Monday, July 11, 2011

connected & in constant motion

I met Emily Rogers in 2002, during our first week of graduate school. I remember scanning a cavernous room filled with women (and a tiny handful men), all milling about during an orientation meeting for the social work program at Bryn Mawr. I spotted Emily right away. She had a long braid, beautiful posture, and an air of quiet confidence about her that made me want to be her friend. We discovered that we both lived in Center City, and along with another excellent new friend named Patrice, we began carpooling back and forth to the Main Line together. 

I haven't seen Emily in over five years, ever since she and her husband Gregory left Philadelphia to return to their native Austin. But somehow she has remained a presence in my life, and I'm unfailingly enriched by my occasional virtual brushes with her sensibility, perspective, and clarity of expression. She has always struck me as a profoundly honest person, which is why I invited her to write a guest post for Homemade Time. I am so very grateful that she agreed.

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I started, actually re-started, potty training my four year-old this week. At this point, we have several failed attempts behind us, but we took the leap out of diapers even though Lena’s ability to communicate still hovers well below her chronological age. Since there isn’t any way to explain to her in words, pictures, or gestures that she absolutely must use a toilet any time she needs to go, I’ve chosen a method that combines the regimentation of a production line with the social isolation of house arrest. 

Surprisingly, I don’t hate it. Her toddler brother, Simon, has spent the last few mornings with his grandparents. I’ve pared down our schedule to the minimum trips away from home. The result is that I’m spending more time alone with Lena than I have since Simon was born more than a year and a half ago. The single-minded focus that I have on her bodily functions echoes the time when we were mother and first-newborn when I kept a chart tracking all her input and output. The co-existence of tedium and joy has given color and texture to many of our days together.

The readjusted pace that potty training has imposed on our family has opened a small clearing in our usually frenetic schedule of learning opportunities and therapy appointments. From this vantage point I can see back to an old way of being that is barely comprehendible any more, a time when my own self-interest was all there was.  As I’m sitting on the edge of the tub in my tiny bathroom with my knees resting against my daughter’s knees, I can foresee a time when all of us will be more engaged with the outside world, and it will be a good thing. Between Lena achieving steady, albeit delayed, progress in her development and Simon marching steadfastly through the toddlers’ milestones of autonomy, I wonder what kind of parent I will be in response to their expanding worlds and my own.

The encompassing dependency of babyhood and the amplified attention I’ve given to Lena’s special needs, have marked the perimeter of almost my entire experience of being a parent. When my children were babies, I spent most of the day physically connected to them: nursing, wearing them as I went about my day, and sleeping next to them through the night. I functioned as an extension of them with my whole self eclipsed by their need to eat and feel comforted in a world that was completely alien to them. And since Lena hasn’t yet formed a relationship with the world outside a very small circle of comfort, our normal total mother-infant absorption morphed into a different type of relationship that in terms of time and energy is very similar to what I would give a baby.  While I don’t see their need for all of me vanishing overnight, it’s clear that as time goes on there will be ever-widening clearings in my life and eventually something else will fill them.

At first I thought the vague agitation that grew out of this expanding space was about my need to participate more fully and permanently in a career, but I think that is only part of it. Parenthood transformed my own trajectory to one that mirrors the development of my children. As our life course spins us away from one another, we are still bound by some cosmic gravity. Having children presents a constant pull and tug between intimacy and independence, between confidence and doubt, and between having expectations and releasing expectations. Being connected and in constant motion has created a new sensory awareness of the world in me, and I am curious to find out how it will alter my own perceptions and experience from this point forward.

Emily Rogers lives in Austin, TX where she is surronded by an extended family and many supportive fellow parents. She works part-time, bringing a social worker's perspective to a community-wide planning body on ex-offender reentry.

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