The beginning of the middle
Monday, June 11, 2018
There were goats. Three of them in all, a set of twins included. Sophie took it upon herself to feed them snippets of leaves through the fence, chatty and happy.
We recently spent a few hours at a nearby farm not more than 20 minutes from our apartment, but it almost felt a world away. I had been on my phone reading an article as Matt drove, and ten or so minutes into the trip I looked up. I looked up and saw wide swaths of beautiful land, empty save for the trees that were born there or the crops that were planted there. Gone were the manicured lawns and houses mere feet from each other, the sidewalks and red lights and sense of urgency. We were on a two lane road interrupted one or two times by 4 way stop signs, and it felt like I could breathe. We pulled into the gravel driveway and were greeted by a barn, a barn cat, a fire pit just coming to life. There was space and sky. And goats.
Earlier in the morning we had had rain, which lifted the humidity and made the early June night more reminiscent of Autumn, the smell of burning wood from the fire pit padding the feeling. It made me miss October and that new school year feeling made up of curious nostalgia and waning light and volleyball practice, when the days are warm but a sweatshirt is needed by night. The kids didn't stop moving—there was tether ball and a few soccer balls and marshmallows to roast and the barn cat to chase. All of them had sticky mouths and wild hair. I reached for my back pocket to take some pictures and was shocked to see that it was nearly 9. When did that happen? When did the sun begin to stay past closing? To give us reason to raise our head to the sky, eyes closed, and feel grateful, and warm? To play her charming tricks on us?
Her tricks were evident the day after, right around 2pm. The kids didn't get to bed until nearly 11 the night of the farm, teeth semi-brushed and hands and faces washed with water but everything else streaked with dried sweat and probably goat dirt. Consequently, Sophie needed to be put in a cool, dark room the next afternoon. With wet cheeks and in between shrieking, she told me she hated naps. I told her she'll feel much better in a few hours. Good night. She threw a teeny tiny blue flashlight in response.
I remarked to the other women sitting around the fire that wouldn't it be funny and so weird if human babies were like the goat babies, not merely walking but running and jumping and head butting at only a few months old? The goats were born in March.
We were on a spectrum, the four of us. The host has two teens and an almost teen, I have the kids who are out of diapers, M has a two year old and one on the way, due in August, and A is recently married, no kids as of yet. M was telling A to take hold of that time, that precious time, before kids. Before every outing is an olympic sport to get out the door and you genuinely wonder if you will ever sleep again, before you trade in your lace thong for mesh underwear, before you look back on the pictures taken in the hospital and wonder who is that and why did anyone let me get in front of a camera? (Answer: because the baby blues have not yet hit and you are exhausted but euphoric, because you'll be rightly devastated if those blurry and beautiful days are not memorialized, extra pounds be damned.) Before the bathroom becomes a haven, but only if you lock it. Before your kid chucks your phone into the pool and looks at you smugly because he thought he was being fresh and that the phone had a waterproof case on it (it didn't—this brings out SheHulk.) Before our bodies and some relationships change, too.
So I understood exactly what M was saying. But still, I inexplicably and maybe somewhat absurdly miss that time. Or I guess I should say parts of that time. I know my memories are undoubtedly curated and feel so very fuzzy and far away, grasping at rose colored air, which is probably why I'm so nostalgic for them. But for all the hard, which was intensely real, there was also so much good, which is sometimes easier to see from a distance. I miss their bowed legs, their striped pajamas and tiny shoes, hearing their post nap chatter and going to get them from a darkened room in the late afternoon, their head popping up as they heard the door creak open. I miss those newborn yawns and reflexes—at times I'll put my finger into Sophie's hand to see if she will grasp it like she used to. Sometimes she will for a second, and then she lets go. She lets go, exactly as she's supposed to. I can still hold her on my hip, but that is expiring. She hugs my neck with her entire arm crooked around it, whispering with her hot breath into my ear and it is enough, it is everything. I was pregnant with her at this time only five years ago. It is at once yesterday and another lifetime, literally another country. I was the sickest I'd been of the three pregnancies, and one of the only things I could eat without feeling like I was going to yark were those ramen noodles in a styrofoam cup that you add hot water to and would probably be the only thing besides rats to survive a nuclear holocaust. But the spicy broth was so good. I recently told that to someone who remarked in response: "Oh my god! That has msg!" I channeled my inner Rihanna.
I asked our host how it was having teenagers, was it hard? She said that it is hard and exhausting emotionally, but mostly really good. They are coming into themselves, discovering what they like and what they think. Last year they planted pumpkins and sold them up by the road, making $600. They run track and do theatre and played tag with Theo and they train those goats, too.
I am not quite there yet. This time that I am currently in, it's somewhat of a calm between the storms, I think. A sweet spot, so to speak. It's certainly not a full on cakewalk, but there are doughnuts to be had. There is still lots of bickering and I'm convinced I spend 87% of my life in the kitchen making toast, but I'm done with diapers and naps (unless we go to a farm and they stay outside until 10pm) and I travel much lighter—for the most part, it is no longer necessary to pack wipes, extra sets of clothes, bibs, bottles, blankets, Brown Bear and 27 varieties of snacks. For one thing, Evelyn now carries her own purse and two, if they get hungry, they should've eaten the lunch (read: toast) I made them. We are no longer slaves to 9:30am and 2pm. But the best part is the slumber: I have made it to the elusive promised land of Sleep After Children and can report that you will indeed rest again. Godspeed mommas of little littles. I would say carpe diem but I know better than that so I'll just say this: it gets easier, and then it gets hard as you realize that you no longer have babies and you have to begin the process of letting go, and then, as I'm told, it gets harder still as you really do have to release them into the world. As you worry about driving and sex and friends, boyfriends and broken hearts and beer. As you worry about how they will deal with disappointments and change. As you force yourself not to think about what could happen if a fellow classmate decides to bring a rifle to school. As you hope that you did right by them and apologized when you were wrong and listened to them; that, above all, they know that they are loved.
As I sit here in the beginning of the middle, I realize I am glossing over the intense loneliness I sometimes felt in those earlier years, that what am I doing with my life feeling as I drowned in tears and milk. It doesn't happen right away, but as you ease into motherhood I think there is a bit of mourning that comes along with it too, a sense of loss at your former self, a sense of fear at who you will become, of not wanting to forget yourself or your plans. But you are not entirely the same person, something has shifted. You have seen and felt things that were previously impossible, and it is indeed euphoria, but as with any change, there comes with it some discomfort, a reckoning of what has been and what will be, which of course we can't even know until it is. I sometimes felt (feel) useless and not important in the world, not knowing my place amongst the careers and politics and smart people. I was (am) aching for more time and energy and sleep and money and originality so I could (can) find my purpose all the while holding the opposing truths that this work of raising humans is the most important and fulfilling and achingly beautiful thing that I can do with my time and my heart but also not everyone can be a full time parent because bills need to be paid and art needs to be made and roads need to be laid. Is it possible to be good and great? What can our children learn by watching their parents do what they love, or perhaps even more impacting, what they must? Where they can do the most good for the collective? My fear is that they'll grow up and I'll realize that I won't know how to do anything else. But I know that's not true. After I give fear the space she needs to make herself known, and after I pay tribute to the early years that undoubtedly fill me with sadness and joy and longing at their passing, I feel a shiver of anticipation. The growth of my children signals opportunity for me, too. What will I do with it?
No matter where I start, I always end up and am fascinated here, convinced this life is complicated and contradictory, anything but linear and clean lines. One of my favorite writers, Jedidiah Jenkins, wrote recently that "as I get older and listen to my life, the truest things seem to live in paradoxical tension." Paradoxical tension, yes. How do we move in such a messy and wondrous place? How can I be a broken and full heart? We are all splintered personalities, fractured faces spinning on a big rock in outer space.
We drove away from the farm and the goats and I felt a deep satisfaction at having had flesh and blood conversation and connection. I almost always initially resist social settings where I don't already know everyone, I'm afraid I won't know what to say. Inevitably, I find my words and remember that I do like people and realize not for the first time that life is better lived in communion with others. It is not good to be alone. We can't be loved if we are alone. Let's not be alone.
After the kids were stripped of their filthy clothes and laid in bed, Matt and I watched Westworld and I questioned perception and morality and consciousness and if I was real. But I couldn't linger in that space too long because my eyes were tired. My clothes smelled of smoke.