Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Creature with a Will

This is her cousin-watching face, which she wore basically the entire time we were in California. She took it all in. 

So we're home. We were in California for six days, and now we're home and reeling from the slap of real life--laundry and grocery shopping and doctor's visits and insane sleep trouble and jet lag and dinner. I'm supposed to make dinner. Can you believe that? It's nutty. And I think Henrietta is missing her cousins. Her cousins (ranging in age from 3 to 15) were fascinating. My baby is a social creature, it turns out, and she watched them as intently as you see above, as if what she learned from them would shortly save her life. Watching her cousin B jump on the trampoline was, as it turns out, totally hysterical. And her parents, on the other hand, are just not that interesting. The poor, bored dear.

While away, she amassed a number of firsts: she played the drums, played in a pool, stuck her toes in the freezing Pacific Ocean, tried an apple, ate a few baby crackers, went for walks galore in the mountains and on the beach boardwalk, watched kid TV, and pet a small dog (don't tell Sam that last part ...). There was this marvelous day, last Sunday, when I attended church with my family, and then we all made ridiculously good fish tacos together. (Don't worry, I ate fish tacos three times in the first three days I was there.) We ate them outside (!), on my sister's pretty patio, and the baby laughed at her cousins' antics. Though she laughed, Henrietta wasn't feeling well, so she took a very long nap in my arms, and I sat quietly, giving myself entirely to her for a good long sleep while the rest of the grown-ups took a long walk. Then we all made healthy(ish) desserts and my nieces dyed Easter eggs, and we watched a movie together. It was one of those perfect days, you know? I lay in bed that night, thinking back over it, and I just wanted to do it again.

Maybe all of that cousin-watching is to blame, but she came home an entirely different baby. And I know I keep talking about how fast she's changing, but she really is changing so fast. She now has two tiny bottom teeth. Teeth! And the teeth seem to have coincided with a new surge of willfulness. She has opinions she's more sure of, and she's more adamant about them. I find myself, to my astonishment, beginning to tell her no. I don't know why this is so astonishing. I suppose because, for the first 5+ months of her life, I didn't have occasion to say no to her. I mean, I said no, but it was in that sweet sort of way you tell a newborn no. No no, darling, no no. And now I'm beginning to say no and mean it. I mean, I really mean it when I tell her, "No! Don't roll over and eat the basket while I'm trying to change your diaper!" "No! You may not dive head first off of the couch!" "No! Let go of the kitty's neck!" I know all of this is mostly worthless to tell her at this point. And I know this is just the beginning. We will bang our wills together for the rest of my life, I'm sure. But it's odd to watch it beginning, to just begin to see and feel her wanting things very badly, and to not be inclined to allow it, either for her safety, or because it happens to be my bowl of brown rice and peppers and chicken.

It's all at once lovely and disturbing to watch these changes. I miss my six-week-old, and I can't wait for her to toddle around behind me. And of course, all I can really do is try to drink in moments, like this one: trying to hold her off from bedtime this evening (so she' d get good and sleepy), I sat on the couch with her, looking right in her eyes and singing her "I Am a Child of God." I don't think she's ever been so attentive while I was singing, and she watched me so so carefully, watched my lips and my eyes and smiled at me very slightly and sweetly, as if she knew that song from somewhere, as if she remembered it from when I've sung it before. I could hardly get through singing it, I was so moved.

All told, it's good to be home.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

We've Learned An Important Lesson

Henrietta tries out the Pacific, and finds it bafflingly cold. 

Well, we've learned an important lesson: when I'm on vacation with my family, blogging doesn't happen. Henrietta and I were in California, visiting my parents and my sisters and their families. It was basically heaven: warm and sunny and Henrietta giggled profusely.

I hope to get back to regularly scheduled programming soon, but in the meantime, here's a guest post that went up last week at Doves and Serpents. It's another part of my "Of Jobs and Motherhood" story. In short, when I was pregnant I applied and got accepted to Divinity School at Harvard and Boston College. It was heady and exciting, and then confusing. Check out the post to read more.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

None of Us are Spared

I'm beginning to think none of us are spared worrying over our bodies, thinking they're not good enough, destroying ourselves over this and that about them when there are other things we can and would like to think about. (Do you know anyone who is spared? Do such creatures exist?) Thank you for reading and responding to my post about it. Just before I hit publish, I worried it wasn't as universal as I thought, that this time I was really exposing myself. And as I read your comments, part of me was glad I wasn't the only one, and the other part of me was thinking, "You, too? You worry about your body?"

It reminds me of a moment in the women's meeting at church (Relief Society) a few years ago, when this gorgeous woman stood up to talk about how plagued she was by self-deprecating thoughts, how she never felt good enough or clever enough or pretty enough, and what she was doing to work on it. And I remember sitting there thinking, "You? If you don't feel good about yourself, I am totally screwed." But pretty quickly I realized that if they were so clearly lies when they applied to her, they surely must be lies when applied to myself. I've never felt so sure that it was all nonsense.

This essay is, I think, one of the most beautiful responses to the nonsense that I've ever heard.

One more thought. A friend wrote me today to thank me for the post, and she said this incredibly apt thing:  "I don't have those thoughts because I AM fat or ugly or awkward. But because my brain is confused about what is important, real, or worth thinking about." 

Isn't that the just well-said? I hope to remember it next time I begin spiraling.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Singing Them for Comfort

I'm particularly fond of her wee crossed feet.
Henrietta is teething. There have been indications of teething for months, but now we're into some pretty fussy territory. I'm not sure that what we did Sunday night could be categorized as sleeping, and last night wasn't much better. She's quicker to cry in general, and by afternoon she's pretty much spent, which she expresses by screaming. I realize we're lucky that this is fairly unusual behavior.

Tonight as I was trying to get her sleep, I sang to her, and I realized how grateful I am to have a repertoire of songs from my Mormon upbringing. I make up a lot of songs during the day, inserting her name here and there, rhyming sweet with feet, that sort of thing. (Sam has a killer song about her comfort rabbit, Elroy. I need to get him to record it for me.) But when she's upset, when she needs the big guns, I go for the hymns. I often sing her "Come, Come, Ye Saints" (which Sam also requests when upset). I sing her "How Firm a Foundation" and "Nearer, My God, to Thee" and "I Am a Child of God" and "A Child's Prayer" and "For the Beauty of the Earth" and "Lead, Kindly Light" and "Be Still, My Soul."

Tonight as I sang, she looked up at me in the dark, finally finally calm, after a little help from Children's Ibuprofen. And she just watched me, eyes wide in the dark as I sang and sang, and then hummed and hummed, and rocked her, and patted her backside, and wondered what on earth I would do without those songs in my head. They've comforted me and been a fixture of my faith for as long as I can remember, so it's meaningful to sing them to her. Sometimes I worry what I'll be able to pass onto her, faith-wise, but when I'm singing those songs, I feel pleased that I'm beginning in a place that feels absolutely authentic to me. At least she'll have some vague recollection of those tunes and words, and a legacy of singing them for comfort.

Monday, March 18, 2013

On Pictures and Memory and Bodies

BYU graduation, with niece.
I've been looking through old pictures, trying to find something in particular for another post (which I can't find; grrr), and I keep finding these pictures that I remember feeling terrible about when they were taken, but now, looking at them years later, I wish I could step into them and tell that younger self to chill out, to relax, and furthermore, that she is lovely.

Tennyson Downs, 2003.

This happens to you, right? That you get a picture developed (remember developing pictures?!) and you don't look at the lovely place you were, or think about the people you were with, because you're focused 100% on your thighs or your hair or your eyebrows or your [insert-insecurity-here]. And when the picture resurfaces years later, you stare and stare at it, remembering feeling bad, but not being able to re-conjure why on earth you felt that way. I can't tell you how many rolls of film I've looked through, my eyes zeroing in on every complaint I have about me, as if I took the film for evidence, to confirm or deny my worth, rather than for memory's sake. My sisters and I used to say that every bad picture destroyed two weeks of self esteem. We'd flip through a stack of pictures, tallying them up, saying, "Two weeks, four weeks, six weeks." We'd estimate we might begin to recover from looking at that stack sometime in June.


Chicago

But to say that I wanted to step in these pictures and tell my younger self to relax is an understatement. Lately I'm so tired of body image issues that I wish I could shake that younger self and scream at her to stop thinking about her thighs. Because here's the thing I've realized recently: thinking about my thighs is so profoundly boring.  I wrote another post about this, and then decided to turn it into an essay, but I still want to say this. I want to shout it. The problem with obsessing over our bodies and hating them, hating them in the mirror and in pictures, thinking about them in the past and fretting over them in the present, and letting our sadness about them make us shy and frightened and live quieter than we mean to, the problem is that it's the most boring thing in the world. I mean, look at me in these pictures. I'm not saying I'm a supermodel. I am chubby and a little awkward and I have been my entire life, frankly. But I was in some of the most beautiful places in the world, in my world: the Provo River, graduating, Chicago, Tennyson Downs. And in every single one of them, I was either on a diet, or flagellating myself into trying my next one. When I looked at these pictures, I was devastated that I wasn't smaller and prettier. Now this breaks my heart.

The Lake District


And I don't want to do it anymore. I'm angry I've spent so much of my time thinking about this, about the imperfections of my body, and I don't want to spend another second thinking about them. I feel like plastering these pictures all over my house. Not in vanity, not so I can gaze at my mug all day. But so I can remember. I want to remember. I want to tell myself, you were lovely, lovely, lovely. You must still be. Not just in retrospect, not just after more years have made my fresh face seem fresher. But now, now now now, in the middle of new beautiful places, I'm already lovely.

Provo River




Friday, March 15, 2013

Welcome



I've been in a bit of a slump this week. A funk. Sloggy and a little sad for no particular reason. I've spent a lot of time on my couch, wondering which of the following might make me feel better: a nap, making a healthy and delicious dinner, vacuuming the stairs, taking a walk, playing with baby, writing. And since exactly none of them seem like they'll make me feel that much better, I stumble upstairs, opting to try the nap, since it requires the least effort.

Yesterday was a weird day, particularly in the morning, and in the afternoon Sam and I went out to run some errands. On the way home we listened to NPR coverage of the presentation of the new pope to the world. Sam was driving, occasionally shouting at the reporters for pinheadedness, and I sat in the passenger seat, looking out the window, feeling sloggy and still not sure why. I had wanted to tell Sam all sorts of stuff about this and that, but I was quiet so he could listen. It was good for me to be quiet. Sometimes I forget that we're both in an interfaith marriage, and this was an important moment for him, one that deserved my silent respect, even if it was tinged with grumpiness.


Mostly, the reporters did a great job of evoking a scene halfway across the world. The throngs of people in the rain holding brightly-colored umbrellas, the white smoke snaking up into the sky, the Swiss guard carrying their pikes. We were on route 3, waiting for the new pope to step out onto the balcony and greet the world. And the moment when he did step out was exciting. The choice took the reporters off-guard completely, and it was amusing to hear them fumble and imagine their researchers scrambling.

If I'm honest, this didn't feel as sweet and memorable yesterday as it did this morning, when the baby woke me and I fed her, and realized that I was beginning to feel better, that the slump was slipping away. The baby and I took as long for that feeding as we wanted, utterly unrushed. She even fell back asleep in my arms, and I held her until she woke up again, thinking while she slept of yesterday, and what that must have meant to Sam.



Does this ever happen to you, that something is only lovely in memory? That maybe you were on vacation, but you were hungry and your feet hurt, so it was only later when you were comfortable and home and wearing your PJ's that you could think of the Louvre or the beach in Hawaii and feel the magic of it? I think this must be okay. I think this must be what memory is for. To make meaningful what may not seem meaningful at the time.

Because that was a lovely moment: speeding along the highway, our baby asleep in the backseat, and Pope Francis greeted a cheerful mass of Catholics in Rome, and millions more Catholics, wherever they happened to be.

Welcome, Pope Francis. It's a good world.



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rattling Around in My Brain: My Favorite Quotes on Writing

A few weekends ago I had the most delicious opportunity to teach a small writing class to some friends in my old ward. It was perhaps the loveliest afternoon I've spent in some time. I miss teaching and talking about writing. To prepare for the class, I gathered a few of the quotations about writing that I really love.

The nice part about quotations about writing is that they apply to pretty much anything you care to do. Take the first one, for example, from Isak Dinesen. Whatever enormous task you're attempting, it seems a wise policy to adopt: do it every day, and try to avoid illusions of grandeur, an overly ambitious goal for that single day, or despair at your meager progress. Just participate, and participate again tomorrow, and the next, and though you can't anticipate the outcome, there will surely be one. Something comes of working hard on something for the sake of doing so. 

So whether you're writing, or trying to teach yourself to bake a killer blueberry pie, or run a marathon, or whatever is your daily task, I hope you find these useful. I do. 


Quotomaniac’s Love Song to Writing


I write a little every day, without hope and without despair.
                                                                                    --Isak Dinesen

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.
--attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though no one’s sure who said it first

The big secret is the ability to stay in the room. The writer is the person who stays in the room. ...People have accused me...”You’re talking Zen here.” And I just say, “Zen this: The secret is to stay in the room.”                                                  
                                                                                   --Ron Carlson

The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
                                                                                    --Mark Twain

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
                                                                                    --Jack London

[To deal with writer’s block] I just keep at it. I think it’s a lot like using a pen that isn’t working. You can make the scribbling motion and nothing happens, until suddenly it does. Who knows why. But it does. Thank the Lord.
                                                                                    --Tayari Jones

Think of yourself as a typist.
                                                                                    --Frederick Barthelme

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.
                                                                                    --Margaret Atwood

Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way….
                                                                                    --E. L. Doctorow

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.
                                                                                    --Joan Didion

I love cutting. It hurts for a second but it immediately feels great afterward. You feel lighter, relieved of bad dreams and heavy burdens. I can watch two or three hundred pages go down the tubes with the equanimity of a lab assistant gassing a rat.
                                                                                    --Michael Chabon

I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers.
                                                                                    --Vladimir Nabokov

Easy reading is damned hard writing.
                                                                                    --Nathaniel Hawthorne

Early morning has gold in its mouth.
                                                                                    --German Proverb

It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, and the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.
                                                                                    --Gustave Flaubert

Writing, at its very best, is a bridge across human loneliness.
                                                                                    --David Foster Wallace

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
                                                                                    --W. Somerset Maugham

We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little.

--Anne Lamott

When we read, we start at the beginning and continue until we reach the end. When we write, we start in the middle and fight our way out.
--Vickie Karp

[Poetry] makes us less lonely by one.
                                                                                    --Kay Ryan

I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.
--Brenda Ueland

On the Other Side of the Country

Sam's mom left this morning. She was here for ten days or so, helping with the house and smiling at the baby, paying for dinner, and giving our living room such a thorough vacuuming that I told her she was hired, full-time. She taught us how to paint a room, and we painted Henrietta's: three walls a sort of almond-y color (almonds without shells, mind you) and an accent wall in a color called Eros Pink. I think of the room like a berry-almond tart, now, and sometimes when I pass by I stop and look at it, soaking in how great it is in there. This is a change from how it was before: it was painted this very dark and depressing blue, and sometimes when I'd sit in there to feed the baby, I would stare at the walls and feel like crying, just from the color--it was that bad.

Sneak peak of new nursery, with the almond-berry tart walls. More to come ...
It was lovely to have her here. Henrietta thought she was fabulous, and would start laughing when she was even in her general vicinity. And when I woke up this morning and Sam was already gone to drop his mom off at the airport, I stayed in bed with the baby for a long while, feeling, I realized, depressed she was gone.

Sam and I become increasingly convinced that this living on the other side of the country thing, this being so far from family, is for the birds. And this was even more true tonight, when I brought Henrietta back to her room, after having slept in ours for the last while, and I realized she was a different baby, that she'd changed so much in the time my mother-in-law was here that it was like I was bringing a different kid into that room. She's livelier now. She's five months old, and shockingly close to crawling. I'm beginning to eye things in my house with suspicion, realizing how dangerous they'll be for a baby on the move. She has a range of sounds that gets bigger every day--big, wild sounds that are fascinating to listen to. She can jump in her jumper more efficiently, her little feet dancing beneath her. It's harder to change her diaper, since she's figured out she doesn't actually have to stay still for that part. She's always moving, always interesting in something, her enormous blue eyes wide and taking everything in. She's quicker to smile, and quicker to cry, and her personality seems more developed. I can tell now that if I thought she wore me out before, I had no idea how truly worn out I could be, or how in love. It's blowing my mind how fast this is going. 

I mean, look at this kid. She's charming, is what she is.
Which is why it's extra disappointing that my family and Sam's family are so far away. We're lucky that we get to see them often enough, but even several times a year isn't often enough, when your baby is changing weekly. I want her to smile at both grandmas. I want my mom to read her books, and Sam's mom to say, when she screams just to hear herself scream, "She sounds like a teenager at a Beatles concert!" I want her to know her aunts and uncles, to run around with her cousins, to have sleepovers and eat my dad's exquisite pancakes. We have no immediate plans to move, but today I wish we did. I wish we could pack up our new house, leave behind the berry-almond walls, wrestle the cats into their carriers and the baby into her car seat, and head west. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mormon Women

Late one night I came downstairs in my pajamas, excited, asking Sam if I could just read him a little bit of something. He was still up, tending his fire, watching a movie that he kindly paused so he could listen. At which point I read him more than a little bit. I read him most of an interview with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a woman who is actually a dear friend from my ward in Cambridge. She's famous, in part, for penning the sentence that shows up on bumper stickers and t-shirts all over the place: "Well-behaved women seldom make history." She won a Pultizer Prize and a MacArthur Fellowship, she teaches a killer Sunday School lesson, and she's my hero.

Anyway, I had gone to bed worrying about how I would do everything I wanted to do, how I would do something that mattered to me and also take care of my baby. It was in the thick of my posts about figuring out working and motherhood, and it was such a relief to read her interview, which answered pretty much everything I was wondering about, and then some.



Her interview is in this book,  Mormon Women: Portraits and Conversations.* Listen: you should read this book. I love this book. I remember hearing about it some time ago, when it came out, at the time I was too cheap to buy it, but now you can buy it used for like five bucks, and it's worth it. Oh, it's worth it. The book collects interviews with fourteen women from different countries and in different professions, converts and single women and women with significant health problems to overcome and all sorts of other challenges. And they are articulate and wise and passionate, and talk about the loads of good they do in the world, and tell such marvelous stories, and I wanted to keep on reading this book forever. Our diversity as Mormon women is astonishing, and beautiful.

I want to quote everything, but then there would be no reason for you to read the book yourself. And you will love it, so I won't ruin that for you. But here's one bit from an interview with a woman named Catherine M. Stokes, a public health administrator who was born in rural Mississippi and joined the Mormon Church as an adult. Her interview is feisty and down-to-earth. Here's a snippet:

"I come back to the importance of knowing who you are. If I believe I am the daughter of the power that created the universe, I have more power than I will ever be able to use. Now, if I believe that, than I act in a certain way. Not in arrogance, but in certainty. If I believe that I came here to be challenged and refined, to grow and develop my talents, then I should be ready to take on any task. You have to know who you are and you have to internalize that. And if you want to know whether you have accomplished that, then look at what it is you're doing with your life. That's the real deal, versus what you say you believe."            
                                                               --Catherine M. Stokes

You see what I mean? Don't you want to read a lot more good stuff like that? Then this is the book for you, my friend. If you've already read it, what did you think? If you end up reading it, I'd love to hear at some point down the line.



*My apologies if you're not Mormon, and I'm writing here as if you are, and it's irksome. I do think this book would be worth reading, even if you're not Mormon. It's about strong women, and we need those in every faith. There are footnotes in the book to make you familiar with unfamiliar terms.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Chasing My Own Tail

Today, all day, I felt like I was chasing my own tail. The baby was up at seven, and I changed her, and we played, and then the electrician showed up during breakfast. I took him up to the master bathroom while carrying the baby, and still wearing my pajamas. And really the whole day was like that. I kept waiting for the baby to nap so I could get cleaned up, but she napped basically while I was feeding her, and then she was up again, wide-eyed and happy and increasingly wiggly.

Sam's mom is in town, so she's helping us paint and get a whole list of things done on the house. So I took her to the paint store, and Sam had to pick his cat up from the vet, and I was trying to get to Target for more diapers, and also trying to write something and get some freelance work done, and to trying to re-make the rugs I made for the nursery into something decent. And Sam's mom was painting an accent wall in the nursery "Eros Pink," and the plumber came, and the baby learned, officially, how to roll over back to front and front to back, and I made lunch, and I got stuck in traffic, and I had a long conversation with one of my sisters, and I thought a lot about how badly the stairs needed vacuuming.

There's an astonishing amount of variety to my days now, and also, in a way, it can feel like there's no variety at all. I can feel like I felt today: rather scattered, and overly ambitious about the most mundane things, and like I'm running in a circle, since there's so much going on. I haven't learned yet how to even begin to think about balance, how to let the things that don't matter go, and focus on what does.

Do you know how to do that? Can you tell me what you know?


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rattling Around in My Brain: Asking Questions and a Question

This quotation from Dieter F. Uchdorf  makes me glad to be alive.

"Asking questions isn't a sign of weakness. It's a precursor of growth. God commands us to seek answers to our questions and asks only that we seek with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ. When we do so, the truth of all things can be manifest to us by the power of the Holy Ghost. Fear not. Ask questions. Be curious."

from "The Reflections in the Water"


In an unrelated question, would you lend me a hand? My friend suggested I have a list of favorite posts from this blog on the sidebar, and I like this idea, but I'm wondering what your favorite is. Is there a post (or more than one) that your remember and quite liked? If so, do tell. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Grandmothers in Their Kitchens

My grandparents, gorgeous, in 1940.

This week I found out that one of my father's grandfathers was Catholic. He was Catholic (though lapsed) and his wife was Mormon. This was, I think understandably, very fascinating news for me. All week I've been begging my father for whatever he remembers about them, and asking my aunts for the same, and boy have they come back with some fantastic details. All week I've been swimming in these stories, working on an essay about what it's like to be married for nearly five years and find out your great-grandparents sort of had a similar thing going.

Maybe I'll write more about it all here, fill you in on some of these details. But right now, now that I've finished writing the essay, there's a story about my grandmother (the one in the picture up above) that I keep thinking about. It's a story my Aunt Dawn told me, illustrating the easy-going, let-it-go style of my dad's side of the family. When my aunt was a little girl and her brother would tease her, she would go running to her mom to tell on him, and her mom would always ask something like, "Well, are you fat baby?" And Dawn would say, "No!" And her mom would say, "Well, it doesn't matter then."

I've been running this dialogue over in my head for the last two days. I say it to myself when something has the potential to hurt my feelings. I ask myself, "Well, are you a fat baby?" And sometimes I am a fat baby, but mostly I'm not, and then I get to realize it doesn't matter. And today, when Henrietta was beginning to fuss, I practiced on her: the two of us alone in the kitchen, I asked her, "Well, are you a fat baby?" Which is just funny because she's a very small baby, as babies go. But I so much like the idea of this approach. It's not without it's flaws, which my aunt acknowledged, but it's not half-bad, either. If a sucker punch comes your way, the first question is whether the sucker punch has a point. They so often don't.

My grandmother died fairly young. She was 65, and I was thirteen or so. And though that's old enough to have some clear memories of her, I wish I could have talked to her as an adult. She was gone before I grew up. My aunt described my grandmother and her family as "unassuming, mildly amused with life, and down to earth," and gosh, I could have used more of that rubbing off on me.

It's a funny thing to remember those that are gone: to in a way get to know them better or understand them more as you continue to mature. At thirteen, I didn't yet know how to fully appreciate my grandmother, but I find I think of her more and more now. As an adult, I think of her less as my aging grandmother, and more as my dad would have seen her, more the way I see myself now.

It's as if all the women that are important to me are, in my mind, exactly as I am now: they're all brand new mothers. My great-grandmothers are in their 1920s kitchens, their babies rolling around in the living room. My grandmothers are in their 1940s bedrooms, folding laundry, pausing to give their babies back their rattles. Even my mother has never been so real to me as a new mom. She tells me now about what it was like, and I can picture her with my siblings, leaning over them in their bassinets to ask them what's the matter.

It's a shocking solidarity, motherhood. It spreads its arms across generations, decades, centuries, and your baby is like my baby and her baby was the same. This is why stories about the fat baby question matter so much. I'm still bumbling about, new and fresh-faced and likely very silly. But my grandmothers and great-grandmothers, they had it all figured out, it seems. They've been in those kitchens forever already. When I think of them, I somehow think they could have provided the secret clue that would give me perfect balance and show me how to run my household with ease and flair. Or at least they could have patted my head and told me I'm perfectly normal. I don't know why I think this. But I do. And since I don't have most of them to talk to anymore, I hold onto stories. I tuck them in my pocket. I pull them out, when I'm alone in my kitchen, and practice being as wise as they once were.