My little girl runs to me from the kitchen crying, "Mommy I need you!" and leaps into my arms. She curls her fat arms and thighs around me and instantly becomes an extension of my body.
She weighs nearly thirty pounds now. I reach behind me and settle the two of us down on the hard wooden window seat in the dining room. I lean against the glass. I run my hand along her chubby form as it curls against my breast and belly. The sun beats onto my back through the window. It catches stands of her summer-lightened hair. I can feel her drinking me in. I sniff her head.
"Mommy," she murmurs.
Her desire nails me to the spot. Briefly, this is where I want to be. There is nothing else like this exchange of nectar between us. I clutch her and breathe. She clutches me and breathes. Who knows where this need comes from today? Is it a part of her brain developing? Is she frightened by her new muscles, her new thoughts?
It is impossible to know. But the relief, for me and for her, is that I care. For this moment, I can stop and just be what she needs me to be.
Kids will take us however we come, but it's so much better for them when we can be strong. And there.
Lauren Slater, author of Prozac Diary, writes in two of her books that kids of schizophrenic women fare better than those of depressed women. Of the schizo moms she read about in her research, she says: "They were crazy as bats, but at least they were responsive."
As I regain a certain level of health and the mental clouds clear bit by bit, I can see how unresponsive I have been. How inured to the whining and demands (3 per minute per young child, according to John Gottman) I have grown. This is depression, but also parenthood. I watch other parents do it, too, especially my husband.
For example, at the breakfast table this morning, we played our usual game of chicken as the kids whined about more cereal, more yogurt, wipe my face, yadda yadda yadda. M and I continued to rattle our newspapers and slurp coffee. Each of us pretended to be so enthralled in the newspaper articles (was it "Seattle Symphony Season Looks Ahead" or "This Year's Hottest Urban Accessory" that so captured our attention?) that we couldn't tear ourselves away. We took turns eventually giving in – he wiped J's face and then I poured more milk for A. But we can both go a long way before getting irritated enough at the noise of banging bowls and whingeing voices to get off our chairs.
This is the kind of thing that drives new and non-parents crazy. But you have to reach a level of skill when it comes to ignoring demands, or you will never eat a meal, finish a telephone conversation, or brush your teeth. And there are many demands that it's easy to ignore, because they are, as I call them, bullshit demands. "I want a fork so I can eat my milk," is such a demand.
I guess what's different now is that sometimes I have the presence of mind – and the desire – to look the child in the eyes and say, "I will help you in a minute. Right now I need to finish my bagel." In a moment of deeper generosity, I will add, "Would you like a bite while you wait?" During less lucid times (and they still occur, often), I'm more apt to fling myself around the kitchen in a fit of resentment, slamming doors and slinging cereal boxes. (Or curl my chin into my chest and start crying. The beauty part of depression is never knowing how my coping skills will fail me.) But right now, at least, I'm able to keep hold of my senses more often.
Any parent will tell you this whole routine is a self-perpetuating cycle. I find that the more responsive I am, the less demanding the children are. They don't have to yell so loud, whine so long, or make quite the spectacle that is required in more desperate times. When I can say, "Come here, my love, it looks like you need some Mommy," instead of "Get off me!" everyone is so much happier.
Thank you, Celexa, for allowing me the neurological space to relearn this behavior. May the new groove I'm wearing in the pathways go deep.