Friday, September 2, 2011

Work: 1, Life: 2, Balance: 0

Written last week on a flight to Chicago for a work trip.

I am 30,000 feet away from Amalia, and I am feeling every inch.

It has been almost three months since I last posted something, coinciding, almost to the day, with when I went back to work. My three-month hiatus from blogging has more to do with the lack of balance associated with work-life balance, but it also has something to do with the fact that when I first went back to work, I didn’t want to write about the anger and resentment I felt for fear that I wouldn’t put it into the right words.

But in just three short months, I have gained perspective. Ha! If only. Well, I've gained some, anyway.

Here is what it was like to go back to work: it was terrible. I missed Mollie fiercely, passionately, with my whole heart. I resented the fact that I was sitting at a desk while she was home. I counted down the hours I spent at the office or in meetings, and I felt so dispassionate about my work that I wondered whether it was really what I wanted to be doing. I hated pumping. Not only did it take an hour out of my day, it was an ounce-by-ounce reminder of both my physical separation and the fact that I was falling short of what Mollie needed (to eat), which made me feel like I was falling short of what Mollie needed (in general).

And here is what it is like to be back at work now: it is slightly less terrible. I miss Mollie fiercely and passionately and I resent the fact that I don’t get to spend my days with her, resent the fact that I only get a harried hour with her in the morning in between pumping, making bottles, and making myself presentable for my day, and then an action-packed hour with her at night, nestled among bathtime, nursing, bottle-cleaning, dinner-making (ours) and mealtime (hers). Pumping remains an ounce-by-ounce reminder of my physical separation, but because of a lot of research and a come-to-Jesus moment with Enfamil, I no longer feel like I’m falling short of Mollie’s needs.

And something strange has happened in the past two weeks. Lo and behold, as many a wise working-woman told me would happen, I have found that I don’t hate my job. In fact, there are days when I love it, love the fact that I spend my time affecting social change, working to make the world a more livable one, love the fact that I get to feel like a role model to this person who will someday become a teenager and hate me. My days are busy, busier than they ever were before (cue the “what did I do with all of my time before I had kids” song) and yet I manage to get more and less done. Every minute counts now, for better (I can write more emails in 20 minutes than I ever realized) and for worse (I feel tethered to the clock, I know exactly how much I can and can’t get done in any given 10-minute span of time, my days are planned to the minute).

And yet I still hate the fact of working. Rather, I hate the fact that I spent so much time and money getting to this point in my career, only to have a baby and wish that I could lead two lives – the one where I’m home with her, and the one where I’m making the world a better place while picking up a (small but critical) paycheck. Put more directly, I am a mother now.

I have no doubt that not working is just as hard as working, much like I am now certain that formula-feeding leaves parents just as crazed as breastfeeding, and sleep-training is just as exhausting as not sleep-training. Like everything else in life and in parenting (particularly first-time parenting), the decisions are hard, there’s merit on both sides of the spectrum, and the right thing for one parent is the wrong thing for another.

In the last three months, our little scrawny chicken has gotten fat. She has knee dimples, elbow dimples, and three round chins. She sits on her own, puts everything in her mouth, eats pears with gusto. She talks more when she’s around people she knows, she shrieks and squawks and kicks her legs when she’s excited. She will be six months old in just a week. It is amazing what six months can bring. Also, teeth.

I am 30,000 feet and several hundred miles away from her and I can conjure her sweet baby smell in my nose, and feel her cheek give under my lips as I kiss her in my mind’s eye. I am on my first work-trip, resenting the distance and grateful, so incredibly and unbelievably grateful for my two great loves at home.

I will be home again in 36 hours. And I will already resent Monday the very moment I pick Mollie up to feed her in the early hours of Saturday morning. In between then and now, I will meet the next generation of organizers, of world-changers, of people who work for a small but critical paycheck. Just like every day, the moment I hold her in my arms will be the sweetest homecoming I have ever known.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More of a Turkey than a Chicken

For the past 12 weeks and 4 days, I have been a stay-at-home-mom. On Monday, my time at home with Mollie comes to an end and I will be back at work.

These are the cliches I am wrestling with: It is hard for me to believe how quickly the time passed, it is hard to imagine myself working in any other capacity than the job I have taken on here at home, it is amazing how different Mollie is now than she was when we first brought her home from the hospital, the thought of going back to work and being separated from her for an entire day fills me with such despair that I am fairly certain that I will have no cuticles left come Monday morning. I am also filled with such other adjectives as fear (about whether Mollie will forget me/hate me/miss me), hatred (for having to work), jealousy (of those who don't have to work), nervousness (about whether or not I really remember how to do my job), and apathy (about the work itself).

Here is a new truth that I didn't know I would come to: if I could quit my job and stay at home with Mollie, I would do it in a heartbeat. Work seems more trivial than I could have possibly imagined.


The year was 1989 and I was getting ready to go to someone's record hop. For those of you who were not a Jewish teenager in the late 80's or early 90's, a record hop was one way a very rich Jewish kid could celebrate their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Those fortunate kids had two parties -- one fancy party for the grown-ups where a few of their Jewish friends were invited, and one "just kids" party where most of the 7th or 8th grade was invited. While a record hop was good in theory (twice as many presents for the lucky 13-year-old, plus the parents got to have the celebration that they wanted for all of their money) it also meant enduring the awkwardness that accompanies every dance where not-quite-teenagers are forced to co-mingle.

Suffice it to say, it took me about an hour to get ready for the party. I had picked out the perfect outfit, which will sound ridiculous over here in 2011, but I'm going to give it a shot because it is important to our story. It was a predominantly purple tie-dyed babydoll dress, under which I wore a pair of black bike shorts. I wore it with enormous "scrunchy" socks, and what we called "Chinese slippers" at the time, but which are essentially black canvass Mary Janes. I carefully did my hair, securing it into a half-up-half-down 'do with a black scrunchie, and applied the mascara and lip gloss that my mom let me wear to Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.

I came downstairs feeling pretty great, just about confident enough to ask Keith Delaney to dance after a Shirley Temple and some chicken fingers. It was critical that I ask Keith to dance at this party because I suspected that he liked me. He had been snapping my bra strap in science class for weeks, a sure sign of interest, but he hadn't said anything. I figured that the bra snapping was his way of putting the ball in my court. I was determined to run with it.

"I'm ready to go," I told my mom.

"Honey, you need to lose those socks," she responded as she picked up her keys.

Lose the socks? Was she out of her mind? The socks were critical. The socks MADE the outfit. The socks helped to establish me as an almost-cool kid. Without the socks I was just a loser in a babydoll dress, pining after Keith Delaney.

"But the socks are cool!," I protested.

"No, the socks look ridiculous."

"I'm not taking off the socks."

"Then I'm not taking you to the party."

And on it went. I'm not sure why the socks were so important to her. I don't know why she didn't believe me. But we both held firm. Finally, in the car, moments before we pulled into the parking lot for the party, I took off my socks. I held them out to her with tears in my eyes.

"There," she said. "You look perfect now. Have fun!"

I said nothing as I got out of the car, not even looking at her as I walked inside.

The party sucked. Keith didn't come and there were no Shirley Temples. Midway through it I started to feel really sick, and by the time my mom came to pick me up, I knew that I had a fever.

I sat down at the kitchen table with the thermometer in my mouth, feeling like I could fall asleep right there in my dad's dinner seat.

"Honey, I'm sorry," my mom said as she smoothed her hand across my forehead. I assumed that she was sorry that I was sick, but she continued. "You were right about the socks. I saw all the other girls walking in and they all had socks on. I'm sorry I made you take them off. I should have listened to you when you told me that they were cool."

I nodded and headed off to bed. I remember that the illness turned into some of the worst bronchitis that I had ever head, that I missed a week of school, and that by the time I got back, Keith was dating someone else, only rarely snapping my bra, and even then it seemed like it was just for sport.

I don't know why this memory has been so vivid for me these days, but I can't stop thinking about it. I have thought about it over the years because it was so shocking. It was the first time my mother apologized to me like I was an adult, worthy of a real apology. But now I am thinking about it from her perspective. She must have felt really bad for making get rid of those socks, knowing how much I wanted to be one of the cool kids, despite also knowing what losers the cool kids would ultimately turn out to be. I wonder if she decided to apologize to me, or if she just blurted it out because she felt so sad that I was also sick.


A million times a day, I think about the ways that I will need to apologize to Mollie, about how sorry I already am for the ways that I am already hurting her.

I'm sorry I have to work. I'm sorry I can't buy you the fancy clothes. I'm sorry that kids are mean. I'm sorry we can't take a trip to Disney World. I'm sorry I didn't listen to you.

A million times a day, I think about things that I want for Mollie's future.

I want you to be carefree. I want you to be above the popularity contest. I want you to trust yourself. I want you feel safe and secure. I want you to know that I am always listening, that no matter where I am, I love you. I want Middle School to be easier.


She smiles with purpose now, squeals with conviction. She rolls onto her side, talks to herself, tracks her mobile. She knows her mother, her father, her Julie, her Stephen. She is not a fan of long car rides but she is comforted by her pacifier. She tolerates her bath and she enjoys being on her tummy.

She is suddenly a baby and not a newborn, more of a turkey than a chicken, so grown up and so little at the same time, probably the way that I will always see her. I am leaving her to do her growing, her thinking, her learning, her changing, all without me there to watch it.


Move at your own pace, little one. I may be a step or two behind you and it might take longer than you would like for me to catch up, to catch on. But know that no matter what, no matter where I am, I am always behind you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Of Roots and Wings

I wrote this as an email to Mollie today, but because it is practically the only thing I have been thinking about for the past week, I decided to share it here.

Dear, sweet Mollie,

Last week we started transitioning you from the bassinet in our room to the crib in your room. You had been giving us signs that you were ready for this, sleeping better when we weren't in the room with you, kicking your swaddled little feet at the bassinet bumper, whinnying like a little barnyard animal as you slept. So we bought a monitor and braced ourselves for the possibility of a difficult transition, knowing all the while that it was the best decision for all of us.

The transition has turned out to be much harder on me than on you. You sleep beautifully now, from somewhere around 11:30pm until sometime close to 4:30am, at which point you nurse and go right back to sleep. You turn yourself around in your crib, doing unseen acrobatics in your sleep that land you perpendicular from the place where I put you down. You still whinny like a little foal or piglet, but you do it to yourself. And sometimes when I come to get you after I have heard you chirping for a few minutes in the morning, you are staring at your mobile of angry birds, happy as a clam even with a heavy, wet diaper.

I spent the past week looking over at your empty bassinet, steeling myself for the day when you eventually go to summer camp. Or worse, college. I liked the weeks that we spent sleeping in one room, treasured the knowledge that I was drifting into sleep closest to my two favorite people in the whole world -- you and your dad. I felt cozy and safe, the two of you within arm's reach.

But now it's time for the first real separation. As your dad took your bassinet downstairs yesterday, where it will wait for a new baby cousin to be ready to use, I had to suppress the urge to tell him to "wait!, stop!, I'm not quite ready for this." Because you are ready, little one. You are ready to sleep your own sleep, to be more than an arm's reach away from me, to find your own space in your sweet little room. And so I will hold myself back. I will let you find your way. I will cross the short distance between our room and your room, comforting myself that I am no more than a squawk away from you when you need me, when I need you.

I think that you will teach me this lesson over and over again, and that it will always be hard for me. Those roots that your father and I give you are always to be counterbalanced by the wings that you grow on your own. Every time you take flight, I will have to suppress the urge to pull you back to me, to hold you close to my heart and to the earth, just to save myself the pain of letting you go. I promise to do my best to let you fly, little one. It is a big world, and it is all yours.

You are chirping right now, so I will go to you. I will pick you up and cuddle you, nurse you and make you comfortable. I will kiss you and rock you and snuggle you back to sleep. I will remember that the freedom to love another person, even one of your own creation, is a privilege.
I love you with all of my heart.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Another Sunday in May

For seventeen years, Mother’s Day has been a day for someone else. A day for people with mothers, a day for mothers. And then there it was, mine for the taking, complete with brunch and flowers and cards and Matt and my beautiful little girl. And I felt… sad.

Growing up, Mother’s Day was more or less just a Sunday with dessert. It was usually one of the first days that it was warm enough to grill, so we would invite my grandmothers over for a barbecue. They would get cards and big baskets of hanging flowers and my mom would get something nice from her mother (perfume, a pretty nightgown, a nice sweater) and something strange or passive aggressive from my dad’s (sponges, a book on how to be a good mother, salt and pepper shakers). I enjoyed the day because I was oblivious to the tension between my mom and her mother-in-law, because I loved my grandmothers in a totally unencumbered way, and because there was dessert.

Fast forward to Mother’s Day, 1991. I was 12 and Andy was coming home from college to have dinner with us, making me giddy with excitement about the chance to see him. He walked in the door with a huge bouquet of flowers, which he handed to my mom and then burst into tears. This naturally scared the crap out of me, because I’d never seen Andy cry, not even when he was stung by a swarm of bees in our back yard.

That was the Mother’s Day that I learned that my mom had breast cancer. I took it like a champ because they made it seem like some people get colds, some people get ear infections, and other people get cancer. Suspicious of Andy’s tears, I pressed them on whether mom would be better by my Bat Mitzvah, and I was assured that of course she would.

And then Mother’s Day, 1994. The first Mother’s Day after my mom died. I had just lost my mom, I was 15, I weighed approximately 93 pounds sopping wet, and so I did the most logical, teenage thing I could do: I hated. I hated Hallmark, candy, and barbecues, I hated my friends with mothers, and I hated mothers. Except that I was only 15, so I cried myself to sleep that night and spent the next morning cutting my classes, smoking cigarettes on the black top, and feeling sullen and sad.

I mostly grew out of the hate, attending the breast cancer walk in Philadelphia and later in Pittsburgh, even though getting up to volunteer for a walk at 7:30am as a college student was a sort of masochistic torture. When I got married I abdicated responsibility for Mother’s Day, even as I reminded Matt that hey, you have to call your mom. Once, in law school, I sent “The Secret Life of Bees,” a book that’s essentially about the mothers that aren’t related to us, to a few of the women who mothered me through those hate years. And when Matt’s brother got married, my sister-in-law took over Mother’s Day duties, sending an email a few days before with, “I was thinking flowers for Char” or “how about an Amazon gift card this year?” and I felt so grateful for Amanda’s ability to just walk over, look at my pain and say, “I’ll pick that up for you honey, don’t you worry your pretty little head about it.” I handed it over willingly, every time.

And then there was last year, the mother of all Mother’s Days, when I didn’t have a mother, I had just had a miscarriage, and I wasn’t yet pregnant. I don’t need to dwell on it much more than this: it was awful, hate turned into resentment.

I don’t know what I expected this year. I half-expected to “take back the day,” to feel like this day that has held so much emotion for me over the years would once again be simple, or even feel like any other day. But Hallmark is pervasive, and so are my emotions. So I didn’t get to have a personal mommy-ist triumph, nor did it feel like just another day in the life of our 64-day-old daughter.

Instead, I just missed my mother. A lot. I missed her more than I missed her the day that Mollie was born. I missed her more than when Martha was here, pinch-hitting on the mother AND mother-in-law roles. I missed her more than I do when I’m sitting quietly in Mollie’s room with Julie, more than I do in those moments when Mollie looks at me with her intense stare, more than when I’m reading her “Where the Wild Things Are” or when we walk around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. I didn’t want the barbecue or the hanging pots of flowers, and I certainly didn’t want the awkward family drama, but I wanted the chance to have a conversation with my mother, to see her on a Sunday, maybe share some dessert.

I spent so many years hating the day, resenting what everyone else got to celebrate, that over time the day turned into both more and less than it was meant to be.

Mollie is asleep on me as I’m writing this, sucking on her pacifier every few seconds to comfort herself. She literally has everything she needs within inches and she is calm, comforted. I hope that I am there on her first Mother’s Day, to tell her how amazing it is to see her all grown up and mothering. I hope that after her years of hating and resentment over whatever or whomever she needs to hate and resent, that I can be there for her, that we can have a conversation and some dessert.

I am learning that it is the little things that add up to a Mother’s Day, the small moments and Sundays that make up part of a year, part of the role. Yet I don’t want to miss a single one, and the saddest thing of all is that if I had to hazard a guess, my mother would have said the very same thing.

So for now, this will have to do: wherever you are, Happy Mother’s Day. You are with me in the quiet moments and in the loud ones, and so you never really miss a thing. I will eat dessert for both of us.

Monday, May 2, 2011

One Fart at a Time

I stare at Mollie in the early morning light on a Saturday. She is amazing. Her cheeks, begging to be kissed, are relaxed in her milk-drunk state. She inhales and exhales her sweet breath out of her slightly open mouth and I lean in to hear her breathing, to feel her breathing, to smell her delicious baby smells. Her eyes are closed and she sleeps so peacefully and I am so in love with her that I ache, and I literally have to remind myself that she is the same little person who screamed for three hours the night before. But in that moment, in the early pre-dawn moment, I don't care about her screaming. I don't mind that I can't think clearly, can't remember simple things, and occasionally forget that the milk lives in the refrigerator. She is so perfect that she is my only care, my only concern, and I am so grateful for her existence.

"Eight weeks ago we watched our first sunrise over Boston together," I tell her, marking the fact that she has been in our lives for 56 days. I tell her this every Saturday, willing myself to hold on to the feeling of that morning, even as it fades from my memory, even as I can literally feel it fixing itself in my memory like a photograph of someone else's life, now replaced by new Saturday mornings.

And then she farts.

She startles herself awake, kicks her little feet inside her swaddle blanket (baby straight-jacket), and squawks, sounding part piglet, part rooster. I laugh at her, kiss those irresistible cheeks, and think, "so this is how you learn to be a parent: one fart at a time."

Two Thursdays ago she cried inconsolably for four straight hours. Last Monday, Matt and I spent 20 minutes in our pediatrician's waiting room only to find out that Mollie had terrible diaper rash and was in desperate need of nothing more than frequent diaper changes and a massive tub of Desitin. I have stopped eating eggs. Every other day she has a projectile spit-up that lands on the floor, and there are splats in the kitchen, in our bedroom, in the nursery. Two Sundays in a row we have found ourselves out with friends but not spending time with them because we are rocking, rocking, rocking our daughter and trying to magic her back to calm. Our apartment overflows with baby things -- a boppy, a swing, a bouncy seat, a giant yoga ball. We have most of our conversations while moving, up and down on the yoga ball, side to side as we sway her. I find burp cloths in our bed, in my sock drawer, draped across my shoulder as I am ready to walk out the door.

It still amazes me how much my life has changed in two months. It amazes me even though I felt like I was truly prepared for my life to change, for the burp cloths and the baby things. I saw my friends become parents, saw the many ways that babies change you, laughed when well-meaning acquaintances posited that they would have more time for things like the gym when home on paternity leave. I knew that the waves of parenting would just keep coming.

BUT. But, wow. I was prepared for the change, but I wasn't prepared for how stunning it would be, for how different I would feel because of it. I now really think that you can't anticipate all of the madness/chaos/amazement/insert-strong-adjective-here of parenting until you actually become a parent. No matter how prepared you feel (or are), no matter how many babies your friends have had, no matter how desperate you are for a baby, no matter how many books or blogs you have read. This is the wildest, most intense, most exhausting, most amazingly terrifying experience I have ever had. I couldn't possibly have readied myself for it. I couldn't have possibly known the depths of my love, but also my self-doubt, my uncertainty, my inability to make a decision for the very real fear that I am taking us down the wrong path.

I have always questioned everything. Now I question it twice, consult the internet, call another mother, ask a friend for a second opinion, and discuss it with Matt ad nauseum, all before making a final decision.

And then she farts. Which makes me laugh out loud and forces me to calm down, trust myself, go with my gut.

She doesn't need much. She needs to be changed, fed, and burped. She needs to be kept warm enough and cool enough. She needs vaccines and pacifiers. But perhaps most of all, she needs to be loved, and cuddled, and rocked. She needs to be able to fall asleep, milk-drunk and full, and fart herself awake, trusting that someone will be there to laugh at her, change her diaper, kiss her delicious cheeks. And thanks to her, I can do those things in my sleep.

mollie and mommy

Friday, April 15, 2011

There is no such thing as an A+ in parenting

Six weeks ago today, I cancelled a conference call that I was supposed to have at 2:30pm because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to speak through the contractions. 17 hours later, Amalia came screaming into the world.

As with all of the other milestones (one week, 2 weeks, 4 weeks) I can’t believe that time has moved so quickly. I can’t believe that she has been here for 6 weeks, I can’t believe that I only have another 6 weeks of maternity leave. I can’t believe that in another 6 weeks, she’ll be 12 weeks old. Parenting math is much harder than pregnancy math (a math story for another day).

There have been so many times in the past few weeks that I have wanted to pick up my computer to write down what I have been thinking about. And for some reason, I just haven’t been able to do it. People have been cutting me slack, assuming that it’s exhaustion that’s getting in my way. But that’s not it. I mean, I am exhausted, but that’s not what has kept me from writing. It’s the sheer enormity of it all, the fact that wrapping my head around this most recent life change is basically just as overwhelming as actually experiencing it.

It has been an up and down week. Last weekend went by too quickly. I had too little time with Matt and by Sunday at 11am, I was already missing him, even though there were still many hours until he had to be at work on Monday. On Monday I cried in Cris’s living room, trying as hard as I could to soak up every parental-advice tidbit she could give me, feeling grateful, so incredibly grateful when she would say things like, “I remember feeling that way,” but simultaneously feeling so doubtful of my ability to make it as a parent. But today I am feeling alright, confident in my ability to wear Mollie to the grocery store in a sling, certain that I will be able to pull off a Passover Seder six weeks after I had a baby.

I have come to the conclusion that I am trying to get my PhD in parenting right now. I am in the lab/classroom years. It is my job to repeat the experiment until I have something I can publish, something I can hold up in front of my committee and say, “look, this works!”

An ideal day goes like this: Mollie sleeps for a 5-hour stretch, eats and goes back down at 4:30 and sleeps until 7:30, she has a lovely day involving minimal spit-up or wardrobe changes (for either one of us), she smiles affectionately at the ceiling fan and enjoys her tummy time, and I manage to shower, eat three meals, drink enough water, tackle some of the laundry, and pump 4.5 ounces. We have had bits and pieces of the ideal day. She will sleep for 5 hours one night and spend that entire day gassy and uncomfortable, producing such a massive spit up that it bypasses the burp cloth and lands squarely on her father’s (clean) pants, dripping onto the floor. I will manage to eat enough food and pump, but she will be miserable every time I put her down for even a second. Or she will take good naps, eat without problems, but I somehow haven’t managed to shower, eat, or drink any water until Matt comes home at 6pm.

So every day, I go to my lab and try to re-create the pieces of the day before that worked, and then tweak the things that didn’t work to see if I can get them to work again.

I keep copious mental notes, reminding myself of when she ate, how much she ate, when she pooped, how much she pooped, whether I wore my hair up or down, whether I had three burp cloths or two, whether I burped her during or after she nursed. Of course, I can only hold on to these notes for approximately 3 seconds before I have forgotten everything I was supposed to remember. This means that my life is less like a controlled experiment, and more like a chaotic stab in the dark. I will never get a PhD this way. I will never produce publishable results. I will be ABD forever.

So the new trick is working to become okay with this chaos. It is a very difficult trick. I am filled to the brim with self-doubt, a cliché of a new mother, constantly worrying myself over questions like, “has she had enough to eat?,” “do I make enough milk?,” “how much spit-up is too much spit-up?,” “does she like me?,” “if she hasn’t smiled by exactly 6 weeks, is she developmentally delayed?” I know that these questions are cliché, because when I start to type in “how much spit-up” into Google, it smartly finishes my question with, “is too much spit-up?” Clearly, I am not the only one in a parenting lab. Oddly, this is of little comfort when it comes from strangers on the internet. When other mothers, experienced or inexperienced, ask the same questions, then I feel comforted, elated to know that I am not alone here, not the only one blowing up her lab space.

I am sickened by the thought of going back to work, of leaving Amalia in the care of strangers. Not because I think that I can do it better (see above), but because I cannot bear the thought of being apart from her all day for three whole days a week, cannot bear the fact that someone else will get to hold her, cuddle her, comfort her. I do not mind nursing her at 3am because I love being the only person in the world who sees her beautiful face at 3am. Sharing her with anyone other than Matt is difficult for me, even though I have no idea what I am doing, even though she sometimes cries so hard that she turns red and her lip quivers. I want to be the one to stop the quivering lip, to be there to kiss her delicious cheeks, to wipe away the tiny little tears that pool in the corners of her eyes. This time, there is a conclusive result: I cannot always help her, sometimes I need help. Both of those realities are intensely, emotionally trying. It must be painful to watch me struggle with it.

This afternoon I went to see a lactation consultant, one of the myriad of people whose jobs absolutely baffle me. They are like magicians, pulling breastfeeding tidbits out of a hat just when you least expect it. In the middle of the consult, Beth had Amalia on her lap and had just finished weighing her. Mollie started to cry, which was reasonable given that she was both naked and hungry. Without thinking, I leaned in and started talking to her. “It’s okay sweetpea, you’ll eat soon, I know you’re hungry and I can’t wait to feed you.” Mollie stopped crying, turned her head towards me and opened her mouth in that perfect little “o” that makes my heart stop. And Beth said, “that’s right sweetheart, that’s your mommy,” and handed her over to me. Time stood still for just the briefest of moments, and this is what I learned:

I will always be working towards my doctorate in parenting, always trying to create the ideal day, the day that works and flows just like I want it to. But what I really need to learn is to recognize the moments, good and bad, that are totally out of my control. In other words, I need to simply relax and let time stand still when my well-fed, perfectly developmentally appropriate, beautiful daughter hears the sound of my voice and feels calmed. Really, that is all the affirmation I need.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Exhaustion in Three Parts

Part 1:
I wake up to the sound of the baby crying at 4:26am and think, "when did we get a cat, and who is murdering it?"

Part 2:
I step out of the shower only to realize that I forgot to wash the conditioner out of my hair. I step back in and turn on the water...with my towel on. As I loudly curse because I'm getting my towel all wet, I dunk my head under the water and curse again because in my haste not to get my towel wet, I have forgotten to turn the knob to "hot" and am standing half-naked, half-toweled under a freezing cold spray, conditioner running down my face.

Part 3:
When the baby is fussy at 5pm, I think to myself, "only 3.5 more hours until my bedtime." At 11:34pm, when she is finally settling down from her nighttime fuss and thinking about sleeping somewhere other than my arms, I think, "please little one, please go to sleep, it's the middle of the night." And then I remember that once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, my nights used to start at 10:30.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Three Weeks and Two Days

Mollie turned three weeks old this weekend. It is such an enormous amount of time for her to have already been on the planet that I am struck by her age every time I murmur it to myself. I do not understand where the time went, how we made it from those moments when she was a few hours, and even a few days old, all the way up until now, when we can measure her lifespan in weeks. It seems unfathomable.

So it is an understatement to say that the last three weeks have been a blur. They have been a blink of the eye, one sleepless 24-hour stretch of breastfeeding, laundry, spit-up, teeny tiny clothes, thank you notes, and learning, OH, the learning.

This is a short list of some of the things I have learned in the last three weeks:
  • When your milk comes in, it feels prickly.
  • When your daughter is as perfect and tiny as ours is, people will always tell you how perfect and tiny she is, and you will have no idea how to respond. You will say, "thank you" as though you can take credit for her smallness and her perfection.
  • Exhaustion can be manageable, as long as you're tag-teaming, and as long as there is coffee.
  • Bottles and pacifiers won't cause her any real confusion, contrary to the teachings of the well-meaning, but slightly overwhelming, La Leche League.
  • Dr. Internet is much more knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to breastfeeding tips than she was during pregnancy.
  • Whenever anyone offers to help you through the first three weeks of parenting, the correct answer is, "yes, thank you!"
I hardly know how to describe how amazing our little girl is. She makes this face sometimes, eyes wide open, bright, and staring, her mouth a perfect little "o", her hands clasped in front of her, and it literally makes my heart hurt, I love it so much. I want to consume the image, eat it so as to make it wholly mine.


"It's crazy to think that she will never be this age again, that next week she will make new faces, new gestures, totally different expressions for us," Matt says. And I want to burst into tears for how sad it is that the time is literally flying by and that she is growing so quickly, and I want to jump up and down for joy, sky-write to the world about how incredibly lucky we are to have this healthy little girl we get to raise, how amazing it is that she is growing so quickly.

population: three

When I hear Mollie crying in another room, I know exactly what face she is making based on the sound of her cry. I love having that knowledge, love being one of the few people in the world who knows that about her. It is so intimate.

I spend a lot of time thinking about motherhood, things I have thought of only fleetingly over the years. I think about women in the Holocaust, unable to breastfeed their children because they were starving themselves. I grieve for those women, I grieve for the pain it must have caused them to know that they were unable to nourish their babies. I think about women who have lost their children, and I hold Mollie closer, kiss her soft head, tell her that I cannot imagine my world without her in it. I think about trying to keep Mollie safe, trying to give her good advice. I realize that I am not as cool as I thought I would be: I do not want her to try drugs and have lots of sex; I do not want her to hurt her body because it is too precious to me. I think about the fact that I have a little girl, that I was once a little girl. I think about being a mother and I think about my mother.

Late at night, I think about sleep.

This weekend our families will be in Boston for Mollie's baby naming. We will formally welcome her into the world as a member of the Jewish community. The ceremony itself is beautiful, a gesture of our commitment to raise her as a Jew, in the likeness of both her fore-mothers and the two amazing women for whom she was named. But more than the ceremony is the fact of her existence, that we have a daughter to welcome, that we have family who have new, never-before-experienced roles like Aunt, Uncle, Grandparent. We will all come together for the ceremony because of this one teeny little girl, this yet-unwritten beauty. I am struck, over and over again, by how different my world is now, how grateful I am for the change, and how quickly one little person can touch so many people.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Episode 1: The first five days

This post was written on March 10, 2011, Mollie's actual due date. As is starting to become the new normal, it took me a day longer than I expected to actually get it up.

Today is the bean’s due date, the date by which medical science predicted she would be ready to enter the world. The world that she has inhabited for five whole days as of 4:48 this morning. In fact, in just 18 minutes, it will be five-and-a-half days. Twelve hours is very important when you only weigh 5 pounds.

These five days have been the most unbelievable five days of my life. And I mean that in every sense: I literally cannot believe that these five days belong to me, that I get to fold them into the story of my life. It sounds cheesy to say it, but they feel like a true gift, like something I waited all of my life to have, and now that I have it, I just want to savor each and every moment, even the ones that make me cry (and man, there are SO many of those).

I want to try to recap these five days, but I’m certain that I won’t do it justice, mainly because I can’t quite figure out how to write about our Mollie-bean and parenting and all of the million things that come with it. It sort of comes out in a list of things I cannot stop thinking about (practically in order): how beautiful my daughter is, the fact that I have a daughter, breast-feeding, the state of my nipples, Matt, parenting with Matt, not sleeping and co-sleeping, overwhelming emotions, family and friends, eating one-handed, my 4-months-pregnant-looking belly. These are the things I think about all the time, cannot get out of the running dialogue in my head. And then Mollie wakes up and whoosh! all I hear are my thoughts of how amazing she is, how cute she is when she makes that half-smile that shows the dimple on her left cheek, whether she is warm enough, comfortable enough, or hungry.

Here is labor, the short version: I started having contractions at about 11:30 on Friday, March 4th. I went to the hospital when my contractions were about 5-6 minutes apart and the triage nurse was mean and unhelpful. We waited an hour before the doctor came in, and when she did her exam, my contractions were about 3-4 minutes apart, I was 7cm dilated, and 90% effaced. After being rushed up to labor and delivery, the wonder-doctor, the anesthesiologist, came in and gave me an epidural. Blissful, pain-free labor ensued from 10pm until about 3:50am, with only a few hiccups when the baby’s heart rate slowed down.

At 3:50am I felt a punch from within and then heard a big gush as my water broke. By 4:30 I was pushing, laughing out loud at the fact that I was actually pushing, trying to figure out how I was actually doing anything given the fact that I couldn’t feel a thing from the waist down. When my amazing labor and delivery nurse, Denise, took my hand and put it on our baby’s head after the second push, it was a feeling so miraculous that I am almost hesitant to share it here, that’s how sacred and special it was. Looking into Matt’s face, I told him, “that’s the baby!” through tears, and he laughed with me, saying, “I see it!” Then there was an urge to push, a squirm that told me I wouldn’t need to, and the baby on my chest by 4:48am. It happened so quickly that the nurse had to turn the baby towards Matt, “It’s a…” she prompted, “GIRL!” he finished. And we laughed and cried and cried and cried and laughed and kissed, while they cleaned her up and stars shot across the sky, fairies danced in the forests, Matt and I became parents, and the world changed forever and ever and ever.

I am making myself cry.

But that’s how it was, especially with the stars and the fairies. At least, that’s how it felt to look down and see this wet little head on my chest, this squirming little body, all while knowing that she was mine. I felt like a superhero at that moment, invincible not because of what I had done to bring her into the world, but because of my power to protect her.

After we went up to the room with Mollie, we started calling the people who are destined to love her most in the world. Those were some of the best calls to make because we got to hear people’s excitement over her existence and the fact that she was a girl-bean.

Julie was the first to meet her. And later that day, she met Stephen, Jason, Cris, Adam, Linda, and Katy. And still later, she met Dan and Steph. And then, much to our surprise, she met her Pop-Pop and her Uncle Andy, who drove from Philly a few hours after they got the phone call so they could meet her on the day she was born. On Sunday she met her Aunt Elissa and her cousin Ike, who suddenly looked so big that I cannot believe that Mollie will be his size in just a short 18 months.

And the next day we got to take her home. As I was being wheeled down the hall at the Brigham, holding her in her carseat on my lap, I was silently talking to her like I used to do when I was pregnant with her. “Some of these people are doctors, some of these people are sick. Some of these people are daughters, some are friends, or parents, or grandparents. Some of these people are poor, some of these people are rich. You are the only you here, and your whole life is ahead of you, waiting to happen.”

By the time we got to the car, I was overwhelmed with the emotion of driving home with our daughter, so that when Matt said, “I can’t believe they’re letting us take her home,” I knew exactly what he meant. We had spent her first two days of life inside that hospital room, and as bizarre and unfamiliar a place as a hospital is, it felt like the place where we were supposed to be with her, making home more surreal. Of course, in the grand scheme of her entire life, those two days are but a blip on the radar screen and home is always home.

our living room and a car seat

In the days since we have been home, we have spent our time learning her and learning ourselves in this new role. There have been more visits and so many thoughtful gifts and emails. We have seen projectile spit-up and pee, and this morning she farted so loudly that she woke herself up. I have struggled with breastfeeding and am working through it, because there is something amazing about holding her so close to my body and actually providing all of the nourishment she needs, much like I did just six days ago, but in a totally new way.

Because she is my daughter, I am privy to certain information about her: I know how much she loves to have her hands close to her face, that she can find her thumb in a time of real need, that she curls her lower-lip under when she breastfeeds, that she has a tiny stork bite on the back of her head, that her eyes are getting pigmentation around the pupil, that she looks almost exactly like her father when she sleeps soundly. I study her face every chance I get. If I could draw, I could draw it from memory for you. I miss her when she sleeps.

holding on tight

One of the most amazing things I have noticed about being her mother is how wonderful it feels to be her mother, to know that no matter what, I will always be her mother. And I find myself thinking, over and over again, “She’s here! She’s here! She’s here!,” a running dialogue in my head, repeating itself regardless of my ability to have a normal conversation. As with sad things, I am always having two conversations – the one I am actually having, and the one I am having internally. The only difference is that my internal conversation is delighted, thrilled, overwhelmed with joy.

These have been some of the best days of my life in every possible way. I am exhausted. I am amazed. I am so incredibly lucky.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Because Every Superhero Has an Origin Story...

...and this is hers.

Meet our little girl and future caped crimefighter Amalia Ruth. But when she's busy bringing the ne'er-do-wells of Boston to justice, she goes by her alter ego Mollie Danger.

Ok, so maybe her ninja training and spandex body armor are a few years off, but no matter what she's here and ready to take the world by storm.
our little girl
mom and mollie

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I Always Thought I'd Be Taller

At some point or another in one's childhood, I think that it's normal to wish that you were older. I think that's probably the reason that up until we're about 10 or 11, we count our age in halves or even quarters: "I'm four-and-three-quarters" or "I'm nine-and-a-half."

I don't remember a time in my childhood that I wasn't wishing I was older. I think that for me, the yearning had something to do with the fact that my brother was SO much older. He got to do really cool things that I was going to be too young to do for a very long time. I remember being four and wishing I was thirteen (when Andy got Bar Mitzvahed), being seven and wishing I was sixteen (the year Andy got a car), and being eight and wishing I was seventeen (the year Andy went to prom and graduated from high school).

I vividly remember being about two-years-old when my dad promised that he would teach me to fly when I turned ten (I truly believed that he could fly until I was almost eight), that I could get my ears pierced when I turned thirteen (my mom relented at 11), that I could shave my legs when I was twelve (I started shaving them at summer camp long before this), and that they would never ever let me drive (Andy crashed the car he got for his 16th birthday not long after he got it).

But for me, the yearning to be older didn't end. When I was a teenager, I wanted desperately to be in college. I thought that the world would be my oyster, that I would take it all by storm, that if I could simply bypass the years between high school and grown-up, life would be better. I even wished it in my 20s, thinking that my 30s would be so much easier -- financially, emotionally, professionally.

Wishing the years away has never really stopped me from living in the moment. Rather, it has always been a way to remind myself to slow down, to live through what I'm currently experiencing. And it has always served as a reminder that I can and should envision the future, that it might not always be as difficult as whatever I'm currently experiencing.

But there was another component to the whole fantasy of being older (and wiser) than I was. Whenever I pictured the grown-up version of myself, I was always taller. Not much taller, not freakishly tall, but certainly a few inches taller. A more respectable 5'5", say.

The taller-than-I-am image of myself has persisted throughout my adult life. When I imagined myself graduating from college, I stood in my cap and gown and modest heels, standing head-to-head with my friends. When I pictured myself walking down the aisle at my wedding, I was wearing flats, because I naturally came to somewhere around my dad's cheek. When I pictured myself in a courtroom, I comanded quite a presence in my sleek pumps, because the extra three inches they gave me made me a daunting 5'8".

And here I am, about to have a baby. I am quite round these days, so round that I wonder if I am awkwardly round, round like I give the impression that I might topple forward at any moment. I am the kind of round that causes strangers to chuckle at me as I waddle down the stairs. I look like I swallowed a bowling ball and then ate about 12000 calories. Every day for nine months.

I did not expect to be a tall pregnant woman. But even now, two weeks before my due date, I imagine a taller version of myself bending down to retrieve a dropped blankie or pacifier or taking our bundled bean out of our car. As it is, I will be stuck with myself, 5'2" on a tall day, frantically trying to scale our not-so-tall SUV in order to awkwardly haul the carseat out of the car, which is a little bit higher than is convenient for my height.

I think that the taller-than-I-am images in my mind are really about being older, being old enough, rather, to be someone's mom. My own mother was short, just 4'11" in bare feet, so it's not like I associate motherhood with exceptionally tall women. No, it's just that ever since I can remember, being older, being old enough to do SOMETHING, also meant being taller.

Now that there are just two weeks left in the pregnancy, people have started asking me whether or not I'm ready. In case you're interested, this is a terrible question for me. Of course I'm not ready. How can you be ready to be a parent? Isn't that sort of the point of parenting? You're not ready...ever... for anything? I mean, sure, you have blankets and clothes and diapers, but is that the kind of thing that makes you ready? Not by my standards.

Anyway, this is what I want to tell people when they ask: "No, of course I'm not ready. I have to grow three inches in the next two weeks; who can possibly be ready for that?!"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

36 weeks

Dear Bean,

I have only dared to write directly to you a few times during this pregnancy, and even then, it has only been in the privacy of my own journal, never on this website. I talk to you in my head all the time, telling you how amazing you are, how glad I am that you are growing, how exciting it was to hear your heartbeat. I call you "little love," and "sweet one," and "darling bean" in my mind. Writing to you directly has felt different than writing about pregnancy. It has felt like I would be tempting fate, possibly writing a letter that, horrifyingly, you might never get to read. I have been too scared to address you directly.

But I woke up this morning with the overwhelming urge to write to you. I am 36 weeks pregnant today, you are somewhere around 4-5 weeks from making your way in the world. Just like I cannot believe that I made it to 16 weeks, to 20, to 30, I cannot believe that we are here, glancing around the corner at the day when you will actually make your arrival in this world. It is in your hands, little love. We are ready whenever you are ready. Rather, we are ready to be not ready for the way that you will certainly turn our world upside down. We are as ready as we will ever be.

Yesterday the doctor felt your head. While I won't go into the (intimate) details of how she did that, rest assured that it felt just as strange for me as it did for you. You responded exactly the way I would expect someone who has resided completely undisturbed for 36 weeks, and your heartrate skyrocketed to 165, calming down to its usual 145 after a few seconds, in rhythm with my own decreasing heartbeat.

The amazing thing about the experience was the fact that the doctor FELT your little head. Until that moment, I had imagined so many things about you: your feet, your hands, your eventual personality, whether your first word will be "Julie" or "Stephen." But until yesterday, I hadn't pictured your little newborn head. It swam in front of my eyes with sudden clarity -- dark and curly, covered in yuck, soft and mushy and cone-shaped and requiring the utmost care. I wanted to kiss the image in my mind, wanted to reach out my hand to stroke the picture of your beautiful little head. And then I realized that sometime within the next few weeks, I will get to actually kiss you, that I will brush those dark, soft curls with my actual fingers, that I will get to hold your neck and stare at your face and be the person in your life who gives you the utmost care.

So I woke up this morning and wanted to tell you this: I cannot wait to meet you.

With every ounce of love and then some,
Your Almost-Mama

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Ready" on One! Three...two...

At last week's 34-week appointment, my doctor turned to me and excitedly told me that 34 weeks is when she really feels good about a pregnancy.

Matt and I looked at her quizzically.

"34 weeks," she explained, "is when the risk for all of those horror-story-type pregnancy complications go way way down for the baby. So if you went into labor right now, we wouldn't try to stop you, we would just let your body do what it wants to do and in all likelihood, you would give birth to a perfectly healthy baby."

What good news! A perfectly healthy baby! We've waited so long to get here!

Except that Matt and I came home and promptly freaked the F out.

Of COURSE we want a perfectly healthy baby (who doesn't?). In fact, we're more or less "ready" for the baby (where ready is that place where we bought most of the things we need, or we know who we're borrowing them from, and we're ready for our world to turn upside down). Except that we're "ready" for the baby to make its appearance in six weeks. Or 5 weeks and two days at the time I'm writing this. Not now. Not 5 days ago.

So I now have a hospital bag that's packed with a really random assortment of things (pajamas, maternity clothes, underwear that I don't care about but is very comfortable). And we ordered a carpet for the nursery (greyish blue with a white border). And the baby's room is more or less coming together. You know, minus furniture. Also, my hospital bag doesn't have any clothes for the baby, which is ultimately fine because Julie is in charge of ensuring that the bean doesn't have to go home naked. But there we are: ready.


Bean, if you're paying attention, please know that your parents are not yet ready for you to make your appearance in the world. We're thrilled and excited to meet you, but we're a little slow on the uptake over here, failing to completely realize that 34 weeks pregnant doesn't just mean that you've been growing for 34 weeks, but also that you will be here sometime within the next six.

And parents out there who are reading this, please reassure me that this is normal, that realizing you're going to be a parent eventually just dawns on you. Tell me that we're not SO slow on the uptake that this is basically a referendum on our parenting skills even before we've had a chance to implement them. Because if it's a referendum, all of the Weyants (grown and in bean form) are in for some serious growing pains!

Monday, January 24, 2011

On Fatherhood

The message in my inbox, sent from, said, "A Gift from Daddy." I was skeptical. It isn't like my dad to buy me presents online, and it's even less like him to send me something directly to my inbox. It's just a little too...2011 for his tastes. But there it was. I clicked on the email.

When I opened it up, I saw that he had purchased the mp3 of "Free to Be, You and Me," the record I listened to over and over and over again as a kid, wearing it out and necessitating a new copy. I can still sing most of the words from memory, and they still remind me of hours spent on the brown couch, belting out the hippie tunes along with Marlo Thomas (and Friends). I was touched. My Dad bought the bean a song! So I forwarded the email to Matt and told him that we should download it when we got home from work.

Two minutes later, my cell phone rang. It was Matt.

"Hi Sweets," he said. "I'm calling with some news that I hope won't burst your bubble."
"The song wasn't from your Dad. It was from me. To the bean."
"Sweets? Are you okay?"
"Yes! I'm more than okay, I'm, I'm just, I...YOU'RE the 'Daddy!' You're going to be a Daddy!"

I was crying and laughing at the same time, sitting at my desk with my head in my hands, marveling at a fact that had somehow escaped me despite its obviousness. But it was in that instant, in that one perfect, bright moment, that I realized, from the bottom of my toes to the top of my head, that Matt is going to be a father. And not just anyone's father, he is going to be this little bean's father. This very little bean that has been growing and changing inside of me for 33 weeks, this little bean whose heartbeat we first saw together as a tiny little pulsating lima, who he reads stories about his favorite superheroes to at night, who he wakes up every morning to cuddle, who he kisses goodnight and says, "be good to mama." He is going to be this little bean's father. He, this man I married, this man that I love more than anyone in the world, is going to be the father of this baby, this little creature that on some level, some strange maternal level, I know that I already know.

Here is what I want to tell them, these two great loves of mine: you two are perfect for each other. My sweet boy and my precious bean. You two are going to be so great together, and I already know just how lucky you are to have each other.


All of the women in my family have always called their dad, "Daddy." My mother told me this when I was a little girl, and it stuck with me, part history, part admonition. I was pretty young when she told me, and I remember thinking that I couldn't imagine my grandmother calling her father "Daddy." But that's because it was hard to imagine my grandmother even being young enough to have a Daddy, especially when the only image I had of her father was a picture she kept on her bureau of a serious-looking and handsome young Russian man in a uniform. But it was also because in my mind, my own father was what it meant to be a Daddy, the man who made me oatmeal in the morning, took me "flying" in his Z-car, and would occasionally wake me up early on a school day in the winter to tell me that we were skipping school and going skiing instead.

Either way, the rule was written: fathers are Daddies. To this day I still call my dad, "Daddy" when I'm talking to him, typing that word into my gmail contacts when I want to send him an email, scrolling through my phone to find his number listed under that word. He has also abided by the rule, always signing his cards and emails appropriately.

I remember the day when I was too old to hold his hand when we crossed the street. I don't remember which one of us was more sad about it. I remember the day that he taught me to skip. Wildly, recklessly, in front of strangers. People might have laughed at us, but I don't remember them. I only remember feeling like I was flying. I remember learning that my dad could roller-skate backwards, a fact I learned at my 8th birthday party when he took my hand during the "couples skate" and twirled me around the bright yellow rink while all of my friends looked on, their faces showing the same surprise that I felt.

That's what Daddy means to me. There are other lessons associated with my father, times when I slammed the door and called him Dad, times when we were disappointed in each other and couldn't manage to communicate. But when I think of "Daddy," I think about oatmeal and a fast car, falling asleep on the way home from the Poconos. I see the disco ball from the roller rink throwing tiny little lights around the smooth oval while I'm holding tightly to his hand because he's a much stronger skater than I am.

"A Gift from Daddy," said the email. There it is, in my inbox. A gift from my husband, from my husband to his child. Somehow that's amazing and strange, and as life-changing as many of the other moments of these 33 weeks.

Even at 24, I had the good sense to realize that you shouldn't marry a man who you couldn't see as the father of your children. Over here at the wise old age of 32, I am realizing that I will soon come to know a side of him that I have never met. But more importantly, our child will know a side of him that I will never know, and will have a relationship with him that I will never have.

Good memories and bad, the things I think about when I think about my dad are mine and mine alone. And someday, this little person will have a similar story to tell. Some of the things I can imagine, because I know Matt. But others, the ones that are truly theirs and theirs alone, will be for them to capture and hold on to, for them to remember and to pass on.


It's a few days early for a birthday post, but it seems like the time to say it: on the eve of your 33rd birthday,my love, I can say without a doubt that you are going to have one hell of a year.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Someplace Like Home

I have been straightening my hair a lot these days. It is something that I do in the winter when it is cold, because it saves me from walking outside with a wet head every morning. But it is also something that I do when I feel like I need some control in my life, when I need a change, however small, that is entirely within my purview.

I used to straighten my hair in college whenever I broke up with a boy. In high school, I would straighten my hair when I had a week that felt particularly low and I needed to be noticed. Since Matt and I got together, these are the memorable times when I have straightened my hair: when I found out that we were leaving Oklahoma to move back to DC, after we got married (almost every week for an entire semester), when I was applying for clerkships, when I finally decided to come to terms with how miserable I was in Pittsburgh, and right now.

Which is to say that my hair has always been the one thing that I knew I could rein in, even when everything else was seemingly off track.

Matt and I have spent the last three days in Hollidaysburg, PA, the place that is more or less Matt’s hometown. To know Matt is to understand that he is a man of many hometowns. But Hollidaysburg is the one place that has been consistent for him, consistent for his family since the 1820’s, if you want to put a number to it. This is the town where Matt learned to drive, went on his first date, really figured out his parents, met his first love, broke no significant rules, came to see the meaning of family, and bought his first car. In short, this is home.

So coming to Hollidaysburg was something that we knew we wanted to do during this pregnancy. It occurred to us sometime early on, sometime before we called his grandmother to tell her that she was going to be a great-grandmother. We decided to come when I was good and huge, big enough that the bump was unmistakable, not so big that I couldn’t fly. And we let Matt’s brother, sister-in-law, and parents know that we were going to be at the homestead, hoping that they would drive from their respective towns to meet us here.

Coming to Hollidaysburg is always a mixed bag for us. On the one hand, we’re spending the weekend with family at home. On the other, we’re spending the weekend with family at home. Family is a challenging concept for both of us, which is part of the reason we have each other, part of the reason we have our urban family in Boston, and the main reason that we understand the complex realities of what it means to be from somewhere. Our lives in Boston feel so different than what life in Hollidaysburg would be like. The food, the sounds, the stars, the feel, the air, the bed, the water, the lights, EVERYTHING is different.

And yet family is family. They take you out and get you to pick out fabric so that they can make a blanket for the niece/nephew they’re so excited about. They ask you to send them a book about your faith so that they can learn a little bit more about it. They goad you into an argument about things that don’t matter. They tell you what life has really been like here while you’ve been living far away in that big city. They love you for who you are, even if they don’t understand you.

My hair has been straight for most of the time that we’ve been here, for most of January, actually. And I’m ready for it to go back to its natural state, to freely curl and frizz however it wants to, to get big and puffy and wild.

Matt held up a brand new onesie, white with tiny green elephants, so small, so cute. “I’m so excited,” he said as he hugged me. “I’m kind of scared,” I said. And he tightened his grip.

The thing about family, the thing about hair, the thing about life, is that we can control little bits of it, but we can only go so far. We live far away, but we feel guilty and genuinely sad about the things we’re missing at home. We look in the mirror and know that we don’t look quite like our real selves.

And every so often, we take giant leaps of faith, because we know that even with an apalling lack of control, we’re going to land somewhere, somewhere a little bit like home, even if at first that place is unbelievably exciting and tremendously scary, all at the same time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad

"Where are her eyes?" she asks. Charlotte is looking up at me with her soft, blond curls framing her truly angelic face.

I point to somewhere low on my belly, somewhere near where I think the bean's face is located these days.

"Here," I say. She reaches out a hand and touches it gingerly, smiling at me, smiling at my belly.

We are in the bathroom at her house, at her parent's house, the house where I spend most of my Sunday nights. She has been potty-trained in the past year and sometimes she wants company in the bathroom, while other times she requires strict privacy: the purview of a three-year-old. I never mind being being invited into the bathroom with her after I've turned on the light or the "air" (vent), because I relish the chance to talk to her one-on-one, even with a toilet between us.

"I'm pooping," she whispers, smiling her I-have-a-secret-smile.

"Good!" I say, "that's a good thing to do when you have to poop."

I am suddenly struck by the fact that Charlotte is 3, that I have known her for her entire three years, that from nearly the moment of her birth, our lives have been connected in some way.

I have been thinking a lot about the stories of our lives, the stories that shape who we are, the facts and the histories that round out what makes us, us. It is something I come back to often, the fact that we all have a story, that there are certain immutable facts that we live through and incorporate into our sense of self.

I first started thinking about it again when I miscarried last year, when I realized that someday, the miscarriage would be a fact of my life, something I folded into the facts of my 30s, the facts associated with starting to expand our family. And lately I have been thinking about it in terms of this little bean, the fact that almost completely independently of me and Matt, this little one will be born in Boston, always a Bostonian, and will say things in college like, "I was born in Boston, my parents were living in a second-floor apartment with their two roommates."

"Does it have ears?," she asks, pulling me back from my thoughts.

"Yes!" I say. "It has ears and eyes and a nose and a mouth and hair."

"Not yellow hair, though," she advises.

"No, probably not yellow hair," I agree.

I am a fact in Charlotte's young life. I realize it at that very moment and it almost moves me to tears. It is an emotional day, and I am 31 weeks pregnant, so there are many things that almost move me to tears. But this day is different. This is the death-day, the day when the facts of my life at 15 came to require that I fold in the fact of my mother's death.

I have written before about how free I felt when it had finally been 15 years since her death, when my mother had been dead for as long as I had known her. I felt some of that freedom this year, but I also knew that it would be different, because every year is different, but because this year I am pregnant.

"After I'm done I get to go downstairs because it's not my bedtime yet," Charlotte assures me.

"But it will be your bedtime soon," I remind her, "and then it will be my bedtime, and mommy and daddy's bedtime, and then the whole world will be asleep."

"And then we'll wake up... and Santa will not have come," she concludes, not unhappily, as though just to remind me that tomorrow is not Christmas.

"That's right, tomorrow when we wake up, Santa will not have come."

She nods.

I look at her and I realize just how lucky I am to know her, how lucky I am to get to be a fact in her life. On impulse, I reach out my hand and cup her beautiful little face, whose features are perfect to me, perfect in every single way. I am so happy right here in this bathroom with Charlotte, her toilet and my belly between us.

In that instant, I think to myself that it's possible, maybe even probable, that my mother didn't dwell on what she was robbed of in her death. Maybe she tried not to think about what she would be missing. Maybe that was just too sad. Maybe she thought instead about all of the moments we did get to spend together, all of the moments and facts of her life that included me, and by extension, all of the facts of my life that included her.

I think about it now, almost constantly, how grateful I will be just to meet this little bean in a few weeks, how lucky I will feel for those first moments, those early facts, and then day by day, bathroom by bathroom, a lifetime.

"Santa will be here in the summer," Charlotte tells me.

"Nope, not in the summer, in the winter. But the baby will be here in the summer. We'll all go to the Cape together and look at seaweed."

"Oh," she says, nodding, incorporating this fact into her life. And then she puts both hands on either side of my belly, gives it a little squeeze, and grins.

I put my hands on top of hers, give the bean and Charlotte a little squeeze, and grin back.