We were buying school supplies for fifth grade when Bridget informed me that she needed a new backpack.
“A new backpack?” I asked. “What’s wrong with your backpack?”
“It smells,” she replied.
“Smells? Why does it smell?” I asked.
“Milk leaked out from my lunch bag,” she replied. “It’s been like that for about a year.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I would have washed it,” I asked.
“I did Mom,” she said. “I told you a bunch of times but you didn’t listen.”
To which I responded: “I’m sorry honey, I really don’t remember you telling me. I would have certainly washed it.”
“Mom,” she said. “I told you and told and told you again. You were there, but you weren’t really there.” She was referring to a period when I was working for an organization that consumed an inordinate amount of time.
She went on, “It was the same time when I would ask you to play Barbies with me, and you would say ten more minutes. Then an hour would go by, and I’d ask again, and you’d say the same thing.”
“I’m so sorry, Bridget,” I said. “What about now?” I asked.
“It’s ok now, Mom. You are here,” she said.
I thought of that conversation when I read this poem this morning, from Comfort Prayers by June Cotner, a book my sister gave me last year for Christmas.
The past plays tag
with the future, and
at the very second
their hands touch,
that is the present,
to save like rare wine.
To celebrate the bitter,
the tart, the sweet
of the here and now,
all before it succumbs
to the pull of what was
and vanished into a fog
of what might have been.
Susan Rogers Norton
In my experience, living in the present is a conscious act. That statement is truer than ever after the events of the last week, and Christmas just days away. This week reminded me of my love-hate relationship with anesthesia and pain-killers and their ability to alter and even enhance the present.
My love relationship happened just once. When I was in labor, with no end in sight, the doctor offered me a narcotic to help me relax. I accepted. My husband was suddenly much taller, had an afro, and was wearing polka dot bell bottoms. In real life, he was already handsome, but now under the influence of Nardol, I found him both sexy and suave. The narcotic took the edge off, put me into an altered state, and brought a bit of humor to a tense and uncomfortable labor. Hours later, when I felt the pressure climax, I told the nurse it was time and she called in the troops. I told my mom, husband, doctor, and nurse that I was going to labor limbo and I was going to bring this baby into the world. There was no epidural. There was no more Nardol. There was only me, with the coach and pep squad at my feet I breathed and pushed, then stopped when I felt a release that was quickly followed by its a girl. I’ve never been more present.
My hate relationship with anesthesia is rooted in its ability to make me nauseous and cause extreme vomiting, which once required hospitalization. Moreover, I detest its mental effects. I feel so absent. General anesthesia is like a black hole, every time I go under, I feel as if I unwillingly lose a chunk of my life. It’s completely different from going to sleep. You go to bed, you wake up, you know that you were in bed for the night, you can recall if you had to get up to pee, or let a dog or two out, to do the same. General Anesthesia doesn’t work that way.
I shared with my mom what happened Tuesday. I said goodbye to my parents, and the nurse and anesthesiologist wheeled me away. The anesthesiologist played some music in the background, we were talking about something nonsensical, I was laughing the whole into the operating room, passersby wore expressions of bewilderment on their faces as if asking themselves why is she so happy.
I was present at that moment. I knew exactly where we were going and I was happy to have the surgery done. I remember moving from one gurney on to the operating table and then the lights went out. Nothing. No recollection of being alive. After the surgery I was somewhere between, altered, present, past, and future. I could see the clock in front of me but couldn’t focus on the time. I could hear the nurses voices but was unable to decipher the language. I could articulate the pain but wasn’t sure it was coming from my body. I heard the nurses calling my name, them telling each other how I would stop breathing after they injected painkillers into my iv, acting as if I wasn’t there, and making me so afraid I wouldn’t breathe again. I regretted not having a living will. I wanted my mom. I wanted my daughter. I wanted to understand why I was so scared. I wanted to know why I was crying. I wanted to know why the nurse kept warning me not to scratch my eyes. I wanted to focus. I wanted to be present, but I was so disoriented, anxious, and scared I felt my head just bobbing back and forth, my eyes looking up at the clock as it kept moving ten more minutes forward, the timeframe the nurse said would pass before I went into phase 2 recovery. Ten more minutes passed, again, and again and again until more than an hour and a half passed before I went to phase 2.
Why write about that experience? Because it was so like that period that Bridget referenced. I lived in a home with my husband, daughter, and two dogs. My life there was a series of moments, none of which I really appreciated because I was hardly present. I was barely existing. I was constantly anxious and scared. I had a job that required a lot of my time; it took me away from them on many occasions. When I was home, I was on my phone, or computer, always occupied with the past and the future happenings of my work, rarely ever savoring the “quicksilver moments”. I was a voyeur of my own life, watching it pass by.
It was an important lesson and one that eventually led me to leave that job. My priorities were not mine. My job was my life and my life was empty because of it. When I reviewed my journals earlier this year, I found one from 2004 from a retreat in the Sierra Nevada mountains with my Aunt Karen. I didn’t write about finding a great job, I didn’t even write about my marriage. I wrote about being a mom. It was the one thing I knew always wanted to be. That was in August 2004. In July 2005 Bridget was born. Looking back at that period when she said I wasn’t present she was right. Eight years into being a mom, I was abandoning it for a career, that would never bring me the same joy that my daughter, did, does, and could.
My best moments in life are with her. My daughter. I brought her into this world in an unaltered state. Today’s poem is a great reminder of the obligation I have to myself and to her, to be here, with her, present, in mind, body, and spirit. The “second that the hands of the past and future touch” are always the greatest moments with my daughter, my life, my love.
Some of those great moments include Barbies: