Zen and the Art of Parenting

Today I am breaking up with my breast pump, and I am just not sure how to feel about it.  Like all breakups this one is bittersweet.  This contraption has been my archenemy for years now.  Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but seriously, the pump and I have had a dysfunctional relationship.  I needed him, but I loathed him.  I loved what he did, but I resented my reliance on him.  And yes, my breast pump is male.  What woman would be so unkind to breasts?  But as quickly as my antipathy builds, it gives way to nostalgia and sentimentality.  My breast pump has provided the soundtrack to infancy in my household; the rhythmic pump and whir of air has become the ambient noise of a very special time in our lives.  As elated as I am to stop subjecting my nipples to such torture, I am having a moment because of what this breakup really means, which is that after hours of reducing myself to a cow; after two babies worth of bottles and phalanges and tubes and lanolin; after outbursts of profanity when my husband spilled my precious milk; after sobbing when my first child didn’t latch and then sobbing when my second child did; it means that I am done having babies.  This breakup is bigger than just the two of us.

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Well now I’m just mad at my damn pump for making me feel all of these feelings.  Typical man, can’t live with him and can’t live without him.  I longed for the day when this pump and I would part ways, when I could emancipate myself from this needy boyfriend of mine.  But now I am having doubts, second thoughts.  I’m not ready to let him go.

This breakup is complicated—aren’t they always?—because it is symbolic of an ongoing struggle in my life, one that has become more predominant with motherhood.  I spent hours upon hours, usually those hours in the very middle of the night where no one else is awake, planning the great breast pump divorce.  I dreamed of a life untethered to the milking machine.  But of course, now that our time together is over, I am remorseful, conflicted, and dare I say sad?  The crux of the matter is that even though change does not typically agree with my constitution, I am always wondering what’s next and planning for that hypothetical future.  I know, I’m a complicated lady, just ask my husband.  I’m a grass is always greener kind of girl who is at the same time resistant to letting go.  Basically, I make a lousy Buddhist.  While I admire the concept of living in the moment, in practice I am a huge failure. 

I come from a long line of women who elevate worrying to an art-form.  We are planners, list-makers, and organizers.  My mother routinely rounds up time to the next hour.  You might say it is 11:35, but I am now trained to just say noon.  My grandmother would have a Thanksgiving menu taped to her cupboard by mid-October, and her daily calls to my mother would include a review of who was making what.  Poor me, I didn’t stand a chance.  I am already packing my suitcase for a trip that won’t happen for three weeks.  As I said before, my fate was pre-ordained, and at 32-years-old I have accepted these behaviors.  This is who I am.  My husband even mentioned my organizing affinity in his wedding vows, so clearly he doesn’t mind too much.  However, this behavior has a dark side.  Because I am always thinking about my next move, sometimes I forget to pay attention to the here and now.  Never has this been as apparent to me as I raise my two beautiful children, a spirited two and half year old girl and a jolly and chubby four month old boy.

My tendency is to constantly be thinking: what’s next?  Sometimes I look ahead because I am so very ready to be done with my current reality.  Prime example-potty training my strong-willed toddler daughter.  As she shrieks at me “I don’t want to go potty” and then pees on my lap I think of the scene in Fight Club when Edward Norton’s hand is burning with lye—“Stay with the pain”—but  I often lapse into an altered state of consciousness and parental bliss and picture my child as a sweet, compliant five year old who says “Yes, mummy” and “I’ve cleaned my play room, stopped eating my boogers, and peed on the potty without waging a world war, anything else?”  A girl can dream, right?

But sometimes I look ahead not to escape but rather to anticipate the joy and fun I know lies ahead.  This is probably even truer with the second child.  Just as my grandmother would tape that menu up weeks before the holiday because she was just excited about breaking bread with her family, I await each milestone because I have lived them before, and I know just how sweet they can be.  I look forward to witnessing him roll over, crawl, take his first bite of food, walk, and be still my heart say “mama” for the first time.  I know all too well, though, how quickly these achievements will be reached and how quickly they, too, will be moments on which to reflect rather than experience.  One day, I will blink, and they will be teenagers.  Rationally and emotionally, I know this to be true, yet I still struggle to slow down, to live in the now.  And yes, I take an embarrassing amount of pictures of my children.  I am religious about chronicling their baby lives, and I have about a dozen videos of each of them just cooing.  But recording their lives is not quite the same thing as being completely present in the moments of their lives.  “Don’t wish their lives away”, said my grandmother to my mother to me—ironic given that these two women are the source of my compulsive forward thinking.

Alas, did I just add another item to the list of “Things in Motherhood for Which I Feel Guilty?”  You know I love a good list.  Instead of wallowing, however, I have decided to challenge myself to be more present in the moment, to channel my inner-Buddha.  I will try my very hardest to live in the moment, at least most of the moments, whether they be Pinterest-worthy or the stuff of my mommy nightmares. 

Old Me: “I can’t wait until both kids are out of diapers.”

New Enlightened Zen Me: Instead of dreaming of a diaperless world where my clothes aren’t always boasting a subtle eau de urine, I will embrace the reality of an infant in diapers and a toddler struggling to get out of them.  I will laugh when my daughter wishes her poop a farewell before ceremoniously flushing it “down to the river”.  Alas, my daughter, the budding Buddhist, already embracing the impermanence of the world.  If you ever need more motivation to live in the here and now, just watch a toddler for five minutes.

Old Me: “I can’t wait until the kids are older, so we can have nice things again.”

New Enlightened Zen Me: Instead of fantasizing about a clean house where the couches aren’t home to a variety of organisms—booger, crumb, doll shoe, unidentifiable organic matter—I will reconcile the fact that my house being messy because of children is completely justifiable in my social circle.  One of these days, I am going to have to clean this shit, but I might just wait until they graduate. 

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Old Me: “I can’t wait to lose the baby weight and get skinny again (okay, for the first time).”

New Enlightened Zen Me: Oh, and this is a tough one, requiring some serious Buddha channeling.  I will try my damndest to not wish away this post-baby body of mine.  Yes, yes, I can hear the chorus of women now, so I will preemptively say that indeed my body has done some amazing things.  I grew two human beings.  I pushed two babies out of my body, one with no drugs at all.  The miracle is certainly not lost on me, but I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say I was worse for the wear.  You can talk to me all day long about how stretch marks make me a warrior, but what little vanity I have left tends to disagree.  I am squishy and stretched, and many days I look as weary as I feel.  I am frequently—dare I say daily—covered in the bodily fluids of multiple other people.  It is immensely difficult to live in this skin without feeling restless, without daydreaming of tummy tucks and breast lifts, or at the very least, going to the gym for 30 minutes.  This body of mine feels like a stranger to me, and most of the time I want out.  But maybe, just maybe, I will miss this version of myself when it is gone just as I miss the way a baby kicking feels inside of me even though I cursed those aliens for kicking my ribs in utero.  Besides, you can only blame it on baby weight for so long, right?  I think my cut-off will be when they start kindergarten.

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Old Me: “I cannot wait until I can pack up this god-forsaken breast pump FOREVER.”

New Enlightened Zen Me: Well, I might have dropped the ball on this one, but I’m only a work in progress, right?  I have packed you up, said my goodbyes, and reconciled myself to a life with a whole lot less dishes to wash, but maybe I will let you sit on my table for a few days before finding you a new home.  When I glance your way, I will allow myself to be filled with the fond memories we shared instead of being consumed by the pain you caused me.  This breakup will be amicable.  We will be friends afterwards instead of jealous ex-acquaintances.  When I look at you I will see my two beautiful children, whom you helped me nourish in the most formative stages of their lives, and I will remember that lists will be created and forgotten, to-dos will be conquered and neglected, but this moment right now deserves to be appreciated to the fullest, until of course my toddler decides to flush more than her poop down the potty.

Editorial Content Coordinator
A recent transplant to the Midwest, Megan still gets excited by the first snow flurries of the season. Although her husband’s job as a private school administrator brought them to the area, Megan feels more at home in Indy every day. While she isn’t chasing after her two children or working her day job as a social worker, Megan enjoys drinking craft beer, photography, playing soccer, and fantasizing about all of the Pinterest projects she will one day complete.

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