Reasonable Question

“Mommy, you know how you don’t love Daddy anymore…I mean, not that you don’t love him or not that you don’t like him, but you know how he makes you sad when he yells at you? Well, do we have to have two camp sites when we go camping?”

blink blink blink

blink.

“Well, honey, some day we probably will have two camp sites. And that might be fun because Daddy will cook on his campfire and I will cook on my campfire, and you can choose which campfire dinner to eat. And you can even choose to eat both!”

“Yeah!”

“For now, we still share a campsite. And we’re a family, even if we live in two houses or have two campsites.”

“And even if we have two marshmallow fires, right?”

“Yeah, Butterbean. Even then. It sounds pretty good to me to have two marshmallow fires.”

“Me, too.”

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But it doesn’t sound good to me. It sounds like what we have to do, to be civil and keep the best of what we have to offer the kids, but I’m lying to my son when I say it sounds good to have two marshmallow fires. It sounds like a waste of wood and excessive pollution and too much work. Two campfires sounds to me like the acrid smell that won’t wash out of my hair for two days isn’t even my smell; it belongs, in part, to someone else and it follows me around for the better part of the week, surprising me with an acid taste in my mouth each time I move my head quickly.

Everyone all together was my hope for their childhoods and for my marriage. I don’t want to offer them two homes instead of one, and I don’t want to pay two rentsĀ  instead of one. But that’s our reality. Together, Spouse and I fight. Apart we are much kinder. And I’m not going to rehash here the time honored “but they’re happier now and you’re happier now and sometimes marriages just don’t work but you’re doing a great job of making them feel loved even though clearly you made bad choices and probably shouldn’t even be allowed to have children because you’re so bad at decision making” cycle of self loathing some divorced parents go through. Okay, that I go through.

I will say that it’s uncomfortably hard to tell my kids they can’t have the comfort of having everyone who loves them sleep in one house. Or that we can’t split the team and play man-to-man at book-reading time. Instead, there are really only groups of three, and they have to learn to get a lot less solo attention. They’re the center of a Venn diagram, and one of the adults is generally shut out.

What killed me about the campsite question is that he knows there aren’t easy words to put to the situation: it’s not a lack of love or a lack of like…it’s a dynamic between two people who bring out each other’s worst. And they saw it. We were two people treating each other like adversaries instead of partners. And my children felt it. They treat each other like adversaries, too. I feel the guilt of that hourly.

But now they see that two adults can choose to stop being a bad pair and become better people alone. That people can choose to examine their problems and find a solution. A kind solution. A gentle solution. An unwanted but necessary solution.

Later this month I’m giving a talk on finding your blog voice. And staying true to my own writing voice has meant being honest. I don’t blog so I can put on a mask and pretend. For that I have theater. But a blog voice also means permanence and not writing something I’ll regret and want to delete years later. A blog voice means addressing the pain but knowing that just beyond the empathetic friends and sympathetic readers is a future employer who might read this as part of a decision-making process. So being honest and being forever is challenging in transitions like a divorce. I have to talk about solutions but not really explain the problem. I’m not here to air my marriage and its failings. I’m not going to degrade my co-parent in a public forum. And I can’t be here in full therapy mode. That’s not me hiding the truth. But it’s not me being completely frank, either. I’m not comfortable here, right in between a rock and a brick wall.

This blog is where I tell my stories, and aching for my kids that their family seems incomplete, no matter how we configure it, is my story right now. I want to tell that story. Carefully.

Thankfully, my sons’ version of this story is a delightful revisionist world in which they get double marshmallows.

Maybe they’ll share with you.

 

photo credit: John Morgan via creative commons

photo credit: John Morgan via creative commons

 

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How Parenting is Like Camping

All the parents who hate the dirt, bugs, and lack of showers implicit in camping already know from the title why having children is like camping. Dirt. Bugs. Lack of showers.

But I feel the need to expand a bit more for those who have not experienced the wilderness joys of small children.

1. If it’s not locked up, wild things will eat it.
My toddler climbing the fridge to eat what’s in the freezer = your teen eating a week’s worth of groceries in one sitting = bears. They all need it, they all want it, and they all *will* get it unless it’s properly stored.

2. You’ll be surprised at the end of a day how much dirt can get on one person.

3. Rain is the least of your worries.

4. You will learn to handle bugs. Don’t care if you like ’em or hate ’em. Children and camping are both inextricably linked with bugs.

4. People tend to plan for the first day (year) and forget to brace for the third. If this blog teaches you nothing else, let it be that Year (day) Three is the hardest.

5. Someone won’t like the food.

6. You’ll get less sleep than you think.
Nope. Even less than that.

7. The fun is exhausting. So are the frustrations. So is the worrying.

8. You can never have too many washcloths.

9. When you forget sunscreen or bug spray, bad things happen.

10. No matter how prepared you are, you’ll forget at least one thing.

11. No matter how many times you’ve done this, at least one really obvious thing will surprise you.

12. Good luck using the phone, shower, or bed.

13. It will be your most ____________ experience ever.
(You fill in the blank. Rewarding? Amazing? Annoying? Memorable? Frustrating? Give me a status update on your camping or parenting below.)

Your baby or your life: wilderness edition

The family and I went camping and as we checked in heard the same dire warnings that we’d heard before: our local bear problems mean lock up every single thing that smells like food. Not in your car, because they’ll claw it apart. Not in your tent because that’s like gift wrap to a bear. If your kids spill, change their clothes and store them in the bear locker. If you have a chance, vacuum out the carseats before you enter the park.

On and on. Lip balm will draw them. A closed can of soda in a car will draw them. Referring to your unsightly waistline as a muffin top will draw them…okay, not that last one. But close.

So we always heed the warnings. Spouse and I watch the kids carefully and pick up every crumb they drop. We put dirty clothes and washcloths in the bear box. We store the bug spray and sunscreen and lip balm in the bear box. We even lock up the backpacks that might have at one time had a cracker in them.

And on night three it occurred to me: I’m still lactating.

I think Butter has weaned. He went from nursing before bed every night to several nights a week to a couple of times a week to forgetting for two weeks to forgetting again for…I think it’s been a month now. I’m a child-led weaning sort, and I don’t offer, don’t refuse. And he’s a toddler, so he’s busy and he forgets and…

What if a bear can smell that you make milk for months after weaning? I’m not kidding. Tiny babies can smell if mama is in the room. Bears are about seven billion times better at smelling.

When my first child was born we visited a wonderful friend. My four-months’ pregnant friend held my four-month-old baby, who took about two minutes before he opened wide and went right for her fully clothed breast. Made a hilarious (or mortifying, depending on whom you ask) wet circle on her shirt.

Because he could smell that her milk had just come in (at about 20 weeks).

If my four-month-old can smell milk through several layers of clothes and unused milk-delivery system, I’m guessing that a bear can smell me through the single-layer-mesh tent windows better than that closed soda in that closed car.

And riddle me this, readers: What week of the month do you think we happened to be camping? I was surprised to find (on day three of the trip) that it was the time during which an old myth holds that women are attacked by bears and mountain lions much more frequently. Blah blah blah pheromones…blah blah blah bleeding…blah blah blah unsubstantiated claims that mostly apply to polar bears.*

Whatever. These wee hour machinations did not inspire relaxed appreciation for the scenery: firmament, heavens, flora, nor fauna.

So now, wide awake at 3am, surrounded by the most beautiful bear country, after three glorious days with my boys and husband, who do you think felt more small and threatened than any woman should?

I lay there, reeking of honeydew ice cream on one end and of sloughed nutrients on the other, desperately hoping I’d live to plan the next camping trip a little better.

It’s rather unfair, I raged, after I spent an hour *terrified* and flinching at every sound. The two things that give me superpowers, the two things that make me the most vital I will ever be in my biological life…those things should not be a life-threatening liability.

I wouldn’t, even if I could, stuff my breasts and uterus into a bear box. I don’t care if the mountain lions and the bears and the wolverines all planned a hunting party with my photo on their usenet.

I can make a human and feed a human. And that means bears will come from miles around to feed on my superhero flesh?

Oh, hell no.

Except there was no “hell no.”

There was a small creature lying next to me who cried, in his sleep, “No! No! Carry!” And he reached his arms toward the sky lit with more enormous stars than I have ever seen in my life. I silently rolled him closer to me and curled around him. Knowing I couldn’t protect him. Knowing that, if anything, my very existence threatened his.

But he twined his fingers in my hair and settled into the warm, sweet baby sleep of a mammal with its mama.

I wanted to sink into our nest.

But his damned breath was so loud I couldn’t listen for bears. I had to choose whether to take this time to be his mama, in all its painful and scary challenges, or to roll away in the name of vigilance and preparedness.

I woke up exhausted and stiff with his fingers still in my hair, hoping the bear would at least wait until I had my patented campfire coffee and cocoa blend.

Sometimes weakness makes you strong. Sometimes strength makes you weak. And sometimes you gotta hope there’s a bumper crop of blueberries, honey, and salmon several miles away.

*Public service note: the myth about bear attacks on menstruating women is patently false. See this article and this study, to which I did not have access in the wilderness, because apparently a wilderness without cell access seems more attractive to nature snobs like me. Must rethink that position next time I’m awake at 3am.