Friday, July 25, 2008

My sweetiepooper, my baby girl

I'm making lists, lists for home and lists for work, lists that keep the demon insomnia at bay, mostly. Lists encourage my daytime productivity: laundry! bibiographic database! call the contractor! pay residential taxes! rework conference paper! locate boarding passes! They also, though, play into my worst type-A perfectionist tendencies--these lists always have more items added to them than can ever be stroked off, they encourage speed-up, they make me think all tasks are equivalent and equally urgent. And so I try to figure how to order coursepaks (urgent task) and strip wallpaper (not at all urgent task) in the same day, at the same time as trying to plot out three floors worth of structural, plumbing, electrical, and cosmetic renovations to my house when trying to figure out if it's worth insulating either the attic or the second floor or the basement in the next twelve months to get my rebate if it blocks me from making changes later.

Wait. Wasn't this supposed to be a post about Munchkin?

And that's how it's been, lately, me caught up in a fog of urgent and not so urgent details, obsessed with trying to keep a tidy house, a clean house, an organized career while wondering how the hell I can't manage to find 30 minutes of quiet a day for tooth whitening strips.

I sat on the porch yesterday, eating my lunch and plowing through some Erma Bombeck (recall that I'm researching parenting memoirs now)--to be frank, it was a quasi-break. She's a light enough read, and her tales of mothering in the 60s and 70s seem remote to me in some ways: there are no toddlers in Bombeck's oeuvre. But then the sucker punch to the gut, right at the end of If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? Demurring at being called a comic writer, she describes her absolute shock and devastation at her own mother's aging and decline, and her children's growth to adulthood. There's a cheesy bit about not getting terrible handmade Christmas gifts anymore and I lost it.

I'm trying so hard to be everything I was when I was single--organized, tidy, ambitious, thin, stylish, perfect. I'm trying so hard to be everything I think I should be in my mid-30s--accomplished, sophisticated, on the upward track at work. What is happening is that to be these things I'm pushing back against what I most wanted all those years--love, a family, a home.

It's so trite but so true that I'm going to have a lot of years in front of me where no one will leave newspapers all over the dining room table, no one will litter every flooring surface with stuffed toys, mash tiny bags of cookies into powder on the front porch, wipe their boogery nose all over my silk wrap. I can be tidy and perfect later, can't I? The career fast track has many onramps, doesn't it? With four walls and a roof, the house is good enough to live in, isn't it?

I pulled myself together and pulled Munchkin out of daycare. God, she's getting so big, straining out of her 3x clothes now, stomping around like a dinosaur, jumping off the couch and narrating everything. We popped in to Daddy's office to tell him our plans: to the park to see the animals! play in the dirt! go to the grocery store!

I took a lot of photos. Some of them are blurry and imperfect, action shots, life whizzing by so fast:

Some have a tighter focus, character studies. This is the way I see her, the texture of her skin, the quality of an expression, the tilt of her chin, an inner silliness:

We had a wonderful time. I was patient and relaxed, and we just hung out. Three hours of mid-week ... time, together. We examined individual blades of grass, took off our sandals to shake the dirt out, climbed onto riding animals, turned our faces up to the blue sky on the vertiginous swingset. "I'm going really higher, Mom! Really higher!" She's giddy with the motion of it. "Wheeeee! I'm on the swing! Wheeee! It's my very favorite!"

Maybe the day was just too exciting. She woke up at midnight, whimpering from her crib. Still feeling somewhat raw and vulnerable myself, I padded into her room before Pynchon could get there. Patting her and soothing her, I couldn't believe the sheer length, the girlness of her, my onetime baby. "Pick me up," she asked, and Pynchon handed me a bottle, quietly, from the doorway, just like we used to do in another time, another house. We rocked in her chair, and she leaned back into my arms in a way she hasn't done for months, limp and compliant. "Drink, Munchkin," I reminded her as she let the bottle drop onto her chest. "No, you," she asked. And I fed her, feeling the shock of a reflexive, automatic posture gone out of use without my noticing.

Without my noticing. One minute she never leaves my side, and the very next, she swings out of view.

The rest can wait, can't it?


Oh, The Joys said...

It's hard to break the cycle of ourselves.

Mimi said...

Amen to that, J -- and you would know, being the brunette version of me.

mek said...

here I am in my upper-30s, and I still must repeat this lesson over and over.

"Make time for the now" has been my summer mantra.

Catherine said...

I must have gotten something in my eye while reading this because now they're filled with tears.

I have the very same thing x2. And it's a constant cycle of my heart breaking a little bit and bursting with pride.

cinnamon gurl said...

I feel that urgency to multi-task all the time, and I don't even have nearly the same standards as you for a clean house and upward career.

I notice a LOT of women in company whose kids are grown up and it's like a second wave. Now, they're moving onward and upward. I'm not nearly as ambitious as you, but I'm still ambitious, and I'm just going to wait for that time.

My last two Thursdays off work (I only work 4 days), I've made a conscious effort to quit with the to-do lists and the errands. Or at least make it manageable. And they've been SUCH nice, lazy, summer days.

Beck said...

It's funny how different lives can be, isn't it? I HAVE noticed in the last couple of years a more pressing sense of time passing, of the need to do something of merit. And I also want my STUPID HOUSE FINISHED NOW. But mostly I'm pretty content with things, except for today when my kids are insane and I'd like to sell them.

Omaha Mama said...

Awww, I love those moments when they still need a snuggle. Living in the now is a weakness of mine (because I just don't do it much). I'm forever making lists and lists and lists.

slouching mom said...

damn, mimi. spot on. it's THE struggle of parenthood, at least for me.

she's beautiful.

Assertagirl said...

It sounds like you had such a lovely time together. I'm glad you put your energies where you would reap the greatest rewards that day.

Mamalooper said...

Recovering Type A mommy over here too. Biggest adjustment to motherhood was trying (always a struggle) to redefine "success" from "I did [thing that you can add up]" to enjoying the process.

Laurie said...

Oh, honey. That last pic broke my heart. Where did she go?

Nice day. You seem like a nice person. :)

kittenpie said...

Having lived with half-finished renos, jumbles of furniture and piles of closet-free clothes everywhere, dust on my stairs and just generally letting things go around here, I am in a good position to tell you right now - some things don't matter for a while. I'll get things back together again some time. Maybe by Christmas, making it The Year of Horrible Housekeeping. But still, comes Sundays, I'd rather sit in the sun and watch my girl play with sidewalk chalk.

ps I looove that picture of her closeup in her stroller. That pursed little mouth looks somehow familiar...

Anonymous said...

You know what, I'm 17 and I still need mum to take the time to play with me sometimes. She's thinking about my uni application and my homework and my grades... but then we just watch a film, or go swimming, and things are a bit better.

She might not be a little baby again, but you'll have time together for years to come.

Kyla said...

Oh, my heart.

I'm glad the two of you stole away from the responsibilities and just enjoyed each other for a bit.

(and I'm glad the lists are helping a little!)

Mandy said...

I struggle daily with the "should I care about the mess my house, my wardrobe" has become?

When do I worry about my career?

Sometimes it feels like I'm pulled in so many directions that I just stand still.

Kaza said...

Beautiful post. And amazing how it captured exactly what's going on in my own mind/heart these days.

nomotherearth said...

God, she's grown. I remember the baby pictures you posted. Where does the time go?

It's really, really hard to live in the now. If you can even do it for a few minutes, you're making progress. At least, that's what I keep telling myself..

Jenifer said...

Jess said it perfectly.

I am list maker too with way too high standards for myself. It is hard though for me to walk away from that, it is so ingrained.

Good for you for stealing those moments.

Janet said...

It has taken me nine years to figure out how to let things go and live in the moment. And some days I'm still not very good at it.

Nice post.

superrelish said...

I sat here thinking, 'Read one more blog, then start on breakfast and school lunches, then check home readers, put on a load of washing...'

Now all I want to do is have a day off to enjoy life. My biggest dilemma revolves around how to relax in a messy house with a huge to-do list waiting. Thanks for reminding me what it is all about, and for the tears the last photo caused.

NotSoSage said...

Oh, this hit home. I am a list-maker and a Type A and I do so often think, I'm growing more and more frustrated with this and realising that my "accomplish this in next four months" also reflects four months of HER growth and change and four fewer months with her at home. I am looking forward to next summer where I will be forced to take one day a week and just be us together.

And raz's comment also gave me a little hope (not to mention a lump in my throat).

And that smirk of Munchkin's is totally yours.

the new girl said...

It might surprise you (not) that I so, so often feel this way, too.

The 'now' becomes the 'back then' too quickly, right?

Gives me a little bit of motion sickness. In my HEART.

Her Bad Mother said...