What I *Really* Want for Christmas

It’s late and I can’t sleep. Having just survived The Great Puke Apocalypse of 2013, I’m worried about the next few days. How am I going to make it through the rounds of holiday festivities and a week-long visit from my mother-in-law? I don’t feel prepared. I’m behind on everything, and the house…oh the house.

I’ve been working lately on trying to recognize and name my needs. I need a tidy house. This is hard to admit, because some part of my brain scoffs loudly and says that when you become a parent you abdicate any right to non-sticky floors or clean (let alone folded) dish towels (that you can actually find because they are in a drawer instead of toddler-tucked in with the pots and pans or tupperware).

NOT our tree. This is a stock image (c) Ursula Klawitter/zefa/Corbis

NOT our tree. This is a stock image (c) Ursula Klawitter/zefa/Corbis

But…I know it is a need (rather than a nice-to-have) because of the small flame of fury that leaps in my belly when I notice week-old banana mush congealed to the arm of the high chair. I tell myself: this isn’t a health hazard. It’s just disgusting. LET IT GO. But oh that flame, oh that fury.

It is hard to be all ho-ho-ho and welcome-friends in this condition. Plus: PMS. Plus: did I mention…Puke Apocalypse? And the tree fell over? TWICE. Broken glass ornaments and a sopping wet area rug. Also, we are out of cat food.

All of that is just (kind of) funny. Here’s the hard part: I am actually not sure I can be a good parent in a messy house. It is akin to sleep deprivation. I am irritable, because I’m not getting what I need, and furious, because I resent the need in the first place. All these other wise mothers on the internet, they have messy houses, and they aren’t about to snap. What’s wrong with me?

Ok, but that’s an awfully judgmental question, right?

So maybe I can ask, with curiosity rather than shame, why? Why do I need a tidy house?

The answer came fast and just took my breath away.

To be loved.

Because if I am too messy, then I am not lovable. If I am messy, you will be mad and might hurt me.

I have proof of this, I do. So many memories, from childhood. (No, I’m not sharing, you’ll just have to trust me.)

But I’m not a child any more.

The people in my life now – my wife, close friends, my sister – they don’t care how messy or disgusting my house might be. I know this because they say so, and they act so.

So it suddenly occurs to me that there might be a different way, a new way, that I might help myself survive the week ahead. Instead of making detailed lists, breaking my back to clean, and then feeling guilty because I neglect my daughter in choosing mopping over cookie baking and storytime, I could experiment with telling myself: Elizabeth, your house is a mess AND you are lovable.

In fact, you are messy and lovable.
You talk a lot and are lovable.
You obsess over details and are lovable.
You sing off-key and are lovable.
You ___________ and are lovable.

I just practiced saying these things out loud, and it feels really different…in a good way.

In fact, it feels a little like a miracle, like an incredible gift I just gave myself. Maybe THIS is what that whole return-of-the-light-holiday-magic-God-come-to-earth-thing is all about. Loving and being loved. Just as we are. Just as we — this minute, right now, without any clean-up — are. Lovable. Loved.

Oh I hope so.

***

How are you lovable? Tell me!

Learning to Relax to Keep from Losing my Cool

Photo by Squid Larkin

Photo by Squid Larkin

When I was single and lived alone on the mountain, I used to walk in the forest at Wildwood. Mid-way through the walk, an impossibly tall pine tree would call out to me, and I would collapse against it and cry. Long, gulping, releasing tears. I felt cleaner, lighter, freer afterwards.

Today I had almost the same experience. But I was in my bedroom. In my jeans and pajama top. My daughter and wife in the kitchen nearby. Discussions about snack: blueberries and string cheese. Loud toddler demands for more. A cat snoring heavily on my arm.

And me?

I was….meditating. No, REALLY!

This woman, at the Peaceful Parent Institute, has this meditation track. On it, she plays the Celtic harp and says things softly in her New Zealand accent. Things about releasing, relaxing, shaking loose. Being at peace. Being safe. All being well.

I am NOT a meditator. I do not meditate. At least, not well.

I am an eye-roller, a skeptic, a recovering cynic.

(When I was in graduate school, one of the members of our cohort had a monthly transformative experience. Vistas were opening! Insights were profound! It was changing his life! He would never be the same! I secretly mocked this person. A LOT.)

But….

…..this meditation thing might be CHANGING MY LIFE!

Because here’s the thing: I don’t know how to relax. I only know how to escape, via scrabble games on facebook, sci-fi books from the library, and british crime shows on netflix.

Escape and relax are not the same. In fact, they are kind of the opposite. To escape is to run away from the anxiety, stress, and despair. To relax is to do that opening, being-at-peace, all-is-well thing that apparently can actually resolve and release that tight knot of ack! and ungh! and grrr.

I desperately need to relax because the daily picking up of the same random household items over and over and over is driving me nuts. I get angry. I get frustrated. And then I get angry AND frustrated…and I explode and sweep the kitchen floor in a furious stabbing motion that is toxic for me and my family.

I knew, going into motherhood, that this was going to be an issue for me. A “growing edge” (to be charitable).

But this woman (her name is Genevieve) says that anger and frustration comes from unmet needs.

I wonder if all the needs I think I have: to use my brain, to pee in private, to have a kitchen floor you can walk across without becoming mired in half-chewed graham crackers mixed with used Q-tips, tupperware lids and toilet paper…if those needs are all kind of a symptom. A surface issue (hee hee).

The deeper need is that I need to know everything-is-okay-regardless-of-the-chaos-around-me.

I can’t run in the woods but I can (thanks to my wonderful wife) hide in my bedroom and listen to this meditation track for ten minutes, once a week. And those ten minutes, accumulated, might just save my life.

***

How do you relax? Or if you are like me, and this question is almost incomprehensible,  then: how do you keep your balance?

I Used to Be a Poet

The title of this blog has the word “poem” in it because I used to be a poet. Long long ago in a galaxy far far from graduate school, dirty laundry, raisins in the couch or tampons in the heater vent. In that intersection of time and space, I wrote and wrote…because I read and read and read.

Last Sunday night I accompanied a dear friend to a holiday work party. We met a lovely gay man named Butchy. Since my evening had to that point consisted of  pac-man, beer, fruit ninja, shuffleboard, and a lemon drop martini, I confessed that I, too, wrote poems. Long ago. But not anymore. Because: Graduate School. Disarray. Toddlerdom.

Butchy has no children, so naturally he called b-s. He actually said: “That’s no excuse.”

I hit him.

But he’s a guy, so he didn’t notice. Also: lemon drops.

Anyway.

I am still light years away from writing anything like the poems I used to write.

I tried writing this morning. I got as far as “raisins” before I realized there is a very good reason that moms blog instead of poet. Poetry requires a level of creative sustenance (aka READING OTHER POEMS) that doesn’t happen during fourteen consecutive readings of “Mr. Brown Can Moo Can You?”

So while I don’t have a poem of my own to share, here’s one of my favorite poems. I discovered the work of Kansas-born anti-war Oregon poet Bill Stafford when I started college at Willamette in 1992. I have many favorites of his, but this one is on writing…because a little part of my mama brain has suddenly wondered if maybe not-writing is one reason for the feet-dragging slow burn of sadness that has been dogging my heels lately.

An Oregon Message: the first book of Bill's I bought in 1992

An Oregon Message: the first book of Bill’s I found

When I Met My Muse

by William Stafford

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off–they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.

###

A sort of salvation. That’s what I need. So, tell me: What sustains your creative spirit? How do you nurture creativity in the midst of everyday disarray?