We've been sick around these parts with a deep hacking cough that is persistent for weeks. I have made immune-ass-kicking-homemade chicken soup to fortify us all, and yesterday picked up a few herbal remedies and vitamins we were out of and a couple essential oils for chest rubs and steams and baths. Z and Mr. Spicy are responding well, but I am still in the trenches.
It doesn't help that Z getting sick means he has only slept solidly through the night maybe once in the last week, and is now taking 1-2 hr naps instead of the 3 hour naps I was getting so comfy with. It also doesn't help that his molars are planning to present themselves soon and he has recently been experiencing a bit of separation anxiety.
It also doesn't help that we recently lost our beloved dog, had house guests for the weekend, and had my sister-in-law, who has been living with us and greatly brightening our lives and our home for the last 4 months, move out into her own place.
I am beat.
So, this morning, when the power suddenly went out, I jumped on my husband's suggestion that Z & I go out to breakfast at one of our favorite spots, choosing not to inform him that I could make a perfectly healthy breakfast for us both without any power. And breakfast was delightful. We people-watched, we colored, we fed each other delicious gluten-free pancakes. But by the end I was exhausted and just wanted to go home and curl up in bed.
Mercifully, Z fell asleep on the way home, stayed asleep through diaper changing, and went down for a nap. Ah! Rest for me! But wait....what is that feeling? Oh yes, it is the loads of caffeine from the coffee I just downed at breakfast, coursing through my veins. Sigh.
So, I did some busy-work, caught up on emails, chatted with a friend, and finally was ready to lie down when - yep! The little guy was wide awake and calling for me. I took a deep breath, downed a little more caffeine, took a minute and then headed up to get him.
I needed an afternoon activity that would carry us through, with as little required of me as possible (I just couldn't manage much at that point), and as much stimulus for Z as possible, without directly exposing him to other kids. (sometimes sharing isn't nice) The zoo it was!
We wandered through the zoo, and I picked up a little plastic set of African animals to further engage Zane. The cashier informed us that the new baby orangutan was out with her mother in the enclosure for the first time. Apparently the mother had been pretty protective of sharing her baby with the world before now, understandably.
We arrived at the orangutan area to see the mama orangutan, with tiny baby clutching tightly to the hair on her shoulder, climbing up into a tree for a snack. Dad was there too, and he was clearly annoyed by all the attention they were suddenly getting, shielding his face as he moved from hammock to rock, like a celebrity avoiding the paparazzi. There were only 3 of us there at that time, but I am sure they'd had a pretty steady stream coming all day. Mama swung from trunk to branch, baby sticking to her like velcro. At one point, she stopped to eat, and her little one moved to put her face next to Mom's. Mama showed baby what she was eating and tilted her head ever so slightly to rub her face against her baby, like I have done with Zane and a million mothers before me have done, a million times before.
I was entranced by the two of them, moving as one, clearly so bonded, mother clearly so protective, so human. I was reminded of Zane's early months where I literally wore him, held him, slept next to him, constantly.
Later, as we purchased tickets for the train and carousel, the cashier (a young woman, maybe in her early twenties, who we are by now pretty familiar with) asked if we had seen the baby orangutan. I told her we had and marveled aloud at what a sweet mama the orangutan was.
"Well", she said, "she had a hard time at first. She's a first time mom. In the beginning, when her baby would cry and cry she would like take a deep breath and put her in this big bucket and walk away for awhile. She was pretty overwhelmed at first."
"Wow," I replied, "good for her for taking a break! It's hard being a first time mom!"
"Well, yeah...," she continued, "I mean, I am sure she likes her baby and all...it was just hard at first I guess. She's doing great now though, super protective. The tiger mom (who had quadruplet tiger cubs recently), now SHE'S exhausted. She is so tired, poor thing."
I walked away with this whole new insight into this mama and baby I had just been admiring minutes before. Wow. Motherhood is hard. It just is. Even now, in one of the happiest seasons of my life and my time as a mother, I find myself in one of those days. And this mama tiger, and this mama orangutan, they struggle too.
And I am pretty sure they didn't have to make dinner tonight, aren't worried about clean underwear, and don't have bills or schedules to worry about.
I have been chewing on this all evening, trying to find the right words to describe the light bulb moment I had there, talking with this woman (who I am pretty darn sure is not a mom).
I think it has something to do with the struggle being a natural part of it. Some struggle more, some less...but it's there. I think the times I have been weary, depressed, or just having a regular old hard day, one of the hardest parts for me is thinking that somehow I should be able to weather these days easier, I should be able to do more, be more, feel more, and all with a smile, always. And while in the last many months, more often than not I am easily smiling and laughing and just soaking up the joy of motherhood through many a day, some days I am not. On an intellectual level I know that that's ok. I would tell anyone else that it was ok, normal, natural. But some times I still get caught in that trap of should and it is hard to find my way out. There is always someone who seems to do it with more ease, more grace, more joy. Hell, I've probably been that person for someone out there too (if so, I am so sorry! I have those days too...obviously).
I think also, it reminds me of the period when most days were those days. When lack of sleep, and various other factors combined and I found myself deeply depressed. For months. It reminds me of those nights when I had to hand over my crying, sleepless baby to my husband for fear of hurting myself, or even sometimes god-forbid, my beautiful son. It reminds me of the guilt I felt for having to do that, like I was broken, like I was a bad mother. It reminds me that even though I came through that time, even though I got help, I got better, my son started sleeping, and the sun rose again, and my joy returned - that part of my story as a mom is still very compartmentalized and hidden away from my story as a whole.
Sure, I will readily relate to someone the quick version "Oh my son stopped sleeping at 6 months, and I developed postpartum depression and then he started sleeping at 12 months and I got better..." but it is hard for me to integrate it fully into my story, as a woman, and a mother. I want to hold it out, separate, a parenthesis, a foot note.
In this short interaction I was confronted with this animal mother's story, the whole of it up to this point: putting her baby in a bucket and stepping away when she felt overwhelmed (which I find very admirable on her part, btw), feeling deeply protective and guarding her baby and her time with her, to stepping out cautiously into the world with her little one, still protective, but much more comfortable in her role as "Mama".
I don't know it just hit me. I felt validated. I felt so much. I felt a kindred spirit with these animal mamas and I felt a lot better about my own rough day, my own exhaustion, my own "bucket" moments. I felt a tenderness for the orangutan and the tiger that allowed me to feel a tenderness for myself. I also felt so much tenderness for all of you, all my friends, all the bloggers, all the women I have never even met who have struggled through their own bucket moments, their own "those days", and worse. I wanted to shout to the world, "Look, it's totally natural! Motherhood is hard work! We fall down sometimes, we get overwhelmed, we need a break, we need help. It is normal, and it is ok!"
I know, this is not news to many of you, and it really shouldn't be news to me...but today it was.
And I am grateful for it.