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