I was rollerblading on my driveway, singing the national anthem loudly (in my head), wearing the t-shirt leotard with buttons at the bottom which was popular in the day and shorts over top, daydreaming about becoming a professional national anthem singer (which I really thought was a viable career) and waiting to be “discovered,” for the fifth day that week. This was age maybe 8 or 9. And on this fifth day of practicing for my future career and no one realizing how amazing I would be at it, a startling realization suddenly hit me. I was not going to be discovered. A plain jane, average-looking girl with no obvious outstanding natural talents like me was not the type of person to get discovered, someone like my younger sister who was loud, funny, and often broke the rules was the right type of person. She elicited laughs from her antics from any one who was around while I sat in the corner, reading a book, being polite and avoiding conversation, a skill at which I did not excel.
From that moment on, I longed to be different. Young as I was, I had no idea how to change myself since I was pretty much dressed and told what to do every day. Unable to control most of my circumstances, I looked constantly and desperately outward for anything to change so that I could be transformed. Thus, the subtle cues of seasonal changes became a quarterly catalyst I imagined would once and for all morph me into something bolder, stronger, and more carefree-the kind of person people talked about. I was deadset on being anything other than myself. Winter, spring, summer and fall’s unique characteristics became comforting signals that a new season would soon alter the, “sameness,” I so detested. How a girl of nine or ten could already be tired of herself and the day-to-day after so little living, I’ll never know. I’ve often wondered if I’m the reincarnated soul of an old crotchety person sent back to Earth to learn how to have fun, let go and enjoy life, but I’m Catholic, so I’m not really supposed to believe in reincarnation in this way. Still, I wonder.
My childhood took place in Northern Florida, however, where there was only a hint of change to suggest four seasons and none of the perks like snow or turning leaves in fall, so other cues had to replace climate-related cues.
Summer meant early morning swim practice and walking my sister and I down the long twisty fresh, cream sidewalk all the way to the pool (it felt like miles, but was probably only a 3/4 of a mile at most); meant putting clothes painstakingly over our still-wet chlorinated bodies and pulling our damp, knotty hair from our swim caps into some sort of ponytail with the requisite bow my mother insisted upon; meant then walking over to either the tennis courts, the golf course or the rec room at the club for a long day of lessons or camps and ending up in the pro shop in the afternoon to watch TV and annoy the tennis pro, Monica, until my mother finished up her tennis match; meant sunburns on my pink porcelain skin and an amount of freckles I didn’t think possible while hunting for hermit crabs on the shore; meant singing duets at the karaoke bar with my dad, still encrusted with salt after long days getting tossed around in the ocean. Summer was when I became free and allowed myself to be bored like I never did the rest of the year. As I got older, it’s when I’d become just a touch of the bohemian I so longed to be. I’d sit around and think for hours lying in the hammock. I’d nap (even though I hated naps, but when you have so much time, why not?). I’d actually endeavor to have fun and hang out with friends when I generally preferred to read books and didn’t worry too much about doing or saying the wrong thing.
Fall meant school and shopping for clothes and uniforms I didn’t like or want in the insanely moist heat of Floridian early-Fall; meant buying books for the year that I would run my hands over and smell before carefully thumbing through the pages, anticipating all the wonderful things I would learn before carefully placing them in my yet-unused backpack; meant roasted pumpkin seeds before Halloween trick-or-treating even though it was still 75 degrees outside while wearing a home-sewn costume; meant my mom and her friends leaving before the sun for estate sales while my sister, myself and their children slept in sleeping bags together in the living room until they returned; meant shorter days and more time spent inside after school; meant popwarner football games on weekends and cheerleading pictures where I would wear my once-annual coat of lipstick. When fall began, it was time to buckle down, to read that book I never finished, to be a better student this year, to actually write down my assignments in my agenda for once, to finish that creative project in the back of my mind, to finally, yet again, once and for all stop procrastinating. As I grew up, it was always one of my most productive times until I sputtered out by winter.
Spring meant an ever-long, excruciating wait for the pool to open because even though it was clearly warm enough, the pool wouldn’t open until Memorial Day; meant eating dinner when the sun was still out and the sounds of birds splashing in the pond out my window in the mornings; meant long rainy days where we would do puzzles and listen to George Benson on the living room speakers; meant fishing for minnows in temporary shallow ponds after the rains behind the tennis courts with my best friend neighbor while our Moms played tennis; meant an itchiness in school to be done already; meant staycations to the beach where the ocean was still cold and getting ready to go to the Landing or take a trip on a neighbor’s boat in the evening. As spring would come, there would always be a resurgence to take better care of myself, to start running again or eat healthier, to take walks and actually enjoy nature again in preparation of the summer to come where I would be free to frolic around. I became bolder, stronger and more courageous as I conquered my body and nature.
Winter meant mom making chicken soup from scratch and my baby sister falling asleep in her spaghetti; meant celebrating winter holidays, not really understanding the concept of snowmen and snowflakes (I kind of thought snow was just white paper); meant drinking hot cider in the air conditioning because it was too hot to drink it outside; meant a light windbreaker on the occasional morning or evening; meant long nights at the gym before gymnastics meets and eating dinner alone before bed; meant making a tiny version of the heaping, lumpy apple pie my mother was making and my dad singing Christmas carols uncharacteristically loudly for several weeks. Winter would bring out the creative side of me. I’d start writing and creating experimental art or inventing things that didn’t really work just for the sake of inventing things with all of the extra time inside.
These patterns didn’t change. They just grew up with me and helped break up the unending string of sunny days and warm weather for awhile, but then I wanted more, needed more change. I remember being despondent one morning around age nine or ten waiting for the school bus in Jacksonville, Florida in the middle of January. I was wearing a sweatshirt and shorts, because that’s pretty much all you needed. I had just visited my relatives “up North,” i.e. the far reaches (or so it seemed at the time to my young mind) of Atlanta, Georgia and there it was truly winter. I had to buy a coat because we didn’t need one in Florida (my early 90’s neon colored windbreaker just wasn’t cutting it). Tights clung to my pale, yet suntanned legs underneath a flannel skirt, both materials feeling very foreign in comparison to the perpetual lightweight cotton and nylon swimsuit fabrics I was used to. I actually wore socks during that visit (instead of my jellies, of course). I believe that year it had even sprinkled a little snow while we were there. And there was a fire in the fireplace, an actual burning, chopped-logs fire instead of the gas with fake logs fire place we never used. I jumped in cushy piles of crunchy leaves heaped into piles on my cousins’ lawn. An actual evergreen Christmas tree stood in the living room of my grandmother’s living room decorated to the nines. All of these very basic wintery attributes were like a magical wonderland to me. The winter season suddenly made more sense. I understood why we choked down hot cider on a 75 degree day filled with rampant humidity and why we lit our fake fire for a month in the winter which was too hot to spend too much time near.
Anyway, I was despondent this day waiting for the bus in my hideous khaki uniform shorts because I had FELT different while I was there and now it was back to my regularly scheduled normalcy. I had enjoyed being bundled up in blankets by the fire after traipsing around in the woods in what seemed to me sub-arctic temperatures. I had relished the numbness in my fingertips and toes. There had been a courage in me that had never been recognized, because I could be someone else in this new place, this new climate, outside of school, away from friends who knew me one way. I balanced on precariously placed logs stretching across ditches, I climbed enormous rocks, I forded streams (trying not to ruin my Christmas outfit, thus angering my mother), I gulped down my cider without blowing it cool first and felt the burn of cinnamon in my throat for hours afterwards. I sang carols and read out loud in front of my extended family without my usual shyness. It was a revelation. But mostly I wondered, “What would I be like if I lived in a place like this?” This is the first time I started to toy with the idea that maybe I’d be happier if I lived somewhere else where things changed, where it wasn’t a perpetual summer.
A year or so later, my parents, nervous and trying to say all the right things, told us we were moving to Georgia. I was thrilled. They were surprised. What kid would want to leave the beach and the wonderful extracurricular activities of “the club,” and year-round warmth and sun? What kid indeed. They thought I was so mature, handling the first big move of my life with such aplomb, when really, I was just bored with myself and everything around me.
But when we moved, I realized with disappointment, that it wasn’t perpetually Christmas at my grandmother’s house where we lived while our new house was being built. That the seasons, although much more clear than in Florida, were still pretty bland. It did not snow nearly often enough or in a large enough quantity with which to sled and make the ginormous snowmen I had planned on. Most depressingly, I had not changed. I was still the same me, just in a new place, struggling to make new friends and keep up with my much better educated classmates.
The same me.
But, I never gave up hope that living in a new place would some how change me permanently which fostered a deep wanderlust that I still haven’t quite shaken.
So, last year, when I got pregnant, I looked forward to the changing seasons. I thought, surely I will really change now, living in another country, emotionally and physically being altered as I went through the process of becoming a parent, but morning sickness and fatigue weighed heavily on me in the summer months. The freedom I had once looked forward to was blocked by mind-numbing headaches, heartburn, perpetual nausea, and an unquenchable fatigue where I was too tired to move, but too uncomfortable to sleep. I didn’t write. I didn’t think about the beautiful changes happening to my soul and body. We didn’t travel at all like we had planned to. I ached. I cried in frustration. I wanted to eat so badly but everything tasted awful and made my insides want to come out.
When the nausea ended, I thought, finally, whew, I can now let the glorious changes happening to me fully take hold. I will become new. I will become special, glowy and motherly instantaneously now that the fog of morning sickness has lifted. But new discomforts just replaced the old ones. It was still too hot to go walking around town even in the fall and I fainted on a thrice-daily basis. Once at the grocery store, I leaned over to grab the eggs out of my cart and I blacked out. The nice Israeli grocery store ladies brought me water and chocolate and made me let them bag my groceries, I was mortified and kept saying, “Ze beseder, ze beseder, toda, toda, lehitra’oht (It’s fine, it’s ok, thank you, thank you, see you later),” to keep them from walking me home. Another time, I fainted outside of church and a Russian lady yelled at me telling me, “You’re either sick and need to call for an ambulance or your fine and need to stop lying on this public bench!” I didn’t like being weak. I wanted to do my own groceries. I wanted to take long walks by the beach with the baby growing inside of me thinking wonderful thoughts about our future. I wanted to still stand up straight for four hours late at night for my figure drawing class so I could somehow impart my artistic abilities onto my daughter via the umbilical cord (inexplicable flawed logic of pregnancy brain I presume). Instead, I was cooped up in the air conditioned apartment watching nonstop episodes of Law and Order, CSI (all varieties and seasons), and Criminal Minds while barely able to do one load of laundry per day and absolutely unable to even walk near the dishwasher which always smelled to me like the sulfurous depths of hell even after the morning sickness had passed.
As fall ended and winter began, I was able to muster up enough energy to cook one vegetable soup, one apple pie and one baked ziti. This was the extent of the “togetherness,” I usually looked forward to creating in the fall season. I had no concept of the weather outside. I barely went out as I was petrified I’d faint somewhere and harm my baby. I started to read a little bit more and began a novel I would never end up finishing. I didn’t get the nursery fully set up like I had wanted to. I didn’t do a sketch per day that I could ultimately show my daughter and say, “I did all these while you were in my tummy!” like I had wanted to. I didn’t carve pumpkins and roast the seeds. I didn’t put on a fun pregnancy halloween costume that was at the same time creative and witty. So many things were left hanging and I was getting more and more concerned that I wasn’t changing. I wasn’t becoming better. How was I going to be the awesome mother I wanted to be if I couldn’t even function during the day and all I really had to do was eat?
We went back to America in the winter. I went into nesting overdrive. I needed to get not one, but two nurseries ready spanning two continents. I needed to take parenting classes and read parenting books. I needed to drink two liters of water per day. I needed to eat eight small meals per day to keep the heartburn at bay. I needed to see all my friends and family and explain to them that, “Surprise, I’m eight months pregnant! Merry Christmas!” I didn’t write daily in the journal I was writing to my daughter. I didn’t work on the cross stitch I wanted to turn into a pillow for her room. I left my novel loosely begun and hardly edited in the manila file folder labeled, “Creative Writing,” on my desktop. The new DSLR I had been ecstatic about learning to use sat pristine in its padded case. I had planned to learn how to take amazing pictures that looked almost professional so I could capture every important moment to come. I felt a feeling of failure gnawing at me, yet I hadn’t even begun my new phase of life yet. How could I already be feeling like I was failing?
The labor was long and nothing like I had expected. The birth plan went out the window. Giving birth naturally was a no-go after the 25th hour when I screamed at my husband to find the anesthesiologist and drag him by the hand into my room to give me the juice ASAP or I was going to strangle someone with my bare hands. My daughter was amazing, of course. She held my hand right when they handed her to me and I kissed her little head even though it hadn’t been washed because I didn’t care, she was made from me after all. My husband took off his shirt and did skin-to-skin contact and the first two weeks were exciting, glowy and magical. My daughter slept. We showered. We ate. We thought, OK, we got this. I forgot about my stupid need to change, because it wasn’t about me anymore, it was all about her.
Then the colic set in. Our little tiny, adorable half-me and half-him, perpetually-bundled child started getting fussy and fussing until she was red faced and screaming inconsolably as if we were water boarding her. She cried and fought the swaddle. She wailed like a little tiny ambulance heard in dopplar effect back and forth in the swing. She refused the bottle and the pacifier. I became the swing, the pacifier, the swaddle. Once again we were inseparable and that would have been fine with me if I had been enough to console her but I was not enough. We were not enough. My husband and I could not make the crying stop. It started and stopped on its own whim without warning and my poor little girl lay imprisoned in a body that could not communicate to us what she needed to feel better. We ached for her. We thought of little else than helping her. This is why I had needed to change so badly. I needed to be more for her and I had failed.
Then my husband went back overseas for work and I waited in the US for paperwork and my mother’s wedding. We thought it would be good for me to have help from family. We thought two months would fly by. We were so wrong. There was nothing anyone could do to help. My daughter and I endured the bulk of the crying alone together. When people would visit they’d either get a momentary peacefully sleeping baby and wonder what I was complaining about or the high pitched Mariah Carey-level scream and tried to hide the panic they felt.
Hours passed in a dark room with white noise at top volume and a hair dryer blowing as it seemed to be the only thing to at least dampen her crying. I became a nonstop feeding trough that never sated her ravenous hunger. I paced rooms over and over, bouncing, singing, shushing. I spent the tiny moments where she slept researching what I must certainly be doing wrong, what could possibly be ailing her. I forced the pediatrician to give her reflux medicine. I changed my diet to nothing but squash and pears. I gave her baby massages daily. I bought all sorts of sleeping receptacles. In hindsight, probably none of it made a difference, but at least I felt like I was doing something.
There were no seasons. Everyday was exactly the same with either more or less crying. It was always dark. Always 70 degrees. My body felt like it was dying from the excessive aerobics required to soothe her as much as I could (which was minimal). I was so hungry and so tired I worried I might fall asleep while walking her around.
I lost track of time. I never knew what day it was and only knew the hour so I could track my daughter’s sleep. I no longer craved food (which had been an issue my whole life). I ate whatever was bland, non allergenic, quick and available. I had absolutely no body image issues for the first time in my life because I was for once underweight for my height so there was no way I could call myself fat. I didn’t have time for makeup or real clothes so I became familiar with my natural face for the first time since I was twelve or thirteen. I wasn’t seeing any other people or talking to anyone so I didn’t worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. I no longer criticized my writing because there wasn’t time for that. I spent moments in the dark, rocking and shushing, outlining my next novel in my head and retracing my life in memories to stay awake. I didn’t worry about if I was doing enough chores or cooking for my husband enough because he picked up the slack without complaint and some how still loved me: makeupless, exhausted, and failing.
Without of all the simple pleasures and luxuries of life (besides that of holding my beautiful daughter, of course), denied of seasons and of time (completely willingly, I might add. I would have died or broken a limb or starved to death if it meant it would help my daughter feel better), I had finally changed and become the me I always wanted to be. I had become brave, challenging my pediatrician, doing research, calling people on the phone to get advice (I loathed talking on the phone previously because I was shy), letting my instinct guide me in helping my daughter and not worrying if I was “doing it right,” or being polite. I became more physically strong than I ever had before just from the measures it took to soothe her. There was a reserve of endurance and strength I never knew possible because somehow despite the sleep deprivation, hunger and frustration, I was able to take care of her to the best of my abilities each day. I let go of a lot of my type-A anxieties because I had realized that even at my worst, even when I could barely make it through a day, people still loved me, including my daughter who I, despite my best efforts, could not soothe for a solid 4 months. I didn’t have to go to ridiculous lengths to be loved. I just was. I didn’t need to have makeup or fancy clothes to feel beautiful. I was beautiful because I had created the most beautiful child. I didn’t need to be talented to be a writer, I needed to write because it helped keep me alive and sane so I could continue to do whatever it took to help my daughter. I didn’t need to be discovered, I needed to discover myself. In a year without seasons, I had finally changed. In the end, sameness was what I really needed after all.