Getaway

Long before my life…what’s the phrase I want to use here? Caved in? Fell apart? Transformed? Long before everything changed, I’d agreed to house and pet sit for my dear friends Nat and Mike in the east end of Toronto. That’s where I am now; laying in their bed, the white noise of a little fan near the window drowning out all other sound. I’m up too early on a Sunday morning, but maybe I’ll nap after I write this.

I’ve been here since Wednesday, with Noodle at my side for three full days. I needed time, just the two of us, to have fun and go on city adventures. The first night we rolled in, we hit the beach for fish and chips, a first for him. He liked the food, but he liked the sand more, so it was up to me to finish our single serving. It was hard to convince myself to eat a pile of fried stuff while watching twenty-year-old women in bikinis playing beach volleyball. The seagulls were grateful for the fish and chips donation.

We trekked to the water’s edge. It’s remarkable how much time a young kid can spend throwing things into the water. I found an almost perfectly round white rock that reminded me of the full moon, and another tear-shaped rock with a stripe around the edges. I tucked these in my bag and then realized that I’ll need a nature table in my new home, wherever that may be. The beach was littered with gorgeous, fit bodies, couples in love, and young families with children. Why does heartbreak feel so much like panic? The worst has already happened, so what am I afraid of? I put my toes into the lake and with the shock of spring-cold water, asked for my pain to be taken away.

We noodled around on the playground. The sand was hot lava. Then we went to meet friends for ice cream. I drove to the wrong location, so by the time we finally sorted ourselves, I had a wired, tired five year old boy. He was like a shark in the way he couldn’t stop moving. And then, we added ice cream to his little body, which thankfully he barely touched. The Beaches are always bustling with people. Every time I’m there, I feel like I’m on a holiday. This time, I tried to take in all the sights and sounds while trying to keep my kid from picking things up off the city streets, listening to my friend try to make conversation, and most importantly, trying not collapse in a sobbing heap.

Home then for a quick walk with the dog and a bath to rinse out all the sand in Noah’s hair. He was beyond tired at this point, and I braced myself for the onslaught of emotion. Sure enough, he started sobbing. Homesick for the rest of his family, not completely sure if I’d brought him here because this was our new home, it was a mess. How do you console someone when they’re crying for the same things you are? I remained steady, and loving, and we moved through our routine for the rest of the night. Tears turned to giggles, we read the new Star Wars book my friends so sweetly left for him, and soon he was snoring. Not mommy though. I had to start my work day. I got in two solid hours before I began drooling on myself, and then was out cold as soon as the light was out. Hmm…maybe a new strategy for getting proper sleep? Work until I’m delirious, wake only when I have to. Nap if necessary. Repeat.

The next day we walked the dog, discovered a playground, and then Noah built an epic amusement park out of toddler-sized Lego bricks while I cracked my computer and got some more work in. Our afternoon destination was the Aquarium. He’s shark-crazy right now, so this first visit was sure to blow his mind. He fell asleep in the car, which was great because with a Jays game to compete with, there was no parking to be found. I drove around for an hour looking, reminiscent of the time I briefly lived in Manhattan. I decided to take my chances on a side street, where I was relatively sure I wouldn’t get towed. Surely, I wouldn’t get a  parking ticket on top of everything else? (I didn’t. Thank you parking gods!)

Noodle had to work himself up to go see the sharks. We cut our teeth on freshwater fish and octopus. This reminded me of when he was a baby, when he was OBSESSED with horses. He only had a few words, and one of those was ‘NeighNeigh’. We took him to the Royal Winter Fair, so he could see these great beasts up close, and he was terrified. I couldn’t understand how getting close to something you loved so much could be scary. I think I get it now. With enough distance, these creatures are alluring and magnificent. Close up, you realize they can kill you.

After lunch, and some indoor playground time, he was ready to take on the sharks. Noodle was delighted with how the tanks seemed to stretch on and on. He really took his time, searching for each species, and we read lots of the info cards. Impressive because I didn’t think his attention span was up for so much research. As we finally wrapped up, we visited the gift shop and chose a plastic shark head full of tiny aquatic creatures. These came in handy, because our next stop was with a warm and lovely couple who I’ll be uniting in marriage next month. Thankfully, they liked kids.

Then dinner in Kensington Market. A tired and overstimulated kid doesn’t care about exciting bustle and vibrant street life. They think it’s bullshit that we have to park so far from the place we’re supposed to be. We met my dear cousin for pho, and like so many of my nearest and dearest, all she could do was shake her head in bewilderment and shed some tears on my behalf. On our behalf. I get the same question over and over:

“What happened?”

I may never have the answer.

A spin around the block with the pooch and then we dropped into bed. This time Noodle tried to read the Star Wars book to me. My heart feels next to exploding with every new word he masters. He’s unlocking the universe, one syllable at a time. It occurs to me to make more space for pleasure reading, now that I’ll have more alone time. I slept that night like I had no worries in the world.

On our final day together, we use our ROM membership to visit our dino friends, see the animals, and of course, the mummy. We contemplate why there is an alarm in the mummy’s glass case. Is it climate control? Is it in case he gets up and wanders around after hours? Is it because treasure hunters may try to steal him and remove the ancient ruby hidden in his chest cavity? We eat lunch and split a chocolate croissant, choose a dino Lego set and matching moon and stars necklaces for his sisters, and then we head home. We take the dog to the playground at the end of the street and I make friends with my first single dad. He’s not my type, but I’m encouraged by how kids make the best of ice breakers. Maybe someday…

After some play time, we head to the beaches for dinner with Kathryn, one of my very best friends, and my dear, sweet Dave. Noodle is amused to learn that these people who he doesn’t recognize used to hold him and sing to him and sometimes even feed him while mommy was onstage, or when they came to our Toronto house to visit him. He cozies right up to both, as if he can sense that they are my lifeline right now. As if he loves them because they love me, complete with all my mess. They engage him until he’s too tired to chat, and then they hold him close while he amuses himself with a shark game on my phone. I’ve used up all my data this month trying to create distractions. Both for the boy, and for myself.

That night, I sleep as close as I can to my son, knowing it will be days and many miles before I see him again. I never dreamed I’d have to see him only fifty percent of the time. I never imagined being without him until he was grown and fending for himself. His sweaty head smells like summertime and his own unique delicious blend of earthy goodness. How do people do this? How do people move through this loss and still feel like their lives are full?

On Saturday, I delivered Noodle home to his dad. I painted on my mask, squeezed myself into a little dress and a pair of heels, curled my hair and headed off to marry a beautiful couple as their bridal party and I overlooked Niagara Falls.

“To find love, we must first take the chance of risking our heart to one another.
For it is only then, in the very act of offering ourselves, that true love is discovered.”

In this life I’ve taken so many chances. I think it’s time to fold for a while.

The Tide

It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting in bed listening to the rain. The softest light filters through the blinds and my son is speaking quietly to his daddy in the other room.

In three hours, we will tell our children that we are splitting up and sharing custody of them. I didn’t think my heart could take anymore, but it has to withstand this next step. This heart of mine needs to shift focus to deal with this. My grief is nothing in the face of the loss my babies will feel.

How do you tell your children that grown up love is subject to failure?

My five and a half year old son has been courting this blond haired, blue eyed pixie of a girl who he’s known since daycare. A week or so ago, he asked me to buy a bouquet of flowers for her, which he presented on the busy morning playground at school. He heaves great, swooning sighs when he mentions her name, and there was even a marriage proposal (from her, so progressive). Last night, he told me that Elise has decided she wants to marry Joe instead.

We commiserated on how painful it is when someone you are in love with rejects you. I told him that this kind of sadness is the risk we take to feel the wonderful feelings that come from being in love. I promised him that someday he’d find someone to marry; someone who was just right for him, and who could love him for the amazing person that he is. As I said this, I willed it to be my own truth too.

It won’t be difficult to transfer this deep ocean of love to my children. If it’s no longer required in my romantic partnership, I know three incredible people who will thrive in these waters. This love for my children will keep me afloat.

We are keeping the house, and the kids will live here while the adults come and go to share time with them. I will get half the time, and N and S will share the other half of the time. The two of them parted as friends back in November.

I must not think of how the change in these adult relationships might shift the kids’ perception of me in a negative way. I must not imagine the difference they will feel as they move back and forth between life with two parents to life with just me. One full, happy home with a mom and a dad, to time with a single mom who wasn’t prepared for that reality. A single mom who isn’t the ‘chill’ parent. In the case of my teen and tween daughters, a single mom who isn’t even their mom in the eyes of the law.

If I lose my children in this, I will truly be lost. They are the greatest good of these last nine years of my life. The purest light in the darkest moments of fear and confusion.

Maybe some happiness will emerge through this shift. Perhaps the person who my dearest friends know and love (warm, loving, creative, calm) will take over now that the complexities of my adult relationships have changed. This could be my chance to be the mom I’ve always wanted to be.

But what if it isn’t?

Kids Make Sleep Impossible

Back in July, I had almost an entire week of proper sleep. This was right after I visited a naturopath because I thought for sure my hormones must have been out of whack – I was irritable, emotional, exhausted and kind of all over the place. She decided I wasn’t sleeping enough and that I needed nine uninterrupted hours of sleep each night. Nine hours. That meant a 9:30 bed time, which is frankly impossible. She gave me herbs to help me fall asleep faster, and I slept with a mask to keep the sunshine from waking me up before I wanted to be awake. After that week, I felt like a new human. The problem turned out to be a lack of sleep, (my hormones are just fine) but since that glorious week of rest, I haven’t been able to nab another nine hour stretch. As I type this, I feel a bit weepy. I wish I hadn’t experienced what good rest feels like because despite those few days, the reality is this: young kids make sleep impossible.

why kids make sleep impossible

Why Young Kids Make Sleep Impossible:

  1. They insist on sleeping with you. Okay, maybe yours don’t. Maybe you chose not to co-sleep with your child from day one because getting out of bed for feedings in the middle of the night seemed a small price to pay for the freedom you would enjoy later on. Maybe you don’t have to convince your almost-four-year-old that his own bed in his lovely room is perfectly safe and awesome. Good for you. My nipples were like hamburger meat and I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown in my early days of motherhood. But you were probably smarter, and you’re probably a much nicer person than me in the mornings.
  2. You can’t sleep when they don’t sleep with you. My little guy isn’t the only one who got used to sleeping with another human every night. Whenever he sleeps with his other mama, or has an overnight with the grandparents, I inevitably hit a spot in my bedtime routine where I suddenly feel like a limb is missing and my heart and soul aches for his sweaty little head on the pillow beside me. The truth is, I sleep the very best when it’s just him and I in bed. He’s the only biological child I will ever have, and he’s growing up so fast. Go ahead and laugh. You can probably see how I got myself into this mess.
  3. Daddy starts to resent everyone. When your husband wants you all to himself, do you think it’s fun to have to race against the clock to get ‘er done before the little boy (who managed to finally fall asleep in his own bed) comes pounding on the door because he wants to sleep with you? It’s not, believe me. There’s nothing fun about knowing that having an orgasm will be next to impossible because you can’t stop wondering when one pounding will start and the other will end. Then, with two adults and a four-year-old squished together in a queen sized bed, nobody’s sleeping well. There are toes where toes should never go. Inexplicable scratches in the morning. Flailing and maiming of all varieties. I swear, my man has started snoring like a beast just to get back at me for insisting on co-sleeping in the first place.
  4. They spit in the face of progress. Just when you think you’re getting ahead with a new routine, your kid brings back some disgusting virus from day care and ends up with a fever for an entire week. A WHOLE WEEK! The doctor sends you home with a Roseola diagnosis, no big deal really. Except you aren’t sure how to keep a close eye on them and regulate their sometimes terrifying temperature spikes without setting an alarm every hour, and so back into your bed they go. You start to wonder if the weird little tic they’ve adapted where they compulsively lick their fingers is a small part of a much larger, much more diabolical plan.
  5. They try to touch your boobs. Like, constantly. Even when you tell them you don’t want them to touch your body because you’re trying to teach them about consent. God forbid they end up growing up to be some asshole frat boy with a sense of entitlement and a healthy grasp on misogyny, but you can’t explain that to a three-and-a-half year old, can you? No way. I say “It’s my body and I don’t want you to touch my breasts right now.” He says “But Mommy, you fed me with them when I was a baby so they belong to me too.” Then he flashes that winning smile and his huge brown eyes dance. Or he has several ‘accidents’ where he’s quick to apologize, but a boob is inevitably touched. My grandma had a boyfriend like that once. I know consent is important, (believe me, I know) but sometimes it’s too hot to sleep with a t-shirt on, and honestly I’m just so freaking tired. If I pretend I’m asleep, is it still wrong?

How to Reclaim Your Right to Sleep

Obviously the answer is ‘get the kid to sleep in his own bed’. Or maybe it’s ‘Daddy and son can switch rooms half way through the night.” Whichever the case, it’s easier said than done people. We’re long past the point where we can leave him in his room to cry it out. I’m not about to lock him in there, or barricade the door to keep him in because it’s really not his fault that he’s learned to depend on someone in bed with him to sleep with.  Last night he said to me (through tears) “I want to be like daddy. Every night he gets to sleep with either you or Ulla Mumva*.” I tried to explain that when he was a grown up, he could find someone to love and sleep beside too. Then he trumped me with “But I thought you loved me?” Soul-crushing, really.

*His name for my partner Sarah, which grew out of his original name for her ‘Other Mama’.

We are in tense negotiations over here. Deals are being brokered every day:

You can come for a morning snuggle.

I will sit in this chair beside you until you fall asleep.

I’m taking you back to your own bed, and I’ll tuck you in again (x 1,000)

If you sleep in your own room for five nights we can get that stupid, over-priced plastic piece of junk you saw on YouTube and decided you must have.

Look, here’s a sticker! (you only made it until 2:30 am before daddy was so tired from re-tucking you that he lost all reason, and mommy ended up sleeping in your tiny bed because daddy was snoring so loud and you wouldn’t stop touching my boobs.) If you get four more, you can pick a new toy at the toy store.

Your sisters always slept in their own beds. (To which he responds “Yes, but they always shared a room so they had somebody to keep them company.” Can I remind you here that he’s THREE AND A HALF?)

He’s starting full time school in a month, and part of me wonders if this is really the time to introduce more change. I mean, we just phased out night time diapers for godssakes. How much is too much?

Co-sleeping parents how did you do it? How did you finally make the transition? How did you have uninterrupted sex with your partner? How did you convince your little one that sleeping alone is a great skill to master and that it didn’t mean they had to sleep alone every single night?

I need some advice, some encouragement, and some rational thinking. After all, I’ve only slept truly well for about a week in the last three-and-a-half years.

 

They Even Have a Sandbox

So today was a pretty exciting day for the Noodle (my nick name for my three-and-a-half year old son) and I. He had been looking forward to this day for months, in a way that surprised me – I didn’t know a kid that age could track time this way. Today was kindergarten orientation. He caught a glimpse of the excitement waiting for him in September, and I caught a glimpse of just how many boxes of tissue it was going to take to get through the first day of school.

They Even Have a Sandbox

The kindergarten classroom was everything I wanted it to be: clean, bright, filled with natural materials, lots of hands-on play opportunities, a solid house corner, water table, and as Noodle breathlessly declared “They even have a sandbox!”. To him, it was a little dude paradise. The teachers seemed lovely, and switched on to the importance of things like one-on-one attention, affection, and outdoor play time. Noodle even had a pair of his buddies from daycare to bond with. The highlight however was the practice bus ride. Oh my heart.

Watching how his big head and little body bounced and lurched on the bus made me realize just how little an almost-four-year-old still is. Sure, he’ll be on that bus with his ten and nearly thirteen-year-old sisters. Sure he’s beyond thrilled about the whole thing. Still, I saw The Sweet Hereafter, well before I had kids, and the idea of a little body on a huge school bus simply makes me want to barf. I kept my cool though. I know it’s dumb to download those illogical anxieties on your kids. The world’s his oyster, and I want him to feel that way just as long as he can.

But here’s thing…No matter how vast the universe of possibility and opportunity I want for him, it aches deep down into my very atoms (another Sweet Hereafter reference?) when I think of him growing up. Obviously I want him to grow and thrive, but there’s always going to be a part of me that wants to keep him as close as I can. Like, on a cellular level. I guess that’s what you get for growing a person in your body. Though hell, I get those pangs for my non-bio daughters too, and I didn’t even get to meet them until they were three and five.

Watching my twelve-year-old’s sharp angles slowly morph into softer curves is the sweetest form of heartbreak. I know she’s going to blow minds and take names, but I also know that the sweet little bubble we have built up around our tadpoles, with spit and love and tenacity won’t hold forever. Eventually it will burst because the world is just like that. It’s a bubble bursting, bubble blowing party.

And as long as they aren’t dating, playing injury-causing team sports, blowing auditions, taking school buses, having adventures without us, basically, we get to keep that bubble in tact. Kind of. Not really. Sigh.

The greater your love, the greater your fear of loss. The greater your loss, the greater your fear of love. I can’t shut it down, no matter which end I tackle. I feel the magnitude of my fear just as deeply as I’m filled with the depth of all this love in my heart.

So, I’ll keep my shit together on that first day of school until he’s safely inside his classroom. (Because I’m driving him there on the first day. The bus will have to wait until day two, damn it) Then, after I get into my mom-mobile I will shed those tears and say goodbye to the sweet stickiness of the toddler years. Goodbye to our carefree Fridays off, playing zoo and enjoying day trips together. It won’t be as bad as the first day of daycare. I know this, because leaving him sobbing in the arms of a stranger was the worst parenting experience I’ve had thus far. He’s excited about Kindergarten (or JK/SK as he calls it) in a way that he never was about daycare. Maybe he had a premonition of all of the colds he would be destined to bring home from such an unsophisticated place. Or, maybe even he knows he’s growing up and hitting the big leagues. Even he knows this is a great big deal in the department of milestones.

Thrive on little man. Play with all of the plastic animals. Sift your pudgy fingers through all the sand. Make all the macaroni art. I’ll spare you my tears, just know that I want you to drink up every moment that JK/SK lays at your feet. And please, for the love of God, be careful.

 

 

Resistance Is Fertile

There’s a thing I do in relationships which has been making relationships of all kinds incredibly difficult for most of my life. I take everything very, very personally. I can’t hear emotional criticism without falling deep into a black hole of self loathing, where the only thing that makes sense is leaving the relationship to spare everyone the awful reality of me. As I type this, from a well-rested, un-triggered and objective perspective this sentiment is totally ridiculous, but in those bleak moments it feels very, very real. On Tuesday, therapy day, I arrived at a new reality where I finally learned that resistance is fertile.

I sat in our therapist’s office with both of my partners and listened to feedback directly linked to my parenting shortcomings and for the first time I was able to talk myself down from the ledge. As I teetered on the lip of that black well of self loathing my inner voice said “hey, don’t do that. You’ve made some mistakes, some big ones, but you’re working really hard, and growing and all of the wonderful change you are making will be bigger and more memorable than any pain you’ve caused because you’re waking up now, and that is awesome.”

It wasn’t easy. I don’t want to mislead anyone here. As I realized my inner narrative was shifting, sounding so cheerily unlike me, my gut was to scoff at this, to dismiss it as cheesy and foolish but somehow I pushed through. I don’t know how I did it. I resisted the urge to go to that bleak place, and a bounty of open listening and present attention was waiting. Instead of having a shitty post-therapy day I enjoyed a yummy lunch with my partners at our favorite Mexican restaurant, and then got some good work done.

Here’s what I’ve been doing, and I think my success is thanks to these combined efforts:

Taking my vitamins regularly

Making careful, less carb-intense food choices and ‘treating’ myself with fruit and good chocolate instead of whatever crap I can grab from the candy shelf. (In our new house, the candy shelf will be eliminated.)

Exercising every day with at least twenty minutes of yoga

Going to bed earlier to make sure I can get eight hours of sleep and still wake up at 5:30 for my quiet, meditative yoga time

Tackling home organizing projects

Approaching work and money with care and organization

Taking self-imposed time outs when I need to, adjusting plans to reflect my level of anxiety (I love you, and I’ll see you soon, when I am more able to be present in your company!)

My internal/emotional process is finally slowing down, especially when I am triggered. There is time and space to be objective, and more empathetic. I can take better care of myself, and those around me. I’m resisting the old normal, and even in the moments when I slip, when I can’t catch myself before falling into negative behavior, I can bounce back more quickly and make apologies and amends with humility and grace.

I am good. I am a child of the Universe. I can change and grow and be deserving of the abundance of love in my life, and so can you.