faith

Cursed Independence

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a parent is not dress my child—to stand there and watch with my hands at my sides while he tries to get his head through the sleeve hole. For the past two weeks, Stump (who is newly three) has insisted on dressing himself. All the parenting experts insist that I should encourage this kind of independence. But really it doesn’t matter whether I encourage him or not. Stump doesn’t need me to cheer him on; he needs me to stay the fuck out of his way.

Stump’s rules are clear. I’m allowed to verbally coach him, but I’m not allowed to be physically involved. “That’s the wrong hole,” I might say as he puts his underwear on sideways, and he laughs and makes the adjustment. Everybody’s happy. But just as often something gets hung up—a sleeve is turned half inside-out, or a pant leg gets stuck above his knee, and I must stand there passively as he sorts through the problem. The other day, he had tried three times to put on his pants. On the first try he put both of his legs in the same side. On the second try, the pants were inside out. On the third try, they slid on almost perfectly, except that the waist was just a little crooked. As I reached out to straighten the elastic, I knew that I was making a mistake, but still I continued. I did it so quickly that Stump couldn’t stop me. “Why you do that?” Stump demanded. It was a good question. I don’t know why I did it. Without another word, he took off the pants. He looked at me coolly and started over.

Here’s a problem: most days we actually have to go somewhere, and we have to be there at a certain time. Sometimes a shirt has turned inside-out from all Stump’s dressing and undressing and I’m not allowed to right it, and he’s not able to right it himself and so we reach a standstill. He curls up, naked, in the laundry basket and lies there, dejected. If I approach him, he shoos me away. He might lie this way for ten minutes or longer, until he finally decides to choose another shirt.

This past Thursday, we started the process of getting dressed forty minutes before we had to leave for school. He put his shirt on and his underwear on without incident, but would not agree to any of his pants. As I watch the clock approach the time we had to leave, I realized that this struggle has not helped me cultivate patience. I never stop longing to intervene, to dress my own child, to hurry the process of getting ready. But this struggle has, in some strange way, taught me something about faith. It was 9:12 and we had to leave at 9:15. My son was not dressed and he would not let me dress him. Accepting this meant accepting that I had no control, and yet still I chose to believe that we would make it out the door. I put on my own coat. I put on my own shoes. Stump watched me and decided he would wear the pants with the cars on them. He put them on one leg at a time, and then, by some strange miracle, agreed to let me put his socks on for him.

When we got in the car, the sun was shining for the first time that week. We left at 9:16. Everything was okay.

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Better than Band-aids: some things that made infertility suck a little less

Last week I wrote about my struggle to get pregnant with my first son. During those two years, I heard all kinds of advice and remarks that were generally unhelpful—unhelpful in the way that I’m sure I am when close friends are going through some kind of personal turmoil that I have no experience with. I may listen and nod, but when it comes time for me to say something, I come up short. I say the equivalent of “Just relax and it will happen,” or, “Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.” But this week I want to point a bright ray of sunlight on the few things that helped me during that time.

1. After about six months of trying to conceive, I sat cross-legged on a friend’s couch, explaining how I had assumed I’d be pregnant on the first or second try. She looked me in the eye and said, “Well, you know, you’re still one of the most fertile people I know.” I carried that sentence around with me for the next year and half like a stone in my pocket. Infertility had made me feel broken, but my friend’s statement helped me see the larger picture, to understand that fertility might mean more than making babies, that my person still had value.

2.  A counselor once told me, at the end of our session: “Seek as much pleasure as you can.” In some ways, this statement might not be so different from the ubiquitous advice, “Relax!”, but I found it far more helpful. To me, “Relax!” was an admonition; it implied that I was doing it all wrong. But “Seek pleasure” was instructive. It didn’t promise a baby, but it reminded me that in the meantime I could enjoy myself. It helped me sleep more, eat better, and listen to the whisper inside of me that told me what I craved.

3. In the spirit of seeking pleasure, I stopped spending a fortune on acupuncture (which I did not enjoy) and instead sought out a massage therapist. During our first session, she asked what I wanted to work on, and I told her I’d been trying to conceive for over a year. She looked at me with empathy and revealed, “It took me three years to get pregnant.” And suddenly, just like that, I felt hopeful again.

4. This last one is impossible, but it would have solved everything. One day, when my first son was two, we were on a walk together and I realized: if I could have a photograph of this moment, and if I could time travel back two years, I would have had so much patience. If I could have seen a single photo of my son, there would have been no dread or urgency to my waiting. They say that faith is knowing without proof, and apparently I’m incapable of that, which is what made those years painful. If the future me could have provided the past me with proof, I’m certain those two years would have felt like twenty-four months instead of an impossible eon.

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