Thursday, May 31, 2007

Coming up for air

William Wordsworth said that poetry (and thus, writing) is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquility.” Which might be the reason I am getting so little writing done lately. My days are full of emotion, all right, but tranquility?

I’ve re-read some of the posts I wrote last year, and I’m amazed at how lucid they are, in spite of the severe sleep deprivation. Once I learned to ride the waves of hallucinogenic exhaustion, my mind adjusted. So why can’t I do it now?

One word. Tantrums. Tantrums that leave me frustrated, confused, and guilty. I understand that the severity and frequency of Madam’s freak outs is related to the fact that she cannot speak. But…shouldn’t I be able to do SOMETHING to mitigate their ferocity?

And therein lies the guilt. Why doesn’t she speak? Is something wrong? What am I doing wrong? Because, of course, it must be my fault. So I spend the whole night marinating in recrimination and second-guessing—not exactly fertile states for the would-be novelist. Especially one who still feels so unsure, like I am breaking all of Aristotle’s rules of drama at once. If I am going to spend precious mother-energy writing a novel, I need to justify it by being very, very good at it. And, of course, nothing kills "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" faster than THAT.

The very act of wanting to write the novel makes me anxious, as though I should be spending that time reading parenting books.

Now, a confession, much as I love research and reading, I hate reading parenting books. Inevitably, they suggest changes in our routines that I am not sure we need to make, or they give me solutions that don’t seem to work on Madam. And they contradict each other wildly—console her when her emotions grow overwhelming! No, ignore her, otherwise she’ll learn that tantrums get her what she wants! Try to reason with her! No, distract her! No…

You get the idea.

Not to mention the fact that after a whole day of being Mommy, the last thing I want to do when I’m off-duty is read about all of the mistakes I made while being Mommy that day.

That being said, clearly, something is wrong here. There has to be something I can do. At the very least, I can spend every evening harshly blaming myself over every parenting decision I’ve ever made. Some nights, I even go back to her NICU stay—did we miss some crucial bonding window while she was there? Did I not spend enough time with her? Did she pick up some hint of my fear and uncertainty at the idea of being entrusted with her WHOLE LIFE?

Last night, while talking to a dear friend who suffers from anxiety, I mentioned that worry can feel like it’s giving us some modicum of control—at least we’re CONCERNED and AWARE! Even if that concern is completely depleting us, and the awareness is accomplishing nothing.

I need to take my own advice.

I know that on some level, I am feeling guilty for wanting to work on my writing at all—because I should be tirelessly devoted to Madam. And…is the novel the culprit here? Those times that I spend daydreaming about characters and plots—are those the times that Madam could be learning to speak, but isn’t? I read to her a great deal; should I read more? Different books? Do I talk to her too much? Not enough? Is too much of my speech over her head? Are those moments I steal to write while she is watching television ruining her?

Am I being selfish for believing that I can write a novel and be a good mother at the same time?

So I pay my penance. I have started reading parenting books—gentle ones that don’t imply that you have probably ALREADY ruined your child for life. I get enough of that from my parents.

Someday, I’ll look back on all this and smile, if not quite laugh.

And I’ll spend hours talking with my Madam about my latest book.

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Blogger Jessie said...

m, i think your writing is as lucid as ever. i alswo think that we sometimes just need a little distance between ourselves and our work in order to see it.

you are not only a good writer, but you are a good mama too. i've seen you in action and i know this to be true! keep writing about these terrible 2's. i agree, you'll look back and see them differently once you're past this!

i love ya!

10:21 AM, June 01, 2007  
Blogger Amber said...

"because I should be tirelessly devoted to Madam"--

Okay, you have to STOP that thinking. I mean, I GET it--don't get me wrong. I am always full of worry that I am f-ing up my kids. I don't know what I am doing. Blah blah.

But I do believe that one of the serrious problems with kids today, is that their parents are "tirelessly devoted to them". I'm not kidding. Our generation has totally lost our well-meaning minds, and we are not doing our kids any favors. We are making them think they can't deal with any unhappiness, or not being the center of the universe.

You wanting to write is NOT hurting your little one! You thinking about it, is not making her not speak! Whatever that is about, YOU did nothing to cause it. Have you had her evaluated by a doctor? It could be something she is allergic to, even! But it is not because you are doing a bad job at mothering her. Pft!

Our children come through us... They are here for there own journey. When we take on all the guilt, we invalidate their journey, in a way. We think we are making it all abotu them...but really it is all about us, that guilt. We need allow things to not be always in our control.

And again, this is HARD for me, too. I am anxiety-ridden most of the time. That is why we must support one another as mothers. This is a hard gig! And we make it even harder, sometimes. ;)

10:51 AM, June 01, 2007  
Anonymous Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

You’re an awesome mom with a really tantrumy but otherwise wonderful kid, and FWIW, I don’t think any of it is your fault or that you’re doing anything wrong. In fact, I think dealing with a toddler that doesn’t talk OR nap OR sleep through, mostly by myself, would be much, much harder that what I do every day with twins, and I think you’re amazing for dealing as well as you do. (I also know that Madam has lots of lovely qualities that carry you through to some extent). We can all work to find better strategies for coping, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not already doing a whole lot right. Up to now, I’ve been frustrated that N’s tantrums are almost all when I’m by myself with him, because people don’t believe how bad they are at times and I sometimes have felt they’re my fault because they always involve me. I’m starting to think, though, that he just feels safest with me. I also know there are advantages to having tantrums be so “private”! I’m sorry it’s so hard, and that all the conflicting advice and doubts make it harder. It’s probably especially hard not having a clear “reason” for the late talking, but that still doesn’t make the “reason” YOU! I wouldn’t be surprised if the next child was a lot easier as a baby and toddler, and then watch, that one could be a terror of an adolescent while Madam becomes bookish and rather tractable… You never know. ;-) You’ll probably stop blaming yourself someday; why not do it sooner rather than later? (Blame George Bush, just because you can..)Also, honoring your creative self is a good example for your daughter. Wouldn't you want her to do that?
P.S. I'm pretty sure that the title of your post is also the title of Kate's book!

1:21 PM, June 01, 2007  
Anonymous fern said...

I know nothing about kids, but from what I know about you, you're one of the most devoted, caring parents I've ever known. I'm pretty sure you didn't do anything wrong.
I think the most important thing for Madam is that you take care of her mother too. Writing is an essential outlet for you, and you're so damn good at it.
Please try to take care of yourself, and try to hang on to the light at the end of the! ;)

8:29 PM, June 01, 2007  
Blogger Cate said...

M, your writing, as always, is powerful and stirring. I'm thinking about you as you navigate this part of your journey, and sending many warm thoughts your way!

I agree so much with what the other commenters have said, esp. Amber. By taking care of "you," you are showing Madam that being a woman is about loving yourself and respecting your own needs/passions.

And from a professional standpoint (I'm an SLP), you have done nothing to impede Madam's speech! You are an amazing mother and you parent beautifully! I know that you had her speech evaluated recently--have they made recommendations for therapy? My own little guy is three and he has received speech therapy for the past year (and what with me, a speech therapist--oh, the shame, according to so many of my "well meaning" friends!). I don't know if you have tried this already, but using sign language in the meantime might help to ease some frustration.

Please know that all of your friends (and fellow mothers) out here are thinking of you! xo

9:46 PM, June 01, 2007  
Blogger deirdre said...

I'm going to throw in my two cents worth even though I don't have kids and therefore probably don't have a clue. Feeding your soul is never going to hurt your child. It will give her a better mother. Tantrums have nothing to do with you - it's a developmental stage that some kids are better at than others. I've seen some really good tantrums and been impressed with the ferocity of a two year old who wants it their way. Oh. My. I've also seen tantrums completely ignored (barring potential self-injury), leading to a toddler getting up from the floor and silently going about the business they were engaged in before the storm. You could second-guess yourself to death and still never have the answers. There it is, my bit from a quiet life of self-indulgent non-mommy-hood. You are a good mother and writer; there's no reason you can't be both. I think it would cheat your daughter if you gave up writing. Think how she'd learn to submerge herself.

10:34 PM, June 01, 2007  
Blogger Becca said...

Once again, your post could have been lifted directly from the pages of my journal some 25 years ago. Looking back now, it's hard to believe I could even have been such an anxiety ridden, guilty wreck of a mother. And the reason it's hard to believe is because my child turned out perfectly fine, and I managed to keep my own integrity intact as well. But not without lots of hair pulling in the interim.

I can only say that everyone who has commented here is absolutley right ~ keep writing, keep talking to Madam, keep handling those tantrums in whatever way feels right to you ...experiment with some different ways and see if anything helps or feels right. Most of all, keep finding time to do the things that you love, particularly writing. It will keep both of you sane in the long run.

love and peace to you...

10:47 PM, June 01, 2007  
Blogger kate said...

My dear, I have felt so many of these things. Stella is especially tantrum-prone these days, and I go through a list of questions, blamings...but I have to agree with emmie. Nurturing your creative self--your mind and heart--is one of the best examples for Madam.

Emmie, right again, the post title is close to my book title, which is ready for air. So many of the same ideas/feelings are contained here.

I think you're fabulous and so, so talented.

7:25 AM, June 02, 2007  
Blogger rdl said...

no one said it's easy. have you ever seen Dana Carvey skit on "parenting"? it's hysterical. I'm afraid the terrible 2's are followed by the horrible 3's and the fearsome 4's. by 5 when they enter Kindegarten, they usually start to get with the program. In the meantime start a babysitting co-op with other mom's in the same boat.

11:26 PM, June 02, 2007  
Anonymous Frida said...

I wrote this big long comment, then deleted it to write this:

You are an amazing writer. It is important that you write - I can't possibly imagine how that could hurt your daughter.

I read a blog today in which a wonderful young female artist wrote about her mother's writing - how much she was shaped by her mother's commitment to her own true path.

It may be 20 years down the track but I am sure your Madam will be thinking, saying or wirting something very similar one day.

9:13 AM, June 03, 2007  
Anonymous sayhieverymorning said...

writing is an art and yet is a craft - it is one of the loneliest works of creativity and powerful.

4:05 AM, June 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I being selfish for believing that I can write a novel and be a good mother at the same time?

I'd say no you're not. I'd say you're being balanced-- which in the long run will be the best lesson you can give Madame about life. imho.

4:46 PM, June 04, 2007  

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