Margot Merrill on modern parenthood and the writing life

1May/127

Your rose, your thorn, and your bud

My friend Tyler's buddy asks his kids this question every night: "What are your rose, your thorn, and your bud?"

Your rose is the happiest moment of the day. The thorn, the worst part of your day: what's bothering you or keeping you back. And your bud is what you're excited about learning or doing next.

Roses have been on my mind lately. When I'm trying to calm down I visualize being in one. A giant red rose. I curl in the center like a baby, a yellow pollen blanket under me. The petals unfurl around me.

Love, that's what a rose means. In that visualization I do, it means self-love. Self-love. I didn't know I needed it, but apparently it's what I'm supposed to be learning. Have I mentioned I hate learning? I've come to recognize that my wires are crossed. Learning = failing. I'm working hard to change this belief, and to be kinder to myself as I grow. (How do you do that self-love thing? Did you always just...love yourself unconditionally? Is it learned? Does it come and go?)

I had a rose-related breakthrough recently when a wise woman who knows me well said: "You don't have to constantly be exceptional, Margot."

"Yes I do!" I shouted. And then I laughed a little and explained, "So I can keep torturing myself for failing!"

She, much older and calmer than I, said: "Lower your expectations. Especially of yourself."

It was a revolting idea.

"But I want to create! Beautiful things!" I said. "And change the world! Make it better! Help people! And be a great parent! And–"

"It's not realistic, or kind to yourself, to think you have to be phenomenal all the time," she said. "To create, you need down time. Time when you're just normal old you. You need time to gestate."

Then I thought of a rose, and why it's exceptional: it's not always blooming. The bush hibernates. It makes rose hips from faded flowers. Its roots stretch into the cold deep earth to bring up nutrients. The leaves do their photosynthesis thing.

shhhh, we're working on something good inside over here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And when things are ready, it blooms.

Ah. That feels good. Pretty exceptional, huh?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I feel like I'm coming out of a dark winter. So grateful to see the late-Spring sun. I have to move past being mad at myself for breaking down. I know this whole process–my recent crash, and evolving identity, and awkward inner growth is leading to something. More roses. I'm sure of it.

I haven't yet instated the rose/thorn/bud routine with my family. I'll have to add it to my list of to-do's. If you're inspired, and you actually have dinner with your family regularly, please do it and lmk how it goes.

Heart,
Margot

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3Jan/125

You know you’re a parent when…

  1. "a night out" means dinner out
  2. you too eat buttered pasta several times a week
  3. six hours is a dreamy stretch of sleep
  4. your time is...forget it. you have no time.
  5. the statement "it's a whole new universe" sums it up
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30Dec/112

the Holiday bawl

I bawled on Christmas Eve day. It was a hearty, completely-losing-it weepfest. It felt pretty good to cry as I fought to finish the handmade cherry pie. As my daughter didn't take her afternoon nap. As a half-hour's drive away my husband, 4-year old son, and in-laws awaited me, and the baby girl, and dessert. I'd worked till 11:00 the night before. Oh yes, woe!

I was wallowing in woes. Most of my own making.

Earlier in the day I'd had good friends visit–Jen and Karissa. We drank coffee and sat outside in the sunlight as I tried to rapidly decompress. I kept looking for my holiday spirit. I welcomed it, but hadn't given myself any time. Jen, one of my oldest friends, juggled baby Story and cleaned up our kitchen. Karissa rolled out my rock-hard crumbly pie dough. She's like that. You can hand Karissa a tortured lump of "pate brisee" or a crying newborn baby, or ask her to hang a picture in your house, and she's got it. We talked about the hard knocks of 2011. I tried to tell them how much I appreciated seeing them.

I got messy after they left. I cried because year-old Story Jane wouldn't sleep, and I needed her to. (Sleep is my parental Achilles heel.) I was crying because I felt alone. And because I was remembering past holidays–Christmases of my childhood–and got swept away in the hope and disappointment. (Santa. Right. Happiness forever. Right.)  I kept crying and looking at my daughter watching me cry from her high chair. I hated that I wasn't together. And that despite Jen and Karissa's help, the pie wasn't together, much less baked.

So why didn't I just go buy a goddamn pie? Or arrive without dessert?

Humbled by this question, I have to admit I needed a good breakdown. I bawled for more than two hours, and then I felt better. I was still snuffling, but calm as at last I drove, with the pie and the baby intact, to Rafael's family's house. I was to arrive with puffy eyes and a fresh cherry pie with a small heart cut in the center of the top crust. The cherry goo had sloshed in transit and the pie looked just like I felt: an achy bleeding heart.

No matter–I walked in and it was the holidays. Raf's mom offered me a glass of wine and I sat down with Story and got a thousand hugs from a very happy Alejandro. I'd arrived. Not on time, not perfect, but present.

I'm learning that's the most I should expect and strive for. To be present. I'm still squirreling my way around it, but it feels so good when I'm there.

And note to self: it's probably best to avoid such drama in the future. Next year I'll take a couple of days off before Christmas. And maybe just buy a damn dessert.

Hold me to it.

Love you,

Margot

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16Feb/113

This Time

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 kidand 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.

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4Nov/1012

Due Date

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

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!

Expectations

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.

This one

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.

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13Jun/104

Knocked Up and Feeling Down

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!

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25May/109

The passage of time, the passage of Minos

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.

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17Feb/103

Time

I’m a real hard worker. A perfectionist. (I know the first sentence isn’t grammatically correct.) To be at my best, I need lots of time around people. And time by myself. And sleep. I’m utterly impatient with myself while learning. I just want to do a few given things flawlessly, beautifully. And then be done, basking in the glory of completing something well.

In other words, I’m perfectly ill suited to be a parent. And I’m working. And I feel like I’m losing my mind. But that’s normal, right? (Nervous inner laughter.)

Is it also normal to feel like time is diced up into tiny slivers, or powdery grains of sand? Before Alejandro, time used to feel…chunkier. Like, I could grab a chunka that. A friend’s move, a personal project–yeah, sure, throw a chunka time at those! A walk though Golden Gate park to go to Amoeba Records? Duh. Bar time, beer time? Yeah, man, throw a good ole chunka time towards some q.t. with buddies! Then, sleep in. Toss a big ole chunk o' time into the Bank of Dreams...

Time still flew by then, but it felt more manageable. If I stayed late at work, which I frequently did, that time would just come out of one of the other chunks I mentioned. No problemo. Life in the kinda-big city, right? Gotta work hard, play hard!

perspectives of Time, pre- and post-child
"chunky" versus "slivery"

There’s nothing like a small human’s five-minute attention span to remind you that time can get diced up real, real tiny-like. In Ali’s world five minutes is forever. Forever to look at clouds calling out nouns: "I see dinosaur! A train! A bad guy! What're we doing next?" Or, forever for him could be the five minutes I didn’t show up at his play table because I was trying to make his lunch, do the dishes, or get myself another cup of coffee. "I'm sorry, honey, these five minutes are dedicated to the cast iron pan! And the next five to bathing you, brushing your teeth, and putting on your pj's!"

When I look at the diagram above, it’s clear there’s madness at hand. Possible solutions: all I have to do is figure out how to bend time…no, to push out time on either side of me! Of course. I could try to build in longer chunks of time, and thus more quiet moments, into my days. If only I knew how to, I would.

I know: retire immediately to Kauai! That island knows how to teach this whole Chill Out Reee-lax lesson…I should look up ticket prices! Get out my credit card, fuck it! Book a trip, yeah!!!

Shoot, I’m fantasizing again. I want to have this lesson learned, to emerge Master of Time and Supreme Archetype of Life/Work Balance. But aside from Kauai, which would cost about $3,000 for the fam, there's few shortcuts in this life.

While I'm waiting for Modern Baby Jesus to alight on my shoulder and whisper the secret of "loving it all while you're doing it all,"  I'll just have to learn the way I always do. By fuddling through and trying real hard to learn somethin'.

Over and out,
M

p.s. I know I not only blasphemed, but mixed religious metaphors in the last paragraph.

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