Friday, June 26, 2009

Learning not to walk

And suddenly it all became more difficult...
I was walking down the basement stairs at a friend's house with Ellis in my arms. A mop at the bottom of the stairs fell in front of me. I missed a step and stepped into mid air. Instead of putting my hands down to catch myself, I threw them forward to cradle Ellis' head as we both hit the concrete floor. And so my foot took the blow. And so Ellis was safe.
The ER on a Saturday night, xrays, catscans. 2 bones broken. No cast (good news). 6 weeks on crutches, no weight on it (bad news)
I engaged in blubbering crying the whole way home e.g.Not fair, Not fair, Not fair, Its the first day of summer...I can't go swimming anymore... I can't PICK UP ELLIS!!! I CAN'T TAKE CARE OF MY CHILD ALONE!
Dave in all his wisdom just said "I know... I know..." over and over...
Its psychological pain more than physical. Checking off the things I cannot do... Trying to come up with solutions for doing the things I have to do...
It is now week one, day five that I have been in this boot cast, and that I have been engaged in rigorous self pity. I thought the universe owed me one...and I feel a little bitch slapped by her. I thought I deserved a summer of canoeing and camping...
The pain is in things turning out differently than you planned...
I can hear my mother, who broke her hip once the cancer reached her bones, standing in front of her walker in her yard, muttering to herself... "What is the purpose of this? What do I need to learn from this?"
She believed that we learn something we need to know from everything that happens, good or bad.
Not that she didn't engage in self pity... I took care of her twice when she was learning how to walk again... She raged, she sulked, she shouted, she moaned, she shook her fist at the sky. But then she always got down to business. She learned how to go up and down the 67 steps to her Amsterdam matter how long it took her. She worked with the physical therapist. She shuffled along with a cane through the city.
Twice. She learned to walk again twice. Once right after her hip was replaced, and once after she hurt it again. And in the last years of her life she was fit, rode her bike everyday all around Amsterdam, enjoyed her physical self.
So, mom, here I am again. Learning about you and your experience after you are gone.
It is so hard to feel helpless. It is so hard to be helped. It is so hard to realize how fragile we are, how these physical selves that carry us through this life, are so vulnerable.
Motherhood is, at least in these first years, such a physical act. Much of my parenting Ellis is about carrying him, being able to put him into his bed...into the high chair, dressing him, changing him, taking him for a walk.
This is the hardest thing... Feeling like a half-mother. Like I am not Dave moves double time to get us both fed and out the door in the mornings...He has to bring Ellis to me to nurse in the middle of the night. Ellis doesn't understand why I am not picking him up, why I am not engaged.


Silver lining inventory: Dave is a professor, off for the summer, and currently Ellis' primary caregiver. He does the cooking in the family. And is capable of taking care of both Ellis and I...
Ellis is safe.
My foot will heal.
There will be other summers.
I can still get into a canoe.
Eventually I will find the lesson in this.
I will learn and examine the parts of mothering that have nothing to do with my physical self, that have to do with my mind and my connection to my child.
When we lived in San Francisco I worked for a disability organization and there was a woman who would come into the office who used a wheelchair. She had a child, then two years old, that rode in a special seat attached to the front of her wheelchair. Parenting happens in all sorts of ways...
There is not one way to do this.
I have lots to learn. I have to learn how to sit and how to ask for help and how to get into the lake on crutches, and how to help Dave in the ways I can. I have to learn how my mother felt those days and weeks and months she couldn't walk, the helplessness of it, the humbling realization that we are not our physical selves, but have to rely on our physical selves to propel us through this life. I have to learn to be patient. I have to learn the time and place for self pity and the time for getting down to business.
Ellis pushes his walking toy around the apartment now, and regularly stands on his own. He is days away from his first steps. And as he learns to walk, I have to learn how to not walk. How to find the lesson in this and enjoy this summer on one foot.

"Once again my adventure, brave and new...."-Robert Browning


  1. Beautiful posting Bree....
    I remember helping a friend of mine in graduate school with a broken foot. One afternoon she broke down crying...out of pure frustration. I had no idea until that moment what she was going through. It was literally a balancing act all the time. When I think of graduate school verses parenting....grad school is a walk in the park!
    You have layers and layers of momma lessons here. And in time, I imagine all of the them will reveal themselves to you.
    Ellis is safe. You saved him from injury. It would be a much different situation if you both had been hurt.....he was so lucky to be in your arms and your instinct was perfect to protect him.
    I know it must be so hard to not parent the way you've been doing...especially now with Ellis being so mobile. But you can still be present for him, feed him, provide for him, nuture many wonderful things. I guess this is when creative parenting is really put to the test!
    Through this experience, you have your mother to inspire you. You know she'd understand what you are going through. She taught herself to walk twice...thats pretty amazing. Keeping that close to your heart, I know you'll get through this....
    And though summer plans will be different, you'll gain strength in new ways.
    When things feel impossible, I try and remind myself the load is only as heavy as I choose to make it. Rolling with the punches....isnt that how that goes? ugh....yes, easier said than done.
    Ellis is coming up on a huge milestone...and for some reason the universe wants you to not walk. Very interesting in so many ways....
    I think one of the hardest things for most moms is asking for help. But there is beauty in that honesty - asking for help when you really need in it. If there is anytime to take people up on offers to is the time. I refused so much help after Emmett was I would love some now!
    Feel better ~ cant wait to see you guys!!
    We are having a glass of wine upon arrival!
    Xo, Jamie

  2. I really like this one, the reflections on the gloomy "Feeling like a half-mother" and utterly telling "I CAN'T TAKE CARE OF MY CHILD ALONE!" and finally the peaceful "Parenting happens in all sorts of ways..."

    I wish I had ever seen Ellis more than once.