My friend, who is one of the kindest souls I know, told me something when I was at my absolute worst during my breastfeeding experience. She said, “I know it sounds simple, but sometimes I just count.” What? She said she started it after her toddler was born; she simply counts in her head while dealing with a trying situation. Like if he’s being difficult in going down for a nap or something, she said, “I think to myself, he’s not going to keep this up for more than 2 minutes, so I’ll just start a countdown in my head.” (But counting UP so as not to get discouraged!) After that, especially in the middle of the night when it was unbearable, I would slowly count in my head to distract myself from the pain.
[A side note: When we’re in need, isn’t it always the small gestures that we remember the most? That day my friend brought me a little package of goodies: magazines, cashews, and a huge glass so that I could keep hydrated. These were all so nice, but the moment that really flashes to my memory when I remember those days is just her holding her hand on my back and looking at me kindly, as if to take some of the pain away for herself.]
I hadn’t used this tool in a long time, but the other night I found myself counting again. It had been a week of Alzette waking up several times during the night; sometimes hourly, sometimes every two hours. I had just finished nursing her and she lay down to sleep. I was so thankful, but then I couldn’t sleep! I thought of the trick and started counting with every breath. I guess I could have counted sheep or something but instead I just counted to myself in meditation. Then I thought about how it still feels like a countdown, this thing I am doing in staying home. Usually, whether I’m on vacation or maternity leave or whatever it is, regardless of how hard I try to not think about work there is still that countdown in the back of my mind. “4 more days of vacation before I go back to work, 2 more months of leave and then I go back to work.” I’ve been counting the days since I left work but I don’t know why. What number would I get to?
I’m still getting used to this expanse of time that exists before me. The other day I was at Willy Street with Alzette in the carrier and a woman stopped me and asked, “Is that a Bjorn?” (Of course* it wasn’t, it’s an Ergo.) She was pregnant with her first and we chatted for a long time about carriers, breastfeeding, and cloth diapers. It was midday on a Tuesday and I kept having to stop myself from thinking I needed to leave. Our minds are so trained to think that there is somewhere else we need to be. I kept thinking, “I should go. No I shouldn’t, there is nowhere I need to go!” And that felt fantastic. That felt like living: having an indefinite amount of time to talk to someone. It felt especially luxurious that it was someone I didn’t know: that I had time to share my experiences with someone I had just met and perhaps add to their knowledge and experience. And Alzette loves meeting people and she was so happy to sit and watch the conversation.
And there really is nowhere I need to be and nothing I absolutely must do right now. Of course, I can’t let the laundry or dishes pile up forever, and there is more than this that I want to achieve in my long-term goals. But there’s no rush. And when it comes to housekeeping, if I complete even one of these tasks every day that is still more than I could accomplish every day at home while I was working. So I have time to experience life calmly and to show Alzette the world at our own pace. In other words, I can stop counting.
*I say of course because for some reason we Madisonians, unlike our Coastal counterparts, are all about the Ergo.