Mothering, Multi-tasking, and Buddha: Part 1

So. It’s been, what, nine months since I last blogged? Nine months. One explanation for the extended radio silence is probably that I’ve been blogging in one place or another since 2004, for chrissake, and it was time for a little sabbatical. The other explanation is that, mentally at any rate, this last year was pretty much the bottom of the barrel, in this Squab’s experience. I have really been struggling, and the horrible, dreary, never-ending winter we had this year sent me into a bit of a tailspin. I mean, man: this was a rough winter. Rough enough that I think it deserves its own special name. Let’s call it the WINTER FROM HELL, shall we? That has an appropriately evil ring to it. So the WINTER FROMĀ  HELL came along and brought with it a fog of depression that simply refused to disperse. Here’s a fun thing about depression and blogging: Just when you could probably benefit most from the support of your lovely blog readers, you’re too fucking tired to write. Or do anything, really, except lie on the couch eating junk food, fending off your children, feeling guilty about fending off your children, and counting the minutes until your partner gets home to cope with things. (See? It’s even depressing to READ about it!)

So. There was depression and the WINTER FROM HELL and lack-of-coping. And then there were anti-depressants and beginning-to-cope. And then there were even more anti-depressants and thawing temperatures, and now we’re coping at basically normal levels, which means there’s still considerable room for improvement but Mr. Squab is no longer responsible for literally every household task and I can look toward the future with reactions other than “meh” or “I cannot DO THIS.”

Except that, actually, I’m trying not to look towards the future so much, because I’m working on living in the moment. And that’s because I’ve had the white over-educated middle-class middle-aged liberal agnostic version of a spiritual awakening. That’s right, folks: I’ve found Buddha. I mean, it’s not like I’d never encountered Buddhism before. There was a family friend who joined a buddhist monastery and would tell funny stories about it, for example. And my acting teacher in college both engaged in and taught a lot of Buddhist and Daoist practices, which for a while I also engaged in regularly. In a mostly uneducated way, I thought Buddhism was “cool,” sort of like yoga and vegetarianism and non-violent protests were “cool.” But it was never something I looked to for spiritual satisfaction.

And then I had kids, and I obscurely felt like I should have some formal approach to their spiritual and moral education, but I couldn’t find anything that felt like the right fit. In past eras I’ve been a practicing Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopalian (not, obviously, at the same time), so I thought of re-entering those communities first. As a child and even through college I was quite firmly christian in my beliefs, if a bit denominationally vague, but since then I’ve gotten more and more agnostic about the whole thing, and attending a christian church seemed like it would tax my sense of moral honesty. In grad school I regularly attended a lovely Unitarian church, which worked in part because you can pretty much believe whatever the hell you want and still be Unitarian. It’s a good haven for the ex-faithful who like the community aspect of religion but are a bit iffy on the dogma. So I thought about checking out my local UU congregation, which would be a handy place of worship (do you worship at a UU church? Seems more like a place of ponder. Or maybe a place of discuss? But I digress), since it’s attended by approximately 65% of my circle of friends. But that didn’t feel quite right either. It looked good on paper, but I couldn’t seem to summon the wherewithal to herd my family there of a Sunday morning. So I let the spiritual education issue slide onto my mental back burner and hummed happily along, until the WINTER FROM HELL hit and suddenly it wasn’t my kids who needed a community of faith so much as it was me, desperate for some kind of spiritual rope to cling to so I wouldn’t drown in my own sea of malaise. (Note to self: Sea of Malaise would be a great name for an Emo band.)

Where was I? Oh, right: drowning. Well, as none of you will probably remember, a couple of years ago I was discussing Asian religions with my kids’ pediatrician, like you do, and he offered up the Zen phrase “expect nothing” as a good mantra for parents of young children. “Expect Nothing” as in, don’t go projecting into the future about what will happen to your children, who they’ll become, how you’ll fail them or not fail them or ANY of it because the truth is, you have no goddamn idea what’s going to happen and thinking about it is just making you crazy. Sort of the Zen version of not borrowing trouble and crossing that bridge when you come to it. This phrase really resonated with me, probably because it’s a concept almost totally foreign to my nature. I expect shit, you know? All kiiiiiiiiiinds of shit. Good shit, bad shit, and every kind of shit in between: I expect it. But I can also really see, especially since I’ve had kids, how much trouble – how much needless trouble – that expectation causes, and how much better off I’d be if I could get a little more Zen. So I started trying to catch myself when the expectation mode kicked in, and remind myself to “Expect Nothing.” Round about the same time, I discovered John Muth’s wonderful children’s book Zen Shorts, about a Zen panda named Stillwater who moves in next door to three kids and becomes a beloved friend and companion. Muth based the book around a series of classic Zen parables, and, like the phrase from our pediatrician, these stories kept coming back to me. You know how people talk about the universe giving you signals? I don’t know if I believe in that, but … looking back, I can also kind of see what they mean.

OK, so fast forward to the WINTER FROM HELL, the struggling, the drowning, etc. In an effort to do something – anything – to claw my way out of the morass, I started meditating now and then. It’s something I used to do semi-regularly in college and grad school, and I thought it might be a way to get some much-needed mental space. Wanting to find techniques for more effective meditation, I dug out some old comparative religion books from school and flipped to the eastern philosophies section. I started getting more and more interested in Buddhism. What was the philosophy? The history? What differentiated the various schools of Buddhism? I approached it like the scholar I’ve been trained to be. I sought out more comparative religion books, bought some Buddhist magazines to see what the contemporary literature was, got some of that literature – I basically went on a Buddhism reading orgy, and y’all: it made a lot of freaking sense. I dunno exactly what it was, but something about the combination of having kids and trying to survive the WINTER FROM HELL made me, like, the perfect receptacle for Buddhist wisdom. Life is suffering? YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT IT IS. Suffering is caused by attachment? I FINALLY GET WHAT THAT MEANS. Suffering can be eliminated? YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW HAPPY THAT MAKES ME. The means of relief is following the teachings of the Buddha? SIGN ME THE FUCK UP!

And that’s where we’ll leave it for tonight. Tune in Friday for Part 2, in which I will actually address the first two-thirds of the post title: Mothering and Multi-tasking.

Heads Up

I think Ima start blogging again. Consider yourself warned.

Kids: they have weird brains

Like a lot of parents, I had certain preconceptions about what my kids would be like that have been … uh, challenged, let’s say, since I had actual kids. As a former “gifted” child and general nerd/brainiac/teacher’s pet, for example, I was sure that my kids would be nothing less than child prodigies – or at the very least, academically and artistically inclined, and certainly above average in those areas. I mean, DUH.

Such arrogance. In reality, of course, my kids – like all kids – are a mixed bag. (Not to mention being so young it’s really difficult to tell what their ultimate strengths and weaknesses will be.) Take the Hatchling. Her verbal skills, as I think I’ve mentioned here before, are not quite in line with her peers – she’s a late bloomer – but she’s been able to catch and throw just about any kind of ball since she was two. She’s pretty iffy on the concept of rhyming (Me: “does ‘cat’ rhyme with ‘dog?'” Hatchling, enthusiastically, “YEAH!!”), but she can memorize songs and movie lines in one or two takes. (Eerily so – it’s not at all unusual for her to incorporate movie lines into regular conversation, which can be unnerving if you don’t catch the reference.) She can only write a few letters, poorly, but she does drawings that are really cool and complex, and put together in a remarkably sophisticated manner for a four-year-old.

Today was another excercise in contrasts. I was trying to teach the Hatchling the classic kid’s game of “I one the sandbox.” You know, from Sesame Street. Ernie starts off with “I one the sandbox,” and Bert goes, “I two the sandbox,” and they keep going until Bert gets to “I eight the sandbox,” and Ernie is all “YOU ATE THE SANDBOX?!?!” and, you know, hilarity ensues. So I’m trying to get the Hatchling to go back and forth with me, numbering the sandboxes, and though she’s been able to count to 20 since she was two or two-and-a-half – a long time – she just could not get the hang of it with the sandbox stuff added. I’d start it off with one, and then I’d say, “what comes after one?” and she’d get flustered and say “Six!” or something, and, then I’d say, “No, you say ‘I TWO the sandbox,'” and she’d go “I 2-3-4-5-6-7” or “I have THREE sandboxes” or something equally off, and finally we just called it quits. We worked a little more this afternoon and evening on what-comes-next games with numbers and letters, so she could practice giving herself time to think, and right before bedtime I thought we’d try the game again. She still got confused by the addition of sandboxes to counting, but we persevered. Finally I got to seven-ing the sandbox. “What comes after seven?” I asked her. She thought about it. “EIGHT!” “Right!” I said. “So I said ‘I seven the sandbox,’ and now YOU say ‘I eight the sandbox.’ She frowned with concentration. “I eight the sandbox.” “YOU ATE THE SANDBOX??!!?” I said, and, y’all: she just about peed her pants with laughing. I mean, it KILLED her with the funny. We had to do it about five more times before she went to bed, and even as I was rocking her sister to sleep I could hear the Hatchling lying in her bed muttering “… ate the sandbox … heheheheheh.”

And this is still kind of crazy to me. She struggles with a simple counting pattern, but a homophone-based pun? THAT she’s right on top of. Which, I dunno, maybe that’s completely normal for a kid her age, but it isn’t what I would have expected going into this. (Though, given her grand-paternal heritage, I probably should have known that punning humor would be her native territory.) And I guess that kind of sums up my entire experience of parenting. None of this is what I expected going into it. Sometimes that really sucks (breastfeeding issues, anyone?). But often, like tonight, it means you spend the evening laughing your face off about eating sandboxes. Which is not a bad way to end the day.

Vacation, eh?

So I can FINALLY tell you that I’m up in Canada this week, a trip that’s been months in the making. My family has a cottage on Lake Erie about an hour north of Buffalo, NY, and every year some portion of us makes the trip for a week or two to enjoy the beach life. The Squab family hasn’t been for the last couple of years, because I don’t know if you know this but toddlers and babies are CRAP travelling companions, but this year Mr. Squab decided it would be fun to surprise my mom by showing up even though she thought we couldn’t make it. So we rented a whole ‘nother cottage (that way we can have a baby-friendly shut-up-at-8pm kind of space and an adult-friendly stay-up-and-drink-and-play-cards kind of space), and rented a van, and loaded it up, and drove out the entire 18 hour trip. With a four-year-old and a one-year-old. I’m not going to lie to you, I was a little out of my mind anxious about it. We took the trip in two days, driving a whopping 13 hours (thanks, rush hour in Chicago) the first day, and a jaunty 5 1/2 hours the second, and I have to say, the kids were total troupers about the whole thing. And it was really, really fun to see the look on Mom’s face when we showed up. It’s a fine line between overwhelmingly surprised and coronary arrest, but we walked it and everyone is good. We’re now ensconsed in our rental cottage with an AMAZING lake view, and the kids have been having the time of their lives playing on the beach. We have absolutely no internet access, so I’m posting this from the public library in town, but I’ll post some pix if I get a chance. Anyway, for all of you whose playdate invitations I’ve ignored, or who’ve moved into new housing with no help and/or housewarming gifts from me, etc, etc, this is why and I’m very sorry. Mom is on Facebook and reads this blog and all so I had to keep it a secret. Right – gotta go hit the beach!

(Lazy) Poetry Blogging

I just really like this one. (And yes, I’ll be posting summaries of Inverness and Edinburgh, as soon as I’m recovered from this damn cold.)

operation:
get down
by Alex Lemon

It is very
Common
To have

A cave within us
To hide

Away in when it all
Seems hopeless. To cry

Tears of mostly blood.

To feed on the day-
Dream in which

Side mirrors shear off
Of your car

As the walled road
Narrows.

To swerve might make

There is a saint for the down
& out. A rock is a rock

Is a rock & redwood
Trees grow out
Of our chests.

It is horrible & right,
Here in this place. Dum

Spiro, spero. We’re all in
This shit together.

The London Bridge is NOT falling down

OK, I can’t upload any pictures, but I thought I’d pop on while we have wifi and wax lyrical about the trip so far. You know, just so you can be maximally jealous. I’m nice like that.

So the plane ride was totally uneventful, except that I’ve apparently lost the ability to sleep on a plane. Which sucks, because I used to pass out pretty much as soon as I’d fastened my seatbelt. I have regularly slept through take-offs that had other passengers using their barf bags, but on this flight … not so much. I blame my kids. Or George Bush. Or possibly that large caffeinated latte I got right before the flight. Anybody’s guess.

Anyhoodle, we made it, crusty but triumphant, to the flat where my Mom has been staying for the last month, where we were greeted with smiles and hugs and extremely large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. This is a good way to be greeted. Once our wine was consumed, we just had time to shower off our travel crud, change into nicer, less wrinkled clothes, and hop on the tube to Covent Garden. Mom had made reservations for pre-theatre dinner at Le Deuxieme restaurant, which is one of those places you dream of going until your bank balance jerks you back into reality. This is reason number one why I loooooooove traveling with my Mom. We ate amazing food (srsly. Unbelievably good lamb curry) and drank more lovely wine and between the alcohol and the jet lag I’m a little surprised they didn’t kick us out for irresponsible giggling. After coffee and dessert, we strolled down to the New London Theatre and saw Warhorse, which was one of the best shows I have seen in years. Really inspiring theatricality, beautiful music, incredible technical effects, moving emotion – just top notch. Also we had wonderful seats, which is reason number two why I loooooooooove traveling with my mom. By the time the show was over, we were like zombies (except for the brain-eating part), so we caught a cab with an awesome driver who told us all about his dog and his grandkids. Stumbled into the flat and passed out cold on our beds.

This morning we slept in and then met a friend at the Tate Modern when it opened at 10, to see their special exhibit on Voyeurism (stopping by St. Paul’s cathedral and the Millenium Bridge on the way). The exhibit was really interesting, but frankly being that hip is damned tiring, so after the Tate and a quick lunch we got our cheesy tourist hats on and went on the guided tour of the Tower of London. Which I am not ashamed to say I freaking love. Cockney Beefeaters telling you all about Elizabethan beheadings? SIGN ME UP. Then we visited the Crown Jewels (bling!), looked in the gift shop (kitsch!), and headed over to the Courtauld Museum, which was our favorite stop today. It’s just a tiny gallery, but it’s completely filled with the good stuff. Monet, Degas, Seurat, Rubens, Van Gogh – just delightful. By the time we were done there, our feet were about to FALL OFF, so we headed back to the flat to rest a little (rest = drink wine), and now we’re headed off to a local Thai restaurant for dinner. Tonight we pack up our stuff and tomorrow morning we’re off to Inverness! So far it’s been superlatively fabulous, which is good, because I miss Mr. Squab, the Hatchling and the Sprout like crazy so this trip has to be good enough to make that worthwhile. Not sure what our internet situation will be in Scotland, but I’ll update again when I can. Ta!

‘Allo, ‘allo

So have I mentioned that I’m going to London and Scotland for the next 10 days?

Oh, I’m sorry – what? Where the hell have I been? I should let a person know if I’m going to be gone that long? This relationship is a two way street?

Geez, I know. What can I say? Life happens, and lately I’ve been either cleaning the damn house or saying fuck it and napping rather than blogging. Now do you wanna hear about the trip or what?

OK. So, about five years ago (maybe longer), my mom took me and my next youngest sister on a trip to Italy. She just got it in her head that she wanted to go, and she had the means to take us, and so we went. Visited Bellagio, Venice, and Florence over the course of 10 days, and discovered that we travel extremely well together. It was a total blast, and ever since then we’ve been trying to figure out a way to do it again in a different locale. But, you know, I had two kids, and my sister had a kid and between that and jobs and other life-related-crap it kept getting pushed to the back burner. But now the kids are old enough to leave them for a little while with their fathers, and their fathers are insane nice enough to take their own vacation time to watch the kids, and Mom is once again flush enough and Lady Bountiful enough to foot the bill, so: voila! UK, here we come. Sis and I will fly into London, where we’ll meet up with Mom, who’s been there teaching for the last month. We’ll do a few days in London, then fly up to Inverness and explore the highlands for a few days, then train it to Edinburgh for another few days, then fly back to Heathrow to get back home. Emotions I am currently experiencing:

  1. Gratitude that I have such a lovely mother and such an extremely lovely husband.
  2. Queasiness at how much I’ll miss my girls while I’m gone. Oh, man. Really going to miss them. Despite their best efforts this week to ensure that I feel no qualms about leaving them with their father/friends/neighbors/gypsies/whoever will take them off my hands.
  3. Excitement to get that passport working – it’s been too long.
  4. Fear that my MomBrain will make me forget to pack something crucial. Like my camera. Or my sanity.
  5. Hope that I can still sleep on planes, because I may not be able to sleep until then.

Anyway. Wish me good travel tomorrow night tonight (I gotta go to bed …). I’ll post travel notes while I’m there if I can. And please send good vibes to Mr. Squab – I’m hoping he’ll still want to BE Mr. Squab when I get back.

The Book of Love

I’ve been listening to the latest Peter Gabriel album a little obssessively lately – for whatever reason, it’s the music I need to hear right now – and my current favorite track is his cover of The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love.” I really wish I had known about this song before I got married, because it definitely would have figured in the playlist for the ceremony or the reception. I just lovelovelove the lyrics and the music is beautiful, too. Have a listen:

More fun with parenting failure

You know that parenting trick where your kid is bugging and bugging and BUGGING you for a sip of your non-kid beverage so you let them have one little sip just to show them that they don’t like it so they’ll stop bugging you? Yeah. Beverages with which this has NOT worked on the Sprout:

  1. Beer
  2. Coke

Srsly. She looooooooooved them. Got about three good swigs of the Summit Pale Ale before Mr. Squab could get the bottle from her. Same thing with the Coca-cola. I’m not even going to *offer* her my coffee.

I’m actually surprised this hasn’t happened sooner

This last weekend, we’re all sitting in the girls’ room getting dressed in the morning, and the girls are doing their usual early-morning goofy thing making faces and noises at each other and laughing at the results. It’s pretty awesome, and at one point the Hatchling looks over at me, mid-laugh, and says, “That Sylvia is pretty damn funny!”

“WHAT did you just say?” I ask, unsuccessfully suppressing my giggles.

“That Sylvia is pretty damn funny, Mama!” responded the Hatchling, totally unaware that she might be saying anything at all inappropriate.

We decided just to ignore it. You know: Parenting for Cowards. And really – she IS pretty damn funny.