I appreciate that parenting is an amazing opportunity for personal growth, but I kind of feel like my psyche is about to explode.
I can’t say that it’s my brain, because that would imply a boast about smartifying, which I’m decidedly not.
And I can’t say that it’s my heart exactly, because it’s not the case that I’m becoming one big tub of endless love.
I do picture something growing many sizes in a short period time, like the Grinch’s heart bursting to boing that day it grows three sizes in as many seconds. But I picture that expansion as something more like a ball of light zapping away in a glass globe, the kind of thing you’d have seen at The Sharper Image in 1989.
Call me a kooky New Age freak, but that’s how it feels to have been in transition like this, to sense my innards as evolving with electricity as my children grow and develop and our family life changes. So much has been opened to me in the decade since a thyroid disorder derailed my plans to conceive and required me to slow down – and cut down – in order to make space for a baby.
That theme continues. Now that my son is approaching his eighth birthday, we are literally trying to create space in his mouth with an orthodontic appliance called an ALF. Part of it is genetics: in addition to the fact that his mom has a totally asymmetrical face and small mouth, his dad had eight teeth removed and then braces, interventions he now thinks were ill-advised. My husband been using a palate expander for the past two years to try to address some of the issues he thinks all that work caused. The ALF is a gentler version of the same concept: help to create space between the teeth through consistent and light pressure and then you won’t have to remove teeth or use braces, at all or for not as long. Those exert a tremendous force that we’re hoping to avoid for my sensitive little guy.
It’s not just aesthetic, this approach to working with the body instead of against it. Your nose wants your palate to be wide enough for good air flow. The jaw is connected to posture and hip alignment. The pituitary gland behind the nose and eyes wants enough space to properly regulate growth. It’s all connected, the structure and then how the structure impacts our senses and our moods.
The other part of my son’s structural issues come from pregnancy and birth. I’m super petite, and I probably had lingering inflammation from all my gut issues that further restricted his movement in utero. No room => reduced ability to grow an adequately long umbilical cord => 1) getting stuck breech where his head was smooshed by my ribs and => 2) being unable to drop into the birth canal => c-section where forceps came in at the end to remove his head => a skull that is not the ideal shape and that, osteopaths and cranial workers tell me, has a lot of tightness.
The hope is that doing this gently now will spare him from complications and a longer duration of more intense interventions later on. But it’s not exactly fun. Now in second grade and sporting 9th and 10th adult teeth that are finding no room at the inn, my little son is going to the dentist every four weeks to have this appliance adjusted and then, the following week, seeing an osteopath or craniosacral therapist who can help his bones and fascia accommodate the new space that should have been there all along. (Space that might have been there if his parents and their parents had stuck to nutrient-dense and unprocessed diets. So says the work of 1920s dentist and world traveler Weston A. Price, work that was integral to starting my own healing journey, which both is and isn’t another story).
The cost is a big lump to swallow, but we’re fortunate to be able to do it right now. What is the big challenge for me is actually finding the space in the calendar to fit it all in. Between a few after school commitments (less than a lot of kids, really!) and the doctors’ schedules and other commitments I might have for my own work or health or volunteerism, finding the two exact right days in any given month is surprisingly difficult. Oh, and add in the fact that the initial installation in January and the adjustments have caused a spike in temperamental behavior or inner ear issues such that it has felt irresponsible to send him to school twice already. I almost feel like I might have to build in a day after these appointment when he just has to stay low-key to integrate everything.
Earlier this week, I was talking with a counselor – okay, intuitive healer – about how my body is holding resentment about having to manage everything from my kids – and other things I freely chose! – along with guilt about whatever I don’t do, or what I perceive that I don’t do well. She told me I’d need to work on asking my husband for very specific help and at the same time not expect him to think like me. Our natural styles of communication are very different, and wanting them to be more similar won’t make them so.
But they can be more successful if I realize my sensitivity to pick everything up and need to consider so many things at once is part of the issue, and is maybe something I can work on. And, she said I ought to know that I flit between right and left brain all the time and to respect that my husband is more comfortable staying in one hemisphere before switching gears. I thought of how his acupuncturist told him to do the thing where you hold you hand over your head to the opposite ear, and how it seems like Dahn yoga and Tai Chi and lots of other brain integration work talks about crossing the midline. Where is that Dahn meditation session I bought in December with the magnet meditation kit I haven’t yet opened? Maybe it’s time to break that out. Date night?
With my counselor’s advice in mind, I’ve been looking at the fact that I look so closely at context – because of who I am at my core and because of who I need to be as a mom. That super-context thinking becomes for mothers today what Brigid Schulte called “contaminated time” in a Washington Post magazine article a while back, a piece she’s expanded into her forthcoming book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time.
Recently, I got a little freaked out when I attended a networking and two very successful women talked about sacrificing sleep for their businesses. With this health-challenged body, that is simply not an option. And even though starting a business is not the easiest task, I do believe that pursuing a passion will, in the long run, be the most beneficial avenue for me and for my family, far healthier than going back to teaching or working another job that would create other challenges for us. But in the today, well, I need to be here in the today and make sure my breath and brain and heart are present as well.
Intellectually, I love logic puzzles and figuring out what goes where. I aced that part of the old GRE back in the day, and it’s why I voluntarily engage in lots of projects and activities. I spend exactly zero time playing games of any kind – computer, crossword, Sudoku. I even leave the board games to the babysitter. Instead I take on project after project – of my own creation, or when asked, or just because it’s a responsibility necessary for my children’s health and well-being. Life has become my puzzle, which is great, and it also sucks since real people are the moving pieces.
When figuring out which thing comes before or after which other thing is not an exercise on paper but instead involves other people’s bodies and hearts, the stakes are high. So high they can feel like stakes in your solar plexus if you point them the wrong way. Because when you fail to get it right, shit falls apart, or lands in your lap. And you can’t just easily erase and start over. There’s also a whole lot of unpredictability about parenting, especially when you don’t have an office job that comes first – sick kids staying home, sick spouse staying home in your work space, snow days that delete an entire block off the calendar without inserting another anyplace else. It’s hard to feel like you have any room to move.
This is why I was fascinated with the 3D puzzles at the osteopath’s office yesterday. My son played with them while the doctor had to take a phone call. There are 8 tiles in each one, two rows of 3, and the third row has one blank spot. The pieces only slide, and you have to use that empty space strategically.
Once my boy got back on the table to have his head worked on, I picked up the frog that had stumped him. I knew what a frog looked like, so I could imagine what went where. After a few false starts, I had a vision of starting with what I knew would be one corner and keeping that goal in mind even if I had to temporarily move it to another spot to get the other pieces in the right direction.
When I held the completed puzzle up for my son to see, I felt like a newly minted cowgirl who’d just lassoed a calf. The doctor seemed a little impressed. Then I tackled a second puzzle, the cat, once again bolstered by the fact that I knew where a cat’s feet and head ought to be. But it was a mystery where that empty space would end up, and I found myself surprised to see it in the corner when the whole thing was done, as if I’d forgotten how important it was.
Finally came the puzzle that had some kind of sun and moon combination. This was different because I’d not seen the puzzle complete and I didn’t know how the two celestial bodies were married into one design. I had to imagine the possible outcome even as I tackled the maneuvering of confusing pieces.
When I had completed all three puzzles the doctor had, he shared that there were plenty of people who came to the office and could never get even one of them. My success at this doesn’t exactly make me a rock star, but it did give me a little confidence boost. And perspective.
All these things I take on? In my life? I do them because they are fun and because I chose them, at least at some level. That doesn’t mean there isn’t frustration, or that I don’t wish some things – like my diet, or my son’s crowded mouth – were simpler, but the more I look at things as opportunities I get to have, the better they turn out and the more enjoyable they are in the process.
What I think I need to do is ensure that I always retain enough space so that things can move. And if something falls into that crucial empty space, and I feel like everything else is stuck, then I can create that space again by taking something away or asking for help instead of just wallowing in the impossibleness of it all.