i spent the long weekend with a stomach bug, and by monday was recuperating, but despairing that i had gotten so little done. when i sobbed my failures out to rich, he told me lovingly to “quit” and made himself scarce in other parts of the house until he sensed that i had done so.
it’s a profound difference from exes who would indulge my self-loathing and make it look like they were accepting me, when in fact rich is accepting and loving of all of me in ways nobody else ever was, and therefore cannot allow me to attack myself, claiming i suck at being a mama and a partner and a person. i still get confused for a moment, thinking why can’t he accept me saying these things? (as in, my words=me.) but that is an old tape playing, and i realize it pretty quickly. because his love for me is so complete, he pushes me to love myself. accepting me-hating-myself is not part of accepting me, and i always end up feeling grateful for the gentle nudge in the direction that i have stated as my goal- to never go back down that depression path. i am acceptable, but depression is not.
so i do what i know to do when i skate too close to the neural groove of self-loathing and despair, and i hop in the bathtub. time to go into self care mode!
i sink into the scalding, chamomile-scented sudsy water. it is that crepuscular hour when every layer of the forest canopy is thick with birds and the sound of their song floods the damp air. the frogs join the chorus from the understory. the room becomes a rain forest, the boundaries between it and the outside forest becoming indistinct as the windows fog up; the blur of green outside infuses the light within. i have not turned on the bathroom fan, as i want to hear the birdsong and enjoy the tropical effect of letting all that humid heat close in around me.
rich, my oklahoma dust bowl man, likes the fan on, and not to steam it up too much, and to squeegee every drop of moisture from the shower. i am not sure why he puts up with my tendency to make a steamy, sultry swamp of the bathroom each time i bathe, but i am sure it does no good to the house to make the walls sweat. this seems to fall into a category of “doesn’t matter enough to complain about” and i relax, one more time, into my place of comfort.
i was just noticing another maddening flaw of mine that rich overlooks. there is quite often a partial cup of juice left at quinn’s place the entire time he is away at his dad’s, and i only realize it and clear it away when quinn is finally back and i am getting his place setting ready to feed him again. i leave his food and drink out after mealtimes while he around, too, as he has a tendency to graze, but also, i think i still go into some sort of denial each time my son does not live with me for two or even three consecutive nights. i read somewhere that the stages of grief never truly end, and are far from linear in their progression, so while i live much of my life in a state of acceptance, i see these little telltale signs that i revisit other stages.
my fingertips connected in prayer position, i steep in the white porcelain tub, alternating which bony limb is protruding beyond the surface of the hot water. ok, i don’t suck as a mama, but i did spend all of the weekend feeling as though i could have been cast as the father in the movie how to train your dragon, who pleads with his son, the main character hiccup, to not be so [….] hiccup responds, “but you’ve just gestured to all of me!” quinn could rightly feel this way after the way i’ve been at him to not be so [….] every few minutes. which from his angle, i’m sure, comes across as, “could you please not be so very quinn?”
i have described before how insatiable his need for me and my attention can be, and how this constant pummeling by such an oceanic need can have quite an erosive effect on me. still, is it really that hard to cut the strip of paper for him, so he can attach it to his finger puppet? it probably would have taken far less energy than the ensuing argument, but apparently it crossed a line for me today, as i could finally take it no longer that my child would not empower himself to do this simple task. the absurdity of the actual moment leads me to believe i might need to consider my feelings valid, that i am sapped and need to gently nudge him towards the edge of the nest on certain matters. i imagine i could be more gentle about it if i was more gentle with myself about how i am experiencing all of this.
one trigger for me right now is quinn “needing” me to draw things for him. my exasperation builds each time, as if i am living in fear that he will waste his potential as an artist because i am here and therefore he will ask me to do it. i pulled out some of his sketchbooks from ages 2 and 3 and 4 to show him, to give him a sense of how far he has come with drawing, and to hopefully help him get over the perfectionism, which is at the root of his need for “help” with each picture. yet he still won’t pick up the marker himself, and i am washed again with sadness as the beautiful images and stories and ideas he describes in words never come to fruition on the page. we are at a stalemate; i won’t draw it, but neither will he. it will be a miracle if anything at all gets put down on paper in the age 6 sketchbook.
i suppose i should look on the bright side- he has filled sketchbooks, it is not as though he has never drawn a picture. yet, i know that his age 5 book contains far fewer originals, and many more pages filled with images i drew for him, in spite of the many times i redirected or refused, when asked.
when we got back from new york, he told me he’d like to see some pictures of me when i was a kid and a baby. i asked if he had seen any pictures of me hanging up in new york (he could have browsed through hundreds that my mom has on display) but he said no. i got out a photo album i have of my childhood and flipped through it with him. turning the pages, he had fun guessing who was who in the photos; much younger versions of grammy, grampy, myself, and my two brothers. he often guessed correctly, then other times he would guess that uncle t was one of his sons, mario or luigi (and i could see why!) then when the photos of me around age 6 turned up, he pointed and exclaimed, “it’s me!”
it is a thrill to see my child be so much like me, but i also ache for him to skip past some of what it was like to be me. particularly the self-loathing bit.
the boundaries between mama and child are so blurred, like the walls of my little rain forest. how could it not be so, when we carry them in our bodies? it is easy to believe we are parenting someone who will face the same challenges in life as we did. yet i see indications that quinn will not succumb to the same self-loathing tendencies that i have in my life. a friend who often helps me process once told me that she believed i had been loved tremendously as a child, but that i had also internalized messages of “you are sinful/wrong/bad” somewhere along the way and had responded by dissociating from myself in a fairly complete, extreme way. it is something that all children can do in order to preserve the parent-child attachment, but something not all children are quite as susceptible to as i appear to have been. i think it is often children who are severely abused who tend to dissociate to the extreme that i did, and i was most definitely not the victim of child abuse.
part of my journey through my 20s was therefore, that cliche of all cliches, “finding myself,” but i have my doubts this will be quinn’s fate. as i now see myself nagging at quinn and then recoiling from my own parenting, i see signs that he is actually cut from wholly different cloth than his mama, uncanny surface similarities notwithstanding. he is quite aware that he is fabulous, and when given a compliment, he will chortle and reply blithely, “i know!” my criticisms of him often seem to rebound on me, and make me feel far worse than they appear to make him feel. he is very securely moored, if i have any kind of accurate sense of him, to his own inner compass, not at all the same child who 28 years ago seems to have cut clean through the mooring from her own and oriented outwardly in order to belong.
i drain the tub, turn on the fan, let my rain forest swirl away as i wrap myself in a giant purple towel. my core temperature elevated a few tenths of a degree, i feel as though i have absorbed the happy rain forest instead into my body, to carry around with me and warm me from within, at least until i revert to my usual inability to thermoregulate. what i hope to retain longer than the physical warmth is the notion i’ve arrived at over the past hour that maybe i’m not so bad after all.