Mommy’s Hierarchy of Needs

This post has been sitting my draft folder since November. I started it back when I was in the throes of debilitating sleep deprivation. I never finished it because I couldn’t seem to come to a coherent point which I’m sure had a lot to do with the debilitating sleep deprivation. Now, with considerably more sleep and four months of hindsight, I think I can finish it.

Back when I started the original version, my son was three months old. He was waking up every night around midnight and crying for a minimum of two hours. My husband was sleeping in the guest bedroom and I was waking up at 7am every morning to take care of our two children. At 2am the next morning, I would finally get to put my head on a pillow again until someone started crying. I was out-of-my-mind tired every. single. day. I started writing this post in an attempt to understand why I felt so crazy all the time. The name Maslow kept creeping into my consciousness.

Original Post:

I first heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory in health class my sophomore year of high school. My teacher was a stout, burly man with one of those hard stomach’s like the base of a kettle drum. He was also the wrestling coach and walked with a crooked, bow-legged, wrestler’s limps up and down the aisles peering over your shoulder during tests.  His style of instruction was intimidating and declarative as in, “You can still get pregnant even if the girl is currently menstruating don’t you know, kids?!” Then he sneered at you with a knowing look while you fidgeted in your plastic chair. Informative, but also slightly traumatizing. The next time I would come across Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory would be in one of my psychology courses in college. It has always stuck with me, but since those years I haven’t had a need for it… that is, until now.

Right now in my life it seems everyone needs something from me every second of my day. I find myself constantly evaluating which needs are priorities and which can wait. For example, at this very moment it is 12:17am. I am sitting on my bed in the dark listening to my three-month-old son make those grunting, infant sounds in his half-sleep state. I’m debating. Should I go in there and rock his crib in futility? (Because it never gets him back to sleep, it just speeds up the waking process.) Or should I continue to write this post? Should I attempt (again in futility) to get some sleep myself? Or is my need to write more important than his (or mine for that matter) need to sleep? Sometimes it feels like it is, but Maslow would disagree.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory in psychology pertaining to Human Growth and Development. Maslow came up with this theory by studying what he called, “exemplary people” like Albert Einstein and Eleanore Roosevelt. His goal was to uncover the principles behind basic human motivations and to better understand why people will seek out certain experiences in their respective environments.

The bottom of the pyramid represents our everyday basic needs; air, food, water, sleep, pooping… you know, the necessities. You will notice that it also lists “sex” in that category. At this point there is no need to remind you that Maslow was a man.

Our first and foremost motivations have to do with survival and security; when those needs are sufficiently met, we are then motivated to seek out different needs like love and self-esteem. When all of those needs are met, we get to the top of the pyramid, the pinnacle of human development and what we’re all ultimately seeking which is self-actualization. Self-actualization is defined as having as sense of right and wrong, acceptance of facts, lack of judgement and expressing creativity. I would extrapolate on that definition and suggest that it also means finding a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life.

I have to admit, it isn’t the prioritizing of other people’s needs that inspired me to contemplate Maslow’s theory. Believe me, the little people in this house are doing just fiiiiine. It is ME who is lacking many of my basic needs right now and this has me asking what is really important and what can wait.

Having a baby strips your life down to its most basic elements in an instant. All those layers of hard-won self-esteem, accomplishments and the loving relationship you built with your spouse; they all exit the building along with your placenta. Days after birthing that precious baby you are literally and figuratively back to the lowest rungs of the human growth ladder. You are a shadow of your former self, begging and pleading for basic necessities like sleep, food, water and elimination. (Because pooping after a vaginal birth is something no one ever tells you about, but should NOT go without its fair share of warnings! Why didn’t you teach us that Mr. Health Teacher?)

It’s also an extreme rollercoaster ride. In the seconds it takes that doctor to place that baby on your chest, like a lightening bolt you understand with a fierce profundity the meaning of your life. If there was ever a moment at the pinnacle of human growth, it is the moment you look into your child’s eyes for the very first time. In the days (sometimes hours) that follow that moment, you begin to free fall like rain through a gutter back down the ladder of human growth until you are a milky puddle on the floor begging for someone to bring you a sandwich and give you five minutes of sleep. (And I can say for certain Mr. Maslow, that sex is NOT a basic need. For goodness sakes man what were you thinking? Really?! Sex = to breathing?!)

That steep slide down the slope of human motivations will make you nauseous at the very least, and crazy for SURE.

In those long early days (and nights) you spend most of your time on that lowest rung, usually literally lying on the floor in need of everything while simultaneously giving everything. Weeks go by like that. Then, there might be a few days when you are fed, watered and yet still exhausted, but all you want to do is cry on the phone to one of my friends because you desperately need someone to love you and it sure ain’t coming from this baby.  At some point, maybe months down the road, you look in the mirror again. It’s the first time you’ve seen the natural shape of your eyebrows since college not to mention the natural color of your hair. You think maybe you should do something about those things because your self-esteem took a serious punch around the third trimester.

Somewhere around six months postpartum you start to recognize yourself again, not just physically, but mentally. You start to see signs of the woman who thought about more than the color and consistency of her baby’s poop. You start to want to be that woman again; to use your brain for more than just calculating the time it will take you to make a grocery run as opposed to the next scheduled nap. Maslow says it’s the highest rung of the human needs and motivational pyramid, the self-actualizing part that yearns to be creative, to think and give meaning to your life.

Updated Part:

And this is why I couldn’t finish this post. As I was sitting in bed after midnight, clearly lacking one of my most basic needs for sleep, I was still writing–still attempting to be creative–still creating meaning in my life in the face of pure exhaustion. Now, months and many more hours of consolidated sleep later, I can write the conclusion to this post because I can see the flaw in Maslow’s Theory (and not just the sex part).

Maslow might have studied Einstein, but he didn’t studied Mommies, and we all know that mommies are capable of building pyramids in the time it takes to nurse a newborn. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not nonhuman, but in the face of our children, we are capable of superhuman things.

One of life’s greatest privileges and pleasures is having a child and there needn’t be a better reason to do so than to give meaning to your life. There is a reason that after WWII there was a boom in child births; people wanted to bring meaning back to a world that had suffered so much loss. Children, and all the unfettered hope they represent, do that best. The irony of this situation is that in the midst of all the physical and emotional energy required to have babies and raise them, meaning is sometimes hardest thing to hold on to. Meaning lives up on the top of that pyramid while you’re stuck down on the floor eating your toddler’s left over mac-n-cheese because it’s in arm’s reach and it doesn’t require you to get up. Crazy, indeed.

As I sit here now, 7 months postpartum, I realize that the reason I felt crazy all that time was because meaning is what I was looking for in the first place and yet was the one thing I couldn’t find due to my lack of significant shut-eye.

So I propose a new Hierarchy of Needs Theory. One just for us Mommies. I think it would look something like this…

Mommy’s Hierarchy of Needs

I included sex because, well, maybe someday. Until then, “You can still get pregnant even if a girl is menstruating breastfeeding don’t you know kids!?” See, informative and traumatizing.

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Author Stalker: The Cheryl Strayed Edition

I’m an Internet author stalker. Almost two years ago when I made the resolution to embark on a writing career I began studying a variety of things; publishing, plot structure, classic literature, principles of fiction– all through the highly reputable University of Google. Someday they will send me an MFA, I just know it. But of all the time I have spent on the Internet reading about writing, the one thing I can never get enough of is author biographies. The minute I come across a lauded book review, moving essay, accoladed author, or hell, even a great blogger, I want to know who they are and how they learned to write like that? It’s a bit of an obsession, really.

My latest crush is Cheryl Strayed. Her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest, came out this week and the reviews are nothing short of arrestingly, blindingly glowing.

My fingers soon found themselves clicking away on her website to find out who this woman was and what else she had written. I got consumed. So far, I have yet to find an essay of hers that has not moved or inspired me, sometimes to tears. Cheryl’s (we’re on a first-name basis in my head) way with words has gotten me all hot and bothered and not in entirely good ways.

The downside to any obsession is that at some point it makes you feel like shit. It’s kind of a prerequisite for an obsession really, sky-rocketing highs followed by soul-crushing lows.

I was elated to have discovered another kindred writing spirit, a contemporary that spoke to me literally. Maybe we’ll be BFFs someday? I mean, she only lives three hours down the highway in Portland. It’s possible, right? Just as I was mentally planning our next meeting over coffee wherein we would brainstorm about plot structure, theme and the symbolism of geraniums, in came the soul-crushing low.

I discovered her educational, writerly background.

She has an MFA from Syracuse University. Hm? That might be a tad more respectable than my one from Google U. What else? She has always wanted to be a writer, has been writing for years and years and years and has oodles of well-respected writerly friends like Pam Houston, Elizabeth McCracken and Ursula HegiWild, is also her second, critically acclaimed book and among her awards is a Pushcart Prize. The more I read, the more the critically acclaiming, self-bashing, winner of no prizes, voice in my head starts prodding my weak places with a sharp, red, editing pencil.

 “What were you thinking telling the world that you wanted to be a writer? What’s wrong with you woman? You have a BA in Psychology and Communications from a shitty state school for God’s sake. Who do you think you are? If you think you can spin a story (let alone a sentence) as elegantly as Cheryl Strayed then you are a damned fool. Do you hear me?! A DAMNED FOOL! And now your damned fool mouth went and told the whole world you planned on becoming some kind of writer. Ha! Ha! HA! I bet you can’t wait until you see all those people on Facebook in real life? Won’t that be fun you big-mouthed fool!? Why don’t you just go back to slinging surgical devices? At least you were good at that? And while you’re at it, why don’t you stop talkin’ ’bout spirituality and God like you got somethin’ figured out, you self-righteous foo’.”

Incidently, my inner voice sounds a lot like Mammy from Gone With the Wind.

It’s always difficult to go back and place my pointer fingers on F and J and watch that little line blink at me incessantly when I’m in the throes of an author crush. Everything I write suddenly appears amateurish, immature-ish and overwrought with cliché. I am deflated.

It’s not that I’m trying to imitate Cheryl Strayed because I don’t want to be her. Really, I don’t. I like being me. I just want to know how to use my words to do to other people what her words so profoundly do to me.

Feel stuff.

As I type this, Cheryl Strayed has just finished signing her books at my favorite Indie Bookstore in Seattle, Elliott Bay Books. As she was probably starting her reading this evening in that low-hung ceiling basement to a crowd full of admirers in folding chairs, I was putting my infant son in the bath. As she was standing there in front of a backdrop of a packed bookshelf, wrapping up and answering questions, I was singing “You Are My Sunshine” to my toddler daughter. That’s my life and I love it. I love it so much that it makes me ache when I can’t render it with my words as beautifully as Cheryl Strayed does with hers.

Over the last two years I have found only one cure for the heartaches of my author crushes. It is to put one pointer finger on F and the other on J and precede that blinking line with one word at a time until I fill a line, then a page, and finally, hopefully, a book.

Brought to you by the University of Google.

Communing with Trees

I grew up traipsing through the woods. We called them “woods,” my friends and I, but really, they were just a dense strip of trees big enough to hide in when the leaves were full in the summer, and small enough to see to the other side in the winter. I loved those woods with its Maples, Birches and Oaks. The snap of twigs underfoot, the smell of damp dirt and sour, leaf decay, the belly scratches from tree climbing and then watching those same trees turn yellow or orange or red in the Fall;  those were some of my happiest moments as a child.

We created whole worlds in that narrow strip of trees. We built houses, hunted bears, kissed frogs and got poison ivy over and over and over again. I didn’t know it then, but we communed with those trees. We knew which ones could support us and which ones were better to just lie underneath. We knew which branches would keep us dry when it rain and which ones were best for swinging. We etched our names and the names of the boys we loved in those trees. We ate the wild berries and wore some paths right down to the roots. That narrow strip of woods was our playground in the summer and our pathway to our elementary school in the winter. We were as comfortable there as we were in our own homes.

I went for a run today on a wooded trail by our house. My infant son fell asleep in the jogging stroller and I took the opportunity to venture off-road into a clearing under a canopy of towering evergreens. It wasn’t the woods I remember from my youth growing up in the Midwest. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it seems more appropriate to call it a forest. Even when it’s not raining, everything is still wet here. A carpet of Chartreuse moss blankets anything standing still. Ferns sprout out of spongy, moss-covered tree trunks and the ground is thick with fragile, discarded, evergreen  limbs that are covered in lichen. The ground snaps everywhere you step and the dark needles of these trees can hide you anytime of year. I stood there, listening to the sounds of nature and communing with the trees.

This week we are refinancing our home. We’re signing a 30 year, fixed mortgage and in essence making a huge committment to stay put for the long-term. We moved here almost six years ago thinking it would be relatively temporary, but the real estate market changed drastically in that time and well, our plans had to change now that our house is worth much less than what we paid for it.

But I’m okay with it, with all of it. This home is where my children were born and now, most likely, where they will grow up for the forseeable future. (“Foreseeable future”…Ha! Isn’t that a silly phrase?!)

As we’re making this committment to deepen our roots I start to think of all the things my kids will grow up having in this neighborhood including the trail I ran today and that clearing under a canopy of evergreens.

As I stood there I imagined my kids playing there in a few years. I imagined what kinds of worlds they would create among these Firs, Cedars and Cyprus’. Would they have bears in them like mine? I wondered which trees they would climb and sit under and swing from and carve their names into. I imagined that instead of poison ivy Brooke and Brady will come home with sticky tree sap in their hair. My wild berries were red; theirs will be black.

I hope they’ll play here. I hope they’ll feel just as safe and free and at home in this forest as I did in my woods because as a parent I want them to have all the good things I had and more– better even. If this lush forest is any indication, they will.

But more than having a familiar forest to grow up in, I hope more than anything else that they learn to commune with trees…

…and they never stop doing it.

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Ikea, Disposables and Vaginas: Motherhood is Not for Wusses

I used to watch gynecological surgeries on a daily basis. Sometimes they were in the OR, other times in the doctor’s office. Sometimes the doctors used equipment I was responsible for, on a patient… down there. Afterward, I had to make sure it was cleaned properly. Every now and again I looked down at my scrubs or shoe and saw a questionable splatter of something. Whenever that happened, I usually ended up throwing the article of clothing away. That’s the nice thing about disposable scrubs.

And yet, in the course of four years in that line of work watching surgeries and peering inside human cavities, nothing I saw, smelled or touched was as disgusting as the things I’m confronted with on a daily basis at home with an infant and a toddler.

Case study #1: We own two Diaper Genies; one for my 2.5 year old daughter’s room and the other for my infant son’s room. We find that Diaper Genies work well for keeping the room odor-free. However, you have to buy specially made, disposable inserts to hold the diapers and they are $20 for three inserts. Each insert is supposed to hold 240 diapers, but that’s a load of baby sh*t. They don’t. In practicality, they only hold about 100. As a business model, it’s pretty good. I used to sell disposable devices so I’m familiar with how it works. But for the consumer, which is now me, it kinda sucks. All of this is a non-sequitur just to explain that we stopped throwing pee-only diapers into the Diaper Genie. After a year we got smart and started throwing only #2’s into the pales. This way, we only have to empty it every two weeks or so and we save on having to buy those stupid disposable inserts.

There is an inherent drawback to this strategy. Two-week-old, fermented poop smells like a two-week-old, rotted, roadkill carcass on the side of a Texan highway in the middle of July. Yes, it really is that bad. Over time I’ve gotten rather efficient at emptying these diaper pails so as little offending odor as possible escapes into the air, and thus, my nostrils. Today I emptied both pales. As I walked them out to the trash at arm’s length one bag broke open in the driveway. I’m still retching thinking about it but thank goodness it wasn’t in the house.

Case study #2: My daughter had cereal with strawberries this morning for breakfast. Just keep that in mind.

I’ve been itching to go to Ikea for months. I haven’t had a sufficient enough cause for a trip until we decided that my daughter is finally in need of a “big girl bed.” Ikea is a 30 minute drive from my house. When you get there, the maze through the store is an awe-inspiring adventure for a fanatical organizer like myself and it can take well over an hour to properly complete.  I decided that if I was going to procure any enjoyment from this trip with two kids in tow, I would have to properly sedate the toddler with handheld electronics, so before I left the house I downloaded an entire season of Max & Ruby onto my Kindle. That should do it. She saw me doing this and when we got in the car she wanted to watch Max & Ruby RIGHT NOW! Sure thing baby. Here ya go. Quiet trip.

Twenty minutes into the trip I hear her moaning from the backseat. I ask her what’s wrong and she tells me she needs to take a nap “right now.” She says she needs to go to her crib and sleep because she’s sooooo tired. My child hardly takes naps and for her to ask to go to bed when it was barely noon is cause for mental alarm bells. I looked back in the rear view mirror at the precise moment she pukes her breakfast all over herself. Turns out that watching a Kindle while riding in a car isn’t the best idea after all.

I’m sorry Mommy let you watch cartoons in the car, honey. 😦

Twenty minutes later, and back in my driveway, I have a pukey toddler covered in curdled milk and stomach bile pressed to my chest. It was all I could do to hold in my breakfast. As I turn away to unlock the front door I hear, “Mommy, I just ate a strawberry.” It’s okay, I’ll wait while you throw up a little.

When I went to clean the car seat I discovered, to my HORROR, that underneath that nice, removable, washable cover, were crevices, groves and tiny spaces overflowing with putrified, cottage cheese-like curds. The smell is so thick that it sticks to my nose hairs even now. I think they are suffering from post traumatic stress.

I pulled that thing out into the driveway and began circling it with a spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner in one hand and paper towels in the other. I heard that old-western showdown music in my head. After 5 minutes I just left it there and did what I always do when I don’t want to do something… called my husband at work. I generally feel better knowing that he knows what disgusting things are going on in my day at any given moment.

It’s 9:30pm and I still haven’t cleaned it. Over these hours of procrastination I’ve decided that given a choice, I’d rather stare down the barrel of a stranger’s vagina over cleaning out puked-in car seats. And furthermore, I would seriously pay a sh*t-ton of money for a set of disposable car seats right about now. Seriously.

Although no patient was ever quite as cute and willing to pay in hugs, so there’s that reward.