i love you, monster

This morning at breakfast Giles put his hands on my face and said, “I love you, monster.”

Later in the morning a dear friend sent me a link to this article, “Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid” by Rufi Thorpe. 

After a grueling time getting my 2-year-old son down for a nap on a 93 degree, oppressively humid day, I sat down to read the article. My brain popped and sizzled with recognition at every sentence. This is exactly what I was crying about in therapy today. What I have been crying about every night for a week.

(Read the article for yourself, and then come back to this. Or read this first and then read the article. Either way, you should definitely read it, because it’s damn good.)

I’m afraid that I am failing at the life I’ve been building since I was eighteen-years-old. As I entered adulthood, college, the world on my own, I made a decision: I will be an artist who also has a family, a life, kids, love, happiness, and I will not be an asshole.”

An ex-boyfriend once told me about how Albert Einstein’s wife took care of all the daily responsibilities of life so that he could concentrate on being a genius. This was a not-so-subtle hint, I think, at what kind of wife this ex-boyfriend wanted. He also told me about a professor he admired who worked twelve hours a day in his studio with one landline phone that only his wife had the number to, and she was only allowed to use it in case of emergency so that the professor would not be disturbed in his work. This gem of a boyfriend left trash on my kitchen floor and excused himself by saying , “I don’t notice things like that.” He once didn’t call me for three weeks and told me I couldn’t be angry with him because he just wasn’t aware of the need to call me. He was too wrapped up in his art.

I know in my heart of hearts that Einstein would have been a truer and better genius if he had done his own fucking laundry.

The “mundane” things, the daily tasks and responsibilities of life are not boring. They are the beauty, the deepest beauty in the world, and we should be making art about them! Shitty fathers and husbands who also happened to write great novels did not write great novels BECAUSE they were shitty fathers and husbands. I think they would have been even better writers if they had been better fathers and husbands.

I have this memory of something I read that Bruce Springsteen said. I can’t find it, and I’m sorry, and I wish I could quote it directly, but I’ve carried it with me in my mind for a long time. He said he used to think that the moment he had an inspiration for a song, he had to go and write it immediately– disregarding his family in order to do so. But later he learned that the opposite was true: he would notice the inspiration, then let it go, opting to be where he was with his family and not ignore them. Later, when he had time, he’d search for the inspiration and find that by letting it go for a while, it always came back to him better.

And so, I believe that I am (or will be) a better artist because I am a wife and mother. Or, I did believe that until my kid refused to nap for a whole week and did I mention I’m almost 20 weeks pregnant while caring for a 2-year-old boy? It’s really fucking hard.

I’m afraid that my “self” is slipping away. And not slowly either– but off a cliff into the void. It’s not, though. I’m trying to trust that. I am still here. I exist as a mother/artist/person simultaneously. I exist in a deeper way than before. Somehow, by putting my kids first, I am a better artist. Right?

Thorpe writes about all of these ideas with a lot more clarity and elegance than I am doing here, but I’m trying to write some kind of response that echoes what she is saying while adding my own personal thoughts. I want to echo back that we are not alone. You are not alone. You, mother of however many children and trying to be a person, are not alone. This is REALLY FUCKING HARD and we are IN IT. We have to keep climbing this mountain. Because what we are doing matters. The mothering yes, and also the art, whatever your art is.

On Friday, in a text exchange with my sister, I asked her if I am crazy to have another baby. She responded:

“Yes. But full of love.”

 

 

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remember me

movies

This past November we took Giles to see Coco at the movie theater. He was eighteen-months-old at the time. This past Saturday Giles went to see it again, at a special screening with his Nana and Granddad. He came home talking all about it, now twenty-two-months-old. He said what sounded like, “mama me,” a bunch of times and at first I didn’t know what it meant. But then I realized he was talking about the song from the movie, “Remember Me.”

This song makes me think of my mom. Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be. 

I learned it on ukulele so I could play and sing it for Giles, and for myself. And for my mom.

Next November we have another baby due. Four wheels on the car. I’ll take her/him to the movies too.

 

helpless

helpless 1

helpless 2

this comic was drawn with my left hand (which is my non-dominant hand). i do that sometimes, for specific stories, or to loosen up.

my mom switched to painting left-handed after she developed neuropathy in her right hand. in her own words:

My mind is coming back. Possibly, this has something to do with my recent shift to painting with my left hand (because of the neuropathy). Painting left-handed does not feel awkward to me—just the opposite: It feels like coming home. I feel more like myself , more in-sync with myself, than I ever did in my whole life working right handed.
This has been a powerful discovery, and one I have yet to fully process or understand.
~ Viola Moriarty
7 March 2011

 

valentine to myself

valentine

This comic was drawn in my journal, so there’s another comic on the back of the page showing through just a little bit.

I made this in my class tonight (I often participate in the exercises with the students). The assignment was: make a comic as a valentine to yourself in the past, at a time when you might have needed it. 

There are several past Valentine’s Days when I would have benefitted from a note from Future Anna. Sadder ones. Lonelier ones. But this one sprang to mind. I really was happy being alone that day, even though a little part of me longed for something romantic to happen. But I used to worry about how things would work out: love, career, family, all that jazz.

What I know now is that everything works out. This doesn’t mean that everything is good and tied up in a neat package with a bow. What I mean is that everything just is. It works out because it exists, I exist, I am here in my life and I am okay. No matter which paths I could have chosen, I would have ended up somewhere. Decisions are not right or wrong, they just ARE. So you pick the thing you really want to do, or be, or have. Like John Carter in E.R. when he choses to drop out of his surgery residency to pursue emergency medicine instead. He struggles with this decision, and really either path would have been fine. Either path leads to good and bad things. It’s just, which thing do you really want to do?

I long very deeply for the ability to call my mom, in a casual way, just walking around. To talk about our days, thoughts, whatever. So if I could tell my younger self to do anything, I guess it would be to call her. Even if I’d just called her five  minutes before. Call her again. Hear her laugh. Argue with her. Tell her you love her. Hear her call you that nickname that rings in your head even now, almost five years after the last time she ever said it.

 

mom dispatch: 21 months plus 1 day

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Yesterday was Giles’ 21 month birthday and for the first time in his whole life I forgot to mark this monthly occurrence. Today I realized the date and maybe also realized I don’t need to count by months anymore? When people ask how old he is do I just say, “almost 2”?

But when he turns 22 months I of course want to make an instagram post using lyrics from Taylor Swift’s “22.”

Giles speaks in two and three word sentences now. “Daddy shower.” “Daddy work.” “I see ya!” “Hair up Mommy.” “Thank you Mommy.” “What in there?” “No poops!” This verbal development is my favorite thing so far. I love hearing what’s going on in his head as he plays, or which phrases he chooses to repeat. Seeing his face as he understands how a word fits with a thing– it’s amazing.

He’s also really fun. And throws tantrums. And beams me in the head with a metal Ernie in a bathtub car toy thing from my own 1980s childhood. And now there’s a bump on my head. And I worry about what this aggression means and how to stop it. And about a thousand other things. But he is also sweet and loving and tender– “Hugs, Mommy,” he says. And, “I sorry.” He pats my head, kisses my belly, rests his own little head on my shoulder.

21 months postpartum isn’t how I imagined it would be. I sort of wish I knew what my weight is, but I don’t own a scale and really I’m kind of glad. I keep reminding myself that my body will never be what it was before, and that it’s okay. I feel good and strong, especially since returning from our trip to Chile to visit Phoebe about a month ago. I’m taking Zumba, adult jazz dance, yoga, and I think I’m a vegetarian now? I’m ready to start the journey of making another human person inside my body again. Hormones still go up and down, but less dramatically. My soft belly, which Giles is so interested in lately (“mommy belly!”) is maybe a bit smaller, arms strong from lifting a 30 pound toddler, mind a bit more centered, identity more defined and sure, art time more regular and productive. Viewings of Moana have increased tenfold.

Now that I feel pretty good, pretty much like myself, why would I mess it all up to have another baby?

There are huge moments of fear and doubt and anxiety. Fear of being pregnant while taking care of a toddler. Of giving birth again. Of having a miscarriage. Of losing myself. Of losing my body. My mind. My identity outside of “mom.” How did my mom do this? How did she decide to have another kid? What did she feel as she and my dad made the decision? How did they know what to name her? What was it like taking care of two-year-old me while carrying baby Phoebe in her belly?

I had a moment, though. In yoga class, during shavasanah. Hands resting on my belly, I felt my body make room for the next baby. For my number two. For my “Phoebe,” so to speak.

My mom had a distinct relationship with each of us, my sister and me. Each special in its own way, but very different. Thinking about my mom and Phoebe together, I really look forward to my relationship with my number two, and how it will be just as big, deep, and full as that I have with Giles. But different. My “Phoebe.”

(Calm down, Gramma. I’m not pregnant yet.)

 

big truck

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19 months and 6 days of mothering this human outside of the womb. The top picture is Christmas time last year, and the bottom picture is yesterday. He grows and grows, talks, walks, runs, laughs, makes jokes, dances, throws tantrums, squeals.

My life is so different from a year ago (and my hair is much longer)– mothering is so different now with this toddler than it was with the baby he used to be. My life is almost unrecognizable from what it was pre-motherhood. Though I do recognize something of myself from when I was a kid– long moments of playing, the joy of a car going down a slide, lying on the floor looking up at Christmas tree lights.

I’m still figuring out who I am in this role, though I think I’m pretty good at it. My heart has enough love, so much love, more than enough love– this I know.

I’ve gotten better at cutting his hair. Each time I do it more evenly, more like a real haircut. It’s similar to a 60s shag kind of style: like a Beatle, or Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. My sister says it looks like a bowl cut.

I’ve gotten better at confidence. At letting go.

He’s gotten better at sleeping. Eating. Expressing his needs and wants with some kind of language. He becomes himself more each day as he discovers new ways to be and do. He listens. He puts his hands on each side of my face and says, “Ohhh!”

My body has gotten better at being a body again. It will never be what it was before, and I have to accept that over and over.

One of my favorite conversations so far is this one:
ME: Giles, did you poop?
GILES: Poop!
ME: Is it a big one?
GILES: BIIIIG TWUUUCK!

To be fair, he says “big truck” as a response to lots of things. But I really think in this instance he was using it as a description for the giant turd in his diaper. My kid has a sense of comic timing like no other.

Today I am going to Dana-Farber in Boston for one of my every-six-months checkups. No scans today, but it is always a thing, a vibration under my skin, a whisper of will-they-tell-me-i-have-cancer. This doesn’t make me not want to go. Because if I wasn’t going to these appointments I would be worried every second that I had cancer and wasn’t doing anything about it. Now I get to know definitively twice a year that I do not have cancer, and I get to ask questions and talk out my anxieties with very smart and beautiful doctors. I like the car rides with Greg. I like the tacos. It’s a kind of date, and I will cherish it every time we go.

Giles will stay with Greg’s parents tonight, since we’ll be home late. When I see him in the morning, with his big smiling face (or even possible cranky crying face), I will squeeze him tightly. I will say “I love you I love you I love you.”

He’ll probably say, “Big TWUUUCK!”

 

 

today i did a thing

today i did a thing.

that thing was to climb into the bucket of a tree truck, and be lifted very, very high off the ground to rescue my cat from a tree.

that thing was scary. i shook the entire time. i took deep breaths. i said “i can’t do this” a lot, and the guy on the ground kept telling me i was fine.

i wanted to get down. i wanted someone else to do it.

but up and up i went, until i was right below the branch where my cat was perched. she meowed and meowed and i stuck out an arm, petting her and coaxing her to come closer to me.

“you gotta use both hands,” yelled the guy from below.

i didn’t want to use both hands. i wanted one hand firmly gripping the bucket because i was trembling and it didn’t seem possible that i would not just fall right out.

“you can’t fall,” he said.

finally i reached both hands out and grabbed the cat and pulled her into the bucket with me. i held her down on the floor of the bucket saying, “you dumb cat. don’t ever do that again.” i was still trembling. shaking. scared scared scared.

i got to the ground. i tossed the cat out. i climbed out myself and i thanked the tree guys.

it didn’t occur to me that i had faced one of my fears. i am a total scaredy cat when it comes to heights. i never climb up high and jump off rocks into water. i don’t dive into pools from a diving board. i don’t stand near the edges of places.

it didn’t feel like i was facing a fear. i didn’t feel exhilarated. i felt trembly and weak and like i really didn’t want to do it.

but maybe that’s how it is.

what’s in a name

giles doesn't know his name

Why would Giles think his name is Archie? I have been a fan of Archie Comics since I was seven-years-old and happen to have an Archie bobblehead doll that Giles loves to play with. He runs around the house carrying it, shouting, “Ah-chee, Ah-chee!”

One of my nicknames for Giles is “chonchy.” This is something our mom called my sister and I, one of her little pet names for us. I probably call Giles “chonchy” more often than I call him “Giles.” It’s possible that “Ah-chee” is his attempt at “chonchy.”

I wonder what his friends will call him. What all the nicknames of his life will be.

59

sep 4, 2017

Today, September 6, 2017 would be my mom’s 59th birthday if she were still alive.

When I think about being a mom, my own role as Giles’ mom, I think a thousand times a day what my own mama would think about how I am doing. How would she do this or that…and especially the light on her face as she would hold Giles, play with him, talk with him.

Grief doesn’t go away. You don’t move on. Sometimes I know how to hold it and sometimes I don’t.

I put Nina Simone on for Giles’ nap today. Her voice, cool and deep and full– music seems to be Giles favorite thing, the thing that fills his heart. Well, that and food. And books. And balls. And laughing. He loves it all.

Mama was the most alive person I knew. Until Giles. He is so very alive.

She is in his eyes. She is somewhere in him.

Viola Rose Moriarty would be 59 today. She was an artist. Her life was her best art. She was my mom.

From her blog, April 4, 2010:

Today I called my family in Denver to wish them a Happy Easter. We had coffee with the NYTimes and sportsreporters and Ina…the Sunday morning slow start. Ahhhh…….

And then we finally pulled on some work clothes and got started.

We worked on our list of home chores, taking care of the live things first. Toilet scrubbing and floor washing and paying bills and writing thank yous and making donations, both in things to pass on and in the checks we could write now. We prepped for the week and cleaned the fish tank and the litter box and filled bird feeders and cleaned out the gardens, watered and fed the plants, finally making lists for things that can’t be done today and how much we’ll need to fix or do them later—all the little and big maintenance things that keep a home running.

Today we “counted” the chickadees starting their nest in the little house just outside our backdoor as they do every spring, and the forsythia’s first yellow blooms. We counted the garlics and crocuses and bits of herbs and bulbs that all made it through another winter. They survived and so did we. We tested the fish tank water and put out the bird baths.

And then we had a good salad for an early dinner and went to a movie at our arthouse theatre where we are members.

I love this feeling of participating in my life, of doing it together with Jon. Of making a home.

Foundation in lovingkindness. We do the best we can for all who reside here with us and around us.

This “making a home” stuff– this is where I feel most like my mom. More even than making art. I am making a home, participating in my own life. Foundation in lovingkindness.

Happy birthday, Mama. I love you.