does this happen to anyone else?
In a dream, my childhood babysitter told me to write about my love life. Sarah Songer was funny and loving; she fed me Fudgesicles, she had the best sticker book, and most importantly she so effortlessly drew the most beautiful people on command. They were perfect, I thought, except that she always drew them with serious faces, when I felt they clearly should be smiling. So I would erase those tiny pursed lips and draw in a smile, sure that I could equally effortlessly make my replacement upturned lips match the quality of her drawing. I could not.
As an adult, infrequently, she comes by my parents’ house and drinks a bottled coke— made with real cane sugar— that my dad keeps stocked in the refrigerator in the garage. Despite my almost being 35, she still comments, almost every time we cross paths, that she’s amazed I have boobs. I now have a partner, a 16 month old daughter, a baby on the way, and I own a home, which is all neither here nor there, not a specifically important list of personal qualifications except to say generally those things happen after boobs and not before. I mean, I got boobs, or some minuscule version of them, over 20 years ago.
I never really understood her commentary until I also had the experience of watching someone, who was emblazoned in my mind's eye as a child, also grow. And then I understood: people are, often, or we believe that they stay, exactly as we first knew them to be. So to her I am a Fudgesicle-loving 6 year old, who's afraid of having to sleep under the dining room table as punishment for misbehaving. It’s so often not the boobs that aren’t growing at all, but our perception.
Sarah arrived in the dream, out of where I don’t know, and when she said “love life,” I dream laughed out loud, not out believing my life to be humorously devoid of love, but because the specific phrase love life resonated so little with my experience, past or present. Love life, to me, elicits some idea of an ongoing quest for partnership that includes actual dating and maybe drinks and definitely flirty floral dresses and ballet flats. I have always been more into tennis shoes.
I never dated really. I was terrible at it. One of us was always too in love from the get go, and it never worked. My actual loves were three. I would count maybe a handful more as significant in my romantic experience, but wouldn't deign to embarrass them or myself by admitting so here.
Diogo was my first real love, my first everything. He came into the restaurant where I worked in Berkeley during college-- a predominantly vegetarian spot with counter service, where I worked my way up to the position of assistant manager, topping out at a luxurious ten dollars an hour plus the pennies of tips college students let clamour into the metal bin sitting afront the register. I always smelled like salad dressing and french fries, and he rarely looked me in the eye.
I thought he was rude, in fact I was sure of it. I remember taking special note of how rude he was, until one day, another regular, who was, unbeknownst to me, his friend and roommate, said, "My roommate speaks really highly of you." I have no idea what I did at that counter that might have made a boy admire me. I learned, later, to my shock, that he just thought I was a babe and he wanted to make out. At 19, I had been kissed, really kissed, only once before-- a single time at camp when I was 17. I was not a babe. I wore vintage cat-eye glasses-- genuine deadstock with my very paltry prescription tailor-made to fit-- and jet black hair, finished by bangs with a deep swoop, both costumes for my discomfort. I was fat, maybe, kind of, and definitely insecure. I could punch in an order on that register without even looking, but surely that was not something to admire.
All it took, though, was those few secondhand words of validation for my opinion of Diogo to shift completely. His shyness was suddenly intriguing, his stoic silence painfully enticing. We flirted across the counter each time he ordered a sesame tofu salad by basically doing nothing other than knowing we liked each other.
One day, somehow, I knew. I knew it was my day. I packed my most beautiful outfit to wear after work-- two layered vintage slips over jeans and covered with a chunky sweater. Tennis shoes. And, indeed, that day, he asked me if I'd like to "talk" after work. My first date, if you will.
After my shift, we sat in the corner of the restaurant. He tipped his chair back the whole time-- an offense, as an obedient private school girl-- I still find unforgivable, but I was so enamored I didn't care. I don't remember much of what we said, except that I discovered he had two dictionaries in that backpack he always wore-- an English one and one with Portuguese translations. He was 21, from Brazil; he spoke English fluently, but, like me, was a writer, and anguished regularly over the most appropriate translations of words, the nuances, the grammar. He was the kind of person who would say "With whom are you going to the party?" because it was grammatically correct, even though, I explained, it just sounded weird.
And that is who he was in a nutshell. Brooding, precise, reflective, curious. There was a meticulousness about his mind and his love that captivated me endlessly. On our first real date, he took me to jazz show at a local music school and bought me an apple juice. He worked, I learned, with children with autism; he played jazz saxophone but listened to hip hop, always on vinyl; he rode a skateboard most places; he wrote incessantly; he paid attention to me with the same carefulness he did words. I loved him.
After one month, I lost my virginity to him. He was clinical about that first time in a way I almost needed. He told me what was happening, who we were. At the end, I looked at him and embarrassingly said, "Does this mean you're my boyfriend?" and he, so gentle with my heart, assured me he had been mine long before.
Maybe a year later, he moved back to Brazil. Before he left, he stuck a typewritten story he had made for me on the refrigerator. At the top, scribbled in his very linear handwriting, a note: "This is on account of my loving you forever..."
We were not not together but we were not together. He was in Brazil. I had only been infrequently outside of California. We wrote disjointed emails and sustained phone calls with poor connection. Though just 15 years ago, the technology was seemingly 600 years old, especially when you were definitely in love with someone who lived on a continent you barely comprehended the existence of; there could never have been enough closeness.
One day, he told me still loved me.
Then, he died.
I almost can't tell that story again right now. Surely it only makes me sad in the way a movie makes someone sad; surely I don't still feel it. But honestly I have no idea what's true in that situation.
The abbreviated version is his roomate, the same roommate who had told me of the high speaking, said I needed to get in touch with his family. It sounded ominous, and I distinctly remember saying to my best friend, as we padded down the Berkeley campus to my apartment on University street, everything would be fine as long as he hadn't died.
A week later, finally, just weeks before finals, before graduation, I found out he had.
He was driving on a windy road. Another car took the turn too wide and crashed into his car head on. The steering wheel crushed his lungs.
I communicated with his dad and his sister for years, maybe, too long, grasping to hold onto pieces of him, asking for stories to breathe newness into the things I knew about him, as if adding moments to my knowledge of him kept him alive that much longer. The thing I think of most often is his dad's story of going to identify the body and how he introduced me to the word suadade.
I drank a lot of alcohol. I cried a lot. I got his words tattooed on my arm. I am not sure it's something I even truly reconciled, but mostly just pushed away.
Some time, maybe a year later, I convinced another boy to love me. Not to lessen the importance of that relationship, but that statement is about the sum total of it. His name was Charlie; he was the inverse of Diogo. He was not brooding or reflective; he was a sweet corn-fed boy from Kansas City, who seemed very happy to smoke pot and watch skate videos for his whole life. There was a levity about it that was relieving to me. We worked at a restaurant in Ghiradelli Square together, and, I think, quite literally, I spent the better part of a year convincing him to love me. If you had asked me why, in the midst of it, and I'd answered honestly, I think I could only say because I had begun.
Eventually he did love me, and then he loved me so much it overwhelmed me. We were together almost three years. He gave me whatever I wanted. He wanted, really, nothing. I was bored and had dreams about marrying him that felt like nightmares. One Christmas he gave me his grandmother's diamond ring. Two weeks later I broke up with him.
That feels like a terrible story. Much less ceremonious and respectful than my love for Diogo, but also, it's the truth. I don't remember much about our days together, our what or our why. We had fun. It was silly. I probably stayed with him a year longer than I wanted to, because I loved his mom so much, but that was that. It was a too-long, light-hearted transition out of recoiling from Diogo's death. It was not meant to last.
Recently, I saw a person who looked and moved and spoke so much like him it was eerie. In a fit of nostalgia, after years and years without contact, I sent Charlie a message to say just that. "No way he was that good-looking," he replied, quickly. I laughed and left it at that. That exchange was our relationship in a nutshell-- sweet and funny and easily left behind.
I don't want to think about the years following.
They are years I'm glad I had, for perspective, but also which I could not possibly be paid enough to repeat. They are years I hope my daughter has the respect to keep to herself should she woefully experience the same. They are years that convinced me I would be alone forever. I would not have a partner. I would not have children. I had resigned to it, not pitifully, but with some determination. I had decided my life might look a lot different than I'd anticipated, but it would be okay.
Then came Nic.
I will maybe mostly skip that story, the beginning I mean. I will skip the romantic part of it-- or the part that, to me, felt like romance, because our stories these days are much different in retrospect, and the romance is not actually my point in this instance. The beginning of the story was made of mutual friends, margaritas, and social media. Nic lived in New York. I lived in San Francisco. Yet somehow, despite the distance and seeming absurdity of it all, maybe a year after the first mention of him, we ended up talking on the phone, regularly.
After several months of regular communication, in which I became fervently sure I loved him, he came to San Francisco to visit. I have written now, too many times, that moments before getting him from the airport, my girlfriend said, as girlfriends do in dramatic moments of anticipation and excitement, "What if you're about to meet the father of your children?" but I will write it again, because, I did, and he is.
He twirled me in the airport, and six months later, I moved to Louisville, not really because he wanted me to, but because I felt like I couldn't not. Three years later, I gave birth to our first daughter, Melby.
I cannot help but wonder if dream Sarah wanted me to write this to clarify, something about what I believe love to be, about us. Nic and I are not married. That's not what's definitive about our relationship, but it is significant. I cared for some time, before and after Melby. I cared, because I was raised in a very traditional household. I cared, because my parents care. I care, because it's a gesture, because taxes, because society, because the word boyfriend sounds juvenile and underplayed, partner, though totally apt, doesn't seem to resonate with people here in Kentucky, and husband is not actually true. I still care, somehow, because it's hard to shake deeply instilled ideas of how things should be done.
But I have never cared out of any sort of belief that Nic is not one hundred percent committed to me. This fact about our relationship is only significant, because I believe it conveys something fundamental about who we are. We are not big into ceremony. We don't give gifts for holidays or birthdays. We don't really go on "dates." We don't have any anniversaries to speak of. There is very little fanfare surrounding love in our relationship. We are, just, in love, whatever that means.
It has evolved so much for me since those first days of translation-filled longing for Diogo. Love life once sounded like those imagined dates in floral dresses, a glass of sangria in hand, knees touching nervously in a bar over a barely touched skillet full of potatoes, and now it looks a lot like being the first one to peel themselves out of bed and gesture to make breakfast. Years ago, I read about our particular union as viewed through the lens of the Chinese zodiac-- combining our specific years and months of birth and our potential compatibility as determined by those elements. I distinctly remember the words, "a lot of togetherness," which basically described a relationship which always took work, which did not necessarily mean something negative, but just exactly that, a relationship that required constant attention.
That prediction turns out to be the truest possible descriptor of us. We work at our relationship, always. We are constantly talking, checking in, reassessing. We apologize, we make amends, we work to accommodate and understand each others' perspectives regularly. No stone is left unturned. If I, in my deep-seated training as a contemporary woman, act out of passive-aggressive frustration, Nic will not relent until I tell him exactly what is bothering me. Often I don't even know. I have pushed so deeply aside all the small annoyances out of some belief that it's better, that I cannot even recognize what is bothering me, until, through so many haphazard accusations and assertions, which I can now quickly recognize as untrue, I arrive at, "You left your suitcase flopped open in the front room, when you clearly know it's important me to keep the house looking nice, especially when it seems like my entire 'job' is baby and house, and that makes me feel disrespected!"
This is, to be honest, the source of my passive-aggressiveness, ninety eight percent of the time, or something quite similar, so I am now able to recognize it much more quickly. But the point is that instead of accepting my nonsense at face value, Nic constantly asks me to be honest and the work in progress is learning how to do that, even for myself, and then, in turn, doing the same for him. The feeling is not nonsense at all, but burying it and acting out something else, other than the truth, is. It is a waste of everyone’s time.
I firmly believe I could have an easier relationship with probably many other people. I also believe being with Nic is fundamentally the most important thing I could do if I ever want to grow as a person, partner, or parent. Not because he knows more than me, but because his fervent insistence upon honesty, transparency, and self-awareness invites me to look at my own bullshit. One hundred percent of the time when I am mad at Nic, it's because he's making me see something I already don't like about myself.
This is not to say he's not often annoying or circuitous himself, but even those things, did they not reveal something within me about my own self, would not be so irksome.
I went to a Kundalini yoga class in Santa Barbara once. Kundalini, for the uninitiated, as one time described by the very teacher of a class I was taking, is "the weird yoga." It's repetitive movements for a truly uncomfortable amount of time and weird sounds and breathing in a way that's supposed to move energy, just generally nothing like the downward dog of Lululemon fame. Many practitioners wear head-coverings and all white. At this specific class, I was already feeling out of place, when in walked a very scruffy white guy in a turban, gauchos, and lots of jewelry. He was chanting loudly and laid down his literal piece of sheepskin as his mat.
His total brazenness and/ or comfort with himself, which it was, it couldn't quite yet tell, made me extremely uncomfortable, and so, of course, he cornered me after class to talk to me. I can't remember why or what he said, but I discovered then that he was actually just comfortable with himself in a way I found unnerving. He made intense, yet somehow totally not inappropriate eye contact with me the entire time he talked, and he introduced himself by some name I cannot recall, but followed it with, "That's my spiritual name." I replied, not trying to be funny, "I'm Beth. That's my birth name."
None of this is important, except that then he said something, again, in what context I'm not sure-- maybe there was none, "There is no other," which was to say, whatever we're battling, wrestling, succumbing to, mourning, chasing, trying to make fall in love with us, is also just us. Every single moment and person and experience in life that elicits something in us, that touches us enough to trigger a spark of emotion, positive or negative, is just something we're working on ourselves.
There is no other.
And I believe that totally, entirely, absolutely to be true. It's not to say other people are not responsible for their actions or that they're entitled to be dicks, but our reaction to it is ours alone. The end.
And somehow Nic is like the khakis-wearing, beer-drinking equivalent of this person-- someone who insists I look at myself and become responsible for my own actions. A mirror. My other, who is no other. And that sounds like pretty much the least romantic thing a person could ever write, but I think for me, it's the ultimate. I feel like I'm in this very miserable, maybe never ending process of reckoning, but I also think if I didn't do it, I maybe still would be that six year old with no boobs afraid of a table. And I just want some fucking boobs. I want to grow up, even though it's hard.
We are expecting another baby in late July. I always wanted another baby, but I'm still scared shitless. And yet I am also, actually, the most totally confident that Nic and I as a team can raise the best possible babies ever, because we work together, and we complement each other's understanding, and, just as a couple, we are always working to grow as parents, and also we are just pretty cool and fun.
And so, I guess, this is love.
It took a tremendous amount of life experience and words on the page to get here. My dream babysitter insisted I sit down and write until I arrived at the realization that the person I have committed to loving, the one with which I started a family, a whole life, the end game to my "love life," is the person, who ultimately insisted I love myself. Not in a trite, Instagram-quote, kind of way. But in a true, coming to terms with exactly who and how and where I am and who and how and where I am capable of becoming/ going and that that simple acknowledgement is unconditional love. And giving that to ourselves is the only possible way we could give anything even resembling real love to someone else.
I tried to write this in my dreams last night, to get it all out. My brain was so busy I couldn't sleep for hours on end-- an infrequent occurrence these days as I drag myself through the always-so-tired stage of pregnancy. I told Nic this morning I was taking a personal day. I don't leave him with Melby often, not because he's not more than capable of and happy to be with her solo, but when he's home from stints of flying, I like to be together as a family. Today, though, I had to leave. I wrote for hours. Then I texted him and said I was coming home even though I wasn't done.
Nah, he said.
Keep it up. Get it done.
A fervent insistence upon honesty, transparency, and self-awareness.
I have never felt more capable of being, of owning and embodying and evolving, every single thing I already am. So often, we change, but our perception doesn’t grow. I am so grateful to have found someone, who insists, for the love of God, for my own sake, that it does. This, this is love. This is the story of my love life.
first and most importantly, this is not supposed to be a dig at anyone for any reason. so if you’re immediately turned off, i challenge you to just look at that. (i say this in tremendously vague terms both because i believe knee jerk reactions, especially of great personal offense, always deserve investigation. but also because i’m not really sure what inner turmoil i’m suggesting might be at work here. basically i’m full of shit.)
what it IS supposed to illustrate is that people. are. different. and that’s okay.
what left me thinking about this today was not actually a controversy over safety regarding children as depicted here but something way more innocuous. we were at a toddler story time at the public library last week. after the stories and songs, the facilitator pulled out a baby pool filled with sand and shovels that was leftover from a previous activity in their community room. many of the little ones swarmed it, while others went on to do the other offered activities.
melby, meanwhile, stood about three feet back from the baby pool, watching as other kids played. she was clearly interested. she looked to me to be simply assessing the situation. i sat a few feet back on a chair leftover from the circle time, half watching, a quarter looking at my phone, and 100% spaced out, even though i definitely knew where and how she was.
because she was fine! if my girl is not fine, she is goddamn clawing at my legs and moaning for attention. she definitely lets me know when she needs something. also i have leftover preschool teacher superpowers of knowing where and how most everyone and everything is while only paying the tiniest bit of attention to each individual thing. i just know. and if something is not fine, i definitely know.
most of the parents and caregivers were deeply involved with their kids. one caregiver, seemingly a grandparent, hovered so closely behind her maybe 18 month old little girl showing her exactly how to scoop the sand and where to dump it that i felt personally affected by the lack of autonomy in the room. but again, THAT IS MY KNEE JERK REACTION. so whatever.
maybe 35 seconds have elapsed since the baby pool reveal, maybe 50 max. melby is still scoping out her plan of attack. and then, the unthinkable, another mom PICKED MELBY UP AND MOVED HER TO THE EDGE OF THE POOL.
i literally almost lost my shit. not because someone touched my child, because, at this point, she has an immune system and way more disgusting or invasive things happen on the daily, but because melby was already doing exactly what she wanted and needed to be doing. she did not need to be moved.
it was very clear that playing was allowed and encouraged. she has never asked my permission to do any other single thing she wanted to do or play with. she was just checking shit out. and then someone else who was not even me decided for her what she needed.
so yes, knee jerk reaction (and also very cultivated opinion): i think people tend to fundamentally overparent their kids. i think kids need 100% more space to figure things out. one of the most important things i ever learned as a teacher was to ask A (single) question, and then count one one thousand, two one thousand… all the way up to eight one thousand before saying a SINGLE OTHER THING. because kids take time to process. they are literally taking in an entire world of new information. they’re strengthening neuropathways in their brains. they are not robots with the ability to immediate execute and answer. and i think we make them frantic and panicked and defiant in our constantly either rushing them to move or decide or know.
and i get it! i get how we end up there. no one lives in a vacuum. most of us have schedules and deadlines. most of us do not have unlimited patience for what feels like dealing with a truly unstable and erratic tiny human (or many of them? god bless you). most of us have our own issues and concerns about how we appear. most of us feel the stress of people watching us and judging us. most of us are really just doing our best. i am not condemning anyone, even if i wouldn’t parent my child the same way. because i don’t know about your lifetime or even your day and so that means i cannot possibly pass judgment on some small slice of life i see between you and your child.
melby is a relatively speaking very very very easy kid to have around. and i still have my days where i’m ready to scrape out my eardrums and start a new life in mexico.
one of my biggest problems ever is that i want to control how people see me. because i was just about to say: i’m not judging you (totally… let’s be real. maybe i pass judgment initially and then check myself), so how about you also not judge me? but that’s unreasonable and unfair. because i can’t use how i feel about you as leverage for you to get you to feel a certain way about me. and i also just can’t control anything. i am not the boss of anyone but myself.
i want to ask that though, because i think what (definitely) bothered me most in that moment was the feeling that this other mom thought my poor daughter was so abandoned and so neglected that she had to step in and make sure melby was able to play too, because her hands-off mom wasn’t about to help. it bothered me that some other mom thought i was a crap mom. when really i was very intentionally doing what i thought was right, even if that intentional move looked maybe (to her) a lot like being a lazy piece of shit.
i’ve worked through all these words and actually ended up at another preschool fundamental, which is that: beth is in only in charge of beth. (well, and also for the safety and preservation of melby, but i am NOT her.) the library encounter really got under my skin. and per my own insistence at the beginning of this bit of writing, i should examine that. and i have arrived at the understanding that my daughter’s life was not ruined by one moment of someone else picking her up even when i didn’t think she needed to be, but that i should have more conviction about my beliefs as a parent— to the point that i am not offended by them somehow seeming wrong to someone else.
it is okay to think differently. as long as we are respectful and safe with each other in the process (another preschool truth! we should all go back to preschool!). it is okay for parenting to look different from family to family. it is okay for us to have different priorities. it is okay for us to not all be the same.
now that i’ve proselytized, i’ll try to enact this in my own everyday life. wish me luck.
In addition to creating constant anxiety that my life is not cool enough/ that I am, at any given moment, missing out on one of millions of themed yoga events or street festivals, Facebook has upped the ante by regularly alerting me that I am failing at writing and should “engage my followers” by making a post. Every time it happens (which feels far too often… chill out, FB), I have a passing wave of guilt.
But really, I get it. I like that Facebook is trying to help me manifest my career as a blogger/ social media personality. So famous! So much money from ads and sponsors! So “I never thought this would happen when I started out but we just reached 20K followers and I appreciate you guysssss SO MUCH”!!!
Facebook is the nagging mom, insisting I actively work to become my greatest and most successful self. I say that as if I wrote/ drew more regularly, I would become a raging success. That feels inflated, but I’m going with it
The truth is though, I can’t. I can’t write when I don’t feel it. And usually, honestly, I feel like writing most often when I’m sad or stressed. And I just haven’t.
I mean, that’s also a total lie. I feel 100% stressed. Melby’s very good and consistent sleep routine has gone out the window, which makes me bananas. We had several small house issues that I blew dramatically out of proportion. My body has had myriad small problems of its own recently. And then there’s the things to always be stressed about: money, relationships, politics, you know. I am one million miles away from not operating as a constantly stressed out person.
But it’s baseline. It’s low key stuff, routine stuff. It’s the status quo being-a-person, raising-a-kid, generally-having-issues issues.
I just haven’t felt any of the expansive, digging stress/ worry/ sadness that usually propels me to write.
And then this morning, I had a wave of anxiety about not having anxiety. Like, not having the kind of anxiety that makes me feel like my whole life and self are purposeless and floundering. I felt worried about not being worried. Is that insane?
I think the answer is yes.
I had this moment where I wondered what on earth I’ve been DOING. What do I do all day? Melby and I usually snuggle, eat, work out, maybe run an errand or two, nap, eat, play, snuggle, walk, eat, play, take a bath, and then the day is over. I keep the house pretty clean. I make a ton of food from scratch. I usually toss in some yoga while Melby’s awake if she’s content that day. Sometimes I read a little. When Melby is asleep, I watch tv. I like to pretend I will ever do something else, like maybe I will acquire some cool hobby, but I like watching tv. I bury myself under our fuzzy blankets and enjoy being still.
And that’s that.
I really haven’t minded a single bit living such a quiet, easy, simple life lately. But this morning Facebook sent me that red alert that I needed to ENGAGE MY FOLLOWERS. One small potatoes blog or the absence thereof is really not the point, but it did incite me to ask myself: Am I growing? Am I learning? Am I creating and cultivating and propelling forward? Really I think I wondered, am I interesting?
The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know if I do laundry and make tuna cakes until I die if I will someday wake up and realize that I’m totally unfulfilled. I don’t know if, alternately, all the things we do that seem interesting are really just things on a list. That whether you’re picking up play food your 1 year old leaves around and sweeping the porch or writing successful blogs and creating small batch clothing from dead stock of vintage fabric, it’s how you do it that makes you interesting. As my girl Adriene says again and again, how you move matters.
I think, if anything, that’s what I keep coming back to. It’s not what I’m doing, it’s how I’m doing it. It’s not what I’m eating, it’s how I’m eating it. It’s not what my life looks like, it’s how I’m living it. It’s the how. The expression. The feeling. The intention.
That’s why we get so sucked into comparison by social media. All we see is the what. We imbue it with our perception of the how. We assume the beautiful what equals some fulfilled and significant how.
But only the person doing it really knows about the how.
I am unsure of my how.
I think, honestly, I’ve moved, or am moving, into a better how with a lingering obsession about the what. And a residual crappy language for describing all of it.
If I’ve become too e.e. cummings, too lost in language that’s untethered, I apologize. Sort of.
This is a confession, a little bit, and an assertion of self, really just for me:
Today, per the insistence of Facebook, I looked at my life and felt like it seems pretty uninteresting— small and insignificant— but I also looked inside that small life and felt like I am maybe doing the best I’ve done in a good long while, maybe ever, because, more often than never, I remind myself to live my life intentionally, to not just get dragged along by what I think should be happening or how it should look.
And I guess, when it matters, I’ll create what I need to create and write what I need to write and do whatever needs to be done. Not because I felt like I had to, but because it’s what I wanted.
And that feels like something.
It’s not much to write on a resumé, but I feel pretty good about it.
And here’s your damn post, Facebook. (Thanks for the push.)
I remember the first time I saw 1512 in a picture. I was at work at Schmidt's, San Francisco's sweetest corner German restaurant, a neighborhood homestead. I was weeks, maybe minutes from moving to Louisville, relatively blind. I had visited only once for four days-- a whirlwind of anxiety and sex-- and was moving to be with a boy I'd known only a handful months. But even still, with life so full of unfamiliars and unknowns, I was sure I had to go.
The picture was of a little house with painted white brick, latticed windows, and a scalloped trim. In retrospect, I see how rundown it looked, with so much flaking paint and nests of browning weeds, but I didn't notice it then. I saw it with the eyes of someone first in love, for whom quirks and flaws are not only forgiven but seen as something of beauty. It was a cottage, a story book, a home after so many San Francisco years of living in in someone else's basement or sleeping in a kitchen on a loft made for boxes.
I had generously tasked Nic, who I, again, only realized in retrospect might not be totally sure what exactly he had not quite agreed to in receiving me, with finding us a place to live. He was in school, living with his family. I was moving cross country without a job or any money. We were not the most appealing tenants without any income or proof that it would eventually come.
He dragged his feet, my anxiety growing with the feeling of mounting unknowns. I pressured him to figure it out, so I could envision something, anything, about this eventual life to come. But as I've learned over the course of almost five years, things always work out for Nic. He doesn't do anything preemptively. He does it the exact moment it has to be done. And somehow that moment is never too early nor too late.
The moment was that small hazy picture, taken as a driveby photo, while leaving his friends' house quite nearby. Said friends had parents, who owned several properties they rented out throughout Louisville, the storybook cottage being one of them. It just so happened that the current tenants were moving out at the end of July, while I was scheduled to move within the first few days of August. They said we could stay there as long as we needed.
I had my picture to hold in my pocket, my mind's eye. There was my little house, there was my life in Louisville.
On August 5th, after some number of days, twenty-three hundred miles, so many podcasts, and infinite tears, Pearl, my trusty little white truck, Candice, my travel companion and dear friend, and I, seemingly brave adventurer for love, arrived in Louisville.
The house was not yet vacant, as planned. We stayed at a friend's house. We waited. We drank beers and waded through the sticky summer heat, both, I think, secretly wondering what on earth I had done.
Several days later, the news came that the house was free. We hitched my tiny Uhaul and took the short drive to the new house.
I still remember the feeling of first smelling the house from the street. When I smell something now that reminds me of it, it is both sickening and weirdly nostalgic. It was the smell of urine. Not fresh, but asphyxiated. Suffocated by so many layers and closed doors and no light.
The house was beyond disgusting. The previous tenants had kept dogs chained up inside. Parts of the floorboards were warped and stained with moisture. Animal hair was everywhere. The walls were filthy. Ethernet cords ran through gaping holes in the floorboards from the top floor to the basement. The carpets were torn. Unmatched shoes lay in every room. Mangled pieces of highchairs and bottles lay around the back room, along with a built in bar made of the kind of opaque red plastic you'd get as a soda cup at an old school pizza parlor. The windows were broken. The ceilings were covered in glow-in-the-dark stars that had been painted over. The window ledges were shredded into flakes of wood. There was actual poop on the floor in two of the rooms upstairs. I have literally never been in a more disgusting house in my life.
I cried. Of course, I cried. So much build up. So much anxiety. I had driven across America on this dramatic adventure, only to be about to move into a house full of poop and trash.
And yet we did.
We spent days, scrubbing that house from top to bottom. We ripped out all the carpets. I literally washed every inch of the place from floor to ceiling. We knocked out the bar, pulled all the weeds, trimmed the hedges, threw out all the trash, and painted the walls. We treated the floors and aired it out endlessly, the AC still cranking, but also pouring out into the summer heat. The windows were still broken, the sills were still shredded, it still kind of smelled. And then we moved in our few little things, because we had no other options at that point.
I remember asking Nic if we were staying. I wanted to know if I should unpack the dishes. I don't know that he answered me.
Four years later, we still live here.
Sometimes I still get whiffs of that first smell. It lives deep in the floorboards and creeps out when the air is still too long. Sometimes I'm embarrassed to open our blinds when people come over. But I love this house.
This house is our home. We have made it ours. We slowly pieced together a life here. We found a dining table and some paintings. A coffee table and some chairs. We never did things lavishly. We could never afford to walk into a store and buy all that we wanted. We made a home quietly, slowly, by going to antique stores and little hole-in-the-wall places, by collecting hand-me-downs and choosing those few special pieces.
We had Christmas parties with Glühwein and Zimmtsterne. We shoveled the driveway during the snow, built a fire pit in the backyard, ate so many breakfasts on the front steps, repeatedly watched the tree blossom and become bare through each season. We fought in this house, reconciled in this house. We made biscuit breakfasts, watched too many hours of tv, cried, stretched, and kissed. We played frisbee in the yard. We walked the 2 mile loop after dinner. We planted holly and herbs. Nic became a pilot again here. We had our first baby here.
I have a video of the day we brought Melby home from the hospital. Nic had arranged for a sign in the yard that said "Welcome Home Beth & Melby!" The rest of the yard was covered in cardboard cut outs of beer steins. I didn't cry when Melby was born, but I did cry, driving up and seeing that. Our house, our new baby, this silly guy, who gets me, a home. In the video, Nic is upstairs, giving Melby a tour. He's showing her the rooms, introducing her to the cat, welcoming her into our life. It all came together. It came together here.
People come into our house and comment on how much they love it. It was maybe once a nice house that is now in pretty terrible condition, but I believe that people can feel what we've built here. Love, stability, safety.
For a while, we considered buying it.
Then, we decided we wanted more. Or just different. Less proximity to McDonalds and a mini highway, less work to do on the very bones of the house, more family-friendly neighborhood, more walkability, maybe more aesthetic work to be done, but not the undoing of deeply rooted smells.
Nic started to look for houses. That story is uninteresting. It's the story of everyone looking for a house. It's endless scrolling of Zillow and anxiety over numbers and disappointing open houses. Hope and stress and heartache and annoyance. We gave up. We decided to put it on pause.
One day, months later, Nic randomly decided to go to an open house, while I was at a bridal shower. I met him there, right at its end. Nic loved it. I did not, but I decided I could live there. We could grow into it, just as we had 1512. I flip flopped, an emotional mess, and conceded that we should make an offer. We went into our realtor's office to do just that. At the moment we were about the sign the offer, he said, "I can't believe you didn't want the house on Sils."
What house on Sils? I said.
There were too many houses. I'd lost track. They were all a blur.
He pulled up the listing and everything came to a halt. I saw a sweet little craftsman home with a beautiful front porch, lots of windows, and a peekaboo dormer. A tiny deck off the back, a modest but tidy yard, cheery bedrooms. It was just two blocks away from my yoga studio, the farmers' market, coffee, tacos, and beer-- all my favorite things. I loved it immediately.
I could not make the intended offer until I saw that house.
We saw it the next morning, put in an offer that moment, and it was accepted that evening. We close on Thursday.
The house has obvious flaws. Amongst other things, its kitchen is too small, and the bathroom needs to be redone. I have had many doubts and worries, but nothing has dissuaded me from wanting to live there.
Except, of course, my sadness to leave this place that was my first and only Louisville home.
I'm not sure exactly what it means to love a house. The house itself has so much I am desperate to change, but I love my life here so I love the house that held me while it unfolded. I love the way it feels when we put our Christmas tree up in the front window, how nice it is to sit on the porch and eat a slice of watermelon for breakfast at the beginning of a blistering summer day, how it flows between rooms like you are in all of them at once but still have space. I love the people in it. I love the things we've built here, the people we've become. I love our shitty yard and our stinky floors and the speckled outlines of stars that are still on the ceilings. I love the imperfections, because we've put our love into being here.
I love it even though I ask myself every day if we should be in California, and even though the answer is usually yes. I want to be in California, certainly for the superior weather, but definitely more so for my family. But at the end of the day, I realized that where we are now, financially, it's not quite possible to live there. And if I can't be there, where I am loved, I will stay here, where I am loved.
Four years ago, I moved from California, terrified and excited. In retrospect, it was insane. I didn't know where I was moving, I barely knew the person I was moving for. But I felt a glimmer of this, I felt the seed of what is now. I moved here to fall in love. What I didn't understand is how big it would become, how much more it meant than I could ever imagine. I am in love with a man and the most magnificent baby we made together. I am in love with how terribly painful and full of growth these past four years have been. I am in love with the absurd number of people, who so willingly opened their hearts and adopted me-- weird, vagrant California stalker that I am.
It all started in this house.
I am excited for our next chapter, but also so deeply sad to leave this one behind. And yet, I know, this house is not the container of my love. It was just the plot, where I got to let it grow. I know that I can take it with me, that it will change with me. But still, my heart's a little heavy today.
1512, you are where it all began. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd live in Kentucky. I never thought I'd love a pee-soaked house. Even more so, I never thought I'd be sad to say goodbye to it. Thank you for the space you've made for us to grow, to become a family. It's been weird, and big, and totally wonderful.
I hope whoever comes next understands; I hope they appreciate you.
it defies all logic.
i've been crying sporadically for the last week (and/ or the last 34 years). i cried when i drove by two very cheerful people holding a sign that said "welcome refugees and immigrants." i cried when this very vulnerable girl got kicked off of the great british baking show. i cried hearing nic in the other room, reassuring melby that it's okay and forever and human just to be sad sometimes. i cried when the cat shit on the bath mat i'd just washed. i cried reading the comments on a yoga video i did on youtube.
i feel pretty emotionally exhausted. like i could eat all the good food and get all the good sleep and do all the good exercise and still my soul just feels like it's been flattened by a tractor. it's not about my body. my guts are tired. my spirit is tired.
i was lamenting it to my confidante and these are the words that came out of me.
i feel so ready to be done with so many parts of it and also so unwilling to let anything go at all.
i feel like i'm concurrently rushing and also trying to freeze time. that makes no sense. it doesn't work. of course it's exhausting.
melby is the most magical beam of light. i, truly unbiased creator of her life, believe that she is a unicorn being. i think her smile twists people's hearts into being forever better. i think she is uniquely inquisitive and thoughtful and perceptive. i think she is often hilariously full of shit. i think her face and body and skin are the embodiment of perfection. i love being with her.
and also sometimes i just want to run away.
i met my girlfriend for coffee this afternoon and realized melby is on the precipice of no longer tolerating sitting in some cafe or bar or restaurant for an extended period of time. because today she just tore through toy after toy and food after food and climbed and sat and stood and clawed and laughed and whimpered and rolled and stood and sat all in the course of seemingly a matter of seconds. and i panicked about how much my life will change as soon as that's really true.
we were driving home and i just wished i could have one of those pre-baby nights where you get one drink and then accidentally stay out til 3 am and eat many different greasy things and talk to people you don't know and then wake up sometime AFTER the sun has risen. i wanted to not think about choosing healthy foods or going to bed at a reasonable hour or making sure there's no animal shit on the bathroom floor.
i want to be able to just leave. leave my child, my responsibilities, my endless reasoning.
and at the same time i'm mourning that some day melby eventually won't breastfeed anymore or find all her comfort in just my body and closeness. i'm mourning how long she is, how she barely fits on the counter anymore and is too busy to really be safe there anyway, how at any moment she's going to crawl, how i wanted her to be able to fall asleep without me and now, horrifyingly, she does.
i want time to pass and i also want it to stop. i want her to be my tiny girl forever and i also want her to not need me 24/7. i want space and i also want endless intimacy.
i want to be in control but i don't want to think about or plan anything ever again.
it's not even really about melby. it is, but it isn't. she is symptomatic. she is the manifestation of time, whipping by so fast i am in awe of how much i've missed. she is the evidence that i have somehow, ostensibly, become an adult, how i strived for that and sometimes just want to shake off all the knowing.
so i ate a cookie. one cookie.
i sat on the porch and watched the rain. i tried to crawl out of my brain and into the world at hand. my feet felt so heavy on the grainy concrete. what a body, what an incredibly huge weight is just in my brain, all day, every day. it's so much to carry around.
i am racing ahead and also asking time to freeze. it keeps making me cry.
most people know:
nic is a pilot.
oooooooo! people say to/ about nic. you are/ he is so cool and rich!
being a pilot sounds super glamorous. i guess nic is cool because of it. it's a pretty big deal to maneuver a multi-ton, metal tube full of people and peanuts through the air at high velocities. as far as i can tell, it's a lot of staying in crappy hotels and eating subway sandwiches and waiting in airports amongst frantic travelers, but nic loves it, so i love it too. that being said, i am also very glad i'm not a pilot.
we are also definitely not rich, but we might be one day. stand by on that one.
the biggest downside to nic's career is he is gone at least 60% of the time. melby and i miss him. we talk about him. we take videos of us doing mundane things to remind him we're cute. the biggest upside is that we can fly for free anywhere american flies! including europe! while we have yet to take any spontaneous european vacations, we have been on a grand total of 14 american flights in melby's short 6+ months of life, starting when she was 6 weeks old.
thus, one of the number one questions people ask me is about flying with babies.
the short response to:
q: how do you fly with a baby?
a: you get on the plane with the baby and hope for the best.
but we have flown enough times that i have some basic tips so here they are.
1. take the earliest flight of the day.
babies (and people?) generally disintegrate as the day goes on. the bewitching hour is a thing. being tired from a stimulating day is a thing. if you think you will take an evening flight and your baby will sleep, you are probably wrong. chances are, baby will be too overstimulated to sleep (if they are old enough to be aware) but exhausted and lose their mind.
morning flights are the least likely to be delayed too. so get out of bed early, get that baby to the airport, and hang onto the good mood while it lasts.
2. bring a stroller/ carseat combo (if this is an option) into the airport.
the first time i traveled i didn't take either of these things. i was alone, and carrying a baby and our 47 items was borderline impossible, especially if for some godforsaken reason i had to put her down. airport floors rank right above public restroom floors in cleanliness in my mind.
the stroller was an awesome place to store all our crap as we walked around the airport so i didn't have to carry it, and i could set her in the seat if need be. and then when you get to your destination, you have your usual carseat (most don't need a base these days! you can just use a seatbelt). you check the stroller gate side before your flight. just walk up to the counter and tell them and they'll give you the right tag. you pick up stroller gate side after the flight.
the only downside to this option is it slows you down. you have to wait to pick up the stroller, which can sometimes take a minute and you also have to use elevators instead of escalators. if you have short connections to make, this can be stressful!
please see: me RUNNING full speed (ie not very fast, but totally crazy) between terminals, mowing down people with the stroller, while we raced to our standby flight after a delayed flight during christmas. some guy ran behind me, shouting, "you clear the way!"
we did make it. i feel like people clapped. or maybe i imagined that.
3. despite having a stroller, WEAR YOUR BABY.
as i'm sure you already know, people have no idea how babies work and want to touch them. oh i just coughed into my palm, let me hold your newborn baby's hand! her face is so sweet, i'm just recovering from the flu, but let me kiss her with my creepy mouth!
planes/ airports are cess pools. if your baby is attached to you, people are less likely/ able to sneak in baby touches. it also definitely doesn't mean they won't. as my friend said, keep her close and be ready to scream if necessary. sometimes you just have to be rude. i am not a germaphobe, but i still get on a plane and wipe down the area around me with a baby wipe.
wearing baby also means they might sleep on you. i try to walk melby around before we get on a flight so she can snooze through it (this works about as well as all of my other plans for motherhood, ie about 10% success). SOME airlines (ahem, united) will not let you wear your baby during take off and landing, which i think is insane, but be forewarned. which leads me to...
4. nurse/ give bottle or pacifier during take off and landing.
melby has not been bothered by the pressure on planes at all, which is why i root for sleep over boobs. but some babies are and the sucking helps. also the sucking helps mostly ANY other plane crisis that might occur. i am basically topless 90% of most flights.
5. ANYTHING GOES.
this ties in to 90% boobs. do whatever you have to do. for me, a plane ride is about getting through each minute. she normally goes to sleep on her own? nurse her to sleep. she normally doesn't eat anything but beets and sweet potatoes? give her that bag of cheez-its. she's not allowed screen time? let her watch all of game of thrones on repeat.
realistically, for melby, a plane ride looks like a snack/ boob, one toy pulled out at a time to entertain her as long as possible, seven thousand trips to the bathroom to walk up and down the aisles, bouncing on legs, trying to go to sleep in a carrier, and generally praying. you just get through it. take one minute at a time.
just like it’s legitimate to drink in an airport at 8 am (right??), it’s legitimate to do whatever necessary to survive your flight in relative peace. it’s not a time for perfect parenting. it’s time for survival.
6. change baby immediately before the flight. bring 50 changes of clothes.
changing a baby on a plane is borderline impossible. some bathrooms have janky changing tables above the toilets. some (usually smaller planes) do not. either way you will feel 100% too fat and uncoordinated to maneuver changing on a plane, so avoid it if possible.
of course that means they poop the minute you're in the air. melby also ALWAYS decides to have a blow out. bring more clothes than you think necessary. hope for the best.
7. baby gets their own carry on.
you get an extra carry on for baby. it can only have baby related items in it, but you can bring a whole other item on in addition to your personal item and carry on. this is why that stroller comes in handy!
8. accept help.
i’m usually traveling by myself so maybe this occurs more for the seemingly single mom, but endless people offer help. TAKE IT. let people open the door and carry your crap and go before them in line.
people aren’t offering help and you need it? ask. seriously. practice saying, "would you mind helping me for a second?" traveling alone with an infant has been such a great reminder how important it is to both offer and receive help and how willing most people are to participate. it’s humanizing; it makes both parties feel good, and it means you'll make it through alive and intact.
9. board first.
you have a baby! you now qualify as someone, who needs "special assistance." don't think you're exploiting luxuries that are not yours to take. they are yours! getting down the narrow aisles with your bags and baby and body, when the seats are already full is challenging. go first and get settled.
just kidding! there’s nothing relaxing about traveling ever, let alone with an infant. but i will tell you this: most people are really quite nice and understanding. people like babies! they're adorable! they're soft! they're tiny! and if they actually hate you and your angelic babe, you never have to see them again.
the last flight melby and i took in our impressive history was a dreaded evening flight, which i optimistically told myself she might sleep through. hahahahahhaaaa... she didn't.
instead she screamed bloody murder for 20 minutes (which felt like 20 hours. of being tortured. while giving birth, unmedicated. on a bed of hot coals...) and EVEN THE BOOB COULDN’T FIX IT. my entire chest was literally hanging out as i frantically tried to pat and shush and sing her into calming down. i was stress sweating and borderline crying myself. i kept saying to the people around me, “i promise it won't be like this the whole flight.” (i had no basis for saying that except very wishful thinking.) after many relatively successful flights, it was my worst nightmare come true.
and you know what? it was horrible. but it was also fine. the woman next to me patted my leg and told me she had 7 grandchildren. the man to my left smiled and smiled at melby; he said he worked for scholastic and handed us a new clifford stuffed animal he had in his bag. the woman behind him leaned forward and said, "i'm a mom too. i know it's hard." and then behind me, a faceless woman i never got to see chimed in, "you have another mom back here! we're with you!"
eventually, mercifully, melby fell asleep and i had a moment to reflect on worst case scenario come reality. it was okay. it was beautiful even. because a bunch of strangers reached out and reassured me that no one hated me or thought i was a terrible mom, that even my worst nightmare was okay and relatable, that i wasn't alone.
in summary, flying with your baby is a lot like anything else you do as a parent. you can follow all the rules and everything might still fall apart. in fact, it definitely will at some point, but it's a good reminder we're all doing our best. sometimes somebody's screaming, sometimes you're accidentally topless on a plane, sometimes you have to ask for help, but you're doing your best, and one way or another, you'll get where you're going.
when melby was first born, every person who had already successfully raised a child insisted i cherish every moment. i would muster a half-hearted smile and wonder what was wrong with me that i just wished the moments would be done already. i got it in theory, but those were the weeks when each day felt infinite and the nights, even longer.
i didn't realize how sad and scared i was for quite a while.
then, this morning, i gave melby a water bottle with a straw for the first time. she sat on the counter, held it with her squishy hands and drank. i got a little teary-eyed wondering where almost 7 whole months went, how the tiny person, who once felt so cumbersome so quickly became the best part of my days, became this cool, hilarious person, who holds her own water bottle and begs for avocado.
i realized then, that i need to cherish every moment.
and surely someday, long from now, i'll forget how hard the beginning was and tell some tired-looking new mama the same.
She cried for 6 hours straight. I think she's possessed.
Also, is pie a good dinner?
The messages come in rapid succession from my friend and fellow mama, Amy, who has 20 month old and a four week old baby. I am incredulous that she is functional enough to text; I survived seven weeks postpartum with my now six month old baby girl, Melby, before I realized I was deep in the most debilitating postpartum depression. I seemed high-functioning. Nursing was easy, my body healed quickly. I showered, I cooked and cleaned, I moved, I rested, but throughout it all, between my intently smile-filled visits with friends and family, I cried, blankly, endlessly, desperately clutching at some nameless thing no one could give me, until another day began.
I kept saying I was lonely. It was the only word that made sense to me, but in retrospect, I understand that what I felt was a chasm between my identity and what I perceived to be my new identity as a mother. I felt untethered. I had no concept of who or why I was, and this unfamiliar infant that alternately screamed inconsolably for hours on end and then slept so many consecutive daytime hours that I was sure she was dead left me totally reeling.
Every time someone would ask, with hope and reverence in their eyes, how much I loved being a mother, I'd muster a diplomatic response about how "we're figuring each other out," because it was true, but felt much milder than the Please send help/ what have i done?/ I'm not sure I even like her that was screaming throughout my entire mushy body.
I knew I needed something. For a while it felt like it might be a steady stream of IPAs and the candy disguised as protein bars on my nightstand, but at some point I realized even alcohol and sugar couldn't rescue me. I needed friends. Not just friends, but "mom friends--" as I said again and again, specifically other moms with fresh-off-the-press babies. Moms, who were also maybe reeling and crying and struggling to find their way, because, while empathizing with someone's experience is certainly powerful, inhabiting it with them is something else entirely.
As it turns out, making friends when you're trying to make friends is about as casual as wishing you weren't the only single person at a wedding. I felt crazed and desperate as I talked to people at a postpartum group offered at a local natural foods store. I heard some girls I loosely knew planning a walk together, which sent me into a spiral of self-deprecating thoughts, as I wondered what so mortally wrong with me that I wouldn't be invited (please see again: postpartum depression). When another woman introduced herself as "Ann," I heard "And," and then offered, "A conjunction! That's an interesting name!" and then started stress sweating when I realized I was wrong/ potentially insane and cried the whole way home for being so awkward. I felt zero percent my sociable, bubbly self and so much like a ninth grader at some horrific intersection of puberty and an identity crisis.
And then, a miracle. Pretty much exactly one year prior, my mom had sent me a Christmas gift-- a lusciously fuzzy blanket from Pottery Barn-- in the mail, except instead of sending it to our actual address at 1512, she sent it up the street to 1412. Through some convergence of small world connections and social media, the accidental recipient of my Christmas blanket learned I was the rightful owner and delivered it to my door. One year later, having still never actually met, we had become friends on Instagram and began slowly connecting over one another's baby-related posts. She had a then 15 month old with a hilarious disposition and a penchant for over-accessorizing and another little girl on the way. I had a newborn and a partner, who was a pilot and on the road at least sixty percent of the time. We were both stay at home moms.
So we sent messages on Instagram. And then we texted. And then we liked all of each other's post on Facebook. It escalated quickly; we now consumed one another's attention on all the most popular e-platforms-- a regular modern day romance. When I took Melby for walks, I'd strut by her house, sure to exude an extra bit of confidence and ease, thinking maybe she'd peer out and see me and think "I definitely want to go on walks with that girl and won't worry if she accidentally thinks my name is a conjunction." We took a ridiculously long time to meet in person. I felt anxious about it, because I really, really wanted this person to be my friend. It felt too good to be true.
It turns out it wasn't. One random Wednesday, we went for hamburgers. I drank a beer. She didn't judge me. She would have had a beer at 11:30 am too if she weren't cooking up a baby. She laughed when I made stupid attempts to be funny. Suddenly, we were not only real friends, but mom friends.
Fast forward four months, we talk every day. We talk about sleep, poop, baby food, adult food, clothes, and most importantly, we identify with each other's feeling that staying home is the most important thing we could possibly do, that it is filled with joy and intimacy and growth and is all concurrently sometimes the most mind-numbing, exhausting thing in the world. We have decided on what I now believe to some essential rules of mom friendship:
1. Leggings are pants. Whoever tried to convince us, when leggings first came on the scene in a big way, that leggings are illegitimate outside the fitness world is just wrong. As a postpartum woman with a weird, unfamiliar body, leggings are an appropriate choice anytime, anywhere. No gym membership required.
2. Texting at any hour is okay. We text at 5 am. We text at midnight. It is okay to seem overeager and text back immediately. It is okay to not text back for hours on end, because your baby is crying and you're losing your mind or you temporarily forgot how to create words.
3. Drinking at any hour is okay. I know the "moms + wine" paradigm is a little played out. I don't need a t-shirt that says how much mommy needs a nap and some wine (No judgement if you do. Chances are I love your shirt.) but that being said, when you haven't left the house past 5 pm in six months, it's cool to drink a beer at 11 am. I was awake in the middle of the night for four hours; what's time anyway? It makes what otherwise can feel like an endless cycle of drudgery seem a little bit more like a party.
4. We don't judge each other. Amy co-slept. When we decided to sleep train our baby girl, she supported me wholeheartedly. Her daughter loves cheese. I have sworn mine will not have dairy for years (check in when I'm more than a month into solid foods...). We are different in so many ways, but we rally for each other no matter what. We remind each other that we are total badasses, just doing the best we can. A friend once told me the part she was least prepared for in motherhood was all the judgement and comparison. It can be intense, but it turns out that if you lay it all out there and just say, I'm doing the best I can and I'm not sure it's enough, your girlfriends can be pretty darn supportive.
That's pretty much it really: leggings, phones, alcohol, total acceptance.
Motherhood can be really lonely. For me, it wasn't lack of support, visitors, or resources. I just really needed someone to know exactly how I felt, because she was feeling it too, and say, I feel you. I'm with you.
My mom lives cross country and wasn't able to be here when my daughter was born, but little did she know, she inadvertently delivered just exactly what I needed through a blanket sent to a then stranger's door. I take it as proof that, even though we might feel like we don't know what we're doing, a mother always knows, somehow. I believe it, fundamentally, but thankfully, when I forget, I have my mom friend to remind me.
in eleventh grade, i tried out to be in our school's extra special singing group, the madrigals. as it turns out, i get high marks in stage presence but am really not that good of a singer. i was not cut out to be a madrigal.
i think even more than an innate love of singing-- which i did have, but more in a scream-singing along with the sounds of jewel in the car kind of way and less in memorizing the alto line on a seven part classical italian song kind of way-- i just wanted to belong to something. i wanted the daily practices and the truly horrible outfits and the designation of being something, anything. i wanted to be part of a group.
because in quintessential high school fashion, my sense of self was floundering. if i had a self at all, it was only a self that existed in comparison to other people, always in flux, just a little better or worse than the next guy.
i remember these beautiful girls i'd always see in the bathroom between classes. i, always high anxiety, was peeing for the thousandth time, and they were reapplying concealer and eyeliner for the thousandth time. and despite remembering so few specific things about my life that i'm borderline sure i actually didn't exist, i do remember, crystalline, this specific moment of one of the makeup girls-- a statuesque girl in a slightly too short for the dress code tank top, standing in the mirror and audibly counting out three pimples on her immaculate skin-- a disgusting offense, she was sure. i had the kind of skin that made you wince to behold. i was covered in acne that looked more like open wounds, painful and raw, from my forehead to my chest. i matted all the clinique i could layer on top of it and then tried to distract from it with seafoam green eyeshadow and glitter. i felt uncomfortable existing, let alone being seen, and watching her stand there, critiquing her obvious perfection, i felt sure that i, so laughably far past three pimples, was actually nothing.
being part of an extra special singing group and being tasked with the all important alto line seemed like a way out of this mentality, but, alas, it was not my fate. several of my small group of friends made it into the group. it reinforced my feeling of being an outsider, but i was also happy for them. the people close to me knew i struggled, but i wasn't a wholly miserable person. i had a happy face. i was silly and weird. my turmoil was mostly internal and/ or saved for my parents.
the madrigals apparently had some sort of team building sleepover. they played games and ate food and sang. in my imagination, it was the 2003 version of pitch perfect. my friend, madrigal insider, reported back about it, specifically to tell me that in one of the events of the evening, they went around the circle and each said, if they could be someone else for a day, anyone, who they would be and why.
and one girl said, i would be beth loster. i knew her only casually.
my heart is pounding now, eighteen years later, just thinking about it. i can't identify it. i don't know if it's exhilaration or terror, but the idea that someone would ever want to be me is still now totally insane.
to that 16 year old self, it is even more incomprehensible.
what did she see? what on earth would anyone want with me for a single moment, let alone an entire day?
i can't quite remember now. i remember the report being something about how happy and energetic i was. that happiness and energy was real, sort of. it was a forced version of something inherently real. it was real and the effects of anxiety and desperation swirling together.
but that story stopped me in my tracks.
today i am almost 34. my skin doesn't hurt to look at. i have accepted my singing status as kitchen/ car appropriate only. i live in kentucky with my amazing baby girl. nicholas kaniasty is my partner.
he makes me literally insane a good portion of the time, but i also have an abiding belief that we are meant to balance each other out. where i am overly grounded and mired with routine, nic is floating and dreaming and spontaneous. where i am sensitive and cautious, nic is direct and pragmatic. where i fixate on the minutiae, nic stands back and looks at the big picture. where i get swept away in emotion, nic is practical and factual. neither of us is right or wrong; we both just need a little more of the other. we are a balancing act, and when we listen to each other, we exist in this really lovely harmony both as individuals and a unit.
recently i decided i wanted to chop off my hair. i had spent my entire pregnancy growing it out. somehow it made me feel safe. i wanted this blanket of protection around my face.
i don’t know if it looked good. i still don’t. but eventually it started feeling good. i stopped blow drying and straightening and adjusting it constantly. i stopped trying so hard. it felt easy.
when i said i wanted to cut it, nic immediately said, NO. not because he cherished some need for women to have long hair, but because he knew i liked myself best that way. the desire to cut it initially came from seeing some semi-instagram-famous yoga girl’s NEW haircut. and then he said the thing that’s been echoing through me for weeks now, to someone else, you’re that girl.
this isn’t about people wanting my haircut. my hair is pretty uninteresting. but it IS about both perception and the reality that being yourself is the most attractive thing possible.
i thought about the girl in high school. she didn't want my hair, but she saw something in me that she felt was worth emulating, or at least experiencing. she saw it even though i didn't see it at all, because i was too busy feeling affronted by someone else's perfect skin.
there is something valuable in me. more importantly, there is something unique in me. it has taken me 34 years to even notice an iota of it, instead of wishing i were something else, but ever so slowly, i'm recognizing it. i'm realizing what i am and how i am most comfortable. i'm realizing what's true for me.
i am already a person worth being-- someone a 15 year old girl might stand back and say, 'i'd like to know what it feels like to be her for a minute." i feel grateful to that girl for seeing it so long before i did.
i am combatting my 16 year old critic as i write this. she thinks i am ridiculous for being a theoretically grown woman wrestling with a teenager's issues. but these things don't just go away. they get buried or bandaided or brushed aside, but unless you work to literally rewire your brain-- to build new neuropathways and intentionally experience the world a different way-- on some level, those old habits are rage on.
and my sixteen year old, incredulous, insecure, anxious, desperate-for-acceptance self keeps trying to rage on.
my 33 year old self says, i release you.
i will not pretend that girl didn't exist. she is a big part of how i got to be 33 year old mama/ woman/ uncut-hair adult beth. but i don't have to be her anymore. the past few weeks i've felt like things are simmering, bubbling over. i feel intermittently clear and present. i feel assured that i am exactly who and where i'm supposed to be, that i am unfolding.
i started going through all our cupboards and drawers-- spring cleaning, a tangible mirror of what feels like is also happening deep in my guts, a rending. i came across my piles of journals. i have written since i was 11. i have journals from when i was ELEVEN YEARS OLD. in high school, i started writing furiously, binders thick with poems and excruciating details of my misery. i piled them all in a box and unceremoniously took them to the huge recycling bin in joe creason park.
i've carried those journals, some of them now, for 22 years. i know they are my memories, my life, my making, but i realized i only ever used them to feel bad about myself. most of the time they just sit on a shelf, taking up space, but occasionally, i would use them to spiral. i'd bury myself in memory, looking back and not just witnessing that girl, but becoming her again. i carried those journals as a penance, a log of all the things i've done and been wrong.
it was time to let them go. they made me so heavy.
we took the short drive to the park. i dumped them and slid the door closed.
truthfully, i didn't breathe some huge sigh of relief. i didn't twirl in the spring breeze and radiate a lighter, more free sense of self.
instead i just thought, i'm glad i did that.
i unbuckled melby from her carseat and put her in a yellow baby swing. i pushed her recklessly high and caught her chubby toes each time she returned to me. she laughed on and on. just me and my girl, soaking up a sunny moment of our so far, unsure spring.
we stayed a long time. i didn't worry about dinner, my skin, the empty shelves.
one thought hummed through my mind, almost matching the rhythm of her movement, her laughter. this is exactly where i'm supposed to be.
every morning, after some milk and a fresh diaper, melby and i read two books.
though abundant, i quickly tired of those on our shelves, so we incorporated a weekly trip to the library into our routine. melby pops her beautiful, big ole head out of the front of the carrier, while i troll through the shelves of the children's section, haphazardly amassing a combination of books i've grown to love over the years and books i know nothing about. i kiss her head one million times and talk to her endlessly. there's nothing too organized or ritualistic about the experience except the simple fact that we do it.
yesterday morning, i chose two books we hadn't read yet from the stack. one was harold and the purple crayon, which i remember well. harold is a tiny person, creating his world exactly as he needs it, exactly as the need arises with a purple crayon. when he falls into an accidental ocean, he simply draws himself a boat and sails to land. nic was home, and he read it to us, delighted by the story's unfolding. next came journey. i recalled that it was a wordless book, but not much else. we looked through the first few pages, in which a young city girl with too busy parents is shown feeling kind of dejected and bored. she's languishing in her room, when she finds a red crayon on the floor. she draws a red door on her bedroom wall and then walks through it into an enchanted world.
i found it curious and special that i'd randomly chosen two books with very similar premises. melby found my reflections uninteresting.
that afternoon, i went to a goal setting workshop hosted by lululemon and this badass woman, named bree. my friend, karen, had told me about it ages ago, and nic sweetly arranged his schedule so i could attend. i thought it was from 3-5. the day before, i realized it was from 3-6. somehow that extra hour threw me for a loop. it didn't fit into the little space i'd carved out for myself, mentally.
that's too long to be away, i told myself. i don't even know what my goals are anyway, i said convincingly, trying to talk myself out of it. why was i going in the first place? it was silly and presumptuous. i don't have goals. i should be with my family.
but nic, my always champion, insisted i go. i didn't think i'd be one of those crazy helicopter moms, convinced i'm the only one, who can properly care for their child, but i definitely am. as it turns out, when it comes to being a mom, i am basically everything i said i'd never be. motherhood is certainly humbling.
i am a worrier. the world cannot go on without me. as nic says though, reassuringly, totally correct, i'm her dad. as in, i can take care of this, woman. so get the hell out.
i don't need to tell him how to give melby a bath. i don't need to tell him how or where she likes to eat. this is his house and this is his daughter and they are fine. i can let go.
so i went, but a little begrudgingly. it was pouring down rain; i had trouble finding the yoga studio where it was hosted, which meant i was only 5 minutes early instead of the 15 or more i insist upon; we took our shoes off for the event and my feet smelled like a wet basement. i just felt soggy and uncomfortable. i felt so heavy with my own brain and my feeling i should be at home. i felt immediately resistant to whatever was about to happen.
one of the first things we did was an exercise, where we listed three people we admired and the qualities they possessed that we found admirable. then we shared them with the person next to us. the woman to my right chose brene brown, the dalai lama, and some other incredible, powerful, renowned person, who now escapes me. she went first in our exchange, and even the difference between our choices made me feel small. on my page, i had three friends. i wanted to critique myself for it, for focusing so narrowly, but that's who i am. i thrive on intimacy and connection. i admire people i really know, people whose ins and outs i witness firsthand-- flaws and all, because i've personally felt the effects of those qualities.
my three people are very different people, but they all possessed one quality: resilience.
i wrote it three times, unintentionally.
i sat with that a little bit.
the next exercise was a guided visualization meditation. despite my involvement in so many things hippie, spiritual, and mindful, i cannot stand that kind of shit. all i do is second guess myself. when they say, picture a room. what color is it? all i can do is summon an endless series of colors and then question if i really see that or if i made it up with some ulterior motive to seem a certain way to myself. it is waaaaay too many layers of self-doubt and -criticism.
but i do what i assume a lot of people do in this scenario: close my eyes, conjure up as supremely peaceful a face as possible, and act like i know what the fuck is going on. we're visualizing. i'm so blissed out it's crazy. i definitely don't hate sitting here.
but then the woman says, picture a door.
and i see a door. i really do see a door. it is the red door, drawn on the wall of the little girl's bedroom.
because i don't typically spend a lot of time thinking about or noticing doors. but this morning i did. i noticed a very particular door.
and then she says, open that door and picture what's on the other side of it. and i picture the exact forest of magnificent trees, full of sparkling lights and lanterns, depicted in the book.
the critic in me assures myself that i am the least original person in the world. i am just mimicking something i recently saw. and yet, it's all i can see, so i roll with it. there is some further imagining of meeting our older, wiser self, and asking that self a question. i think about how the idea of resilience had emerged so concretely for me.
how can i be more resilient? i ask my older self, whom, despite all my declarations that i am crazy and lost and insecure and terrible, is actually none of those things. the older self i imagine is kind of quiet and soft. calm, maybe. or... settled. older self is settled. i am sure of it.
she doesn't tell me then. i mentally just keep wandering through the book. but i realize later, that that wandering itself was the answer.
how can i be more resilient?
harold told me. the little city girl told me.
draw a door.
when you are trapped or lost or stuck, just draw a door. and open it.
that is resilience. that is ease. that is moving through life instead of around it.
i think it sounds overly simplistic. my doubtful self says, what if i can't? what if i forget how? what if i don't have a crayon? why do you say this awful hippie crap to me when i am actually, really struggling?
you just do it.
i've been struggling to write lately, struggling to draw, struggling to honor any part of myself that's creative or interesting. i don't write, i tell myself, because i don't have time or energy. i don't draw, i tell myself, because i am out of the pens i like. silly things. lies. and yet, i decided it is what i want to do. i want to do it, because it makes me feel like me. it makes me feel unique and real and connected to other people. i decided i would do it, that i would make it my life. and, in part of that decision, i reached out to a lot of bloggers and authors i admire to say, how? they wrote back about how hard it was to make money writing.
that didn't not resonate with me at all. i need money, clearly, but i don't care about money. lack of money isn't what's creating a feeling of longing and loneliness in my life. it is distance from myself. it is wanting to do what i crave and be who i am. it's authenticity. i want that. and one lovely, very right, amazing person wrote back,
I think you've answered so many of your own questions in your email. You want to write, then do that. You want to become a writer? You already are. Write the things you want to read. And publish them online, on your own, or for whoever will have them. Just keep writing, even if it's not very good (or so you think).
Write what you love, what you believe in, and go from there. You already have all the tools.
and that resonated with me more than any other words about money or copywriting or freelancing or anything else. it summoned all the pema chödrön i've spent a million hours reading and all the brene brown i've nodded my head in agreement with. it said: it's already right there. you're already doing it. you already are.
all the striving and yearning and chasing and penance for all the terrible things i think i am-- those are nothing. they're not getting me anywhere.
i am there. i am where i want to be. i have what i need. if i need to move from the space i'm in, i just draw a door. i make it happen. i am here.
that is resilience. it is being capable. it is having everything i need, because i know i can create it myself.
i realized that if i want to write and draw, i just need to write and draw. if i want to connect, i just need to connect. if i want to feel important and valuable, i need to live like i am.
part of the workshop was making a list of the things we'd need to have and do to reach our goals. my goal was, as written: i will be a writer and illustrator.
it feels lofty to call myself that. it feels pretentious. but it is who i am and what i'm doing, so why not? one of my steps for execution is to change me "about me" page to state simply that. another, more concrete one, was to buy my le pens so i can stop my bullshit and draw. i said nothing about this to anyone.
sunday, nic and melby and i met some friends for brunch. we were a few minutes early so we wandered into carmichael's bookstore beforehand. i popped into the bathroom before we left, while nic held melby.
i met them at the door, ready to walk out. here, nic said, sliding two fresh le pens into my hand. he had bought them in the small moment i was gone.
i tucked them into my purse and felt a wave of gratitude.
i have everything i need. where it feels like something is missing, i can draw a door.
It's 7:05 pm.
I'm in my pajamas in bed. My sweatpants are pulled up high over my bellybutton, because, even alone, I'm uncomfortable with how my stomach feels and looks. It's... loose. It's like pancake batter. Lumpy and mushy. I stuff the top of my pants with the mushy batter and then stuff the pants under the covers. I finished dinner 45 minutes ago. I had leftover rice, soft boiled eggs, and roasted brussel sprouts. I ate at the dining room table and looked at my phone. I pretend I'm not going to look at my phone during meals, but I do. I did the dishes and swept the kitchen floor and then turned off all the lights except my bedside lamps.
Melby is asleep. Every now and again, I look at her on the baby monitor, not because I'm worried, but just because I love seeing her little body flopped there in total peaceful resignation.
I google "best movies on Netflix" and filter out anything that sounds scary/ too serious/ political/ sad. I just want to not be alone. I want a movie to keep me company in bed, something to pass the hours between her bedtime and my bedtime, something that doesn't require too much of me.
There is not a lack of time. Maybe the lack of time or energy to get things done that comes with motherhood is later. I am not working. Or maybe even if I were, time wouldn't be the time. Time isn't my thing. I have plenty of time.
I have too much time. To sit and spin in circles in my brain.
Motherhood is lonely. SHIT motherhood is lonely.
People said it to me beforehand. They said, motherhood can be lonely and boring. I, of course, thought I understood what they meant.
I did not.
I took it at face value. Motherhood must be lonely and boring, because you are in a house with small creature(s), who, while communicative and precious in their own way, just don't offer the most endlessly stimulating interactions. Because you are quite physically tethered to them for a time.
But, now that I'm in it, I see it quite differently. I was almost always in this bed at this time. I stopped going out long ago. I became a homebody, always choosing Netflix and a snuggle with Nic over anything wild. It is not the 7:05 pancake batter in bed that is lonely and boring. It is not missing out on whatever events I'm constantly saying no to, reminding people that Melby goes to bed at 6, and most of the time, I'm home by myself.
It's the feeling that this is all I am. And then the deep, deep sadness that "only" giving all my love and energy to the most beautiful creature I've ever met, whom I also created with my body, is somehow not enough. Feeling like what I still actually think is the most important job ever is so unfulfilling during the day-to-day, THAT is motherfucking lonely. Waiting for nap times to start so I don't feel guilty about spacing out for a moment is lonely and then waiting for her to wake up, because I just want to hug her again is lonely. Just moving between the micro stages of each day is lonely and breathing a sigh of relief when it's sweatpants time is lonely and then staring at the monitor because I miss her is lonely. Feeling dissatisfied with each moment is lonely. Wondering what makes you feel valuable is lonely. Having people tell you you're valuable but not feeling it one iota yourself is lonely. Wondering if you ever feel better is lonely. Being alone is lonely. Being with other people and still feeling lonely is lonely.
Sometimes, when I'm writing, I flicker back to the girl, who wrote the postpartum piece about crying in the late afternoon each day as Nic worked in the backyard. I cry much, much less these days, but I am beginning to realize I'm still that girl. The one, who feels hopeful and capable and satisfied each morning as I nurse my baby girl and make coffee with her and look out at the day with her in my arms and do my small collection of sun salutations with her smiling face beaming back up at me. The one, who does the errands, checks off the list, keeps up communications, exercises, hits all the marks, and then still, come afternoon, spirals into a pit of existential questions that just can't seem to be answered.
I hadn't seen my therapist in over three months, and when I told her that I had fallen into a serious depression and now I was okay, she asked what I did to become okay. I said something about food and moving and whatever else, and then, she said, maybe we should consider that you're not fully recovered from that and that's okay.
I do feel better. On so many levels. I feel connected to my baby. I feel wildly in love with her. I no longer feel like I made a mistake in having a child. I feel baseline (for me) in control of my body. I'm sleeping. I have good relationships. I get time to myself. I am beginning to feel physically strong again.
But I am still so lonely.
I am lonely when Nic is gone and I'm lonely when he's here. I'm lonely when Melby's asleep and I'm lonely when she's awake.
I am lonely and bored.
I'm not asking for a solution. I'm not asking for a claim that I'm good or valuable or doing the right thing.
I am telling you that this is the hardest thing I have ever done, because I am sitting with myself and it's not my body that makes me unrecognizable. It's the feeling that maybe I need a whole fucking lot more and maybe this is everything and maybe everything is not enough and maybe I'll never love myself and maybe if I don't figure it out really fast, I'll never be able to teach my baby girl to be different than me. And maybe it's the feeling that I believe it won't always be this way, that one day I'll walk tall, with my shoulders back, and own the fact that I am a motherfucking badass and I do actually know it. But that time feels impossible to get to. And I don't know how to get there. And I'm scared that I'll be stuck under the covers, hating myself and feeling alone forever.
That I'll LET myself stay here. That is scary.
That took 40 minutes.
I don't know if I feel better. But for me, there is solace in just saying it.
I am lonely and I'm terrified that I'll let myself stay here forever.
i stopped writing, because i got sick of saying the same thing over and over.
i wrote something about being unstuck and then, moments later, i felt like i had been cemented in place. STUCK.
what really happened is: it got cold. real cold. icy. for days on end. i tried to drive once in the snow and had a panic attack as i flashed back to the day the snow sent me spinning across the highway, totaling my car. it was dramatic, but also real. i was scared to leave the house.
suddenly, melby and i couldn't putter around louisville the way we normally do. staying inside all day, time just some choppy succession of naps and not naps, pacing our worn out floors like a caged animal, i really lost it. at one point, i googled "how to survive winter with an infant without losing your shit." no one had much advice. also that is a terribly ineffective way to use google. i started to try to curate an inexpensive hobby i could do at home. the internet suggested couponing and online gaming. sorry, no.
am i the most boring person alive? i'd ask myself. how do normal people pass the time? how often can i clean the kitchen counter? why are there so many things i could do that it seems impossible to do anything? i'd start writing. and stop. i'd start yoga. and stop. i'd start drawing. and stop. i'd start cooking. and stop. i'd start organizing. and stop. i'd even start crying. and stop. i couldn't even pretend to start reading. my brain was swimming too much. i felt insane.
so i did what any 21st century person does when they're listless. i looked at my phone for 3000 consecutive hours. i refreshed and refreshed. did you post a new story on instagram? because i definitely looked at it the second you posted it. did you comment on some stranger's post on facebook? because i'm definitely creeping on you and then creeping on that person and diving deeper and deeper and deeper into the black hole of social media. that cycle has no end. and it just makes me feel frantic and sick, but it's also a full blown addiction.
so i deleted facebook. and then i deleted my blog. (real talk: i didn't delete instagram, because i NEED a place to curate my 9000 daily photos of melby.) i just wanted myself to go away. i didn't want to hear all my stupid ramblings. i didn't want to wonder if people liked me or thought i was insane. i just wanted to escape. i needed a break from my brain. i felt so trapped in my own thoughts.
two weeks (maybe?) passed and i didn't even think about facebook. or my blog. until people started asking me if i'd unfriended them. or how they could see pictures of melby. or WHAT ON EARTH WAS HAPPENING. and then like 19 people told me their random friends i've never met really appreciated and related to my blog.
and i felt maybe even more insane.
because i didn't know what was right. because i just wanted to fix myself.
because i do this constant thing, where i try to pretend i am someone different than i am. i try to pretend i'm not going to share photos of every moment of melby's life or pieces of every one of my thoughts. i would like to be less transparent, less of a word vomiter. but guess what? i'm not.
i do need to hone it somehow. streamline. but i'm just not there. i'm still just exploding feelings. and the feelings are always different and conflicting. but this is where i am.
i also revived the idea of wine bar. over a year ago, i said i was going to start a wine bar. it took a year for me to realize that it's not about wine at all. wine is amazing. i like to drink it. but what i want is a community. i want my job to be about community. i want to create a space that's about community. but i literally have no idea how to begin.
i googled "how to write a business plan." i got to the part about numbers, the part right past my address and phone number, and i got stuck again. all i have felt lately is stuck.
the disparity between super loving my baby girl and wanting to drink up every moment with her and also feeling like i'm going to lose my fucking mind if i do it one more second has been really challenging. it's not about the moments with her. it's about the moments just being this list of things on repeat. nurse, change, play, laundry, nap, nurse, change, play, dishes, nap, nurse, change play, food, nap. it's dizzying. the time gets eaten up but it's nowhere. it's groundhog day.
i debated heavily a. if i needed to dig in and learn to be still. that this time is hard for me, because i've lived a life full of distraction and no longer have it and need to learn to just BE. or b. if i am an explosive, creative, dynamic person and being at home endlessly is just not for me. if i'm denying my most authentic self.
i feel like if i knew i were eventually going somewhere, this wouldn't all make me quite so crazy. if it was just this gestation period for my future self, it would be okay. but right now, i'm the zoo animal. and it's hard. and i feel guilty that it's hard. because i think staying home is THE most important thing i can do. but i also just feel like i'm floating in space.
i went to see my therapist after 3 months of absence. another thing i've been doing is trying to not hemorrhage money, especially since i make exactly zero dollars. but without shopping or facebook or treats (because diet became a whole other thing i was micromanaging but that's a different story) or therapy or ever leaving the fucking house, it was just too much. i am not a monk. i have achieved zero percent higher consciousness and sometimes i just need some help or a crutch. anyway, she encouraged me to stop fucking berating myself. she basically said, you had a baby less than 5 months ago. stop asking yourself to be a fitness model and a health guru and a new business owner and a perfect mother.
i cried because i forgive everyone else their imperfections, their being human, but i literally expect myself to be perfect 100% of the time. clearly that's working out great.
she likes wine bar, but she said i'm focusing on what i DON'T know how to do.
what do you know how to do? she asked.
i know how to talk to people. i know how to connect to people.
i am really sure that a majority of the things about me are shitty, because i am horrible to myself, but i DO KNOW that i am good at people. (for the most part. if you're someone who hates me, sorry, and why are you reading this?) i second guess everything i say and do and assume people think i'm a freak, but i also assume people like me. because i'm pretty unassuming and because i've shared so much about myself that i think i'm pretty non threatening.
this is a VERY LONG and painfully stream-of-consciousness way for me to get to my eventual point that's not a point at all, but an invitation:
i am starting a mom's group.
that's the part i can do now.
i tried to make mom friends for a while (i think i did at least. i was really tired then and am not actually sure WHAT i was doing). i felt awkward and stupid most of the time. i also felt judged. i am pretty sure no one cares enough about what i'm doing to judge me, but i was judging myself, because i am a much different mom than i anticipated. melby sleeps in her own room, in a crib. we let her cry it out sometimes. i don't hold her all day. sometimes i give her tylenol. this is not the attached hippie earth goddess mama i expected myself to be. i felt like people saw that and went home and wrote in their diaries about how terrible i was to my baby.
needless to say, i didn't make friends. i was being too weird to make friends. i didn't feel like i fit in at the moms' groups i went to. mostly because i was too busy judging myself.
also because i really just wanted a glass of wine.
so i'm starting a moms' group that contains wine and the freedom to raise your baby however the hell you want. i certainly don't know what's right and maybe neither do you, but if we're making it through the days, then a-fucking-men.
if you have a young(ish) baby and you are willing to hang out with some other women, who are fumbling through it, let me know and i'll give you the details. because, even though i have high anxiety about what this will all look like, i think it's important to create what i want to exist. and i think that, even though it scares me, it's what i'm good at NOW. and maybe, in beginning that, i will feel a little less stuck. i just need some momentum.
this is admittedly the worst, most scatterbrained collection of words ever. but this is basically what it feels like in my head-- endless cycles of questioning, self-reflection/ flagellation, and anxiety-- so welcome.
i am not perfect. i am trapped in my head. i doubt myself at every turn. i want to do a million things and don't know where to start and am definitely too scared to start.
but i'm going to invite some moms over to my house and wear my imperfection and you are welcome to join me.
dear god it's cluttered in this brain. but i'm back.
some days, you can't win.
and some lifetimes, you can't win either.
so i'm going to try to stop listening to what everyone else thinks and wants and "knows," and instead trust my intuition, my partner, and my baby's cues more.
because, deep down, i know what's right for all of us. without any help from doctors, strangers, relatives, or google.
deep down, i really do know.
and that, my friends, is a win.
the other day, nic and i were walking through lowe's, looking for sink strainers and twine. it was bitterly cold outside, i was ravenous, and melby was on the edge of a big-nap-required breakdown.
and yet, i felt myself laugh at one of nic's dad jokes. i felt really engaged in the words he was saying, like i could hear them particularly well. the store seemed really colorful and intentional. i felt some brightness in my step. my body felt kind of light. my head felt kind of clear. i suddenly felt really, really grateful to be buying some string at a mega store on a frigid wednesday afternoon.
what was this sensation i was experiencing? what was happening to me?
i laughed, weirdly uncomfortable with how not horrible i felt, and looked at nic and said, i feel... happy.
i cannot tell you how long it's been since i felt this in my body. i forgot what happiness felt like. it doesn't feel like everything is right or all my dreams have come true or my waist finally exists again or i actually know how i'll pay the bills or anything other than a sense that whatever my life and dreams and body are at that exact moment are going to be just fine. that there's space to breathe, that things are moving, that i'm unstuck.
i feel unstuck.
dear lord, what a relief it is.
i can't quite say what it is or why. i know eating better has helped. i know not obsessing about precisely what i'm eating has helped. i know getting more sleep has helped and daily yoga has helped and literally stopping myself in my tracks when i spiral down a self-pity/ hatred/ flagellation hole has helped.
i don't feel amazing all day every day, but i feel clear enough to have some perspective on my feelings as a whole and THAT feels happy to me. the freedom to experience the whole range of emotions--not just anxiety.
i am trying not to hold onto it too tightly. often, when i am happy, i become panicked about staying happy and, in turn, create anxiety and unhappiness.
because that is what totally sane people do.
instead i'm trying to just let this feeling wash over me. i have a beautiful girl, who makes my heart sing. i have a beautiful man, who grounds and supports me. i have a life full of abundance. i have a clear mind to, for at least a moment, truly acknowledge and appreciate them. i am grateful. i am so so grateful.
tomorrow melby and i set sail for california. we'll wake up at 4, shuffle to the airport with our millions of things, and wait to see if we can fly standby (during the holidays!) to california to attempt a very lofty, multi-stop trip across northern and southern california.
i feel mildly insane and also sure we will be fine, because even if we're not fine, we will be anyway.
i am both excited to see so many loved ones, and also am wallowing a bit in anticipation of not seeing nic for so many moons.
last night my head was too full of things. creepy things, heavy things, hard things. we laid in bed and i said to nic, i need you to snug me. i make him go to bed usually hours before he's ready. i kindly allow him to read on his phone, but i just need him there next to me. last night though, i needed a snug too; i needed full attention. he pretended that he wouldn't, but then shut off his phone and pushed his knees into the backs of mine and draped his arm over my side, which was enough to calm my busy brain.
i am excited to leave tomorrow but am also somehow stuck in that moment. of needing my friend, who holds me when i'm weird.
but, as in all moments, i'll be fine, even if i'm not fine.
i probably won't write or draw for a while. we'll be visiting old friends, eating croissants, digging through our hearts, and making memories during melby's first christmas. so please excuse me for a bit. i, weird girl, loved girl, am off with my best, tiny girl to see the world.
wish us luck.
about six weeks ago, i posted something to social media about being in the midst of full blown depression.
the first few weeks after melby was born were weird and disorienting and lonely for me. at six weeks, we flew to california for my brother's wedding. i felt sure that, amongst the members of my loving family, with readily available emotional support, meals made for me, sunshine, and extra hands to hold melby, i would feel less lost.
two days into it, i realized i felt as awful as ever and the knowledge that my most comfortable place in the world couldn't rescue me from what i was experiencing throttled me into the scariest pit of despair. i woke up crying. i went to sleep crying. i cried on walks, in stores, at meals. i cried until i just felt dead and didn't cry anymore. there was no solution to the tears, no respite, no magical mountainous beachside place full of loving people that could fill the chasm.
so i said it. i said, i feel like i'm dying.
people reached out. people said, me too. people said, i've been there. people said, it gets better. people said, i'm here. people hugged me and brought me food and held my baby and held space for me.
sometimes i feel really dumb writing all these words.
but at the end of the day, vulnerability feels best to me. i feel better when i connect to other people. and i felt so lonely. i needed connection. it didn't fix anything, but it felt like there were people close to me in my tears. it gave context to the loneliness.
i made a commitment to eat better, exercise regularly, get outside, drink water, take my herbs, and ask for help. i did mildly well at all of these things. whether or not i was particularly successful, i felt like i was trying, which made me feel less out of control. some combination of that, plus time, and i am happy to report that i'm okay.
i felt like i should say that: i'm okay.
i don't think it works that way for everyone. i think some people definitely need medication or more structured support. i acknowledge that wholeheartedly.
but i made it back to me. this is baseline beth. i think, honestly, i'll always be slightly tortured. i think too much. i live in my head. i analyze everything. it's a sea of words in there. part of why writing is so important for me is it helps line them up a little, shuffle some of them out, leave them somewhere other than swirling around inside me, weighing me down.
i can live this way. i'm not some breezy spontaneous spirit. i don't think i ever will be. i always wanted to be that girl. that free spirit. that fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, relaxed, joyful, beachy girl. i am the opposite of that girl. i am reflective and intense and overly cerebral. everything has 40 meanings to me. everything is significant and thought out.
sometimes my whole life feels heavy. but i get through it. i am learning to find levity.
for a while, i couldn't. i was drowning.
now i have remembered how to float.
and i just wanted to say that. i wanted you to know.
today i had a little cry. not because i was sad this time, but because i felt so super grateful to be so loved. i have never, ever lacked support. i am grateful for the people, who surround me, who lift me up when i'm drowning, who carry me when i've become too heavy to support myself.
people say it takes a village to raise a baby.
it also takes a village to raise a mama. i am grateful for my village. you helped save me. you helped carry me through. from the bottom of my no-longer-rotting heart, thank you.
melby is down for a nap, so i just started doing all the things.
my house is a literal disaster zone. there are dishes in the sink and on every table. the kitchen floor is filthy. there are unpacked bags by the door, clean laundry on the dining room table, dirty laundry everywhere; seemingly every item from the bathroom cabinets is lying out on some surface, and tumbleweeds of cat hair are rolling across the floors.
i felt overwhelmed by it all. i felt like this is all i ever do. i make food and clean and make food and clean and snug on and nurse the baby and put her to sleep in between and that is all. the days just keep passing by.
i don't mind it usually. in fact, sometimes it feels downright blissful. to just be with my girl and take care of the small immediate world around her.
but today it made me feel sick. i am tired of cleaning up, but too anxious to leave it.
i think the problem lies in my belief that life exists after all the things have been done. that once i have sorted and cleaned and fed and laundered the space around me, that then i can begin living.
but that is living.
i'm not saying that's all. i'm not saying that that's all there is to life, but rather, that the life i live exists between waking and sleep. whether i choose to do something new and wild and daring or whether i do the same millions of chores over and over, that is it. that's my life.
i have got to quit this constant waiting for the next thing, as if that's when it will all really begin.
i've literally even written these words a thousand times. and every time, i'm surprised. this is my life. it is now.
for a moment, i felt frustrated by that life, so i made a choice to stop the things that frustrated me and take a moment to draw a picture and write these words. i have agency in my own life. i can clean or not clean. i can draw or not draw. i can move or not move. i am the contractor. i put the pieces together. i am in charge.
what do i want it to look like? how do i want to feel about it?
i can do the damn dishes with joy and i could also take a carribean vacation with stress and anxiety. one situation seems naturally more appealing than the other; one is ostensibly much more of a beautiful moment than the other, but in fact it's not. what makes those moments anything at all is the energy i infuse them with. i want a life full of positive, grateful, present energy.
it doesn't mean i have to love cleaning, but it means, if i am a person, who chooses to clean super regularly, then i better darn well find a way to make it enjoyable, if i don't want my life to be shit. enjoy the cleaning. when i fail to enjoy the cleaning, stop and draw a picture. enjoy drawing the picture. when i fail to enjoy drawing the picture, do something else for goodness sake.
i don't mean follow your every stupid whim and neglect responsibility. i just mean, beth loster, this is your life. make it what you want. choose what you want. love what you do. be in charge. stop waiting. live big.
dance like no one's watching. love like you've never been hurt.
(kidding on that last part...)
i just don't want to be a miserable shit head my whole life. i don't want to miss it. i don't want to be grass is always greener. i don't want to not love this small, beautiful space i've crafted for myself.
because, as i come back to again and again and again, now i am a small person's teacher. she will learn what i show her, not what i tell her. i can say the words over and over, but unless she sees it in action, she will never believe and live it herself.
every night, i remind myself. i practice. melby wakes up, crying for snuggles and boobs. i feed her. and instead of putting her back down immediately, rushing onto the next thing, desperate for sleep, i take a moment and sink back in our fluffy chair, letting my body relax entirely, and feel her sleepy breaths on my shoulder.
this is it, i tell myself. this is it.
this is my life. i am going to let it be good.
i chose not to write or draw today.
or so i thought.
it wasn't avoidance. it wasn't a preference for something more trivial. i just chose to enjoy my life in other ways and didn't feel guilty about it.
until, now, lying in bed. 9:35 pm, which, for anyone who knows me, is far past my bedtime, i laid in bed, my mind racing.
because i saw some translucent red shapes on a map of santa barbara, detailing the mandatory evacuation zones for the thomas fire. those shapes are so close to my parents' house, my childhood home.
when i was a kid, maybe about 8 years old, deep in my emotional turmoil i blindly named "the empty feeling," there were sometimes fires in the mountains. i remember, so distinctly, having nightmares that the fires would blaze down those mountains and engulf our house. everyone would die but me. i was so terrified of being alone. to me, the fires were going to leave me alone.
looking at a map on the internet, 25 years later, that feeling swallowed my whole body. that panicky, fearful, lonely feeling. that desperation to cling to my parents for reassurance and protection.
i immediately called my mom. it must be getting close to your bedtime, sweetheart, she says, knowing why i'm calling so late.
she tells me they were just discussing what they'd take. they have gas in the car. they're getting ready.
i feel frantic thinking about my parents outside of that house. they've lived in that house my whole life. that house feels like part of us-- my mom, puttering back and forth between the rooms, cooking things, piling things, cleaning things, nurturing a home, and my dad, carefully placed before the space heater and his computer in his office, tapping away, calculating, balancing, measuring things. that's where they belong. i panic, thinking about them having to leave, to be outside of their space and their routine. i panic, thinking about my home not being there.
and then i feel selfish, worrying about this in the microcosm. even if their house is fine, so many are not. i feel selfish, because i'm worrying about what my christmas looks like, which has taken place in the same living room with the same windows with the same purple mountains on the horizon every year since i was born. i feel selfish, because of how intent i am upon melby having that same christmas, now, her first year of life. i feel selfish for being so linear and stuck in my thinking. i have ideas and i need them to continue to look just how they have always looked, how i i expect them to continue being. my mom in her rooms. my dad with his numbers. my christmas next to those mountains. that's how it has to be.
i am holding onto it. i'm holding onto it, tight and panicked. i'm clutching it in my sweaty palm. i will not let this go. letting it go means the fires might come down the mountains and burn them up and leave me alone.
that is, truly, at 33 years old, the precise feeling i am having in bed, now at 9:47 pm. sheer terror at the idea of losing literally everything i love. that's how this makes me feel.
i keep reminding myself that they will be safe. that that is all that matters.
i don't say all these words to my mom. i don't know them yet. i just know i needed to call her and hear her voice.
i'm not afraid, she says. this whole thing is creepy, but i'm not afraid.
that voice echoes in my head as i lie in bed.
that's my mother. that's the woman, who keeps me safe.
i immediately picture this photograph that often comes to mind when i think of my mom. it's us in a pumpkin field. i am a baby. i must be 4 or 5 months old. i am curled into my mother's arms, facing her chest, just a pile of baby, totally at ease. and she is standing, squinting at the camera. she looks, to me, like everything a mother should be. what that is, i'm not quite sure. she's just... there. self-possessed. sure that i am hers. she is holding me like i'm hers. she looks not afraid.
that's the woman i feel when she says those words to me. i believe that she is not afraid.
she talks about the humanity of it all— of people helping people, of service and safety and joy amongst tragedy and fear. she finds the good in every possible situation. she is not afraid.
my own baby is just feet away from me now, sleeping. her noise machine mimics the sound of waves, almost deafeningly loudly. she is swaddled tightly and at peace. when i scoop her up, when she cries, she becomes at peace again.
i, quiet woman, 33 year old woman, adult woman in a striped holiday onesie, panicked in her bed, am that person to another living human.
i wonder, briefly, if my mother feels scared and wishes for her own mother some days. i wonder, even more largely, what it's like not to have a person, who makes you feel that way. safe. deeply grounded and safe. like their body itself is home.
i am 33 years old and i can still call my mom, not only when i am scared, but when i am scared for her, and she will reassure me.
she will say, i'm not afraid. and i will believe her wholeheartedly.
in some ways, this makes me feel totally unprepared to be a mother myself. how can i make the world feel safe for another person, when i feel so lost in it myself?
and then i think of that picture. i was so small. her arms held me so easily. she grew with me. she became the mother i needed at each step of me becoming the person i was. she heard me and held me. and she still does.
i still feel scared. i feel attached to a certain idea of home, of holidays, of safety, of certainty.
but i am also reassured that, wherever i go, i have this woman, not only to call, but in my bones. she wasn't afraid in the pumpkin patch and she's not afraid now. that's part of my make up. that person made me and grew me and heals me daily. and, in turn, it is a gift i hopefully will be able to give my own daughter. a lifetime of being held, even when she grows too big for my arms.
for now, i will hold her tight. i will acknowledge the little girl in me, who is scared. i will acknowledge the woman i am, who is capable of handling fear and uncertainty. i will say thank you for my own dear mama, who taught me that both of those things are okay and true. that is something no disaster can take away.
stay safe, southern california, landscape of my childhood and my heart. i am thinking of you.