The Things We Carry

So I’m working on another post. It’s a little bit lofty and gnarly, and I have to wrestle with it a little until I figure out what point I’m trying to make.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading little bits and pieces from the interwebs about grief and loss.

(I know, I just had a BABY. I should be over the moon with my darling little boy, and sharing posts about how he is the apple of my eye, cherry pie, cake and ice cream. He is all those things. But I get to talk about those things whenever I want because people want me to be happy about having a baby. They don’t want to hear about how I’m still struggling with losing my mother 10 months ago. They don’t want to hear about how sometimes I cry at the sight of my kid because I know my mother will never meet him. This is, for better or worse, what anonymous blogs are for. Sharing the unsharable.)

Anyway, I’ve been reading stuff about grief and loss. Not in a formal way. It’s been what I’ve gravitated towards. Other new moms want to read about how to get a few hours sleep. I want to read about how to be sad. That seems unfair, but whatever… that’s just what the Universe smacked me with, and I’ve made peace with that.

A friend of mine from high school had a stillbirth several years ago. She was devastated. She continues to be devastated, even though she went on to have another beautiful, healthy, living child. She is open about the fact that she still mourns, and this to me is the bravest thing. It’s so “uncool” to be publicly sad, and I love that she tells everyone to screw themselves by openly talking about her grief.

The other day she shared this blog post, which included this nugget of wisdom:

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.

HOLY shit, yes. I’m tired of people telling me that losing my mother will get “easier.” It hasn’t. Why should it? It doesn’t get easier to lose someone you love, to lose a life you loved, or a dream you had. There are some things that don’t go away. You have to learn to sit next to them and respect that a part of your heart will always hurt. Always.

The next bit of grief-related inspiration comes from a quote round up of Cheryl Strayed. (Ironically, my big gnarly post is also vaguely Cheryl Strayed related.)

If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief, the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don’t — if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live — well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease.

We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.

Now that just about gets at the root of my problem with how we experience grief. For every time a person says “Time heals all,” I hear “Your grief makes me uncomfortable. Let’s talk about this in a few months when you aren’t weepy anymore.” Or “You’re weak if you still feel sad. It’s your fault you aren’t over it yet.”

Suck it.

In the olden days, there was an etiquette to how you mourned. You dressed in black for months or a year. Then you would slowly progress into somber colors until you got full access to the color wheel again.

As much as that sounds ridiculous, I kind of get it now. Most people don’t go around mourning my mom. I would venture to say most people who know me don’t even think about my mom that much, nor would I expect them to. She wasn’t their mother. But she was mine. I feel her loss acutely every day.

I wouldn’t mind wearing black so that people might think “Riiiiight… Her mom died. Maybe I should be less of an asshole to her today.” 

I wouldn’t mind wearing my sadness every once in awhile.

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No Soup for You

The other day, Mr. O came home from work. He looked a little mopey, and needed a heavy dose of Chick cuddle time. As I was making dinner, Mr. O followed me into the kitchen to tell me just what went down. Here it goes…

While at work, Mr. O ran into a co-worker he hadn’t seen in awhile. They aren’t great friends, but they know each other. Co-worker said “Congrats on the baby!” Mr. O said “Gee, thanks!” At this point another person he didn’t know entered the conversation and said “Ooooo, I love babies. Enjoy this time with your little one!” or some such generic blather.

Mr. O was in the middle of talking about our latest parenting tension. We aren’t taking tons of pictures, and we’ve both agreed to keep posting on social media to a minimum for Chick’s privacy. While I was on leave, I would take a photo every few days and send them to Mr. O at work, but these were mostly private exchanges meant for just the two of us. Honestly, every time I would have the urge to snap a few picks, I would stop myself. Rather than document his cuteness, I wanted to focus on enjoying my time with Chick. Hence the dearth of photos.

Where’s the rub? His mother wants photos of Chick ALL THE TIME. She hounds Mr. O for updates and photos and videos, and Mr. O is just not having it. Her texts about this are outrageously guilt laden, but the more she pours it on, the deeper Mr. O is entrenched. It’s like trying to put a leash on a cat, my friends.

Any way… Mr. O was in the midst of explaining this Grandmama Drama when co-worker he doesn’t know got fixated on this photo thing. Here is a highly dramatized version of their conversation:

Crabby Co-Worker: What do you mean you don’t take photos of your child? Don’t you love him?

Mr. O: Yeah, but I don’t feel like I need to capture every moment. He is an important part of my life right now, but I don’t need to record every second.

Crabby Co-Worker: That’s terrible. Your kids should always be the center of your universe. If that’s how you feel about children, I hope you don’t have any more.

That last sentence is not made up. NOT MADE UP. She told him that because he didn’t take pictures of Chick all the time, he should not have any more kids. Because the ability to take pictures on your phone proves you love your child? Wha?

NO BABY FOR YOU!

NO BABY FOR YOU!

She was acting like some Baby version of the Soup Nazi. No baby photos?! NO SOUP FOR YOU!

(The added salt in the wound is that we may not be able to have more children. Which, of course, crabby co-worker doesn’t know about. There is no way for me to know if I would have found this comment less hurtful if we weren’t infertile, but such is life.)

Strangely what surprises me most isn’t that she thinks this, but that she actually said it. Out loud. To another person. I’ll admit to having thought unkind things before. However, I do my very best not to allow these thoughts to escape my face.

For example, I would not ask her what’s the photo count threshold before child services gets involved.

I would not say to this person that I had no idea the key to being a good parent is knowing how to use photoshop. Tell me more!

Or that I really hope she doesn’t have any children because we don’t need more people like her reproducing.

Why don’t I say these things? Because I have been socialized to exercise self restraint. Instead I blog about this kind of shit anonymously. That’s the mature way to handle it.

Back.

I’m back, kids.

Back to work.

Back to blogging.

Back to writing ranty posts about whatever weird crap occurs to me.

So far, so good. It has been two whole days, so we’ll see. But I think it’ll be okay. I think….

My first day was strange. You see, my team decided to have an all-day strategy offsite. Rather than a slow start with my inbox and a cup of coffee, I got hours of presentations and brainstorming sessions. And you know what? I kinda loved it. I’m one of those rare folks who really does love their job. I was worried this would be overwhelming, but I think it may have been the perfect way to start. It reminded me of what I find exciting about my work.

That said, there was the usual inanery on display. You know… the superficial stuff that happens in all workplaces everywhere. I would be lying if there weren’t times I thought “I left my baby for this bullshit?”

During a breakout session, the head of my unit came over. Asked me how I was, thanked me for coming to the meeting, etc. He said “I love your comments today. You’re already thinking about this business differently.” What I didn’t tell him is that I’ve been thinking these things all along– the difference is that Mama Ostrich doesn’t have time for bullshit anymore. So instead of silently filing away my grievance, I’m belting it out like Aretha. (This is, apparently, one of the side effects of motherhood for me. I really have no patience for stupid shit, and I now say it out loud.)

My workplace is very parent friendly. My boss has already said that my family comes first. Like he pulled me aside, stared me straight in the eye and said it. There are fully equipped mother’s rooms where I can pump in peace. In addition, there is a full cafeteria, an onsite gym, and chair massages. All free to employees, all day, every day. I’m really very lucky. I mean honestly, I’m almost embarrassed that I’m conflicted about coming back to work, because where I work sounds like some goddamn Disneyland.

And yet…

So far I haven’t cried (a lot.) I haven’t cried during drop off. I haven’t cried during the day. I got super weepy when I came home last night though. I just missed him so terribly, and seeing Chick made me realize just how much. He is this awesome little person, you know?

And yet…

I know myself. I know I couldn’t stay home with Chick, no matter how much I love him. After months of dedicating myself to his needs 24/7, I like that I’m able to focus on things important to me (and only me.) Selfish? Meh… I don’t see it that way. Being engaged in my work makes me a better person. I’m not curing cancer (far from it) but I want Chick to know me as someone who takes pride in her work, who strives for things, who sometimes fails but always gets up and goes at it again the next day. That’s what being back at work means to me. I hope one day he gets that.

I’m back, ladies and gentlemen.

There are a whole lot of things I didn’t explore in this post, including but not limited to:

  1. I don’t think I’m better than someone who stays home with their child. I don’t think I’m worse. It’s a different path with a different set of challenges and rewards. That’s it.
  2. As much as I’m glad to be back at work, I would like to point out that this isn’t just for personal reward. There is a very real financial need for me to return to work. For better or worse, I’m the proverbial breadwinner so my income is important to my family’s survival. Sometimes going back to work for mothers isn’t about a choice- it is about providing safe, stable homes for their families.
  3. I’m super privileged. I know that. GOOD GOD, do I know that. So many mothers and fathers don’t work for organizations that are as supportive as mine. That sucks. I’m still very angry at the state of parental leave in the US and the general attitude toward “work-life balance” being only an issue for the ladies. It’s such bullshit, it makes my brain boil.

But I didn’t explore these things. Because.