The baby woke up from his nap. I am so bone tired and I expect to feel annoyed or indifferent when I peek over the crib railing at him, but instead I am warmed from the inside out just by looking. Even as he’s easing his way into a nasty cold, even as he’s sprouting some sharp little teeth, even when he only slept for thirty minutes of his typical two-hour nap, this little guy is smiling.
I mean- he is smiling. He’s all gums and dimples and looking straight at me with those big grey eyes. His eyes are gorgeous. Seriously, look at this kid.
So I pick him up and and kiss his cheeks and his forehead and set about changing his diaper, leaning over him while he kicks his legs and gurgles at me with such an earnest look on his face that it can only mean he’s gurgling about something pretty important. My lower back has moved past aching and now it feels like a deep burn whenever I bend over (which is often if you hadn’t guessed). Ben and Isla are home from preschool and have appeared in my bedroom as little bursts of construction paper and light-up sneakers and excited chattering about INSECTS MAMA WE LEARNED ABOUT INSECTS TODAY. Ben is still wearing his coat but his shoes are gone, probably on the stairs, and he’s hopping on one foot while peeling the sock off the other. He hops through a few of my short stacks, my careful piles of folded laundry that never seem to make it into dresser drawers. I’ve tried, for as many years as I’ve been a mother, to find a safe laundry spot where my short stacks won’t get squashed or kicked. Not the couch, because everyone will need to sit there the moment I sit down. Not the bedroom floor, because if I kneel down the dog will be all in my face and kicking through the clothes to get a good spot where he can sprawl out and demand belly rubs. Not the kitchen table because I’ll be interrupted so many times I’ll just give up and toss the clothes back in the basket. The kitchen is the control center and no mom is ever off duty when she’s standing in a kitchen.
So I’m taking in all this chaos- the two voices talking louder and louder over each other, the baby now shrieking happily and trying to compete, the heat in my lower back is flaring, now Rob is closing the garage door which shakes our bedroom like a freight train and I wince as Ben kicks over a pile of baby shirts that took forever to fold because of the stupid button snap closure between the legs and…and…it’s…I’m…actually I think I’m fine. This is fine. Not too long ago I would not have been at all fine with this kind of noise and urgency and demand for my attention. Maybe I would have started scolding and loudly telling them to pick up their crap, quit stomping through the laundry, maybe I would have hissed a “ssssshhhhh!!!” at them and worn the face of some twisted woman that took the place of their mother these past few months. Maybe I wouldn’t have said anything at all, maybe I’d have just left the room in fury and panic and cried in the bathroom with the door locked and lights turned off until it didn’t feel like my skin was made of bees.
Instead, I am fine.
Today they asked me for stories, and I easily launched into one of my long, drawn out tales about the way a young sailor fell in love with a girl named Ellen and all because of that you and me are here to have this conversation right now, and that’s why I tell you that love is the most important thing you can do. Because even though the magic in stories isn’t real, the magic in love is real. Every time you feel that sunny golden feeling in your belly and your chest when you think of someone you’re stirring up some magic in the world. They giggle and roll their eyes and ask for more stories, especially ones about when they were babies and especially ones that involve them hitting each other or eating things that aren’t food. Anything to do with pooping or peeing is a comedy goldmine. So I’m telling ridiculous stories and they’re rolling on the floor laughing and I catch this look that passes over Ben’s face. It disappears so quickly I barely have time to register it because he’s back to laughing now and my story is getting to the really good part where I do funny voices and imitations of them and the people we know. Later after they’ve had a snack and I plop them in front of the TV like a good mother, I find that I’m still bothered by the look he gave me. I still can’t quite figure out what he was feeling when he was looking at me.
Until I do.
It was apprehension.
Oh god it stung to realize it, and stings again to write it out. I told Rob about it that night and had to cover my face with my hands when I sputtered out “apprehension”.
There have been more than a few instances lately, since I’ve started taking antidepressants again, where I’m suddenly aware of how much better I’m doing. Sometimes it’s subtle, like with the kids when there’s too much noise and activity and needing me and I start to prepare myself for when I inevitably go to pieces, and then realize that I’m handling everything just fine. Or another time when I sat down and read when they wanted to read stories, even though the baby had just finally fallen asleep for his nap and I had so much laundry to do and the kitchen was a wreck and someone had pissed all over the downstairs bathroom. Again. Somehow, I wasn’t hyperventilating and sweating through my clothes and snapping at them, I was just a normal, boring person.
That look, though.
Had I disappeared so much into my illness that I made them unsure of me? Does it seem to them like I’m pretending to be happy now? Am I pretending?
I’ve never been so depressed and anxious as I was during my pregnancy, and so I’ve never been through this version of recovery. Each realization of how well I’m doing is bound to a memory of how bad it really was; relief and regret twisting into each other and forming some new feeling that I can’t recognize or name. It sits with me as I clumsily try and put the pieces of our lives where I think they should go, but I doubt myself and worry that I’m not better, that maybe I never will be. Maybe in a year I’ll look back at my journals and think of how grateful I am to not be that person anymore, the way I’m already looking back on whoever I was when I scrawled out HELP HELP HELP HELP HELP over a full page in my notebook last fall.
I’m working on trust. If any of this is going to work, I have to learn how to trust myself. I am moving forward, and even though some of my memories are dark and scary I will drag them along with me. I will trip over them as I’m climbing out of this pit and throw them on the growing pile behind me. Maybe one day I will be able to rest enough to sit down and unpack each of them and decide what has enough value to stay, and what should be tossed for good. I don’t know how long I’ll take medication, or if I’ll start slipping and need to start up again once I’ve stopped. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I already know that I’m well enough to be looked at with apprehension and not drown in the shame of it.
I am about midway between miserable and the electric slide. I’m fine.
I am fine.