30.

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We are here, nestled in the warmth of my mom’s floating house. I’ve been basking in unlimited  sister time, just drinking in these four strange, wonderful creatures and also negotiating the bewildering dual identities of daughter and mother. Does anyone else get this?

I think they must. It’s a fairly common thing, to lapse into a familiar pattern of childishness when you return home again. No matter how old you are or how far you’ve come since that you left home, that cozy dependence beckons the moment you let your guard down. Before you know it you are eight years old again and saying yes to tea, and naps, and sandwiches. It feels so good to be taken care of like that, with offers of hot baths and sleeping in. It’s always been one of the things I most looked forward to when visiting my mom.

But lately, since Olive was born (and getting stronger with each passing month) there is a strange looping effect where I am taken care of by my mom while simultaneously doing the same for O and suddenly there’s an abundance of mothering happening and we’re walking out the door with me adjusting Olive’s scarf against the wind and my mom shoving mitts at me and the whole thing just seems to loop in on itself, then Olive picks up her baby and starts rocking her and patting her on the back and I just think my head might explode.

Christmas was beautiful, and this was one of the few years that I haven’t felt a heavy sense of guilty settling in after the gifts were opened. This may be because we were really restrained in gift-buying this year – Adam’s family opted out of exchanging gifts between adults, and we did a Secret Santa exchange amongst my siblings – but I also think it had to do with Olive. Seeing her joy while opening gifts, and not necessarily because of the gifts themselves but because of the actual rip and tear opening, was priceless. It did a lot to yank me out of my existential first world guilt and actually just enjoy the occasion.

I gave Adam this gorgeous sweater that I saw at RW & Co. a few weeks ago, which I then promptly adopted and wore for all of Christmas day, and today too until he finally staged a coup and stole the sweater right off my back.

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Last but not least:

Internets, tomorrow I turn thirty. 30. THIRTY.

I am feeling pretty good about this. I look at the past decade as an education, and over the past few months I feel like I have known myself more thoroughly than ever before.

When you’re younger there’s a gap, whether it’s small or gaping, between the person you are and the person you want to be.  I think I have let that go. Or am midway through the process, at least. I look back on the last decade, the ten years where I mostly became the person I am here, now, sitting here up too late drinking coconut water, and I see myself setting, gelling, solidifying. This is somewhat gratifying because it means I can let go of the process of becoming that seems to typify the twenty-something years, that laborious trying on of identities and personas, shedding personalities like snake skin along the way.

But it’s also somewhat worrisome because it means I have to acknowledge and accept aspects of my personality that I had always hoped I could change – through good intentions, perseverance or sheer will. Everyone has these things, the shadow side of themselves they like to deny or avoid, but in the past year I have sort of sat with them, and accepted them. Things like my tendency towards judgment, a way of thinking that can sometimes seem rigid and inflexible, and an unfortunate predisposition to pessimism and over thinking.

They aren’t my favourite characteristics, but there they are. There they have been for the past decade and probably more, and I think they are here to stay. I can mitigate their effects, try to minimize their influence but I don’t think I’ll ever destroy them completely. They’re as much a part of me as my freckles, or that strange man I married who just leaned over and said, “Why do I get so full so quickly? I think I have a baby stomach.”

Guys, this is my life. And what a life it is, too.

I drove my sisters home tonight and after we’d pulled up in front of their house, Mawney started quizzing me about my plans for tomorrow. “Breakfast, pottery, a visit to Russell Books. Sushi for dinner, and hopefully a round of deep tissue back massages.” I said.

She quizzed me further. What time for breakfast? When would Olive be napping? Should she make reservations for dinner? The questions just kept coming and the fact that they were coming from her, my youngest sister who answers every query with “I don’t care. Whatever you want is fine.”, was beginning to get weird.

Just then she pointed at the clock, as I turned to see the time change over to midnight the van erupted into a joyful rendition of Happy Birthday. Laughter bubbled over and I looked back at this van of smiling shining faces and I felt so lucky, and so amazed that they love me as much as they do.

Dirty thirty, guys! Bring it.

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I might just kick off my fourth decade by recreating this magnificent photo.
Also: Look at those lips and tell me I didn’t invent duckface. Seriously.

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More?

Antique American Sign Language Illustration from AntiqueGraphique on Etsy

Let me take a brief moment to sing the virtues of baby sign language.

First of all I’d like to congratulate myself, because I kind of can’t believe that i stuck with it long enough for Olive to catch on. Given my aversion to routine, it’s nothing short of a miracle that I managed to keep this thing going. BUT I DID! Ever since she was around 4-5 months old (we were, um, enthusiastic) we have been signing to her.

For a long, long, LONG time, all this did was make us feel like morons, because we would be sitting there earnestly signing “More?” and “Eat?” and “Potty?” while she stared at our wildly gesturing hands with a blank look on her face. It was not particularly rewarding.

But THEN, friends.  Then when she was around 11 months old, it started happening. Airplane was first, then milk, then more.  Initially her hand movements were tentative and haphazard, but ever since those initial magic moments where we finally recognized that she was doing it! Really doing it!,  her vocabulary has grown exponentially and sometimes it seems like she’s picking up new signs every day.

She has even started combining different signs to say things like “More Milk” and “Eat banana”. Now please, look away for a moment while I indulge my parental need to celebrate my child’s smallest achievements by cataloguing here for all eternity and the world to see, the list of signs known and practiced by a little fourteen month old known as Olive Grace:

Milk, eat, more, water, all done, airplane, dog, cat, bird, fish, dance, jump, sleep, bath, diaper change, banana, baby, book, gentle, papa, mama, monkey, etc. and so on!

Are you shocked and amazed? ME TOO!

Clearly listening to a new parent list the various ways their child has exceeded their wildest expectations is always riveting – mostly because everything Olive does is amazing, including but not limited to, her poops, the way she crinkles her nose when she smiles, and how she has started calling me something that sounds suspiciously like “Tits” – but also seriously guys, she’s communicating with us! And she understands things! Lots of things!

I don’t think I would have ever known just how aware and observant a child of her age is, without her possessing the language to tell me when she sees a bird, or hears an airplane – often way before I do. When we read books she points at all of the things she knows and makes the signs, and I know you’re probably falling asleep reading this but I really can’t stop marveling over it, it’s so cool!

And also, kind of hilarious. Like the time she let out a series of ridiculously loud, truly atrocious old-man-style farts in the bathtub, complete with bubbles slowly rising up to break the surface.

After they stopped she stared at me for a few seconds, open-mouthed in shock. Then she started giggling, and signed “Potty”.

Adam’s daughter, ladies and gentlemen. Did you expect anything less?

In conclusion, I sincerely apologize for this 500 word testament to ridiculously outsized parental pride. But also SORRY NOT SORRY, THIS IS AWESOME.

Redundant

I am feeling stressed lately.

There, I said it.

I feel like doing this, saying “I am stressed” is sort of redundant. I mean, isn’t everyone stressed? Doesn’t it go without saying? Did I need to say it?

For me, yes. I think I did. Because typically, I am not that person. The person who, when asked how they are doing, replies “Busy!”. I am not the person who rushes around doing and seeing and coordinating and participating. I am not the person with a full schedule and back-to-back-to-back meetings, the person who is functioning at alarmingly high levels despite not possibly getting more than four hours of sleep a night because how else are they getting that all done?

No. Instead, I am the person that surrounds myself with that type of person because I find their competence both alarming and fascinating. I am the person that person calls to invite for a coffee date in between this appointment and that errand, and then declines while mumbling something about how I don’t have time and as that person, let me tell you that I can almost hear them rolling their eyes and perhaps swearing at me in their head a little.

This is deliberate, I’ll have you know. It’s not just laziness. It’s that some people thrive on stress and do their best when they are powering through multiple projects and deadlines, but I do my best when I am alone, relaxed and quiet. I think a lot. I ruminate. Being busy doesn’t energize me, it deflates me and I find myself collapsing softly inwards like one of those planned building implosions playing in slow motion.

Likewise, everyone deals with stress differently. Some explode out. They become a frenzy of activity, tackling things, taking the bull by the horns, getting shit done. But I become immobilized by it. Stress strands me and I become smaller, I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. I go further and further into my head until all I can hear are my own frenzied thoughts echoing around me. It is not a fun place to be, nor the most conducive to mental or physical health. But here I am. Every morning I wake up with a pit in my stomach, a tight knot that just gets tighter as the day wears on. That’s hard to write, but it’s true and it needs to be said.

(Edited to add: I think it needs to be said for many reasons, but the most important is that I have no interest in maintaining the pretty happy shiny veneer that many blogs do.

Life is not always tulips and great fonts, and we as writers need to do a better job of reflecting that.

I am a whole person, a concept that Hugh Mackay talks about with great wisdom here and I think it’s equally important to write through the bad, as it is to share the good. Let’s just say I am feeling very complete these days, Hugh.)

Anyway, think cataloguing the sources of my stress would be a slightly boring endeavour, somewhat akin to listening to an elderly relative list her many ailments when you only asked “How are you?” as a simple pleasantry, so I’ll skip that part. I’m sure that the items on that list are things I will come back to and discuss more in the future, once I am on the other side of them. I’ll poke them with a stick and do a rough post-mortem, but right now they’re too close.

And although I could tell you many things with great confidence (including how to lose at rock-paper-scissors for diaper changes against your husband literally every single time) I, apparently, don’t know much about what to do to untangle this knot, and chip away at this pit. But I have been trying a few things with limited success, and they are:

1. Hot Water. In all forms. Baths with epsom salts as well as simply drinking mugfulls of the stuff. All day. Because Ayurveda, and also because it’s cold out and coffee is so completely out of the realm of what I can handle right now that I need a substitute. I already feel like my body is on fast-forward, can you imagine me with caffeine? No. Stop it. You’re making me more stressed. 

2. Writing. Which is what I have been avoiding doing, on this topic as well as many others, for a while now. But I am doing it now. Hello! I think it’s helping.

3. Talking to someone. I prefer to talk to anonymous someones. I am an emotional person, and when I combine stress and not sleeping  with my natural emotional range, virtually anything sets me into tears. Kristen Bell and I are sistafriends on this one, because if I am not between a 4-6 on the emotional scale, I am crying. I’m also far more comfortable in the advice giver, comforter, nurturer role, rather than the advice taker, comfortee, nurturee role. I’m an “er”, not an “ee”. You see?

My time working in social services taught me that everyone can benefit by talking to someone. If that someone has to be an anonymous voice at the end of a phone line, so be it. I’m not messing around here, those people are saints and they are calm and will talk to you as though they love you like your mother, without worrying about you afterwards. It’s very cathartic.

4. Thinking about exercising. Honestly guys, I really haven’t reached past the thinking stage. But I AM thinking. Mostly about how everything I read talks about how exercise relieves stress and is basically a panacea for ailments of all types. So I am giving myself a little while longer to think about it before I start treadmill running or yoga doing.

Eventually. (Maybe.)

5. Smelling Olive.  I find myself sticking my face into her neck a lot, and just inhaling her baby smell. This sounds all kinds of creepy until you have a child and then you realize that their smell is just like a giant blankety hug. It is such ain indescribably familiar smell, and it reminds me of the days I would spend with her glued to my chest, sleeping. All I felt was the warm rise and fall of her breath, and all I needed to do was be there with her. I’ve only had ativan once (and then tried to hold hands with the doctor) but this is almost as good, without the prescription.

So, sorry Olive. Not getting rid of weird neck-sniffing-mama anytime soon. 

Is all of this hot water drinking, writing, talking, thinking about exercising and smelling my daughter actually doing anything? I don’t know. I don’t know how to measure that, I don’t think I will know that something has worked until I realize one day that I can take a full breath and that my shoulders aren’t around my ears. I won’t remember the last time I lay there unable to shut my mind off enough to sleep.

At some point, I’ll look back and all of this will seem strange and overwrought, blown out of proportion, and that’s how I will know I’m out.

For now I will just keep going.