By Lisa Regula Meyer
This past Friday was my birthday. My mom had come up to visit and was staying with us for a few days, and that night she and Kenny had quality “Grandma-time” while Dwight and I went out. Just us, together. It’s not something that happens often, and this was special because we were going out to see a friend of his from high school as the featured poet celebrating her new chapbook. It was a real live adults’ night out!
Alexis’ poetry was great, and it was amazing meeting her and her boyfriend. The open mic poetry and slam poetry were also quite interesting, and the venue, Karma Café, served a mean chai. One poem especially spoke to me, a poem about Alexis’ children that she doesn’t and won’t have. I can’t say I understand how it feels to know you’ll never be a mom, because I don’t know that feeling, but I do understand the feeling of loss knowing you can’t have something you want.
And I kind of understand wanting to be pregnant. Maybe it was the birthday blues. Maybe it was the talk with my doc about “as we age” crap. Maybe it’s the fact that all my friends seem to be doing baby stuff. Whatever it is, there’s a part of me that has delusions of pregnancy. It’s kind of odd, I’m not sure why I feel like this, and I’m not sure how this plays out.
The one thing I do know for sure is that I still do not want another kid. So I did what any reasonable person would do- I went and shopped for some of my baby-laden friends simply to look at cute clothes and accessories. I watched cute baby animal videos on Teh Interwebz. I looked through my son’s baby books and photos of our early months as a family. I signed up to sponsor a child on Plan USA a la “About Schmidt.” I talked baby-talk to the cat. I met a new-mama friend for coffee and tried playing with her baby, only for it to look at me as if I were a complete and utter moron (and my friend claimed I had a similar expression on my own face). That experience, followed quickly by a stench of a dirty diaper and tears, reassured me that my heart most certainly was not melting, and I was still my usual curmudgeonly self.
I don’t want another baby. I just want to be pregnant again. Or at least a little part of me does. I want to feel the joy of creating a family again. I want to feel that creative energy again. And the little internal kicks. Of course, an excuse for the extra slice of birthday cake wouldn’t hurt, either.
I’ve heard stories of similar feelings from other surrogates before, and I went through something like this during my second surrogacy. I’m off to think on the topic, do lots of soul searching, and figure out where to go from here.
By: Meika Rouda
I have been doing some research on a book I am writing and heard an interview with Nancy Verrier, the author of the seminal book “The Primal Wound” which made a huge impact in the adoption community when it was published in the 1990′s. I haven’t read the whole book, just parts, but my understanding is that all adoptees suffer from a primal wound since they were taken from their mothers at birth. This wound lasts a lifetime and manifests in many ways, like people feeling sad all the time because innately they are missing their biological mother. Or that adoptees have various personality disorders because they don’t know who they really are and spend their lifetimes seeking an identity. Often, according to her theory, adoptees have trouble committing to things like jobs or relationships and don’t have concrete opinions or likes and dislikes because they have no true sense of self. The adoptee will suffer from loss and grief their entire life.
This is pretty sad I have to say. But thankfully as an adoptee I don’t feel that way. What I wonder about her thesis is how the adoptee compares to those born to biological families. I know many kids born to biological parents who have no sense of self, tons of identity issues, lots of abandonment fears, and can’t commit to anything. So how are these traits solely attached to adoptees?
For the many adoptees who have difficulty processing their adoption and feel this primal wound, I am glad this book has helped them. And truthfully, I worry that although I don’t feel this way, my children may. I can’t protect them from feeling this, I can only help them accept who they are and show love and compassion and understanding for how they feel. When I read adoption books, there always seems like there is something broken about being adopted. Like what Nancy Verrier is saying, that unless you know where you come from, you can really never know yourself. You spend a lifetime trying to figure it out. Perhaps. But even when you do know where you came from, it is still a journey figuring out who you are. It seems that from the start, adoptees are at a disadvantage because they had the trauma of being separated from their birth mom. It breaks my heart to think of my children, quietly suffering everyday with this primal wound. I have often asked myself if there is a wound I am not accepting about myself, that I may be in denial about my primal wound but I don’t think that is the case.
Will my kids be the same as me or will they spend their lives longing for their birthmothers? This I don’t know yet and it worries me to think they will have a lifetime of suffering. But as humans we are wired in many ways; yes things that happen to us as a baby or child affect us and that doesn’t have to be negative, it can be part of our strength too. I am not convinced that biological families are always best for people. While it may seem pollyanna-ish, I believe in the spirit’s ability to heal and in human resolve. That love and understanding is a powerful antidote to any wound, primal or not.
By Tanya Ward Goodman
Today I put my feet in the Los Angeles River. A school of silver fish the size of paper clips glimmered in the shallows. I felt gravel between my toes. In the distance a cement bridge and the roar of the traffic on Burbank Boulevard reminded me that I was still in the city.
I had signed on with LA River Expeditions, a group whose original mission to protect the Los Angeles River via the Clean Water Act was accomplished by proving the river could be navigated in its entirety. Hoping to further their cause, the group has dedicated itself to providing first hand educational encounters with the river. They figure that the more people who travel the river, the more people there will be who understand that there is something to protect and preserve.
I climbed into a small, lime green kayak and joined my fellow travellers as we headed up river. We paused under a cement bridge where the reflections of the water danced across the graffiti of a shark.
The particular stretch we travelled is one of three sandy bottom sections of the river. Because this section is not cemented over like so much of the river, plants and trees grow thick and wild and birds are everywhere. I saw egrets and stilts and an osprey and dozens of smaller birds I could not name. I maneuvered through the shallow water, around the occasional submerged and rusted shopping cart. I saw a huge tire flocked with thick green algae. Shredded plastic bags hung from low branches, waving in the wind like prayer flags. Despite these traces of humanity, it was beautiful. The water was smooth and green and the sun cast long shadows of leaves over the rippled surface. I dipped my paddle in and out of the water and I felt peaceful.
I had an adventure in what could be loosely construed as my own backyard, but I feel as if I’ve taken a longer journey. Today I saw something that few people have seen. I travelled a waterway that few have travelled. And I did it all with time to spare for school pickup and soccer practice. Next time, I will bring the kids.
By: Natalie Sullivan
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
“He said something that really, really hurt my feelings,” my daughter said.
“Tell me,” I offered.
“I can’t repeat it,” she said through tears.
“Okay,” I said. “I don’t need to know.”
But she kept dropping hints and asking me to guess. “It wasn’t a bad word,” she said. “It was the worst thing you can say to someone without using a bad word.”
“I don’t really want to guess,” I said. And I really didn’t. Why throw a whole bunch of negative things into the air and take the chance that they are ten times worse than the actual thing that was said?
“It begins with the word what,” she said.
“What…” I began.
“You’re not guessing. I’m upset that you’re not guessing.”
She was crying hard now and crouched down on the floor in the corner like a little rabbit. I didn’t need to see her face to wonder if she needed a tissue. She nodded and without lifting her face accepted the tissue and blew her nose. When she sat up, her eyes were red, her cheeks streaked, her hair a flyaway bird’s nest. And she was still beautiful.
“Let me whisper it to you,” she said.
She leaned her snuffling self toward my ear and managed to get out “What happened…” before collapsing into tears again. “My feelings are really hurt,” she explained.
I didn’t want her to tell me. I just wanted to sit beside her and try to give some support where I could tell it was needed. I made some sympathetic noises.
After a few minutes, she looked up and me, her cloudy eyes filled with determination.
“What happened to the fun Sadie?” she said. “That’s what he said.” Her lip trembled and a couple of big fat tears oozed out. “And that really, really hurt my feelings.”
I was stung. Her father had said something similar to me a few hours earlier. He’d reminisced about the “fun” Tanya.
It is not pleasant to be reminded that there might be another, better, you around someplace. It is terrible to hear this kind of sentimental longing for your old “fun” self especially when you are (for whatever reason) not feeling particularly “fun.”
I think that both my daughter and I excel at being “fun.” The thing is, it’s hard to keep it up full time. But when we are fun, we are so fun that any sort of un-fun concern about sharing toys, grocery lists, or a small complaint about the neighbor’s smoky outdoor fire pit are thrown into relief against a background of circus colors and confetti.
Years ago, I drove a 1964 Nash Metropolitan. It was a cartoon of a car and so cheerful with its red and white paint job and jaunty rear-mounted spare tire that people smiled and waved when I drove by. Complete strangers held ten-minute conversations with me in parking lots. It was lovely, though at times, exhausting. I felt constant pressure to be in a good mood. I traded in the Nash for a grey Honda Civic and never felt guilty for my occasional darkness again.
I don’t want Sadie to be stuck in a Nash anymore than I want that for myself.
“I can see why that hurt your feelings,” I said.
I hugged her and gave her more tissue and made more sympathetic noises.
I sometimes long for the “fun Sadie.” The nearly-eight-year-old is a ball of stress and anxiety and hysteria. But then, so is the nearly 44-year-old. And we are both going to be just fine.
By Meika Rouda
I had something shocking happen yesterday. Asha and I were in music class, happily singing “Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t Care” in a circle with the other moms and toddlers. Asha usually meanders during class, dancing around in the center of the circle, walking over to sit on other moms’ laps, or to hug other children. During the middle of the song, just as we were getting into the crescendo chorus, Asha walks over to a little boy, younger than she, and gives him a big hug. I felt a surge of joy in my heart watching her love this little boy. Her hug kept going and she started to squeeze tighter. The little boy was no longer enjoying the hug. Our song continued “Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t Care…” and by now Asha had wrestled the boy to the ground and he is lying on top of her. She would not let go of him. He was crying now but her hug continued; she was unphased by his discomfort. His mom and I jumped up, attempting to release Asha’s iron grip and just as I was prying her arms off him, she turns her face to his cheek and bites him. Yes BITES HIM. The boy started to cry. His cheek was bleeding. I was in shock. “Did she just bite him?” I ask the other mom, as the song continues in the background, “Yes” she says matter of factly.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Asha is crying, livid that I have released the boy from her grip. I take her out of the class and into the lobby. The other mom is in the bathroom cleaning the boy’s wound. I tell Asha, NO BITING. She stares at me blankly. She is 16 months old and expressing emotion in any way is a top priority, even if it means biting. I calm her down and check on the little boy. The mom is nice and reassuring “These things happen, I know she was just trying to love him.” I sort of felt better but I was also embarrassed and I had to go back into the class with my daughter, the biter, and finish singing. Yikes.
The other mom returned to the room before me, with kleenex attached to her son’s cheek to stop the bleeding. After a few more minutes I return with Asha. I sit down, away from the little boy, and resume my singing, trying to contain Asha and keep her on my lap. She will not sit still; she needs to wander. She headed right back to the little boy. The mom picks him up to protect him from the biter -aka my child. Asha walks over to another little girl and the mom delicately picks up her daughter. “Shit”, I think to myself. Her reputation is ruined, no one wants their kid near the biter. I continue to sing and act as normal as possible. Whenever Asha wanders off I follow her and pick her up. I spend the rest of class monitoring her every move. After class I apologize again to the mom and boy. She is understanding but I also know she will never let her kid be near mine again. My only comfort is that the class ends in two weeks and I don’t think I will be signing up again. I see the teacher and apologize for the interruption. She assures me biting is a normal process of development and happens all the time. She reminds me that toddlers just don’t know what to do with all the emotions they feel. She also says Asha is a very smart girl and very loving and I shouldn’t worry at all. The bite was not malicious, it was just an emotional surge. I feel slightly better.
Our biggest job as parents is to protect our kids so how do we do that when you feel like they are being maligned? What makes it worse is that Asha can’t talk, she can’t tell me what she is feeling, she can’t directly apologize or acknowledge that what she did was wrong. I hope her biting isn’t a habit, it is hard to watch your amazing child physically hurt someone. But it wasn’t on purpose and I know in her heart she wants to express her love, she just needs more tools for that. I am not sure what music class will be like next week but I am not going to worry about what the other moms think. If they don’t want Asha near their kid that is fine, I can’t say I blame them but I also think as a group we can do a better job of helping one another teach our kids and act like a village instead of alienating a toddler for acting like a toddler.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
When you came to interview, you were wearing a perfume that almost kept me from hiring you. I have a thing about scents. For me, an awful lot of things wind up in the “smells bad” column -even things that might hit the “smells good” column for someone else. You smelled floral like my grandmother’s bathroom cabinet. Plus, you seemed shy. And I’m shy. And if we were both shy, how, I wondered, would we ever communicate?
It was important that we communicate because you would be helping me to care for my children. The woman who helped us before you was a super communicator. (Maybe she even over did it from time to time.) She was a big gust of wind and you seemed just a breeze. I thought I would like that, but me, with two kids still in diapers, me with milk leaking out of my breasts, me with the messy kitchen counters and the bare refrigerator, what did I even know?
I hired you because I’m a firm believer in fate. I met your mother-in-law in the Nordstrom shoe department and she seemed nice. She mentioned that she was a nanny and from the way she talked to my daughter, plump and happy in her stroller, I could tell she was a good one. Truthfully, I wanted to hire your mother-in-law, but she was unavailable. So she recommended you and your perfume and timidity were far outweighed by my need for a nap, so we hired you.
My belief in fate was again rewarded because you turned out to be funny and kind and a really good cook. One day you mentioned that you had an aversion to weird smells and I admitted my hesitancy to hire you because of the perfume. You laughed. The perfume had been a gift and you’d worn it only that day before tossing it out.
You were able to get my daughter to take a nap by laying her across your lap and patting her back. My son took to you right away and brought you piles of books to read aloud.
The day that I chopped down the overgrown bushes in our front yard, you said, “Your eyes are so sad. They are like a child’s.” I explained that I was missing my father. That his death, even after more than two years, left a hole. You said that the intensity of my emotions might mean that my father’s spirit was still hanging around. You said he might be missing me, too. You suggested that I leave him a glass of milk. This is what your grandmother believed would comfort the spirits. I thought my dad might find more comfort in a beer, but I took comfort in your kindness.
Your children were beautiful and smart and very, very kind. Your daughters accompanied you when you worked on a rare evening and they showered my children with love. The three of you were so lovely and serene and so filled with love for each other. You brought my kids to your home and cooked them soup, you asked if they could accompany you to the school orchestra concert where your daughter played violin. You and I huddled together, teary eyed, when your oldest girl graduated from eighth grade.
When you told me you would be moving away, I was thrilled for you. Your new house was lovely, the kids would be able to walk to school. But Houston was very far away and that night after you’d gone home, I cried and cried. My husband tried to comfort me. “You’re losing a friend,” he said. And it was true.
Motherhood is lonely and you were great, great company. In those early years, I was uncertain and you had the answers. All the parenting books talk about “modeling” meaning that kids will learn by watching their parents. But who do parents model? You. We should all model you.
When I was sick with bronchitis you brewed this incredibly strong tea composed of honey and lemon and pepper and you told me to drink it while it was still hot. I did as you said and I was flooded with warmth and well-being. I get that same feeling now as I write.
Adapted from a piece on my blog “Dearest You” www.youdearestyou.blogspot.com
By: Meika Rouda
I don’t know if my standards are lower but I find myself wondering if my parenting is “good enough”. When I say that I don’t mean am I striving to be a better parent, reaching for a higher bar, I mean is my parenting, on the lowest level, good enough. Are my kids safe, loved, fed, cared for. Is it OK if they don’t brush their teeth every night or only take a bath every other day. Is it OK that I let my 4-year-old son sometimes watch two movies in a row. Yes in a ROW. That sometimes he persuades me to feed him breakfast for dinner or eat a cookie before bed. That sometimes I don’t make the effort to be the happy, cheery, always positive role model I am supposed to be. That every now and then I count to 30 before I go into the room to comfort my crying daughter, hoping with all hope that during that countdown she will stop crying and go back to sleep. That last week my son had mac and cheese for dinner, then lunch, then dinner, then lunch and then dinner again. Why? Well he asked for it and I didn’t have the energy to fight it, to try and convince him to eat “one bite of chicken” or “broccoli because it makes your eyes brighter.” That good enough parenting is my standard some days and that is OK. I think I am a good parent, not just a good enough parent but actually a good parent most of the time. I have my faults, I don’t discipline well, I am easily coerced into eating sweets and don’t stick to schedules. But I am a full-time mom with two kids under age 4 and it can be difficult to meet everybody’s needs all of the time. This doesn’t include my dog who never gets walked anymore and has easily gained five pounds in the last year, or my husband who has taken to cooking dinner himself because I am not reliable. Usually I eat whatever mac and cheese my son leaves on his plate and end up going to bed at 8:30 with the kids.
It isn’t everyday I stoop to good enough, some days I am fantastic- I think up clever games to get my son to eat all his dinner and do craft projects and play magna-tiles for an hour. I read books and sing songs and take the kids for bike rides. Some days we bake cookies and have dance parties and I don’t get mad at the mess we made. Some days I am the most loving, fun, and patient parent I know. Every now and then my husband comes home to a delicious home cooked dinner and a cheery wife who asks about his day. Every now and then I even run my dog for an hour. I have actually made everything work out perfectly for everyone some days. And while I wish those perfect days were more frequent than they actually are, they do happen. And when they don’t, I am OK settling for good enough because no one has perfect days all the time. Do they?
By: Meika Rouda
I was at Starbucks the other day with my one-year-old daughter. We were sitting in a big brown leather chair together sharing some pumpkin bread. Asha was wearing her chic light pink ruffled trench coat. The kind of coat I would love to have but is only made for babies age 0-2T. She looked adorable and was happily eating her bread while kicking her legs in the big chair. There was a woman sitting at a table across from us reading the NY Times with a large cup of coffee in front of her. She looked like she had been sitting there for awhile, immersed in the ritual of coffee drinking and reading the paper. A ritual I no longer have time to partake in now that I have kids. She looked at me and pointed to Asha and said, “That is the cutest coat I have ever seen!” I agreed with her, the trench coat was ridiculously cute. Then she put down her paper and looked me in the eye. “You know, there have been several moms who have sat in that chair with their kids this morning and you are the first one I have seen not on a cell phone.” Her comment reminded me how often I am one of the moms on my phone at the coffee shop or the park, checking my email as if something urgent is happening when more often than not, nothing is happening. It is almost compulsive, the need to check my phone for communication, like there is an expectation that when you get an email or text you need to respond immediately. How did we get this way? And can we learn to leave our cell phones alone and just enjoy a dinner out, a movie, or a piece of pumpkin bread with our daughter without being distracted by the constant stream of communication coming across our phones?
Asha scooted her body off the big leather chair and stood near the woman. She gave her a wave, unprovoked, something I was glad I was watching because I had never seen her wave before. Who knows, if I were checking my email at that moment I would have missed her first wave. Just being able to relax and enjoy watching her interact with the other people in the coffeeshop was a joy. A joy I am too often distracted to experience and appreciate.
As Asha walked around the room, greeting the coffee drinkers and practicing her wave, smiling at strangers and enjoying the stir her trench coat was making, I made a little promise to myself to keep my phone in my bag and my focus on my children. Emails can wait, texting can wait, and if anything is really urgent, they can call me. I want to be available to my children, to witness the little joys that sharing a piece of pumpkin bread at Starbucks can solicit. Seeing her give her first wave, communicating. Something we are so used to doing with our smartphones that we forget to spend the time doing it in person.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
At 7:45 on Saturday night, I was consumed with missing my children. I pushed myself away from a long wooden table where my plate held the skin and bones of roasted trout, a few grains of brown rice clinging to the remains. My belly was full of organic kale salad, my lungs filled with sea air. My brain was challenged by writing workshops and conversations with strangers and I was full, full to the brim of me with it all.
Still, I missed my kids. Missed my husband.
I walked through the dark with the Milky Way spilling out over my head to a wooden phone booth where I sat on a hard bench and typed in the numbers of my calling card and then the numbers of my home.
The voices of my children brought tears to my eyes. They sounded so young, so small, so far away.
“I ate noodles as tall as me,” my daughter declared.
“I love you,” my son said. “I kicked the winning goal with my left foot.”
I strained to hear their questions.
“Do you like your roommate?” my daughter asked.
“Is the ocean warm?” wondered my son.
I tried to describe the butterflies clustered together for a winter in the trees and the way the chair where I drank my morning coffee seemed to be in the air, on the grass, and in the sea at the same time. I felt drunk with longing for my kids and also so grateful that they were three hundred miles away with their father in Los Angeles and I was here, at the edge of the world, a writer and mother both.