group), Gabriel has become more enamored of playing dinosaur yoga with me. He's the expert on dinosaurs in our family, so it affords him the rare pleasure of exerting his knowledge and authority. Dinosaur yoga is also the place where his dinosaurs and my asanas overlap, coming together in a unique, creative mishmash. Plateosaurus, corythosaurus, and ankylosaurus all make appearances on the mat. Yesterday we pretended to be a pair of pteranodons soaring above water (blue mat) and land (green mat), arms stretched in a T, one leg behind us (think warrior three), scanning the surface below for prey.
I've been trying to be more mindful about spending time with my kids. You'd think that wouldn't require quite so much effort and intention, considering my very part-time work schedule and my love of writing about family life. At the very least, I need material to work with, right?
And yet. One-on-one time together is a rare occurrence. I have less child care this summer than I do during the school year, and so I am squeezing in work email-checking and freelance pitching while the onions are caramelizing or while Frances is momentarily absorbed in a book. Plus there is the garden to weed, the weekend trip to plan, the insurance company screw up to investigate, the grocery shopping to do, the clothes to fetch off the line before the rain starts. And so it is remarkably easy to spend a day together with my kids without ever truly being together...I distract, I manage, I tell them to wait five more minutes. Let me finish this phone call, and then I can help you with your bathing suit.
Frances has been especially difficult lately. It's as if she has been living life with her toes lined up at the edge of a precipice, and any discomfort or unexpected obstacle life throws into her path can send her right over the edge. A lost hair band, a tricky shoe buckle, a request to put her clothes in the hamper before we can read together - all potential reasons to scream, to panic, to begin the descent into emotional free fall. Relax, we say. Take a deep breath, we say. She responds as if we are nuts: people, I'm falling over the side of a cliff here, and you want me to relax??
Talking about it isn't helping. Yelling at her isn't either. (Oh but I do it, all the time, and I am ashamed). I made an appointment last night with the child therapist that I talk to occasionally, and put out a desperate plea for book recommendations (more are welcome) to help guide us through this challenging moment with our intense, brainy, sensitive child.
But my intuition says what Frances and I need is some dinosaur yoga. Or her version of it, whatever that may be. We need one-on-one time doing something creative and fun, something we both care about that engages our bodies and feelings and imaginations. Reading together on the couch during Gabriel's nap just isn't cutting it these days. We need something outside of usual life, and we need to do it together.
These moments of parenting, when I realize myself to be at a complete loss, are humbling. I can so easily fall into painful doubts about my ability to provide my kids with what they need to grow and flourish.
I really like to be good at things. (So much so that it's kind of a problem sometimes). In previous jobs, I enjoyed positive feedback and the satisfaction of successfully completing concrete tasks. But this mothering job is all about process, about moment-to-moment shared experience, about the accumulating days and ever-shifting colors that make up family life. With the exception of a nicely executed birthday cake or Halloween costume, there is no resting in the uncomplicated happiness of a job well done. The job is never done.
And yet, most of the time the small beautiful moments that catch me unawares - sweetening a chaotic morning and opening me anew to life's wonders - are more than enough. Most of the time, my cup overflows...except when it doesn't. Sometimes life with a beloved someone who is small, vulnerable, amazing and infuriating can really hurt.