I'm low. So clear the current situation w/Raf traveling does not work, for me at least. With the exception of two nights he was recently gone for four weeks. For those of you without children, I'd just like to say FOUR...WEEKS! Four! Weeks! I'd like to continue to rise to the occasion, but I can't. Bro-ken.
Then, as he always does, Rafael came home. He looked like a zombie, but the sun shone on our family again. His project was complete, the impossible done. He was no longer working 16-hour days himself. He roughhoused. He changed diapers. He drove to and from preschool. And, blessedly, I was not alone working and not-sleeping and trying so hard and not-managing it all.
But by the time the good man returned from his earning expedition, I'd drunk the last dredges of my Survival Juice. I was looking at him like, "WTF are you DOING here? You haven't BEEN HERE. We (the kids and I) have a SYSTEM!" It's always like this. We need time together to relax, to work together again. But I'd been a madwoman trying to accomplish more than possible. Ali and Story needing more than I can give. And the big ole bills from our superhero nannies...It wasn't pretty.
So I'm defeated today, and without a plan for what we'll do to be happy together forever. You know, because that's like obtainable?
A plan! A plan! How my brain wants to go to a happier future. Late at night it noodles away, adjusting a series of imaginary levers which never seem to balance. People might say: "Just don't work!" And then I have to say, What if I dialed down work? But then we'd be further behind. I can do the math. It's like this:
Mortgage + Preschool + Sharecare + Household Expenses = Wha? Huh? Wha? Huh? <suicidal thoughts, thoughts of running away, etc.>
So we're looking at refinancing and into daycares and au pairs. It's hella fun shit, let me tell you.
If we moved to a random somewhere that we could afford if I didn't work, and I found myself more alone as Rafael worked his ass off elsewhere, I'd seriously lose my mind.
Should we move to LA, where he shoots most of the time? Perhaps. I could go SoCal. But do we have to? We loves the Oaktown. And our nearby friends and family. And I really do love my job.
If only I could give up on taming the Modern Parenthood Beast. Meanwhile I'm just sucking its fumes.
You probably know exactly what I should do. "Margot!" You'd say to me, just as I'd say if I were trying to convince you to see the light. "You should just..."
I want to know the answer–but part of me can't hear it. I'm overwhelmed with information right now. I'm resistent, too, I have to admit. Why? Because any one of the solutions will require change. And associated, usually overblown but you never know, risk.
Change and risk. Easy to recommend, hard to implement.
So if you read this, and see me, don't bother trying to tell me the solution. Just give me a hug.
I hate it.
- "a night out" means dinner out
- you too eat buttered pasta several times a week
- six hours is a dreamy stretch of sleep
- your time is...forget it. you have no time.
- the statement "it's a whole new universe" sums it up
The return to work was rough, mostly because it coincided with my husband being out of town for like, two months. Sure, he was back for a week here and a few days there, but it was intense. With a five-month old and a three-year old, plus a half-assed plan for childcare, it really sucked. There. I said it. No, wait, I'm not done! It REALLY REALLY SUCKED. But since we're not planning on having more kids, at least I can say: Well then. I won't have to do THAT again.
I have the option to bring Story Jane with me to work since Hot Studio has a formal, and awesome, babies-at-work policy for returning parents. It's a great benefit, and it helped the first few weeks, but I couldn't swing it any longer. I was a single parent returning to the workforce in a new role. After being off for almost seven (!!) months, I was ready to just get back to work. And frankly, I'm not the most chill mom in the world. More specifically, I freak out when my kids aren't sleeping. So trying to get Story to take a nap–while meeting new people and setting up new processes at work– was a recipe for a mommy meltdown.
The ongoing identity crisis: I didn't say "I'm a mother," but "a mommy." I also have a full time job and a fancy new title. Transitioning between these two roles is what's most awkward. I can get so into work, and so fulfilled by it, to be honest, I don't leave at 5:30 as planned. I probably haven't pumped at the designated time. My commute home is super stressful, 'cause I know I'll miss my daughter being awake. My husband, if he's home, has to cover for me. We haven't made dinner plans. Even leaving at 6:00, I'm too late. I've f'ed it up, and I'm not even home yet.
When I walk in, I've got to be on. I want nothing more than to squeeze my boy. Usually Alejandro doesn't have pants on and he's doing ninja moves. He desperately wants someone to decapitate action figures with him.
I give him a big hug and many kisses. That's the best, for both of us. Then I deny his requests to play. I may make dinner, or feed Story, and put her to bed if I'm not too late. That means patting her back and singing and letting her cry. I walk out of the room for five minutes at a time as she screams. I give Ali a Popsicle, then return to pat her back some more. I hear Ali stomping towards their bedroom. "Mommy!?" His Popsicle has dripped all over his privates and the hallway, and as soon as Story hears him, she wakes up and cries louder. She's frustrated she isn't part of the violence in the living room.
It's really fun. No really, it's not.
I don't know why I expected it to be "fun." What Kool-Aid did I drink, way back when I was envisioning myself as a super chill, relaxed, loving and art-inspiring parent? And can I please have some more?
I wouldn't change anything about my life, of course. It's my design, rough edges and fuckups included. I wouldn't trade our two gorgeous babies or their amazing dad who has a creative job at which he excels (but requires him to travel)–not for anything. Or give up my job, for that matter. I love it. I love going to it, and I can't deny that.
So here I am, a modern parent.
My friend Katrina, who writes the profound workingmom'sbreak blog, told me long ago that she and her husband sometimes said to one another: "There's just not enough to go around." It's a sad state, but a good reminder to avoid the blame game between partners. It doesn't seem like enough, but it has to be.
Experienced moms tell me that it'll get much easier when the kids are in elementary school. "It's just five years away," my boss and friend Maria told me tonight. Just five years. Only a parent would be crazy enough to say that.
Only a mommy like myself would accept that decree with a bowed head. And then mourn those years' passing.
It was bound to be bad. The gun in the trunk. The toy gun I mean. That Star Wars-branded, two-foot-long bastard of a "blaster." Unopened, it remained in its disintegrating Target bag since Christmas. It was a moral issue, a parenting issue, a marital issue...and just a hunk of molded plastic. But by leaving it there, I was not just tempting fate. I was baiting it.
I'd posted the question on Facebook: "Should Santa bring weapons? Specifically toy guns." The conversation with friends and family was great. It ranged from "Boys will be boys, no big deal as long as you're teaching him to be nice" to "No way, you're teaching him the most violent weapon is okay" to my second cousin's comment that her boys hunted, and had been taught from an early age about respect for the gun and for the animals. Of course here in Oakland, the closest we come to hunting is going to the Farmer's Market and handing over a debit card in exchange for a humanely raised hunk of cow. I don't have the option of teaching Ali to hunt. So what, then, with the toy gun?
Rafael-as-Santa bought it, he said, "so we could talk about it." We did, and decided not to give it to Ali. I definitely had a moral objection to it, namely WHY? He's not lacking for means of entertainment. Or toy weapons, for that matter. He could, and did, make guns out of blocks whenever he wanted. My objection was also selfish. "I don't want the thing pointed at ME," I said."Not to mention the annoying noise. And why is there only one? I can't even fight back!" Therein lay the second moral dilemma: if you have one toy gun, shouldn't you really have two?
Lastly, the third morale issue: what to do with the damn thing? We lost the receipt. I thought of donating it to charity. And then I was thinking, in the worst example of class-ism yet: "So I'm going to arm the less fortunate?" Not only did I not feel good about any kid having it, maybe I fear an apocalypse, just a little bit. In which case I want MY kid to be comfortable with firearms. So f'ed up.
Of course, Ali found it. I was packing up both kids to take them, and myself, for a sleepover at Raf's parents'. Rafael had been out of town for more than a week. Maybe it was my first foray into solo parenting for two? Anyway, I was exhausted. I'd been up all night and since 6:00am, juggling. Ali deconstructed my kinda-organized piles of crap as quickly as I was losing my mind. I was almost done packing the car when I heard a squeal. I saw Alejandro's feet sticking out of the open trunk. My heart sank. Acute anger at my loving, gift-giving and absent husband spiked with a rush of adrenaline. Ali's head emerged with a face-splitting grin.
"IS THIS FOR ME???" he shouted, brandishing the box.
"Yes." I said with all of the enthusiasm of a cyborg. "It is."
"WHO is it from?"
"Your daddy. It's a surprise. Let's go."
"I can keep it???????" He is high with delight now. He's pressing buttons. Pew! Pew! Pew! Tattatattatattattata. "Can you open it??"
"I'll open it when we get to Gigi's." His cousin Jack will be there, and I am now anticipating listening to them fight over it for the next 20 hours. I send a bitchy text message to Raf, load the kids, and start driving.
I look up the address of a Target on the way. I think I have to stop to buy Jack a Star Wars blaster of his own. I am seething with the idea of walking into a Target with the two kids. I can almost smell it, and I hate it. And how, I angrily think, do I find myself buying a toy gun? Because there is only one? I'm so occupied with the internal debate that I miss the exit. I turn the car around to go back. Pew! Pew! Pew! I hear from the backseat.
"You can press that ONE more time, Ali."
"Because Mommy's going crazy."
"Okay." He's not sleeping, of course, and I'd been counting on the drive to make him nap. I'm crying behind my sunglasses, and I realize I'm quite unstable. To my credit, I pull over. I get my shit together. I fake a call:
"Oh, so you don't have a Star Wars blaster? Are you sure? Okay, well thank you!" I explain to Ali that he will have to share his gun with Jack. They will have to trade off shooting one another. And if I hear them arguing about it, I'm going to take it away.
Pew pew pew! "Okay, Mommy." he sweetly replies. "I will share."
I drive to Grandma's. The boys share pretty well. Grandpa runs to Target and returns with new guns for both of them. They are happy. I go upstairs and lie down with Story while they run around like violent beasts in the backyard. I've given up. I must do that earlier, next time.
The blaster now sits in a broken laundry basket in our bedroom. Ali couldn't care less about it.
This time is different. This time, I’m not going back to work in a week, when my baby’s three months old. This time, Rafael hasn’t traveled twice already. This baby sleeps more. And we live in a house in a quiet neighborhood, rather than in a walk-up flat in the heart of the beery Mission district. I have trees around me this time; quiet places to walk.
This time, I am different. I’m not a first-time mom. Talk about anxious! I was then. I wanted to do everything right, and always felt I was failing. I thought a baby was something to be managed, like I’d managed a career, relationships with lots of great friends, and the writing of my first novel. This time I know better. I know what a big change it is, and I’m no longer resisting.
I’m enjoying this time. How blessed we are! To have, of all things, time! And love! And healthy children! Even when I’m waking up in the middle of the night, padding down the hallway to feed Story Jane, I’m so thankful. I can kiss her sweet soft head. Hold her tight before I put her back down. Pray that she’ll be okay until the morning.
She’s a different sort than our son. “Alejandro was on fire this morning,” I mentioned to Raf. “He’s on fire every second of every day.” Rafael replied dryly.
And it’s true…there’s just an intensity to Alejandro. He’s a sweet, sensitive, and happy kid–and he’s had that intensity since he was born. His eyes were searching frantically for meaning before he could focus. “Don’t try to figure it all out tonight,” I remember pleading with him when he was about five weeks old. “Man, you’ve got like 80 years!” The wheels in our son’s brain, however, do not heed such advice. He wrenched his weak head from side to side, trying to understand every last detail, never giving up.
I was desperate for sleep, but he never slept for more than an hour at a time. I took him into bed with me, but when I opened my eyes, there were his: staring at me, farther from sleep than he’d ever been. I believe he was calculating the number of eyelashes on each of my raccoon-ringed eyes. Or perhaps he was simply considering the contrast between the pillow and my unwashed head? He had to go back into his own room, his own crib, with nothing to look at, if there was any chance of his sleeping. He needed “neutral space.” He now wants constant Star Wars-inspired action, but I’m still trying to figure out how to provide him with that sense of calm.
Story has felt different from the beginning. She nestles into my arms rather than pushing away, as Ali did. She’s seemingly content, like she knows everything will turn out fine. Her eyes are rounder than any baby I’ve ever seen. She’s super observant. She watches all of the chaos of our life with Ali with those big wide-open eyes. She smiles like mad when anyone looks her way. But she has a comfortable detachment, like she’s two steps removed from everything, whereas Ali is one step ahead.
This time, I feel calmer. I keep wondering whether Story’s getting it from me, or vice versa. I’m sure it goes both ways. How could Alejandro calm down when I was so keyed up? “Calm down!” When you yell that (even if it’s unspoken), it doesn’t work. But no blame, now. We are who we are, and these kids remind me there’s a lot of Nature involved. It’s not just Nurture, though they sure need a ton of that too.
My task now is to follow Story’s lead: to embody the belief that it will all turn out. It’s much easier said than done. I feel the familiar anxiety when I consider going back to work, and how much time I have left before then. How can we do it? What about the next time Rafael’s gone? What about when he’s gone AND I’m working AND we have two kids? See how easy it is to go cuckoo? I know you do.
Meanwhile I thank you, and the gods, and Rafael, and my job, for encouraging the time I have now. It is different, and so am I, and I’m going to take another walk.
This baby, as-of-this-moment unborn, is likely the best thing that’s ever happened for my personal evolution and for my family. (I can say that now: my family.) The timing, and the very fact of her, is a blessing I couldn’t or wouldn’t have planned. It’s been a painful and mind-boggling nine months. As I admitted in June, I've been majorly depressed.
But had she not come into being, I would’ve spent another year or more doing the same things I’ve always done: over-working, over-doing, stressing out, and trying to organize my way into happiness. Instead, she’s forced me to look back at what transpired since I became a mom to Alejandro three years ago. And that’s finally allowed me to start identifying misconceptions I’ve carried since then; to heal some old wounds; and to look forward to being a happy mom to two.
Today is my due date. I’ve officially avoided an early labor. I’ve decompressed from my job, where I was responsible for every last detail of projects both big and small. I handed things off. I let go. I was planning on going back for a lunch with co-workers a couple of weeks ago, but instead found myself kneeling in the street outside of our house with a badly scraped-up leg. I’d twisted my ankle on a curb on my way into SF. So I never got there, and it’s probably for the best. I had to go lie down instead.
Too much, too much, too much, is the message I keep receiving. Stop doing too much! Having partially ignored this message, I’ve now reached the end of my List of Things to Do Before She’s Born, and now find myself on the verge of going nuts. And trying to be calm while I wait.
Waiting to Explode
Yes, I’m waiting to go into labor. On the other side of it, I can imagine holding her. That new baby smell. I can imagine having a family of four, and it being a sweet sweet thing. I can also imagine the first few weeks and months being hard. The agony of sleep deprivation, the bitch I might become at times. The challenges of trying to satisfy an infant and a willful toddler. Oh, how I want to experience these things! How I want her to be okay!
In between those future events and today, there’s the reality that I’m going to have a crazy fucking physical experience in which I will open up and a tiny human being will emerge…from me! “Mother fucking fuck of God” is all I can think of to say. In those hours (days?) of labor, I will be completely animal. Vulnerable. I’ll sweat and huff and moan and cry. My body, and hers, will do what Nature, not I, says to do. I won’t be able to talk or make jokes or analyze. I’ll be having A Birth Experience. It may work out great–it may not. How does one prepare for that?
The fact is, my last birth experience was pretty horrific. Am I allowed to say that? I’m afraid it’s a "dis" on Alejandro, who turned out great, and who in the end did indeed emerge just as he should have. I’m afraid to scare new and expecting mothers. (“Everyone will compete to tell you their horror stories,” I was told in a birthing class. “Don’t listen!”) So I’ve tried to keep mum about it all of these years. I tried to just move on. But the idea of giving birth again–I’ve been so scared!
I’ve realized that one of the key factors in my thinking of the experience as horrific was that my expectations were really, really far off. I expected a natural, painless, birth to go down in, oh, let’s say about 12+ hours. My older sister, the closest personal reference I’d had to childbirth, had her first baby naturally, without pain, self-hypnotized, in something like 9 hours! She was so zen about everything. She was comfortable as a mom from the beginning. I expected her experience to translate into mine through our shared DNA. At the very least I hoped my knowledge that a first birth could be like that would make it more possible for me.
The Last Time
Here’s what really happened: I tried stubbornly to do it naturally for way too long. After a day of laboring, I was in intense pain. We went to the hospital, but they said I wasn’t dilating. I could either get an epidural or go home. I went home for the night, and it was the worst night of my life. The hypnobirthing training flew out the window sometime after midnight. (How could I convince myself that it didn’t hurt when it DID?) Intense contractions kept coming, one after another. I wandered around our condo trying to relax. I huddled in various places feeling like a mad dog, very alone. (Rafael was fully present, but could do little to help me.) When we returned to the hospital in the morning, I still hadn’t dilated! After all of that pain and hard work! After 8 more hours in the hospital, I ended up getting an epidural, and then things moved along.
Ali was born 46 or 47 hours after my labor had begun. And I began motherhood as an exhausted and confused wreck.
I just wish that I had been told the following:
- A first labor takes between 12 and 48 hours, maybe even 3 days!
- You can’t plan it. No, seriously, YOU CAN’T PLAN IT. Give up control now.
- It does hurt! But contractions come and go. It can be done naturally – if those contractions are making good progress moving the baby down and out.
- For God’s sake, give up and try something else if what you’re doing isn’t working! Do it earlier rather than later, and let your partner help decide when.
- Positive visualization may not work for everyone. You may be more of a physical or auditory person. You may have to moan. A lot. Or move, or squeeze the fuck out of something. Just give it up.
- Get some f’ing painkiller if you are in lots of pain. (Duh. I thought that was my plan, but my plan evolved into some sort of sick endurance game about 12+ hours into it.)
- Rest up, and be kind to yourself no matter what happens.
I’m not planning it. I may get an epidural, happily. I may not if things are actually moving along. I’ll try not to talk or analyze. I’m going to be a beautiful and ugly and strong and weak animal woman, like the millions and billions of women before me who’ve done this amazing feat. Who brought us all into the world. I will be one of them. I will be one of you. And I will emerge on the other side, please God with a healthy baby girl, and with a new experience.
Because you love us, I know you want to know what’s going on, and when it will happen. So do I. But this plan is an unspoken one between her body and mine. It has nothing to do with a date on a calendar.
So, meanwhile, I am just, um, waiting. Trying to be still, and to rest, and to be open to whatever may come, and whatever she may teach me next.
I'm rounding the bend. Now officially in my third trimester, I'm in the golden era of preggotime–lasting all of a week I'd expect–where I don't feel so tired, and I'm not yet giant. Giant is coming quickly I know: I'm getting offered seats on crowded BART trains, and thankfully taking them. More importantly, I'm starting to see how having a baby could be not only possible, but possibly beautiful.
I guess I'm Learnin'. Something I really hate doing, 'cause I like to be good at everything instantly. Rather than having spent the last six months blundering around in a confused haze, I'd prefer to have been fully evolved, balanced, and happy the whole time. Wouldn't you? But alas. That ain't how Learnin' works.
When I first learned I was pregnant, I pictured being handed a squalling newborn baby. Having had one before, I know what it takes. In this image, the poor defenseless crying babe was handed to me, a woman teetering on the edge: a full-time working mom with a toddler and a husband who travels. My carefully constructed pyramid of a survival-led life and schedule was already crumbling. The pieces were sloppily glued together, requiring superhuman feats of both myself and my amazing husband. We've both been acting as Man and Woman, Worker and House-person, giving it 135% each. We've got an incredibly lucky/lovely home life. Just no time to enjoy it. A baby?? I thought. You've got to be kidding.
I never felt integrated after having Alejandro. It was as if I was granted him–this incredibly bright small human–and I'd simply added him onto my life as a praise-lapping workaholic who was writing a novel on the side. I was a mom by fact, but I wasn't really comfortable with it. Perhaps because I never felt very good at it. Now I'm seeing that the state of mom-ness I can't quite articulate–the patience and nurturing and play and laughter I'd assumed would come naturally to me–has to happen in the scant hours and minutes allotted to such folly. Work and commuting to be done! Grocery shopping, meals made, toys picked up, floors swept, the Boy dressed and undressed and bathed and cajoled into the car yet again! For God's sake, who the fuck has time to relax and play?
As I said though, I'm comin' around. This baby is an amazing opportunity to look at this situation, my fragile pyramid, and to rebuild. I want to be here for both of my kids. I want to be a momma. I want to invest in them, in this precious baby-time. Despite the formidable mortgage and my crappy budgeting skills, I will not go back to work after 3 months off, as I did with Alejandro. I will not accept this gift of a life as the straw to break my back, but as an opportunity to create a rich and sustainable life for all of us.
I don't know how it will all pan out. I don't know what my career will look like when I return to work, as I inevitably will. But I know it will be different. I'll have to go back to something better, a scenario more in support of an integrated me.
I think it's called Learnin'. Ain't that right?
Meanwhile I'm thankful for all of the support, wisdom, and good advice I have in my life–including from you, my amazing co-workers, friends, and family. I'm a lucky lady. I'd love to eventually have more to give back to all of you. In time, I think it's gonna happen.
You're not supposed to be depressed when you're pregnant. You're supposed to feel lucky and blessed to have the Power of Breeding. You should feel smug, as this song, recently shared by a FB friend, reminded me: “Pregnant women are smug. Everyone knows it. But nobody says it. Because they’re pregnant.” It’s kind of catchy. If I wasn’t so depressed, or pregnant, I’d laugh.
I apologize to anyone who's reading this oddly public format, thinking: "Margot's pregnant again? Why didn't I know?" Well, it's because I suck. I probably haven't talked to you in months. I've been holed up trying to figure this out while I work full time, feeling a continual pillow of sleepiness pressing down, trying to be chipper for boundless-energy Alejandro. Rafael's also had two out-of-town jobs in the last month, which means I've been a single working mom while he brings home some bacon. Frankly, I'm a mess.
And let's face it, I don't look cute. I look bulbous and exhausted. The $500+ I spent on rushed maternity clothes had horrendous results. I have three pairs of pants with the appeal of paper sacks. One needs to be hemmed. The shirts are either schlumpy, oddly tight, or ruffled and pleated. All also bag-like. I have one decent dress, and have already explained to my co-workers that we can have only one important client meeting every week, wherein they can expect to see me wearing wrap-around teal.
Of course the clothes don't matter, and how I look is a matter of opinion. I'm schlumpy on the inside. I'm full of guilt about my depression, and anxiety about my impending second-motherhood. If I can't manage my current life, I reason, how the hell am I supposed to be a good mom to another small human? And to the one we already have? I've told Alejandro we don't whine, but here I am. I have so many conflicting emotions.
Of course, I am happy, too. Absolutely blessed. Hopeful. I hold my belly and speak to him/her, willing them to be okay. I promise him/her that mommy will figure stuff out before they're born, that I want want them, and will do my very best. And we did always plan on having a second child. I want Ali to have someone to commiserate with about how nuts we are. Isn't that what siblings are for?
I just wasn't ready. On the contrary, we had just planned to wait for a year. Back in March, as I realized I could evolve my job into something that would make me happy, I decided to concentrate on that, and set myself up for a future when yes, we would have a second child, and I wouldn't be returning to the same old grind. "We've decided to wait." I told about 20 people in about three weeks. I admit it: I was smug about the decision to wait. And I was pregnant the whole time.
At the heart of the issue: having too much to manage. Guilt over having too much, period. Why couldn't sperm-meet-egg for one of my friends trying so hard to have a baby? It's been such a hard road for many: scientific timing for sex, hormone injections, rushed trips to the sperm bank. Waiting. Hope and disappointment. The stress of it! These people too are in pain, and quietly suffering, waiting every month for the opportunity to love a little one, and to experience the back-breaking and mind-bending act of parenthood. To them especially: I'm sorry that I'm depressed about our good fortune. I'm doing my work to approach this with the joy and celebration it deserves.
I know on the other side of all of this–on the other side of depression–there's healing, and great positive changes to be made. A future with more balance. As I mentioned in my last post, it's the swimming in the muck that motivates one to seek higher ground. But God, it's mucky. For now, I can only keep dog paddling, and float on my back when I'm really tired. I can make an appointment with a therapist specializing in these issues, hoping she's a life vest that will fit. And I can write this post, even though it's humiliating and I wish I was being more uplifting.
But it always feels better to write, and to be honest about what's going on. I'll get to the other side. Have patience, Margot. Have patience, friends. And please don't be mad at me for where I'm at now, nor where I'll be when I've seemingly figured it out and it all looks so easy from the outside!
He isn't dead yet. My cat. My friend and constant, meow-y companion of seventeen years. But It is upon us. His kidneys don't work. He don't work. I am, amid all else we're doing, injecting him with H20 once a day. And pushing down meds for his thyroid, meds to increase appetite, meds to help "bind phosphorous" or something like that. It's pretty awful.
He's old. 84 in people years. A once-giantly fat cat, he's now 7 pounds. He's deaf. Senile and prone to demented meowing for hours at night. You'd think we'd just let him go, huh? I am, I am...just working up to it. You see, this cat, in addition to being a fabulous being–anyone who's met him will attest to that–is my young adult life. He's me, way back before I was a producer, a college graduate, a writer, a wife, a mother. Minos has simply always been there.
Visiting Margot meant sitting on my couch and hanging out with Minos. "Us," before "us" was Rafael and I, or Raf-Ali-and-I, was Minos and I. And you. Our friends and family, who love him too. There are cats, and then there's Minos. I know the difference–I've had both. I called him a bear-bat-monkey-cat. You called him fat. He hung out like one of the guys. He hung out like one of us.
Now he's just hanging on, and so am I.
I think of Minos as a tiny kitten who was delivered to me, sight unseen, to my first apartment in San Antonio, Texas. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I couldn't even legally drink. He was a ball of black fuzz in the palm of my hand, fearless, his legs draped through my fingers as I held him up. When I decided to open a cafe instead of go back to school, Minos met me in the yard after every long day. My friend Jen's jaw dropped the first time she met him, because he jumped down from a tree onto the hood of my car after we pulled in the driveway. "Hellooooooo!" He meowed triumphantly. "This is my cat." I said proudly. He was so cool.
He was always a whore for people and food, but I let him roam free, and he always came back to me. To that first apartment in Texas. Then Jen's place in Denver, where he stayed while I moved to San Francisco. Then, all of the apartments in S.F.: Cole and Carl, Kearny and Chestnut, Funston and Irving, 15th and Ramona. He's even stuck with me through the last two-plus years, through the birth of our son, two moves in the East Bay, and my resulting identity crisis.
Minos found a new lease on life each time each time we moved. But here we are, in the best home of all of those places, and it’s the end of the line.
Not bad, you’ll tell me. He had a happy life! It’s time!
I know all of that. I feel it in my bones: it’s time. I ain’t got enough to give him anymore, you see. Not like he ever got too much of a say in what I did over the last seventeen years. There was partying in my house, and crying, and lots of friends, and weekends he was left alone with his mentally deficient cat sister Mellie, and some missed meals and medicine. There was much yelling back and forth between us: “MEOoooooow!”
“Shut up Minos!” The yelling at him only stopped being fun when he went deaf.
This has been my life, up to now. Or next week, or the following. Or whenever he actually dies, or I decide to stop hydrating him with an IV because I can no longer fucking take doing it every night.
With Minos’ inevitable passing, I'm pushed off the mesa of my young adult life. I think I spent the last two years hiking up a new mountain called middle age. I’m a mother. It's so humbling.
Hold on - could I please refer to this next chunk of my life that I’m facing, terrified, as “young middle age?” Because you can’t quite call me middle-aged now, can you? Is 37 middle-aged? At age 16 I would’ve said “Duh. Definitely.” At 28 I would’ve said, “Naw, middle-aged is when you’re in your forties and fifties.” I’m creeping up there, friends, and want to keep putting it off.
I always thought that the trick to getting old without getting miserable was: to retain the gut-knowledge that a great life is possible, even to be expected, and worth fighting for. Oh yeah–and to keep havin' fun, yah brah! Of course, we ask ourselves: what does “a great life” mean? It keeps changing. I keep changing. Do you remember how many times you’ve heard someone say, or said yourself, “It was the best thing I ever did”? That statement usually comes after they’ve done something they thought tremendously risky. They changed something. They changed themselves. I think it’s what we’re all supposed to be doing.
But God, I hate all the time spent swimming in the muck of the past, sorting it out, before you can actually start evolving. And that's where I am, with Minos's inevitable passing: sorting it out. Swimming in the dark again. I'm looking through all of those messy memories, where Minos was my one constant (my familiar, I used to think) and preparing to put them to bed, like him.
There will be a new chapter, a new outlook on my "young middle age," and new lives in our children. But there will never be another Minos, or a me, or a you, like we were then.
Alejandro’s heard us tapping away at our computers since before he was born. As a baby, he was propped in my or Rafael’s laps as we worked on creative or work-related docs; answered emails; or surfed the internet. He’s seen the interfaces of YouTube, iTunes, FaceBook, and email since he could focus his eyes. Raf and I are both immersed in technology–it’s the age we live in, and the professions we’ve chosen. And Ali’s our son.
When he was about ten months old, he located the “play” triangle on the remote control to the TV. I was sitting on the floor with him (he couldn’t even walk yet) when I realized that in a few short years, I’d be a babbling idiot when it came to operating our household appliances. I’ll turn to him. “Duhhhhhhh.” I’ll say, slack-jawed and drooling as I hand him the remote, desperation in my eyes. “Me want play. Muuuuu-sic. You can, Ali? Peeeeese?”
By age one, he could operate an iPhone. I’m not kidding. He’d slide his finger across the screen to unlock it. Locate the orange iPod icon. And select the video he wanted. Yo Gabba Gabba, it was most frequently. A show created by parents perhaps somewhat like ourselves–West Coast-based lovers of music and storytelling. To all of our devices, the creators of Yo Gabba Gabba deliver the tall, thin host “DJ Lance Rock;” guest stars like Jack Black and Elijah Woods; musical acts by the Roots and the Shins; and a tribe of trippy characters who encourage dancing and recycling. On my iPhone Ali, aged one, could find, and play, the episode he wanted.
Yesterday he was on my laptop (you can tell me I’m a negligent asshole a bit later, after I’ve explained myself), and I saw he’d learned how to use a mouse. Moving it around, finding the spot he wanted. Clicking only that side of it, as I’d showed him. He was playing little games on yes, you guessed it, www.yogabbagabba.com. (So I’m a brand whore as welll as a technology whore. If only we’d envisioned that goddamned franchise ourselves.) That said: in less than two weeks of playing around with those little Flash-based games, he had control of his mouse. And hence his technological destiny, muah ha ha! He's two and a half now.
How could I be okay with all of this? First of all, it’s not like we’ve got him locked in a basement surrounded by buzzing devices all day long while the sun shines or rain falls outside in beautiful Oakland. Every day he’s at home is an insane mix of thousands – okay, maybe twenty – activities. Art projects. Puzzles. Books. Chasing. Playing with cars. Constructing and destroying train tracks. Imagining we’re dinosaurs. Imagining we’re firefighters. Digging in the garden. Playing ball. Play fighting.
And then, yes, because we’re goddamned exhausted, and have emails to answer, or want five f’ing minutes to talk between ourselves, there’s the computer. iPhones. TV. Cable, DVDs, you name it. And the PlayStation–don’t get me started on that.
I’m not proud of it. It’s not what I’d envisioned, having grown up with a stay-at-home, earthy mom who didn’t let us eat sugar. It just IS what it is. It’s our lives. He’s growing up in the 2000’s. I can’t change when he was born. And I can’t change who we are.
I can only–sometimes, when I remember–turn my iPhone to “airplane” mode before handing it to him, so his little brain is a wee bit less fried by the wireless signals that are giving all of us cancer as I type and post these thoughts.
You are likely receiving this data wirelessly, in your home or business, perhaps even via a smart phone yourself. You live in this era too, and these are our children. They’re standing on our computer-crunched shoulders.
Let’s pray that their little bodies can adapt fairly painlessly to all of the technology that surrounds them. Let’s pray they don’t treat us too poorly for being unable to comprehend and operate the things they will create in our lifetimes.
May they still dig in the dirt, and feel the joy of almost-bursting lungs as they chase balls gone out of bounds.
May they still spend time under trees, looking up at the branches and leaves and fruit unfolding.
May they take what we’ve given them, and create more wondrous and beautiful things than we can imagine.