Connecting with Isaac through Maya Angelou

I’ve been reading Maya Angelou’s autobiographies. I’m sorry to admit I didn’t pick them up until she’d died.

This morning over breakfast, Isaac and I had a rare opportunity to talk alone. John is traveling for work, and Isaac’s camp doesn’t start until 8:45, so we had some unexpected and welcomed leisure to chat.

I told him I’d been reading the stories of a woman who had a son when she was only 16 years old. Back then, women didn’t have as many options: she had to put him in 24-hour/day care and see him only one day a week for much of his young life. Then, when he was about Isaac’s age, he stayed with his grandmother while Maya traveled as a dancer and singer with the European tour of Porgy and Bess, a welcomed career gem that gave her the chance to find her profession and the ability to support her child. She was gone for several months, and they both missed each other terribly. She came home early because her son was not doing well, and her family could no longer care for him. When they reunited, he clung to her and was afraid she would leave him again.

Isaac asked if I would ever go away like that. I told him I would not.

I told him that when I was pregnant with him, I worked very hard to get work that I could do when he slept and, later, use only minimal childcare. I didn’t want to spend 10 hours/day between travel to-and-from work, plus work itself. I wanted to be with him. I was older when I had him, and I had some options open to me that Maya did not.

He closed his eyes. Tears welled up under his eyelashes, puddles that sat there as he spoke.

“I don’t like going to school. I miss being with you,” he said, eyes still closed.

I asked him if he wanted a hug. He nodded, tears miraculously staying put under his inward gaze.

I knelt beside him and held him.

I told him I felt the same way when I was his age. I actually stayed home from school to be with my mom, but I got in trouble. The truant officer came to our house. I told him that parents who don’t send their children to school can be arrested and go to jail. Then we really wouldn’t see each other. We both laughed. We shared a lingering hug before moving on with the day.

We drove to Junior Water Sports Camp, a five-minute ride down the road. He asked me if four-dimensional bubbles were actually black holes. I didn’t know. He thought that was a good question for his Aunt Catherine, who has a PhD and studied black holes.

When I dropped him off, he ran off with hardly a backward glance. We were both sated from our time of connecting over Maya Angelou.

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Juggling priorities

When I was a single parent (the first four years of Isaac’s life), juggling was both a metaphor and a hobby.

The hobby started when Isaac was almost two years old. He had awakened me (as usual) around 4:00 a.m. He had gone back to sleep around 8:30 for a nap, and I’d gone to work: turned on the computer and started troubleshooting for a tech company I worked for part-time.

Then he got up, and I was back to momming. He wanted some toy I knew was at the back of our hall closet. I tore through boxes and bags in my dazed search for this stupid toy. I was sleep-deprived, continually, at that point, and obsessive-compulsive cleaning and toy searches were how I spent a lot of our hang-out time together.

In this particular search, I unearthed the juggling balls. I wasn’t looking for them, but Isaac and I were both enthralled with my inept but determined efforts to juggle three balls simultaneously. Every time I dropped one, he yelled, “Ball!”

I revived my juggling practice, both for his entertainment, and because juggling seemed such an apt expression of my life at the time.

Juggling as a lifestyle emerged almost immediately after Isaac’s birth. I now had to care for my son (ball #1), my work (ball #2), and myself (ball #3). It was pretty clear to me then that I was ball #3.

I couldn’t drop Isaac. He was completely dependent upon me for everything. Ball #1 got number one care.

I couldn’t drop work. Work was what kept us going: home, food, transportation, healthcare. Ball #2 got second, but still high, priority.

Ball #3 was still pretty damn important, I have to acknowledge now. But sleep, eating at regular intervals and all the other seeming luxuries of self-care (which I blogged about last time) just had to come last.

Sometimes, I managed to keep all the balls in the air. In an effortless flow, they just happened. There wasn’t much margin for error, but I kept it going.

It also didn’t take much to drop one. A sick or teething baby meant everything else dropped. A work emergency meant I lost sleep or propped the baby in front of some entertaining toy, hoping he’d be happy for a few minutes. And sometimes, my emotional needs rose up so intensely, I had to deal with them. Sometimes, I had to write. It’s my bottom-line, can’t-live-without-it, outlet. I will admit that I sometimes missed work time in order to write in my journal. My own healing process and need to integrate an emerging insight needed my attention. I remember when Isaac was three months old, and I remembered what my aunt had told me: she first saw my mother hit me when I was that age. I needed to write when that came up, and as well as other memories and traumas. I also had to write sometimes because the fact was that Isaac was a happy, well-loved child. That dawning reality was something I also had to write about.

The Wilderness of Motherhood is the book that emerged from this time. It was the had-to-write-it spectacular juggling experience of these early years. I’m so glad I did. I’m so glad that I sometimes neglected work, sometimes got Isaac a babysitter, so that I could sometimes write. It saved my life and sanity. Sometimes, ball #3 needed to be cared for, too.

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