Motherhood and Waiting: anticipatory preparation

I wake like this every morning: the first sounds I hear are my seven-year-old’s footsteps in the hallway as he makes his way to our room. He jumps on me, sharp elbows in my ribs, head butting against my chest, my chin, my nose. Then he settles and we breathe quietly under the covers together, his sweet, warm breath on my neck. I stroke his hair, kiss his forehead, rub the small of his back.

“Some day,” I tell him, “you will not want to cuddle with me anymore. And when I’ll want to hug and kiss you, you’ll say ‘Eww, Mom, leave me alone, that’s so gross!’”

Sam laughs. He’s heard this before. “No, mama! I will always want to kiss you.”

*

I wait for the time when I am not going to be kissed anymore. I know it will happen, this separation, in tiny, sharp increments. None of it is unexpected but still, every tiny tear in our bond is a shock to the system.

Right now?

So soon?

I am not ready.

Read the full essay on Motherwell

Smoking

smokingWe are walking to the metro when the three boys stop us. I say “boys,” but really, they are young men, in their early twenties. They are looking for an Italian place in the neighborhood that does takeout. They speak English with an accent—Dutch, maybe German?—and we point them in the right direction. As my cousin explains which way they need to go, I marvel at how cool this is—that in the middle of Budapest three boys can stop two women and expect that they will speak English.

My cousin and I look at each other as they walk away and we burst into laughter. We both nod towards the boy we find cutest with his long, blond hair, and that careless, exotic accent. We laugh, because not that long ago—20, 25 years?—we would have walked with these boys to the Italian place. They would have asked us to walk with them. We would have told them about our city and my cousin would have known about the popular clubs and we would have gone there to drink cheap wine and Coke and hope for a kiss in some dark corner.

Read the full story on Rum Punch Press

This is your crappy childhood

This is how I imagined my son’s childhood when he was just a twinkle in my eye: we live in a big house with a huge yard, maybe a pool. There’s family around us, lots of family. He has two younger siblings. He rides his bike with the neighborhood kids and likes school well enough. He is easygoing and adventurous. In the evenings he hides under his blanket with a flashlight to read history books until it’s way past his bedtime. Everyone’s healthy.

Here is the reality: Sam is an only child. His father is in frail health. He had a heart attack when he was 39 and we worry that he has passed on to our son a serious form of rheumatoid arthritis that makes his shoulders slope, his joints stiff and sensitive to weather changes. We have a small family and we live far away from most of them. We are about to move into a condo, with no yard, no pool, so that we don’t have to worry about maintenance. The neighborhood kids leave him out of football games and call him a baby when he gets upset. He is afraid to ride his bike. He struggles with anxiety at school and bad dreams keep him up at night.

My latest on Motherwell Magazine

Writing with Sam

DSC_0017It was a throwaway assignment. The teacher even told the kids that they didn’t have to complete it over winter break if they didn’t feel like it. And so that left me to decide whether I thought it was worth the hassle, the haggle, the headache of getting my kindergartener to sit down and write in his journal.

Each page the teacher sent home had a title—Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Family Time—with a cheerful drawing at the top, a space for the kids to draw, then solid and dotted lines on the rest of the page to guide upper- and lower-case letters.

Sam had just started to write by himself a few weeks earlier. I caught him sounding out words—slow and drawn-out like an old record player—as he was drawing and labeling a diagram of the Titanic.

Somehow I was always excited about or expecting reading to come first, to be the first big, thrilling achievement. Writing was sort of subsidiary, right before math.

I have no idea why I thought that.

Read the rest of the essay on Literary Mama

A Year of Revisiting Old Loves

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It is so easy to get into a rut. The toenail clipping, burping, morning-breath kind of rut of busy days and exhausted evenings. The no-sex rut, the no-talking rut, the not-holding-hands rut follow quickly behind. It doesn’t take long to get there—not as long as you’d like to think.

I am sort of baffled by this. I married for love. I married for great sex. For friendship. For a deep connection. We were mature and intelligent and in love. Isn’t that all you need?

But now it all seems muddled and not so easy. I feel like it’s unfair, because I can’t even put a finger on that nagging feeling between us. It’s everything. It’s nothing. I remember that sweet tingle, the antsy anticipation, the burning lust.  But now love just feels like a promise we made a long, long time ago that we’ll stick with this, even when it’s so, so hard. And it’s hard on most days.

So we work at it, because that’s what we are supposed to do—and because we want to. I buy the lingerie and wear makeup and we schedule date nights. But it all feels forced and not like the real thing. So we settle into that feeling—that the real thing will never be ours again. And I start to wonder: would it be different with someone else? With the young men I knew way back when? Are they still sweet and caring and romantic? Are they still funny and horny?  Am I? Or is it inevitable that we are all tired and comfortable and settled into life with soft bellies and graying hair?

***
It is a bit of a joke between us. Drew likes to tease me about “my men”—all of the former lovers I still stay in touch with and talk to on a regular basis. I have to admit—I ask a lot from my husband to understand and tolerate these connections. I didn’t end up marrying these men, but I easily could have. Time and circumstances made these relationships fizzle and go from romantic affairs to occasional friendships.

But still, there’s something there. Love doesn’t just disappear into thin air. It doesn’t just leave the heart on command—that’s not how it works. Little bits and pieces of love linger. What do you do with that love when you are only supposed to be in love with one person?

Read the full essay on The Manifest-Station

Now That I’m a Mother, I Want Things

Monika Olszewska / iStock

Monika Olszewska / iStock

I never really wanted anything in life.

Not really, not passionately. Maybe I wanted a new Barbie doll when I was a child, or wanted to stay up later to watch TV, or wanted to skip school, or stay out longer with my boyfriend. I “wanted” to be a stewardess and an Egyptologist, but only with a child’s understanding of what those things are. But I never really felt a drive to be something. I was never drawn to a profession, or a certain kind of life, or felt a calling. I wanted things that were easy, that weren’t risky, that didn’t call any attention to me.

I used to drive my mother crazy by saying “it doesn’t matter” or “whatever” to everything: where I went to college, what I studied, where we went for dinner, where I got married, the color of the napkins at the wedding reception. “It all matters,” she would say, and I would just roll my eyes. Saying “it doesn’t matter” made me look cool, easy, flexible, I thought. And I was, sure. But I also allowed decisions to be made for me—by life, by circumstances, by the people around me. I moved, gave up graduate school, bought cars and houses with that attitude, and while they all sort of worked out in the end, my cool indifference made me feel powerless.

And then I had a baby. I hate to admit it, but initially even that decision was sort of “meh” for me. I don’t remember an overwhelming urge to become a mother—it just seemed like the next logical thing to do.

Read the full story on Scary Mommy