Parenting journal: Two years out

I’ve been feeling really good lately. As angsty and depressed and questioning as I felt in December (and, of course, earlier in 2017 and certainly in late 2016), I’ve been feeling confident and joyful and sure in the past couple of months. I don’t know if this is just the inevitable up to those downs but I WILL TAKE IT.

A sketch of my internal voices, both now and then

Doodle showing various supportive and anxious voices in my head

Some things that have been happening with me:

I started meal planning in January. I have always loathed the idea of meal planning, as I tend toward spontaneity (in general, but most especially when it comes to food). But I read a really wonderful (and long) blog post about the importance of planning meals for the person you are, with the kind of food you want to eat — as opposed to the kind of person you wish you could be, making the sort of food you think you should eat — and somehow that just turned the whole concept around for me. I guess that post got me started thinking of meal planning as something I might actually like to do, rather than something that could only appeal to obnoxiously responsible and health-conscious people who don’t take the kind of pleasure in food that I do. There was a bit of a learning curve, as I overcommitted myself or bought the wrong quantities of food or what have you, but I’ve been doing it for two months now and it has been an incredibly good experience. We eat much better, there’s much less “what should we eat”-related stress, we are probably spending less money on food, and I seem to be happier and have more energy.

A collapsed David Eyre's pancake, with apple slices

Near the end of February, I colored my hair (well, my stylist did, with my input). Two shades of red and two of purple, applied selectively (not over my whole head). This is something I have wanted to do for at least a decade, but I’ve never had the nerve. I didn’t think I would not like it but I had no idea I would love it this much. I think it may actually be changing my behavior. The purple has faded already, only a few weeks out, but now it’s kind of shimmery and green and blue and I’m okay with that.

right after getting the color put in

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I’m doing a lot more movement these days. Dance classes and a little bit of other stuff too. I said the meal planning is making me happier and more energetic, but it’s undoubtedly the movement too. I feel vital these days in a way I didn’t for so many months. I’m reminded that my body likes to move, it likes to work hard, it likes to explore and play and test what it can do. (My body also likes to rest and be sedentary and make space for my mind to do what it wants, so I’ve lived most of my life with this inner narrative of “I’m not much of a mover; my body doesn’t do much” and a sense of my body as weak, slow, fragile. It took some time for my adult self to unlearn this, and now that my postpartum body is so different, I’m learning it all over again.) It feels a little easier these days to just celebrate and enjoy my body for what it is, rather than comparing it to people who are younger, thinner, faster, stronger, more practiced, more flexible. Really, what is the point of comparing my body to others’? I’m never getting anyone else’s body. I’m getting this one. 

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I feel incredibly beautiful these days, but it’s not that I got more beautiful. It’s just that, without noticing this was happening, I changed my definition of beauty — changed it in a way that would perhaps be unrecognizable (and undesirable) to my former self.

seven years ago, versus now

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I’m older now of course, and definitely fatter, but also, maybe, less feminine, more weird, less conscious of how I look but much more attentive to how I feel. It’s a happy place to be. Sometimes I definitely still look at myself with my old eyes and think, “How unattractive you look,” but then it’s as if I can overlay my new perspective on top and see, “Oh, but how much more powerful.” And the younger me, maybe, wouldn’t even know how to see that kind of power.

Last week I had a startling and sudden realization that I could be a lot more extra if I let myself.* It’s not exactly a surprising realization, because I was often told off as a kid for getting carried away, being too much, saying too much and the wrong thing. So I always knew I had that in me. I guess, over the years, I internalized this as undesirable. I became very responsible and self-conscious and dignified, or at least I aspired to be. It’s funny because there have been several times in my adult life when I thought I had finally learned not to be so uptight and I figured I’d unbent as much as I was ever going to, but as a dear friend pointed out on Facebook, there is always more extra to be found. I want to let that side of myself come out more, colorful hair, random bursting into song, turning everyday movements into dance moves, and all.

iPad self-portrait I made awkwardly using my phone camera on “selfie” mode because I didn’t have a mirror handy!

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I’ve been thinking a lot, these past months, about the unhelpful voice in my head (my wonderful friend Stacie named hers La Impostora; I feel like I had a name for mine but now I’m not sure what it was; maybe I should just call her That Fucking Liar). At the end of January I actually sat down and made a list of all the things she likes to say to me, and then I went through point-by-point and refuted everything. As I wrote it out I got more and more angry, and more convinced that her comments are not just “critical” (which is what I might have called them before) but actually terrible, abusive, and horrible. I wouldn’t say she’s gone away since I did that, but I’ve gotten much faster and more confident about cutting her off when she starts talking. Now that I know I don’t believe her, it feels more straightforward to just look her in the eye and say, “Hey. You tell lies,” and then she loses most of her power. (I’m sure she’ll regroup and come back stronger, but every victory teaches me something.) It’s weird, I mean, why did this take until I was 36?! What did I need to learn before I could do this?! 

What’s been happening with Owl:

About a month ago, as Owl got closer to her second birthday, I saw an abrupt and noticeable change in her behavior. Her vocabulary expanded daily, and she started making sentences basically overnight. After almost a year of taking music classes, she began to request songs, and then to sing them (not that they’re exactly recognizable as music, yet). And she began to throw tantrums when she couldn’t get what she wanted. Mild outbursts, compared to some kids, but they’re super-mega-meltdowns compared to her previous behavior. We are at a newborn pace of rapid development, so Erik and I have had to speed up our own evolution as parents, just to keep up. And she knows and sees everything we’re doing, so we really have to watch ourselves. 

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I don’t think it’s coincidence that I’ve been growing and changing and becoming more confident in these months around Owl’s second birthday. I’ve really been startled by how much of toddler parenting translates to being a person in general, and how much I’m learning about myself and about relationships by dealing with this one in particular, so intimate and so inescapable. I have had to learn things about boundaries that I never needed in the 35 years before this. I have had to learn to communicate more urgently, clearly, frequently, openly. In a lot of ways it has been easy to parent her but a hell of a lot harder to treat myself with the same respect, gentleness, and consideration. As they say: you don’t really understand something until you teach it.

I had a whole other section about what I’ve been up to, creatively, but I think that can be a different post. I’ll leave you with this, which I wrote in my journal in early February:

It’s like my pre-child life was a train in motion. When Owl was born, the train didn’t derail; that implies violence, crashing, casualties. (Some people’s trains derail.) It’s more like the train got suspended in midair while the tracks disappeared and then the terrain underneath changed. I had to figure out how to lay new track, and to do that, I had to map the terrain. I was lucky; I had emotional and financial resources that gave me time to do the mapping. A lot of people don’t; it’s more urgent that they keep moving, so they’re just laying track down as they go. Their danger is that in ten or twenty years they’ll look at where they ended up and go, how the fuck did I get here? And my danger is that I won’t put track down fast enough to keep up with the terrain — because of course it’s still changing — and will find in five or ten or twenty years that I haven’t really moved at all. 

Now, a month later, I feel that I’m in motion.

 

*I’m fond of this usage of extra, but if you haven’t heard it before, think of it as being short for extravagant — except with personality/behavior rather than money.

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