• introspection,  motherhood,  new york,  racism

    Spring Tidings: Where Will We Land?

    I keep trying to write to you.  I do.  I’ve started and discarded no fewer than four posts, on various topics that are filling my mind these days.  But now it is spring — and allergy season — and Facebook has just reminded me that I haven’t posted anything in twenty days.  Twenty days!

    That is a lifetime in the Internet world, is it not?

    We are so busy here at the moment.  We are very close to putting our house on the market, so every spare second over the last few weeks has been spent in a wild effort to paint all of the things and finish all of the projects.  Last week, I came home every night to work on our entry way, which is now much prettier than it ever was.  We hired cleaners to come in and give the house a scrubbing of its lifetime.  My Beloved installed new stone steps and finished a million other little projects around the house.  Our back yard has become a summer oasis, blooming with begonias and fresh paint and tidy trimmings.  Everything is now so spot on that the thought of selling the house and starting it all over somewhere else rather makes me want to cry.

    I have problems with change.  It’s true.  I am trying to see past it, although the thought of moving has opened up all kinds of possibilities that have made me feel rather lost.  When I moved here, my only thought was having a back yard near the beach with a mortgage that I could afford.  Having a child has complicated things.  Now I worry about things like local schools, population diversity, the political environment.   I grew up outside of Washington D.C., in one of the two most diverse counties in America.  I had friends from all over the world.  Through friendships and school projects, I visited the homes of Muslims, Protestants, Catholics and Buddhists as a matter of course.  I knew that when  you went to Korean or Russian homes, you had to take off your shoes at the door.  I learned soccer basics from a woman who had played on the national team in Honduras.  I recently found a mix tape that friend made me in middle school, with tracks on it that her Vietnamese parents grew up on. I learned to jump double dutch and braid hair from all the Black children at the summer day camps I went to while my mom was at work.  When I think about the kind of education that I want Baba to have, growing up in a culturally diverse school district is a big part of it.

    Here in Long Island, things are more segregated.  I imagine it is much that way across most of the country, but it seems an odd way to grow up.  The town that we live in is particularly severe this way — the local elementary school is 95% White, even though the surrounding neighborhoods are more integrated.  That concerns me, even more so because of the racist sentiments I see openly expressed on the town’s Facebook parenting group, which I like to tell myself are only possible because these people choose to be socially isolated.  How can you believe in stereotypes once you’ve made friends with people from that group?  And yet, while I try not to condemn them, the thought of Baba going into their homes, as she makes friends with other children, gives me the willies.  These are not the adults that I want in her community.  I certainly don’t want her to grow up seeing children of other ethnicities as foreign or different or wrong.

    I’ve found myself researching nearby neighborhoods strictly on their demographics and trying to find an acceptable intersection of diversity, similar incomes and safety.  Long Island, like much of the country, is seeing a huge surge in the heroin trade.  As the dealers have moved in, they’ve brought their guns and their gangs.  Our new District Attorney is doing a great job of cracking down on them and so we see arrests in the local papers of all of the towns around us…but never in our town.  In our town, the biggest crimes being reported are all the forty-something women stealing from Kohl’s.

    This makes the decision of whether to stay or whether to go so much harder.  I grew up in a poor section of town, in clustered apartment complexes where the kids were often unsupervised while their parents worked multiple jobs.  There were pot dealers in my middle school and more than one student was expelled for bringing in a gun.  I learned, by the age of twelve or so, that walking down the street without a male friend would inevitably mean harassment from men much older than myself.  By the time I was fourteen, I carried mace, just in case the creep that hung outside of the high school where I was taking a summer class decided to try anything worse than just following me and talking to me.

    To this day, I am still wary of men, though I have long passed the age where I draw the kind of attention that I did as a teenager.  That’s precisely the kind of world that I want to protect Baba from.  I know well how blessed we are, because we’re in a position to be able to do so.  And yet, I feel guilty at the thought.  To be able to buy safety for her with such relative ease, to get her into a well-reputed school district with ample financial resources, feels like such a betrayal of where I come from.  And selfishly, I worry that I will have a hard time making friends with people who look on childhoods like mine with pity.  When I walk among such people, as I did in high school when my high level of academics put me among the privileged, I feel like an imposter.

    I have had to face the fact that we are in a position to give my daughter a whole lot more, in a material sense, than I grew up with.   Money absolutely buys access to a better education and a safer neighborhood.  I hear my own privilege in this post.  I do.  It bothers me deeply.  Americans aren’t supposed to be class or race conscious, but of course we all are.  I remind myself that this is the world that I want for everyone — a world of prosperity and safety, where we can have authentic and honest relationships with people very different from ourselves.  I remember well how old I was when my school divided into cliques that were formed on the lines of skin color.  In the 90s, we all became color aware when we were twelve.  I remember it as a time of deep hurt for me, when many of my friends drifted away to new friendships, formed with people that looked more like they did.  Could it be different for my daughter’s generation?  Every time someone takes my pale skin as an invitation to air their prejudices, I have to wonder.

    The political primaries this year have made it very apparent that these race and class issues are boiling across my country.  Today, Donald Trump — an actual contender for the Presidency! — denounced the decision to put Harriet Tubman on the twenty dollar bill.  Who could argue with Harriet Tubman?  Every time I pass a Trump banner in someone’s yard, I want to run as far from here as we can, even as I know that there are plenty more people that think like we do.  I hope.

    In any case, we’ve pinpointed a few areas that I hope can give Baba the sort of childhood that I want her to have.  I have no doubt that our research will keep on for the next few months, as neither of us know the area well.  This will be our forever home, as hard as it is for me to admit to committing to New York, and we want to do a good job of picking it. We will land somewhere or other, at the end of this temporary and uncomfortable time of uncertainty.

    Baba and I have the next week off, as her day care is closed for the week of Passover, and the weather is finally shifting into a gentle and warm spring.  The house is finished and photographed for sale, so  — at last — all we need to do is entertain ourselves and relax, as best we can.

     

  • ethics,  family,  introspection,  motherhood,  writing

    Happy New Year!

    blue_new_year_greeting_card_266209I spent the last day of 2015 switching between taking care of a sick baby, a sick cat and sorting through boxes of my mother’s things.  It’s not just my mother’s things — we are hoping to move in the spring, so I’ve spent the last week decluttering our basement storage so that when we show the house to potential buyers that it looks like a place where you can put things.  I’ve been going through all the stuff that we’ve forgotten that we owned, like fish tanks and snorkel fins and Halloween decorations, and trying to find new homes for them so that our house looks like a place where someone else can put their forgotten stuff.

    Ironic, isn’t it?

    The upshot is that Baba and the cat are both on the mend.  Our eighteen-year-old tabby tore out the dew claw on his hind foot on Christmas Eve, which led to him spraying blood all over our kitchen floor and being very indignant about all the antibiotics and pain medication that I’ve been force-feeding him for the last week.  He’s also been cordoned off from the back yard, which wasn’t too big of a deal until he started feeling better.  It has been Howl O’Clock ever since.  On Thursday, I strapped Baba to my chest and slung the cat carrier over my shoulder and went back to the vet for the follow-up exam.  Baba ate much of the furniture in the exam room while we waited, but the cat’s prognosis is good, even if he is still forbidden from his backyard prowling for another week.  Howl, howl, howl.

    Baba is a little slower to heal, and we’ve spent most of last few nights attending to her cough. It wasn’t exactly my plan for ringing in 2016, but it is what it is. In a sense, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to ring out 2015 than to stumble around with exhaustion after a long night of baby tending.  Here’s to more sleep in 2016.

    After a hard week’s work, I am also beginning to see an end to the basement clean-up. It is a fitting project for the end of the year — trolling through old photographs, journals and letters puts me in a deeply reflective mood. I’ve now outlived enough of my relatives to have accumulated  generations of memories, so many of the letters and photographs that I’m rediscovering aren’t even mine.  Now, I am saving them for Baba, in the hopes that some day she will care as much about our family history as I do.

    I did find my childhood diary, which has only fuelled my recent desire to take up journalling again. For a writer, the benefits are obvious.  I have journalled privately on and off through the years, but it has been off again since Baba was born.  I already struggle with finding enough time to work on fiction and this blog, and journalling was competing with that time.  Time may be a finite resource, but I find that I’ve missed the clarity that journalling gives my thoughts and emotions.

    And yet, after finding my mother’s diaries, I am not certain about leaving behind such a detailed written record for Baba to find one day. My mother died suddenly, decades before she expected to. Her journals are filled with beautiful writing, but it is clear that they were an outlet for her when she was troubled or struggling with the depression that always chased her. This isn’t the picture of her grandmother that I want to leave behind for Baba. Every time I find my mother’s journals, I can barely stand to read more then an entry or two, because I know they weren’t meant for me. I know that I should destroy them, but I also can’t seem to bring myself to do so, knowing that they might have answers to some of the questions of my early life. They provide context to my memories, which my mother might have been able to do if she had lived longer.  I was raised thousands of miles from our extended family, so I don’t have the network of shared memories from cousins and siblings and aunts and uncles and grandparents that so many people do.  I just had my mother, who died too soon.

    In this cleaning, I found a baby memory book that she wrote for me, which has satisfied my curiosity about many questions that I’ve had this year. No one remembers when I began to walk, but my mother wrote it down for me. I found when I got my first tooth, grew my head of hair, began to sit up. I’ve wanted to know this all year so that I might know what to expect with Baba’s development. And here is a book that tells me everything!  I was so excited by this that I turned around and ordered a memory book to fill in for Baba, in case she finds herself in the same position that I am in now.

    What if there are more answers, more context, in my mother’s journals and letters? I remember my mother, mostly as the grinning, silly, playful person that she was much of the time. But Baba would only know her through these very painful journal entries. That isn’t a fair picture at all. And yet, my mother kept journals from 20 years before she died. Did she want us to find them?  Could she just not stand to them go?  There are some questions I just can’t answer.

    For now, I’ve put the journals and letters back in labelled boxes and pushed them to the back of our storage area.  I tell myself that after we sell our house and move that I might pull them out and read through them, but I know that a thousand things will take a higher priority.  They are journeys into the past and it is, after all, a new year now, ripe with the excitement new stories and memories to come.

    Happy New Year!

     

  • culture,  ethics,  motherhood,  new york,  racism

    Make It Stop

    It is a dark and rainy night here in the Big Apple. No different from many fall evenings, except that videos have surfaced of terrorists threatening Times Square, only a few days after the slaughter in Paris. The city is on high alert, with the much criticized NYPD doing extra patrols and sweeps to try to stop murder before it happens. Tonight, I was followed onto my train by a counter terrorism cop, who visually swept the car before nodding that the train could go on.

    I usually resent the police presence in the subway. They stand
    with assault weapons across their chest, the business end pointed down.  How easy, I think, for them to accidentally shoot so many, if something goes wrong. They are often young and I wonder how many years they’ve been out of the police academy. They stand for hours, usually vigilant, usually watching. Watching us. Nodding one or two out of a hundred over to their tables, they swipe our bags with little cloths, analyzing the molecules that they pick up for evidence of planned destruction. When it is not my turn for inspection, I slide by them with a resentful glance at the fire power that has become normal to me, because I live in a world of increasing militarization.

    This man, who was clad head to toe in thick padding underneath his dark blue uniform, carried only a pistol in his belt. And tonight, he reminded me that the city was under threat, which I had forgotten after my busy day in the office. And yet, I was glad to see him. What a brave man, I thought, to do this day after day. That’s admirable. I took a
    long look at his dark brown eyes and curly hair. I took in the intense,
    trained gaze, the dark embroidery of his name and unit on his pocket.

    I should really work on my will, I thought. Just in case.  You never know.


    Today, too, my government began the legislation to deny refuge to 10,000 Syrians. It is couched and marketed with words that make it sound like something different. They called it screening, as though the multi-year screening process that we already had in place wasn’t sufficient. What it is, in reality, is a requirement that a single person sign off on every Syrian that we allow to come here. A single busy person.  In reality, it means that we will deny even the paltry 10,000 that we’ve already promised to help. We will be as bad as Hungary. We will close our doors to the victims of our enemies.

    Two hundred and eighty nine people got together in a room today and cast their vote that we should do this, even though every American school child is taught about how the U.S. made their immigration policies stricter for the German Jews during World War II. Even after we knew about genocide, we closed our doors. We are taught about how shameful that was, about how afraid Americans were. And yet, here we are, with an opportunity to redeem our country’s actions in those dark days….and two hundred and eighty nine of our elected officials thought we should repeat history instead.

    The worst part, of course, is that this is in response to an attack by French and Belgian murderers. And yet, the call to keep French and Belgian visitors and immigrants out of our country has not come.  It is the Syrian refugees who are being given the blame, as my country seeks to punish the victims of ISIS for something a bunch of Europeans did.

    A few months after Baba was born, I joined the local parenting group on Facebook. The main topic of the last few weeks has been how the local shopping mall has replaced Santa’s giant Christmas tree with a
    glacier display. The presumption was that the Christmas tree was somehow offensive and that the PC police were at it again. Surely, this was a sign of American values under fire, as those other people had to be accommodated. Christianity, itself, is under fire by the loss of the tree.

    I admit to some confusion as to how a Christmas tree, but not Santa, would be insulting. In any case, the outrage was so ferocious that a small tree was added to the display. The parenting group was horrified; how could the mall insult them by putting such a small tree in place?

    In the middle of this discussion, one hundred and twenty nine lives were taken in Paris. And then the bigots came straight out.  It’s the immigrants. We need to stop the immigrants, they said.

    My husband is an immigrant, I said. He’s worked here and paid taxes for over twenty years. What is your problem with immigrants?

    Well, fine, they said. It’s the immigrants who are terrorists. Like the
    ones who blew up our neighbors in 9/11.

    None of those attackers were immigrants, I reminded them. I know that many people here lost people that they knew, that they loved. But immigrants didn’t do it. Immigrants want what you do — a better life for their children. A safer world. A place where there is plenty to eat.

    Next you’re going to tell me what a great president Obama is, they said.  Thank God these governors have the sense to not let Syrians come to their states. You won’t agree, but you must agree that it’s understandable.

    But the attackers in France weren’t Syrians! I said. And that’s not even something a governor can do! Does anyone here think at all?

    I am, as you might imagine, very popular in this group. The whole discussion disturbed me so much that I have been really considering if this is a place where I want to raise Baba, knowing that she will come into contact with people who speak so hatefully about people just like her father.  We have been talking about selling our house and buying another in the same neighborhood, but now I am not so sure.


    It was inevitable that I would find a news article that showed pictures of the French victims. My mouse hovered over the first picture, but then I had to look away. It is too much for me now. I see Baba in all of them. I think of the mothers that have been gutted by the loss of their children. I feel it too deeply. It is just another story of families torn apart by mass violence, just like the attacks in Lebanon the day before or the shooting in Kenya or the buses and markets that are attacked so regularly that we lose count of the dead.  I have victim fatigue. I can no longer look at the victims of Virginia Tech or Oregon State or Sandy Hook. I can’t even watch the videos that the UNHCR publishes. I can’t read the stories.

    Anger comes easier.   Anger is so easy when I see the hate continue. I can only ask why we have a world in which young men become radicalized, in which they are taught to hate so much that they don’t even see their victims as other people. I want to know, to understand, why the world has become a place in which they can see no future for themselves. And then I want us to put systems in place to Make. It. Stop.

    It seems so hopeless when all I can hear are my neighbors screaming for blood — the wrong blood.  Can’t we please move past the fear and reach out to each other? Can we please just Make. It. Stop?

  • motherhood,  writing

    November, NaNoWriMo, Some Falling Down

    Some time between August and November, Baba changed from being a baby to being a little person — a little person that is brimming with opinions and ideas and curiosity.  I don’t know how it happened, but I suspect the when was sometime around when the plates in her skull fused together, transforming her from mewling newborn into a person.  An actual person, who spends every waking minute trying to find out more, more, more about her world.

    Almost overnight, she had a child’s face and head, and a child’s thoughts to go in it.  Two days after she learned to crawl, she tried to stand, dragging herself up on anything that she could grab.  Now that she can easily stand with help, she’s trying very hard to stand without help.   She manages to succeed for brief moments — a few seconds here, a few seconds there.  She’s taught herself to fall, so when her legs buckle, they buckle neatly beneath her, bringing her down onto her rump.

    Most of the time.

    My writing journey has felt much the same lately.  I’ve had a second short story accepted for publication and I have been holding off on writing here until I have the details to share with you, but it’s been nearly a month now, and the details haven’t come.  So I will share that I hope that things are happening.  The journey continues, but it does so haltingly, a wobbly baby step at a time.

    In the meantime, I decided to distract myself with NaNoWriMo, because I have deeply missed first draft writing.  I am working on an existing project — the novel that I began in graduate school — and I have been furiously burying myself back in the 18th century in order to do it.  Trying to write this intensively while taking care of my Baba has been a constant exercise in acceptance of my own humanity.  Although an experienced NaNoWriMoer, I am nearly 5,000 words behind where I should be. I am only scribbling off this post now because today’s writing went well enough that I started to close the gap.  This year, it’s not about winning NaNoWriMo — it’s about getting back to writing something new every single day, which I haven’t done for months.  On a day like today, when the baby slept and the trains were kind, my success fills me with energy.  I want to stay up all night and crow from the roof.  Tomorrow, well, tomorrow is, as they say, another day.

    And so it goes.  The days pass and I watch Baba, whose journey feels like a reflection of my own.  In the garden, the leaves turn and fall off of all the bushes and vines that I’ve planted, and I know that they too will be back to their productive summer glory…one of these days.

  • human moments,  motherhood,  writing

    Human Moments, No. 5

    The boy is tow-headed, in the classic sense, his hair blonde in the way that you only see on young children.  He crowds in to the park bench with his brother, who might have been a twin, and his small sister.  They all stare at Baba, from ever-decreasing distances.

    Baba, for her part, stares back at them.  She hasn’t had much experience with children that can walk, and she finds them interesting, nearly as interesting as standing up.  The girl, a curly-headed two-year-old reaches out to touch Baba on the face, while her brother repeats his question impatiently.

    “Is it a girl or a boy?”

    “She’s a girl,” I say, uncertain how to navigate this minefield of children.  Near me, his mother shakes her head, while his sister pokes Baba in the cheek.  “She’s pretty!”

    “But she’s wearing blue!”

    Really?” his mother asks him.  She stands a few feet away, ready to swoop in the second her daughter crosses a line.  We had met just a few moments before, strangers bonded in a quick alliance against greater numbers.  “Really?  You know we’ve talked about–“

    “I like blue very much,” I say quickly.  “I’m a girl, aren’t I?”

    “Yes,” he says, looking at his brother for confirmation.  The other boy nods, shoving his hands into camouflage pants pockets.

    “I would even say blue is my favorite color.”

    He digests this for a moment, then speaks again.  “But, are you sure she’s a girl?”

    “Yes,” I say, laughing.  “I’m pretty darned sure.”

     

  • amusement,  family,  motherhood

    A Very Merry Unbirthday to You, My Dear

    Cora-6-MoImpossibly, our daughter is six months old today.  This means a few things.

    1. It was exactly six months ago that I was in labor for TWENTY-FOUR hours.  This is a fact that I intend to bring up to the BaBa often, for the rest of our natural lives. Perhaps longer.  If I was going to haunt anyone, it would probably be her.

    2. It is now time to try on my pre-pregnancy clothes, in the fervid hope that some of them might actually fit.  I am trying to not build this up to a bigger event than it actually is.

    3. BaBa needs to start eating some regular baby food, which I’ve been dreading for months, despite my growing obsession with making the stuff.  It will change her poop from sweet-smelling newborn poop to, well, human poop.  Poop.

    4. This is probably the last time we’ll even notice her half birthday.

    I read somewhere that parenting is a continual process of mourning — that every day is both a celebration of the child you’re raising and a sorrow for the child she no longer is.  In six months, I’ve watched BaBa change from an inert newborn (she was never tiny) to an opinionated and joyful little person that watches the world with wide eyes and an open mouth, as though she wants to taste every bit of it.  When she’s in her carrier on my chest, her head constantly swivels from left to right so that she can see everything going on around her.  She hates to sleep, even when her body is screaming for it, because she knows the world — which needs exploring — is continuing on without her.

    I miss the sleepy three week old that was content to nap on my chest for hours — I still stare at BaBa when she does actually sleep, trying to memorize every line before the topography of her face changes again.  She fell asleep on me last night and I sat with her for fifteen minutes longer than I had to, just to try and catch these moments that I know that I won’t remember. There are days that she comes home from day care having learned a new skill and it’s like we picked up a different baby. Each time this happens, I have to get to know her all over again.

    image

    Some Things I’ve Learned from Baba

    1. Nature is cruel.  Babies are born with an immature digestive system, which gives them a stomach ache for at least the first three months of life.

    2. When BaBa’s not happy, nobody is happy.

    3. Poop up to your nipples is only a problem if you make it one.

    4.  A bath can absolutely be the highlight of your day.

    5.  I’m unbelievably lucky to share my life with such a child.

    Happy Saturday, all.  If you hear screaming, it’s probably because I just tried on my old pants.

  • family,  knitting,  motherhood,  new york

    A Slow Motion, A Mad Dash

    mohair-bias-cowl-detail
    Knit, knit, knit, knit.

    This week, I finished a knitting project (the Mohair Bias Loop BY Churchmouse Yarns and Teas) that I started two weeks after Cora was born.  It is a fuzzy cowl of indeterminate length, knit on the bias, which can also double as a shawl.  It is the simplest of knitting patterns, with two rows that repeat until the desired length.  I usually go for intricate projects that bring me a lot of mental interest – either in their construction or the new techniques that I’ll have to learn to complete them, but with a baby in immediate view, I thought the simpler that I could go, the more likely I would be able to work on it.

    I didn’t even get creative with the yarn.  I admired a friend’s cowl so much that she led me to the same booth at Rhinebeck where she had bought her yarn and I picked out a color that I liked.  In the fiber world, we call this mindless knitting — the knitting your fingers do while your mind goes elsewhere.  It’s knitting as meditation, a way to free your mind to be calmed by the simple repetitive movements of your fingers as you loop and pass the yarn from one stitch to the next, from one needle to the next.  The only challenge in the pattern was the yarn itself — it takes a brave or foolhardy knitter to commit to a large project in mohair, but I was not afraid.

    mohair-bias-cowl
    If you think this bears a resemblance to a certain muppet, you wouldn’t be the first to suggest it.

    For the first time since Cora was born, I’ve taken my knitting with me on the train to work.  I was so close to the end of the cowl that I wanted to use the train time to sew the final seam.  I want to start other things because it’s taken me nearly five months to knit a single, simple project.  As I sat on the train this past week, I put in my headphones and plugged into my Audible account, picking up with listening to Patrick Rothfuss‘s The Name of the Wind, which I started listening to a very long time ago. Is there anything more relaxing than quietly creating while having someone read you a story?  Combined with the motion of the train as we whizzed through the suburbs of Queens, I rediscovered a place of tranquillity that I have missed over the last year.

    I was so relaxed, in fact, that on Thursday night I walked off the train without my cooler of breast milk — which is perhaps the most important thing that I do all day long.  Losing it would be such a disaster that I’ve occasionally dreamt about misplacing it and woken up in a panic.  It’s taken a special significance lately, as my body seems to be steadily producing less milk, despite my many efforts to encourage it to increase.  Thursday was a good day — four bottles — and the thought of losing them threw me into a panic.

    I ran.  I ran to my car and whipped out of the parking lot and down the road to catch the train.  I live two stops from the end of the line, so there was a possibility that I could catch the train before it turned around again to go back into Manhattan, but I knew I had to hurry.

    It’s amazing how long four miles can seem.  Every light that turned red against me seemed to take forever, though in reality they were not red long enough for me to unlock my phone and send a message to my Beloved to let him know why the milk cow was late. The thought of delaying Cora’s last feeding as I chased her bottles was horrible, but the thought of losing them was even worse.

    I got the cooler back.  I ran up and down the platform like a crazy thing until a kind MTA employee unlocked the closed cars and let me retrieve it.  Panting and sweating, I made it back to my car and raced home.  Parking as fast as I could, I walked around the corner to the sight of my Beloved and Cora standing in my doorway, waiting for me to come home.

    A smile broke out across my face and my anger at my carelessness was forgotten.  My family.  My home.  My everything, right there in the doorway, waiting for me, despite my mistakes.

  • health,  introspection,  motherhood,  relationships,  travel

    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.

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    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.

  • motherhood

    My Year as a Cow

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                            My Spirit Sister

    I grew up with the idea that high schools in the fifties used to make their students carry around an egg for a week, to teach them what having a baby is like.  I don’t know if this is true or a result of having watched too many sitcoms, but I’ve been thinking of it a lot now that my day involves navigating trains and side walks and elevators, with my ever-present breast milk cooler always draped over my pretty leather commuter bag.  Somehow, the cooler has become the most important thing I own and what I am most afraid of leaving behind.  I carry it carefully, making sure that the four precious bottles of milk do not spill, because it’s a resource that nothing but time can replace.

    In the breastfeeding community, breast milk is often called liquid gold.  It’s touted as the most important thing that you can do for your baby — and its importance is well documented.  Studies confirm that breast fed babies are calmer, healthier, and show more focus at an earlier age. When the baby had a small eye irritation, her doctor told me to squirt her in the eye because of breast milk’s antibiotic properties. There’s research to suggest that it contributes to the prevention of allergies, childhood cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol and IBS. It’s convenient, as long as mother and child are together, and costs a heck of a lot less than formula. Truly, it’s a wonder food.  It’s probably only surprising that Gwyneth Paltrow hasn’t featured it yet on Goop.

    Nursing is good for the mother, too; our breasts were designed to lactate.  The more we do, the lower our chances of breast and ovarian cancer.  The hospitals now tout this and promise you that breastfeeding will make you skinnier and help you live longer.  It’s best if you nurse at least four babies, if you can. Never mind the cosmetic damage to your breasts and the initial discomfort — I, for one, learned that nipple trauma is not only a thing, but a thing that you’d rather not have happen to you — it is something that every preggo is heavily pressured to do.  When I was in the hospital, a lactation consultant showed up minutes after we were moved into our recovery room.  Over the two days that I was there, countless nurses touched my breasts to show me how it was done.

    What isn’t immediately obvious, when you’re a pregnant woman, is how focused your life will be on your breasts when you come out on the other side.  You know that it’s not something that your partner can do, but until you’re nursing ten times a day, it doesn’t really strike home exactly what that means for your life.  You have to eat a certain way — my breakfast now regularly includes flax seed and brewer’s yeast — and you have to arrange your life around the filling and emptying of your breasts.  I think it’s likely a rare woman that doesn’t feel the challenge of milking her own body.  My cooler sometimes feels like a shackle.  I watch my husband leave the house for hours without a concern, while I won’t have that kind of freedom until I’m no longer the cow.  It might be another year.

    And yet.  And yet, I know that I will carry on with this routine for months to come.  I have a friend who signed up for private cord blood banking, which costs a small fortune.  When she told me about it, she said that she had to do it, because she loved her child so much.
    What if?  What if it could save her life some day?  I feel the same way about my moo-cow duty — although it sometimes seems tragically unfair that this is a burden that I cannot share, I know that I will do it until it becomes clear that every advantage of breast milk has been soaked up by my kid.  It, like pregnancy, is a labor of love — another labor of love that my child won’t even be able to recall.

    I will just have to remember for her.

  • motherhood,  nature,  writing

    And then it was April

    On Sunday, my daffodils bloomed.  I also emerged from under a sea of papers, readings and writing, as I turned in the very last requirements of my masters degree.  There was a certain hesitation and satisfaction in clicking submit.  When it was done, I wanted to feel something more intense than the relief that my deadlines were removed.  This is very likely the last formal schooling of my life, which seems significant somehow, but the emotions haven’t followed.

    In the week since, I have wandered around my house, feeling a bit lost for things to do without the focus that school has given me over the last two years.  I have found a local writer’s group to keep the momentum going — the most valuable thing that academia gave me was a community of peers to throw my writing at.  Now that I have been kicked out of the doors of academia, I have no excuses left to hold me back from trying to turn my writing into something more serious.  On the contrary – I now have to justify all the money I spent taking an extra two years of writing and literature courses.  I’ve pulled out my portfolio and have been preparing a story or two for workshopping at the next meeting.  It’s time to get serious.20150427_075210

    With an eleven week old daughter, who grows bigger and talks and smiles more every day, I still feel like motherhood is a suit that I’ve put on rather than something intrinsic to who I am.  I love my early mornings with the kiddo, who smiles at me like I’m the best thing that has ever happened when I wake her up.  I kiss her neck and listen to her coos and wonder that she belongs to us.  It seems unreal, as though any day someone will take this responsibility away.  Each morning is still a surprise, even as my hands and hips pick up the routine of diapering and lifting and soothing.  When my arms are free, they feel empty.  It’s just a matter of time until she’s so deep in my consciousness that she’ll come out in every story.  I find myself wanting to write for her, to tell her the stories I dreamed about when I was a child.

    Last weekend, I brought the kiddo out in the garden in her car seat, as I dug my hands into the dirt and planted.  This year, my gardening is building on the hard work of the previous few years.  I planted all bee-friendly plants, hoping that the lone carpenter bee that joined us would bring along his friends as my garden grows.  Pulling and tugging at the wisteria, I trained its long tendrils around the fence and away from the roses.  I put down lavender and bee balm, lady’s mantle, a hydrangea bush. I introduced the kiddo to the Asian pear trees and the roses and had her touch the soft leaves of the butterfly bush with her impossibly small fingers. At the end of the day, I washed the dirt off of my new gardening gloves with the satisfaction that I was looking for all along.

Bitnami