Monday, December 2, 2013

Ten Voices Project

My friend Kathy created an awesome Kickstarter project, and asked me to be a part of it. It ends tonight, so there's not much time to contribute. But I'd really love it if you'd do so. Here's a guest post from Kathy, explaining why she created the project. She's says some honest, beautiful things here. Enjoy.



On the fear of being unheard and hurt

by: Kathy West

My greatest fear is that no one will hear me.

I face this fear in small doses: with my three-year-old who ignores my instructions, or at night when I want to stay up and talk but my husband wants to sleep, or in large groups where my stories are too long and my voice doesn’t carry. My quiet, quiet voice.

But I’ve never been unheard in a dangerous way, a violent way.

I know someone who has.

A friend shared with me vague stories that seemed full of anxiety. Average conversations felt loaded with fear. Until I realized that over months, I’d been hearing about my friend’s abusive relationship.

I didn’t witness the physical violence. But I did hear an abusive spouse mow down my friend’s voice by talking over every word, shutting down a conversation by mocking and chastising and shaming in front of everyone.

I think that’s one place violence springs from—from refusing to hear another person.

If you refuse to hear someone else, you think they’re separate from you. You can treat them as an other. You can hurt them without it hurting you. But the boundaries between us are blurrier than that. The sound waves of my voice vibrate the bones in your ear.

I couldn’t change my friend’s insistence on staying in that relationship, on staying silent.

But I wanted to do something. So I created a project called Ten Voices.

Ten writers and artists created ten pieces of art meant to inspire voice. We’re organizing a creative workshop for survivors of domestic violence. Our goal is to support and inspire the voices of those who have experienced abuse and decided to leave.

I’m becoming as committed to hearing others’ voices as I am to being heard.

(I would love you to raise your voice with us. Support the Ten Voices workshop and own the art here, only through the end of today, 2 December 2013: http://kck.st/1fptu0Z)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Small World

Small World
The advantage of living much closer to family is that I could make a semi-spontaneous decision to go see my sister in California. Sam was desperate to finish his novel and Henrietta and I wanted to see her aunt and cousins, so off we went, the two of us making the eight hour drive together. She was remarkably well-behaved during that eight hour (okay, nine hour) drive, and once we were there we  went to the beach and ate fish tacos and went to a glorious California farmer's market and cooked good meals and stayed up late talking to my sister. And we went to Disneyland.

I'm a bit of a Disneyland skeptic, as it turns out. I loved Disney when I was a kid, but I confess I don't much understand people who still love it as adults. So I was going mostly on my sister's word that we'd have a good time.

Henrietta and I had terrible trouble actually getting to the park (long story), and it took a complicated hour getting from the parking structure to the gates, so by the time I got there I was exhausted and hungry and I sort of hated everything, including Disney. I ate a sandwich as we rushed to a big theater showing a live performance of Aladdin, and it was during that show that I started to change my mind. Henrietta loved it, for one. She loved it immediately and completely, bouncing up and down on my lap and making her happy sounds. And I was transported back to when I was a kid, playing the cassette tape soundtrack to Aladdin, rewinding and fast-forwarding so I could copy down every word of my favorite songs, going to the other room to ask my mom, again, what "nom de plume" meant. It was such a complete and perfect time machine, that music. And I was suddenly looking forward to Henrietta loving those movies all over again.

In Toon Town

But she was tired, very tired after the show. It was time for her nap, and that place was much too exciting for her to consent to one. I tried tricks that worked beautifully just weeks ago, and still she screamed and screamed, and I didn't know what else to do but force the issue until she screamed herself to sleep. It got cold as she slept in her stroller, and I was completely unprepared for it. My sister and her family were all off at rides, and my cell phone had died, and despite our pleasant experience at the Aladdin show, I thought I had probably made a mistake in coming at all. Henrietta woke up after not too long, and with her teeth chattering I tore the cardboard back off a dark chocolate bar package and dug around in my purse for a pen and wrote a note to my sister, saying we were just going home and I was sorry we were lame. She came back just as I was poised to leave it and gather our things, and she talked me out of leaving and sent me off with my nephews to Tower of Terror.

Where I waited, trying to catch my breath after the horror show of nap-avoidance.
And there, on that ride, as I screamed and laughed, I realized what else I loved. Briefly, everything about that ride was real. It was a big pretend machine, and we were all pretending, and I wasn't Henrietta's tired mom, I was exactly what they said I was, a frightened guest at an old haunted hotel. It was a marvelous feeling, to be removed so forcefully from my real life, and I loved it even more on a ride that took me Soarin' Over California, meaning I was in front of a big IMAX screen showing scenes of the state I love, and my feet were dangling and they were blowing back my hair with pretend wind and I breathed in fake orange and pine and ocean smells, and it worked so completely on me that I was weeping, tears down my cheeks and landing on my shirt, it was so beautiful and the pretending was so perfect.

I'm unlikely to ever be a grown woman wearing mouse ears (and I saw an embarrassing number of them), but it's an incredible thing, to hold a tiny someone on your lap who is experiencing that same complete transportation. My sister and I came back another day, just us with Henrietta and her four-year-old cousin, and we went on It's a Small World and Winnie the Pooh and we walked through the castle and visited the Enchanted Tikki Room and we met the Pirates of the Caribbean and toured The Haunted Mansion, and Henrietta loved them all, her eyes wide and her happy sounds abundant and her little bouncing body on my knees.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Darling Has a Birthday

The other day I was running on a trail that goes along a dry wash here in Tucson. It was gorgeous out, seventy-something degrees, and I was listening to RadioLab, a podcast I'm crazy about. The most recent episode is called 23 Weeks 6 Days, and the whole hour is about a couple who has a baby at that point in gestation, and the difficult decisions they face, and how science lends insight to those decisions (or doesn't).

When I turned around to head back to my car, the woman was just about to go into labor and they couldn't hold it off anymore, and she and her husband were talking to doctors about their options and the various risks. And suddenly I was bent over on the trail, sobbing. Everything about my difficult pregnancy flooded me, and my gratitude that we were spared those difficult decisions was so humbling that I wasn't sure I could finish the run. It seemed like I should sit right where I was, far from my car, and not move for a very long time.

Henrietta on her first birthday, visiting a farm.
Greeting Goats
Checking out the smelly sheep.
Henrietta turned one year old almost exactly a month ago, on October 9. And since then I've been trying to figure out how to capture it, or what to say about it that would be meaningful. It was both a very big day--almost a sacred day, to me--and fairly ordinary. On her actual birthday we took her to a farm with a petting zoo and pumpkin patch, and on the way home we got her a small cup of vanilla ice cream. And it was a sweet day, but of course she didn't understand any of it. 

Henrietta and the Chickens

In the big barn, walking with her dad and grandmother.

That Saturday we threw her a small party and I made her a kitty cat cake, and while she really loved the balloons and her cake, she didn't understand any of that either. We had a friend tell us that the first birthday is really for the parents, and it gets progressively more about her as she gets older, and that seemed true. We made it to a year; we're here; we're a family; she's changed absolutely everything, so let's just stop and think about that for a second.

Kitty Cake

Birthday Girl, with Crackers, I

Birthday Girl, with Crackers, II
With her dad, and cupcake.
 She changes so quickly now that I feel like I can't keep up with recording what she learns. She's such a spunky, vibrant, vocal, curious soul. She spends all day walking through my mother-in-law's house, picking up items that strike her fancy, putting them into other objects, stopping to consider, and then taking them back out and going on her way. She laughs a lot. Sometimes she sits on my lap and I manage to get her giggling, and then we both just giggle, and I am astonished all over again at how lucky I am that she's here. She is literally the greatest pleasure of my life, and how can I possibly capture that? How can I possibly thank her and thank God and thank whoever or whatever else is responsible? 

When I got done with my run, I stopped by the grocery store on the way home, so when I came in I was bustling around the kitchen trying put everything away and trying to get us lunch and therefore trying to keep Henrietta from attaching herself to my legs. I was saying things like, "Okay, I know Sweetheart. Just give Mama one second." And though my tone was kind, it was my kind tone that isn't authentic; it's my tone that channels the nice mommy I know I'd like to be, and not the really nice mommy. But when I went to put away a head of celery, that podcast popped back into my head, and I put the celery down, and picked Henrietta up, and held her, and kissed her, and hugged her and told her I loved her and thanked her for coming to be my kid, and my voice was breaking and Sam was asking what was up, and Henrietta was squirming to get down, having received enough attention, thank you very much. 

I don't know why were spared the difficult decisions and heartbreak of a very premature birth. We were expecting one, and trying to prepare as best we could. And if she'd come very early, we would have fought with her and for her and would have been glad to do so, though it would have drained us. And I guess I don't have anything more profound to say than that about her first birthday. This has been the fastest and best year of my life, and I am grateful, more grateful than I've been for anything in my life, to have my dear and darling Henrietta Plum. 




Monday, October 14, 2013

Swarm

The other day I went out for my morning walk as usual, and at the end of the driveway I passed a giant swarm of black flying insects. It must have been ten feet high. "Whoa," I said out loud.

The swarm frightened me, is the truth. I was grateful Henrietta had made it clear she needed additional sleep more than she needed to join me on my walk and was back at home with her comfort-lamb, doing her baby snore.

I walked a little further and passed another swarm, and another, and another. They were as tall as houses, as tall as the giant Saguaro Cactuses that lined the road. There were half a dozen of them before I'd even left the cul-de-sac. There had been a big storm the night before, a monsoon, and I wondered if that had somehow signaled all of these colonies to hatch. It was if they had alarms that rang promptly at six a.m., and now they were getting on with it, with the next stage of their life cycles.

But what were they? I pretty much assume everything that flies is a killer bee, but these definitely didn't look like killer bees. They weren't at all yellow, for one thing. They looked like giant ants with wings, is what they looked like. And while most of them were swirling around in their concentrated swarms, I noticed they had begun breaking off, too. Some of them dropped to the ground, where I got a better look at them, and some of them wandered off flying, and as I walked I had to dodge them, jerking my head around, trying to avoid having one slam into my sunglasses.

About halfway through my usual route, I turned around and headed home. I had passed another half dozen giant swarms, and I started to feel frightened with no hope of talking myself down. If this was some invasion, some pestilence, I wanted to be inside before it got worse.

I asked my mother-in-law what she thought they might be, and she said she thought they were termite swarms. She looked it up in her desert wildlife book, and I looked it up on the Internet, and between the two we confirmed it: termites, newly hatched, doing their mating flight. Good for them, I suppose.

Maybe it's just that I lived for so long in the city, or maybe I'm just still acclimating, but I feel pretty overwhelmed by all of the wildlife here. An encounter with an animal is often either the highlight or low point of my day.

Sometimes it's a lovely, inspiring encounter, like the bobcats. A black butterfly laced in fluorescent yellow kept me company one morning during my swim. A coyote crossed the road very slowly and elegantly on my way to the grocery store. I've seen all sorts of birds: roadrunners, cardinals, soaring hawks, doves who try to drink from the fountain in the backyard, hummingbirds, clusters of quails who rush off together like they're late for family therapy appointments. A bunny with the loveliest tuft of a white tail. A shiny red beetle. A one-winged owl I met at a nature event we attended a few weekends ago: he had a name like Sparky or Bingo but he looked like a Sebastian to me, his feathers as lovely as an evening gown, and he caused Henrietta to kick her legs and laugh and make the sounds that most resemble a desire to communicate--"Eeh!' "Eeeh!" she said, and waited for the gorgeous owl's reply.

And sometimes the encounter is harrowing. It shakes me to my center, like the morning walk with flying termites. While our movers moved our belongings into Sam's mother's garage, they reportedly saw a huge rattlesnake cross the driveway, and a tarantula the size of a dinner plate scurried in among our boxes and did not emerge. One morning when I went out for a swim, a small mouse was drowned at the bottom of the deep end and I was convinced I'd die of the plague. Another morning, a small tarantula was on the pool's steps--drowned, though I didn't believe it was actually dead, and I cut my swim short. On a walk, I saw a coyote cross the road quickly in front of me and I felt hunted. I looked out on the patio while I was feeding Henrietta breakfast one morning, and there was a tarantula underneath the outdoor dining set and I had to hand the baby off to Sam and go back to bed.

I don't recover from these harrowing experiences quickly. I don't have a casual dislike for tarantulas. The thought of them, literally, makes me wish I didn't live on this planet. I dare not let the thought of scorpions enter my brain; I don't know what I'll do when I see one. But while I'm sure I hate spiders with a wild and--let's face it--immature loathing, I can't always make sense of my other reactions. You'll notice coyotes show up in both the lovely and terrifying encounters, and while I've seen some gorgeous butterflies, I've been known to say they're nothing more than tiny hairy lobsters with wings. They give me the willies sometimes. And what makes the difference? Did I love one coyote because I observed it safely from my car? Is that why I loved the bobcats, because I was snapping pictures through a window? Or do I love them because they're mammals, because some part of me knows they nurse their babies, like I do?

What I mean is, I've been looking for a hard and fast rule to what I loathe and love, and I can't seem to find it. I've thought I was most frightened by the creatures I don't know enough about, that's not really it either. I've loved seeing some creatures that I know are dangerous, that I know would haul off my baby and eat her if they were hungry and she was available. And I've been frightened badly by animals that I know won't do me harm, for whom human harm-doing is simply not in the repertoire.

The truth is, I suspect, that this has little to do with the animals at all. They are beautiful or terrible depending mostly on how I'm feeling. I'm still adjusting, still rocketing back and forth between thrilled hopefulness that we're here and everything will be great, and doom-and-gloom fretful feelings. Those termites on the walk could have been lovely, perhaps, their swarming silhouetted against the big blue sky. But instead they embodied how I felt that morning: unmoored, spinning frantically in a devastatingly foreign place, unsure of what was coming at me and what was under my feet.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Strange Elation

Henrietta has been sick. She's happy, for the most part. It's not the miserable sort of listless sick. She's just had stomach trouble. Explosions in her diaper. Horrifying puddles on the floor. You see what I'm saying here?

It's lasted a couple of weeks, as her pediatrician told us it would, and though at first I was surprised by how cool I was with it, it has begun to get old. I'm ready for that sort of event to not punctuate our days, and I'd really like to take her places without worrying she'll pass illness to every kid in a mile radius of the park.

One night last week, Sam and I both had trouble sleeping. I was up late working on a freelance project, and after that I couldn't settle my brain down. It was nearly three in the morning when I finally fell asleep, and just after three in the morning when Henrietta woke me up, crying. Or actually, it was Sam who woke me up, saying she'd been crying on and off for fifteen minutes, and maybe we should go make sure she was okay. He was worried she'd had a blowout.

I got up, grumbling. She hadn't had any blowouts in the middle of the night, and I was ready to give him a lecture about how the digestive system slows down at night, and she probably wouldn't have a blowout while she slept.

And then I opened the door to her room. It smelled like a sewer. My little sewer rat was soaked through.

She screamed while we changed her and tried to scrub her down with wipes, and she screamed when I stripped her down and passed her to Sam in the shower. She cried while Sam bounced her and cleaned her up and sang to her, and I ran around trying to change her sheets and find new pajamas and get things ready for her to sleep again. I hoped she'd sleep again.

By the time she was all cleaned up and her crib was all cleaned up, all three of us were wide awake. I put Henrietta in little footie pajamas and gave her Lambie--her comfort object of choice, and set her down so she could walk around for a minute and wear herself out.

A strange thing happened. I felt so happy. It was almost four in the morning, and I'd been woken up by feces, and spent a good long while cleaning up feces. But I felt so motherly, so parental, in the best way. My husband was good and kind and willing to shower with a stinky baby in the middle of the night, and my baby. My baby, who is almost a year old now (tomorrow's the big day!), was walking around in her little footie pajamas, smelling freshly clean, sucking on a pacifier, holding a little white lamb up to her nose, and making humming sounds in the back of her throat. And I was so full of love for her that I felt I'd burst.

Parenthood is made up of these odd pockets of joy, of joy in unexpected places, of strange elation after a run-in with bodily fluids. If you would have told me I'd somehow end up enjoying a night like that, I would have thought you were batty. But I did, thank heavens. And I'm surprised by how often I do.


Monday, September 23, 2013

On Being Too Sensitive: A Water Aerobics Follow-up Post

{Alternate title: Aquabitches}

I was dreading going to water aerobics this morning, likely because of my blogpost from last Saturday. You know how when you told your mom how great your friends were and how much they all liked you, and how the day after that you were a little afraid to see them all, afraid they secretly thought you smelled bad?

It felt like that this morning. I'd joyfully blogged, and now it would never live up to that again.

I got there late, and the water was crowded, and I felt awkward. At one point we had to jog to one end of the pool, then jog back, so I took this opportunity to position myself a little deeper in, since it's hard to do the moves in shallower water. I thought I fit fine, but soon two women near me looked at each other over my head, and I could somehow tell they found me irritating.

I racked my brain for why: was I too eager, too happy to be there, too fat? Should I just settle down and splash less? Was I too splashy? And the other part of me was thinking, too splashy? Come on. If you didn't want to get your hair wet, you should have brought a pink polka-dotted shower cap like that lady in the back row.

I tried to be confident and chill and assume I'd misunderstood their glance, but then one of the ladies, who was sporting sinister-looking black nails, said, "Umm, could you please move over?"She said this rudely, like I'd been standing in her personal space for days, instead of for thirty seconds. She said like I'd made her morning, giving her something to be very upset about.

And I said, sure, sorry, and also, "You have plenty of room on the other side of you, too. You could move over." I said this as nicely as I could, but it seemed important to stand up for myself, to say something assertive.

She said, "Yes, but this is where I was. This is my spot."

I was tempted to argue further, but I knew that I only wanted to argue because I felt very small and stupid and sad, because what she'd said had arrived like an explosion in my chest, and I knew arguing further wouldn't take that feeling away.

There are those close to me, those who love me, who say I'm too sensitive, and they're right, of course. What this woman said was not at all a big deal.

But in a way I don't know what that means--too sensitive. What does the word "too" mean here, exactly? Because if her words made me feel small and stupid and sad, if they arrived in my chest like an explosion, if I was tempted to weep and never return to the gym, what exactly could I do about that? My emotion was real and unruly, and my gym-courage is still young and tenuous, and I handled it the best I could, in the way I've learned over the last 30+ years of being "too sensitive": I stayed. I prayed silently that my feelings would get more manageable. And by the time I left, I felt fine. I even looked for her, wanting to apologize again, make peace, and tell her it was only my second time, and I was still learning the ropes. I wanted to ask her name, so I could nod and say hello the next time I came to class.

I'm particularly interested in all of this because of Henrietta, of course, because it's clear, even now, that she's my kid in this regard. While her cousin who's the same age seems to glide through life as easy-tempered as anything, things break Henrietta's heart all day long. She doesn't even speak English yet, and already we're breaking her heart all over the place.

And what will I tell her? Will I tell her she's too sensitive?

I don't think I will. I don't think I can, knowing what I know about feeling that way. How can I tell her that the way the offense explodes in her and threatens to ruin her day is not the way she should feel? That doesn't seem a useful way to approach.

She's going to run into aquabitches all her life, I assume. Women with long black nails, women who like confrontation, who live to make you feel a little smaller so they can feel a little bigger. And I want to teach a different way.

There's an elementary school around here with a big sparkling reminder painted on the wall near the entrance: "Be Kind" it says, and I want to tell her that. That there's too little kindness, too much that feels threatening, that all of our hearts are breaking and we all worry we're too splashy and even the ones who break us are worried they smell bad. And all we can really do is pray, extend our hand and say, "I'm Henrietta; sorry I crowded you."

And if none of that works, we find another class. We try yoga. We try spin. We get on the treadmill and we run very fast.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"In the water I am beautiful." --Kurt Vonnegut

I joined a gym this week. My morning walks around my mother-in-law's neighborhood were great, but last week, after running into a snake and a neighbor's unleashed doberman who gave me a little nip (among other terrifying wildlife), I was done.

I went in really just to a get a few days of working out for free. I didn't expect to love it. But surprise: I loved it. I dropped Henrietta off at the gym daycare, got on the treadmill, rocked out to my music, watched the news on closed caption, and started a couch-to-5k program using an app. Endorphins flooded me. I forgot how much I love those endorphins.

And this morning I went to my first water aerobics class. I'm not yet brave enough to try the other classes, though I will get brave enough soon, and this was the perfect reintroduction. Water aerobics is ideal for a post-pregnancy body. Really, I think water aerobics is just ideal.

There aren't any mirrors! No one was competing! Someone told me my swimsuit was gorgeous! All of this was precisely what I needed.

My post-pregnancy body is such a disappointment, still. My hips are hippier and my belly is loose and my breasts are heavy with milk. I'm working on it, but gently, gently, and slowly, slowly. I refuse to beat myself into a smaller form. But in the water, it doesn't matter at all. All you can see is my head, and I'm okay with my head. I love my head.

All of us had beautiful heads. There was a woman with a gorgeous afro and another with a stylish grey bob. A few of us wore glasses, speckled with pool water. It was clear our bodies had suffered: we'd born babies and lifted grandchildren and perhaps had a few joints replaced, and we were freckled and wrinkled and sagging.

But our swimsuit cleavage was magnificent, and we swished and splashed. I found myself laughing out loud. It didn't just make me happy; I was outright joyful. I loved myself under the water. I loved all of us, moving our bodies and making waves and churning things up as much as we pleased. Underwater, we were dancers and kickboxers and yogis and cheerleaders and basketball players. Underwater, we were beautiful. Underwater, we ran so fast.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Clover

As it turns out, jumping off a cliff together is terrifying, especially when a few of your parachutes don't open. We've had, since we've moved, a string of bad luck. Our house still hasn't sold, and the opportunity to make a good bit of income has dried up. That income was meant to carry us through the next few months and give us a bit of cushion and allow us to move into a place of our own.

Stress? What stress?

Luck is a funny thing. I've been thinking of it that way--as a string of bad luck. A month or so before we left, on a picnic at the park, Sam found a five-leaf clover. He wasn't trying to find it. We were in the middle of a stressy conversation about money, and he looked down, and there it was.

Our Clover, pressed and preserved in a book about Paris gargoyles.


I did a quick Google search to see if five leaf clovers are good luck, or if it must be four, and Google said they were even rarer, and therefore luckier. We're not people particularly prone to symbols of this kind, but it seemed hard to ignore. Our stressful conversation dissipated. We finished our dinner, laughing at Henrietta's enthusiastic crawling and interest in the grass, and went home hopeful.

We've tried to stay hopeful, tried to think things will work out, but it's difficult. Sam sometimes thinks we've just made a mistake, that we shouldn't have made the leap, but I had such an unmistakable impression that we were supposed to come that I don't usually think that. Don't get me wrong, I'm terrible to live with right now. I alternate between hopeful and happy, when I can muster my internal and spiritual resources, and sad and pouty and catatonic and downright mean, when I can't. We've had the worst fights of our marriage in the last few weeks, our relationship buckling under the pressure. But still, when I think about our situation, I'm certain things will settle out somehow. 

We're learning patience, here. A slow, plodding, endurance sort of patience. I'm remembering how important diligent spiritual practices (prayer, study) are to my sanity. We're learning what is essential and what is not, and what becomes unessential when it has to be. We're living monastically, sometimes not leaving Sam's mother's house for days, trying to finish writing our books and hammering out the freelance work we can get, and passing Henrietta back and forth and following her around while she laughs at the cats and claps her hands, practicing her new walking skills. We've zeroed out our expectations for our futures and our careers, rethinking everything, imagining new business ideas and going back to school and applying for various jobs and whatever else we care to think of, as seriously or unseriously as we're inclined, because there's nothing we have firmly in mind to do next. 

I'm worried. I really am. But underneath all of that worry, I'm thinking and hoping that this is the sort of drastic life change that is bound to lead to a breakthrough. Something new is coming, as we muck around in our unlucky situation, trying somehow to manufacture our own luck. I don't know what the something is, but I'm sure enough that it's on its way. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Baby in Galleries

Two months ago, I was in New York City to see some dear friends and meet their new baby. It was a whirlwind trip--in Friday, out Sunday. We had a lovely day at the Met on Saturday, and this is what I wrote in my journal once we got back to our hotel room.


Pretty Hen at the Met

Lovely day in New York. Here to see Arin and baby Alli before we leave the coast. We drove into the city from Westchester County and the she had on all of her jewels. I've never been here when the city was so green, the trees heavy with summer.

We found a miraculous parking spot on the Upper East Side and walked to the Met. I pushed Hen in the stroller and she stopped people in their tracks with her cuteness, as she tends to do.

She had a little foam W she was playing with and chewing on and she kept dropping it. I'd have a feeling she dropped it and I'd turn and see it there in the middle of the gallery, a security guard advancing to pick it up and return it to us.

I held her hands and walked her through the galleries, crowds of people parting around us. I didn't even look up to make sure they would. I just proceeded, Hen's tiny feet slapping forward like a dainty Frankenstein monster.
Pretty harp at the Met
When it was clear she was tired, I fed her, then put her in the stroller with a blanket and wheeled her around rather briskly so she would sleep. I got the brilliant idea to turn on the white noise app on my phone to the ocean waves she's used to and placed it in the stroller. Her eyes were closing, narrowed to slits, and I made laps through a darker, uncrowded part of the museum. We blew past decorative tables and lamps and vases, and I was so proud of myself for knowing how to do it, for being the mom and knowing how to get my baby to sleep that I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to stop people and tell them how clever I was.

On a small elevator, on our way to meet Arin and Lucas and Alli in the Impressionist galleries, a woman looked up and all around her, then asked, in a British accent, "Is that the sound of the sea?" I was so pleased to tell her that it was.




Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sam, Reading

Our first family visit to San Xavier del Bac

On our first Sunday here, I completely mistook the time the local LDS ward started, so I joined Sam at mass. We attended at the San Xavier del Bac Mission, located on a reservation about 45 minutes away. The mass was packed, all of the ornate wood pews full. It was a punishingly hot day to attend a packed meeting in a church without air conditioning. They had fans going and all of the doors open to the courtyards, and still we sweated. We passed Henrietta back and forth, trying to keep her entertained, handing her toy after toy after cracker from my purse. When she dropped toys, those around us were eager to hand them back to her, smiling. She did remarkably well for a ten-month-old, leaning into us and shyly grinning when she received attention, and when we were asked to offer each other a sign of peace, a woman made the sign of the cross on Henrietta's forehead, and Henrietta looked at her in awe. It was a lovely meeting, and at the end, when a man stood and announced that they were looking for readers, Sam went up and volunteered. It's something he's talked about doing for a long time.

A man in a tie led us back behind the altar to a little room where he handed Sam a book containing all of the masses for the year, and looked at me suspiciously when Sam said I wasn't Catholic, but Mormon.

There was something sort of satisfying about that look, actually. Sam gets so many of them when he comes to church with me (although they're often buried beneath eager member-missionary smiles and home teaching lessons), that I didn't mind having one sent my direction. It was nice, for a change, to be someone with an identity that I was willing to defend, and at the same time to feel no real need to, and to know that Sam would defend me if need be. He'd protect me from attempts to convert or judge me the same way I protect him. I'm Mormon; he's Catholic; we're married, and we're both fine with it. In that little room behind the altar, this seemed surprising all over again. Surprising, but sweet.


the interior of the church
And today, backdropped by what you see above, Sam read a passage from Corinthians. He read well, as I knew he would: strong and clear and wise-sounding. Sam's mom was with us, and she suggested we sit on the front row with the baby so she'd be able to see what was happening and stay interested, but she didn't stay interested past Sam's reading. She began to fuss and try to squirm free, and I was terrified of being front-and-center with a baby headed for a meltdown, so I fled, rushing to the back without my purse or any of her toys. This presented a bit of challenge.

The church wasn't packed today, since it was mid-day on a Thursday, so I set her down on the tile floor and let her crawl around. She slapped her baby hands against the tile as she crawled back and forth, stood against the wall and smacked it, crawled over to the big rocks that held the doors open and stroked them, tried very hard to pick up (and presumably eat) a mysterious bug, managed to put a tiny rock in her mouth (which I dug out), and made her way out the front door until she reached sun-baked tile which was so hot she stopped, blinking up into the sunlight.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bedtime Routine

This is what we do every night: We take her to her room. We read her a few stories like Goodnight Moon, or The Very Busy Spider, or Little Fur Family, or Moo, Baa, La La La (the current favorites). She plays a little, and I love that part, when that's all we're doing is loving her and focusing on her, and trying to make her feel happy and safe enough to sleep well. All day we've been about distracted business, all of us pursuing different ends with various means. But at night, we meet there, connected and clear about our purpose.

At least Sam and I are there for the same purpose. Henrietta would, in general, prefer we were meeting there for something entirely different. We attempt to distract her while one of us puts on her nighttime diaper and her pajama footie suit. She screams and tries to escape during that part. Sometimes she succeeds and gets halfway across the room, and I dread the night (it's bound to happen, right?) when she lets loose and pees during that window of time when she's diaperless. But eventually we wrestle her into submission and into her clothes, and we all feel glad that's over.

When it's clear she's ready (or, let's face it, when we're spent), one of us begins to sing, "Popcorn Popping" and the other joins in. It is perhaps the current greatest pleasure in my whole life, hearing Sam sing "Popcorn Popping"--an LDS children's song--with me. We sing, he sings, "I can take an armful and make a treat: a popcorn ball that would smell so sweet!" Sometimes he does the hand motions. Sometimes he does a rap version. (You're jealous that you haven't heard that one; trust me.)

Then we say goodnight to things. When I do, I say stuff like, "Goodnight bookshelf. Goodnight teddy bear. Goodnight pretty painting of boats." (Sidenote: it was depressing when her room was all packed up and I couldn't find things to say goodnight to. I think I said goodnight to the carpet. It was that desperate, the goodnight-ing.) When Sam does it, it's hilarious. He rhymes it: "Goodnight psychotic killer clown bunny from outerspace made out of parachute. Goodnight little pewter statue of a boy playing the guitar, which is a descendant of the lute."

Once I stop laughing, we sing "I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus" and put Henrietta in her blanket suit. She hates this part, and I secretly worry that later on she'll have this bristling, suffocating, foreboding reaction when someone talks about Jesus, or at least when she hears that song. Just by association, you know? I hope not. For me, the song is emotional just about every night. She's usually settled down by the time I hear myself sing, "I'm trying to love as He did, in all that I do and say," and it's suddenly abundantly clear any time during the day when I've done the opposite of that, when I've been petty and vindictive, when I've missed the mark of His example by miles. Sometimes, that feeling is so big and overwhelming that I can't finish. My voice catches in my throat and I can't sing, and I just trail off. But usually I finish, even if I have to just hum it.

I begin to breastfeed her while I sing, and Sam kneels down and crosses himself, and we say a family prayer. We have completely different styles of praying. Sam tends to ask God how His evening has been, and he's perfectly sincere in his question. He talks to Him frankly, with as much humor and candor and genuine curiosity as he brings to a conversation with anyone else. I love to hear Sam pray. And I love when it's my turn, too. When I pray, I feel a clarity in my relationship with God and with my family that I don't feel any other time. I'm not sure why, but it's about a thousand times more meaningful than when I pray alone. It's so clear that He's aware of us then, so clear what I want to ask Him for and thank Him for, so clear that the three of us together are One Thing, this Family, and we're all in the same little canoe, trying to steer it right, and we would definitely appreciate some direction.

Sam leans down and kisses us both on the forehead. He sneaks out, and I keep feeding and rocking her. Ideally, she falls asleep, and I place her in her crib, and all is peaceful and sweet. But lately, she's not at all asleep, and I set her down, and she screams like she's being run through with red hot pokers. Her bedtime routine is the best part of my day up until that point. And then I wish to be fired. I wish she could fire me, find a superior mom, a mom who has the foggiest idea of how to do that part better. Try as I might, there isn't a better way. I'd hold her and rock her all night long if it would do any good. But it doesn't anymore. She must fall asleep on her own, and it ruins her life to do so, every time. I think she's still adjusting to our relocation on the other side of the country.

I don't know why this bedtime routine is so meaningful to me. I'm sure it's like a thousand others. I'm sure your is the same, or similar. But still, it's mine, ours. And I love it. I want to do it every night for a million years. Except for that last part. That last part, the wailing part, can just leave me alone.

Friday, August 2, 2013

On Arriving in Tucson, Bobcat Families, and Hope



Taken the morning we left Boston, headed to the airport.

We're here in Tucson, and have been for a week. I'm beginning (we're all beginning) to acclimate. That first day, my heavens, was so disorienting. I started the day in the heavy, vibrant, humid green of a New England summer, and it seemed like I blinked and by afternoon I was here, in the middle of the desert, and all of the Summer green was delicate and dry. It felt like my entire previous life had vanished, like I wasn't sure it had ever happened at all.

taken yesterday, on a walk. you see what i mean by contrast?
As we talked about this move, I kept having an inexplicable longing to drive here, instead of fly. We opted not to, because it would have been insane, but I think once we arrived, I knew where that longing came from: maybe if we had traversed the entire country to get here, I'd feel like our arrival made some sense. I'd have seen the physical distance mount. Instead, wham bam, goodbye East Coast and hello completely different world.

big western sky, mountains

just outside my mother-in-law's front door.
To be fair, I hadn't slept much in the days leading up to our departure (who does, right?), and I had spent the day wrestling Henrietta in airports and planes. But still, driving from the airport to my mother-in-law's house, I felt like we'd made a mistake, like if we'd been able to spend even five minutes here with the intention of transplanting, we would have known that. The landscape didn't look at all like home. I tried to be cheerful, but the feeling stayed with me while I moved our bags in and we got ready for dinner. And then, out on the back deck, three baby bobcats arrived.




They jumped up in a tree and swatted at each other from various branches. They chased each other between deck chairs and strutted their stuff around the potted plants. We watched them play and lounge while we ate dinner, and it suddenly seemed like this place was just fine. That this place was maybe even marvelous. And that we hadn't made a mistake after all.



Some of these pictures are from a few days later when their mama came too, but the truth is that I was having the same sort of feeling on the day she arrived with her babies. It seems like every time I'm discouraged or feeling displaced, they show up. She's so beautiful; they're all so beautiful. I love the markings on her legs and belly. I love the babies' little tails and pointy black and white ears. I think maybe I'm supposed to be frightened of them. My mother is worried they'll haul off Henrietta while we're not watching. But we stay on this side of the glass and make no attempts to interact with or bother them, and for some reason I'm not at all worried. Instead, I'm grateful. I think I've seen them three times, and every time they've healed an ache in me.




We have a lot to work out here. We're still very much in transition, and will be for some time. There's a lot that's uncertain, a lot I worry over. (Namely, our buyers dropped out four days before we moved, so we're still paying a mortgage. Ugg.) But I'm remembering this is what helps me whenever I move: I attach to the landscape, the new animals and plants, the beauty I've yet to grow so used to that I don't see anymore. And then I'm okay. I look up at the enormous sky and picturebook clouds and blue outlines of mountains and towering saguaro cacti, the lizards and jack rabbits and orioles and cat families out the back window, and then I'm better than okay. I'm hopeful. I'm happy. I'm here. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Posts that Got Away





Golly. You know how everything is going along sort of normally and then you decide to move and chaos reigns? You don't think you'll give up every single excess thing you usually do, but it turns out you severely underestimated the moving beast. Moving is a beast, right?

And it's a bummer because I have all of these things I've meant to tell you, posts that flit into my head and flit back out again when I crash for the night without having written them. So here is a brief report on all of the ones I can remember.

*A few weeks ago we got ourselves bamboozled into an in-home presentation from an earnest and awkward vacuum salesman. Even now I keep thinking of him carrying these little filthy filters--round white circles black with dirt--over to us very carefully, like the dirt was sacred. He did this half a dozen times--on our carpeted stairs, on our couch ottoman. He told us about bugs that live in our bed and feast on our dead skin. He told us if he vacuumed our bed, he'd have a pile of bugs the size of the two of us.  And I was a believer, except that there was no way we were going to spend $1,000 on a vacuum, even if this was a very special deal just for us, even if he could put us on a very reasonable (and yet still absurd) payment plan. When the baby went down for a nap, I gave Sam the signal to send the man home. Wasting naptime on a vacuum presentation is just not cool. When we convinced him we really weren't buying, the man instantly relaxed out of his salesman pose. It was like a different person stood in our living room. While he waited for his crew to circle back around to pick him up, he tried to recruit Sam for the sales team. Which, if you know Sam, the thought of him as a vacuum salesman is pretty hilarious.

*Sam got an iPhone. He set Siri to have an Australian accent and asked her to call him "My Sexy Little Wombat." They have a very close relationship, but she doesn't understand him unless he tries to use an Australian accent too, and his accent isn't that good. Okay, it's getting better. But I still hear him (several times a day) have conversations like the following:
Sam: "Siri, should I have my breakfast before I take my shower?"
Siri: "I don't know what that means. Should I search the web for 'Wolfman ruthlessly for sale?'"

*Driving home from the grocery store, desperate to get Henrietta home so she would stop screaming hysterically, I got pulled over for thinking the light was more yellow than red. She, of course, stopped crying as soon as the strange man in uniform approached the car (she loves men. and shiny, flashing lights.). He was unpersuaded by my plight, and gave me a $150 ticket. The baby and I both cried the rest of the way home.

*A waitress in a Chinese restaurant came up halfway through our meal with a wet napkin and wiped Henrietta's snotty nose. I usually keep her snotty nose in check myself, but she had been screaming in my face for the last 45 minutes (in the car--she's not into cars, lately), and I couldn't bear to hear her scream again when I wiped her nose. Still, who does this? Who cleans the nose of someone else's child? When Sam went to take the napkins and wipe her nose himself, the woman swatted his hand away. I tried, at the time, to not be offended, and to believe that this came out of the very best corner of her heart, the grandmotherly part. But I confess it's still blowing my mind.

*I'm worrying about this move. It's keeping me up at night. Actually, I'm frantically worrying and wildly optimistic in turns, sometimes in the same afternoon. This is, as you can imagine, really fun for Sam. This morning he said, "I feel like I'm getting mixed messages on how you feel about the move." To which I said, "If you feel like you're getting mixed messages, you're picking up on exactly how I feel. Mixed." The other day I realized probably everything I thought about the move would feel true, at times. Sometimes we'll feel frighteningly broke and wonder if we've made a foolish leap. Other times I'll look up at the big Western sky and feel like I can finally breathe. It helped to have this realization.

*I'm turning into a mom who wears jean shorts and t-shirts. It's the only thing that makes sense, as it turns out, especially when it's this hot. I'm at once thrilled by my non-fussiness, and baffled that this is actually my life.

*Henrietta has learned to shake her head, and she means "no." She uses this trick entirely too often for my taste.

*My parents came into town to help us pack, and while they were here we took them to a Lowell museum about the textile mills that ran during the industrial revolution. We walked through this enormous room with working looms and the sound was deafening. The exhibit featured quotes from mill workers about their experience, and this one quote somehow sunk into me. I had to will myself not to sob in the middle of all of the looms. From a woman named Lucy Larcom: "I discovered, too, that I could so accustom myself to the noise that it became like a silence to me. And I defied the machinery to make me its slave. Its incessant discords could not drown the music of my thoughts if I would let them fly high enough." I feel like if I can just remember this strategy, I'll be all set.

*The other morning I found myself eating lemon-zested bulgar for breakfast, speckled with poppyseeds, as the 101 Cookbooks recipe recommends. I realized that since I had run out of honey, I was using pomegranate molasses. And I had a sort of out-of-body experience. Hmm, I thought. Pretentious, much?

*Henrietta is getting smarter every day, getting closer to walking, getting more fun and more frustrating in seemingly equal proportions. I'm getting better at making her giggle, and I am beyond proud when I manage it. She wants me, and wants only me, more and more often now. It's clear she's disoriented by all of the changes, all of the boxes, all of the disruptions to her routine. And sometimes I feel so exhausted by her that I can't get through singing her lullaby without feeling like weeping. And sometimes I look at her and I'm so in love with her, so madly and deeply and completely in love with every little thing she does and every look she has and every one of her toes and each of her six teeth-- I'm so in love with her that I can't breathe. I want to hold her and love her forever. I want to kiss her head over and over and over again until she's thirty.

*My parents took two of our cats to Utah. (Once we get to Arizona we'll turn around and go pick them up.) They had a pretty rough trip from here to there involving some insane delays on the runway, and by the time they got to my parents' house, the cats sort of hated them. And I'm sure none of them were were too happy with me, either. But my mother said my cat Meatsock has been sleeping outside the door to my childhood bedroom. He must be picking up on some sort of scent of me, and finding it comforting. I find this at once heartbreaking and heartwarming. He is a very good cat.


*The reality of leaving this area and my dear friends is beginning to sink in. Boston is beautiful. It's where I've done so much of my becoming. And I don't know what I'll do without the ability to drive down Storrow Drive by the glittering Charles River, passing gorgeous bridges, on my way to see some like-minded friend or another. There are so many like-minded friends here. What will I do without them? What if I never find so many again?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summery Pasta Salad


It's not really summer until I make this salad. It's my mom's recipe, and you won't find it very scientific, but as long as you get what's important--a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables--you can't go wrong. Aren't most pasta salads sort of bland? This one, my friends, is not.

I've been working on using up my pantry supplies before we move, so I used the ziti I had on hand, but my favorite way to make this is with bowtie pasta, mostly because the little bowties please me. I've also made it with brown rice and other whole grains to good effect.

(Sidenote: Today I also made these cornbread muffins and these millet muffins, in an attempt to use up cornmeal and millet from my panty, and they were both awesome, but the second ones--from 101 Cookbooks--are probably my new favorite. Oh my word, were they good. I pretty much want to be Heidi Swanson when I grow up. And I pretty much think all baked goods should have millet in them. Can't beat that perky little crunch. Also, do you own Super Natural Every Day? I'm thinking of just cooking every recipe in there. It's never done me wrong, and I find looking through it soothing and inspiring when I'm culinarily stuck. End lengthy sidenote.)

Back to the salad. Here's what you need:

Mama's Summery Pasta Salad

1/2 pound pasta (I've also used rice and other whole grains.)

A few cups of protein (chicken is used here, since we had some cooked to use up, but I bet it would be    good with beans (chickpeas?) or tofu

A few fresh and gorgeous summer vegetables (Pictured here: 1 red pepper, 1 onion, 2 small zucchini, small container of mushrooms.)

Dressing: 2 parts olive oil, 1 part rice vinegar (I don't think I'd try another vinegar here), a big handful of fresh basil, a big handful of fresh cilantro, a good-sized clove of garlic, a bit of mustard (for emulsifier) salt, pepper, sweetener (I used stevia, because I can't taste it when I use the good stuff, but sugar would work fine.)

Here's what you do:

Prepare the protein however you need to; prepare the pasta. Sauté the veggies in a bit of olive oil. I added a bit of salt so they wouldn't turn brown, but you don't need to worry about seasoning them much. Soften the onion, but don't overcook the rest. You want them to still have some bite.

To make the dressing: I used about 4 ounces of olive oil, 2 ounces of vinegar, and some more water to thin things out a bit at the end. The key to homemade dressing is not to skimp on salt or sweetener, in my opinion. I thought I couldn't make them as well as my sisters and my mom, until I figured out I was being too shy. This is for a big bowl. Don't be shy. And maybe it's obvious, but be prepared for the dressing to come out bright green. It's the best part of this salad, I think. You feel like you're eating a long summer day.

I hope you love it. Let me know if you give it a try.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

I'll Blink Again

Our bed is finally fixed. After a few failed attempts that made me cry and despair and blame Sam entirely (and unfairly), it's fixed. Even though Henrietta has been sick most of the week and Sam got sick this weekend, and I seem to be coming down with it too, last night we pulled the guts out of our four-poster, and dropped a metal bedframe inside (this one--which I can recommend), and it worked like gangbusters. The baby was crying in her crib most of time we worked, since it was clearly bedtime to everyone involved except for her, and there were screws and shards of wood scattered everywhere. Once we finally had it set up, I went and got her, and she clung to me gratefully, resting her head against my shoulder. She was in a little plain white onesie, since it's full-blown summer here now, and her nose was running. I set her down between us and we lay there on either side of the bed like lumps, while she crawled back and forth between us, ricocheting like a pinball. She was so exhausted that she had spilled over into hysterical, so she was laughing as she crawled, and all we had to do was poke her to get her to giggle. To her, to all of us, this was heaven: our little family, all of us spent but laughing, lying together on a bed. I think evenings like that were exactly what I envisioned when I longed for a family. Seems like I blinked in the middle of longing, and now here we are, piled together and in love. I'm sure I'll blink again and she'll be grown.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

They Seemed to Shine

On Saturday night, Henrietta slept through the night for the first time. No waking at 1:30 to cry it out. She just slept, and in the morning, when she woke up, I felt like she was my best friend and we had been reunited after a long and beautiful journey. If she were a little older, I would have begged to hear every detail of her dreams. I was so in love with her.

I set her in her highchair with a scattering of Cheerios so I could make my breakfast, and took pictures of her. Her sleep-through-the-night photo shoot.


And it was probably just my extra sleep, but at church that day, I somehow knew so much better how to deal with her. She sat on my lap through the first meeting, and I kept a steady stream of toys coming. One at a time: a block, a car, a little ball, another block, a zebra. A container of cereal puffs which I let her reach in to get for herself. She lounged on my lap, her bare feet rising now and then, and the flutter of the flower on her headband was movingly beautiful. It's when I noticed the headband flower's beauty that I thought, "This is what it must feel like to be rested. I'm rested. I must be rested."

When they brought the sacrament around--pinches of bread and water in little clear cups--I realized she would probably enjoy participating. It's the first time I've ever given her the sacrament, and I admit that at first it was just to buy us a few extra minutes. When you have an active baby/kid, you'll do just about anything to buy a couple minutes. I took a piece of bread for me, and another for her, and gave it to her. And quickly enough, the importance of what I was doing, the meaning of it, blossomed in my chest. I remembered being a kid, taking the bread and water when it passed, keeping the cup and playing with it until my mother took it away. I flashed through my adulthood, sitting every Sunday in those benches, taking the sacrament. I thought of all of the Sundays I had rushed to church, hoping to just make it in time for that ritual, and of all the Sundays it meant something to me, even when my faith was parched, nearly dried up. I thought of taking the sacrament in a youth hostel common room in Scotland with my BYU study abroad group, Loch Lomand still and magnificent out the picture windows.  I thought of being on bed rest when I was pregnant with Henrietta, and the men from my ward who came and knelt at the end of my couch, blessing a slice of bread and a cup of water from my kitchen, Henrietta moving inside of me while I listened to them pray.

She took the bread from my hand, and fed it to herself, splitting the piece in two to make it last. When the water came, I tipped it up to her mouth, and it spilled a little. Beads of water landed on her chin and neck, and in the lights of the chapel, they seemed to shine.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Post On Sleep


My favorite picture. Possibly ever.


There are two things you should know before I tell you this story: the first is that I'm a lousy sleeper. I'm one of the lousiest, and I wear earplugs, these ones, or I would never sleep at all. This allows me to hear the baby when she's actually making significant noise from the other room, and not just fluttering her eyelashes, which I swear I'd hear. And the other thing you should know is that our bed is broken in a sort of complicated way, so I can only sleep with my head where my feet should be or I dream that I'm sleeping on a mountainside all night long--really, that happened.

But lately I haven't been sleeping much anyway. Not with earplugs, not with my head where my feet should be or anywhere else. Henrietta has been breaking records in the wake-up-at-night department. Gosh, it's been awful. She's teething, surely, but it's gotten worse and worse, and a few nights this last week she woke up 10-15 times (I lost count), at least once an hour but sometimes twice or thrice an hour, and then when she finally would sleep, I wouldn't be able to anymore, so I'd be up most of the night and then I'd walk around during the day pretty delirious, and fiending for a nap, and treating Sam terribly. My house is so dirty that I started to wonder if the baby wasn't sleeping because she contracted some rare non-sleeping disease from my carpet. My body was so exhausted that I was losing physical coordination; I was afraid to drive. And my brain was so tired that my mean voice was out with daggers.

One book I read on sleep said to ask yourself, before you begin sleep training, if your baby's night wakings were really ruining your life, or if they were manageable. Because two times a night? That's maybe not a big deal. But two times a night for months on end starts to make you insane. And remember? HP was going for 15. And she wasn't too hot or too cold, and I had gone down the list of every other thing that could be wrong. And we were giving her Tylenol and Ibuprofen to help with the teething pain. I spent half of my waking life (which was sup-par, admittedly) trying to figure out this sleep thing, and if it was something other than the fact that she was absolutely incapable of getting herself back to sleep without me, I would have figured it out. Trust me.

Ever since Henrietta was born, we've been talking about sleep-training. People ask you: is she sleeping through the night? And at some point it starts to feel like they're not groaning sympathetically with you anymore, they're wondering what's wrong with you that the answer is no. No and no. So I've been trying to read books (which is what I do when I don't know something), but those books are so formulaic and so guaranteed-to-work (!) and they basically said every single thing we were doing in relation to sleep was wrong, and the thought of changing everything and following a formula and keeping notes when I was already so sleep-deprived that the dishes made me cry? That really wasn't happening. So I talked to a lot of people and I prayed a lot, which are the other things I do when I don't know something. And I think I knew, I think I've known for awhile, that I just needed to let her cry and figure out how to get herself back to sleep. I've known this would be terrible experience.

And of course, because I'm me, I've been trying to work out whether I was that sort of person. I mean, was I even the cry-it-out kind of mom? I've talked about this before, how I can never just make decisions about what's best for my baby. I'm always putting all mothers (figurative mothers, not the real ones) in this binary system, and there are the good mothers who wake up and nurse their babies very sweetly every time they cry until they magically stop waking up in the night, and there are the other mothers who let their babies cry it out, and they are not very good mothers. Wait! Remember I really only mean figurative mothers! If you let your baby cry it out, I actually think you are brilliant and I'm jealous of you, because you get to actually sleep, and you are still a good mom because I know you are. You defy reality, but only because this binary doesn't exist in reality. It's baloney. Welcome to my world, which is full of baloney.

Sam and I tried letting her cry it out last Sunday night. I had fed her and rocked her, and she still wasn't settling down in any kind of permanent way. It was clear, maybe for the first time, that there was nothing I could do for her. I couldn't help her sleep, not really, and it was nearly ten at night, and so we just set her down and told her we loved her and tiptoed out. We sat in our office, trying to be cool, but listening to make sure she didn't launch herself over the side of her crib somehow. She screamed. She screamed loud and long and heartbreakingly until she was coughing and seemed like she could hardly breathe, and the minutes felt absurdly long. We went back in to tell her it was okay after three minutes, even though we had agreed to wait until five. And then we waited five more minutes, at which point I was sobbing, and Sam was saying, "I didn't understand. I didn't know it was going to be like this." We went in and I held her and rocked her until she slept, and I left her bedroom feeling like a sleep-training dropout. Sam and I prayed together out loud, taking turns, asking for help, begging for help. When I went downstairs I looked at my cat, who was sleeping soundly, and thought that at least our cats sleep through the night (and day) without help. We've got that going for us. We're not total failures.

Yesterday I called my sister, which is another thing I do when I don't know something. And I was asking her what I was supposed to do about Henrietta not falling asleep in the car anymore and screaming the whole way everywhere we went. And she answered that question, and then sort of volunteered, "Let me make a case for letting her cry it out at night." And she did. And somehow this solved all of my identity issues, and helped me really believe that helping Henrietta sleep on her own was a big giant gift to her, and I could give it, and it would be okay.

I entered last night's bed time ready for it. We did our bedtime routine, and then I fed her, and she was still awake when I set her down. She fell asleep on her own without too much fuss, and then she woke up at one, which wasn't too bad, considering the other nights we've had this week. I went in and picked her up before I thought very clearly, and she thrashed and wiggled and wailed in my arms, wanting milk, which I wasn't going to give her. She pooped, which she never does at night, and I swear it was in protest: pay attention to me; give me what I want. I changed her diaper very calmly, and told her she was going to go back to sleep now, and it was going to be okay. I lay her down in her crib and told her I loved her, and left.

I lay down in bed, my feet by my bedside table, and watched the clock, and the minutes weren't as long. Sam snored next to me, but it was suddenly clear it was all my job anyway, that it had always been, and it needed to be. My heart was pounding and her cries were painful to listen to, but I felt like I was being sort of carried above them, floating just above my bed. I had prayed countless times that when it was time to let her cry it out I'd be able to do it, and He was answering, helping me through every second of it, making it clear I was doing the right thing, that I was helping her, even if it didn't sound that way.

I felt like I was being swept back to a memory of when Henrietta was about a month old and I was taking her to church for the first time. I was bustling around the house trying to get everything together and I had strapped her into her carseat so I could have my hands free, and she was screaming. I thought she was probably tired, and I knew she'd fall asleep in the car, but I didn't know what to do in the meantime. It was the first time since she'd been born that running to her and fixing whatever was wrong was not possible; it was not the best thing for her or for me. I don't know how to explain what a terrifying revelation that was for me: immediately doing everything to fix what was wrong would not always be possible; it would not always be the best way to do my job as mother. I love new-mom self, I really love her for being so astonished and sad about that. And last night, I felt like that again. I remembered how as soon as I stepped out the door into the sunlight she fell asleep and everything was fine, and it made me feel like this cry-it-out thing would resolve itself.

And it was. She cried for half an hour. I went in twice to tell her everything was as it should be, and I felt like a warrior mother, steeled against her tears, doing the best thing for all of us. She screamed and then she cried and then she whimpered and eventually she stopped altogether and she slept, and I wanted to run through my house laughing and hollering and kissing the cats on the lips. But instead I put my earplugs back in and went to sleep, and slept, with a few brief exceptions, until morning. When I could tell the sun was coming up, and I thought I was maybe hearing her, I pulled up the edge of my earplug to check, and realized I was hearing songbirds. Songbirds, not my screaming baby. I looked over at Sam's legs beside me. I'd gone to bed the night before sort of irritated with him. Not in any meaningful way, but just an I'm-so-exhausted way, but now he was so beautiful in the morning light. He was sleeping on his stomach, and his toes were tucked between the mattress and the bottom of the bed, and his calves were somehow the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen. They were so long and so lovely that if I wasn't worried it would wake him, I would have run my hands very slowly from his ankles to his knees.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Announcing a Move

On a Friday a month or so ago, Sam and I were driving to the art museum in Worcester. It was sunny and glorious outside, and we were talking, again, about Sam's dread for the coming school year. He's been on paternity leave, as I've mentioned, but he's dreaded the end of that leave every single day, and we've discussed his dread most days. The job is a bad fit for a number of reasons, few of which I'm interested in going into here. We thought that a move closer to the school would help (his commute was horrendous previously), but it hasn't, so as we talked, driving along, I said what I had started to say when this subject came up, "Don't go back then. We'll figure something out. Don't go back."

Prior to that Friday, this would lead to some circling around the possibilities, and end with one of us saying, "No, it'll never work. We can't do it. We'll stay one more year and see how it goes. It's bound to get better." But for some reason, this time, we said, okay, yeah, let's not go back; we'll figure it out. Sam took one hand off the wheel and said, "Shake on it? We're really leaving?" And I took his hand and said, sure, yeah, let's go.

And then I panicked. Very quietly, silently even. In the passenger seat. What about, um, employment, and health insurance, and how would we have enough money for a cross-country move? You know, the little things.

Sam didn't panic. He immediately started bidding farewell to the area. "This might be the last time we ever go to this museum. And I'm okay with that," he said. "Look, see that intersection? No more of that," he said. "We're getting out of here. We're getting out of here," he nearly chanted. I could see the dread lift from him. It was like he became a different person, a person I hadn't seen in awhile.

Which means I wasn't willing to say, "Well, maybe I shouldn't have shook on it?"

That night, after we'd talked it over more, I asked if we could pray about it together. I was still willing to say we'd move, but inside I wasn't so sure. I generally ask God what He thinks of our plans, at least our big ones, and I had yet to talk it over with Him. Sam said he was willing to listen while I prayed aloud, but he had already made his decision; he wasn't sure what we needed to consult God about.

We sat on our couch and I bowed my head and he crossed himself and I started praying. I'm not sure what I expected. Not much, honestly. Usually answers like these take me some time, and the most I get from a single prayer is some clarity of thought, which is needed, but generally it's just a piece of the puzzle.

This time, almost as soon as I started praying, I got the whole puzzle. Or enough of it to completely change my tune. I don't think I have ever gotten such a quick and powerful and clear answer to prayer. And now that I write this out, I'm realizing God answered me by showing me how much I love Sam, by opening up an understanding of how miserable he had been and how miserable he stood to be if we stayed, and urging me to throw everything I had into this change, into this move. To get started immediately; that we couldn't leave soon enough. It was time to go.

I've been on board ever since, and it's been incredible to see what has opened up in the wake of our decision. We decided we'd head for Tucson, since Sam has family there who can help us land on our feet, and we won't be far from my family either. We'll be cobbling an income together with freelance and something like adjunct teaching, which is a bit scary, but hopefully doable. Sam's brother happened to see an ad in the paper a few weeks ago, asking for creative writing teachers for a new community outreach program at the local university. We sent in course proposals, and it looks like we'll both have an opportunity to teach through that program, and we are so excited about it. We'll be teaching what we love, to people who really want to learn it, in a completely low-pressure situation. When I think about that, I am a bit giddy. I really miss teaching.

I could go on about why and how this is the right move, and why I'm sure of it, even if I'm worried about the details sometimes. I probably will go on and on, but for now, I think it's enough to announce the plan. We're heading West, to write, more than anything. We want a life with more flexibility, more ability to raise our daughter together, more people around to love her and squeeze her and witness her magnificence. I have loved this area, and I will miss the people here that I love, but I am ready for big big skies and mild winters (!). I'm a California girl at heart. This move will get me closer.

I keep thinking about something a friend wrote in a card she gave us when we married. She said that when you find someone you love, you jump off a cliff together, and this seems true to me. Every couple jumps into their new life together, hoping it will work and making their plans. And sometimes, when you thought you were settled, you find you have to start over again, to jump again. Last Friday I sat in the car with the baby, waiting for Sam to quit his job, and I went back and forth between thinking we must be crazy and remembering a multitude of conversations with Sam over a multitude of meals, and thinking, "Of course he's quitting; of course we're leaving; of course of course. We were always meant to leave now. Everything has pointed to this all along. It's time."




Saturday, May 25, 2013

In Wonderland: Thoughts on Alice

Watching Alice

Maybe it was all of your awesome comments on my last post, or maybe it was a late morning talk with my mom and a nap while Henrietta napped, but ultimately today was better. Sam is still struggling to bounce back, spending his days in bed, for the most part. So it was all me again this afternoon. And somehow, I didn't hate it. She was giggly today. I bent and unbent my legs after our naps, and she laughed hysterically. I minced my fingers toward her nose and she laughed hysterically. I sang her little songs, and she laughed hysterically. I could get used to that.

It occurred to me that she might want to watch The Brave Little Toaster, a show I used to enjoy when I was a kid. But they didn't have it on Netflix, so we watched the old Disney version of Alice in Wonderland instead. She sat on the rug and watched it, really watched it, her face turned up to the television as if she were seven and not seven months. It's the first time I've ever put a kid's show on for her, and it was strange to watch it through her eyes, to see what it means that these movies are made for kids--bright colors, lively music, singsongy voices.

And then, when it ended, we started it over, because, why not? I sat her on my lap with a tupperware of Cheerios and it felt very peaceful and sweet to sit there with her, watching her chubby yet long fingers chase the Os around. On the second time around, Henrietta laughed at the part where Giant Alice cries Giant tears, then swims in them, and I started to think about that, about crying tears that get too big for us, so we have to swim in them. "Oh dear," says Alice. "I do wish I hadn't cried so much."

It felt good to keep thinking about Alice, to write out some thoughts, to put images and words together. Maybe it's a (prose) poem. Maybe it's nothing. At any rate, it's below.



Curtsy While You're Thinking; It Saves Time

Poor Alice. She's muddled about who she is. She's a monster; she's a weed. She's the white rabbit's Mary Anne. She's too big and then too little and too big and too little again. The world is bright and colorful and it sings for her, but it wants to tell her the rules, wants her to follow them without knowing what they are. Who are you? Who are you? They ask until she doesn't know anymore. Her dreams outpace her, menace over her; she manages to offend them. The hare celebrates nonexistence and the caterpillar blows technicolor smoke in her face. When she asks questions, it's clear she should know the answer.  I'm afraid I'm not myself, she says. I'm afraid. I'm not myself. Household objects grow eyes and legs and menacing necks. It gets dreadfully dark. And still her pinafore stays starched and white, her blue dress buttoned to the top, her hairbow in place, her diction and manners impeccable. She runs faster. Alice, wake up, she begs. Please wake up, Alice.