There are a million and one metaphors I could use to portal into this topic. But the one that is most vivid is a bear stuck in some sort of a paw trap in the woods. I have no idea if paw traps exist, or if they are used on bears, but bear (oy vey…) with me.
You know how this goes. The trap locks down on aforementioned bear’s paw and bear startles and struggles, tries to get away. In so doing, she keeps injuring and re-injuring her paw in the sharp metal confines of the trap. Finally, she surrenders, relaxes, submits to reality. And the paw, still throbbing and sore, feels better. The bear, still trapped, feels a little less terrified and takes stock.
Here I am. Now what?
Now I’m going to compare motherhood to being stuck in a bear trap.
There are many moments a day when I struggle against some known or unknown force and then finally submit and feel both defeat and relief.
I have a bushel of things to do this morning—meal planning, grocery shopping, nanny-share hunting, thyroid lab procuring, prescription filling and blog writing. This long list, in and of itself, is a problem. Some days, I do manage to keep things more simple and take on less. But let’s face it, I’m a creature of the here and now, and we’re pretty big on dodging traffic between appointments while checking our voicemail and sucking down a latte.
Since I’ve got this big list and one child who is off to school for the next 3 and a half hours, I assess my other wild card—baby Cal—to get a sense for how to organize the morning. It’s nap time, and I will triumph. I’ll put Cal down for his nap and get the meal planning and shopping list ready during that sweet 40 minute reprieve.
I do the song and dance (literally) and place Cal down for the nap. He won’t have it. I try again with a modified song and dance (literally) and still no. I could leave him to cry for a few minutes—sometimes he can put himself to sleep quickly this way, but I decide that it’s too much for me this morning, and I relent. Though I know he’s not hungry, I settle into bed and give him another long nurse. I hold his pudgy, white hand. And tip my head back against the wall and close my eyes. The bear takes stock. Her paw hurts less.
The other metaphor that was in contention this morning was that of a Chinese finger cuff. You know the little, cheapy tubes you can win at seedy carnivals—they’re woven out of contrasting strips of wood? bamboo? When you shove both your fingers in and try to pull them out, the cuff stretches and narrows and traps your fingers inside.
The way to get out of this particular pickle is, once again, to stop trying to struggle out of it. If you move your fingers towards each other, the cuff relaxes and voila! you’re free.
Now I’m going to compare motherhood to struggling out of a Chinese finger cuff.
Thirty five million times a day, I have something that I need or want 4 year old Jo to do. About thirty five million minus five times a day, Jo doesn’t want to do that thing. It is exhausting and frustrating for both of us.
I’ve been finding, thanks to a Hand in Hand Parenting class, that Jo is often a lot more cooperative when he feels connected to me. In other words, if I can put all the groceries and the baby down and turn off whatever is boiling over on the stove and get closer to Jo and look in his eyes and play with him for a few minutes or ask him what’s going on, things after that point go better. Not always, but often.
This morning we had 15 minutes to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and pack lunch before his carpool got here to take him to pre-school. We only had 15 minutes because I strategically took 7 minutes to send various cars and animals rocketing down a track he had built on our stairs in the hopes that this connection would see us through the morning gauntlet. It sort of did.
I still wound up restraining him from throwing cashews in the kitchen that he didn’t want to eat and the toothbrushing was a lengthier negotiation than I wanted. Finally, the car arrived to whisk him off to school. I wanted nothing more than to toss him inside and run for my life. Instead, he hid behind my legs and willed his body to weigh 80 extra pounds, his little shoes sinking into our patio like a rusty anchor. At this moment, I wanted to say, through gritted teeth, with all the authority and domineering I could muster, “Jo, you have to let go, its time to get in the car.”
She struggles to pull her fingers apart, and the Chinese finger cuff wraps its grip even tighter.
Instead, I surrendered. Got down, looked in his eyes and said, “Are you feeling shy?” “Yes,” he said. Connection? Check.
He shuffled those 80 lb feet all the way to the car and got inside like a champ.
While the motherhood-as-trap metaphor sounds defeatist and sad, it also feels deeply true. There are so many moments that I just want to use my free will and strength and smarts to muscle through. Often when I do this, there is so much collateral damage in the form of tantrums and resistance that it’s really not worth it. But there are some days when I just really, really want to run free. Fast and unencumbered.
And then I take stock.
Here I am.
I have 2 children. That means that there is a built in, hour by hour surrender to my days. Sometimes, that surrender feels like giving up. Other times, it feels old and true and wise. I want less struggle. I want more connection. But I also want freedom.