Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Horizons and Sweet Dreams.

The horizon is on fire, a broad stroke of copper as though it was painted by a fat horsehair brush, a layer of lemon water seeping up above it and into a cobalt sky. I look out the little window to the false ground below, waves of clouds like raw cotton gently rolling below. I am suspended above the earth, literally and figuratively, anxiously awaiting the exact breath of time when I will hold my babies in my arms and kiss fat apricot cheeks. I know it's soon, and nature is celebrating with me, lit across a wide horizon.


Rohan fell asleep on the way to the airport, a blessing in disguise since it made saying good-bye a one sided adventure and I was the only one shedding tears. But first I opened Luca's door and leaned in, tears defiantly escaping down my cheeks. I kissed her cheeks and forehead and lips and hands and told her I loved her, and she put her hands over my closed eyelids, catching the tears and telling me not to cry. It makes me cry harder, and I look at her and see two fat little tears in the corners of her eyes and she smiles and says, "Oh! You're crying mama? It's ok. You're coming back." She is a little sage one, full of compassion and sweetness, but practicality as well. She's mine.


On the plane, there is a 3 year old in my seat, and it's not the 3 year old I know and love. Confused for a minute, I sputter something about that being my spot, and her mom asks me sweetly if I wouldn't mind switching rows and sitting in her seat, on the aisle behind her. I don't mind the seat switch, but it turns out I do mind just about everything else about that 3 year old's mom.

It's clearly naptime, and 3 year old is clearly tired and bored and a little bit wild. And mom? Mom is a monster. I make this decision early on in the flight, and while I do some self-talk and try to remind my ego that I'm not perfect and I should not judge, 2.5 hours and thousands of miles later I have judged plenty. The ride is spent with 3 year old acting...well...3. Whining and saying she does not want to nap and being restless. And at every turn, mom is reminding her of one thing she apparently holds as Truth: YOU ARE A BAD GIRL.

Little one cries about the changing air pressure; mom says, "Stop it. BE QUIET. You are SO BAD." Little one shifts in her seat and then starts to kick the seat in front of her; mom says, "Stop. Stop. Stop! I said STOP! YOU ARE A BAD GIRL. I can't BELIEVE HOW BAD YOU ARE." She whines; She belittles in return. A constant dialogue of 3 year old acting 3 met by rebuttals of mom reinforcing that she is BAD.

When I hear it at last, I am both not surprised in the least and completely repulsed and sad to the core. She spanks her 1, 2, 3 swats and this girl my daughter's age cries. It's a cry of shock and maybe pain, but also a cry of a tired 3 year old who is bored senseless and shamed by her mother. I have to leave my seat, pretending to use the restroom at the back of the plane so my angry tears don't show. I know this is not my business. I know that parents spank their kids and sometimes we all loose our cool. But this hitting...this monkey the final insult to that girl who seems to want nothing more than a little entertainment on a long, boring flight. And despite the fact my rational mind knows better, my brain goes there: I am taking it personally. Because my 3 year old acts like a drunken frat boy sometimes too, and I don't color her flesh with angry hands. Because the toddler antics are annoying, but this mother's ineptitude at handling the situation makes me want to smack her. Because a 3 year old does not need to be told SHE IS BAD. Because I would give anything to be battling the will of the toddler on a plane right now instead of leaving my heart in Phoenix for 2 nights, and she is not, in my judgment, being a good mom.

Rational brain: This has nothing to do with you. Maybe this girl is always this out of control and mom's at the end of her rope. Maybe mom is sick, or tired, or in a bad place in life. Maybe she needs your compassion.

Emotional brain: How dare that evil wench hit her kid 5 feet from me, while I just tore myself away from my own kid an hour ago!

It's not about me, and yet it makes me sick to the core.


I walked to the other side, opened the door on my sleeping cherub, and leaned in. Half-expecting him to wake from the car stopping and the door opening, I am surprised to be kissing closed eyelids. One hundred or more kisses I rain on his cheeks, nose, chin, and lashes, 100 times I must whisper "I love you. I love you SO much. I love you."


On the ramp to the plane, the guy in front of me removes his backpack and slings it in front of him, revealing a shirt unlike any I've ever seen. Across his back, in big red letters, I read:

I am surprised, I think, by the bold grossness of this, and I'm not a prude. He's not 15. He's not 19. He's probably not even 24. This Ass and Titties man must be about 30. And I can't stop staring at his shirt. We board the plane and are standing in First Class when I hear a stewardess spot his shirt.

"That man's shirt says Ass and Titties," she loudly tells a co-worker. "I can't believe---I---ass and titties. I won't be serving him."

I turn around and catch her eye, smile, and turn back around.

When the drink cart comes, I see her avoid his eyes. And then, when she gets to my row, she winks.


By the time the plane has landed in Portland and I've boarded the MAX, I can't shake the feeling that's sinking into my bones: I should have stayed home. Ass and Titties. Spanking kids on planes. It's fucking depressing, man, and my optimism about humanity is feeling a bit clouded.

The MAX makes a few stops, and a woman and her elderly mother board at the same time as a teen mom and her 2 year old. Elderly mother is pulling herself up the stairs by where I sit when the lightrail lurches to a start. Mother tips a bit, and like a soccer mom my arm shoots out without thinking to support her back. Elderly mother is oblivious, but her daughter who must be at least 45 or 50 catches my hand and mouths, "Thank you." I smile.

Teen mom is blocking her toddler, who is crawling around on the floor howling like a wild animal, from trying to run head first into the doors. Howl. Crawl. Howl. Crawl. Teen mom pulls and iPod from her pocket and begins to unravel ear buds. I feel another of my nerves unravel in tandem.

Suddenly, the woman whose elderly mother almost fell gets up from her seat in front of me and approaches the mom and her toddler. I feel my body tense, wondering if she is going to say what I know we're all thinking: "Hey little girl, get your iPod out of your hands and pay attention to your kid!"

Instead, she crouches to the toddler's level, smiles sweetly, and says, "Ask your mom if I can give these to you." Her hand unfolds, revealing two Rolos in gold wrappers. Mom nods, completely not engaged in the process. Toddler greedily grabs the Rolos.

I wait for the woman to walk away, but instead, she stays there, at the toddler's level, and asks her what her name is. Toddler looks at mom and mom nods. Toddler answers, "Enselma." Woman says to her, "Well, Enselma, those candies are only for pretty little girls, and you can't be a pretty little girl if you're not smiling. Could you please smile for me."

Toddler smiles.

I want to cry. This little act of mercy and kindness has caused a palpable change in the lightrail car. I can see it in the relaxed postures of the people who were thinking just what I was when teen mom and howling toddler entered the train. A simple act of grace and kindness changed the whole universe within that train car.


"Being a mom? It's got to be so HARD, right?" she asks me. We're 3 beers (her) 2 hard ciders (me) and 16 conversation tracks into the evening. I nod in enthusiastic agreement, but then I qualify it. I tell her that I don't know what to tell her because inevitably whatever I say will make me sound like a braggart or a faker or both. I tell her that without exception parenting is a hard job. But it's rewarding and amazing. It makes you question your values, your beliefs, who you once thought you were versus who you are when scrubbed down to the most base version of yourself after a sleep-deprived night of endless breastfeeding and rocking and crying (for you and for baby) when you have to face another day and act human. It opens your heart. It ages you. It makes you love and laugh and worry and cry and hope and wish and dream like you may not have ever allowed yourself to do before.

The hardest work of parenting, I posit to her question, is the work of seeing who you become and reconciling that with who you once thought you were. The work of parenting is being true to you. Staying genuine. And yet, letting this little soul with the bright eyes and the sweet cheeks rip your world open and challenge your perceptions.

Is it hard? Yes. No. Sometimes.

But if you asked me, any day of the week (even those early days when sleep was a cruel tease and hormones were running me ragged) what the first word was that came to my mind about being a parent, 'hard work' wouldn't even make the list. It's not easy. It's not hard. It's not play. It's not work. It just is.


In the biggest twist of irony to hit my life in recent memory, I walked out from under a crystal clear azure sky in Portland and into the airport, where I was notified that the Phoenix airport was temporarily closed due to inclement weather. Heavy rains, strong winds, and an electric storm were forcing my plane to leave an hour late, which meant I wouldn't be home until well past bedtime for the resident lovebugs.

I called home to let Darrick know, saying I'd have my mom pick me up instead. Luca got on the phone and I told her the news, choking back tears. I'd spent two nights eager to tuck sweet warm bodies into their beds and I was missing it for a third night in a row. She was sad too, but I promised to rain 100 kisses on her as soon as I came home. I asked her what she was going to dream about tonight, a question I must have asked her on few dozen nights before, and she tells me she's not sure, but I can meet her there, in her dreams. I promise her I will.

When I hung up the phone, a woman sitting nearby with her 11 month old girl smiled at me. We started to talk about those things moms find in common even in an airport while waiting for a flight. Breastfeeding. Birth. The guilt over letting her baby eat french fries. She asked about my kids, and I told her their names and ages and she said to me, "I can tell by the way you say their names that you're a happy mom."

When I left to board the plane, I thanked her for the baby fix because it had made the wait to see my own loves easier. And I thought to myself that if she lived in Arizona we would have been friends.


His breath was deep and slow. His cheeks were warm, but his nose was cold. He slept soundly, a happy kid who feels safe and loved in his world, while I kissed him and whispered, "I love you SO much."

She was curled in my place in bed, having long-ago kicked off the blanket. Her blonde hair was wild, her cheeks flushed with sweet dreams. I kissed her gently, swept her hair from her forehead, and told her I hoped she had room for me to join her in those sweet dreams.


Suzie @ cupcake monkey said...

I adore this post, Katie. What a perfect way to start my day! Your writing is such a treat.

ok...that mom and the ass and titties??? Oh my dear lord. The story of that mom reminds me of something I heard that I will never forget. We were at the beach on vacation and were at a little gift shop. There was a mom and her about three-year-old child. He wanted something...they were at a freakin' gift shop...who doesn't want something?? She yelled at him and told him, "You make everything unenjoyable." I got teary-eyed. It was horrible and made me want to scoop him up, hug him, and buy him whatever he wanted.
Ugh..anyway...I love this post. :) Glad you are home.

Muffin Cake said...

Thanks, Suzie. :)

Yeah, there were other things she said, like when she told her daughter, "You make flying a nightmare. I can't believe how rotten you are." It took all my self control to not scoop up that girl and just hold her. :(

Sharon said...

Kate - I know I've told you this at least 534349 times, but I adore reading your blog. It's one of the few that I read that I have to click on immediately when I see a new blog.

This blog was so sweet and touching. And I just wanted to let you know that I shared part of this blog with my best friend (we have talked about parenthood - she's not a mom yet - and another friend of ours has basically only discussed the negative aspects of it and how hard it is, and tried to discourage her from it). For a long time, she wasn't really ready to have kids, but I know that now she is. Anyway, I have tried so hard to explain to her that yes, parenthood is hard, but also amazing and unequal to anything I have ever experienced. And how yes, you give up a lot, but when you do, you don't really care. It's like - stuff that was a big part of your life either stays in your life if it mattered enough (maybe changed, but there), or you realize that it wasn't as important as you thought.

Anyway, I just copied your conversation to your co-worker regarding parenthood and sent it to her in an e-mail. I hope that is ok (I told her where it came from). But it was just the perfect explanation that I have been trying to say for awhile now.

Your blog is always a reminder to me of how lucky I am to be a mom to my sweet girl. Thank you for that.

P.S. That mom made me angry and also made me want to cry for her little toddler. I really hope it's not always like that, and I know that everyone looses their cool at some point or another, but things like "I can't believe how rotton you are" and telling her how bad she is - breaks my heart. =(

Muffin Cake said...

Sharon, you're too sweet! I am sure you've done an amazing job explaining the joys and challenges of mommyhood! But you can feel free to share whenever. If my shmoopy ramblings help someone else see into another lifestyle, I'm happy. :)


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