebook has offered a very handy tool to aid me in my avoidance of discomfort.

More and more since January, when I watch politicians talk on the news or hear family members say things that feel offensive, I find myself searching for a “hide” button. How can they believe that? I think, in exasperation. But if I am being honest, I usually add the word still to the end. Because, once upon a time, before Facebook and Twitter and whatever the kids are doing these days, I thought very differently than I do now. I voted differently, I discussed differently, and I fought differently. If the now-me and the then-me ever met, we probably would not be friends.

It’s hard to pinpoint the actual impetus of my changing beliefs. There are the vague generalities of growing up and some distinct memories of the first tinglings of metamorphosis. I guess you could say it began with the start of college, in which I emerged from a very small, sheltered community and joined a very large, secular world. I found myself surrounded by people who thought very differently than me. Change didn’t come immediately. In fact, I rooted into my belief system more deeply than I ever had before. It was a stubborn and passionate time in which I clung to my past and the friends who thought the same as me. I did a lot of arguing and judging then, which led to a lot of crying from guilt and loneliness.

A year and a half later, I spent some time in South Africa on a study abroad. Along with the obvious cultural differences of the South African people that I met, among the other Americans I traveled with, there was not a single like-minded person in the group. Perhaps because I viewed this as an inevitable part of travel or maybe because I was alone on the other side of the world, I opened myself up to the discomfort of befriending people who think differently than me. It was prickly and anxiety-inducing but, mostly because I am very non-confrontational, I spent a lot of time listening to others and taking it all in.

I distinctly remember a moment of the trip, where I was all by myself, walking to the college campus we attended. A noise coming from the hill caught my attention and I looked up to see a man standing on the rooftop of the mosque and another on the roof of the Hindu temple right beside it. They both wore loose, white pants and a long, tunic-like top and their heads were covered in different variations of a white scarf. The two men, in an unrehearsed harmony, were calling prayers out over the hills. And the sound of their calls made my heart lurch.

When I returned home to my like-minded community, it felt like I was standing on fault lines and I feared the inevitable tremors that threatened my worldview. I isolated myself, wrote a lot of things in private while I said a lot of things out loud that didn’t really match my real thoughts. A heavy-footed question lurked in my mind,

What if I am wrong?

Fast forward ten years to a workshop I attended on Culturally Responsive Teaching at an education conference. When discussing how to change people’s belief systems, the presenters shared a theory by Chris Argyris, a professor of business at Harvard University. During his study of human thought and decision making in the 70s and 80s, Argyris developed an idea called the “Ladder of Inference”. And while only nerds might say something like this, that theory on human thought rocked my world.

Basically, it suggests that humans tend to hold on to the belief system that they have very tightly and self-select data to further reinforce that belief system. This is why two people can read the same exact thing and walk away with two totally different conclusions. And because this is, I’m sure, inadequately paraphrased by me, this illustration explains it better:

ladder-of-inference

The presenters suggested that the only way to change a person’s belief, or to change your own beliefs, is to get out of the “reflexive loop” of ignoring data that doesn’t reinforce our worldview. In the context of education, this meant I needed to stop “throwing more data” at people in hopes that they would see it differently. Instead, I needed to create a space for people where they could safely ask themselves, “What if I’m wrong?” or “Why might someone think that?” Personally, I thought about the events that led to my changing beliefs. Through listening to and learning about people who thought differently than me, I was forced to pay attention to data I had been ignoring before.

I am not writing this to suggest that you need to change your beliefs. I keenly recognize that my privilege allows me to say “listen” because I have not been scarred by the system. And I want to be clear that the bigotry and hate that is being embraced right now is horrifying and decidedly wrong, with some people just not deserving of a listening ear. But there are people in our real lives (family, neighbors, friends) who we are isolating ourselves from because it feels uncomfortable right now. I don’t see any solutions coming from dividing ourselves any further. When faced with disagreement, instead of sticking my head in the proverbial sand, I am challenging myself to ask that scary, ugly question, what if I’m wrong and to ask others why do you believe that? It’s in this discomfort, we may actually see more and grow stronger in our beliefs.

I count myself lucky to have a partner in life that I don’t completely agree with all the time. Especially in a time where I am constantly bombarded with conflicting beliefs and actions by our governmental officials and leaders. I feel like this allows me to grow – not only because I have to consider the fact that someone I love and respect isn’t a complete heathen and, gasp, has another opinion. But it also helps us really check ourselves – where are we getting our information and can we recognize the details we are purposely ignoring in order to feel comfortable in our already established conclusions? I hope you have someone like this in your life too, who challenges you to think and question.

I know some people will read this and say, man that girl needs help. Yes, I know I do, thanks. You are much too well-adjusted to need my advice. But if you are having heart palpitations just like me and find yourself asking the universe, “what the actual fuck is happening?” on a daily basis then maybe you’d like to join me in my game plan to survive these trying times:

  1. Check my bias and privilege at the door (try my best anyway…) when I read things. Ask myself “What if I’m wrong?” to allow myself to select more data.
  2. Stop searching the interwebs for the next piece of drama like an addict. This is real life, not the Bachelor. Try to stay level-headed and not get emotionally involved with the actors.
  3. Embrace discomfort. (Go un-hide the Beyonce hater and my Aunt Rhoda.)
  4. Get off social media and get connected to real people, including those who may disagree with me. Then, listen.

P.S. I recognize the irony in sharing a social-media warning via social media. That same irony was not lost on me when a man came to my door with a homemade “No Soliciting” sign and then proceeded to ask for a donation once he affixed it to my house. But, as a writer, I don’t know how else to process this conundrum. I write it out so I can really chew on it, then I share it in case my words might help someone else.


© 2017 D. Willson

my protest

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When I was sixteen, I got my first job as a waitress at the Lansing airport. It was a tiny little “restaurant” that sold sub-par food to people in a hurry. If you worked the morning shift, you usually were paired up with another waiter to divide up the 15 tables that made up the floor. Between seven and nine a.m. we busted butt. Sometimes we were so busy it felt like I might split in two from trying to go a million places at once. Then after the rush, things slowed down and there was time to socialize while you restocked the maple syrup dispensers and the cellophane wrapped muffins in the display case. Sometimes, when it was really slow, we’d set up towers of the little jelly tubs and throw sugar packets at them to pass the time.

All of these memories are trivial details that seem to have faded along with faces and names. That is, except one face and name I will never forget. Charles.

I often worked the morning shift with Charles. He was in his early twenties and was attending the local community college studying music. At the time, I was a pretty serious Christian. Meaning, I went to youth group, loved Jesus, and prided myself on carrying my pocket-sized Bible around with me wherever I went. Charles told me one day that he was a Christian too. We talked about church, God, etc. It felt safe.

Then one day Charles told me that I should come over to his house some time and we could study the Bible. He said we could pray together. Then he said we could pray together in the shower. He said all this while standing very close to me behind the counter. He said it so close I could feel his breath on my neck while I nervously tried to count the quarters from that morning’s till. My heart raced and I laughed. I told him to shut up. But I said it while laughing and quickly changed the subject.

A few days later, Charles and I were on the same shift again. While I was getting some food out of the walk in cooler, Charles came in behind me and tried to tickle my sides. I jumped and told him to stop. But I laughed and ignored it.

The next shift included him saying he liked the way that I bent over to get things out of the fridge. He reminded me he still wanted to have a Bible study. He corned me in the walk-in cooler again, this time I bolted out before he could touch me.

I knew this wasn’t ok behavior so I went to talk to my boss. I explained what he did and asked if he could talk to Charles. I said I wasn’t sure if I could work there any more if Charles was there. My boss explained to me that he couldn’t fire Charles because he was dating Charles’ sister. He promised me that he would never put us on the same shift again. I felt relieved, but not safe. I knew Charles would still be there when our shifts overlapped.

At the time, I chalked this experience up to “dealing with sleezy men”. A normal, adult experience. And then I didn’t think about it much until about ten years later when I went through required sexual harassment trainings at my very first teaching job. All of the feelings of violation came rushing back. I felt infuriated that my complaint fell on deaf ears because my boss didn’t want to make things “awkward” with his girlfriend. I thought things like, “I could have sued his ass! He should have been fired! What’s worse, I was a minor! That asshole should be in jail!!” I felt so un-empowered, so naïve, so stupid.

Fast forward to October 2016. A tape was released of the current president of the United States talking about touching women without consent. “They let you do it,” he said.

His words made my skin crawl. Again, I immediately thought about what happened to me in high school. Technically, I “let” Charles do it too. I didn’t report him beyond the conversation with my boss, I didn’t report my boss. I laughed it off and when my boss had no consequences for him, I accepted it. And there was no one there telling me that this was not ok. So I normalized it.

When the actions and words of the man who is now the president of our country came to light, what bothered me most, or should I say scared me most is that, while alarm bells went off in me that I didn’t even know were there, it didn’t alarm a lot of people that I know. Instead, men had to use their wives, mother, and children to explain why it was wrong. And still others chalked it up to “locker room talk”. They called it vulgarity but they also called it normal. I began to wonder – has the world not changed at all in the nearly twenty years that have passed? And my child, my child with two X chromosomes, has to live in this world.

On November 8, when news of the election results broke, I cried. I cried all night as if I had just heard that a loved one had passed away. But it was more than this. They were akin to the tears I shed when I heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11. It was a fearful cry, terrorized by the unknown and dark thoughts that hope tried to keep at bay this year. They were also tears of defeat. But not like simply losing a game. Defeat, like when love doesn’t win, even when everyone told you that it does in the end. It was like watching the man who raped you get off scot-free.

For me this was something of a metaphor, for others it hit way too close to home.

As the months have passed and we find that this plot, that seems like something from a Hollywood movie, is our actual reality, that cloud of grief and disbelief, or whatever you want to call it, seems to be lifting. I feel more aware and awakened than I was before. I wonder if another candidate had won whether I would be as fired up about these things? Do I dare say that this is a good thing? I don’t want to use a Hallmarky-adage from Mr. Rogers about scary news and looking for the heroes. Yes, it’s true, and yes, it’s a good way to look at it. But it never, really, makes me feel better. Because it’s still so god damned dark and I can’t seem to see the forest for the trees yet.

Today I didn’t attend the Women’s March in Portland. Not because I didn’t believe in it but because of some pretty good excuses (nap time, another engagement scheduled, etc). I really wanted to go and I spent the whole morning having a huge existential crisis. I hemmed and hawed, called my best friend, waffled back and forth. And even though I felt like I was failing my daughter by not going, I made a final decision to stay home and vowed to figure out how to be a part of it all in another way.

As I sat on the couch while my baby girl napped this afternoon, I read news articles and saw pictures of friends and family taking to the streets to protest a man that they did not choose to be their president. Their signs, their words, the beaming, powerful faces of their children as they stand with them, were a balm that my soul has needed after these past few months. And even though I was unable to join them physically, I felt suddenly emboldened by their energy to speak up too and say out loud that I do not accept this as normal. I do not accept that the bad guy wins.

For those of you who know me, it won’t be surprising to you that this piece is hard for me to post. In fact, I started writing it back in October. I was fueled with anger and wine and a hot topic from the news. So I fervently wrote for hours, spewing my thoughts like a cartoon character with steam coming out of my ears. And then I let it sit in my documents folder for months because the topic was political. And I hate talking politics, especially when it’s not face to face. I hate talking about anything that might spark disagreement. I am so anti-confrontation that I once referred to my baby as a “he” for an hour with the Comcast guy because he thought she was a boy. I know I have a problem. I’ll work on that.

In the meantime, these words will have to do. They are my protest for today. The courage to post them comes from a passionate desire to change this world for my kid, our kids, for all of us.

This is for you my dear, future president. A new normal where love wins, in the end. And I’m going to do everything I can to make sure of it.

© 2017 D. Willson

#momoftheyear

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I write this in a space of nap-panic. That moment when you lay your precious babe down and you start to list all the things that you need to accomplish. You can usually separate the list into two categories.

Things you should do:
laundry, dishes, sweep/mop floors, plan meals, take down birthday sign that’s been up for a month, put away cooler of soda from birthday party that’s been in the back yard for a month, write thank you notes for lovely gifts from lovely people from birthday party that are now a month late, put laundry away that you didn’t get to last week, put this week’s laundry away, clean bathrooms, make easy-to-grab breakfast foods for the week, lesson plan the lessons you didn’t get a chance to plan for work, etc., etc.

And things you want to do:
take a shower, drink coffee, take a nap, bake some cookies, shop online, write something down so all the thoughts that have been trapped in your head for a month don’t cause it to explode or shut down, etc., etc.

All the while you are in a state of distrust – bracing yourself for a little grunt or cry because there’s a very real possibility that said nap could last as little as 10 minutes or as much as three hours. Panic, layered with distrust, and a smidge of resentment on top that you won’t ever get to the want to do list. And then you hear the little, annoying voice of perspective…remember when you watched that show about how many people around the world live with so much less and no luxuries like coffee and naps and you told yourself you’d never complain again…yeah, stop being such a selfish person. And then the guilt train comes barreling through, leaving you pretty smashed and miserable.

But today I chose to write first. Even if it means I don’t get meals planned and I have to feed Mila another freezer French fry. I really need an inner-pep talk because this week I feel like I totally bombed in the mom department. Maybe even in all the departments. Here are just a few of the things that went wrong…

  1. I lost too many items to count. From my house key (which led to me having to drive for over an hour to pick up keys from Mike while my daughter was starving and cranky and crying) to my spill-proof travel coffee mug (which led to a Kindergartener spilling my coffee all over an important book…and then I found said mug on the kitchen counter three days later, right next to the sink, in plain sight…which led to me yelling, “What the f*** is wrong with me?” in a heap of desperation, right in front of my child).
  2. I forgot to bring home the precious, time-consuming, pumped breastmilk from school two days in a row. Then when I remembered to bring home the two forgotten bottles, I left them in my school bag and they spoiled overnight. So I didn’t have a single drop of milk to send with her to daycare. And when I picked her up she was signing for milk in such a panic, you’d think she hadn’t eaten in a week.
  3. I managed to clock my child in the head twice. The first time, she bit my leg and I unconsciously swatted her head like you would a naughty dog. She cried and I cried. And then yesterday, I attempted to put her high chair tray on while she was sitting in it and bonked her with the wooden arm right in the eye. Not even an hour later, I pinched her leg in the belt buckle of her car seat and last night I knocked her over with the dishwasher door. Pretty soon I’m going to have to start explaining the bruises at daycare…

#momoftheyear. Add to it all the things I didn’t get to at work. And the house? Yeah…we have a fruit fly infestation that would make your skin crawl.

Then yesterday, I saw a commercial with Misty Copeland in it. It was for yogurt and it showed her doing all these different activities. She was cooking, she was painting, she was dancing up a storm and it ends with the tagline, “be unstoppably you”. Inspiring? I suppose it intended to be and maybe it was for others. But for me, it just made me feel so inadequate. Why are we as women expected to always have our multitasking shit together? Lean in, be unstoppable! Eat yogurt!

No disrespect to Misty Copeland but one thing I did notice, she wasn’t wrangling any children while trying to cook or holding a crying baby while walking the runway. I can’t run marathons and I can’t perform with the New York City Ballet. Last week, however, I nursed my growth-spurting baby who didn’t want to be set down while standing at the stove cooking oatmeal. Safety hazard? Probably. Supermom moment? Most definitely. But somehow, just because my house was a giant wreck in that same moment, I seem to discredit how bad-ass I was. Why do I only focus on the negative? I realize that I’ve gotten into the bad habit of always keeping track like a hall-monitor ready to pass out demerits any time I mess up.

How many of you reading this, actively “momming” or not, feel like you failed more than you succeeded this week? This negative-focus can’t be healthy, especially if it’s actually more normal to not have your shit together. I’m willing to bet that most people are running at about 60% success each day (don’t quote me on numbers, I’m not an anthropologist yet). We constantly have to let something important slack or fall off the plate in order to do something else that is equally important. Maybe we need to start grading ourselves on a curve.

I think we need to take the phrase “I feel like a bad mom” out of our vocabulary. With the exception of a few people who aren’t actually able to parent their children safely and consistently, you are never a bad mom. And every time you’re tempted to hashtag “momoftheyear”, stop and try to remember that you actually are mom of the year to your baby. They wouldn’t want to be accidently clocked in the head by anyone else. You’ve already won the award by everyone making it to bedtime relatively unscathed (including you if you are one of the lucky moms of a biter).

I know I haven’t said anything other mom-bloggers (Moggers? Bloms?) haven’t already said. But I think it bears repeating – don’t be too hard on yourself! Averagely succeeding is succeeding. Frozen French fries have calories and that counts as food. And it might just distract your kid long enough to put away a dish (or pour a glass of wine).

Here I am three hours later…thank you little girl for the gift of time. I hear her murmuring in the other room. My dishes are still piled high, the fruit flies are feasting, but I’m feeling significantly more at peace. #momoftheyear

© 2016 D. Willson

saudade

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It’s been over a year since my great aunt passed away. There was the purchase of an emergency plane ticket to try and make it home to say all the things I had left to say, the phone call that informed me that it was too late and the preparations to return for the funeral instead, a eulogy that felt chilled and prescribed, and finally a burial that laid her to rest next to her husband, whom she had lost two years before. I returned to Oregon dazed by the event, but jumped back into life, distracted by work and preparing to have a baby in a few months. It didn’t really feel like I actively mourned her death, rather I simply checked it off a to-do list.

To be honest, it felt like I had lost my aunt months before she physically passed away. It was after a phone call in November, a few weeks shy of my 32nd birthday. We tried to talk, but the conversation was filled with long silences and she kept saying, “I’m sorry hon, I can’t understand you.” I tried calling her back on my mom’s cell phone, with the volume as high as it would go, but it yielded the same result. I hung up and sobbed. It felt as if I had lost her when we could no longer communicate, when she no longer asked me questions about work or could tell me what she ate for lunch.

Between November and April, I mourned the loss of this relationship in different ways. I wrote about her, trying to capture every memory in as many details as I could scrape up. I did this before she died so she could read my words, though I never heard whether she read it, or understood it, or what she thought. I cooked her recipes and used her dishes to serve them to people I loved. I urged e to have seconds and thirds, the way she always did. And as if it were a closing chapter in a book, I sobbed in my mother’s arms as we stood in front of her open casket. At first it felt complete.

In the wake of her real death, came the eventual revelation of my great aunt’s trust. Though the details of which don’t need to be shared, suffice it to say, everything of sentimental value was not left to anyone in my immediate family. And soon, the gloves of politeness and feigned interest quickly came off, leaving a bare knuckle fight between siblings through lawyers and formal letters. The finality of my aunt’s death severed the dangling thread which tied our extended family together for over twenty years and exposed an ugly reality in all of us. Anger, jealousy, and unforgiveness all bubbled to the surface of our grief like a sulfurous mud pot.

In June, I went home to visit family. On my way to my sister’s house, I drove past my aunt and uncle’s farm. The brick house stood there a few hundred feet away. The bushes were neatly trimmed below the window where she and my uncle would always wave goodbye. I could almost see her come out the front door to water the nonexistent geraniums. I wanted to pull in, to sneak behind the house and look, just in case there was a dishtowel on the clothes line or some sign of life. But I couldn’t pull into the drive. Just like in a hundred dreams I’ve had since she passed away, I feared the cops would be called and I’d be escorted out. I feared they’d know. 

As I drove away, it felt as if the wind was knocked out of me. The reality of her being gone had hit me like a ton of bricks. I would never again sit on the couch in the den, or fiddle with the keys in the dish by the back door, or help set the table with the largest glass set out for my uncle’s milk. I would never again sleep in the guest bed with the sage green headboard. The bed I shared, three abreast with my cousin and my sister. The bed my aunt bought for her mother to use when she came to stay. The one she said I could have. It felt like such a robbery.

And in between each raw feeling of loss was a layer of guilt. Am I really that greedy? Why do I care about all these THINGS? My aunt had already given me so much. I didn’t need or necessarily deserve anything more. I felt like a four year old throwing a tantrum because she didn’t get a pony for her birthday even though the gifts were piled high. On top of all of this was a heaping spoonful of resentment. Not only do I not have those things but they have them. And they will probably just throw things out because they don’t know the story behind them. They are clearly heartless and pure evil.

When my father died, I would go into his closet and smell his shirts. I would stand in his workshop in the basement and study his tools on the wall. I collected all the pictures I could find of him and put them in a box next to my bed. But with my aunt, it was as if I stood on one side of a cliff where a bridge once existed. On the other side, I saw all the material things that I once felt ownership over. A grandfather clock, a cottage on a lake, a child’s rocking chair. The gaping, impossible precipice that was created in between made me weep and feel desperate because most days my memories don’t feel as if they are enough. I miss her so much…but it is more than just this word “miss”. I miss eating cheese and getting snail mail letters. Miss doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to a person.

A few years ago, I bought a coffee table book for my sister called Lost in Translation. Included with cute little pictures were words that can’t be directly translated into English. Amid the Norwegian “Palegg” which apparently means anything you put on a slice of bread and the Arabic “Gurfa” which is the amount of water you can hold in your hand, a Portuguese word stuck out to me. Saudade. It’s used in a rough sense to describe missing something that you will never have again or homesickness for a place to which you will never return. But that is not exactly what it means, since it can’t really be translated. I had been thinking about this word in relation to my aunt when a friend of mine posted pictures of her trip home to Brazil on Facebook. At the top of one of her posts there was that word, “Saudades”. Curious, I decided to ask her what it really means. She explained,

“TO FEEL ‘SAUDADE’ MEANS TO MISS SOMETHING DEEPLY. OR HAVE ‘SAUDADE’ WHICH IS A SOLIDIFIED AND ETERNAL FEELING. THINK OF IT AS A NOUN. IT’S PART OF YOU. YOU HAVE/OWN/FEEL IT.”

Yes. This. When she explained it to me, it’s as if a light came on. This word describes perfectly what I have been feeling this last year.

Losing my aunt has given me so much saudade I feel a bit over-emotional most days. Like, the first strum of a guitar string causing the water-works to immediately flow, kind of emotional. I’m realizing that beyond missing my aunt, I miss home. Not in the sense of a particular location, home as in a feeling, a sound, a smell. The bristly fake grass carpet that scratched my shoulders while lying on the floating dock at Higgins lake, the taste of strawberries picked directly from the patch, the sound of a speed boat on the water very early in the morning, the smell of the hot truck tire my dad used to make a sandbox for us. In moments where living life feels like one more dirty dish in the sink and the eery expectation of depressing evening news, I have saudade for these things, for my childhood, for innocence.

I think then about the other part of my friend’s definition when she said that saudade is “a solidified and eternal feeling.” For some reason, this gives me peace. It’s not like the paralysis of fresh grief. It’s not something I carry with me, separate from me, a weight necessarily. I will grieve the loss of the physical things and that feeling will eventually go. But I will have saudade forever. It’s become a part of my bones.

© 2016 D. Willson

then comes a baby in a baby carriage

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“How’s motherhood?” she asked.

I hadn’t seen my friend since Mila was born. Moments before, she commented on how huge my boobs had gotten since we saw each other last. This reminded me that I had forgotten to pump that afternoon. No wait, I had forgotten to pump twice. Which means I inadvertently told my body that “demand” was going down and I immediately started worrying about my “supply”. I said this nonchalantly out loud. My friend looked at me as if I said I liked to pee on the floor.

She is young, in her early-twenties, working night shifts, and posting artsy bathtub selfies on Instagram. I was a lot like her once. When breastfeeding was still an uncomfortable topic and my body untouched by gravity. Where my evenings were reserved for unending “me time” and I could sit on the couch and just relax, no one to care for, and nothing but household chores to do that could always wait till the next day. I recall that it was deeply lonely. But I missed the emptiness a bit. I was briefly jealous of my twenty-something friend’s freedom.

The snorting laugh of my baby snapped me back to my reality. She was thrilled with herself for tasting my shoulder and trying out her new upper and lower teeth. It was all perfectly comfortable. Talking about breast pumps and being chewed on by a baby. My new normal.

My friend repeated her question about motherhood. I was distracted. Between blowing raspberries on my daughter’s neck and trying not to drop her squirmy little body, I’m not sure what I said. Probably that motherhood going great. The exhaustion on my face and my disheveled head-to-toe look I’m sure told a different story.

On my drive home, I began to think about what I would have said if I had an hour or so and an editing pen. What motherhood really has been like for me.

At first when we started “trying” for kids, I would imagine what it’d be like to have a human that depends on you pretty much 24/7. It felt terrifying. I banked on the theory that everyone told me, “you’re never really ready for kids,” and pushed my fears aside. But months of negative pregnancy tests transformed fears of not being ready to become a parent into fears of not being able to become a parent.

We joyously got pregnant after eight months of trying but lost the baby just a few short months in. I was crushed (no, worse…trampled, demolished, destroyed), driving a need for motherhood so deep into my bones sometimes I couldn’t breath. When we were given the “go ahead” to try again, I wished on shooting stars, I prayed every night, I even wore a necklace with a little baby elephant charm on it for good luck.

Mila came a year and nine months later. She was every wish and hope and blessing wrapped up in a perfect little package. I had checked off all the boxes. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. 

It might have been Post-Partum or the “baby blues”, but even though I had exactly what I had been dreaming of for over two years, becoming a mom was simply not fun at all, especially in those first few weeks. Even with another human attached to me, I felt isolated and trapped. And nothing reveals the darkness in you quite like when you scream at your tiny little newborn to stop crying because you’ve tried everything else and it all feels hopeless and impossible. You find yourself sitting on the floor in the middle of the night, madly crying and squeezing your baby (a little too tight). You think of all the characters in the movies who laugh crazy laughs and end up in a padded room and you start to understand how they might have gotten there.

People would coo at my daughter and say, “You love your mama the most, don’t you?” I would look around and wonder to whom they were referring. Surely she didn’t love me the most. She didn’t even know me! The me she knew was smelly and moody and slowly cracking up. It felt like I was playing “house” for a while. I did my mommy things and said my mommy words and we all survived that short season of newborn life.

Eventually though, it became much easier. Caring for her was almost like caring for myself. As if she were just an extra arm or something. It didn’t feel like an additional list of tasks to complete every day, it felt like breathing. Only every once in a while did those early feelings return of being trapped. Like in the middle of the night, when she’d wake up again for the fifth time, I’d swear under my breath or pray to the great God of infant slumber that she would please, please, please, please go the f*** back to sleep. (I have a theory – that God hangs out in heaven with a mirror and deflects these desperate prayers back down to Earth as a bit of a joke on new parents. It’s not funny God…no one’s laughing.) But these moments were almost always paired with something so beautiful, I can hardly remember them. Hardly…but maybe that’s due to the sleep deprivation.

Before I had Mila, I thought for sure that if I just reached the next rite of passage that I’d feel better about living on this earth. While becoming a parent didn’t really fix anything, it has transformed me. Motherhood has chipped away at my pride, my perfectionism, and my attempts to control this wild ride. I’ve hit my head on things way more than I ever used to. I’ve found my pant’s zipper down more times in the last eight months than I have in my entire life. My house is pretty dang gross these days. And I’m pretty sure I pee every time I sneeze now. Life still has its super heavy moments. There’s still loneliness and worry. Make that ten-fold worry about doing it right and having enough money and trying to make sure you haven’t “pruned” the wrong synapses of your baby’s brain by letting her look at the TV too long.

But within all this real-life-shit, there is so much more joy than I could have ever imagined. There are heart-exploding moments practically every day. I feel things for my child that I have never felt for another human before. It’s as if we have always known each other. My girl is wild and silly one moment and then completely concentrated and serious the next. She gets deeply distraught when I set her down sometimes. I know it’s probably just a passing phase, but her need for me (and I for her) feels spiritual. I know the days of her looking at me as if I’m the very best human on this planet are limited. People in the grocery store like to remind me of this all the time – “enjoy every minute, they grow up so fast!” Seriously, why do people say this? I don’t go around saying to middle-aged people, “Enjoy every minute, you are over half-way done with your life!”

I live in “the now” much more than I used to. Not necessarily because I’ve learned how to be all Dalai-Lama zen but because I’m too busy and sleep deprived to think about tomorrow. I find myself thinking more about each season of life and the good and bad that come with each. Not because I’m necessarily more reflective, but because Mila’s baby clothes have helped me section off each stage of her little existence into convenient three month increments.

Maybe I didn’t need an hour to explain myself to my friend. What I wanted to say to her, maybe even to my younger self, was something trite, and not original, and perhaps a copyright infringement:

Motherhood is the hardest and the best thing I’ve ever known.

Before I became a mom, people would always say this to me and I didn’t like it. I thought those words were a reflection of the person’s attitude, not their reality. And I really didn’t want the first part to be true, especially if I was signing up for that gig. But it’s the truest thing I’ve heard so far.

© 2016 D. Willson