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
A phone call to that dearest friend
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.