7Oct

Natural Untalent

I mentioned to a friend this morning about how beautiful her singing was, and the topic of natural talent came up. Of course, I had to take the opportunity to indulge my unhealthy obsession natural talent for list-writing*–

Skills I am not naturally gifted with:
~ Singing beautifully. (Dan asked our undiscriminating toddler this afternoon, “Does Mommy sing well?” and she immediately answered, “No!” After 6,792 rounds of “the Barney song,” she would know…)
~ Winning video games.
~ Acting humane social before 10:00 a.m.
~ Finding bikinis that fit right in fewer than 45 cumulative shopping hours. (Me + Swimwear by Doritos = illegal in public.)
~ Finishing my vegetables.
~ Tanning.
~ Playing the glockenspiel. (Though I definitely deserve a standing ovation or at least some form of merit badge for spelling “glockenspiel” on my own.)

So, confession time: What natural talents have you been ungifted with?

* Which counts as a literary art form.**

**Does TOO!

3Oct

What to Expect When Comacizing

I have vague, fuzzy recollections of a tiny newborn Natalie sleeping through her first few weeks of life like a narcoleptic while I slept… well, slightly less than before. So now I’m convinced: My memory is on crack.

This baby does not sleep, at all, ever. She amuses herself 23-1/2 hours a day by sticking her feet up my esophagus and inventing new versions of the Irish jig. The other 1/2-hour, she practices tap-dancing on my spleen. I, meanwhile, am entering a special new stage of life that I like to call “comatose.” Remind me, how do they expect absurdly pregnant women to go through labor when said women can’t summon enough energy to end this sentence with a witty and entertaining metaphor?

As much as pregnancy is miraculous and beautiful and so on and so forth, I’m a little concerned about where my missing body parts have gone. Stomach? Hip bones? Inner ears, or whatever the heck it is that keeps you from falling over when you attempt certain acrobatic moves (standing, for instance)? Oh, and brain should probably be on the list considering my recent habit of accidentally throwing away valuable objects and crying because my own shorts offended me and forgetting everything I’ve learned since high school first grade.

Plus, I would prefer no longer hosting a dance troupe in my spleen/throat.

So, when is Offspring #2 making her grand arrival, you ask? Good question. I hear that contractions are the key. Simple. Except that if you feel contractions before 36 weeks, you should immediately panic because it means you are having the baby right now, but if you have contractions after 36 weeks, don’t call the doctor because they are not real contractions and have nothing to do with your baby’s birth, except when they are real, and the way you know the difference is that the practice ones don’t hurt, except when they do hurt, and if you start having contractions after 40 weeks, they are definitely not real because your baby has obviously decided to inhabit your body forever or until you give in and take horrible drugs to produce contractions on par with a bulldozer.

At least it’s easy to tell when you’re having contractions. They either feel like a body massage or indigestion or slight cramping or a medieval torture session or having your stomach put through a juicer or being run over repeatedly by a Mack truck. Or possibly something else, because NO ONE ACTUALLY KNOWS.

I’m just glad this isn’t my first pregnancy, so other women no longer feel obligated to tell me why medieval torture sessions would be preferable to their own childbirth experiences. (“And after my 427th hour of excruciating back labor, the doctor had to pry the baby from me using a pick-ax and rusty nail clippers…”) (Or, from the helpful friend who heard I was going to have a C-section: “My best friend had a C-section, and the anesthetic didn’t work, so she felt everything, and then they gave her mind-altering drugs to make her forget the whole thing, and then she didn’t remember she had even been pregnant.”) Note to any of my readers who think they are helping/bonding with/putting calm and reassuring thoughts in the minds of pregnant women by sharing similar horror stories: You’re not.

So here’s to my little tap-dancing, coma-inducing miracle: I love you, medieval torture and all. Also, may you be born soon and with anesthetic galore. Cheers!

1Oct

Raw Art

In college, I had a wide network of friends who blogged right up until (I suspect) the moment they started feeling like adults. I did the same. Once I got engaged, I could no longer find the same 4 a.m., dormitory-buzz, cafeteria-fueled inspiration to write. College gave me a great writing niche, but it also formed a cocoon around my creativity that shriveled once I flew into “the real world.”

Maybe my brain was just too accustomed to being ordered around by textbooks. I had none of the energetic, free-flowing awareness of my own art that I now consider essential. (Just listen to Ben Folds Five’s “Naked Baby Pictures,” and you’ll hear what I mean.) Not that I’ve perfected the whole dancing-to-my-own-rhythm thing yet… Toddlers and laundry and spider solitaire all help ensure that I don’t spend too much time peeking into my brain and extracting best-sellers therefrom. But at least now I know a few untextbooky things:

1) College is over. Yes, really.
2) Now that I’ve been a real-life adult for 3-1/2 years (see above), I have the rights to my own brain.
3) Life is drenched in raw art just waiting to be sensed, interpreted, channeled.

Note to self: Go thou and enjoy.

28Sep

Disowning Regret

It stands out like a hologram from the pages of my journals:
Regret for being too innocent.
Regret for far surpassing the bounds of innocence.
Regret for being too shy.
Regret for letting boldness take over.
Regret for liking the boys I’ve liked.
Regret for rejecting the ones I didn’t.
Regret for being too melancholy, too low.
Regret for experiencing giddy highs.
Regret over my numerous emotions.
Regret over my compensating numbness.
Regret over being boring.
Regret over having fun.
Regret over every person, place, and circumstance woven into the fabric of my past.

I’m startled to see it pop out at me so clearly. Has it always been lurking between the pages of my past, waiting patiently for me to approach with open eyes?

An entire lifetime spent regretting myself…

This morning, I sat on the floor immersing myself in the ghosts of Bethanys past, laughing (at age 14, I decided I would marry my first boyfriend on October 20, 2003), aching (the Sunday my entire youth group stood in front of the church to promise abstinence for True Love Waits, I cried alone in the bathroom as the only teenager whose parents were unwilling for her to think about sex–even to pledge celibacy with all her friends), and wishing desperately for a time machine.

I wish I could protect the sweet little girl who learned about unfounded yet unrelenting, soul-crushing guilt at home every single day. I would tell her she was precious and wanted, that it was OK to smile and play and think that God liked her. I would show her that her beautiful little heart was anything but “hard, cold, and black” like she was told, that the daily accusations against her were untrue, that her deep little-girl wounds were not her fault. I would stop regretting my existence.

I wish I could give the excruciatingly lonely teenager a heaping dose of the love she lived without. I would tell her how funny she was in her blossoming creativity. I would hold up a mirror and show her how pretty she was, even (especially) with the freckles and red hair and too-long legs she hated. I would whisper to her about her intrinsic value and the luscious life ahead. I would give her reasons not to kill herself other than the sole terror of facing a God who, she was told, hated her. I would stop regretting how my goody-two-shoesness kept me from sneaking out at night to recapture my boyfriend’s attention.

I wish I could inject Valium into the college student’s frantically over-analytical brain. I would tell her to relax into the gentle process of learning, to enjoy each moment without dissecting it to death. I would give her the confidence to stand up to the guys who mistreated her and to unabashedly be herself with the ones who captured her affection. I would remind her to have fun dating, building friendships, learning, becoming an adult. I would stop regretting the fun and crazy side of my personality making itself known.

I wish I could extract the vast self-imposed disillusionment from the newly-inaugurated adult. I would help her see her fears and misgivings as the product of misguided childhood teachings. I would tell her that her perpetual doubts about love, capability, purpose, and belief were natural but not world-spinning. I would encourage her to enjoy rediscovering her identity, to face her life with courage and joy, to accept her new marriage as safe, to let herself feel at peace as a woman. I would stop regretting my imperfection.

I can hardly believe it’s taken me this long to realize that I’m a human and that that’s OK. I imagine most people realize this while they’re still in diapers or at least when their first smudgy fingerpainting is taped onto the fridge… not years after getting a minor in psychology or even more years of dedicated self-therapy or still more years of affirming friendships. (When did you find out it was perfectly OK to be you?)

Hello, my name is Bethany, and today I’ve stopped regretting Me.

I feel like a newborn being snuggled for the first time by ecstatic, weeping parents and thinking it the most natural moment in the world.

26Sep

Wet Leaf + Rusty Violin = Decapitation

I know what Objectivity would remind me if I asked its opinion:
– My body is both carrying around a tiny giant of a baby and giving up its best nutrients for her; exhaustion is guaranteed.
– Natalie is understandably stir-crazy from having her two-year-old self shut up in the house with a fatigued mom all day.
– Soon, Dan will be back, and we’ll all find ourselves enjoying sanity once again.

But, of course, I don’t have enough energy to listen to Objectivity. I couldn’t even read Dr. Seuss aloud for 10 minutes this morning without getting winded. And I certainly couldn’t find my reserve of parental patience when Natalie started into her rusty violin voice… which, unfortunately, was the moment she woke up. For example,

Rusty violin: “I want helllllp!”
Me: “To pick up your doll that you just put on the floor? I’m pretty sure you can do that.” (Plus, Mommy is currently as flexible as a refrigerator and has adopted the belief system of “What falls on the floor stays on the floor.”)
Rusty violin: “Nooooooooo! I want HELLLLPP!”
Rusty violin, in higher octave: “I want HELLLLPP!”
Rusty violin, in sound range reserved for fingernailed chalkboards: “I WANT HELLLLLPPPPPP!”
Me: ::Unable to find reserve of parental patience::

I know parenting used to feel less like having my serenity poked repeatedly with a very sharp stick. I know Natalie has brought measureless laughter and warm fuzziness to my life. Today, however, my mind developed a screechy non-music of its own: “Who is this little alien who needs SO MUCH? Why does she think that I, who have all the vigor of a wet leaf, can take care of her? Does she know that if she starts one more sentence whining, ‘I want,’ I will have to pluck my head off and cast it from me?”

I would love this to be one of those blog entries that ends with a happy realization, maybe something about the value of togetherness or Natalie’s naptime transformation into an adult. But the facts remain: She is still two-years-old, I am still exhausted, and one of us needs to find my cast-off head before it rolls out the door in search of a less-screechy family.

Edit: Naptime is where they keep parental patience. Now I know.

25Sep

Unstuck From the Molasses Swamp

I woke up this morning already wading two feet through the floor. Between yesterday’s toddler overdose, the callerless phone calls at 1 a.m., and the overnight transference of all my remaining brain cells to the baby, I started today with the mental acuteness of molasses. (IQ in 2002: 130. IQ this morning: Ooooze.) If I had been capable of conscious thought, it would have sounded something like this: The dishes are piled around the sink, the floors are sticky, the refrigerator is empty, my daughter is needy, my husband is gone, and if I get out of bed today, I will surely die.

Right on cue, the phone rang. I choked on the momentary bout of panic I experience every time I realize I will have to communicate solely in Italian but answered it anyway. And the cheery voice of Help replied.

Now, I am the kind of gal you often see lying semiconscious on the floor with a fractured hip, flames bursting out of the stove, and a tornado tearing off the roof in the next room who will not ask for help because she doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone. Plus, she is sure she can fix it all herself, even though she is neither a surgeon, nor a fireman, nor Zeus. Nor, apparently, capable of dragging her 8-month-pregnant self through a day of banal household duties alone.

So I didn’t exactly call for help, but I allowed myself to be the damsel in distress that I unquestionably was today. Graziella flew in first, like Superman, rescuing me from the drafty ledge of grocery shopping and taking poor, cabin-feverish Natalie to the playground for an hour. Then Mari showed up for a chatty lunch so that my aura could shift from beached whale to “Sex in the City.” She and Graziella put their superpowers to work doing the dishes and sweeping the floor, while I lounged back wanting to cry from relief. Heike sent me a heartwarming package stuffed with enough chocolate to make me swoon and a soccer ball to be Natalie’s bosom companion for the next few hours. Vanet and Maria bounced by to mop the floors, clean the bathroom, and bestow on us a stuffed duck and a dazzling array of cookies. Then another Maria called to apologize for not coming by and promise an outing with Natalie tomorrow.

Though I’m still ending the day fatigued and straining to breathe through the crushing weight of my abdomen, I feel full rather than drained. I feel the familiar pang of guilt too, as if gratefulness were a vice, as if I’ve wrongfully indebted myself to others. But it’s not debt; it’s a gift. And as I watch Natalie play delightedly with her new soccer ball and duck, I realize it’s not so bad to be on the receiving end of people’s generous hearts.

I want to say something more eloquent and profound, to give proper homage to the beautiful souls who have lifted my day out of swampy futility, but I’m already typing like this,

Sleepy Bethany

and do keep in mind that my brain resembles this,

Gloppy

so I’ll do us all a favor and stop

24Sep

Love’s Interest

I encountered my first personal miracle on a crystalline December afternoon nearly five years ago. It snuck like whispered lightning into the suitcase-sized booth at Coney Island Hot Dogs where I was sitting with my boyfriend of one month, our knees kissing quietly under the table. We had reached the silent place in conversations where eyes start filling in the unsaid words, and I was thinking despite my best intentions…

Dating was not new territory for me, even though only one of my previous boyfriends could stomach the meager commitment of being called such, and then I was the one saying, “Oh, let’s not use labels.” In fact, the dating mantra was simple: Girlfriends are to be touched and not heard. I eventually clued into the fact that the guys in my life so far had been… well, something impolite to say (hint: starts with “jack” and ends with “asses”), and decided to become a nun.

Then I met Dan. Technically, we met the first day of Stupid English when he started whispering to me without realizing I was the tutor… and I oh-so-graciously shushed him. But I blocked don’t remember that particular incident. I do remember him coming over to see my roommate, me telling him she wasn’t in, and us suddenly realizing we had been talking for three hours. And then realizing we still had more to say.

I suppose that a relationship between two people who are preemptively opposed to the idea can only start as a series of small accidents, like falling deep into a conversation without realizing how. Like ending up on a movie date after all your other friends back out. Like listening to your own thoughts grown from a different soul. Oh, we convinced ourselves that we weren’t attracted, that our conversations were like Scotch tape that could be pulled off in an instant. Even after the awkwardness of knowing set in, we played it off as the stress of school.

After our third date (thought I was kidding about the denial factor?) and two solid hours of whispering, Dan finally admitted–as much to himself as to me–that he was falling for me. You would think after three dates, I would have come to the same conclusion, but my ego was clinging tenaciously to the idea that I. did. not. like. him. Even though it was already 3 a.m., I stayed up with my journal, trying to untangle a barrage of sticky emotions from the crevices in my brain. However, all I could come up with were two words: “It’s him.” I wrote them on a sticky-note and then threw the sticky-note away.

A week later, after I decided from a purely-intellectual standpoint to “officialize” our relationship, I very intellectually started freaking out. Nothing in my entire life has ever scared me as profoundly as holding Dan’s hand for the first time. I still don’t know why. After all, I adored our times together–how he challenged me, how he encouraged me, how he made me laugh. He emanated the kind of unassuming strength that I could lay the fragile bits of my heart open on. Plus, he had the cutest butt I’d ever ogled seen.

I guess I fell squarely within the cliché of women scared senseless by the prospect of true love. I wanted to keep emotion out of the picture. I wanted the safety of distance. I wanted desperately to break up before our hearts had a chance to intertwine. I knew I was hinging each day on irrationality, and I’m sure that Dan knew it too, but his endless patience provided just enough of a tether to keep my irrational, confused, terrified heart from tearing away.

So, despite my efforts to remain unattached, I wound up in a tiny Maryland town for Christmas break, meeting The Parents, putting up Christmas decorations, and walking through the snow with my fingers contentedly tangled in Dan’s. And, of course, sitting in a tiny restaurant booth trying to process the short history of our relationship. I looked up from my thoughts, straight into Dan’s smiling eyes…

…and in that instant, I fell in love.

Old Couply Pictures

One month later, I was dizzy from the sparkling significance of a new diamond ring. Six months after that, I was falling asleep curled in my new husband’s arms. And 4-1/2 years after that, I’m missing him ridiculously after only a few days apart. Of course we don’t always feel romantic–sometimes, we don’t even feel much like friends–and it’s easy to let familiarity dull our appreciation for each other. But love has a knack for expanding the treasures of memory, like money temporarily forgotten in a bank, and every time I revisit them, I realize I am richer than I ever thought.

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