Spring is Sprung!

Daffodils blooming
Daffodils blooming (Photo credit: B.D.’s world)

by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW


The sunny of bloom of daffodils and (occasional) gorgeous blue skies are announcing the arrival of spring.  As always, I am behind.  My grass is in desperate need of a haircut, I have yet to complete adding up my expenses for taxes, and my car contains a veritable junk yard of objects waiting to be donated or tossed or delivered or otherwise dealt with.  If I aliens invade and we all have to take to our vehicles, it’s comforting to know I have shoes, books, snacks, and enough flotsam and jetsam to last my family several days.

But none of that matters, because its spring.  In the spring, I lower my productivity (uh, yeah, even more) so I can revel in the hyacinths that bloom in the yard and dream of the days when I’ll send the children out with bowls to pluck raspberries for breakfast.  (Conveniently I’ll forget the part when the children balk, insisting that picking their food is akin to child abuse.  I treasure my false, bucolic Little House on the Prairie version of reality, where children cheerfully contribute).

For those of you without greenspace, I recommend hanging out in parks and the gardens of friends.  Maybe you can copy a friend of mine (okay, my mom) who went from home owner with acreage to apartment dweller at a certain age:  she quenches her gardening itch by putting together container gardens for her friends.  They pay for the supplies and she gets to compose, shop, and arrange to her heart’s content.  Then when she visits, she sees the beauty that she created and it makes both her and her friends happy.

There’s been quite a bit of writing about Nature Deficit Disorder, which is not a real diagnostic category on the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), but is a great concept to keep in mind in this world of indoor entertainment.  These days during free time our children play video games and we watch Netflix. Our grandparents rocked on porches and planted victory gardens.  (Okay so they also had to deal with the Great Depression and World War II, so let’s not crank up that nostalgia too much).

Something is lost and something is gained by the widespread availability of technology for both information and entertainment.  It’s like listening to a single musical note.  It never changes.

But we do.  And we need to.  I like to think about living seasonally, about the need to lie fallow and recharge in the winter so that we can surge forth with new energy and enthusiasm in the spring.

Spring cleaning is a well respected tradition that I would love to follow (and when I say “love” I mean “loathe”).  However, lately I’ve been making art.  Well “art” might be overstating it.  Lately I’ve been playing with Neocolor sticks and water and glue and seed beads and markers and my children’s old baby teeth.  I’m making something ugly and wonderful and I love it because it’s fun to make and fun to look at.

Spring is a time of new life.  It’s when sensible mammals (like us) give birth.  Absent pregnancy, we can still give birth to an experience that brings us joy.  Plus creative play is waaaaay lower impact on the life-Richter scale.  Gardening or art making or anything fun don’t need four in the morning feedings or diaper changes or college savings accounts.

So happy spring!  And congratulations!  What are you giving birth to?

To Be Loved and To Know It

I had the most wonderful Mother’s Day yesterday.  The day shall live on my mind as a rare and sweet pinnacle of days.  I woke up to my children fighting.  That part is not the pinnacle.  But they were fighting over who was going to be the first to give me the mother’s day card they created for me.  Benjamin made me a picture covered in “x’s” (ironic because he finds kissing to be “yucky”) with a Dum-Dum candy sucker taped to the bottom and written across the top in his sweet scrawl was,

            “I love you infinity times infinity.”  He also made a drawing of the two of us hugging, surrounded by flowers and a card with a miniature version of the same drawing.  Both boys raided my beading supplies and made me a pair of surprisingly tasteful earrings.  I got to do my favorite thing all day long: boss everyone around go around Greenlake, play in the garden, read the paper, eat stinky cheese and smoked trout on French bread on the living room floor, soak in our hot tub, and take the kids to the beach where they harassed baby crabs and I watched an ethereal Blue Heron fishing.  My sweet and indulgent husband failed to get me the blue topaz earrings I had subtly circled in a catalog and plunked in front of his dinner plate with the words “great mother’s day present” written in black Sharpie.  But he did get me a smaller pair of topaz earrings that were just as blue.  Even better, he organized the boys to make a big deal out of mother’s day and he asked me the most romantic question a man can ask a woman,

“What part of the house would you like me to clean first?”

I contrast this experience to the Mothers Day I had seven years ago.  After giving birth to medically fragile premature twins, my sole hope was that my boys become big and strong and healthy enough that one day I could take their lives for granted.  Those first six months were a blur of sleep deprivation and holding my breath in abject fear of every germ, of every developmental milestone not met, of every vivid and terminal “what if” that played out in my new mother’s mind. 

Now blessedly I know that my boys, two strapping, whirling dervishes of energy and opinion, will live.  I tell my children the story of their early months, of the incubator that Jonah kicked open with his sturdy legs, of the way Benji used to pull the mask off his eyes and peek out while being treated for jaundice.  I tell them about the gavage tube that delivered milk into their bellies when they were too weak to suck.  About the neonatologist whom I nearly attacked for failing to wash his hands upon entering my children’s pediatric care room. 

Like any mental health specialist worth her weight in salt I have been programming my children for years, saying “No consideration, object or deferral is too great for me on Mother’s Day.  Diamond tennis bracelets, trips to Tahiti, all of these things are entirely appropriate.”

The truth is that a day without whining or a day without dishes to wash are just as unlikely but equally apropos in my book. 

The reality is all I wanted was to feel deeply valued, and that I got in spades.  I hope that all of you mothers out there were able to feel as celebrated and cherished as I was.  To be loved and to know it: this is the essence of mental health.