Masks, Baths and Blessings

Two thing happened this weekend that really seem to define the extreme ends of the spectrum that I find myself on lately—one is defined by fear and angst, the other by deep joy and contentment. Naturally I’d like to trend towards the contended end, and it can be easy when I get ready to write something to focus on those moments exclusively, as this is my preferred version of myself. But first, here are the stories.

The Fear End

Friday morning a box arrived in the mail that reminded me of my tendencies toward fear. The box was full of masks that I had ordered in the first few days of swine flu paranoia. This sort of over-reaction is very unlike me. I’m not someone who tends to panic; I’m pretty even keel (well, before pregnancy and postpartum hormones, at least). I don’t know if it was my new mama protective instincts, or just plain fear, but I ordered—I’m embarrassed to admit it—almost $80 worth of N95 particle filtering face masks.

What Lily thinks about my swine flu ridiculousness

Now, I don’t watch TV right now (no time, and it freaks me out how mesmerized Lily is by images on a screen), so I managed to get myself into enough of a worried frenzy to order a ridiculous supply of face masks just off a few newspaper and online news stories. Lord knows what I might have purchased if I’d watched any of the 24-hour news channels! Anne Lamott talks about how fear can be a powerful drug, and ever since I’ve read that I’ve realized how true this can be for me. It can be perversely satisfying to give into the demons and portents of doom that always lurk at the corners ready to feed on our fears. At my church group the other week we talked about cognitive distortions and the lies we often live by. Mine is definitely the ability to quickly catastrophize—X (fill in the blank—finances, libido, MA-thesis-that-I-haven’t-thought-about-in-five-months…) is bad now, just imagine the horror that lies ahead.

Anne Lamott’s financial fears (which pretty much everyone I know is facing in a big way right now) quickly turn into visions of living in the Tenderloin with her infant son, penniless, forced to walk the streets as a prostitute to make money—and this is the part that cracks me up—having to suck in her stomach all the time. We all have our limits.

I’ve started to realize that fear, for me, manifests itself in trying to assert control. Having a baby has made me realize just how much of a control freak I can be:

-       “Babe—those aren’t the pajamas I meant for you to put on her.”

-       “I don’t think she wants to play on the bed anymore.”

-       “Can you hear that? Because I do. Maybe I should hold her since you don’t seem to notice that she’s fussing.”

Etc.

The Joy End

The joy bookend actually started Friday afternoon when I took an afternoon to myself. Stephen, er, Lily bought me a massage at the Kabuki Spa for my first Mother’s Day. The spa is a traditional Japanese communal bath with a steam room, sauna, hot pool, and cold (and I do mean cold) pool. It’s a quiet, meditative space. Oh—and it’s a space to be enjoyed men and women on alternating days as most people bathe nude. One of my favorite times at the baths is lying on one of the wooden lounges, just resting after doing a full round, including a dip in the cold bath. I love how my body radiates heat after the cold dip—it’s the promise of that feeling that makes me convince myself that the cold dip is worth the shock.

I felt the anger, stress, and fear draining out of me as I laid there listening to the sounds of water all around me. There’s a reason why almost every book and movie has some sort of baptismal scene when a character is going through a transformation (seriously, look for it—a night in soaked in the rain, a steamy shower, a swim in a lake). We come from water, and water continues to have a powerful hold over us. I was reminded that I desperately need time to myself, especially now (and a space where I can’t talk is a good thing for very-verbal me).

I would have liked to stay in this space for several hours, but I was starving. The cucumbers meant for eye masks didn’t seem likely to abate my lactating appetite. Oh—and I realized that if I didn’t breastfeed my baby soon I was going to start leaking milk. Not something I thought the other bathers would appreciate.

However, when I came home I was able to appreciate the fact that in my absence my husband had not only watched Lily, but had cleaned the apartment and organized her clothes (no small feat).

The next day, we had a baby dedication for Lily at our small church/discussion group. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that we’ve struggled a lot trying to know how to best raise a child to engage in the Big Questions in life without dogma. Finding a group of fellow seekers was a big turning point for us. These are friends who know us—not just the pretty parts either. They’ve known Lily since she was a theoretical topic! Friends and family also came to be a part of the blessing.

Lily’s godparents (who are also our pastors), led out in a community blessing. They asked our friends and family members to call out a word or phrase that encapsulated their hope for Lily.  It was really amazing to stand in front as a family, listening to this shower of blessings. Lily was blessed with hopes for peace, joy,A newly blessed Lily. understanding, curiosity, creativity, belonging, love, faith, empathy, contentedness, fortitude, smarts, empowerment, self-confidence, the desire to dance, and much more. Although we all wish these things for children, hearing these hopes verbalized in such a setting gave them new meaning for me, new intentionality. There really is power in saying something out loud. I felt our family wrapped in a cloud of love and warmth (it helped that it was an exceptionally warm and sunny day).

My deepest hope for Lily is for her to learn to love and be loved. From that foundation, I think all manner of good things come, some of which might not actually be pleasant but will still be good.

It’s this bookend where I want to dwell. It’s a place where I feel content, surrounded by a community of love. In this space I know that Stephen and I can forge a good future for our family. I believe that we can live unconventionally, and that we can thrive.

Of course, If I can manage to keep this thought forefront during the next two weeks, it will be a miracle. We have to pack, move, and start fundraising for our next documentary project.

One of the affirmations that I used to repeat often while preparing for birth is one that I clearly need to start each day with if I want to stay on the joy/contended end of my personal spectrum. It simply says, “All is well. I am content.”

Okay, maybe each day isn’t enough. I probably need to start each hour with that thought if I want to keep the demons on mute and the swine flu face masks in their box.