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Category: introspection

The Eating Season!

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Earlier this week, Baba crawled right out of her pants.  She was nursing, which gives you an idea of what nursing a very active baby is like, and I didn’t immediately notice because I had covered us both with a sheet.  I laughed when I discovered her bare, chubby thighs and tried to hold her as close to me as she would allow.

This last month has been filled with moments like this — as the world has literally and metaphorically darkened, tiny moments of beauty keep filtering through.  My neighborhood is covered with an impressive array of Christmas lights, which make driving home through the darkness a delightful experience.  It is the first year since Hurricane Sandy that I’ve seen such an impressive display, and I am deeply grateful to see the world return to normal.  It is so reassuring to contrast the rising hatred in the world with festive frivolity, with beauty, with art.

It has been a remarkably sane holiday season for us.  I made a conscious decision to keep it simple this year.  Instead of trying to do all of the things, we picked the ones that mattered.  Cards, because sitting down to write my extended social circle once a year fills me with joy.  Small presents for family.  Our own contribution to the neighborhood lights.  Visiting with friends.  Loving our daughter in the fierce way that has become normal.  Bringing food to share with people that we love.

It is Baba’s first Christmas.  We went last night to a Christmas Eve dinner at a friend’s, in what has become a treasured annual tradition.  The food itself comes from the American Italian tradition of The Feast of the Seven Fishes, where seafood is served to both celebrate bounty and because it is a period of fasting from red meat in the Catholic tradition.  It is not my tradition, by heritage or religion, but it has been such a part of my experience since moving to New York that it has come to feel like mine.  Last night, as I fed Baba fish cakes and pasta baked in clam sauce, it felt like even more like home.

We let her stay up hours past her bedtime, which is why I can write this in the sweet silence of a sleeping house.  She took her first steps last night, after dinner and in front of an audience of kind and fine people.  We clapped and cheered for her, while her face exploded in glee at her new freedom.

Today, we will go to celebrate with a different set of lifelong friends, as we always do.  I have bought a cake for dessert that is covered in a more traditional design that I could have ever imagined picking out before — and yet, I found that I could not resist it.  I have, perhaps for the first time in my life, put on Christmas music in my home, just like my mother always used to do.

It is a season of music, of eating, of feasting, of remembering what is important in life.  This year, for me, Christmas is about love and charity.  It is about the ideals of a peaceful world; it is a reminder of what we must continue fighting for.  I can only hope to share this peace and joy that I feel in my heart with you.

 

 

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A Syrian Crisis

I was thrown into a whirlwind of self-doubt last week, after seeing a single photograph.  If you’ve paid attention to the news at all, you already know the one — a drowned toddler, clothed in vibrant primary colors, washed up on a beach.  You probably know the story, too; another migrant family, desperate to escape the civil war in Syria, put their trust (and their savings) in the wrong boat captain.  Half the family drowned and, because of the death of a child, the world is suddenly paying attention.  This is the power of photography – to capture human suffering with a strength that makes people pause their lives and actually do something.

Suddenly, the world has been afire with criticism for the European reactions to the millions of Syrian refugees.  Perhaps it is because I am now a mother, but that image has haunted me in a way that I can’t remember another photograph doing.  Every child, no matter their nationality or language or ethnicity, has become mine.  It is only chance that my Baba is safe in her crib, while so many Syrian children are still in danger.  To be a parent is to be so aware of how vulnerable you are to great loss, at any time.  It is to know that your heart walks around outside your body — and to fear what will happen to you if you live long enough to see tragedy strike.  This child, Alan Kurdi, was born during the civil war that has torn Syria apart.  He never experienced the safety that I have been able to give to Baba, simply because she was born here and not there.

It is an awful thought. My heart breaks for his family — for all of the families that have had to make such desperate choices.

One of the members in an online mothering group that I belong to posted about having a feeling of gratitude that Alan Kurdi’s mother also drowned.  At least she was spared the pain of living, after the drowning of her sons.  It’s an awful sentiment, a terrible thing to say out loud, but also a feeling that I fully understood.  If I were unable to keep Baba safe, but I survived….living would be the harder course, by far.

When he was interviewed by the press, the words of Alan Kurdi’s father really struck me.  My wife, he said, my wife was everything to me.  How do I go on?  How does he, after the death of his life partner and two of his children?

How do you go on in the face of such loss?  Your children, your wife, your community, your home.  What do you do when your entire world has become a place of danger, a place of loss?

It puts the trivialities of my daily trials into a certain perspective.

What can I do from here?  I can donate money.  That’s easily done.  But what can I do?  Do my daily efforts contribute to making the world a safer place, a place where “the refugee problem” is solved not by finding refugees new homes in new countries, but creating a place where we don’t make refugees in the first place?  In my job, I build a communications network, but that seems feeble.  My writing…well, I have had an artistic crisis, as every trivial scene I’ve ever written feels empty and hollow.  I haven’t written a word all week, because what could possibly be the point of it all?

I’ve read that there are more people on the move in Europe since the end of World War II.  Armies of people are sitting in camps and at checkpoints on national borders.  Vivid photographs of their marches through fields and along highways have made it across the world.  It’s touching — and frightening — to see just how many people have had to give up their lives.  My heart goes out to them.  It makes everything I do to get through the day seem meaningless.  What does a clever story matter, when there are people who have lost so much, suffered so much, through no fault of their own?

What am I doing with my life that really means something, when there are such problems in the world?  It’s a question that has lingered with me, ever since I saw a single photograph.

How to Donate:

Neil Gaiman and the UHCR’s Efforts for Syrian Refugee Relief
Unicef’s Syrian Campaign
International Rescue Committee

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This is My Substitute for Pistol and Ball

Sully Pilot Whale
Sully Pilot Whale

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

I’ve had the passage above stuck in my head for most of the day.  It has been a challenging week at work, which, combined with the discomfort of late summer, its constant social obligations, and a baby that stopped sleeping through the night, has put me into an asocial mood.

Last night, our neighborhood church threw a fabulous foam and water balloon party for charity.  As our windows continued to rattle from the DJ’s bass through our dinner, dessert and bedtime, I turned to my Beloved and asked him when we became the kind of people that hated a party.

“Since we had a baby,” he said sensibly.

“I wouldn’t mind*,” I whined, “but on a Wednesday? Who hires a DJ for a Wednesday?”

* this is a lie

When I woke this morning, after two overnight interruptions, I found that I walked with Ishmael. When one of my neighbors gestured angrily at me to back up my car so that he could pull a completely illegal u-turn in front of me, I considered pulling forward.  When the train was crowded, I considered leaving my bags on the seat to discourage a neighbor.  When I needed to buy some breakfast — having rushed out the door this morning without any — I considered skipping it because the idea of a polite interaction with a cashier seemed far too difficult to manage.

Just call me Ishmael.

I think Melville could have rewritten the opening of Moby Dick for writers; Ishamel writes about going to sea to solve his funk, but I turn to writing.  I suspect Melville did too.  When I find myself exasperated by the crowds of people that I wade through each day and fantasizing about moving to an isolated mountain top — possibly without my family — I know that it has been too long since I’ve done something that’s creatively satisfying.

And it’s true.  I haven’t written any new fiction since May, and I can feel the tension of my ideas building up in my neck and stuffing themselves down into my trapezius muscles.   I haven’t neglected my writing, but my efforts have been focused here on the blog and in revising my portfolio of short fiction.  The drafts that I wrote over two years of graduate work have been read and revised and revised and read again until I can barely stand to see the same paragraphs even once more.  At the same time, I feel the pounding in the back of my brain of the story that I want to write for Baba, the pressure of the novel that’s screaming for an ending.  I am bursting with creative energy, but trying to be responsible and finish what I’ve already begun before giving in to the urge to burn everything to the ground and start again.

I stretch my neck to try and relieve the tension that grows there every day, but there’s really nothing to be done for it other than to finish revision, send out my portfolio and go back to inventing the ornate lies that soothe my soul and make me a reasonable person again.

Balance is hard.  Throw in my job and the responsibilities of motherhood that limit my writing and I feel like I am going to burst out of my skin.  Add in all the other people and mundane  errands that are demanding my time and attention and I can well understand why Ishmael wants to knock off people’s hats.  This is my substitute for pistol and ball, he says.

I know exactly what he means.

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The Top Shelf

This post was written for the Cherished Blogfest, which invites the writer to write a short post about a cherished object.  See the other participants and discover some new blogs!

Some of my Grandmother's books.
Some of my Grandmother’s books.

My mother arrived outside my Queens apartment, the trunk of her aqua Hyundai Accent packed to the brim with books. But these were not ordinary books.  These were the classics, in cheap hardback covers, that my grandmother had ordered through the mail, one at a time as she could afford them. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Twain formed the bulk of the horde, with one-off novels from other authors like Dickens and Mitchell and Charlotte Bronte.   I’d stared at their gilted bindings most of my childhood, just waiting for the day when I would be able to read and truly appreciate them, instead of having to stop every paragraph or two to look up words I didn’t yet know.  (Grapes of Wrath…my twelve-year-old self is still intimidated by you.)  And now, my mother was giving them to me.

I grew up in the kind of place where people left their stolen shopping carts on the sidewalk and radios blared staticky commercials late into the night.  The first apartment that we lived in when we moved back to the States had to be abandoned when used syringes were found at the playground and prostitutes were discovered working out of the basement storage units, a few short feet from where I did our family’s laundry.  When we moved out, our apartment was taken over by the local neighborhood watch as a command station.  Whenever I think of that place, I still imagine their intent faces peering out the same square window that once was my entire view of the world.

The neighborhood that we moved to was better.  It was another long street of apartment complexes, but  the top of the street bled off into an estate of modest houses.  At the time, I thought the people that lived up there were rich beyond measure, because they had private walls and a yard, and I used to roam those streets for hours at a time, dreaming of what it must be like to live in such opulent wealth.  At Christmas time and Hallowe’en, I would jealously dream while I admired the beauty of their decorations.  I imagined refinement and culture behind those closed doors, then returned home to the sticky shared entrances of the apartment buildings where we lived and to the neighborhood children that responded quickly and viciously to any sign of studiousness.

And yet, books were my favorite thing.

I couldn’t escape my thrift-shop clothes or the skin that couldn’t fit in, but in the pages of books, I could learn to be anyone.  I studied them hungrily, looking for a the clues on how to behave to get myself to a place where I could walk down the street without the harassment of men twice my age.  My grandmother’s books seemed like the key to a future of wealth and culture, an entree into neighborhoods that were beautiful and safe. Somehow, I knew that the people that lived in those houses had all read Hemingway.

I never found the key to the secrets that I was looking for, but all that reading paid off; I landed in a high school program that put me in the same classroom as the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers.  It was what I had always wanted, wasn’t it?  And yet, I discovered that I didn’t feel at home there, among so much casual wealth.  While their parents took them to private lessons and bought them cars for SAT performance, I juggled an extraordinary academic load with my after-school and weekend jobs. One of my first boyfriends belonged to a family that kept horses, who I met in the same year that our cat died after falling off our 9th floor balcony. When it became obvious that my new school friends were afraid to go to my house, I avoided theirs, because I felt like I was selling out my childhood friends.

I still feel bad about this.  Can anyone recommend someone to fix this?
I still feel bad about this. Can anyone recommend someone to fix this?
I no longer belonged at home or at school, and the consolation was fiction.  I tried again with my grandmother’s books, but when I broke the binding of Gone with the Wind as I neared the final pages, I became too afraid to touch any of the other books in the collection.  They were too delicate for my teenaged hands, so I waited until my mother gave them to me as an adult to try reading them again.  Now I carefully carry them in my commuter bag, cherishing them for the family history that they hold.  In a world where books are increasingly less tangible, they are a luxury, a treasure that can be touched and smelled and held.

Published in the 50s and 60s, their typeface and binding instantly throws me back in time, to a place before cell phones and cable TV and Internet speed.  I envision my family — a well-educated and argumentative bunch — reading these books as they sprawled over couches and floors.  I imagine my mother as a young woman, inscribing her name inside the cover of each book with a blue ballpoint pen. She wrote the date — 1977.  Now that they are mine, I wonder if I should write my name too.

Some Reviews from The Top Shelf:

Dracula
A Moveable Feast
For Whom the Bell Tolls

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Was I Ever So Young?

This is the time to remember
Cause it will not last forever
These are the days
To hold on to
But we won’t
Although we’ll want to

(Billy Joel — “This is the Time”)

I’ve been doing some organizational work with my computing lately, as long-time readers of the blog may have noticed.  As part of it, I found myself cleaning up my digital pictures, which are now a collected set of folders dating back fifteen years.

Fifteen years!  How is it even possible?

Myself as a baby shutterbug in Aruba in 2001.
Myself as a baby shutterbug in Aruba in 2001.

Aside from my awe that digital photography has been around and accessible to the casual consumer for that length of time, looking through the years of my life captured in this way was really emotional.  I found myself searching for the rare pictures of myself, because I’m still struggling with coming to terms with my post-partum body and I wanted to compare my mental image of what the numbers on the scale mean to some reality.

It’s a strange pursuit.  Most days, I can keep focused on the fact that this amazing body created a human being — a human being that fills my days with relentless joy.  Baby girl is at a really nice point in her development, now that we’ve transitioned from days of constant upset stomachs to watching her learn how to use her body to maneuver into the basics of mobility.  Newborns are relatively inert, but now that she’s five months old,  she spends her days interacting with her world in the most innocent ways. I spend my days waiting to run home and watch her.  There’s really no better consolation to the changes in my body, but it’s still difficult to accept that there have been changes in my body that are beyond my control.

When I first left home, I gained a hefty amount of weight.  I was eighteen, with no conception of nutrition.  I grew up feeding myself egg sandwiches and Ramen noodles and whatever else I could scrounge in the kitchen. (My mom was very dedicated to her job and, more importantly, hated cooking.)  When I moved out and into a ridiculously paid dot com job, I could suddenly afford eating out regularly and lots of dessert.  The pounds packed on.  When I moved to working a night shift, I used soda to keep myself awake, not realizing the extra meals I was taking in every day in all my empty cans of Mountain Dew.  I reached an all-time high score on the scale by the time I was 20, which I didn’t see again until I was seven months pregnant.

I did learn.  I learned about exercise and nutrition.  I got the weight back down again, as college classes sent me to the gym.  Better yet, I learned what it felt like to be fit and strong, rather than just having the effortless thinness of my teenaged years.  Pregnancy hit me hard because it took a lot of that confidence and put it on a shelf for a while.  For the first time in many years, my feet ached from the weight of my body.  I had to catch my breath after walking up the stairs.  I couldn’t keep up with the guys at work when we went out to lunch.  I had to ask for help to lift things.  Looking back, I wish I had enjoyed my pregnancy more, but I spent nearly all of it dreaming of the day when I would have the strength of my body back.

Now, five months after the birth of my baby, I’ve lost most of the weight that I put on, which was significantly more than the recommended thirty-five pounds. The majority of it came off in fluid and baby in the first two months, and there has been a slow but steady decline since, but the last pounds linger.  I’ve been doing my best to lose the rest while not thinking about it, but inevitably I will pass a mirror and feel an unwelcome dismay.  There are so many other things in my life that are so much more important, but my rounded mommy belly feels like a step backwards to my days of poor fitness. I admit that it hurts my pride.

Charlotte  John-bw-073
A rather momentous day, 2012.

But rarely does a day go by where I am not grateful for being able to do something that was inaccessible in pregnancy.  My abdominals are still rebuilding, thanks to the planks and bridges that are now part of my daily routine, but I can change the water bottle at the cooler at work without having to think about it.  If I need something out of the top shelf, I can climb up on the counter and get it.  I lift and swing and move baby girl around wherever she needs to go.  I can carry her without rest for the better part of an hour.  These are all glorious things that seemed impossible a year ago.

And yet, in looking back at my oldest photographs, I don’t see such a dissimilar body. What surprised me most is how unimaginably young I look. I was out in the world on my own, living in an apartment with roommates, working a good job without any knowledge of the upcoming recession that was going to make the next few years full of financial struggles.

My hair, long from laziness, hangs past my shoulders and down my back.  It’s usually carelessly clipped up, just to keep it out of my face.  My clothes are often unfitted and unflattering, because I didn’t understand those things either.  My face is rounder, my waistline bumpier, my arms looser.  I could not have predicted what was in front of  me, though I remember feeling a lot of anxiety about it. But I didn’t feel young.

Has gazing at my younger body given me any insight into my conception of my body today?  Even now, I am fitter, older, more experienced.  Then, my fat curled around my waist like a tire; now it hangs in the front as a long reminder of where baby girl lay, head down and waiting, for so many months.  Our bodies are still joined, as I guide her to my breast every morning and night so that she can suckle and get the nutrition that she needs to challenge and conquer her world.  She has changed me, through the fading stretch marks and the shape of my body.  When I look at photographs of myself now — or at the end of my pregnancy — I see our connection in the shape of my waist.

I want to raise a girl that doesn’t spend so much energy on such ridiculous things, as much as I know it is probably impossible.  But still, in looking back at my young body, I was reminded of all the places that I’ve seen since — trips to Aruba, Jamaica, Belgium, New Orleans, Canada, Cornwall, California, Paris — that I’d completely forgotten about.  There are few pictures of me in those albums, since I’m usually the one behind the camera.  Perhaps the takeaway here is to hand the camera over — to make certain that someone records me, not as a record of my body and its shape, but as a reminder of who I’m holding in my arms at the time.

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Transition

Yesterday morning, I woke to a few inches of snow covering the asphalt parking lot that the back of my house faces.  My neighborhood is a densely packed New York City suburb of 30,000 people, which could be far worse than what it is, but isn’t precisely what I would call a picturesque environment.  Snow significantly augments its beauty by hiding all the pavement and letting me pretend that I live somewhere far more pastoral and charming than I really do.

Although it is already the end of January, we’re still awaiting our first snowstorm of any significance.  Yesterday, the snow turned to sleet within a few hours and the plows were out in full force, so the beauty of the snowfall disappeared rapidly under their combined efforts.  We are due more snow tomorrow and on Tuesday, which does make it feel like winter has finally hit us here.  The seasonal transition is late this year, but it feels appropriately timed for the events of my life, as I wind down my professional life and move into my last few days before motherhood really begins.

deskviewOn Wednesday, I worked my last day in the office before my maternity leave.  I was filled with a remarkable amount of sorrow, despite the fact that I am still working from home until my labor begins.  I am coming back to work after my maternity leave, but over the last few weeks, I’ve been slowly cleaning out my office and bringing home the things that I’ll need to function as a telecommuter, so my office feels echoey and empty. I took a picture of the view from my desk and joked with my Beloved that I should hang it on the wall in front of my desk at home so that I can still feel like I’m part of the energy of my department. Perhaps I have spent far too much time around cats, but the idea of not following following the same routine that I’ve had for the last seven years has thrown me for a bit of a loop.  Logically, I know that it is a temporary change, but my hindbrain hasn’t quite gotten the memo.  I had tears in my eyes as I snuck out the door at the end of the day.

I am fortunate enough to like my coworkers very much. I’ve realized that I will miss seeing them while I’m on leave.  Working from home is not something that I enjoy nearly as much as I feel that I should — I do miss the variety of the small social interactions of our team as we navigate around each other on our way to the water fountain and the coffee machine and the fridge.  We often eat lunch together. I don’t go to work to socialize, but the social life is a big part of why I’ve worked there for so long.  Working from my desk in my basement in my pyjamas is comfortable, but it is lonelier than I would like.  All the same, I do see how fortunate I am that it’s an option for me.

At home, we are quite busy arranging for the last minute provisions and needs of our incoming infant.  I’ve been working hard to try and speed up the labor, as I’ve now been given a deadline for an induction.  Having heard some horror stories about induction, I am  very motivated to invite our daughter out into the world as soon as possible.  This morning, we went out for breakfast in the nearby beach town so that I could waddle down the boardwalk for a while.  I watched the ocean waves coming in, pounding on top of each other in the January winds, and thought about all the fluid surrounding our womb girl.  I’m sipping on raspberry leaf tea and taking my evening primrose oil tablets, as per my midwife’s advice.  I’m waiting and counting false contractions and waiting some more.  I’m writing and knitting at a furious pace, trying to finish up projects before I have a rather less understanding project demanding my attention.  I am spending a lot of time with my Beloved and dreaming of the future.  I can’t decide if I want her to hurry up or if I want these final days of preparation to linger.  All I do know is that change is coming–and it’s coming very soon.

 

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Birthin’ Hips

“You’ve got great hips. A nine and a half pound baby could fit through there. Yours is only seven pounds so far!”  My midwife’s face was gentle and reassuring, the smile genuine.

Bizarrely, I felt a sense of pride at her statement, as though something other than genetics and luck have had anything to do with my good prospects. This misplaced surge of pride somehow counteracted the awkwardness of the pelvic exam, which is uncomfortable and undignified at its very best, and I realize that I am being distracted by my midwife. I think that they must teach this at gynecological school, because every ob-gyn I’ve ever had suddenly becomes chatty the second they start touching my undercarriage.  I’ve got a lot of those moments ahead of me in the next few weeks.

I am very pregnant now. On Saturday, our daughter will be fully cooked, although it is still a little over two weeks until my due date. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself worrying about labor more often, as my brain finds idle moments in my day. It happens when I close my eyes to sleep, when I am waiting for the train, in the moments when I try to manipulate my increasingly bulky body into clothes that grow tighter and tighter each day.

I only began to enjoy pregnancy a month ago, although mine has not been particularly hard compared to the hell that some women go through. Mine hit me where it hurts me most — in my athleticism and my vegetarianism — which made it hard to bear. There are amazing women who can handle athletics and vegetarianism during pregnancy, but my body could not. That smarted. Maybe that’s why finding out that I’m in a good position to have the labor that I’ve chosen felt like an accomplishment, when it’s really nothing more than luck. I spent the early days of my pregnancy talking up a good game of looking forward to labor for its pregnancy-ending benefits, but now that my bluff could be called any minute, I am becoming less brave.


It’s hard to be private when you’re pregnant. Many women report strangers touching them without asking. I didn’t have a problem with this, other than one drunken acquaintance forgetting to wait for permission before giving the belly a good rub. Still, being a New Yorker means having very little choice about interacting with strangers. I am on a train now, sitting next to a man that I will never know, who keeps glancing at the visibly moving baby in my midsection. I can’t blame him. I can only be grateful that he hasn’t given me the twenty questions that strangers seem to think it’s my responsibility to answer.

“It’s a boy, isn’t it?”

“Do you have a name for it?”

“You’re almost due, right?”

“Are you having twins?”

“Is this your first?”

I get these questions all the time, from people that I presume mean well, who presume that I’m the sort of woman who is thrilled to be pregnant and wants to talk about it all the time. Sometimes I don’t mind. Sometimes I want to forget that everyone knows and to just be treated like my old self again. I am looking forward to our separation mostly for this reason — the ability to be anonymous again, to be able to buy a sandwich without having my personal life questioned by strangers.


I’ve chosen a natural labor, with as little medical intervention as possible. Although I am rather hippy-minded, it’s more that I can’t stand the idea of spending my labor tied to a bed than any desire for a natural labor experience.  An epidural, which is the main pain management option, numbs you from the waist down, so walking is out of the question. The very idea makes me feel claustrophobic and anxious, which is the opposite of what makes the labor go faster. Fast is not a word commonly used to describe first labors and I am expecting that mine will last at least twelve hours, given the experiences of other women in my family. I may not be running, or even walking very fast these days, but now I’m preparing myself for a marathon.

I have some strategies to get through the experience. We’ve gone to the Lamaze class, so I understand the biology of labor and how important being able to relax through the pain will be. I’ve started getting Braxton Hicks contractions, which has given me the opportunity to experiment with breathing techniques to learn which ones work best for pain management for me. The contractions aren’t pleasant, but I’ve found them comforting, even when they hit me in the middle of my work day. I’ve learned that I can still be the professional side of me, even as a hugely pregnant woman. Maintaining that balance — the ability to cooly troubleshoot network problems and think logically while my uterus is clenching so hard that I wonder if it might fall out my back — that has given me a confidence that I can handle the upcoming ordeal. I just hope that my labor starts when I am well fed and well rested, just like I would begin any endurance athletic event.

My old yoga mat is already in my hospital bag, waiting for the hours I plan on spending in cow and child’s pose. My body may try to take over with pain, but my brain has fifteen years of training on how to deal with it. I’ll just breathe in and then I’ll breathe out. And then I’ll do it all again. And again. And again. And again. And again.

At the end of the day, what happens in that carefully decorated labor room is not really my choice. If complications arise that risk Cora’s life, then I’m happy to be tied to that bed and sliced open like a fetal pig. I’ve learned from this pregnancy that I’m already willing to go to great lengths for my daughter, even when those actions are in total opposition to my desires.  All the same, it was so reassuring to hear that my final moments of pregnancy might actually go the way I’ve planned.

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The First Goodbye

Tux Today I said goodbye to an old friend, my beloved convertible Tux, which seems a remarkably appropriate thing to be doing at this time of year.  December always seems a little early for end of year reflections, as usually the weather has not turned enough to make me feel that the seasons are really changing.  This year is no exception — as I watched my first car drive away attached to a stranger’s truck, I was unzipping the wool cardigan that I had thrown on over my t-shirt, because the weather is far too warm for what this season is supposed to mean.

And yet, somehow, it is already the end of the year.  At work, we’ve done reviews and our end-of-year party.  A good friend of mine that has been scheduled to move away at the end of the year is leaving within a few days.  The solstice has already started making longer days. The New Year is less than a week away, which means that this babe in my uterus is now due in a mere five weeks, which seems impossibly close. There was a day in late May, when I sat on the banks of the Sandy River with friends, sipping beer and watching people float downstream in intertubes, which was one of the last days before I knew that I was pregnant.  It seems impossible that that was over half a year ago.  The moments in between have stretched out until they felt impossibly long, as my brain fought with my pregnant body, but now time has compressed again and I am left wondering how it has gone by so fast.

Today, as I patted Tux’s trunk goodbye, I felt like I was touching my own history.  Tux was my first car and we have been together since I was 21 years old.  New York has made it a long time since I’ve spent significant time in any car, but when I think of my car, I still think of my beloved convertible.  I’ve barely driven him since I gave him to my baby brother to use two years ago, but the emotions are still there.  I can well remember heartbroken nights where I would jump into the car and just drive and drive while my brain sorted itself out. Likewise, I’ll never forget joyous midnight drives and smelling the sweet scent of wheat on summer nights in Virginia, with the top thrown down and the wind in my impossible hair.  Removing the knots from my long hair afterwards could take all night, but it was worth the pain for the sweetness of the breeze on my face.

Ever since the accident a few months ago,Tux has sat in the driveway, staring sadly at the house with his smashed nose.  I did not crash him, but every time it rained and I watched the water seep into the gaps in his crushed hood, I felt a deep sense of guilt.  I have donated him to the fire department so that trainees may learn how to use the jaws of life.  I like the idea that this vehicle that is so alive in my head might help save someone’s life some day, but I also can’t help but be disturbed at the idea of someone cutting him apart.  He is a friend, but he’s also a symbol, perhaps the symbol, of my young adulthood.  Those days are solidly behind me now, as my increasing number of gray hairs and sensible shoes clearly attest to, but they were good days, filled with friendship and love and learning and opportunity.  I wouldn’t give up what I have today to go back to them, but it’s natural to mourn a little when you know that they’re really gone.

This next year is probably going to be a haze of milestones in my life.  I imagine that I’ll remember parts of it clearly until I die, as I take the first steps across the bridge into motherhood.  There will be so many firsts as labor and my first parenting experiences pile up.  The first joys, the first mistakes, the first problems, the first moments where I realize that I can do this after all.  Cora be nothing but a bundle of firsts, but I hope I remember my own milestones as significantly as hers.  First experiences are so sweet.

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Flutter Brain

Chaos Fire by Walex Khmurets

My life has been so chaotic over the past few weeks that I found myself looking forward to today as a much needed respite — a time in which I could get All of the Things done that I haven’t had time to do as I’ve been moving through my day-to-day over the last month.  Now that I finally had a few hours of time to myself, I would have time to work on finishing plotting out my masters’ thesis novella, finish spinning that bag of fiber from SOAR 2011*, work on my nursing shawl knitting project and finally weave off that monk’s belt weaving sample that I started — according to my Bullet Journal — sometime in January.

Oh my word.  Naturally, I would also get all my Christmas cards completed and the family gifts purchased, as well as doing at least one thoughtful thing for each of the five significant birthdays that I celebrate in December…because those are all the things that I want to have done by the end of the day.  That’s how this works, right?

Instead, I found myself sitting down at my desk, which looked very much like what you might imagine the desk of someone who has been completely overwhelmed for months to look like.  I have more relevant loose papers to file than I likely have in my file cabinet.  The pitted cherry surface of my desk had been littered with various boxes of medication, lotions, plastic caps, small electronic parts and, inexplicably, half a small tube of toothpaste.  A broken necklace that I love has waiting for repair.  There’s an intricately folded dollar bill that came from who-knows-where and a pile of hair accessories for someone with long hair, which has not been me for at least a year.  I have been paying the price of my disorganization — I still have a crushed car sitting in my driveway because I cannot seem to get the title and the lien release for this car in my hands at the same time, despite several attempts.  No matter how many times I go through all the various piles of paper in my house right now, I can never reduce them to some meaningful amount that produces the paper that I need right now and that I know that I saw somewhere.  Even my computer was filled with too many programs open, a mishmash of ideas for work and school and the various aspects of my life, with no focus anywhere.  My inboxes are overflowing with unread messages and my brain feels just about the same way.

People keep saying that I have pregnancy brain, but I actually hate this phrase.  I think instead that I have life brain. Pregnancy has definitely contributed, as I’ve been spending a lot of my time on a fast-tracked learning curve about both pregnancy and what the heck you’re meant to do with a newborn to keep her alive.  Having to radically change my diet because of some issues with the pregnancy has also been a time-suck, as I’ve had to try to figure out new recipes and ingredients that I never used to cook with never ate before.  Normally, feeding myself is a fairly automatic process, but it’s been moved up to the front burner of my consciousness as something I actually need to pay attention to, rather than letting habit determine my behavior. That’s a lot of time that I used to spend on keeping my life in order and my desk has shown the end result.  I am not my normally organized self, which means I spend so much more time looking for what I need rather than accomplishing the simple things. Pregnancy brain indeed.

Stressed by it all, I reached a breaking point today that my family is quite familiar with — the  moment where the house is too thrown apart for me to even think.  I can’t be happy in chaos.  I’ve done none of the things that I planned to do today, other than cook some food to buy me time later this week, but I have thrown my desk and basement back into enough of a semblance of order that I can think again.  I can write again.  I can relax again….as long as I don’t go upstairs.

Ahhhh.   Can someone send all my food down here? I don’t think I ever want to leave.

 

 

 

* Yes, this is as embarrassing as it seems.

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What Remains

I have been spending a quiet weekend of introversion, catching up on some much needed alone time and rest.  It is cold here, so I carefully ran all of the errands that I would need to do this weekend over the previous week, so that I wouldn’t need to leave the house at all from Friday night through Monday morning.  My Beloved, in a deep expression of our differences, has driven six hours north towards all of that famous Buffalo snowfall.  He is hoping for an epic fishing weekend, as all the less hardy fisherpeople will have been scared off by the six feet of snow that has demobilized that city and the surrounding area.

It does take all kinds to run the world.

I have been soaking up the quiet, like a pumice stone floating in water. Life has been very busy lately, between the baby shower and concerts and baby education classes and all the doctor’s and dentist appointments, so the chance to sit and nap and read and listen to silence has been a luxury. I have been researching a new writing project, which has filled my time with an artistic exhilaration.  Even though I have not yet put more than a single sentence to paper in the actual writing, I am filled with ideas and plot and characterization.  I love this part of a project; when all is possibility and excitement.  The writing itself is harder than the dreaming, but the dreaming is a great deal of fun.  This project is historical fiction, so the idea is that spending some time doing research before starting to write will save a great deal of time down the road.  Dreaming and reading and lazying about and thinking justified.  Sometimes the rest before the race is what just what you need.


We head down to Virginia on Wednesday for our annual Thanksgiving trip.  It is one of my absolute favorite times of the year, when I get to spend several days visiting with some of my oldest friends.  We’ve been doing this Thanksgiving celebration for about a decade now and I don’t think I have ever missed it.  I’m not technically supposed to go this year, since I’m in the third trimester now, but I figure the emotional benefit outweighs any physical risk.  It will be my last trip before the trip to the labor ward.

Over the years, the Thanksgiving crowd has changed and grown, as any family does.  The people that I bring with me and leave behind have shifted too, as my own life has fluctuated over the last decade.  Yet this one trip every year works as my focal point — reminding me that there are certain parts of my life that stay steady, even when everything else seems in flux.  That grounding is more important this year than ever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom, as is probably natural for a woman in her first pregnancy.  Traditionally, I go visit her grave at Arlington Cemetery during this trip, which is an important moment of connection and catharsis for me.  It surprises me every year, but I almost always cry when I’m there.  Some years, it is the only time I cry all year long. This year, I’m looking forward to my visit, so that I can introduce her to the seven-month-old fetus that I’m carrying around.  I think she would have been pleased beyond words by having a granddaughter.  I have had a good deal of sorrow that this child will only know one of her four grandparents, since I am so close to mine.  I know she will have other people that will fill those roles in her life, but I can’t help but be saddened by it all the same.

I always feel strange talking to a grave.  My mom’s ashes are inserted in a cavity in a wall that holds the ashes of many other veterans of this country’s military.  It is a courtyard, with granite nooks for ashes surrounding the visitor on all sides.  When I put her ashes in the cavity, the nooks were mostly empty.  Now, seven years later, the cavities have all filled.  Our conversations grow ever less private.  I look over the dates on the graves surrounding her and count the ages of her neighbors — I wonder how many other visitors come and see the forty-eight years between her birth and death and are moved to pity…and no small amount of curiosity.

Still, I am looking forward to talking with what remains of her.  There are just some things your mother should know, even if she can no longer hear what you have to say.

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