Over the weekend, I took my six year old daughter to the Museum of Fine Art. She wanted to go on a mother/daughter outing and who was I to argue when she suggested one of my happy places.
I allowed her to lead me through the galleries. She pulled me along at just under breakneck speed, and I surrendered to the experience of viewing the museum from her perspective.
Paintings and photographs swirled past us, everything melding into a sort of impressionistic blur.
Every once in a while she would stop to admire something. A portrait of a baby. A painting of a sunset. A sculpture of a dog.
We found ourselves in a replica of a 14th century chapel. My child stopped short and gasped at the enormous cross on the wall, and the strange sensation of being in a small room of its own within the giant museum.
We are not religious people and my kids have almost never been to church. But my daughter has a weird fascination with Jesus, maybe because he’s like a celebrity baby and she loves babies. Anyway, there was a serene and sacred vibe in the chapel. We whispered to one another to look at this and look at that.
There were some relics in a glass case. My daughter pointed to a small statue of the Virgin Mary nursing baby Jesus. “Look Mama!”
It was indeed a sweet little artifact and we spent a moment admiring the tenderness of the mother and child bond. I snapped a pic with my phone at Emily’s command. As we wandered through the rest of that particular gallery, I noticed several portraits of the Blessed Mother nursing Jesus. I pointed these out to Emily who found them charming. She also enjoyed the bare butts. In one, Jesus was full frontal and she gasped, “OMG Mama, I just saw the private!”
“Yes, Dear,” I said indulgently. “There are a lot of butts and privates in art. It’s sort of a thing.” So for the rest of our visit, she pointed and laughed at butts and privates. I felt like I had sort of done my part at educating her on art, reinforcing the normalcy of breastfeeding in everyday culture, and joyfully normalizing all different body types (including their privates) without any shame.
Either that or I was totally irreverent and set a really bad example.
Could go either way I suppose.
As we got into the car to drive home, I asked Em if she had a good day. “Oh Mama, it was the best day ever,” she replied. I was somewhat surprised that our little jaunt to an art museum was her best day ever, but that’s cool.
I asked her what she had learned about art. “I learned that there are lots of butts and privates in art,” she stated. Gotta hand it to my kid, she pays attention. I guess our next lesson will be about the reasons behind all the nudity in art (pun intended).
It’s been over two years since Emily weaned. I don’t write about breastfeeding or nursing anymore, unless it is in response to a comment on my nipple trauma post, still my most popular post on this blog.
It gratifies me to know I’ve left even a tiny mark on the world of breastfeeding health and lactivism.
I miss nursing, but I don’t really feel the urge to write about it anymore. And unless I am doling out obnoxiously unsolicited advice to a new mom, I rarely talk about it.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
Since I nursed Emily until she was a little past four, when she naturally weaned herself, she remembers her time at the breast. She occasionally mentions it to me. She reminisces, and even wishes she could still be a cozy little nursling.
It is also gratifying to know my daughter has happy, safe, sweet memories of nursing and will hopefully grow up with positive attitudes about breastfeeding.
But I digress. . .
What I really wanted to tell you about was meeting my all time musical idol a few months back.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a HUGE Regina Spektor fan. My obsession for her cannot be stifled.
Regina is a Russian immigrant who came here as a child to escape religious persecution for being Jewish. She is a classically trained pianist who writes insanely creative songs in the indie-anti-folk-alternative genre.
You might know her as the singer who wrote and performed the Orange is the New Black theme song. She also recently did a cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps for the animated movie, Kubo and the Two Strings.
Her presence in the world brings me joy and hope. It’s no hyperbole to say her music changed my life. It may have even altered my DNA at a molecular level.
Regina toured this past year, and I got to see her three times. THREE TIMES you guys!!!
I saw her in my home state, and in New York City at Radio City Music Hall in March. Then I got to see her in November in Northampton, MA. Through a confluence of rare and unusual events, a friend managed to obtain backstage passes to meet Ms. Spektor after the show in Northampton.
OMGOMGOMG!!! I know, right!!!
It was going to be really hard to play it cool, but that was the plan. The entire show was like an out of body experience, and she sang Loveology and Pound of Flesh and Flyin‘ and a bunch of other oldies I’d never heard live before.
Oh, and also my friend and I were in the second row, just so, so, so close to this woman who has more artistic energy in a fingernail clipping than most people can imagine in their entire lifetimes! The show was unreal, and even if I’d never met Regina that night, it still would have pretty much been a perfect experience.
So, we stuck our backstage passes on our lapels after the show and waited in the appointed spot for the tour manager. There were people hanging around who didn’t have backstage passes, and they didn’t even try to hide their envy as they asked how we got “on the list”.
Finally the tour manager came to get us, and he led us down some stairs to a chamber that was all brick and basement and lacking in any glamour or glitz. And there she was. Regina Freaking Spektor. My spirit animal.
She greeted us with genuine warmth and kindness that set me instantly at ease. She was soft spoken and almost shy. We chatted about this and that and fuck tRump!
I got to tell her how I’d seen her at RCMH and how I heard her speak about Purim and the importance of resistance and how meaningful and prescient this had been to me at the time. I shared with her that I worked for a Jewish agency and she seemed truly delighted by this little fact about me.
While we were talking, her tour manager came up to her with a bag of lentils. She thanked him and turned back to us. “If you ever need to make a heat pack in a pinch,” she said. “Lentils work great! Stick them in a sock in the microwave.”
“Rice in a sock works good too,” I added.
“Sure,” I offered confidently. “Came in handy during breastfeeding.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I was sure I’d said the most flagrantly awkward thing on the planet. Who meets their idol and starts talking about breastfeeding? I apologized with a little laugh.
“No!” Regina said with a pleasant and unflappable grace. “That’s so real. Breastfeeding is real. I remember. . .” Somehow we got on another subject and then she signed my poster for my daughter and me. Love and peace and fun.
She gave us hugs and we took photos together.
The whole encounter didn’t last more than ten minutes and then my friend and I were on the road back home.
I haven’t posted here in a long while, and I haven’t posted about breastfeeding in a longer while. It occurred to me that this was a sharable little nugget.
I’m always searching for ways to integrate all these random bits of myself; to reconcile all of the parts of who I am to make something whole and awesome. There is me as an artist, woman, mom, wife, worker, and friend. There is me as someone who hopes and hurts and heals and hides. There is me as a sexual goddess being, created of life. There is me who is very private. There is me who is very proud and enthusiastic.
In a way, it is so totally perfect that I managed to casually weave a thread of one of my life’s greatest passions into my tiny interaction with my greatest hero. It felt awkward and crazy and just right. To me, that’s what my integration is all about, and it was received with gracious humor that night.
I guess the typical myriad of reasons is to blame. Life is busy. I’m a mom. I work. You can only post so many times about the frustrations of your messy house and kids’ behavior in the summer before you start to hate the sound of your own voice. Blah, blah, blah.
There was something else. . .
My last post was about depression and frustration with life as a mom trying to balance work and parenting and the ongoing grief of losing a close friend. I was responding to one of the WordPress daily prompts, and I allowed myself to get pretty far out with my metaphors. I do that sometimes. It’s part of my process as a writer, and it also helps me deal with my feelings.
Cuz you guys, I have a lot of feelings.
Like, all the feelings. All of them. And lots of all of the feelings.
It’s just how I live. And it’s why I write.
Anyhoo, a very well-meaning reader commented that she felt bad for my kids because I was so depressed and maybe it was hard for them. She went on to make a bunch of heart felt suggestions about maybe I should join a group or try feeling better, etc.
I get where she was coming from, and I genuinely appreciated her kindness and concern.
But there was another part of me that felt incredibly vulnerable and frightened. Like, do people think I’m crazy? Do people think I’m a bad mom? Am I a bad mom? Am I screwing up my kids?
For a few hours I contemplated taking the post down, hiding it in the stack of posts that feel too raw, real, and close to share with the general public.
But then I pulled the brake on the run away mine cart in twisty recesses of my brain.
No. I’m not a bad mom.
And my kids are fine.
My kids don’t see me as depressed or damaged or screwed up. My kids see me as a human with human emotions. My kids see me as a person with big feels who channels those feels into poetry and art and silliness around the house.
Life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns, and I do not think we should pretend it is for our children. That is not reality and it doesn’t prepare or teach kids for what they need to deal with the complexities of the world in which we live, or their own emotional landscapes.
This is not to say that children who live with caretakers with severe and persistent mental health issues don’t suffer profound consequences if the adult does not seek help. That situation is no joke, and I am not writing to minimize it. But that situation is not me or mine.
I’ve cried in front of my kids. I’ve yelled and screamed in front of my kids. I’ve slammed a door once or twice. I admit I’m not perfect. But I’ve also taken loads of deep breaths. I’ve talked about my feelings. I’ve taken space and counted to ten. I’ve modeled healthy coping skills for them right along with being my own human self.
Am I screwing up my kids? Yes. Of course I am. We all screw up our kids in one way or another. And if you think you don’t, then you are living among the rainbows and unicorns and more power to you.
So I left the post up, because here is the other thing:
As moms with mental health issues and needs, we absolutely have to have safe and open space to address these topics. For me, my blog is my space. I’ve had decades of therapy and it has helped. I know the things and the skills. At this point in my life, writing is the way I process and what I need to do to take care of myself.
Feeling judged and crazy because we are anxious or depressed is a huge barrier for women in admitting and addressing their needs for support and treatment. Too long have we been told we are hysterical and maligned for simply feeling the pressure of this impossible life.
And oh my goodness, it really is impossible. Being a mom, let alone a working mom, is the hardest thing I can imagine. Add into that the facets of anxiety or depression and you have something so real.
So, despite my fear and vulnerability, I left the post up. I’m no heroine, but if my words resonated with even one other mom, then I feel like it was worth it to put myself out there.
Look. If you had a cold or a toothache, it would be excruciating to deal with life, to work, to mom, to cook and clean and do all the things you have to do to be responsible. But would you feel ashamed to say, “Whoa, it’s really difficult to mom and adult today because of this cold?” Probably not.
I don’t really think it should be any different with anxiety and depression. Our feelings can get big and become sort of like emotional toothaches. That isn’t something to feel shame about.
But I did. And I do. And part of me still wants to take that post down so that you’ll all think I have my shit together and that I’m a super great mom and that I’m doing okay.
Truth is, I am a super great mom and I’m doing okay. And my kids are okay. No need to worry about my kids. We are all going to make it.
What are your thoughts? What are your struggles? I’d love to hear from you!
It’s still a little dusky light out, and I’m lying in bed with my daughter, who’s already asleep. Tears slide down my cheeks as they usually do at this time of day. It’s become somewhat of a ritual. My crepuscular cry.
It pisses me the fuck off.
I’ve never cried so much in my life. It’s dumb. It feels shitty. Crying is supposed to make you feel better. It’s science. It releases good chemicals in your brain. I tell my clients all the time about the beautiful and sacred purpose of tears. All. The. Freaking. Time. But it never fails to make me feel like a failure and a fraud and just so fatigued.
It’s been a hard year. Probably the hardest.
I feel I have some sort of obligation to buy space in a newspaper and print a public apology to anyone who has known me over the past year. I’ve been a horrible train wreck of a human. I’ve been messy and loud and weird.
If you all could have known me a couple years ago, I want to say. If you had known me then. Those were the good days. Those were the times I bore some semblance to normal, when I could contain my Self better.
That was when I was at my old job. With E. just two doors down from me every day for years and years.
Those were the days when E. would leave me random clippings from the New York Times Sunday paper on my desk at work. She’d cut out stuff she thought I’d find interesting. I remember one about the healing power of fairy tales.
The memory of these flimsy papers brings a fresh wave of grief crashing down over my head. I’d read them and think of something pithy to say in return, then travel the five paces to her door to chat with her.
Those were the days when I was witty and reformed. If you had only known me then. Sure, I had my rough times, plenty of them. But I wasn’t broken. Not like I am now.
Changing jobs was really difficult in ways I never could have predicted, but I think I could have adapted a hell of a lot better if I hadn’t had the sudden trauma of E. up and dying on me last October.
It’s not just work and death. It’s motherhood and marriage and financial instability. It’s never having enough time or energy to brush my children’s hair and feed them breakfast. It’s all the piles of things that make me want to curl up in bed and daydream for three hours.
All the things. They have broken me.
The thought occurs to me that I might not ever get fixed again.
I blame a lot on E. and maybe that’s not fair. But seriously…
E.’s death changed me. I kept thinking I would trudge through the grief and get to the other side and things would “get back to normal” and I would “feel like myself again.” That doesn’t seem to be the case. I think E.’s death altered me at a molecular level, shifted my DNA in ways I won’t be able to figure out how to switch back.
The light is fading and I’m so tired. I consider falling asleep next to my daughter, but there is still a lot of laundry to do, coffee to set up for the morning, and messages to return to friends.
I think about going to work this week and my heart starts to race. I think about the stack of bills lying in wait on my desk and my stomach lurches. I’m no longer sleepy.
I try to think about how my five year old daughter rode her bike with no training wheels for the first time this weekend, and how my nine year old has his first band concert this week in which he will play the trumpet. What brilliant triumphs!
You see, I’m not a total Debbie Downer. I still get blissed out by these every day miracles. Life still has color and flavor and lots of sound. I take every opportunity I can to indulge in rampant laughter.
But mostly I’m adrift inside myself, lost in the space within me. I’m like an astronaut, untethered from her rocket and running low on oxygen, uncertain what will happen next.
It’s a scary image. I think of calling someone up and telling someone about it, but I can’t reach out because that is even scarier.
I’d like to go and sit in the grass with E. and talk to her. It is one of the only places where I feel at peace these days, and sometimes I feel frustrated when I can’t get there, but the thought occurs to me that you can’t live your life in a cemetery.
I roll onto my back and look up into the darkness of my daughter’s room.
I’ve stopped crying.
I know I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and panic at the brackish taste in my mouth. My mind will race back over all the things I said throughout the previous day and will try to remember if I said anything gravely wrong or damning to anyone.
I’ll get up and brush my teeth. I’ll look at my reflection and think it’s so weird to be up brushing my teeth at three in the morning, but it’ll ground me enough to go back to bed for a couple more hours.
I’m sorry I’m such a mess. I’m sorry I’m so much. I’m sorry I’m so disorganized and self absorbed. I’m sorry.
I think that’s why I tend to drift away. I get big and crazy and too intense and then feel the need to take myself somewhere else.
It’s been a hard year and I’m broken and I might not be fixable as I drift farther and farther away from things I thought I knew.