Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Christmas Letter I Didn't Send

To My Dear Family and Friends,

Although Christmas has come and gone, and some of you may still receive a holiday card from me in the mail, it will not be accompanied by the usual letter in which I try to pull together the meaningful events of the year with some sort of reflective tone and hopeful stance toward the coming year. Should any of you happen to visit my blog, here you will find that offering.

I'm struck tonight how I rarely rue the passing of a year anymore. As I've gotten older, each year has brought more and more moments of being present, trying harder and more intentionally to reach my actual goals and dreams, and less times when I sit and miss the Glory Days of my youth, which in my case were pretty much more guts and less glory. Each year also brings me more stinging realizations about my hard edges, and how much more I wish I was doing in general to actualize myself. I guess in the end, the last twelve months are what they are, and there's no going back now.

Initially, by way of catching up on the last many weeks since my last post, I'll sum up by saying this: I've been sick recently. Pretty much constantly. I've had all of Noah's first three colds, plus one to grow on, and really, it's been more days under the weather than healthy, so it basically feels like I haven't taken a smooth breath through my nose since October. And I'm still blowing my nose a few times a day. So for any of you who have wondered, you haven't missed much, except for of course all the amazing developments in Noah's life that keep me happy, if not also slightly strung out. He is communicating with one- and two-word sentences, is using 40+ baby signs, and can be heard at any time of day or night saying "meow" or "hee-haw" or one of the other wonderful animal sounds that he loves to make. He is sleeping in his own bed now instead of snuggling in with my husband and me. He is climbing on anything he can find that will give him just a bit of added height - sometimes this means standing up ever so carefully on a flattened cardboard box, a lot of work for very little payoff. He is moving and slimming down, but still has enough chub in his lower body to make even a miser smile. He weighed in at 31 pounds at his last well-baby visit with our family doctor, and is wearing 4T shirts. He turns 18 months old in January. I add the past 12 months into the previous year and can say without hesitating that these have been the best two years of my entire life.

Aside from parenting Noah, there have been many other wonderful things this year that make me feel very thankful as I think back over them:

  • Late last winter my husband and I went completely debt-free except for our mortgage, with the help of Dave Ramsey. I have mentioned him on my blog before, and he is worth mentioning again. By following his financial planning steps and utilizing his guidance and motivational techniques, we kissed off over $25,000 worth of debt (credit cards, motorcycle loan, student loan, etc.) in two years. We now own no credit cards and are living within our means for the first time in either of our adult lives.
  • After that milestone, we purchased a new computer with cash and upgraded from dial-up to high-speed internet. What a difference it is to purchase something that we could actually pay for and own outright! I gave my ten-year-old laptop to a techy computer friend as salvage.
  • In May it became apparent that Noah would in fact soon walk instead of dragging himself around on the floor forever, so the blissful months of him being able to come to work with me were coming to an end. After much weighing of options, I decided to leave my job of eight years as a domestic violence Community Educator. For me, coming home to be with Noah was the clear and obvious thing to do, but it meant leaving the workplace at which I had grown up and into the professional and ethical person I try to be today. Just like that, on June 26th, it was over.
  • June also brought my stepson Colby's graduation from 8th Grade, and he headed into a second summer of washing dishes in the family restaurant.
  • This year Matthew and I have continued our efforts to take better care of our bodies and the earth. We joined our local CSA - community supported agriculture - farm and enjoyed organic vegetables all summer and fall. We invested in low-energy bulbs throughout our house. We switched our electricity supply over to water and wind. We have a lot more to do, but these concrete things have helped balance the distress we feel every time we visit the gas pump, or have fuel oil delivered to our home. I still sometimes miss my old hair products, laden with ammonium laurel sulphate, but when I look at a bottle in the drug store, I am still able to hold off on buying it.
  • I was not idle for long, in terms of work. Still wanting to make a contribution to a movement that I care so much about, I decided to make a go of consulting, and in the summer mapped out some projects with a few clients. I also decided to continue on a volunteer basis with some of the statewide domestic violence-related task forces and committees that have been a part of my employment in past years. Although income was certainly a hoped-for outcome, my primary goal was finding a way to keep my balance while offering the best I can to Noah. And so far, with the support of Matthew and the flexibility in his work to be with Noah if I am out at a training or meeting, it's actually working.
  • July brought Noah's first birthday, which we celebrated in concert with his brother Colby, who turned 16 the same month. We took a day to enjoy a family cookout and swim in the lake, the perfect Maine party.
  • In August, Noah started walking. Also that month, I turned 38. Enough said about that. It's almost entirely great to be this age, although when I think about having another baby, which Matthew and I hope to do, I intellectually shudder a bit at how compressed time seems when it comes to additional years of diapering and nursing.
  • In the fall Matthew and I began planning for Christmas. This has never happened in our relationship before. The first year I celebrated the holiday with him, I was at his house with his son on Christmas Eve and he was out shopping. We were wrapping gifts at 9:00 p.m. that night. I swore to myself I would never do that again! This year we gave homemade applesauce, organic lavendar sachets, mixed CDs, and cards made of construction paper. We were also intentional about the gifts that we bought, and it made the slide to the Christmas season about a hundred times less anxiety-producing.

And that brings us to where we are now, in December. Post-Christmas, I feel good. I also feel relieved. No matter the preparation, the holidays bring surprise - many unplanned joyous moments, right through to times of flat-out terror. Just like the rest of the year, right? Sometimes being a mother feels like it's life or death, all the time. Here's one example of what prolonged hypervigilance can do for you - at one family gathering we were at, I was looking around the room and down the hall for Noah, and finally said outloud "Where's the baby?" One of the other folks there pointed back at me and said "He's there." He was lying in my lap breastfeeding. Talk about checking out - I'd gone to the Grand Canyon in my mind. Another more wonderful memorable moment from the past week - Matthew and I spontaneously gave Noah his first haircut in the bath on Christmas Eve. I thought I would be sad to see his baby curls go, but somehow he looks even sweeter to me than he did before. Finally, the terror I spoke of earlier, when at my in-laws' house their tiny chihuahua snarled and bit Noah in the face when he walked near the dog's food bowl, thankfully only leaving a dark bruise on his lip. It was heart-stopping when my husband scooped Noah up and his face was hidden in Matthew's shoulder and I hadn't yet seen the damage. Life or death, all the time. And throughout it all, the moments are peppered with Noah's newest catchphrases - "Oh no!" he sings out in his little voice when something goes awry. "No," he says while he closes his eyes and sways his head like Stevie Wonder when his Daddy asks him for a kiss. "Mama!" I hear him say in staccato from another room when he needs to know I am there. God Bless us, every one.

In closing and on a happily lighter note, this New Year's I want to take a few sentences to thank the New England Patriots, who will hopefully create history tonight by going undefeated, in a final regular season game against the New York Giants. This has been a season worth watching, and a team that continues to be worth rooting for. My household, with its moments of harmony, exhaustion, sarcastic insults, and quiet comings together, has united weekly to watch this team make it happen, and they have brought a lot of excitement into our lives as fans. For anyone else who is pulling for them to make it all the way - Go Pats!

Happy New Year to you all, with my best wishes for all good things to come your way.

Love, Kate

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"That Da-Da."

My husband has been away a lot in the past few weeks. He works with schools around the state that have been identified as needing improvement based on their students' testing scores. Many days he drives to these schools and back in a day, but has also been away some overnights because some of his schools are up north in The County, Aroostook County that is, also known as God's Country, the land of potatoes, or what I quietly think of as a Hell of a Long Way From Home. These trips and travels have coincided with Noah getting his first serious cold. I have to say first that he's never been sick in 15 months, so I know that we have been doing well overall, but this one was a doozie for his first. Lots of flowing green goo, a rumbling growly cough, and several long nights with his wide open fish mouth glommed onto my breast. Two days after he got sick, I did too, which made all of the above even more trying and pitiful. The first marathon-length day when the pressure in my head made me wonder if my sinuses would in fact blow up in a messy green and red display was Matthew's first day away on one of these overnights in Aroostook County.

I lowered my expectations drastically for the day and went into keeping-Noah-alive-while-I-try-to-remain-in-a-prone-position mode. If we happened to have any fun too, well, that would just be gravy. The first day passed peacefully, though I wondered at nightfall if I was wearing the skin off my knuckles from all the handwashing I was doing. Noah, bless his heart, remained his cheerful self for the most part, so I took his lead and did not descend into the mild despair and self-loathing which often accompanies me being sick. We stacked blocks, read books, and rolled matchbox cars on every inch of the furniture, the wood floors, our bodies, and the cat. When Matthew called in that night after Noah went to bed, I was glad to report that we'd gotten through the day just fine, although I felt terrible.

The next day, I woke with complete laryngitis. This changed the options for the day considerably. I could not read books to Noah, could not sing him to sleep at naptime or bedtime, could not ask him to do anything, and could not answer his questions - "Dat? Dat? Dat? HaDaaaaaat? (Translation: What's that?)." The last time I had laryngitis was my wedding day. My wedding week, actually. I wondered then, as I did now, what kind of symbolic meaning it had that my voice was gone. Was it to keep me from marrying my soon-to-be husband? To literally make it impossible for me to speak the vows? I thought then it was to help me step back and let the day happen without too much of the usual verbal direction on my part. To just let the joy come to me. Hopefully I won't ruefully look back on this in 10 years as an angry, divorced woman cursing the day I met my dear husband in the first place and wishing I had kept my mouth shut instead of rasping out an "I do." The only reason I can write that mean old sentence at all is that this was the spirit I was in on that second day of my cold - I had let's say a smidgen of resentment that I was home taking care of our little sick baby while I was sick myself with no one to take care of Me.

So it was laryngitis again. I whispered my way through the day with Noah, and since he was still his usual cheerful self, we again made it easily through the day. The real reason this is worth writing down is that I suddenly noticed that the more hours that went by when I didn't have to listen to myself talk, the happier I became. By nightfall I realized how incredibly sick of listening to myself talk I was. Listening to decision after decision after decision, talking both sides of the conversation with Noah and sometimes Matthew, communicating or overcommunicating with everyone in my life. The more hours that passed with me moving silently through the house, cuddling and playing with Noah without describing outloud what we were doing every second, the more I thought I might have to start living like this all the time.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a word-lover. I love to write of course, and I also love to talk. I love to find the best words to match the intention, to use words to find clarity, to lift an idea even higher by the way it's expressed. I'm a Leo as I think I've mentioned in this blog before, though a Leo perhaps lacking some confidence, so rather than just liking to hear myself talk, I like to be pleasantly surprised when other people are interested in hearing me talk. And while Noah is a captive audience, and is certainly sponging up lots of what I say, it's not scintillating around here in the word department because he knows less than ten syllables. And let's face it, conversation with oneself and a 15-month-old can only take you so far.

The daylong hiatus from speaking turned into two, and three, before my voice returned to more than a forced squeak. My husband came home that Friday night, and was exhausted and needed taking care of. I threw a drop more resentment down the well, promised myself I'd pump it out later, and made fresh biscuits for dinner.

Now it's almost a week later, another Saturday when we've had to make the difficult transition from it being the two of us to my husband and stepson being around the house too. I still have a bit of a whisky-voice, and cannot sing to Noah without sounding like a teenaged boy all gutteral than suddenly choir-worthy, but fortunately or unfortunately I'm back to talking a lot most of the time. I have to say, I miss the peace and quiet. Not that that has kept me from starting all kinds of uncomfortable conversations with everyone in the house, and feeling a bit like I have three children here instead of one. Terrible thoughts and feelings, and Matthew does not deserve this. His presence has shaped so much that is good in my life.

While Noah napped upstairs moments ago, Matthew and Colby raked leaves together in the backyard, and I've had this time to write, things have crept into balance again. For the afternoon that is left I want to quietly offer this, to try to suck up some of the water in that well: I'd like to whisper more, or show instead of tell, or sometimes just let more things go out into the silence without comment or interpretation on my part. Sometimes my words crowd things out, besides my own sanity, and these long recent days I have missed my husband so much, thinking at times that it's all up to me. As Noah simply and importantly reminded me this morning when he pointed to Matthew and spoke his first sentence, "That Da-Da. That Da-Da."

Giving so much to our kids doesn't leave a lot left over for each other, or for ourselves. But we are still a team, even though neither of us feel much like starters.

Friday, October 26, 2007

What does a car do? A car goes "Brrrrrooommm"!

Well, life as a mother just gets better and better. I don't remember people saying to me that 15 months old was a favorite time with their children, but this past several weeks has been wonderful. I think I've moved past the total shock of being out of a full-time job for the first time in 10+ years, and am starting to feel truly peaceful about being at home with Noah. Even on the evenings when I am still trying to put him to bed after 45 minutes of reading books, nursing, and singing, and he is restlessly rolling his body around while still nursing and keeping his thumb sunk into my belly button, I find him an endless source of joy and hilarity.

Probably three weeks ago, Noah discovered matchbox cars. I often have to gently pry them from his fists when he has fallen asleep at night, so deep is his love and attachment to them. They sit on most of our windowsills around the house, where he can roll them back and forth, send them careening off into the air, or closely examine the wheels from eye level a few inches away. My husband and I have been trying to teach him to make the car sound, you know, brrrrrrrooooom, but for a few weeks we got just a birdlike trill.

Then two weeks ago a high school friend and her husband visited, and it was a beautiful October day so they drove their motorcycle to my house to enjoy the foliage. As the Harley Davidson Road King/Ultraglide cruised into our driveway, Noah heard the unmistakable sound of the engine and ran to the front window to see. Then I heard him say, "Brrrrroooommmm" in his tiny voice, obviously understanding how engines roar and growl. Now when I put him to bed, and we lie in the dark, often before he lets go he gives one last little "Brrrooom" in his sweet tired baby voice.

The explosion of matchbox cars and accompanying sounds in our house has made my husband very happy. Matthew has a particular love of cars, and is famous for being able to name just about any make and model of car that drives by us on the road, as well as detailing various interesting nuances of the engine. My stepson Colby has asked me on more than one occasion, "How does he know that?" I think perhaps Matthew doesn't actually have a job, he just goes off to the library every day and memorizes car data from old Consumer Reports magazines. In any case, with Noah at this moment, it seems to be quite beautifully like father, like son. And I, for perhaps the first time, am learning to appreciate the details of cars, through Noah's studied observation of every line and spin of the tiny wheels. And then just this weekend I wrote "ca", on the piece of paper on the fridge, the tenth word we have been able to make out from his ever blossoming speech.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For

Many blogs ago I expressed sadness that my boy Noah had no interest in the book Goodnight Moon, which is one of my favorites and of course a classic besides. Well, all that has changed. We read this book almost every night now, and have for the past few months. Several weeks ago, though, something happened when we were reading, that made me think twice about my earlier lament.

I am interested to hear if anyone else already knew what I'm about to tell you, so please, let me know...As avid readers of the book Goodnight Moon know, there is a red balloon in the room, and it hangs out in the upper right hand corner of the little bunny's bedroom. Well, one night when my husband and I were reading the book outloud, my 1-year-old Noah started pointing intensely at the wall in that area of the picture of the room. "Dat! Dat! Dat!" I was confused because there was nothing there to name, and kind of glossed over it and kept reading. At the next picture of the room he did the same thing. "Dat! Dat! Dat!" with a much more disturbed tone in his voice. We continued reading until he stopped us and made us turn the pages back to those earlier ones. He pointed again. Slowly it dawned on us that he was telling us that the balloon didn't appear in those pictures in the middle of the book. We flipped ahead to the last page, when the room is dark, and the balloon was there again, but it was GONE in the middle pages. Noah began perseverating on this, going back and forth between the early pages and the middle pages, then to the end page and back to the middle, getting more and more agitated, pointing and whimpering, and at one point sounding very sad and near tears. And it didn't just happen that night. It happened every night since. After a week of it, when he would sadly give his "Dat. Dat. Dat." when we got to those balloon-less pages, my husband suggested that we hide the book, but I said no, let's work through it. We half-heartedly made up some explanation that the balloon was on the floor, but it didn't convince him or us, so we dropped that and just talked about how it happily reappeared on the last page.

Why is the balloon gone, is there something subliminal to be known here? Is it altering the myth in a way I should know? After reading so many books where the illustrator is careful to include the little butterfly on each page, or the tiny mouse dragging a banana, so children can look and point to them every time, to leave a detail out of this magnitude seems like it could only be intentional. Especially when all the other elements of the room remain from picture to picture.

We just read the book again tonight, and thankfully Noah seems to feel better about it. After weeks and weeks of dogging that balloon through the pages, he has begun to focus on the glowing red fire and the wood beside it, instead of the balloon. But I am left with lingering thoughts - with the hundreds of times I've read that book in my life I am impressed that Noah noticed this striking omission when I never did, but more importantly, why, Ms. Wise Brown, why?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Universal "Duh!"

There is a wonderful old comic strip, and unfortunately right now I can't remember whether it is Doonesbury or Bloom County - my apologies to both artists, Mommy Brain strikes again - and it depicts someone, either a person or Opus the penguin, watching "Lassie" on television. Lassie is barking at her boy, Billy or Tommy, again, no recollection of the actual name of the famous child character, and it goes something like this:

Boy: Hey girl, what is it?
Lassie: Woof, woof!
Boy: What, someone's in trouble?
Lassie: Woof, woof!
Boy: What's that? Someone's trapped in an abandoned mine three miles away and needs insulin fast?
Lassie: Woof, woof!

Now, aside from the fact that there is nothing funny at all about the tragedy of real people trapped in mines, the essence of this comic has stayed with me for over twenty years and still tickles my funny bone.

Fast forward, to my living room a few days ago. My husband and son and I had just finished dinner, and I was cleaning up while they played together in the living room. The bigger context here is that many of Noah's initial words - "Guck!" (duck), "Gat!" (cat), and "Dat!" (that) - have given way to him uttering "Duh!" or sometimes "Dah!" or "Dur!" probably sixteen to twenty thousand times a day. It means everything - "What's that? I want that! Look at that! See the wheel on that little car? I want to chew on the toe of my new shoes! See me poke the eye on my doll Lukas?" Because I am with Noah all day, I have learned to read the whole communication, which as educators and others know is much more than what is actually said outloud. This amazes my husband on a regular basis even though when he watches Noah's eyes and what Noah points at and leans toward most times he can hit the jackpot as well as to what Noah is talking or gesticulating wildly about. Note the following exchange, though, which represented a real leap from relying on body language and other nonverbal cues, with Matthew and Noah in the living room and me out of sight in the kitchen washing dishes.

Matthew: Do you want to play ball Noah?
Noah: Duh! Duh!
Matthew: How about a book?
Noah: Duh! Duh!
Me, calling from the kitchen: He wants his little flag out of the yogurt container across the room.
Matthew: Huh? Okay. (He walks across the living room, reaches for the hand-held flag and hands it to Noah.)
Noah: (Blissful silence)
Matthew: What the...?
Me: (Blissful silence)

This is a moment when I felt so good to be Noah's mother. In the light of today, of course I recognize he could have wanted something totally different but been thrilled to be handed his flag which he also loves so much, but in that moment from the kitchen sink I was so sure it was the flag that he needed and wanted that the connection was made real between us in ways that I often don't feel, like when he is flailing wildly and kicking my shoulders and head if it's close enough while I am trying to change his diaper.

And if this happening wasn't enough to make me feel as if the universe was really noticing how hard I am trying at this parenting thing, something else drove it home. After I tucked this moment and recollection of that comic away for purposes of this blog, my husband and son and I got together a few days later for breakfast and a hike with the family of a friend who was actually my high school sweetheart. As we all walked in the early afternoon sunshine, his kids excited to push Noah's stroller up the initial incline, my friend quoted the comic outloud to his son, who really appreciates a good joke. I couldn't believe it. I had introduced my friend to that comic all those years ago, and it had stuck with him as well. So for anyone who thinks that high school experiences don't count, or that good humor isn't really the stuff of life, or that the universe doesn't provide signals all the time to us if we just pay attention, chew on this! It makes for a wonderful meal.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Okay, so I haven't really been on vacation. It's just been some more great weeks with a one-year-old who is now walking. Noah is so proud of himself! My husband and I got him his first pair of shoes last week - Stride Rite Derbys size 5 extra wide in navy blue - and our boy loves them at least as much as we do. The first day he had them on he walked up and down our driveway about ten times, across the street to see the chickens who live there, back and forth along our street. He didn't want to come inside. It's a whole new world, now that he's on his feet. He looked at the laces "Dat! Dat! Dat!" He gnawed on the soles. My heart grew another size.

But anyway, I didn't want to blog again until I'd gotten around on the internet as I promised myself I would, to actually seek out some other mom-writers' blogs to help me feel less like an alien with a serious egocentrism problem. Or at least, to help me find the other struggling aliens on the planet. And I did my homework! There's a heck of a lot out there, (of course, right?) and a lot of it kind of shocked me with the amount of intimate information, graphic swearing, personal photographs and such. Am I the only one concerned about having my uniquely identifying information floating out in cyberspace for anyone to review, critique, and use to exploit me?

That said, in this New American Neighborhood called the internet I found three sites, or I guess I can actually say three women, that I liked right away for different reasons. The first and the one I responded to most quickly is www.notesfromthetrenches.com, and her companion blog, www.inthetrenchesofmotherhood.com - this woman has 7 children and an awesome list of 40 things she wants to do before she turns 40. It's the "life list" that Ellen DeGeneres and many others talk about. You know, the one that I should be working on right now instead of distracting myself with things that likely won't enhance my long-term quality of life at all?

The other two sites I liked enough to bookmark are www.threekidcircus.com and www.mothergoosemouse.com. "Threekid" posted a few days ago about writing from her closet, which she is turning into an office. This tickled my funny bone to no end, because I am forever joking with friends after going to an event with lots of people or delivering a training to a big group that I need to go sit in my closet for a few hours to recoup my energies. "Mothergoose" has a splashpage and some F-bombs that I didn't take to write away, but as I read a few of her posts I was drawn in by many things, not the least of which was that she recently quoted a Talking Heads song. She also had some great weather pictures in and around her home in Colorado, with wry text to usher them along.

So three women out there doing some great writing about parenting and real life as a mother. I find this very heartening, because of course it means there are really thousands of others trying to find their way as a mom and a writer just like me. I also find it a bit intimidating, because of course it means that anyone can have a blog (and they do, just like me) and put their life tidbits out there and what's the point? That big question always lurks - why bother? I hate this question because there's no great answer that doesn't just sound like the goody-goody saying something in the face of the much cooler, sexier, more sophisticated looking person who then of course has to be the more miserable one in this scenario because she isn't doing anything for herself, while we humble but more self-aware people are trying much harder to get it right and lead good satisfying lives. (Did I ever mention that my astrological sign is Leo? By all accounts, Leos can be at least sometimes arrogant about what they think they know, and I know that I am no exception.)

But presumably, arrogance aside, these women, and me too, are putting it out there because it helps. It helps us. And in this world, we can only start there. Being so attentive to the diverse needs of someone else, my little son someone, there is not much I seem to be able to do to help myself in the ways I used to. So I muddle back to this new lifeline, and press on, hoping it matters. My next assignment - post comments to these new women I've become aware of living lives across the country, to introduce myself and extend a hand. It feels a little like my first day of school.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Helloooo Out There...

I have been lamenting lately that I don't know any women or men with children my age whom I am really close with who are staying home with their children. Lamenting is maybe putting it too strongly, it's more like noticing. I am blessed with great friends, and am not necessarily looking (or even able to make room) for more close friends, but do notice that I don't have that commonality with those in my close circle around being a new mom and most recently, an at-home mom too. I have gotten out to one library story hour, but have yet to attend a play group, mostly because the people energy I have goes towards maintaining my existing friendships and family relationships. So there it is. I can't even clearly measure how important my need is to have additional connections, I only know that the isolation that I feel around being Noah's primary caregiver goes beyond what I can talk about easily with most people in my life right now.

Saying "I feel isolated," just doesn't seem to carry the emotion I have about it. "I feel massively responsible," gets closer. "I feel alone in this full-time mission to keep him not just alive, but happy, healthy, and thriving, while being a full-time witness to his early life" might sum up the whole kitten kaboodle, but still isn't specific enough. It's that it's tough luck if I don't feel like putting him to bed on a night when it takes an hour instead of ten minutes. Or how annoying it is wiping slung food particles off the kitchen tile after every meal, trying to focus on how exciting it is that Noah is learning to eat and sometimes even with a fork. Or how when Noah gives a glowing smile after walking, or stacking a block tower seven blocks high, there is no other adult for me to turn to and say - "How amazing is this?" Or when my husband is at work, how it is just me and Noah here. For many days in a row.

There is nothing like it, and I know the answer is not to whine for a long time but to go out and ask the universe for what I want. So my goal is to start engaging a bit more in the blogosphere to find some similarly situated bloggers - perhaps cyberspace is the new YWCA group for a mom like me? Where I can connect without taking on more than I can handle? Here I go - I hope to see you in the ether.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

My Recent Experiences as a Clothes Horse: Bad Luck or a Reminder from the Universe?

The past few days I have had many thoughts of clothes. Yes, clothes. We've had an influx of clothes for Noah lately - from his birthday, my husband's finds in Uncle Henry's (the local swap-and-sell guide), and a friend who gave us bags of hand-me-down boys clothes when she found out that her baby-to-be is a girl. So I've been washing and folding, sorting and refolding tiny little rompers, Hawaiian shirts, sweaters, bucket hats, and many other wonderful and precious pieces that he'll be able to wear in the coming couple of years.

I used to think I would keep all his outfits, because they were all so sweet and tiny and wonderful. Now as they overflow his bureaus and lie in piles on the twin bed we set up in his bedroom, it is becoming more of a blur in which just a few pieces stand out as being favorites. And even these just pale in comparison to the adorableness of the boy himself, so I've found myself wondering how long we'll hang on to these things. These precious things.

Some of my ability to anticipate letting go of probably most of his baby clothes has come from my own recent experiences with precious frocks. After Noah was born, I packed up my maternity clothes into a large trash bag and stowed it in the trunk of my car to loan to a friend who was pregnant. That weekend, my husband and stepson went to the transfer station (the dump) in my car and mistook the bag for trash, throwing it into the hopper along with the scraps from the previous night's meal. I looked in my car a few days later and noticed the bag was gone, but assumed Matthew had taken it out of my trunk. I asked him that night, and cried when it became clear what had happened. He was mortified, so I ended up feeling badly for him and moving on quickly to the mindset that it was just clothing. Just clothing. I had that special time, and have pictures of it, and now of course the baby. It's just clothing.

Then this spring when I was cleaning out my closet, I slid my wedding dress out and unzipped the garment bag to take a look. To my horror, I discovered that the bag had stained my dress. I took it to the dry cleaner immediately and their best efforts could not remove the stains, and made the silk dangerously weak in spots. The dress was ruined. I am pursuing a complaint against the store that sold me the garment bag, but am not hopeful this will yield satisfaction. Even if by some miracle I could squeeze some money out of this huge corporation, I couldn't replace the dress. So what could I do? Be sad, but again, tell myself, it's just clothing. Just clothing. I had the wedding, and have the pictures, and the husband. It's just clothing.

Dave Ramsey, author of the book The Total Money Makeover, talks about "stuffitis" and how it can lead to financial woes when we think buying things will make us happier, more peaceful, more satisfied with life, and we end up broke and stressed out instead. I think it also leads to more general emotional and spiritual woe, when objects and stuff start to take the place of actual experiences, moments in time that come and go, and need to be replaced by next moments. While heirlooms seem a different sort of category than perhaps other sorts of things that accumulate uncomfortably, I still think that my wedding dress, and maternity clothes, and Noah's precious newborn onesies can only speak hearsay about those special fleeting times. They don't hold something better than what is inside me or Noah for having lived through those moments so prettily dressed.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dumber, But Still as Stubborn

All day today I've been thinking about my 20th high school reunion, which is tonight. I've been trying to decide what I will wear (how to look hip and still be able to breastfeed at a moment's notice), whether I'll put my hair up or leave it down (neither mattering to me as much as the fact that I have a lot of gray), and what it will be like to see friends, especially my closest high school poet friend Amy whom I haven't heard from almost since we graduated. I'm excited to bring Noah, who just turned 1 last week, and Matthew my husband, and hope that other folks have found as much joy in their lives as I have. All in all, I've got a mix of positive anticipation, and dread. My usual emotions before going to an event with lots of people, ramped up by the fact that this is revisiting the past and who knows what these lots of people will be like now.

So a few hours ago I went online to see who else had signed up to come to the reunion, and saw that it is actually next Saturday, not tonight. I looked at the screen and re-read the webpage several times, not believing that I had the date wrong. I then went and checked the flyer, still thinking that I was right about it being tonight and the website had a serious typo. The flyer said it is next week too. I think I went into shock briefly. I walked into the living room and said to Matthew, "The reunion. It's not tonight. It's next week. I don't know what the hell is going on with me." He commented that the way I was driving earlier in the day was pretty bad too - I couldn't remember where the highway exit was, even though I've driven by it every day for the last two years. I guess I was relieved enough that I didn't have to go tonight that I found this more humorous than insulting. On another day I might have unleashed the hounds on him.

The last couple of months I have referred to myself as having "Mommy Brain", but this is the first time I've gotten mixed up about something of any real importance to me. Usually it's just not remembering the name of something or someone while in a conversation. But this afternoon if I hadn't gone online, we would have gotten dressed up and gone over there only to find ourselves all alone in the parking lot of a country club of which we are not members.

So does being a mother mean that whole brain cells become co-opted or flat out call it quits? My dad said to me recently that even though I was feeling like I had half a brain, that half still probably works better than many other people's. He's my dad, so he has to say that, but it still felt good to hear. I'm fortunate that others in my life have also offered me validation that I still can be rational, even while in a swirl of parenting a baby. On my last day of work a few weeks ago, the Office Manager who is famous for re-writing well known songs with personalized lyrics sang me a tune from The Wizard of Oz that went "If I only had a brain...like Kate's." That is not to say that I think I'm all that, but I do greatly enjoy and constantly practice organizing things, schedules, systems, spaces, and people. I would hate to see this go. It brings me peace to sort a junk drawer, or to spell out my schedule a month in advance. It feels right. Which is why getting a date wrong rocks my boat. One mistake like this can only lead to others, and to chaos.

And so my by brain, quickly accelerating to avoid this possibility, jumped from shock at our need to change our plans into the thought, "This happened so that you would have something to blog about, you've been neglecting your blog for the past several weeks, and this would be a compact story, sort of humorous, sort of insightful, sort of stupid, kind of like where you're at right now. Share the wealth!" Ahhh, lemons into pleasing tarts, lined up in rows. Makes things right again. Have a bite with me?

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Morning Toilet Slam and other Chart-Toppers

Many times before I became a mother I heard or read that I would never be able to use the bathroom alone once I had a child. No one mentioned that when I went to use the bathroom, my 11-month-old would put his head down and crawl as fast as he could after me, pull himself up on my legs, grab the toilet seat, and slam it back and forth against my spine several times as I sat trying to do what I was there for.

This is just one of the more hilarious things that Noah is doing these days. Everything seems like a small science experiment to him now, to be figured out, repeated many times and preferably loudly, until it is well understood. His endless repetition of "Guck!" for "Duck!" has now been replaced by "Dat! Dat! Dat!" ("What's that? I want that! Look at that!") He can turn light switches off and on, he can hit the garage door opener, he is mesmerized by the ceiling fans in our house. It is not just electronics and machinery that catch his interest though. We must, every time we go out for a walk, stop in across the street at the neighbor's so Noah can see the 5 rescue chickens who live there now - Marie Antoinette, Bertha, Betty, and two others who also have names but I can't remember them. We stop there on the way out for our walk ("Dat! Dat! Dat!"), and again on the way back ("Dat! Dat! Dat!"). Now that Noah can stand on his tip-toes and see out our living room windows, he points to our neighbor's house and tells us ("Dat! Dat! Dat!") that he is thinking about the chickens and needs us to get off of our rear ends and get him over there to commune with them. We visit the chickens on average 5-6 times a day now. And did I mention that he cries EVERY time we leave the chicken lady's driveway? He loves those chickens.

In the spirit of late-night television master Dave Letterman, but in the length a tired mother can muster, here are the top five most funny things that the off-and-running Noah has brought to our lives recently. In some cases, these are things that we have brought upon ourselves, because let's face it, parents have to have fun too...

5. Meet "Nigel", one of Noah's alter-egos - a fluffy-coiffed Brit with sideburns who emerges when Noah wakes from his morning nap after going to bed with wet hair from his post-breakfast tubby. Cheerio!

4. The Pope wave. At least, Matthew says it's the Pope - I only recognize it from Italian mafia movies. When Noah waves, it's underhand and out in front. A joy to behold, especially if there is a slight delay so that the person who waved at him first is long gone before Noah gets his own mitt up.

3. Noah sitting up trying to find his bee-bo amidst his tummy rolls and almost rolling over on his head. Thank you Sandra Boynton for introducing us to a shorter and much funnier way to say "belly button."

2. Shrieking and shaking all over with excitement when he sees our cat Sidney, who looks back with all the interest of a meatloaf. Day in and day out, this dynamic remains. Noah the hysterical fan and and Sid the aloof rock star. Until, earlier this week Noah woke early, crawled to the end of our bed where Sidney was sleeping, quietly sat next to him, and leaned over and kissed him while we watched. Then he did it again, and again, and again. We thought, success! Noah has learned to be gentle with the cat! That afternoon he was back, going after Sidney on the windowsill with one of his best screech voices.

And the number one (1.) things that Noah is doing that currently floats my boat? Can anything top the morning toilet slam?

Chasing Noah in his Tot Rider II. He sits in it and is off faster than the Road Runner, going around the loop on the first floor of our house. He finds me, hiding behind the front door with just a foot or hand sticking out, and when he does he screams and races forward, laughing wildly, until he runs the Tot Rider II into the wall or a chair. I run by him, mock screaming and waving my arms, to hide behind the wall in the kitchen, and then to crouch by the island in kitchen and then back around to the front door again, wherever he knows I will be next. This is the game we now play daily and it gets both our heartrates up, if not from running around, then from all out laughing.

This is the goods. Laughter makes these memories great.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Paper Trail

Eight years
of trainings and task forces,
creating curricula,
selling ideas
and myself
now boils down
to this -

shelves of 3-ring binders,
final reports,
quality improvement plans
and meeting minutes.
Suddenly it's all just history.

It feels both grinchly and sad to take it with me.
I know it will not benefit others if I keep it
and know as surely that it will be thrown away
if I leave it behind.
The next person will have her own vision.
Things in her office will need her handwriting on them.
I sort through all the drawers
and understand that "the work" as we all label it,
the passion we all share,
the movement to which we all belong,
doesn't live in these folders and files.
They are dead
and I am gone.

I relegate the boxes to a table and file cabinet
in my basement
and pray that it all meant something more than this.
Please let it be more, with a now
and a future.
Let it be the setting sun on the Atlantic
that plays with the waves until its last beams can't reach
and then still is only moving on to brighten other places.
Let it be something that lasts,
a few of the cobblestones
laid down on the road
that leads women out of darkness and danger
and into the light.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Endings

Recently as I was walking on my street with Noah in his stroller, I asked myself if I was overstaying at my job. The last time I remember asking myself an overstaying question was with my ex-fiance ten years ago. I mused in a journal entry in the messy middle of things if I would one day look back at the experience and see clearly how right it was to end the relationship. In fact I did, and it was. Just that small remembering is enough to help me already be bouncing back from the sad news I received last week that the flexibility I have enjoyed at work in bringing my baby with me has bottomed out.

The universe seems to have answered my current overstaying question in the affirmative, because my recent proposal to begin working from home for the bulk of my part-time job was rejected by the Executive Director of my organization. This proposal was based on the fact that in the past several months that I've been back at work since maternity leave, much of my work could have been done from home, and also that my son is getting increasingly mobile and in general less comfortable in the office. It was also based on the fact that I still feel passion for the work and think I still have a meaningful contribution to make.

I've worked at a domestic violence organization for coming up on 8 years now, and it would not be an understatement to say that I've poured myself into the job from the time I came on board. I think it's also fair to say that I have grown up at the job, both professionally and personally. Being a part of a social movement, one that has allowed me to blend passion and profession, has made for an exciting career so far. When I was in college and law school, I didn't know there was such a thing as a domestic violence community educator out there in the world. It's been a powerful fit for me. I don't want to stop doing it, working as part of this organization, being a part of this team of individuals.

Except, maybe I do? My history frustrates me in that I know the two truths. I've had those experiences where there were lots of indicators saying move on and find the next thing, but other parts of me clinging, clinging, clinging to the current reality.

Becoming a mother has changed everything, and now I face the decisions that working mothers everywhere have had to consider. Who am I working for? I work for the man - the little man, that is. Little Noah. He needs my best contributions. And with what I have left over to think about working outside the home, in the years that I have worked at the Family Violence Project in Maine, I have grown the program and grown myself and there hopefully is enough stability in both to find the next iteration of the work. I do feel confident that whether it be consulting, or creating some new organization, I will find some other way to continue to give to this movement that I care so much about.

I also have thought a couple of times in the past few days about the actress who plays Susan on the television show "ER." This actress was in the original cast for several years, and left during the show's initial wild popularity. She said she needed to spend time with her family and ground her life again. I don't remember seeing her act in anything else for several years. She then returned to the cast of "ER" and brought the same talent and warmth to her acting and character as she had in the earlier episodes. This helps me take heart that even if I totally "opt out" as the pundits are now calling it when a mother does not hold a jobby job, "opting in" later will work out if I want it to.

I can even quietly admit, that since hearing from my supervisor last week and navigating that first weepy day, a strange peace has come over me. I remember when I worked for years at a bank in my early 20s - when I went to law school I kept working on weekends, but it was less and less, and when I finally left altogether I had a good feeling thinking about the things I would no longer need to do because I was not a teller anymore - no more having to try and sell bank cards to older folks who preferred passbooks, is just one example. So even in these moments of getting a handle on this big change, and worrying a bit about our finances, I am also having moments when I consider the things at work that I won't mind seeing go out of my life. I don't need to list those things here, because I'm sure most people have certain things about their jobs that don't fit on their personal favorites list. But I will say, that I won't miss them, and that is an interesting thing to recognize.

So, into a new kind of freedom I leap, as I prepare to give my resignation in two days. The next part of the road is not yet laid in front of me. I am lucky, though, that I can look back and feel proud of the well-cobbled path I have carefully worked on to this place where I now stand.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Fall From Grace

In the past 72 hours, I have heard many scary stories. Heart-stopping moments for mothers. A young son who became trapped under a capsized canoe. A girl who lifted her baby brother from the ladder of a jungle gym and he went face forward into the wood. A daughter who toddled toward traffic-laden Route One from her quiet yard. A little one who sat with a friend and they painted their teeth with White-Out. A tiny girl who lifted her baby sister from a crib and carried her down the stairs by herself, to the adults' horror below in the living room. (That last "baby sister" was me.)

And now I have my own first scary story. Noah is fine. But he might not have been. He took a major tumble on our cellar steps late Monday afternoon and miraculously has only a tiny bruise on his left cheek to show for it. His parents however, Matthew and I, suffered psychic damage that I now undertand time will likely alternately repair and keep rubbing raw as life continues to happen to this baby boy.

Noah began crawling just a few weeks ago. It's a miraculous and wonderful thing to see his big round bottom wiggling along as he puts one knee in front of the other. He is fast, and so proud of himself to be able to move toward things he is interested in. He can also pull himself to a standing position, and cares less about his toys because he wants to be up, up, up. He has a curious mind and is adamant about doing things. Days after the safety locks went on the under-sink cabinets in our bathroom upstairs, he continues to go back and check to see if the doors will open the way he remembers they used to. And today if that cellar door were open just a crack, he would still go for it. He has no memory or fear even though those stairs could have done him in.

I have read so many articles and magazine blurbs about babyproofing a home. Safety latches, baby gates, outlet covers, poisons, cupboards, electrical cords, crib bars, houseplants, and on and on and on. But I haven't seen a single piece of writing on how to handle the emotions around the first big fall, even though I am gathering that every baby has one, and then some. Nor did any mother share details about this side of parenting with me during my pregnancy, though I heard many labor stories and other exciting and sometimes wrenching things.

If I consider my own injury list as a little person, I can rattle off many, many incidents: pulling a pottery lamp down on my head, requiring stitches; breaking my leg by falling off my bicycle; doing somersaults on my bed and cutting my head when I came up into the chimney that went through my bedroom; sustaining huge scrapes on my hands and knees from running full speed down the road we lived on and falling into the pavement, etc. But in raising this sweet baby for the past 10 months, it never occurred to me what it would be like to be on the other side of this equation. I think I was assuming Noah would never really have anything bad happen - not my baby. That first bump Noah incurred that I mentioned several posts ago seems now like a romantic token little incident. We are in the big time now.

So those emotions I mentioned, so exploding they were physically impossible to ignore, made breathing difficult, caused panic in my body in the form of shaking legs, became a voice in my head screaming, "This is it. I had my chance. He's broken his neck. He's dead." I remember yelling outloud, "Nooooooooo!" Feeling that I needed to be calm for little Noah as I picked him up and felt him all over. This was the stuff of pure trauma and days later my stomach still flips over when I think of it.

After the ER visit and assurances from the doctor and several nurses that Noah had absolutely nothing wrong with him, we went home and he was sleeping peacefully by 9 p.m. And by the next day, Noah had moved on. (He actually seemed to have moved on way sooner than that.) He was maybe a bit more clingy than usual, or maybe it was us that was clingy with him. Really he was his usual rambunctious, sweet self. And he wanted us to go there with him, back into life. Matthew and I were both feeling fragile, our nerves shot. But we absolutely had to take that big breath and go on with the day. His day, our days. What else was there to do? Noah was smiling and wanted us to play with him, and read to him, and give him his bath, and go for walks. He did not want to sit in our laps and be hugged and stared at with big grateful doe-eyes all day.

So here we go, a few days later gingerly stepping along the path with him again. My stepfather offered me a pearl this week when he e-mailed me and said (I paraphrase, and probably poorly, because unfortunately I already deleted the e-mail so I can't quote him directly), "Once you become scared/scarred as a parent, it becomes even more important to stay present and enjoy every second, and also simultaneously more difficult to do so." I cannot imagine it ever getting easy to know that my boy is at risk for something terrible, though already in these past few days I've started to accept it as reality. That first step, from where we were just a weekend ago, is a doozy.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Everything Old is Still Great

As I lay in bed last night in the dark, I suddenly came to an awareness that I'd been humming "Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music" over and over for a solid half hour, and meanwhile had been having a thorough inner discussion with myself about something completely different while not missing a beat with the song. This is one of Noah's regular bedtime tunes. I start with something more upbeat like "Old MacDonald Had a Farm", usually inserting "...he had a duck" and "...he had a cat" many times in between just a few other animals, because he knows those words ("guck" and "gat") and delights in saying them when I sing them. Then I sing "Hush Little Baby" because he likes to hear about Daddy getting him things. Then maybe "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" or some modern folk song if I can remember the lyrics. Then it's "Edelweiss" and "Edelweiss" and more "Edelweiss", singing and then humming, until it's all over for the night and Noah turns away, sighing into the dark. I've been singing these same songs for nine months now, with little variation, at this same time each evening. Noah wiggles and snuggles up against me because he knows it's time to let go. How blessed are we to have a baby that loves to go to bed.

Some reading I received this week from our "home visitor", a child development specialist who visits us monthly and provides various tools to help us be good parents, discussed how much babies like repetition. They enjoy recognizing things they know, and grow confidence when they can expect and predict what will happen next.

Noah has many books, but Matthew and I both know what his favorites are, even though it's rare that the three of us all sit and read together. In some books, he even has favorite moments that he's made clear to us - he laughs, or points, or looks carefully at certain pages. In Doggies by Sandra Boynton, it's this one: "9 dogs on a moonlit night - Owwwwoooooo!" In The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle it's the page with all the different foods that the caterpillar eats through (one slice of swiss cheese, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, etc.). Noah rushes through the other pages to get to that one. It's easy to tell the books that he's not interested in because he either tosses them aside like yesterday's newspaper, or pushes them out of our hands when we start to read them. Unfortunately, Goodnight Moon is one such book. He's just not interested. Which is just awful to me because I love that book. I keep thinking that maybe he'll enjoy it this time, but whenever I try it he grabs it from my hand and stretches way over so he can drop it off the edge of the bed. How much clearer can he be?

Loving what you love, and being just fine with more of it...Ain't it the truth for all of us? In this world of New and Better, how right Noah is - there are so many things that as an adult I know I can practice or come back to over and over again, to bring me to a place of comfort, solace, relaxation, confidence:

Long showers or baths
Going to the ocean
Movies
A phone call to that dearest friend
Music
A simple meal
My journal or poetry notebook

Ahhh. My favorite things. Just listing them out feels like staking my territory. What are the old standbys that make you feel like you've come home?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

This and That, All the Time

Today I feel full of the constant swings involved in parenting. It's a life where beautiful moments are punctuated by blasting vomit.

Noah shifts from laughing outloud at something to crying as heartily as if he's been orphaned and left for dead. When he laughs it comes from his belly, he flaps his arms, wiggles his feet like he's swimming, and smiles with his whole face. His eyes disappear into slits peeking out from above his big cheeks and all his teeth (five now, soon six) show like a Jack O'lantern. Then when he cries, seconds later because he wants to be picked up, his little wide-open mouth turns down and he yells "Waaaaaaah!" and his face turns red and he turns to look at me so I can know just how unhappy or mad he is with whatever the current situation is. In his excitement and joy and his fear and discomfort he is simply the sweetest thing I've ever known.

A week ago today he said Mama for the first time. He said it four times that day. It really sounded like "Mum-Mum" and he said it the first time when he needed help. In the morning he had crawled backwards into the wall, and couldn't go anywhere. He still hadn't learned to go forward, although that milestone came just three days later, this past Saturday. So he was backed up, and I was across the room but sort of out of his sight, and he said "Mum-Mum!" Clear as day. And the tone was "Mama! I need help! Come and get me!" Then later that day a friend was visiting, the woman who married my husband and me, and he was sitting in her lap and turned to me and said it again twice, quietly, as he rubbed his hand back and forth on his ear. This gesture is his shortcut baby sign for Mama. Finally at night, at bedtime when I was reading to him and holding him in my lap, he said it again.

So that is how it happened, but this is how it felt. It felt like no matter how long the war in Iraq goes on, or how badly the earth is being misused to its core, or how domestic violence is never going to go away, or how there's never as much money coming into our lives as we'd wish for, it's all good, because I am Mum-Mum. They are words I never knew I would hear in my life, and certainly couldn't imagine how they would feel, even in recent weeks as I anticipated it happening. I am Mum-Mum. Since that day a week ago, Noah has changed his name for me, and now it is "Na-Na." It still makes a warm feeling spread through my body as if I'd had a sip of wine.

Alongside this blissful development, those teeth I mentioned before have been causing Noah some serious pain, and none of us are sleeping all that well on recent nights. He's nursing more to get through it, which in itself is not a problem - it's the fact that he's started biting me. This too is something that I never knew I would feel in my life, and certainly couldn't imagine how it would feel even as I heard stories from other women about it happening to them. Holy smokes, it's worse than labor in some ways, because at least labor for me had an evolving intensity and one stage led to the next so by the time the most painful part was happening it didn't seem out of the blue or anything. But this, yikes. It's a sharp pain in a delicate place, and it becomes very frustrating for me when he does it over and over again, which has thankfully only happened a few times, but imagine this: He goes to sleep at night by nursing, and he's exhausted and crying because he's so tired, and every time I try to nurse him he bites me because his teeth hurt. This isn't fair for anyone involved. This imagined evening was actually two nights ago and it was a trial. I had to deliver the verbal "Stop - bite" message every time, and then somehow find the courage to start nursing him again to get him off to sleep. He usually goes to bed at 7:00 p.m. and is asleep by 7:30 but on this night he didn't fall asleep until after 9:00.

This was a rough time, but was miraculously followed by a beautifully sunny morning. Noah woke happy, and ate a great breakfast, loved his bath, and played on the floor as if all his toys were new. He went down easily and napped for two hours with the bedroom windows open and our orange gauzy curtains fluttering in the warm breeze. It was breathtaking and I almost cried when I looked in on him because of the light and the air and his gentle breathing. The night before was totally irrelevant and a distant memory.

Last Saturday, as I mentioned, he crawled forward for the first time. He achieved this by digging his little toes into the bedroom carpet, arching his rump up so his body looked like a bridge, and lurching forward. Since then it has evolved quickly so he is up on all fours, going forward on his knees and pulling his feet behind him like a little seal tail. He also is pulling himself to a standing position, most easily by sitting on the floor by his crib and using the rails to pull up. This has caused much cheering and clapping and amazement on the part of his father and me. We have been truly excited for him, and I also have felt proud of us for being present with his current stage of development rather than mourning the loss of our darling bald and toothless baby of just a few months ago.

But today, as he pulled himself up again, this time using the edge of a small maple table in our bedroom, he lost his grip and konked his forehead on the edge. He cried loudly, open-mouthed, with a look of shock and confusion on his face - "Why? Why? Why?" I saw a red mark and goose-egg rising - his first one. I snuggled him in and comforted him and told him I was sorry it happened and that I loved him and that he would be alright, and I did actually believe that. At the same time I felt my own pain rising up. It's beginning - no matter how vigilant I am, this dear baby will be hurt. He's perfect, and it's inevitable. His life is happening at full speed, full of wonders and dangers, and he is discovering them so fast. I know that I need to hope that he discovers the richness of both, because I do believe what they say about deep pain allowing deep joy at the other end of the spectrum, but even small injustices or hurts are not easy things for me to watch in one so young and tender. I know he deserves the world, and sometimes unfortunately, I know he will get it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Time Change

How and where does the time go? In one of the free parenting magazines I receive I read a line recently that I can half identify with. "As a parent, the days go by slowly but the years go by quickly." In my world, the days go quickly as well. Noah has happily found his own routine without us pushing one on him, and if I pay attention and stick to it, then a typical day looks like this:

1. Wake up. If we're all lucky.
2. Noah fills his diaper in a massive way like clockwork between 6:30 and 7 a.m. This requires a complete change of outfit.
3. Go downstairs for breakfast. Noah sucks on organic Cheerios while I make myself something and warm up some real food for him.
4. Go upstairs and give Noah a bath and get him dressed.
5. Play for a little bit until Noah wants to have milk and lie down.
6. Noah naps. I shower and get dressed, and if Noah continues to sleep than I go online and check e-mail or write or clean the house or pay bills or do any number of other pleasurable possibilities.
7. We play for a while together, or he plays with his toys and I continue above mentioned possibilities nearby. As long as he doesn't try to eat the dirt out of the plants, he is usually fine on the living room floor on his quilt with all his toys.
8. We have lunch. Noah now loves yogurt, like his Dad. Matthew panics if we only have one tub of Stonyfield Banilla left in the refrigerator.
9. We play for a while, often upstairs since he has another play area on the floor of our bedroom.
10. Noah naps again. If I have energy, I do a little work for my job, or I do paperwork, or phone a friend. If my energy is flagging, I watch television and let my brain rest.
11. Matthew comes home from work and we make dinner.
12. The bedtime routine: We get Noah's pjs on, Daddy reads him books, and then Noah goes down with me at 7 p.m.
13. The day usually ends for all intents and purposes there. It's rare that I have energy left for much else after Noah goes to sleep. We'll read or watch a little television but if we are up still at 8:30 it's unusual.

With only slight deviations if Noah gets up early or sleeps in, or if it is a weekend and Matthew is home all day, that is what my time looks like. On days that we run errands, or the two days a week that I go to work with Noah, I plug in said errands or time in the office between steps 6 and 11.

So 9 months' worth of days have slid by, and my being has become so attuned to this routine that I often don't look at the clock all day. I no longer wear a watch (the last time I wore one was when I was in labor), and when I do check the time it seems like it is always bedtime. I cannot believe the number of times the clock has read 6:00 p.m. when I glance at it - time to wind down for the night.

This is not how I used to approach time. The current culture, my job, and I'll admit my natural tendencies too, have made me a multitasker. While I of course still do some things at once (do the laundry while playing with Noah, make a phone call while walking him in the stroller around the 1st floor of our house), I no longer approach every 15-minute segment of time as if it is a meaningful unit in which I can accomplish 3 errands or 10 e-mails or other larger projects. My oldest sister who is also a mother said on the phone recently that it was hard for her to contemplate going out to run even a quick errand when my niece was a baby because of everything that had to happen for that to be accomplished (for us today: get dressed for the outdoors, get Noah dressed for the outdoors, stock the diaper bag and add car toys and another couple toys for my pocket, pack water and a snack for both of us, find my glasses, lock the house, turn the heat down, check the stove to make sure it's off so I don't burn the house down (a nod to my mother)...). It's not bad, but it's light years away from when I would shower, grab my list, and go knock off 15 errands in three hours.

Was my quality of life worse then? Certainly Noah adds a dimension to my experience that is wonderfully unlike anything I've ever known, but things were also pretty great before he came into my life. I prided myself on how much I could get done. Another thing I have read in many of the magazines is that once you become a parent, you should never expect to get anything done again. Don't expect to take a shower before 4 p.m., to do anything on that TO DO list that is on the fridge, etc. I really hated reading this, largely because it makes it sound like active parenting isn't doing anything or should be seen in competition with other more meaning things I might be doing, but thankfully it is really only sort of true even in the best way they might mean it - don't expect to be able to do things for yourself.

I have been able to shower every morning since Noah was born, which is good because that's how I wake up to full consciousness. I grew up in a house without running water, so after 20+ years now of living with plumbing I still appreciate a hot shower a lot. While it's true that I am not accomplishing things quickly on the schedule or personal lists that I had before he was born, I can see (most days) that the point is that the list has changed. When Matthew and I decided to have a baby, Noah became the top thing we were doing. And from Noah's perspective, when I can tune in to it, it's amazing how much we do every day - the multiple costume changes, playing with rubber ducks in the kitchen sink and soaking everything, reading stacks of books, discovering sparkly Mardi Gras beads, rolling balls, crawling around, dumping out every container with balls or dominoes or anything within reach, nursing, napping... It's a lot, every day, all the time for him. It's his new life.

So do I miss being Little Miss Do-It-All? Only sometimes, and interestingly, it never takes a day or even an hour of multitasking at my old speed to right the balance. It takes doing one small thing that I feel is important, and noticing that it is done and I did it. That's it. This is one of the gifts that Noah has given me, one way in which being a parent is covering over an old open manhole in my heart. One feeling I was often plagued with in the Time Before Noah and do not experience nearly as often today is this - that feeling that it's never enough, never enough, no matter how I work to make every minute productive and helpful to others, it's never enough. One of the rewards of being Noah's mother is that he tells me every day what enough really is - for him, for others, and for me. And I no longer wish for more hours in the day to get more than that done.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Things

Noah falls asleep on our big bed
and the air settles, becomes still.
The cat snores in the other room.

I carry warm piles of folded laundry to our bureaus
to the shushshushshush of my slippers on the carpet.

Some days puttering at home feels desperate
- other times, peaceful.

The warm yellow sunlight melts
much of the snow from two days ago.
Spring had brought a late storm
to make the daffodills
shiver in their stalks.

Let nature find its way without me
- today I am in here, enjoying these good things.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Home on the Range

I haven't been writing a lot here lately, or doing much of anything it seems. This past weekend I figured out why. And it wasn't a good time.

I changed the tagline on my blog last night, adding the phrase at the end, "and sometimes more specifically, motherhood." This is because the meaning of life seems to have stealthily boiled itself down to this in recent months.

I did not expect this. Having a baby at 36 for me meant that I had a full and established life and many fulfilling self-identities. Writer, feminist, domestic violence advocate, wife, loyal friend to many...These things were all me, or at least who I tried to be. Dare I say I actually felt pretty well-adjusted after many years of being what I considered very out of balance. Welcoming Noah into my life felt truly like a holy blessing, as I think I had felt somewhere deep inside me that this would never be possible for me. As my pregnancy progressed (and the hormone-induced sickness receded), I became more and more excited and confident. And it has been a wonderful eight-and-a-half months since Noah was born.

So why, then, in the past few weeks, did I turn sour on myself? I began having more complaints about work, and at home became more grumbly with my husband and more listless about my own writing projects. I still felt joy at being with Noah, but everything else seemed to be blanching out. I was starting to feel and act negatively toward myself because of all these hard feelings that were surfacing about seeming minutiae (compared to the monumentally fabulous Noah) that have piled up over months and months. It continued it that vein, until this past Sunday, when I had just had it, and shut down. I didn't want to talk with anyone, including my husband, and felt miserable. I didn't feel I could even call a friend.

Finally late on Sunday night - late being 8:15 p.m. in the new land of Mommy time - I called my best friend. I told him I hadn't called before because I didn't have any energy to give or to listen to him and that didn't seem fair. I heard myself talking in a very small little girl-sounding voice, slow and almost a whisper, which made me recognize I just don't get vulnerable all that often anymore. That made me very sad and I cried and said how lonely and isolated I felt. I said I did't feel I had the right to complain about anything when I had this wonderful baby, a patient and loving husband, live in a great home, have a flexible job, relative financial stability...It must be me that was the problem here. Oh those old demons. And Kevin, my dearest friend, slowly said the following: "Katie, you are entitled to the full range of emotions every day, no matter what is going on, just like everyone else." I felt the anchor go down and stick in the mud. Yes, of course. I knew once that was true, but had forgotten it. In all of the loving and feeding and diapering and playing and reading and kissing and cuddling and peek-a-boo-ing, I had utterly forgotten it.

Then we talked about how being a mother for me is easy and hard. What I find easy is seeing and understanding Noah's needs. It feels very natural to tune into his sounds, facial expressions, gestures, cries. And given that he is big and smiling, I think what my husband and I are doing with him is working very well overall. What is hard, is that it is every second of every minute of every hour of every day. Unless Noah is with Matthew, my highest thoughts are of his safety, comfort, and happiness. All the time. And it has to be that way - Noah is so vulnerable and new and deserves my best efforts to give him a good start in life. Anything else feels selfish.

I started to feel a little bit better, saying these things, until Noah cried upstairs 15 minutes into the call, and I had to hang up, stuff my feelings back down, and go take care of him. The next morning I still felt lousy and emotionally hung over and it went like this. Matthew leaving for work: Don't I get a kiss? Me: No, I don't want to do that anymore.

Ouch.

Throughout the course of that day, I took many steps. I called a friend who works in the field at another organization in Maine and talked through my recent work concerns and this mothering mess. Then an acquaintance called and gently pushed through my resistance to kindness and we planned an afternoon visit that day for our babies to meet each other and us to talk. Then that night the woman who married my husband and I called, and I let go and talked openly.

That was so big, to let go. When I went into labor one of the most challenging moments was when I was having hard contractions but had not been checked to see if I was progressing, and so all I knew was that I was not dilated much at all - maybe 1 centimeter. I couldn't believe that these contractions didn't count, because they were so painful and strong. The previous 18 hours I had more mild contractions at home that I was most comfortable dealing with in a side-lying position. So that's what I was trying again and it was not working at all. Matthew asked what I needed and I said I had no idea. I felt panic. For a moment I clung to the idea that I should be lying down because that should start working any second. I quickly broke that train of thought because it was simply too painful to stay that way, and got up to try something else.

So I get it. It's too painful in the long run to recognize Noah's needs and not my own as well. It's not an either-or. A friend of mine who was a judge at the time mailed me a card to welcome Noah a while back and it read, "Parenting is not a sprint but a marathon." I loved the idea at the time - now I'm starting to get it. While I've read as often as anyone else the articles in every parenting magazine published about "taking time for yourself," I didn't understand how that would become real for me. I knew how to do that. Self-care in the past meant treating myself to lunch with a girlfriend or splurging on a pedicure. Now I need time just to feel my feelings, to create my opinions, to make small plans for myself, to maintain some sense of all that I am now. I want Noah to know all that I am, and I want him to know that he gets to be all that he is too.

Monday night over dinner my husband and I talked some of this over. He made the astute observation that I could also be grieving for my old life and identity(ies), even while I embrace this new one - a whole topic for another day. This shift to being a mother is so profound I think I'm just starting to take it in emotionally. But in those two days, I know I made some headway toward being a mother and bringing forward some of the other important parts of me at the same time. At the end of it I felt peaceful, like I'd come home.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Wake Up Call: Spring-a-Ding-Ding

Today is the first day of spring. Which isn't saying much, considering the deep freeze that we are experiencing in Maine. The sun is bright in that very cold way, the light almost white instead of a warming yellow.

Spring, spring, what changes will it bring? As if on cue, my day yesterday brought a torrent of realization. My current work situation is suddenly a claustrophobic fit, though like an uncomfortable piece of clothing I can't figure out if the neck is too high, or the sleeves too long, or if it's just all wrong. In typical fashion, I notice changes and then work backwards to my feelings and ideas about them. Most of the time these days, I am so busy trying to be calm and rational that I don't hear my insides screaming. But really, what's a mother to do? I used to spend my days questioning what my own needs were, and now I am completely focused on keeping someone else alive and happy, and so I don't ask myself on any kind of regular basis, "What do you need to do for yourself right now?" This is a question my best friend and I have asked each other many times over the years, as we stood in for each other's self-caring self when he or she abandoned us to our self-loathing ways.

As I have spoken to various people about my discomfort at work, which has something to do with not feeling like I'm getting enough done (my stuff), and something to do with the other people and structure of the organization (external stuff), I get encouragement to focus on what I need and want to do. In the past this would reassure me, yet now it confuses me, like I don't know what that means any more. I've been working as a domestic violence educator and trainer for almost eight years. In more ways than one, I have grown up at this job. I feel blessed to be able to bind passion and profession. I have made many friends. I love the work, as hard as it is.

I have also been extremely lucky that I am able to bring Noah to work with me the two days I am in the office. I do some additional work from home, altogether totalling around 20 hours per week. I have been saying to people lately that I want to continue to ride this wave as long as I can, because I still feel I have a contribution to make to the domestic violence movement. That said, my son is growing, and changing, and getting more wiggly, so the flexibility to bring him with me is lessening on his side, and the policy at work says too that he can come to work only until he is mobile. So since he is my priority, does the arrow automatically point to Answer B: leave my job?

I know there is another way to get what I want, but unlike before Noah was here when I could quietly plan and strategize, I only have Noah's napping moments to gather my thoughts while trying to fold laundry or clean the house. But this much is clear: a new season is here. Noah is eight months old and needs different things. And my needs are less visible, but still pulsing like the old heart under the floorboards. It's been a long winter of hunkering down and trying to work the current system. Now it's spring, my time to grow too.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hair Cares

Yesterday I called to make an appointment at my favorite salon in southern Maine. It was TIME, if you know what I mean. Why is it that there is such a sudden tipping point with hair - one day it is a reasonably minimal part of my personhood and the next an unmanageable barrier to me living a normal life?

Like so many other aspects of my body and self, my hair has experienced a sharp swing of the pendulum in the past twelve months. Toward the end of my pregnancy, by which time I'd downed several large bottles of Solgar prenatal vitamins, my hair was thicker than it had ever been. It was long, curly, and healthy. A co-worker of mine actually tossed the word "lustrous" at me one day as if I was in a Pantene commercial. It was surprising to me that any part of my body could be thriving, since I spent over half of my pregnancy dry heaving and lying on the bathroom floor while my cat watched me from the doorway, shaking his head at his mother's loss of dignity.

I learned after Noah was born, that about four to six months after labor my hair might start falling out. This seemed impossible since it was in such a glorious state, and also because I was continuing to take the less glorious horse tranquilizer-sized vitamins. Whether due to hormone shifts, or the fact that breastmilk contains the glue that keeps my hair stuck to my head and I basically was sucked dry, my hair did indeed start to come out in great fistfuls in the shower or whenever I touched a comb to my scalp. I told my husband we could make another cat to be a companion to Sidney, our eighteen pound mackerel tabby. Less funny was trying to vacuum the upstairs carpeting in our house, because my hair would fill the bag and jam the vacuum head, no matter how often we cleaned.

While I can't say that my hair is my biggest vanity by a long shot, this was disturbing to me. It revealed how little control I have over the working parts of this body-machine when nature comes into play. No amount of hair-strengthening shampoo could have prevented this from happening. Of course this kind of thing is happening all the time anyway - my hair is graying, and my laugh lines aren't looking so funny at times - but it's mostly so gradual that I don't notice it. Or at least, I don't mind it. This was different, it was hair today, gone tomorrow.

It's just hair of course, so I went about my business, trying not to pay attention to it or at least not to get all fussy about it. And sure enough, as the books said would happen, this past week it stopped falling out and is already noticeably growing back. It's been an amazing experience, becoming a mother, because one day I feel as if it's up to me to steer the ship, and the next day I'm just along for the ride. It's changes like this hair thing that remind me not to get too precious about other things as well. Most things in life could in fact quite suddenly fall out at the roots, and might just do that if that is what it takes to get me to the next best place in life. And isn't this the best, I have a boy with the fullest head of hair I've ever seen on a baby. I wouldn't give up these times for anything.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Mythology

Looking at the pictures
of the old house
now lifted on a pedestal
instead of where it was
falling into the earth
it's undeniable.

We ran through those years
on small legs
not wanting to comb the tangles from underneath our hair.
Playing, schooling,
little people who didn't know there was a big picture
to care about.

Meanwhile our parents tore out walls,
painted the green clapboards blue,
built more rooms off the back.
They planted trees
and we all worked the land.
I thought we were the Ingalls family
trying to tame something livable out of the wild.

We left this
too quickly for me to understand
what I was leaving:
House
and childhood.

Twenty years past
the old life encased by ten more
the house remains,
scraped down to its original size
but overgrown around like the castle and the briars.
I wonder about the three tiny princesses sleeping inside
dreaming the dream of the sunny hill
with the fern, the animals
and the sweet blue patches of berries.