Thursday, January 31, 2013

Everything is Already Lovely

Do you recall this post, wherein I describe the strategy of letting go of my taxing "shoulds" and instead writing down good things in five categories in order to remind myself that everything, really, is already just fine? Already lovely, even?

I keep coming back to this strategy. I leave off for awhile, when life gets unruly, but when I'm ready to come back to myself and get creative again, I know this is the place to start. I just started a few days ago, and already I'm journaling big ideas, big hopes and dreams and writing plans. When I first wrote the post, I said I might post my list on occasion, and I thought I'd start doing that. Here, my friends, is my list from a few days ago.

Everything is Already Lovely

1. Human Connections: Talking with Sam, strategizing about our lives while we cleaned the kitchen and I made fresh carrot/apple/celery/beet juice. Playing with Baby this morning before we went downstairs. Handing her one toy at a time to try them out and laughing when she shoved them in her mouth with eager pleasure.

2. Food: morning green smoothie with pineapple juice, spinach, yogurt, frozen mango.

3. God: Feeling lonely and strange in my new ward, praying for help and having God answer in the next meeting's lesson, showing me how to be humble and grateful and connected.

4. Goals: Writing this list, blogging more, beginning work on more serious projects, reading a good and inspiring book about Mormon women.

5. Beauty: My made bed. My baby, stopping to look up at me in the middle of nursing when she hears my voice. Watching Sam make the baby laugh.

Tell me: what's already lovely for you these days?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Of Jobs and Mothering, Part 2: Give Me Your Stories?

When I was in high school, my mother planted this idea in my head that I could get my PhD and teach poetry. I really liked this idea. I loved this idea, and I talked about it a lot. I remember being in the backseat of my parents' car, talking about it. I think we were driving to church, and my mother said, "But of course you'll stay home with your kids."

I was flabbergasted, incredulous, "What do you mean I'll stay home? I'll have gone to all of that trouble to get a degree and you expect me to just not use it? Why would I get a degree and then just sit on it? Can't I raise my kids and use my education?" I was a less than charming teenager, brimful of these half-angry questions, but I'm honestly not sure where this question came from. I wasn't, really, that educated. I was smart, but I didn't know much about Feminism. I didn't really know this was a question that had been asked, that was being asked, that every woman had to answer for herself at some point: should or could or did she even want to do both? Culturally, in Mormonism, the official message echoed my mom's assertion: I would stay home and raise my kids. I didn't know a lot of working women (did I know any?), and I'm not sure where the idea came from. Which leads me to believe the question was already in me, that this speaks to something embedded in me long before the idea to get a PhD.

Here is my theory: a woman's inclination in this regard is embedded in her as natively as her eye color. Regardless of social pressure, she's born with either a desire to be home with her children, making a home, or a desire to be a working woman, or a desire to do both. And those are just the sign posts. In reality, I think we all fall along the shades of those landmarks, finding ourselves moving between them fluidly, depending, but always nuanced, more nuanced than we're led to believe.

And the thing that changes things, the wild card, is what happens when we actually grow up, when reality hits. When we have the babies, or the careers, and when neither show up in quite the way we expect them to, and then we have to figure it out.

The way we fall on that continuum, the degree to which our reality matches our inclinations, is, it seems to me, endlessly varied. And a million factors come into play, right? Money and education and health and family support and location and housing and husbands and the temperament of our individual babies and age and on and on. Think about the women you know.  Do they not all work this thing out differently, with varying levels of peace about it? Because this is what I think it's really about, what I think really matters more than messages about where we should or shouldn't be: I think we have two priorities. I think our first priority is to take care of our babies. And I think our second is to take care of our hearts. And both of them are important, deeply deeply important, and our lives as women are about figuring out how to honor both obligations. There are as many ways to do that as there are women.

You know what I think helps? Stories. Telling our stories. I started out talking about this, thinking I had a lot to say. But so far the best part about it has been hearing your stories, hearing how you work (or worked) this out, and how your heart feels in the process. I'll keep posting my story, because I do have more to say, but it struck me this morning to ask for yours.

Will you comment here, or Facebook message me, or write on my wall, or email me (dejaDOTearleyATgmailDOTcom), or send me your messenger pigeon, and tell me, in a paragraph, where your heart is? Please don't think I have an agenda or some sort of sense of which path is superior. My only and truest desire is to hear as many different stories and approaches and longings as I can. I want to hear from you if you're home with your babies, and how you make that work. I want to hear from you if you work full or part-time and how you make that work. I want to hear from you if you don't have babies and want them. I want to hear from you if you don't have babies and don't want them. I want to hear from you if your babies are grown, and how your heart feels now. I want to hear from you. You you you. Spread the word, too, if you're inclined. Ask women with interesting stories to gather here. And when I have a good crop of them, I'll collect them, like I did in this post. And then we'll all read them. And then we'll all feel better.

[Details: posting a comment or contacting me constitutes your permission that I use your words on my blog, though please tell me if you want your name withheld, or if you'd like me to contact you with how I edit your comment (for brevity, or clarity? the editing will probably be light.) before I post it. If you've already commented elsewhere and you want me to use that, tell me where to find it. And if you want an idea for what I'm looking for, read Guili's comment, on this post, which is, along with all of your other comments, what made me long to hear more. Thanks, Guili!]

Monday, January 28, 2013

Adventures in Frugality

I've learned I'm really good at spending money in order to save it. You know what I mean? Buying a bunch of stuff, so you won't have to buy it later. I'm so good at that.

A few weeks ago, when I got my last paycheck, visions of Costco danced in my head, and I headed out, leaving the baby with Sam, planning to stock up so we'd have plenty when my income stopped.

This is not a bad idea, right? But somehow, though I put a bunch of stuff back at the last minute, that total made me gasp inside, and tremble. I did not intend to spend so much. It seemed too late to do anything about it, and I was so frazzled I couldn't think what we didn't need, so I handed over my card and made my way to the exit. As I pushed my cart out the doors, some customers were approaching speaking another language, and I felt like an enormous American pushing her enormous cart full of enormous food.

The whole drive home, I felt bad. I mean, this is the sort of thing I really feel bad about, and I wondered what I should take back and what I should have done differently, and I prayed, asking God to help me think through this, to know how I should play my cards in the future. We had the money for that kind of price tag at that precise moment, but we wouldn't for long, and I needed to get a handle on this frugality thing or we'd be in a world of trouble.

I know the tips and I know about budgeting and I could think of all kinds of grand gestures of extreme and really punishing penance, and I trust we'll make our way to some of those strategies. But in the middle of the night, when I lay back down after feeding the baby, I felt like God told me to be gentle with myself. (He usually says something along those lines.) And this is the phrase that popped into my head: No Surprises at the Register.

It's almost pathetically simple, right? But I feel like it's the wisest start. I mean, retail culture is designed for surprises at the register. There are so many products and prices and sales and aisles and advertising, and you fill this big cart with everything that strikes your fancy, and at the register, with people behind you and an impatient cashier, it feels too late to re-think decisions.

I'm finding if I follow this, it works. I can decide if it's a wise time to buy whatever I feel (frantically) like I need to stock up on, or if we ought to wait. It helps me divide needs and wants. I stay in control of my fate.

Tell me: what are your (gentle) strategies, for frugality or otherwise?

Of Jobs and Motherhood, Part 1: Boxing it All

Last Wednesday we went into Boston so I could clear out my office. We brought Henrietta, and I met with my (former) boss and she got us a box, and I put everything in it: My notes to myself, my pictures of Sam, my lemon pepper for my lunches, my purple velvet ballet flats I used to change into after wearing my snow boots into work, my framed prints. I threw out stale walnuts and old soup and dozens of sandwich baggies and grocery sacks I'd kept just in case I needed to bring something home on the train.

My coworkers gathered around the door to my office, there to see the baby and say hello. They were so kind and asked nice questions about Henrietta and said how pretty and alert she was and Sam told them about our new house. I cleared out all of my files while Henrietta fussed, and Sam held her, telling her we were almost done, it was almost time to go home.

It was cold that day, very cold. My car temperature said it was 12 degrees outside when we left home, and it felt colder in the shadow of the buildings. When we left my office, I put the baby in the back of the car, and Sam arranged my box of belongings in the seat beside her. Two years of my working life fit in a box on the seat next to my baby. We cranked up the heat and headed home, and I tried not to cry. 

The process of resigning my position has been longer than I expected, with various landmarks, all of which made me feel weepy. There was the day I told my boss I probably wasn't coming back, that the commute from Lowell and the cost of daycare would make it impossible. There was the day I told HR, which was while we were on vacation in Arizona, and the rest of the day I held back tears and sighed heavily, and wrote my sisters to ask them to cheer me up, to tell me how great it would be to be at home. And there was today, when I cleaned out my office and handed back in my key fob, and I didn't expect to feel sad, since I'd already worked through my feelings about it, but I felt sad.

Here's what I'm trying to say, and what I hope to work through here: making this decision to not return to work has been one of the most complicated and emotional decisions of my life, more so than I expected it to be. I was a working woman with an ambitious trajectory for a lot of years. And though I was ready for Henrietta, and she's a sweet sweet part of my life, I'm still feeling rather complicated about the whole thing, and having some big (complicated) realizations about what it means to be a woman, generally. So I'd like to publish a few posts in this vein (though with breaks in between for other thoughts). I plan to highlight a few of my emotions, in the hopes of making sense of them. 

Join me as I do so? Tell me what you think? I'd love to hear from you. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Concerning Introductions

I've been thinking about a day over a year ago, when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. I'd later lose that pregnancy thirteen weeks in, but mostly when I found out, I was terrified. I mean, I was excited at first, but on the heels of that excitement came the holy-wow-what-on-earth-am-i-doing feeling. They say when you have a baby your life is changed the instant you give birth, and that's true of course, but in a way my life changed then, the first time I found out.

I almost instantly felt eclipsed, like I was disappearing, like I'd never be "me" again. I worried about the baby, about the things he or she would have to go through, about all of the sadness and struggle involved in a normal human life. I worried I wouldn't know how to help, or that the sadness of his/her sadness would overwhelm me beyond my capacity to function. This wasn't an unreasonable fear: incapacitating sadness is something I'm familiar with, and there have been times when I've more or less disappeared, so that wasn't an unreasonable fear, either.

One morning, a few days after I found out I was pregnant, I walked to the train to take it into work. I was feeling overwhelmed and worried and sad and every part of me was focused on my abdomen, where all of this change was radiating from. When I brushed my bag against my belly, I wondered if the baby could feel it.

I boarded the train, and as we crossed the river headed into the city, the song on my iPod talked about walking in the rain, and I remembered it would be my job to show the baby the rain, and somehow this turned everything around. The rain! And the river! And the train! And music! And cats! And every other wonderful thing. I'd be the means of introduction. That was a job I could get behind.

Thinking through that lens, I thought again about that disappearing feeling, and I thought, well, yes, I probably would disappear as I knew myself, but I would appear and loom large for this particular person, this baby, this creature that would be part me and part Sam and part God and part absolutely no one but him/herself, and what a lovely thing that would be, to be someone new entirely.

We reached the other side of the river, and I noticed a girl seated across the way who had a big scar down the front of her chest, but she was clearly lovely and happy and doing fine, and it must have been a long time ago, whatever it was that had caused that scar. I realized it would do no good to worry about what the baby would have to deal with. He or she would deal with a multitude of somethings, but all of those somethings would be meaningful, and even if things were ugly and messy and scary and hard, I was the means to bring him or her here, to Planet Earth, and that was no small thing. No small gift from me, for him or her, for the world.

I try to think about that morning's insights when those fears and feelings resurface, as they do now and then. I lean in, so I'm looking right into Henrietta's eyes, and she smiles back, and it's clear I'm anything but invisible to her. I take her out for a walk and show her the snow, and the little face carved into the tree, and the giant fluffy clouds, and I'm glad it's my job to say, "Henrietta, meet The World; World, meet Henrietta."


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I'm in a love affair with kale.

We eat a lot of kale around here. Tonight we sauteed it using more or less this method, then put it over rice and pinto beans with a bit of sour cream, and, friends, it was an awesome meal.

Lately, about once a week, I make an enormous kale salad, and, miraculously, it lasts and lasts. The salad I make is inspired by this one. I stay pretty true to it, but I'll walk you through what I do, because, seriously, if you want masses of veggies to get inside of your body, this is a salad worth making.

Let me back up to say I recently went through a phase of thinking I didn't like salad at all. I was perpetually disappointed when ordering them at restaurants, and though there were some salads that other folks made that had me heaping my plate high, I couldn't seem to figure out what the common denominator was, and I was getting discouraged. And you know what I think? I think I love salad, but I'm extremely picky. And one thing that will kill it for me faster than anything else is anything (and I mean anything) remotely slimy. You know spring mix? It has to be beyond fresh for me to like it, and let's face it: spring mix is usually a little slimy, right?

That's why this salad turned out to be the answer, I think. It's all about crunchy.

Oh, and another reason I wasn't eating salad at home? Takes too long. I didn't have the patience (or the time) to cut up a ton of veggies every time I wanted a salad. This salad answers that, too, since I do it all in one go, and then I have a heaping bowl of it for days, and it takes me ten seconds to pull it out and put dressing on it. It's beauty, is what it is.

Okay, so here's what I do:

1. Procure the following: a head of kale, 4-5 good-sized carrots, 4-5 celery stalks, 8 or so radishes, 1/2 a fennel/anise bulb.

2. Wash everything real good.

3. Cut up the kale. Cut it up really small. If you click on that link above for the salad, she shows you how small, but it's like dime-sized. This is the key, here, I think. You don't want big pieces of kale or they'll be way too scratchy in your mouth. Scratchy in your mouth is no good, am I right?

4. Cut up all of your other veggies really small, too. The gal on the other blog says to imagine you're cutting everything up for a salsa, but listen, that takes too long, and aside from the kale, the veggies don't need to be that small. I give them some preliminary slicing--like I cut the carrots in half length-wise and slice them down the center, same for the celery. I cut the radishes in halves or fourths, depending on how big they are, and I cut the fennel/anise however I can (it's an awkward shape). Then I push everything through my food processor, and that's plenty small.  

5. Mix it all up, but only dress the bit you plan to eat. The original recipe calls for a light dressing of lemon juice and zest, olive oil, salt and pepper. But I've also had to face the fact that I'm not a simple dressing type. I like a lot of flavor, and I like it a bit sweet, frankly, though I usually use stevia to sweeten it. I always make my own, as it's about a billion times better than store-bought, once you know the formula. (Shall I do a post on how to make a good at-home dressing?) I made a pear vinaigrette, and that paired (ha!) nicely with this salad, but I think I love this Cumin Cinnamon Vinaigrette the best. So good on there.

Sometimes I throw on some goat cheese, but honestly, this salad is just crunchy and wonderful as-is. It takes some work prepping everything, but good grief, it's worth it to have salad in an instant for days to come. So far, it's lasted four days in pristine condition. It would probably last longer, but I've eaten to fast to know.

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Baby Makes me Brave: On the Thoughts of Strangers

On our way out to Utah, Sam and I stopped to eat in a restaurant in the Boston Logan airport. As we walked in, Henrietta was fussing a little, and I tried to decide if this meant she was hungry or tired or wet or what. I suspected she was hungry and this was distressing because we were seated at a table right next to a couple having a quiet meal, and they seemed to be glad to be having their quiet meal, and I somehow got this vibe that they would not be interested in having me feed my baby one seat over.

I'm a discrete breastfeeder, dedicated to using a cover, but still. You know this vibe? This sort of stiffening in the room when you walk in with a baby? I mean, there are rooms I've walked in that I can instantly tell are full of moms, or people who understand kids, and I feel like whatever goes down is going to be okay. But when I sense that stiffening, when I can tell people are eyeing my baby like it's only a matter of time before she ruins their meal, it makes me nervous.

I was nervous about this couple. They ordered another glass of wine, and the man looked out the window, and the woman pushed around the french fries on her plate. They weren't talking much, and I wondered if they were having a disagreement, or had just generally run out of things to say. I pulled the baby out of her seat, tried to bounce and hold her into chilling out, but she was having none of it. Sam tried to walk her around the terminal a little, but she didn't wish to walk about. She was hungry. There was only one way to fix it. And though I knew they wouldn't dig on her crying through the meal, I somehow thought they wouldn't be keen on my breastfeeding in public, either.

You see, I'm the kind of person who cares a lot what people think. I wish this weren't so. I think about what you might think of me and I try to anticipate and control it and it's endlessly impossible. But this is one of the lovely things about this baby: I'm learning how not to care. There's this focused priority, this person I'm somehow more comfortable being responsible for than I am being responsible for myself, and if it comes down to disappointing the couple next to me or feeding my hungry baby, I feed my hungry baby. Their peaceful grown-up lunch be damned. I'd rather have Henrietta happy. It's deeply liberating.

So I fed her, and she made her slurping happy noises, and by the time the couple got up to leave she was back in her car seat, kicking her legs and cooing happily. And the woman bent down to me as she was leaving and said, "You're lucky to have such a sweet baby."

So see? Maybe I have no idea what people are thinking anyway. Maybe the stiffening is in me, and I project it out into the room ahead of me. But all I know is that I've spent my whole life trying to listen to the part of me that knows what needs to be done, and that part of me is much less muddley now. What a relief.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013

I Dream of Jiro: A Movie Recommendation

Have you seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi? I watched it the other night while I was getting the baby to sleep, and it was such a lovely film. It's a documentary about an 85-year-old man in Japan, Jiro Ono, who has dedicated his life to making the perfect sushi. He has a small restaurant (just ten seats!) and it's ranked as one of the best in the world. It takes three months to get a reservation, and a meal there costs $300. He obsesses over quality ingredients, over how long his assistants massage the octopus to make it tender, over the seating arrangements of his customers.

And this is what gets me: he is so happy. He says all day, as he makes sushi, he's ecstatic. He says the way to live your life is to find something you really love doing and dedicate yourself to it. I wonder if that's so. When I first watched it, I thought he was right, and I wondered what on earth I could give myself to with that much ecstasy, but then I read this review by Roger Ebert, and Ebert asks some significant questions, I think. He asks, for example, "If you find  an occupation you love and spend your entire life working at it, is that enough?" The way he frames the question (and the rest of the review) makes the answer implicit: no. And yet, it's a lot, isn't it? If Jiro says he's ecstatic all day, making sushi, do we assume he's fooling himself? Or that he's lonely and miserable when he's not making sushi? Are there occupations we believe would fulfill us if we could manage to give our lives to them? When we manage to, are we right?

Anyway, if you get a chance, check it out. I'd love to hear what you think.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

My First True Mom Moment

I don't how it is for everyone else, but I definitely had that feeling, when they sent us home from the hospital, that maybe it wasn't a good idea to send the baby home with me. I mean, I liked her well enough, but I wasn't a mom. I was just a person who had a baby.

And while that identity has been slowly solidifying ever since, I really think I became a mom--or at least gained some confidence as one--in a single moment when she was about three weeks old. This is how it went down.

Sam had been on a work-related trip for three days. Well, one full day and two half days, but it felt like three years. She of course screamed most of the night the first night he was gone, and I only got her to calm down and sleep by taking her out to my car at one a.m. and driving around until she zonked out. I spent the next day--literally, all of it--going to Target, getting her a motorized swing, getting the swing back home and assembling it one-handed while I held her, realizing it needed batteries, wearing her in a moby wrap down to the convenience store in the rain to get the dumb batteries, all to earn a few hours of peace while she slept and swung. (It was worth it.)

And on the third day, the day Sam was coming home, I got her ready to go well ahead of time, strapped her into her car seat, and put on her warm hat. I was relieved we had both survived We headed out for the airport, and she started screaming. Oh, she was wailing. And as I drove, I tried to decide whether she was just going to wail all the way the airport, or if there was something I could do.

I thought, as we neared the freeway entrance, that it was possible her little hat was covering her eyes. Her cry sounded a little like the way she'd cried previously when her hat was in her eyes, and I wondered if it would be foolish to pull over and check. I sort of laughed at myself in my head--as if I could tell what her cries sounded like already, and as if it would really be worth it to pull over and put on my hazard lights and get out of the car. It seemed a bit extreme. I wondered about my future self, a seasoned mom with more than one kid, and I wondered if that future self would look back at this silly new-mom self, and think, "Oh, honey."

Listening to her cry, I realized I didn't give a darn what that future seasoned mom self thought, and I pulled over. Maybe I'd be wrong, and maybe we'd drive the whole way there with her crying, but maybe there would be something I could do. Sure enough, when I crawled in the backseat, there she was, hat covering her eyes. And as soon as I pulled it up and gave her back her pacifier, she settled down. She slept the whole way to the airport.

In the silence of that car, I felt like hooting and hollering. It was maybe one of the biggest highs of my life. I was a mom! There was this little person who was upset and I fixed it! I had an impulse--a motherly impulse--and lo and behold, it was correct. The city of Boston was spread out in front of me as I drove, the buildings looking like jeweled boxes, and I remembered being a little girl and feeling excited at the sight of a city, and I had an idea of driving into Boston with Henrietta when she got a little older, and I wondered if it would look as magical for her as it had for me. Either way, the city was magical that night, seeing it as a mom, seeing it through the someday-eyes of my baby. It was the first time I felt like maybe the hospital was right to send her home with me, of all people. With little old me.

Friday, January 18, 2013

On Her Name

I've gotten questions about Henrietta's name, and I thought I'd officially answer.

Her name is Henrietta Plum Ruddick, and we'll start with the last name, which is indeed Ruddick, not Plum, as some have assumed. I wouldn't have put it past us to give her an entirely original last name--one neither of us share--but the truth is that we're more traditional than we seem. Though I've toyed with going back to my maiden name (and I do publish under it), now that she's here I rather like that we're all Ruddicks, and I doubt I'll ever bother to go back.

On Plum. This is honestly a product of dozens of very lengthy (and fun (bordering on tedious)) conversations between Sam and I while I was pregnant, trying to settle on her name. We'd suggest whatever would pop into our heads, whatever we'd see out the window or put our finger to in a book:

Me: "Stopsign Ruddick. Stop Ruddick. Spot Ruddick. Hester Spot Ruddick."

Sam: "Book Ruddick. Diet Coke Ruddick. Lotion Ruddick."

Me: "Lotion Ruddick does have a nice ring to it, but no."

That sort of thing, though that's not an exact memory.

And once, during one of these conversations, Sam suggested Plum. He suggested it because he was reading a book by a man with the middle name Plumb. And somehow this stuck. Eventually these conversations would narrow, so we were just trying on a handful of first names with a handful of middle names. And sometimes we'd settle on a pair, and we'd get very excited and I'd say, "Tell her! Tell her the name!" And Sam would lean down to my stomach, cupping my pregnant belly on either side, and he'd whisper the name we'd picked.

Of course the next morning we'd be less sure. And the process would start all over again. But Plum stuck.

I don't know what Plum means, exactly. But it makes me think of three things that make me glad: the first is that rich, deep purple, and I like thinking of that color. The second is a plum tree in my grandmother's front yard, which grew fruit that rich, deep color, and had reddish leaves, and I loved that tree. And the last is a sculpture in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral in England that I once saw, because the man looking down at his palms is said to be "plumbing the depths of his soul."

And her first name is after my father's grandmother, Henrietta Calder Earley, a woman I never met, but grew up hearing stories about, and who was very kind to my mother. I've always felt close to her for some reason, and when I was in the hospital getting the cerclage put in, I somehow felt like she was hanging around there, making sure the baby and I were okay. My parents say this is absolutely something she would do, that she loved babies, and loved my dad's children, and would have wanted to help as best she could. I think I knew then that the baby's name would be Henrietta, though I'd mentioned it before then, and we continued to play the name game afterward.

Of course, when she actually arrived, we didn't really feel settled at all. Well, I was settled, but Sam remained unconvinced. And every morning and afternoon for the first few days of our stay, the birth certificate woman would come around and very politely ask if we'd settled on her name, and I'd have to say that no, we hadn't. I would somehow usually be alone when this happened, so we Sam got there I would ask him about it, and Sam would hold the baby, sitting at the foot of my bed, and explain that somehow it didn't feel right to name her, that it felt presumptuous somehow. I knew what he meant. It did suddenly seem an enormous job to give her the name she'd carry for the rest of her life. Even now, while I feel sure we gave her the right name intellectually, I'm still somehow more comfortable thinking of and calling her Baby. Sometimes I look at her and think, "This is Henrietta. Henrietta." And I can hardly believe it.

Slowly, the name becomes stickier, and becomes more and more her. Soon she'll be trying to say it herself, and it will be an absolute mouthful. I plan on letting her decide how she might shorten it, though I'm collecting options: Hetty, Retta, Etta (my favorite, I think), Rie, Hen, Henny, HP, and (Sam's favorite, for now) Hank.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ode to Routine, Part 2 (Keeping It Real)

I wrote that post last night, after a sweet day when it all worked, you know? And then, of course, I couldn't sleep until after midnight, even though she had gone to bed obligingly around eight. She generally sleeps well, but last night was a doozy--up at 1:30, then 2:00, then half a dozen times between 2:30 and 4, at which point I brought her to bed with me, hoping to just survive the night.

Sam took her in the morning so I could sleep in, but there was no such routine today. When Sam left for a meeting on campus, I put her in her swing and curled up under quilts on the couch, but no sleep came. And all day I dragged. It snowed hard, and we went out for Pho, and when we came back I tried to rally myself by going on our afternoon walk, but it literally felt like I was dragging my own body behind me, and I turned back home early.

At which point the despair set in: my house is messy and how will I ever make dinner and she's never going to sleep again and I feel lousy and so on. You know this story, too? So we adjusted, and ate leftovers, and I just set her down to bed, and plan to follow her. Maybe we'll have a night like last night, but I hope to have more sleep under my belt before it begins in earnest.

Really I just wanted to say, before signing off, that I figured out when she was three weeks old that this is the hardest job I've ever had, and routine or no, that's still true. Though there are sweet bits, even on days where the magic ingredient of sleep is absent, though I loved seeing her face peek out from her cozy blankets to watch the snow on our walk, and though I liked reading her Goodnight Moon by the light of her nightlight, not every day is as worthy of the exuberance I expressed yesterday. Lest you think I'm some freak of motherhood nature, it seemed I ought to say so before I close my eyes and hope for a better night.

Here I go.

Ode to Routine

Greetings, Earthlings.

We're developing a routine, the lady and I. Would you like to hear a slice of it?

Though she wakes up at various earlier points, she's generally ready to join the world around eight, and she cries to say so, and I creep into her bedroom and peer over the side of her crib, where she's flopping around like a green fish in her green swaddle. And at some point in her flopping and wailing she'll see me standing there, and she'll stop, and she'll look up at me and grin and flex her legs in joy--the full-body smile, my dad calls it. Obviously this is the most significant world event of the morning, this smile.

I scoop her up and feed her and change her and pick out her outfit--another favorite task--and bring her down to the kitchen. She kicks and talks to me (so to speak) from her throne--a baby seat I put up on the kitchen island--and I tell her about the day ahead, talking her through the ingredients of my green smoothie and details of my toast-making, and then she sits with me while I eat it. As I near the end of my green smoothie, she lets me know it has all grown rather tedious, and she would please like her blanket and her pacifier, and a nap. I put her in her swing with the essential nap accessories and she drifts off.

I scurry while she's asleep, taking a bath, starting the laundry, loading the dishwasher gingerly, scolding Sam for laughing at the television and putting her nap in peril. And we do this all day, this spin around the wheel of her infant existence--sleep, eat, play, sleep, eatplaysleep, with diaper changes interspersed. Sam and I frequently call one another in from the other room to witness her adorableness, or her remarkably firm grip on her rattle, or her effortless (yet disconcerting!) turn from her back to her tummy. And in the afternoon I put her in her warmest little suit and we head outdoors. I listen to a podcast with one ear, and stare down at her as we take laps around the block. The podcasts are my lifeline to the outside world, and they make me laugh out loud, and I hear my laugh echo off the houses, and I know I am happy.

Late in the afternoon, Sam watches her while I put dinner on the table,and the entire time I marvel at myself: "I am getting dinner on the table!" I say in my head. And while there's another part of my head, a part that's sort of baffled and a little sad that I'm not putting on my jewelry and my grown-up shoes and going to work, that's a discussion for another post (or several other posts--I have a lot to say).

And this particular post is an ode to a mundane routine, a routine that hasn't gotten old yet, a routine that has somehow made everything click into place for me and brought me more joy than I expected. Someday soon I'll be weaving freelance work and more me-time into my days, and I'm slowly beginning to now. But the truth is that everything feels significant and sweet still, and I narrowly resist taking a picture at each and every one of these routine moments.

You'll have to forgive me my exuberance. I am in love.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Thoughts on Her Blessing

Two days after Christmas, my family and a few very close friends gathered at my parents' house and my father gave Henrietta a blessing. She wore a dress that Sam's mother wore, and Sam wore to be christened, and it was the most beautiful article of clothing I have ever seen. She was the most beautiful baby, and I sat in front of her as she was blessed, sneaking glances at her enormous wide-open eyes and her kicking feet. When I welcomed those who attended, I tried to say a version of what I wrote below, but I was pretty emotional and I'm not sure how clear I was. So I record it here, on the first day of 2013. 2012 was a good year. A very good year. 

A few years ago, I was working on gaining a sense of God's love. I was taught from the time I was a little girl to recognize the evidence of his love--the tangible, physical manifestations of it, the hand he played in blessing me and my family. But I confess: I'd never felt it, never experienced or gained a sense of it as an emotion he had toward me. And this one night, I really wanted to feel that. It was raining when I drove home from wherever I was, and when I got inside and realized Sam was asleep, I drew the warmest bath I could stand, climbed in, and prayed. I prayed until the water was cold and I was shivering a little; I prayed that God would help me feel his love for me. I told him I needed to feel it. But I didn't feel anything. I climbed out of the tub and dried off. I was disappointed.


Another night, a few months ago, I was up with Henrietta at three in the morning. She was less than two weeks old, and I had dropped my parents off at the airport that day. They had been here for ten days, taking very good care of us. My dad had attended faithfully to the list of small projects I'd been saving for him; my mother made meals and cleaned them up and gently helped when I had questions about how to care for a baby. But mostly they just loved us all and held Henrietta while I slept, and let her sit on the table in her little chair while we ate--the most adorable centerpiece in the world. Those were some of the sweetest days of my life, and that night, having dropped them off at the airport, I missed them fiercely. Sam's mom wasn't in town yet, and Sam was sleep-snoring in bed, and the baby was awake like there was a party she'd promised to attend, and I was so exhausted, and I felt so alone and overwhelmed that I cried as I rocked her, cried for and rocked us both, wishing someone would rescue us.

I began to pray as I rocked and cried, and almost immediately I was flooded with a sense (or an almost-memory) of myself as a baby, being held as I was holding Henrietta, in the middle of the night, by my parents who loved me. And I realized it felt similar to how it had felt for them to be there, holding both of us through those early difficult and sweet days. I knew I would stay up with Henrietta all night if I had to, that I would do absolutely anything to make her happy. And more than that, even if she choose to be the most miserable creature on the planet, I would stay with her and love her because I wanted to, because there was nothing else I'd rather do in the world. The power of that emotion nearly knocked me over. The realization that my parents had felt that way meant I was worth more than I'd ever supposed. And I could also feel that this was how God felt about me too, that all of us, as his children, were tied to this love I'd always longed to feel, and there it was, waiting for me, hidden plainly in how I'd feel about my own child. My place in my family and in the universe had never made so much sense.

Getting to know Henrietta as a little soul, and becoming her mother by extension, have answered a lot of things that have never made as much intuitive sense as I'd like them to make. My whole life I've been somewhat baffled not only by God's love, but also by things like community and service and work and (to be honest) sex and saving money and housework and on and on, and one by one, her very existence seems to be ironing all of that out. My difficult pregnancy taught me about community by showing me how naturally and beautifully a community rallies around and supports new life. Spending my days taking care of her has taught me about service, about service that doesn't come out of choice or even forcing oneself (though sometimes, I admit, there's a bit of forcing myself), but out of doing the next thing that makes sense because your heart is full of another person. My partnership with Sam is sweeter and more focused. I'm finding there's something satisfying about digging into housework putting things in order. I worry less what other people think of me. I worry less about my dress-size. I feel inclined to frugality, which is truly miraculous. I could go on and on, and I probably will in later posts. But to sum up, it's true what Sam's friend told us before she was born: the instant your first baby arrives, the whole world changes.

Dear Henrietta, thank you for coming. You're a beautiful change.