Letters to a young poet

A reader named Kathleen sent me a lovely email, and in it she included a letter by Rainer Maria Rilke.

See, I give you guys stories about poop and bees, you quote beautiful poets back.

This is the part that resonated with me:

…I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.

Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Thank you, Kathleen.

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Feeling Your Way

Loggers Culls, by Emily Carr

There have been many words swirling around in my head these days, and I felt really unable to articulate them until while at my conference I saw a sign by one of the elevators that said this:

“You will have to experiment and try things out for yourself and you will not be sure of what you are doing. That’s all right, you are feeling your way into the thing.”
– Emily Carr

Every time I went back up to my room to pump, and at the end of every day I would stand there waiting for the elevator looking at that quote, and guys, I truly feel like I am just feeling my way into the thing. In so many aspects of my life. It makes me feel so much better when I see my own feelings spoken out loud by someone elegant, wise, and famous enough to be quoted. It somehow lends a sense of legitimacy to my neuroses and I think that’s what we’re all after, really. Someone to say that our crazy is justified, and official somehow.

Red stamp: approved. By Emily Carr, no less.

I’ve never been a birthday girl – you know, the one who turns 29 seven times in a row? Numbers don’t mean much to me and I’ve always looked forward to the day, the fuss, the people you don’t hear from that often calling to say hi and they are glad you were born.

I’ve always considered it an honour to grow older, given that so many in this world don’t have that luxury. So I don’t begrudge the occasional gray hair or wrinkle, I just sort of note it. Like notches, or ticks on a clock. Time made visible in a permanent way.

But something about this year, good grief. I have never been so glad to see a year come to a close. If anyone knows anything about astrology I’d really like a detailed report (or even a hint, I’d take a hint!) of why this year laid me so flat, why 2013 was so rough on this particular Capricorn lady. This year, more than any other, has found me unsure of my footing and filled with more questions than I can find answers to. In matters personal, professional and otherwise it seems that all I can do is doubt and worry and stress and think and then over think so more, just for good measure.

And you know Emily, I do feel like I have been experimenting and trying things out for myself and feeling unsure, very unsure, of what I am doing. And I’m not quite at the “but it’s okay” point, I am still waiting for that point. I don’t know when I expect that point to come but I think it involves someone very official and important (like a deity perhaps? I’m not picky, I don’t care which one) sitting me down and just telling me that I am a good mother and a good wife and a good employee, that my efforts in all of these areas have been noted and given gold stars.

Basically I am looking for a celestial head pat. Good girl.

Momastery wrote a post today about introversion and how she’s not a good friend because she doesn’t return phone calls or go to parties, and she hides when someone knocks on the door. I am, and do, all of those things. My friends are neglected and phone calls go to voicemail and invitations get postponed or cancelled altogether. The moment I make plans I start thinking of ways to get out of them and good lord what a way to live!

It often makes me sad that writers don’t get to live like that anymore, not really. If you can even make a living these days off of writing, which few can, you are expected to promote. To go and shake hands and smile and give quotes that can be massaged into sound bites and headlines. It’s a shame we don’t just leave writers alone to sulk and brood and shut themselves in houses. We’re better that way, I think.

I, for one, think I would make an excellent recluse. It’s in my blood.

Then, of course, there’s that world out there. That world I venture into every day where people have jobs and not just jobs, but jobs they love. There are people, many of whom I have met in the last three weeks, who are passionately, tirelessly and enthusiastically working to create a better community, better people, a better world. These people have ideas and energy, and they are competent – so competent that it’s sort of scary and intimidating. Every day that I venture out, I am scared and unsure, I miss Olive so dearly it hurts.

But I am feeling my way into it, this world, and I am hopeful that one day soon I will find myself in the thick of it and I will be there, in it, and it will be effortless.

Survival

20131122-080736.jpg

You know what? I am kind of doing okay without her, that chubby baby of mine.

It’s a little like realizing you have a third arm, one you haven’t been using. It’s not that I’ve been missing it, because I didn’t even remember it was there, but now that I have it back things are easier. They get done faster. And this third-arm state isn’t something I really want to continue forever- or even for a few more days- because as much as it’s helpful it also feels strange and cumbersome and I’m used to having my hands full. The arm just sort of sits there, uncomfortable and ill-at-ease with the silence. 

I found myself turning on the TV every time I was in my hotel room, which is uncharacteristic for me because typically I hate the background-noise nature of the thing. They’re always on, in hospital waiting rooms and restaurants- even in the kids play areas on the ferry. It drives me nuts how people pause mid-sentence and stare open-mouthed. We become absorbed and entranced in the screen like moths to a flame- helpless! I do it too – how can you not be seduced by the flickering lights and catchy content?

So usually I avoid it but this week I think I needed the noise, it felt so strange to be sitting here swamped in my own thoughts and the sound of faint conversation passing in the hallway. 

 

Just in case you are feeling some sort of violent rage-envy at all of this talk about helpful superfluous limbs and sweet silence, I would like to inform you that I have a hotel room with not one, but two giant comfortable beds that even (inexplicably) have remote controls to adjust their firmness up or down, and yet I slept a grand total of ELEVEN hours in the last two nights. 

I lay there and could not fall asleep. It was the rudest thing ever and the more I thought about it the more anxious I got, “Madeleine! You’re WASTING it! Look at this bed! Feel these sheets! There’s no one else here! SLEEP, DAMMIT, YOU FOOL!”

But sleep wouldn’t come. So I tried tricking myself and decided to stay up to read – hoping I’d fall asleep mid-sentence as so often is the case these days. Of course tonight is the night I managed to finish about six chapters before I threw the book on the ground in a fit of rage and then lay there, seething, willing myself to sleep out of sheer spite. 

My days have been packed and my brain is at capacity. I am so glad I was able to come, but oh, guys, I am so ready to go home.

Freedom!

Freedom (4 birds) by EyeSense Photography on Etsy

There are a few things I am studiously in denial about right now.

1. The length and amount of leg hair I am currently sporting. (WHAT? It’s winter! Almost!)

2. The hints, subtle and otherwise, Adam has been dropping lately about an imminent MacBook Pro purchase, where I have not expressly authorized said purchase.

And by “lately” I mean “for the last six months”. But the frequency, and intensity of these hints has increased tenfold in the last week, and I am concerned that we are quickly reaching some sort of critical mass for hint-dropping, where the hints accumulate to the point of morphing into full-fledged actions, and then one day I will come home and there will be this gorgeous white machine sitting on my desk and I will have no other option but to pretend that I hate it and want it returned, when really all I want in the entire world is to caress its sweet keys and make beautiful words with it.

and 3. Tomorrow at 5:30 I board a plane and fly to Vancouver. For two nights. Without Olive.

Let’s just…I mean let’s agree to ignore the possible purchase of that beautiful machine and the leg hair (WHAT?! I live in Canada. I need the added warmth. And it’s a feminist thing. Solidarity…or something?) and let’s just focus on that last one for a moment. That pesky number three.

Because I am an intensely complex and long-winded individual, I would like to take the time to detail precisely why I am both excited and crestfallen at the prospect of this trip.

First, the obvious: I’ll miss Olive.

I feel like these words are just the most redundant words ever, because of course. But she started walking on the weekend in the most dramatic way possible- Adam’s dad set her down to walk to me and instead she just walked past me. Like, she just…kept going. Away from me. My baby!

And I keep forgetting that’s she walking. I’ll sit her on the floor and go into the kitchen to get something, only to turn around and see this chubby-legged kid zombie-toddling towards me with this wicked grin on her face. She is so proud of herself, and so am I, it’s as though she is becoming a real little person right before our eyes.

And it’s not that I had doubts about Adam’s parenting abilities before, but him being a stay-at-home dad lately has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has this parenting thing totally in the bag. When Olive is with him she gets fed nutritious food, goes down for her naps, and – judging by the videos he sends me while I’m at work – spends the entire day laughing like a crazy person.

Furthermore, I honestly sometimes think that Olive would be happy with anyone who agreed to keep a full plate of food in front of her of all times and give into whatever she demanded by pointing at it and repeating, “Dshhh! Dshh!” over and over.)

So the heartbreak isn’t for her – I have absolutely zero concerns about this child. Guys, I am worried for ME.

THIS IS ABOUT ME.

What am I going to do with myself for two and a half entire days, and two entire nights? It’s a work conference, so I imagine that this will be a fairly easy adjustment for the daylight hours. I will talk and network and attend professional development sessions. I will listen and respond and make connections. But at night. What do I do with myself at night?

There’s no one to dress, or undress. No meals to feed, diapers to change, or sticky hands to hold as we walk to the potty. No baths, no pajamas, no bedtime stories. No hysterical laughter as Adam pretends to fall down over and over.

The answer to that question, what will I do with myself? is also, incidentally, the second part of this post. The Good.

Guys, there is no one to dress, or undress. No meals to feed, diapers to change, or sticky hands to hold as we walk to the potty. No baths, no pajamas, no bedtime stories! It’s JUST ME! With an entire hotel room to myself! A bathtub waiting to be filled with scalding hot water and luxuriated in for, well for hours if I so choose! An entire bed- maybe even two beds! you know how sometimes hotel rooms have two?!- to myself. To sleep in. All night. For eight ten twelve hours straight!

I can eat breakfast with two hands and drink all of the coffee I want, in fact I plan to devote two hours a day to simply drinking coffee – whole mug-fulls, one after the other. Shamelessly caffeinated, without any repercussions whatsoever!

I can read books and finish entire paragraphs, I can leave the hotel room at the drop of a hat. I can watch trashy television shows without worrying about the ramifications of trashy television show exposure on one year olds. Guys, I can finally find out about these Kardashian people!

In conclusion it’s not that I am excited to leave, exactly. Leaving Olive tomorrow afternoon will honestly be one of the toughest things I’ve had to do as a mom. I am steadfastly refusing to think about saying goodbye to her, trying not to fully absorb just how much of me will be consumed with missing her and all that she is to me.

So no, not excited, exactly.

But still…freeeeeeeedom!

Oh MY

Let me tell you, the last two days have been interesting.

It started on Friday, when I noticed that I had around five hundred more page views than normal, which brought my grand total to 600 (haha! Kidding) (But close).

“Gee!” I thought to myself, “How swell!”

I checked it out a little further to see what it was that was suddenly garnering so much attention, and it was this post about baby sleep. Yes, the one that starts off by saying how Adam told me not to write it because, “Ugh. Another post about baby sleep? No one cares.” 

I took a few minutes to gloat obnoxiously because clearly people do care, ADAM. FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE! And then I got over myself and went to sleep.

The next day I checked again to see if the trend had continued. At noon I had six thousand page views.

“What that WHAT?!” I exclaimed in shock/horror/excitement/disbelief, and then Adam tore the phone from my hand and I didn’t see it back for the rest of the day. He spent the entire day (we were travelling, so there wasn’t much else to do, really) refreshing my site statistics and shrieking numbers at me. “Seven thousand!” “Eighty-five hundred!” “Ten thousand!!”. My in-laws, who I was travelling with, were similarly stunned.

“But it’s not even your funniest post!” cried my mother-in-law. “What about the cupcakes?”
“I know!” Adam exclaimed.

At the end of the day Saturday the post was at well over eleven thousand page views. “This is ridiculous” I thought to myself. I had no idea how this was even possible. I mean, I was even getting nasty comments telling me that Olive was going to grow up clingy, dependent, and obnoxious because I still nurse her to sleep!

Strangers on The Internets were judging my parenting style, I mean this was real mommyblogger stuff!

I thought that was the end of it, and was sort of mind-boggled that it had happened at all. I mentally checked off “Go viral” from my life list and went to bed Saturday night feeling slightly overwhelmed.

(note: I do not now, nor will I probably ever have, a life list. If I did, “go viral” would be more likely to read “eat hot dogs”.)

This morning I opened my stats expecting to see the other side of the curve, the numbers decreasing as sharply as they rose.

Forty thousand.

That’s how many people read that post today. What does it mean? How is that even possible? That’s four times the population of the town I live in.

Guys, is this what it feels like to be Oprah? I am walking around demanding that Adam separate my m&m’s and redecorate my house entirely in white. I am ordering everyone to avoid direct eye contact with me, and smile without showing any teeth. WITHOUT TEETH I SAID, OLIVE!

I am drunk with power.

But a wise (spider)man once said, with great power comes great responsibility. I am not quite sure what that responsibility entails, but I am pretty sure it involves writing, so here are a few things I wanted to share in the wake of this strange event:

  1. There are an incredible number of moms out there feeling guilty for rocking their babies, for picking them up when they cry, for nursing them to sleep, and for co-sleeping. So much guilt. Let’s just agree to not feel guilty any more for giving babies what they need, okay? Picking up a crying baby is not the same as giving in to a toddler having a tantrum. You are not spoiling them, I promise. I wish I could tell new-mom me that, and so I am telling you that instead.I am a research person, and I like seeing cold hard facts and studies when I am talking about warm fuzzy things like babies. I am working on assembling a page with a bunch of my favourite legit research, peer-reviewed articles, and posts that helped keep me sane in case anyone else likes that sort of thing, too. In the meantime lets just agree that you can’t spoil a child with love.

    Cheesy, but I 100% guarantee it to be true.

  2. Many people commented that more than the actual sleep deprivation, the worst thing about their child’s sleep habits (or lack thereof) was the feeling that it was their fault. I just found that really interesting and I wanted to share.
  3. I am not against sleep training. This post was really popular in the attachment parenting community, and I totally understand why. Much of the way I choose to parent falls within the AP model, but I often find myself resisting the label because sometimes parenting methodologies skirt a little too close to religion for my taste – preaching one truth at the cost of another (I mean if I believe 100% that I am right…what does that make you over there doing the exact opposite?).

    A few people left comments that very respectfully disagreed with what they saw as my dismissal of sleep training, and I replied to each of them for the same reason that I am writing this , because I think this point needs clarification. My railing against sleep training had nothing to do with the sleep training itself, and everything to do with the fact that I didn’t want to do it but I felt like I should.If whatever sleeping arrangement you have goin’ on is working for you, then you don’t need to fix it. And that’s where I was getting angry, because there is a whole industry built around fixing problems that often aren’t viewed as such by the only people to whom it really matters (namely the parents and the child).I wanted to write this post to let people know that it’s normal and developmentally appropriate for infants and toddlers to have erratic sleep, and that it is not necessarily indicitave of something you are doing wrong, or something that needs to be fixed, so if you are happy, just keep on keepin’ on and don’t feel like your baby sleeping poorly is your fault somehow.

  4. HOWEVER, if you are going crazy from no sleep, if you are snapping at your husband and slamming doors in strangers faces and falling asleep mid-sip of your morning coffee; if your physical, emotional, or psychological health is suffering; or even if you simply don’t like what is going on with your baby’s sleep – the right thing to do is to change it. By all means, change it. 

    There is no point becoming a sleep-deprived crazy person out of a misguided sense of martyrdom.

    (I do think that methods of sleep training like CIO [cry it out] require a bit of research, as even most of their original proponents recommend that they be used only on children six months or older, and don’t advocate simply leaving a child in a room to cry by themselves. If you’re going to go this route, talking to a pediatrician and thoroughly reading the philosophy and method to understand what it entails would be a good idea.)

    I haven’t sleep trained, because I like nursing Olive to sleep. I don’t mind having her in bed with us if she’s having a rough night, and I am ok with getting up with her a few times throughout the night. If that changes, our routine will also change and she will adapt and so will I.I wanted to clarify this because the whole energy behind my post was trying to strike down the judging. I felt judged. I hated it, I hated that I changed my behaviour because of the pressure (real or imagined) that I felt. It kind of drives me nuts thinking that other people might be coming away from my post feeling like I am looking down on them for sleep training. Not at all.

  5.  Furthermore, the only way we are going to kill this whole blasted “mommy wars” thing is to trust that each woman is mature, intelligent, and compassionate enough to be doing the right thing for the wellbeing of herself, and her child.More than that, if someone is sleep training there is a reason.No one just decides one day that it would be fun to listen to their baby cry for half an hour, it’s hard on everyone involved but for whatever reason, that has emerged as the best choice.Let’s trust that, ok?
  6. So many moms left comments about their four, eight and thirteen year old children who were once nursed, rocked, walked or co-slept, and are now happy, healthy, independent human beings fully able to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own.Do you know how incredible it was to read that story in different variations, dozens of times over? So many women coming together and saying, “This was my experience. It worked. I loved it, and looking back, I miss it.”That was what I was looking for all those months ago, I was searching for that community of women to tell me it would turn out okay, and over the course of the last few days and the sharing of all of those experiences, a lot of new moms found that in the comments section. Thank you so much for commenting.
  7. I have a doppleganger out there somewhere! One woman posted that she too has a husband named Adam, and a daughter named Olive. I have SO MANY QUESTIONS for this woman! A sampling:- Does your Adam also steal wigs from mannequins to transform himself into J. Biebs?
    No words.
    – Does your Olive also talk for 58 of every 60 minutes in the day, and happily shriek so loudly that she makes other babies cry?
    – Are you me in the future? Should I get that coat I am lusting after? Can you slip me some lottery numbers? What does Adam want for Christmas? Help yourself out, here lady!
    – Do you also happen to have an obscenely large, semi-blind, perpetually drooling dog named Gus, by chance?
  8. It’s so much fun to have so many of you around. I really loved the comments, the sharing and the feedback – even (and perhaps especially) from those who disagreed. It was great to have such a conversation going, and more than that, it was so incredible to see that something that I wrote with my two hands resonate with so many people.Writers write so that someone can read, that’s where the satisfaction lies.Knowing that I might have made someone laugh, cry, think, or identify with my words is one of the best feelings I have on this earth.I anticipate things going back to normal here in the next day or so, the audience will contract and things will become soft and quiet again. But before they do – thank you! Thanks for reading, and thank you if you were one of the ones to comment, email, or share my post.I truly appreciate it.