Straddling the Cultural Hyphen

I went for a walk with my nonno one day. I must have been eight or nine. He kept repeating the same word over and over again as we hunted in nooks and crevices. Wash-a-room. Wash-a-room. I couldn’t understand why we had left my grandparents home, containing two full bathrooms, in search for an alternate washroom. It was only after some time and by the power of observation that I realized that my nonno was actually hunting for mushrooms. Wild mushrooms. He was foraging, and I’d almost missed it. 

This is what happens in the gap between Italian and Canadian. Language gets lost. I’ve tried all my life to keep one foot on either side of the hyphen, standing proudly as a first-generation Canadian, yet not wanting to do disservice to my thoroughly Italian roots. But things tend to get a little mixed up in the hyphen. 

Growing up, whenever my dad would come home I’d say Hi!, and he would reply with “Chipolla, no aglio.” Onion, not garlic. Chi-po-la, no hai-li-o. It was his favourite inter-lingual play on words, and pretty much sums everything up. The juggling, the limbo, the living in both worlds. It’s like how most people swear in their mother tongue, but I swear in Italian; or how as a kid I knew my mom was really mad if I heard her swear in English. Everything is just a little mixed up. 

And it makes me sad, that hyphen. Because there is so much meat to the old-school Italian culture that I don’t want to see lost. My dad’s stories of post-war Italy, having nothing but an army blanket on his bed to keep him warm. Or how his first time intoxicated he was seven years old, playing with a friend in the cantina on a summer day, taking sips from the spout of the wine barrel whenever they were thirsty. Eventually they fell asleep on top of the wine barrel, forgetting to shut the spout, and emptying Nonno’s entire supply of wine in the process. My nonna’s homemade pasta, and her biscotti and latte before bed. My mom’s lasagna—my version of comfort food, which has already been lost in the hyphen between me and my kids. 

My kids, Italian-Scottish-Cornish-Ontarian-Quebecer-Anglo-Gaspesian-Montrealer-Canadian, are so riddled with hyphens that they are effectively now just simply, Canadian. Canadian, in three generations. Three generations to remove lasagna as a comfort food (my son doesn’t even like pasta at all, something I refuse to speak about openly), to no longer refer to veal cutlets as fettine, to refer to wine as alcohol rather than just another beverage belonging with every meal, to live in a house without two kitchens and a cantina. Three generations, and I know my kids’ kids won’t refer to their aunt and uncle as Zia and Zio, that I will be the last Nonna down our line. Three generations of hyphens forming a stepladder up our family tree, a stepladder that carried our family across an ocean and between continents, but that with each step our ancestral memories grow a little fuzzier, our traditions get a little less traditional, and we forget what things were supposed to mean, and so make up new meanings for the future generations. 

 I think of my nonna. On the day she gave birth to my mother she was on the family farm in Italy. She turned to my nonno and said, “I think the baby is coming today,” to which he replied, “So get everything ready then meet me in the fields, there’s work to do.” So, she prepared the bedroom for a home delivery, then went outside to work the fields. The fields are exactly where she went into labour. And I think, looking into her newest daughter’s eyes, did she ever consider it a possibility that this daughter’s daughter would barely be able to carry on a conversation in Italian at all? My phone calls with my nonna always went something like this:

Ciao, Nonna.

Ciao, Maria.

Come stai?

Good. 

That being about the part where she would begin to take pity on me. 

But I also can’t help but think, as I put some weight on my right foot, that there’s something kind of fun about the mix. In the same way that everyone loves a mutt, we get to choose the best of all worlds. I know way more couples in my generation that are culturally mixed than not, and their kids are mutts like mine are, and I think that’s fun, too. Because on one side of my hyphen, culture was not a choice, and on the other, it is. And whereas with my Italian family I am often more concerned with what is culturally acceptable or not acceptable, with my kids we focus more on the choices they make as individuals. 

I can’t help but wonder whether the more hyphens there are, the more choices that will arise. We had to lose a sense of culture in order to build a new one, close a door to open a window and all that. Because ultimately, we will never remember more than three generations that precede us, such is life’s way of forcing us to focus on the present. But we do get to choose what traits get carried over the hyphens and up each new rung of the ladder.

Let it be the food, please, let it be the food. 

-mtg

Self-Care & Pandemic Parenting

I’ve been having a hard time focusing lately. I’ll sit down at my computer in the morning, prepared to get to work, and I’ll just stare at the screen, unable to process my next steps. There are too many balls in the air, too many things requiring my attention. 

The kids have been pushed to being relatively independent since March, but they’ll still forget to eat, or “forget” their chores. Ball. 

The puppy can’t be trusted for more than 45 mins before impending doom by way of an accident on my carpet. Ball.

Back to school is around the corner, and like most parents, sending our kids into an unventilated cesspool of germs is proving stressful. Our lack of options is stressful. Ball. 

I have work to do, a set number of tasks that need to get done each day, a set number of hours I am paid to work each week, I don’t have a choice but to get it done. Ball. 

The kids still need their mama. Several times a day. Pointe finale. Ball. 

Everybody has a schedule. I’m in charge of knowing everyone’s schedule. Ball. 

I need to start labelling school supplies. Ball.  

We need groceries. Ball. 

Those groceries need to be turned into meals. Ball. 

The house…. the house… Ball. Ball. Ball. 

I’m managing my own self-care, making sure to give myself more of what I need. But, these days I don’t even know what that is. I need sleep. I need to not be stressed. I need to hide my stress from my kids. I need to focus. What I need more than anything right now is focus. My brain feels like it is splintering. 

This morning I sat down at my computer, and after clicking from screen to screen to screen, unable to decide on which one I should land, unable to bring any of them into focus, I decided to step away. I went outside. I got on my bike. I gave myself something concrete to focus on. Even if just for half an hour. Even if just for 5 minutes. Sometimes stepping away is the best kind of self-care. 

This pandemic parenting isn’t over. One way or another we need to keep it together.  

-mtg

#getpolitical

It was on a popular mommy blog’s post about the upcoming US elections that I read the comment (and I’m paraphrasing), “I thought this was a mom blog. Don’t make it political,” and I was incensed. Or, annoyed at the very least. The mere idea that a mom blog should not be political upset me to my very core. It led me to ask the question, Why not? Why shouldn’t a mom blog be political? 

Whereas I’ve always had a firepit burning in the core of my belly when it came to social justice, I believe that motherhood and politics merged back in 2016. I was hired at a job that I labelled my dream job. My boss seemed cool, relaxed, and understanding about things like work-life balance. This was particularly important to me as a mother. But, then the US elections happened, and the ripple effect of that outcome permeated even beyond the US borders. Suddenly it was okay to be sexist, racist, and homophobic. Suddenly there were so many more of these uglies, as I see them, feeling free to roam the streets. My boss, much to my surprise, was one of them. Slowly the comments came out—the gays this, the immigrants that—each day becoming more and more ugly. I was naïve and slow to come around to my new reality, but a turning point came for me the day that Alyssa Milano began the massive wave that would become the #metoo. I was pumped. I was excited. I went into the staff kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee and my boss and his cronies were in there, talking US politics. In my energetic state—feeling as I was that a monumental change was on the horizon of human rights and equality—I said, You know, I believe that if and when the day comes that Trump gets ousted, it will be at the hands of a woman. I expected some form of agreement, even if it was only in the form of a nod or uh-huh. I expected that I wasn’t speaking to a room of uglies. But I was. I really, really was. I was not speaking to a room of males that believed women are equals, I was not speaking to a room of men that saw the validity of #metoo, I was not speaking to a room of men that thought women had any place in politics. I had obviously not read the room at all. But once I did, I was legitimately incensed. 

Four years later, not enough has changed in the world of uglies. If anything, they’ve become that much more fervent. But, so have the voices of the other side, the ones that do believe in equality is a basic human right that should be available to all citizens and inhabitants of each town, city, county, state or province, country, continent and planet. Whether it’s about #blacklivesmatter, LGBTQ rights, or a woman’s ability to make decisions about her own body, the voices have gotten stronger, firmer, filled with resolve and backbone.Which is what made me particularly exasperated when I read that comment, amongst other similar sentiments. Because when there are people out there who still question the validity of any of the above, and who go entirely out of their way to denounce the most basic rights of another human, how can it not be political? And not only that, but shouldn’t the mothers be the ones to get the most political? The mothers, who are raising the next generation of black youth, gay youth, straight youth, white youth; the mothers who want all the hating to stop and who teach that love is love; the mothers who want to raise strong women who don’t need hashtags like #metoo, should be okay with getting political. 2020 is political. 2020 is all kinds of political. Get. The. Fuck. Political. You don’t have to take to the streets and wave flags but, have the conversations and make them count. Don’t shy away. It’s okay if it makes you uncomfortable. Get political.  

That same boss and I had a face-to-face confrontation at one point where he suggested that he be allowed his opinions and I be allowed mine. He thought it was a reasonable approach. However, I did not agree. When one person’s opinions hinder the human rights of another, they are no longer entitled to their opinions. This is the realization we’ve come to in 2020. This is the truth that needs to be taught to future generations. Change is actually possible and women can be the leaders of change.

The suffragettes had a slogan that read, The young are at the gates. The young are at the gates of change. The young must be led by their mothers.

Random Thoughts: Introvert Mood


I was feeling a bit blue today. One thing about being an #introvert personality, and specifically an #INFJ personality, is that feelings come in a big, often overwhelming way. It can be hard to process… often that makes me seem aloof, because I’m so caught up in my head, but on the inside there are whirlwinds to contend with. Today I was spiraling, caught up in the funnel. I tried to sit quietly with a cup of tea, to attempt a meditation, but ultimately I needed to get out and work the feelings out of me through physical activity. I went for a ride. At first I thought I didn’t have it in me, I wasn’t sure I could make 10k, wasn’t sure I could make it up that big hill that challenges me every time, wasn’t sure I had the energy to focus on more than pushing one pedal at a time. In truth I was praying as I went, venting maybe, pleading. Spewing my spiral out into the universe. And then I saw these guys. Deer have forever been my happy animal, just the sight of them brings me joy. They are so graceful and peaceful. We just stood there, looking at each other for a while, and then I got back on my bike and kept going. As I rode I realized that my spiral was over. I was thinking, but my thoughts had turned to more productive things. I also noticed that my body was moving faster. Without even trying I was riding the fastest I’ve ridden since forever, and I powered up that hill with energy I didn’t even know I had in me today. I don’t know… I know not everyone believes that the universe communicates with us. For me, it does. For me it always has. I’m very grateful for it.

-mtg

Random Thoughts: Desperately Seeking

I’ve always been bothered by the “desperately seeking” posts that I often see online.
Desperately seeking mother of pearl lace-trimmed curtains.
Desperately seeking mahogany-coloured bar stools.
Desperately seeking stuff and more stuff.
But I find that it bothers me more than ever, now.
Maybe it’s because so many have lost jobs.
Maybe it’s because so many lost lives.
Maybe it’s because the fight for personal freedoms is still needed in 2020. In 2020 especially.
Maybe it’s because of all it.
If I’ve learned anything at all this year it’s that there’s so much more of value in the world than what we can buy with a credit card.
If you need a chair, seek a chair, but desperately seek a place for your loved ones to rest.
If you need an umbrella, seek an umbrella, but desperately seek a way to keep yourself warm and dry.
If you want a play set, seek a play set, but desperately seek a chance for your kids to play freely and without reservation.
If you need help, seek help, desperately.
If you need friendship, seek friendship.
If you need space, seek space.
If you need food, seek food, desperately.
Seek harmony, desperately.
Seek to share your love.
Seek play.
Seek calm.
Seek health.
Seek the stuff that you need in your life, but,
if you’re desperately seeking,
seek life.

-mtg

Random Thoughts: Strong Girls

Last night my almost-nine year old daughter was curled up in bed–pajamas on, cuddling a pillow, holding her favourite mug filled with her favourite herbal tea, and reading The Bridge to Terabithia. She was the epitome of cozy. As I passed by she called out and said, “Look, mom. I’m your perfect picture.”

I felt a queasy squeeze in my belly over the word perfect. I don’t like it, I feel too much pressure when I hear it. I redirected her words by responding with, “That’s definitely one of my favourite activities.”

She continued. “I just felt like curling up with a book and a cup of tea, so I did it.”

“Good girl,” I said. But then the queasy returned.

I always feel the queasy when I hear myself say “good girl” or “good boy.” Not because of the gendered part, but because of the good part. I always feel like I’m telling her who to be and how to behave by labeling something good or perfect. My daughter is a fireball, as I was a fireball at her age. I often feel like that was trained out of me, and, difficult as it can be, I don’t want to be the one to subdue her fire.

So I said, “You know, when I say “good girl” I don’t mean that because it’s an activity that I like to do. I mean it because you listened to yourself and went for it.”

She looked at me with a duh expression and said, “Yeah, I know.”

But I persisted. “I mean, it’s not because you’re being quiet and calm in this moment that you’re good.”

At that point she looked at me with an expression resembling something like pity mixed with annoyance over my ineptitude. She actually slowed down her speech when she responded. “Yeah, mom. I know.”

And that’s when I realized that it’s me that has the problem.

-mtg

Random Thoughts: When one person’s opinions hinder the human rights of another, they’re no longer entitled to their opinions.

Every time a movement happens that gives me hope for the future of my kids, I always make the mistake of reading comments sections. Then I lose hope all over again. Why people work so hard to resist the idea of human rights for all boggles my mind. I once worked for someone who embodied the racist/sexist/homophobic white male, and after countless episodes where he felt the absolute freedom to speak whatever nonsense he was in the mood to speak that day, I confronted him. In that confrontation he said that he has the right to his opinions, and that we could agree to disagree. But no, I didn’t agree with that. When one person’s opinions hinder the human rights of another, they’re no longer entitled to their opinions. If you were seeing a therapist, they would tell you from the outset that anything you say will be kept confidential, unless what you say infers harm to another. At that point the therapist would raise the alarm. Right now there are a lot of alarms being raised, because there’s a lot of harm being done. As I tell my kids, it’s not ok to harm each other, we are not allowed that right.

I have this banner hanging on the wall outside my kids’ rooms. It’s the Suffragette slogan, and I keep it there to remind them and myself that they are the young, and they can break the gates down.

-mtg


Lavinia Dock, “The Young Are At The Gates,” June 30, 1917.

If any one says to me: “Why the picketing for Suffrage?” I should say in reply, “Why the fearless spirit of youth? Why does it exist and make itself manifest?” Is it not really that our whole social world would be likely to harden and toughen into a dreary mass of conventional negations and forbiddances–into hopeless layers of conformity and caste, did not the irrepressible energy and animation of youth, when joined to the clear-eyed sham-hating intelligence of the young, break up the dull masses and set a new pace for laggards to follow?

What is the potent spirit of youth? Is it not the spirit of revolt, of rebellion against senseless and useless and deadening things? Most of all, against injustice, which is of all stupid things the stupidest?

Such thoughts come to one in looking over the field of the Suffrage campaign and watching the pickets at the White House and at the Capitol, where sit the men who complacently enjoy the rights they deny to the women at their gates. Surely, nothing but the creeping paralysis of mental old age can account for the phenomenon of American men, law-makers, officials, administrators, and guardians of the peace, who can see nothing in the intrepid young pickets with their banners, asking for bare justice but common obstructors of traffic, nagger’-nuisances that are to be abolished by passing stupid laws forbidding and repressing to add to the old junk-heap of laws which forbid and repress? Can it be possible that any brain cells not totally crystallized could imagine that giving a stone instead of bread would answer conclusively the demand of the women who, because they are young, fearless, eager, and rebellious, are fighting and winning a cause for all women–even for those who are timid, conventional, and inert?

A fatal error–a losing fight. The old stiff minds must give way. The old selfish minds must go. Obstructive reactionaries must move on. The young are at the gates!

Credit: Lavinia Dock, “The Young Are At The Gates,” The Suffragist, June 30, 1917.

We Are Born the People We’re Meant to Be

I believe we are born the people we were always meant to be. Whether or not we remain that person over the course of our lifetime, that’s another thing. But I believe our true self is always the same. 

When I was five years old I was a flower girl, along with another little girl my age. There is a picture of the two of us as we started our trip down the aisle. In the photo the other girl wore a perfect smile, she was poised and proper, she was holding her basket of petals with grace and she was not at all daunted by the ogling eyes of the crowd. Standing beside her was me, the exact opposite of the put-together image she exuded. I was a scraggly mess, my hair was already unkempt and my dress looked like I had been doing cartwheels while wearing it. I was dragging my basket behind me, and in my eyes was the unmistakable look of someone who wanted out from that crowd. Looking at that photo, even as a young child, I could easily see that there was a difference between us. No one had to say it but the message was clear: Maria equalled mess. 

I was always the one with the hair sticking out in all directions. Clothes went onto my body clean and pressed, but were lopsided and dirty before I even left my room. Whenever someone in my family tells a story about me as a kid, undoubtedly I’m being someone they shake their heads at. I was wild, had crazy ideas, and an artistic flair that my practical family didn’t know what to do with. Maria equalled confusion.

I tried, at various points in my teenage years, to dress with style or learn about makeup, but I was always more comfortable wearing cargo pants and hoodies. On the soul level I always felt like I was swaggering between what was normal and what was me; what felt acceptable generally, and what felt acceptable for myself. Maria equalled limbo.

For me, life is a series of paths put together in various intertwining shapes and forms. Sometimes we go off path, and when we do, the question always remains,–somewhere, ringing deep in our bones–Will we find our way back to the path where we belong?

In my early twenties, I worked at an art gallery. We had a volunteer that would come every Sunday afternoon and take ownership of the jewellery counter in the gallery’s shop. She was in her seventies, always wore a skirt and heels, and was never without her hair pinned and her makeup on. Her name was Margaret, and she was a sophisticated old broad. 

I grew to love Margaret. She had outlived both her husband and son and had kept on living, with spunk and determination. She was always regaling us young girls with stories about her bus rides up to the casino and weekend vacation tours. She was a free and proud woman.

Around the time when I left the art gallery for other adventures, she invited me out for lunch. Over roasted chicken she told me about her many pursuers, and about how little she was interested in any of them. She listed off her upcoming trips, the extent of which put my own social life to shame. She spoke about her life, she spoke about the future, she reminded me to fully be myself.

That was the last time I would ever see Margaret, but as I left her that day I was filled with a goal, a lifelong determination, to heed Margaret’s message. To shine, to be okay with my crazy, to show my wild, to not give a shit about the opinions of others. I knew that I could never be as elegant as Margaret, but I could grow into a Red Hat Society kind of old lady and that was good enough for me.

If we were each a tree, the branches would be the complications, the distractions, the judgments and the pressures that can alter the course of our lives. The older we get, the more forks we find in our branches. But all branches lead back to the tree’s base, the core of the tree, the centre of its strength. I think that the older women get, the more they align with that core. The more they align, the more they want to align. Also, the less they care about dropping a branch or two along the way. While I was mixed up in the branches, Margaret was standing solidly at the base of her own tree. 

The path where we belong is not about the what we do. It’s about the who we are. It’s the little girl you wrote to in your first-ever journal. It’s the teenager who went against her parents’ wishes when choosing her university major. It’s how you feel when you find your step and walk with purpose.The who you are is the person you say good-bye to each night, once the kids are asleep and the lights have gone out, and you’re free to breathe.

The who I am has stayed consistent throughout my life. There were certainly times when I chose a wrong path, a path that moved me away from my core. Maybe it was that time I didn’t speak up, or that friend I stood by when I shouldn’t have, or that feeling I got from my family about my choices, or how I felt judged when I was at my most vulnerable. Maybe it was that boyfriend or not trusting my instincts or that choice I made that I now regret. But, ultimately, I always come back to me. I try hard to listen to the inner voice that calls me forward. I try hard to pay attention to how I feel along the way. I try hard to remember Margaret and how she taught me what it feels like to be free. I try hard to remember myself, my wild, my artsy, my crazy, my messy, my scraggly, and all of the me that’s been there since day one. When I remember that person, it becomes easier to get back to her. 

Maria equals the sum of all my parts. Unequivocally, entirely, undeniably. Like Margaret, when I stand at the base of my tree–strong, proud, firm and unwavering–I am also my most free. Although I may still buy myself a red hat when I’m fifty.

All About Self-Care

About four years back I put together this little workbook for moms. I had just emerged from what I call the mom-fog, that period of time when our kids are young and needy and we as moms are still new enough in our role to sweat the small stuff. It’s that period of perpetual exhaustion, when, I think, we kind of lose pieces of our essence. I was feeling really grateful for having emerged from this fog and wanted to do something, anything, that could potentially assist other moms to do the same. I gathered thoughts, techniques, and outside inspiration, and put them together into one actionable set of resources.

I had a goal, at the time, to turn the workbook into an online course of sorts, something visual that could be followed along. This felt like a huge undertaking, and something that would take me well out of my comfort zone. It took a few years, but I finally did it. Om is now available as a free download and a free online course.

Could I have done better? Probably. But did I accomplish a goal? Definitely. My hope, as always, is that it bring value to the people that follow it. Self-care matters.

Below is an excerpt from the workbook, the Introduction:

Introduction

I always knew I wanted to be a mom, there was never any question. My kids are and have always been my number one priority in life. Being a mom isn’t something you can shut off—once you are a mom, you’re a mom for life.

But I wasn’t prepared for how the early years of motherhood would change me. That I would no longer be able to view my beloved crime dramas out of paranoia, that my previously adventurous spirit would be tamed into concern at every turn, that I would forget that there were things I was good at other than diaper changing and expressing Good job!, this was a surprise to me. I didn’t see it as it was happening, but slowly my life swirled more and more out of balance to the point that I had forgotten myself. Every day was about the kids, and only about the kids.  

Everyone has turning points in their lives, events that force you to see things a different way. In my life, in this case, it was a series of miscarriages that turned me around. The miscarriages forced me to take care of myself, to heal my wounds, to be temporarily selfish and to add myself to my priority list. I was (and am) no less grateful at the opportunity given to me in life to be a mother, my children are my heart. But, just as I want to raise them to be strong individuals, I was forced into remembering that I, also, am a strong individual. We are bound together, but we are also separate. And that’s not only OK, but necessary.  

When my first child was born I had this overwhelming feeling that I had found my life’s purpose, that being a mom was truly my calling. Since then, I’ve realized that a person can have many callings, be multi­talented, and that not all my goodies need to cook in one pot. It’s OK to do things for myself only, it’s OK to take care of me as much as I take care of my family. My personal interests are critical to my personal development. If I am not paying attention to all my interests, I am not developing.  

I consider the act of caring for our kids but forgetting to care for ourselves to be a bad habit we moms fall into. As studies say it takes  only 21 days to break a habit, let this be the place you begin. 

After writing a mom blog for four years—which was really an online diary of personal struggle and development—I came to recognize that as moms, in general, we need to keep our sights on ourselves. This is the purpose this workbook is meant to serve.  

If you are a mom who, like me, struggles to remember the person you were before motherhood, and struggles to remain aligned with the person you always strived to become, this workbook is for you. If you feel you have all your ducks lined up—great! That’s something to be truly proud of. Perhaps this workbook won’t serve any purpose other than defining the way you choose to spend your “you” time for the next three weeks. Either way, this journey is meant to quiet your mind, take you away from your task­driven selves, uncover more time and meaning in your lives, and inspire a generally more positive shift in perspective. The goal is to reconnect yourself with yourself, to remember some of the deepest parts if you, forgotten in the chaos of caring for your tiny humans.

My hope is that you get as much value out of this workbook as I got putting it together. Value—receiving and experiencing value that is equal to or greater than the value we give each and every day—is what we’re aiming for. 

https://mariagiuliani.ca/books-etc/keeping-the-om-in-mom/

Repost: Remembering How to be Bien Dans Ma Peau

The French have an expression, Je suis bien dans ma peau. It means, “I am comfortable in my own skin.”

It speaks to confidence, but not only confidence. It speaks to comfort, especially. How comfortable a person is being alone with themselves, sitting with themselves, hearing their own thoughts, or, not hearing any thoughts at all; how comfortable a person is sitting in their own silence. It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or an introvert. It matters only if you are able to enjoy your own company, entertain yourself, amuse yourself, listen to yourself at both surface and deeper levels.

But this isn’t something that comes naturally to most people. In fact, I consider it to be a learned skill, something that comes with time, age, and experience.

When I was in my early twenties, I took myself on a solo road trip. It was great and wonderful in many ways, and I liked that I was on my own, but as the trip stretched from days to weeks, I stopped knowing how to be alone with myself. There was a lot of silence, and rather than push through it, I sought to fill it with exterior noise. This isn’t what I actually needed, not in the long run, but I went for the temporary relief. I started calling home and emailing friends, spending time indoors on a computer that could have been spent out exploring more of my new and temporary surroundings. I could have pushed through until I was comfortable, which is a life-long skill, but I gave up too soon.

Perhaps a decade later, I had two maternity leaves that were fairly back to back. My first one was filled with all the newness of being a first-time mom, all the figuring-things-out-ness, as well as a move to a new house, a couple of family holidays, and other things to make my year feel very full. But my second child was a winter baby, and there weren’t many new or interesting tidbits to break up the monotony of a long winter spent indoors with an infant. I am an introvert, so I didn’t get that much enjoyment from group mom and baby classes, etc. The time felt long, but, mostly because I stopped being comfortable. My family was going through a dark period, my health had taken a bit of a tumble, I had two kids in diapers and a husband who was always away, and, perhaps worst of all, I felt like I wasn’t contributing anything to my home, to my family, or to the world at large. I started to try and fill my time with ways to validate myself and my maternity leave, as though raising our kids wasn’t a good enough way to fill my time. I began to fixate on keeping our home clean as though that was my solution, but I was always angry and grumpy. I had everything I had always wanted, but I was unhappy. I wasn’t allowing myself to settle into a rhythm. I wasn’t allowing myself the chance to simply enjoy my time. I was pressuring myself to fill my time, and in doing so, stopped feeling comfortable with my life. This presented itself in various, mostly negative ways, and impacted my family in much the same way.

In both circumstances, had I only slowed down, had I only taken time to breathe through my anxieties, through any haunting thoughts or daunting challenges, I would have come out on the other side stronger than I went in. Or, much the same, but, with a few less bruises. But in both circumstances, I stopped being comfortable, I stopped allowing myself to just be, to just experience, and so, in both circumstances, I kind of lost my way.

I was thinking about this recently, given that most people are home under quarantine. Some people are home alone, or with their partner or spouse. Some people, like my husband and I, are home with kids and are alternating between loving it and losing their grip on reality. At first, it felt like a vacation. The whole family was home and we all used the opportunity to relax and unwind as one does during spring break or summer vacation. But as time went on, and as it became obvious that this “holiday” was the new norm, we all went through a period of mental adjustment. Speaking for myself, I hit a wall, and it was something I needed to work my way through.

Quarantine removes some of the choices we are used to being faced with. As someone who does not enjoy speaking out loud or communicating in person (or communicating by phone or any form of video messenger), you would think I would be okay with all this. But I dislike not having the choice and the opportunity to speak with people when a little conversation is needed. It can feel lonely without options, and even though I’m with my family, I find myself needing to reach out to the world beyond our four walls.

Quarantine also removes purpose. I had a job I was good at, now I don’t. Being faced with this reality is a bit of a mind trip. Similarly to how I felt on my second year of maternity leave, even though I am home taking care of my kids, even though I am their primary caregiver and they will be home with me for months (while my husband works from the basement, which is a more bum deal if you think about it), I feel as though I’m not contributing enough, doing enough for my family, supporting them enough, because I’m not operating at the same speed as before. I am putting this pressure on myself, like I have a duty to use this time effectively and purposefully. I saw people homeschooling with vigor or housecleaning with rigor, and yet I was stuck in a mental fog brought on by this self-inflicted feeling of pressure.

Quarantine gives us a chance to get comfortable in our own skin, if we choose to accept it. I had to come to the realization, again, that I needed to find a way to become comfortable. I needed to find a way to push through. Sometimes I need to give the loneliness and the brain fog and the insecurities a great big hug, then take them by the hand and walk together through the field of emotions that make up my inner landscape. Sometimes the only way to get to the other side is to take myself there, however long or short the journey may be.

And on the other side, there is a silence that I am comfortable with. On the other side, there is no need for outside validation, because I am valid enough. On the other side, I can reinvent my purpose. On the other side, I understand that some things are within my control, and some things are utterly beyond it.

On the other side of the ups and downs and inner conflict and rush of emotions, is a chance to be bien dans ma peau once more. Getting there is worth the work it takes to get there, although the journey itself can be a bumpy ride.

Originally published on BLUNTmoms, May 22, 2020.

%d bloggers like this: