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Miranda: Drive-thru motherhood

waiting_for_spring1So, the move is over, and we’ve had a month in our new home. We’re slowly moving out of the “getting settled” phase and into simply “living.” I still pinch myself every morning, amazed at our good fortune and that the whole grueling sale and purchase and moving processes are over. The kids are healthy and happy. I have a steady stream of client work. (And I heard a rumor that spring is actually coming to New England someday soon, even though this photo shows you what the world looked like from my front door on Tuesday morning.) All things considered, life is good. Very good.

Still, as I always have, I struggle with my intense desire to get things done and the reality of motherhood. It was hard for me to accept that I couldn’t just go crazy and unpack the entire house in four days, as I have in the past. This time around, I have two very young children in addition to my three older ones — and the domestic front is just too demanding to ignore for very long. Then there’s the sleep deprivation; until this week my 10-month-old baby was still waking to nurse three or four times a night. While my capacity to be productive is on the high side (the way too high side, according to my husband), even I can only do so much.

And then there are moments when I realize I’m misguided in my determination. Getting things done may make me feel good, but even I know that the point of life isn’t simply efficiency. Having a to-do list with every item checked off doesn’t do much to make me a better person or a better mother. I feel guilty about not spending enough time with the children, not giving them enough undivided attention, not giving them enough good memories. I tell myself that I’ll have more time to get on the floor and play “after the holidays” and then “after we move” and then “after we really get settled” and then “after I finish the tax planner” and then “after all the birthday parties” and then “after the big client project” — and now that I am approaching 40 years old, I am finally accepting that there is no “after.” There is only now.

I tend to put off my creative projects in the same way that I put off my children. If motherhood and creativity are two of the most important elements of my life, how do I let that happen so often?

Baby steps. I’m learning.

Some of you have heard me observe that my 18-year-old is just months away from leaving for college and the start of life as a young adult. I gobble up most opportunities to spend time with him, painfully aware that they are waning. That’s an easy one. What about the other children?

On Sunday, despite having “tons of stuff to do,” I took my nearly 15-year-old out for some “middle child time.” He’s not really the middle child anymore, seeing as he’s number two in the string of five, but he’s in there somewhere — and he’d been looking forward to some one-on-one time. We go to KFC, his chosen destination. We hit the drive-thru and park the car. Mainly our conversation centers on my son’s relationship with his girlfriend, and his many questions. I find myself sounding like a taller, American version of Dr. Ruth. As my son forks through a family-size container of mashed potatoes, I study his hands. I don’t know his hands well enough. I knew them so well when he was a baby, and now they are somewhat foreign to me. I have not paid enough attention. I need to learn them better. I need to know all my children’s hands by heart.

This Monday was my preschooler son’s fourth birthday. As part of the fun, I promised him a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts after his morning at school, before our trip to the grocery store. The morning had been tough for me — too many things to do and a baby who decided not to take a nap, which I had been counting on (silly me). Of course, as soon as we got back into the car and headed to school for pickup, the baby fell asleep — and stayed sleeping as we arrived at school and his older brother clambered into the car, excited about our trip to Dunkin’ Donuts.

I recently switched the baby to a front-facing seat, so my days of easily removing him from the car while he sleeps in the removable infant carrier are over. I wanted him to get a good nap, but I wasn’t sure I could easily placate the birthday boy, who was eager for his doughnut. What to do?

God bless Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, even if we did have to drive way out of the way to reach one. Ironically, it was right next to the KFC that I’d taken my other son to the afternoon prior.

My 4-year-old prefers to go inside and select his doughnut from the available selection, but I managed to convince him that the drive-thru was our best option, given that his baby brother was sound asleep. In a flash of flexibility, he agreed to try it. So we ordered him a “sprinkle” doughnut and a half-caff for me (bliss in a cup!) and found a spot in the parking lot.

As my son munched on his doughnut and my hot coffee fogged the windows over, I worked on the grocery list. The morning had been so hectic that I hadn’t had time to plan the week’s dinners or make the shopping list. I normally make my list when I’m at home so that I can inventory what we already have in the cupboards and the fridge, but oh well. I forged ahead, trying to remember some of the things I cook for dinner. (Nineteen years of “homemaking” and I’m still always stumped by the dinner menu.)

The doughnut devoured, my son started getting antsy. I put down my list. (I am not by nature a playful or spontaneous person, but every now and then I have a moment.) I reached out to the windshield, now fully opaque with condensation, and drew a birthday cake with my forefinger. “What’s this?” I asked my son. He perked right up. “A birthday cake! With four candles!” Then I drew a wrapped present. My son was enchanted. I drew balloons. He was thrilled. I was surprised by the level his excitement; you would of thought I was conjuring up REAL cake and presents and balloons. We then brainstormed all the things that were missing from our two-dimensional birthday party, and I drew them one by one. When we couldn’t think of anything else, my son asked to be released from his seat so he could climb up front and draw too. He showed me that he could make a 7, which is new — and I showed him how to make a 4, which, based on his reaction, was apparently like learning the location of the Holy Grail. (Note to self: spend more time working on numbers and letters with son.)

It was just a simple thing, a blip in the middle of a busy day — an event that many of you probably wouldn’t have found noteworthy in the least. But for me, it was a reminder that there is fun and laughter in letting go. A minor creative opportunity turned out to be something wonderful, because it was wonderful to my son. The rest of the day followed in the same vein of delight and enjoyment (despite the nearly inedible Spiderman cake).

OK, so two of my best motherhood moments of late took place in the car, while sitting outside Dunkin’ Donuts and KFC. I’ll try not to read too much into that.

So I’m working on a new list. Me, the lover of lists. Spend time with your son today. Put the laptop down and play. Dance. Schedule home pedicures with your daughter. Be open to creative magic. Breathe and just be right here, right now. Even if you’re just sitting in the car after a trip to the drive-thru. Or, maybe, especially then.

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow Mir. I’ve just read this Ode to the Drive-Thru and Mommyhood…tears are making their way down my face and some 24 years of knowing you (with varying degrees of time and intensity) are welling up in me. I feel lucky. For me, and for the five children who call you Mom.
    To date this feels like the call to the Creative Life you have been intent on exploring.
    I started reading a little book called Art & Fear last night – I find as I get back in the darkroom and begin shaping new ideas that the demons of self doubt have come to call and I wanted to have some strategies to hand to work through it.
    Doing the work itself is helpful – being open to where that work gets done is also helpful.
    For four years of caregiving it seemed simple to beat myself up for having no “work” to show for it – but I finally put down that cross in favor of the story that caregiving itself WAS the WORK and while it make take years, or never appear, on paper as such, I will forever be in possession of that time.
    And i will never lose the image of my father’s enormous and gentle hands.
    Thanks for diving in and driving thru Sweets.

    March 12, 2009
  2. cathy #

    miranda, wonderful post. so good you took moments out of to-dos to pay attention to your kids, 2 of them anyway πŸ˜‰ the paragraph on your son’s hands choked me up.

    yesterday, i had 2 moments that drew my attention with my big boys. k is not just less than huggie, he’s downright anti-hug of late. i’m trying to remedy that. if he and i are in the same room and baby c does not have me pinned down, i attempt a hug. yesterday, this bony, stiff, young man as tall as me no longer felt like he was my child. this was no longer the kid who used to mush his skinniness into ever curve just to be next to me on the sofa. i hug him and he says, ‘wha?’ in a deep voice. i replied, ‘nothing. i love you.’ he groaned but i think he softened slightly, since i’ve been at this on occasion for a couple of weeks now.

    the second, i was wrapping up some writing when s came home from school. he wanted to do something he knows is reserved for weekends only. we dole out his doses of monster movies like a methadone program to a heroin user. i reminded him of the rules and time for it, and he crumbled into the armchair by my desk whining for it. i suggested alternatives, like go jump on the trampoline outside. but he continued to moan and whine. i was trying to tune him out to do a final read through, when a phrase emerged from his usual litany when he’s not getting his way – a very tiny ‘i’m lonely’ emerged. so i stopped and asked him about it. in his aspergers, he equates boredom with loneliness. fascinating. isn’t that really what boredom is all about? of course he still thought viewing a scene of frankenstein conquers the world was the only way out of his loneliness, but, hey, i tried. and i learned a little more about my nearly unknowable son. later we had a great session at his taekwando class. he kept looking to me and giving the thumbs up when he did something well. but boy, that ‘i’m lonely’ changed me by breaking my heart open to him.

    March 12, 2009
  3. God, you guys, these are all beautiful snapshots of motherhood at work… pass the tissues, please.

    I had a moment like this with Sam this moning, too. My nautural inclination is to be a humorless fuddy duddy of mother, but I have always tried my hardest to tuck that side of me out of sight and make sure the boys get my silly, creative, go-with-the flow side.

    As soon as Sam could walk, whenever I wanted him to come to me, he would giggle and toddle off. So I started singing to him. “Coooooooooooome to me! Coooooooooome to me!” In a silly, operatic voice.

    He has started singing it back to me lately when he wants me to come to him, so I can tell it’s made an impression on him, and he considers it “our” thing.

    This morning, I was trying to get his shoes on so we could leave for preschool, and he was running off playing with his trains. I started singing the “Come to me” opera, and grabbed him and sang “Cooooooome to me or I will keeeeeep singing baaaaaaaadly!” And he started singing along. We sang a very bad operatic duet together while I put on his shoes. It was a motherhood Allah/Ole moment.

    March 12, 2009
  4. Beautiful.

    “I need to know all my children’s hands by heart” was my favorite part.

    And I think it’s the blips, like painting on the windshield, that kids remember most sometimes.

    March 12, 2009
  5. beautiful post, miranda. you truly are such a “doer”, it is so nice to see you slow down and savor these moments. thanks for sharing them with us! i don’t know how you do everything you do!

    i’m home today with a sick sarah. she woke me up screaming “Mama! Mama! Mama!” about midnight and vomited all over her bed. Of course, the bigger tradegy for her was that she had vomited all over Bunny! I got her all cleaned up, pulled off the dirty bedclothes and dug up some more, and got her back in bed with a substitute for barf-covered Bunny. she woke back up about 3am crying but at least no barfing that time. This morning she seems to be feeling okay (relishing a day at home watching cartoons on the couch) and is just a little green and doesn’t want to eat anything. for me, it’s a day home with just one! which, though she’s not feeling well, is kinda nice. she’s sleeping now so i just had the pleasure of picking barf chunks out of the washer from her bedclothes. such joy in motherhood! πŸ™‚

    cath, maybe k will start giving in to hugs a little more. s’s comment about lonely broke my heart.

    brittany, love your opera! we have a song too. at bedtime, i sing the nite-nite song to each of them individually. “Mama loves Sarah, Mama loves Sarah, Mama love Sarah…..I love ya, love ya, love ya!” and then the same for Livvie. it’s become quite the night time ritual and when i’m on the road for work or a show, i try to call home at bedtime to sing to them. those are the moments that count.

    March 12, 2009
  6. cathy #

    oh, i hope she feels better soon, kelly! there are some week long nasties going around this winter. and that lonely was really something. he usually can’t express his innermost feelings verbally, though he is quite a talker.

    brittany, love the opera. i use similar with s sometimes to keep from screaming and it usually gains a smile and compliance.

    jacqui, i agree. it’s the stolen moments that we remember later.

    toni, you make an excellent point that caregiving is creative work. i think that idea gets lost in the shufle of the day to day.

    March 12, 2009
  7. Kristine #

    Great post, Miranda. Your words eloquently depict the beauty that comes from motherhood.

    When my little one was a baby, I took several pictures of her hands because I never wanted to forget what they looked like. I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    Beautiful message for all of us.

    March 12, 2009
  8. Kristine #

    Kelly, I hope Sarah feels better soon. 😦

    March 12, 2009
  9. Liz #

    What can I say, but echo everyone else’s comments? Beautiful post, Miranda. It’s a little earthquake when you realize you don’t know your kid by heart anymore, know exactly what their hands and feet are like or the smell of their little breath…

    … The breath loses it’s charm after awhile, though, doesn’t it?

    I am so happy your home is officially ‘your home.’ That is priceless. Now when can I come over and sit in your library?

    March 12, 2009
  10. Yeah Miranda, no fair hogging that beautiful library all to yourself. You need to open it up and create an artsy Mama salon. πŸ™‚

    March 12, 2009
  11. cathy #

    do i hear a cc slumber party in the makings? πŸ˜‰

    March 12, 2009
  12. Come on oh-vah! CC writing festival chez moi….

    March 12, 2009
  13. Kristine #

    Oh yeah, party in Miranda’s library! I’m SO there. πŸ™‚

    March 12, 2009
  14. Jen #

    Did somebody say par-tay?

    Thank you for this beautifully moving post, Miranda. Like others, I found myself all weepy as a result. And lovely to see the responses it inspired.

    Brittany and Miranda, I have to share that I’m working on a blog post about not being “by nature a playful person,” about how that “fuddy duddy of a mother” has been rearing her humorless head recently around here…. with an accompanying list. Interesting synchronicity!

    March 12, 2009
  15. It’s great to get to that settling in stage! Glad you made it through the buy, sell and move in one piece!

    March 12, 2009
  16. what a beautiful post. it’s so easy though to let life take over and forget the moment… but it’s only the moments we’re going to remember. I have a box full of scraps of paper and every time one of my girls does something funny or lovely, (or stupid or awful) I quickly write it down on one of the scraps.. forming a living memory box if you like. i try not to read them when i open it with a new one, and can’t wait for the girls to be older so we can read them every so often – maybe when they are sad, or bad and we need a distraction… and when they’re older to remind me of all the moments…

    March 18, 2009
  17. Thanks for all the lovely comments, everyone πŸ™‚

    Alana, I love your memory box idea.

    March 18, 2009

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