Monday, April 29, 2013

Strange Hybrid: On Motherhood and Identity

Enjoying a restaurant spoon--a baby's best friend.

Henrietta is hungry.

I realized this after about a week of much more fussiness than usual, and waking up about 4,000 times a night.

But let me back up to why this was not immediately clear.

When I got pregnant, it felt like I was required to choose a mothering identity: would I have a natural birth, or a medicated one? And the identity spread out from there: cloth or disposable diapers? Breastfeeding or formula? Babywearing or the opposite of babywearing (whatever that is)? You get the idea. These felt like big decisions, decisions that didn't have to do with the decision themselves so much as who I was. I can say, six months in, that I've ended up rejecting the false opposites here and doing a little of both in almost every case, which is all well and good, unless you're me, and you long for nothing more than to pick one side of the spectrum and endorse it and love it and become it entirely, to enthusiastically give your identity to whatever you're attempting. This, sadly, as much as I long for it, never works for me.  Perhaps that's a good thing, but it makes me slow to catch on, and causes a lot of needless guilt.

In the case of feeding Henrietta, here's how it played out: back when we started her on solids, it didn't go well. This was when she was around five months old, and she showed signs of being ready, so I dutifully cooked and mashed and thinned and tried to feed her with a spoon, and the whole affair was miserable--for her and for me. She didn't want it, didn't want anything she tried--banana, sweet potato, avocado--and she eventually pursed her lips together as soon as I set her in her high chair. Because I'm me, I tried to force it: I stressed and sat her down and fought her for several minutes exactly three times a day. I'd had a lot of anxiety about feeding her in the first place, and I thought if I just kept trying, if I just got it right, it would be okay. I knew all the advice about not forcing, so I didn't try for long, but looking back, it's so clear she just wasn't ready. After three days, I gave up, feeling defeated, but sure it was right to wait.

About a week later, we were heading to California to visit my family, and I was trying to finish packing and get her out the door by myself. I had bought some baby crackers and I handed her one to keep her occupied, and she was confused at first, but then thrilled. She gummed that puppy into oblivion, and was so happy doing it. A few days later, on a beach in California, my mother offered her an apple core, and she loved it. I mean, she really loved it. And we concluded that part of the issue was that she wanted to do it herself, wanted to feed herself, which wasn't surprising considering the rest of her personality.

When we got home, based on a friend's recommendation, I bought this book on Baby-Led Weaning--which should really be called Baby-Led Solids--an approach that advocates skipping purees altogether, and makes a pretty compelling case for it. (If this sounds insane slash dangerous, the website has good information that may put your mind at ease?) This method was much more joyful. I'd make my lunch or breakfast, then set out slices of cucumber or pepper or apple or fingers of toast, and we'd eat together. She had a lot of fun trying things, and it was beautiful to watch her select each item and eat it enthusiastically, holding it up in the air triumphantly before shoving it into her mouth, stopping occasionally to look up at me and grin. She tried a lot of stuff this way, and I was feeling good about it, and then last week happened.

Last week was rough. I prayed to know how to help her. (Motherhood has turned me into a more earnest pray-er than I've been in years.) And one morning late in the week, I woke up worrying about her, and I had this clear God-thought: She's hungry.

It took me a few days to process this, but it began to make sense. It might be one thing if we were offering her food at every meal, but we honestly don't sit down all together and have baby-friendly stuff at every meal, so she was missing some of them. A lot of our meals are on the run, and some days she'd only have milk. And as hard as she worked on eating what we set out for her, she only has two little teeth, so I don't think she was getting all that much. They say this isn't a big deal, since babies her age aren't relying on the nutrition from solids yet. But I'll tell you what: I think she was relying on that nutrition, and she wasn't getting enough of it.

Today she cried for most of the day, which is not at all like her. I tried to nurse her; we tried to get her to nap; we took her on a walk and set out new toys to entertain her, and still she cried. When I put out dinner for her, she dug in with gusto, and though she got quite a bit, she still seemed hungry, so I pulled out the box of baby cereal I had never opened, mixed a little with formula, and fed her some. She ate it. She ate a lot of it. She seemed grateful, and still took her night-time bottle, and ended up falling asleep while her dad fed her. I have not seen her that peaceful in days. Maybe we'll still have a rough night, but I'm thinking it's going to be better.

I mean, here's the thing, baby-led solids is great. We'll keep doing it. We'll keep offering her food we're eating, confident she can handle it, and I assume she'll continue to be amused and into it. That is an awesome aspect of this approach: I'm now confident she can handle a range of foods, and (with a few exceptions) happy to give her whatever she's interested in trying. But the point is, I don't have to choose! What a revelation! I can give her some purees. I can give her solids. The point is to feed my baby. The point is to do what works for us, and--I suppose not surprisingly--that's a combination of approaches.

I think it speaks so clearly to this longing I have, this longing for some kind of specific identity, some orthodoxy I can attach to. If I were going to do baby-led solids, I wanted to do baby-led solids, you know? I thought I had to make it a part of my mothering identity. I perhaps ignored signs that she wasn't getting enough because of that longing to be able to say this is Who We Are, not just how we feed our baby sometimes. I've felt guilty about this, even though Sam has tried to tell me it's okay, that we know what's wrong now, that we fixed it as soon as we realized it, that we're not bad people or parents.

I've done this with other aspects of mothering: I thought I had to be a Baby-Wearing Mom, but I've realized neither of us like it for long, and I am still too physically weak (from months of bed rest) to carry her for long, so we do it now when it's needful or convenient and stop when it isn't. I breastfed exclusively until it became clear (at around two months) that she was fussing all day because she was starving (a theme?), and I became a mom who supplemented with one bottle of formula before bed, and I hereby testify that our entire little family became happier after that change. I'm sure there are more examples, especially outside the realm of motherhood ...

This evening, whispering over a sleeping Henrietta, we talked about it again, and I told Sam about this idea, that my desire to have a clear mothering (and general) identity makes me slow to figure things out.

And he said, "I'll tell you what your identity is: You're Deja."

"Yeah, but I never know what that means."

"Well, I can tell you one thing. It has nothing to do with how you feed her," he said.

I think he's right, though motherhood is so all-consuming that it doesn't feel that way. Is it just me, or does our culture's attitude about it only pretend to account for individual mothers with individual babies?

All of this is good for me. It's another thing that motherhood is teaching me. It's teaching me that though  I'm this strange hybrid creature--one who longs fiercely for orthodoxy but ultimately complicates it (hello, marriage to someone outside my faith, among other evidence), that this is okay. That maybe I can long less fiercely for a unified identity. That full bellies and happy babies are more important than a unified identity. That complicated identities are perhaps just fine. They're maybe even lovely.

Springtime Baby Picnic

Friday, April 26, 2013

Wait, it's Friday? How did that happen?

I have just two things to say:

1. I thought I knew what tired was. I don't think I knew what tired was. This week is a whole new level of tired. (Insomnia, you are a punk.) There should be another word for tired. Exhausted, you say? That's the word? It's not good enough. Another. Give me another word.


2. As it turns out, I'm the kind of mom who buys gadgets in an attempt to make this mothering thing easier. For example, I just bought this object for grocery carts and restaurant high chairs. Is it necessary? Nope. But I used it today, and I am well-pleased. I don't think I thought I'd be that kind of mom. Oh well. I yam what I yam.

Tell me how you're doing, would ya?

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Giggling Baby on A Somber Day

I woke up this morning to the insane news in Boston and spent the day hearing about places not far from our old house mentioned on the news, and receiving updates from friends via Facebook. Stuck inside, they reported eerie silence aside from near-constant sirens and circling helicopters. Some had law enforcement run through their backyards carrying machine guns. Some had them knock on their door and ask to search every room. The suspects lived a few blocks from friends of ours. One of them attended the community college Sam used to teach at. Right now we're listening to reports of police zeroing in on a house that's a two minute drive from our old place.

I've been thinking of Boston all week, feeling like I couldn't possibly speak to what happened, not directly. That all I could really do is speak of my little corner of it, while acknowledging what a very small corner it was--which is what I tried to do on Monday, but it didn't sit right with me, didn't feel like what I really wanted to say. (This post, from a blogging friend, got much closer to how I felt.)

And I still don't feel like I have any right to talk about it, but I can't help it. I keep thinking about what it's like to watch the marathon. It's such a blissful day in Boston. It's the mark of spring. The blossoms are on the trees and the weather is usually good, and most people have the day off for Patriot's Day, and literally thousands of people come out to watch the runners. I'm not generally moved by sports--let's be honest--but I'm moved by that marathon. I can't help thinking of the stories, of how many runners are achieving a life goal, or running at the end of a battle with something, or in honor of someone else's battle, and I tear up, every time I watch. (I wrote about it a few years ago on the blog.) And all week I kept thinking that I can't imagine a more tender spot to hit this city. We love that day. We love that marathon. We love those runners, and we are all--in one way or another--those runners, and we are all--in one way or another--cheering them. To mess with that day is to mess with the soul of the city.

Last night Sam finished a story he'd been working on for a long time, and he wanted an ice cream sundae to celebrate, and we shared one in a little ice cream shop across from the river. The woman in the booth behind me was with her granddaughter, and I overheard her asking the girl what she thought of what happened in Boston. I listened to their conversation, and then couldn't stop thinking what I would tell Henrietta, should she be old enough to wonder what was going on.

I've heard people talk this week about how good people responded to what happened. I've seen that quote about helpers by Mr. Rogers. I've heard about the runners who kept on running to the hospital so they could donate blood. And I'll be honest: it hasn't seemed like enough of an answer to me. I haven't really understood how this meant anything substantial in the face of people doing horrible things like blow up the finish line of a marathon. All the nice people in the world can't bring that eight-year-old boy back. All the nice people in the world can't return the limbs to those that lost them. But last night, thinking about what I would tell Henrietta, it suddenly made sense because it seemed clear it was the only thing that could made sense. To be able to tell her that there were good people who run toward trouble and help without hesitation: it doesn't take away the ugliness, but it really is the only thing that can begin to ease the shock and sadness.

That, and this: after dinner this evening Henrietta had a giggling fit. I ran to get my iPhone and took a video which you can watch below. There she is, not terribly far from this horrendous situation, and she is wearing a pink sweater, sucking on a piece of raw kale, and giggling with her entire body.  All over the city people are trapped in their houses while sirens wail, and yet there are perhaps thousands of babies that had very good days, who giggled and crawled and looked up at their parents with enormous eyes and reminded them that there were plenty of good people, and abundant beauty, and that ugliness can't block all of the goodness, no matter how hard it tries.

I wish as swift and painless a resolution as possible. I wish healing for those injured and comfort for those who lost people they love. I wish for a sunny and sweet day soon, a day as bright and full of blossom as the Marathon Monday we expected, the one we never had and need now more than ever. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Strange Kinship of a Shopping Mall

At the mall, before she realized I was taking her picture.

The first time I put Henrietta's car seat in the back of our Toyota, I understood minivans. It felt like an epiphany: Oh, that's why. So the dang car seat fits.

I had the same feeling today, when I went to the mall for something. I put the baby in her stroller, passed the profoundly-out-of-my-pricerange shoes in Macy's, and realized, oh, this is what malls are for. Malls are for moms.

It's pleasant. You can walk and walk, no matter the weather. You can look at pretty things. When Henrietta is older we can hang at the playground. And here's the kicker: if you need stuff from multiple stores, you don't have to get the kid in and out of the car seat 87,000 times. And heaven knows that limits my activity in the outside world. But at the mall, you just stroll on over, and bam! Whatever you'd like is right there. This mall even has a Target attached. I don't see that I need anything else in this world.

{Aside: I can't even tell you how weird it is that this is my life. But apparently it is. It seemed like today, more than any other day, I became a suburban housewife. I have arrived. It's a weird place, but not bad.}

The moment she realized I was taking her picture.

I bought the little thing I actually needed, and then I decided we'd take our daily walk right there in the
mall. The two of us wandered for I don't know how long. I bought some crappy food court sushi that was somehow satisfying. I got an ice tea from Teavana, a store I am a wholehearted sucker for. I took shameless advantage of the Lindt store truffle sample. I shook my head in bafflement at the foul smell wafting from Abercrombie (What is that smell?!). The slimy yet charming man at the Dead Sea Cosmetics booth tried his best to talk me into some very fancy item for my daily beauty routine. And all along the baby played with her feet and smiled for strangers and looked all around and ate a cracker and a piece of orange bell pepper and was completely entertained. Unless I stopped walking for too long. Then she freaked out.

Her immediate reaction, upon realizing I was taking her picture. I don't even pay her for it.
We passed a lot of moms pushing strollers, a lot of new moms, newer than me even. And I felt this sort of kinship with them. They looked tired and their hair needed some love and their clothes were trying to cover up a body that was unrecognizably lumpy. And they were my people. I felt like I was seeing my people.  In that great cavernous space, we pushed our life's all-consuming meaning around in strollers, lagged behind our babies' sweetness, worked the life back into our legs. We imagined buying little overpriced sundresses and giant puppets, and we considered buying our husbands new bluejeans. We stopped in stores we used to love and fingered spring dresses for us in smaller sizes. We treated ourselves to chocolate. We nodded at each other as we passed.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Over and Over

When the explosions in Boston happened, I was in Lowell, walking by the Merrimack river, pushing Henrietta in her stroller. Sam was back at the house, writing. It was sunny today, a sweet sixty degrees, and the water was calm. Pairs of birds flew low on the water, then arched back up into the sky. I felt happy as I walked, calm and content and grateful.

Henrietta enjoyed the walk out but got sleepy on our return. The wind picked up, so I alternated between hurrying to the car and stopping to help her relax, and by the time we got back she was sleeping. I sat on a bench to let her sleep for a minute before putting her back in her carseat, and happened to check Facebook on my phone. My friends in Boston were posting notices they were safe. I didn't know what they meant. I typed "Boston" into Google, and one of the auto-fill options was "Boston explosions" and I followed the link and then I knew. I put the baby back in the car, turned the radio on, and cried on my way home. I sat in the driveway, letting her sleep longer, listening to the radio, listening and listening.

We used to live near the marathon route, and we've been to watch in previous years, though never near the finish. I used to work a few blocks from where it happened, used to walk down to Copley Square on nice days, used to catch the bus home every day from the corner across from the library. I kept imagining if we'd gone to see the runners, imagined holding Henrietta in my arms, imagined terrible things beyond that. Inside my house sitting on my couch, I listened to more news. When the baby giggled, it surprised me.

We have plenty of food at home, but somehow the news made me want to go somewhere, to sit across from Sam at dinner. We picked a new Mexican place and sat in colorful booths, sharing fajitas, talking, stuffing small tortillas for ourselves and handing the baby crackers. Behind Sam, up on the wall, I could see a TV playing the news. Over and over I watched a man stop running, then crumple in the middle of the street.

When we got home I fed the baby, rocking her, grateful to be holding her in the dark nursery with a nightlight and her white noise machine playing ocean waves. Sam came in at one point, whispered that one of the casualties was an eight-year-old, that ten people had lost limbs. He went back out to read more news and I kept rocking, waiting until I was sure she was sleeping. When she fussed, I found myself telling her, hoping it was true, "You're safe. I've got you. You're safe."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Happy Six Months, Kid

Henrietta is six months old today. I feel bad that I didn't do anything to mark this occasion. Something small, but shiny, like bake cupcakes. With sprinkles. Not that she'd be eating them.

I meant to do something celebratory, but I somehow didn't realize it was today, as in today, and now it's 6:20 and we've already had dinner and Sam is sick and the show's over, folks. By 6:20, I'm pretty much tapped out. We did take a very long walk around the neighborhood in the unbelievably good weather, waving at neighbors and greeting kitties and listening for part of the time to This American life, and my very soul was celebrating how gorgeous it was outside, so we'll count that as a party. Sam thinks it's insane I wanted to do something to mark the day anyway. But hey, we all survived six months. There were times I wasn't entirely sure we would.


I think someday I would like to have a bit of a snapshot of what she was like at this age, so here it is. This is my Henrietta Plum, in no particular order. [Note: I wrote these words yesterday, and took the pictures this morning.]

Right now, at this exact moment, she is playing on a blanket on the living room floor. She's screaming, shrieking really, in what appears to be joy or wonder or sound experimentation, since it's not her upset scream. She's on her back, rhythmically pounding both legs against the floor in unison. She's wearing a green and white and purple striped dress and rainbow-striped legwarmers. Strike that. She's wearing one legwarmer. The other has been removed, and she's waving it around like a flag.

She's close to crawling, so she turns easily from her back to her tummy, then pushes up on all fours and rocks back and forth, as if gaining momentum or courage. Sometimes she tries to lift a leg or an arm, but immediately falls over, which doesn't seem at all disconcerting. Any day now. She's going to figure this out any day. And then, I imagine, the whole world is going to change.

She's eating, bits of this and that, and I'm finding it absolutely fascinating and ridiculously fun, though I didn't at first. (More on that in another post soon?) She has two adorable bottom teeth, and this morning, while I ate breakfast, she ate a breakfast of champions: spears of cucumber, and fingers of dry toast. And by eat I mean she held them in her fist, and gummed them into submission. I wiped her down, but all day I could smell cucumbers on her, and it was the loveliest smell.

She's quicker to laugh now, and ticklish, and we make ourselves fools trying to coax that laugh from her. I would do that all day if I could. I don't think I'm hyperbolizing when I say it's the best sound in the world to me.

The glitches of breastfeeding have resolved themselves, and now it makes up the best parts of my day. She's more aware of what's happening, and what's going to happen, so when I sit her on my lap to begin, she plucks at me, impatient, excited. She can position herself without my help, and she looks up at me, her eyes completely fixed. Often, I can't resist tickling her a little, and I skip my fingers over her belly until she makes this reluctant sort of grunty laugh, and she smiles around her full mouth.

We sing to her all day. I mean, all day. We have standard songs we've made up and repeat ("Let's Change Your Pants, My Darling" and "Vomit Down the Side of the Face" are classics), and the rest of them are whatever song happens to be in our head with the words changed to suit the situation.

She likes people, likes smiling at strangers, especially men. She likes watching our cats circling around the room. She likes music. She seems to like my coral-colored shoes, which she tries very hard to eat. She likes books, though lately she wants to eat those more than have them read. She seems to like fashion, since when I dress her in the morning and stand her up on her changing table, she looks down at herself as if taking it in the whole effect. She likes taking walks with us. She likes her dad, really really likes her dad.

I feel like I've gone on and only scratched the surface of her personality, which is becoming more distinct all the time. She's such a happy kid, happy and charming and totally alert and interested in everything that's happening. At night, when I put her to bed, I miss her. In the morning, when I first hear her wake up and begin to chatter and move around in her crib, I get up and do a few things before I go in to her, and there's this feeling I have that is best described as lucky. I feel it right in the center of my ribcage, this shimmering, nearly-solid sphere of good fortune. Don't get me wrong, it's not all giggling and small cucumber-scented hands, but the early morning is pure, and I am usually nearly giddy that in just the other room there's this joyful, silly, gorgeous, wonderful creature who is mine to hold and play with, and we get to spend the day together, and how on earth, how in all of the world, did she happen to come to little old me?

Happy six months, Kid. I can hardly wait for more.

Monday, April 8, 2013

This much is true: I'm terrible at dishwasher organization.

[Conversation over dinner at a Mexican joint.]

Deja: Do you think I expect too much of myself?

Sam: [without hesitation] Yes.

Deja: Oh.

Sam: What are you, thirty now?

Deja: Yeah.

Sam: You probably have to start making some decisions.

Deja: What do you mean?

Sam: Well, like. There are all these different things you wanna do, and you can't do all of them as well as you'd like to. I'm sure you can do any of them well, but you can't do all of them well at once. You'll have to pick a few.

Deja: [chip, salsa, mouth]

Sam: You wanna do your blog; you wanna be really involved in church; you want to freelance edit; you want to be the perfect housewife. And you'll never be able to perfect your writing and your dishwasher organization at once.

Deja: [Looks at Sam, sadly.]

Sam: So you just need to really focus on that dishwasher.

Deja: [Wads napkin, throws it at Sam's head.]

Saturday, April 6, 2013

As She Tried Out All of Her Sounds

Conference napping, starting young.

Every six months, Mormons listen to what we call General Conference, which means, theoretically, all 14 million of us gather and listen to talks by church leadership. There's a physical meeting in Salt Lake, and the rest of us watch it in our chapels and, increasingly, over the Internet on our various devices. It's four 2-hour sessions (with a bonus session for men), and it fills up the weekend.

Six months ago, I was literally two days away from having a baby, and let's face it, I slept through most of it, despite my efforts to stay awake. I'd sit down for a moment, pull it up on my iPad, and immediately zonk out. I got some really solid sleep in during those conference sessions, and I don't begrudge my former self a bit of it.

Today, with my baby on the outside, I didn't nap, though she got a pretty solid one in (see above). During the first part, I deep-cleaned my bathroom (party!) while she played with her baby doll and practiced getting up on all fours and rocking, attempting to crawl (which will happen any day now, I'm sure of it). I had intended to do more cleaning, since it keeps me awake quite nicely, but I decided I just wanted to hang out with Henrietta instead. We sat on my bed, and I tickled her and she giggled, as is her job.

At the end of the first session, a woman said the closing prayer. It was a short, simple prayer, but it made history. It's the first time, in 183 years of General Conference, that a woman has offered a public prayer, the first time a woman has publicly prayed on behalf of the church as a whole. There isn't an official rule against women praying; they just haven't.

It seems so small, right? Praying, not praying. But 183 years is a long time.

This change means something to a lot of people. In January, a group of women, including some friends of mine, undertook a campaign called Let Women Pray, meant to urge the faithful to write letters to church leadership, asking them to let women pray in General Conference. Three hundred participants wrote 1,600 letters. I confess I hadn't noticed the lack before hearing about the campaign, but I agreed that it was time. It was beyond time. No skin off anyone's nose to allow it.

I haven't known quite what to say about it all, what to make of it, but I've been thinking about it today, about my friends and their campaign, about a church that I don't think means to overlook women's voices, but does at times. All day I've loved those women for caring about something, for organizing themselves and praying for change and writing letters on behalf of something that mattered to them. And I've loved the church for listening. It's made me proud to be a part of a church that's living and breathing and full of real people with real hearts that long for things and respond to the longing of others.

There's this detail of the story I linked to in the Salt Lake Tribune that I'm even more in love with now: according to a church spokesperson, the prayer assignments were issued before the letter-writing campaign began. What does this mean? To me it means there's something even bigger than our good and living hearts, than our good and living church. It means God began whispering to those women to ask for these prayers at the same time he began whispering to those in charge to give them what they longed for. It could have taken years for the two sides to be ready for each other. Instead, it was almost simultaneous. What benevolent timing.

I was moved as I listened to the prayer. I could only close my eyes briefly, on and off, since I was holding the baby. And whenever I opened them, I looked at her, at her long eyelashes, delicate hands, the scratches she's given herself on her cheeks and the top of her head, at the perfect arcs of her small ears. I was glad of our moment, that the two of us were listening together when Jean A. Stevens prayed for us. Henrietta babbled away as we listened. "Eeeeeeyaa!" she said. And I loved her voice, loved how loud it was, how confident and sure as she tried out all of her sounds.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Bit Ragged

Sam said, "The Ruddick household is a bit ragged, lately." We were driving home from Boston, stuck in traffic, I think, and at first I didn't know what he meant. And maybe he didn't even say that, since the alliteration isn't exactly like him, but he said something along those lines, and when I didn't understand, he explained:

"Neither one of us have written since we've been home from vacation; the baby is sleeping terribly so we're sleeping terribly; our house is crazy because the painter has been there every day this week. I mean, last night we nearly killed each other."

"We did? Why? I don't remember that at all."

"You were mad about the laundry. I was mad about the couch."

"Oh. Right. We did nearly kill each other."

So there you go. That's the situation. It's been a hairy week. And though I miss blogging, though I have ideas for posts that swirl in and out of my brain, by the time I have a spare second, I just feel grumpy and a little sad, and all I really want to tell you is how it feels to be this tired, and you already know that, I'm sure. So I haven't said much.

How do you blog the sloggy bits, the parts that aren't shiny or profound, the parts that don't really come out all right? I want to tell you those parts, too.

On vacation, while hanging out with my mom and sisters, I made a joke about my blog being "Deep Thoughts with Deja," and they all laughed, and I laughed, and then I felt sort of dumb. I don't mean for it to be Deep Thoughts with Deja, folks. So I've been all meta-bloggy lately, thinking about blogging, wanting to blog about blogging, which is just a weird thing to do.  And then things happen, scary or sad things that I could talk about all day, if you'd let me. But hey, I'm not sure I want to blog everything, you know?

But I'm happier when I check in here, for all sorts of reasons. So here I am, revving the engine again.

This morning the baby woke early. By the time she slept again, I couldn't sleep, and by late morning I was getting all the classic signals that I desperately needed a nap. Mostly the classic signals are these: grumpiness, despair. So I topped the baby off with breast milk and went upstairs and tried to nap, and a nap was not forthcoming. I was thinking about my insanely messy kitchen and the grocery list I'd been composing, and wondering if my cat will ever forgive me for having a baby and sort of ignoring him.

I finally gave up on the nap and came downstairs and talked Sam into taking a walk. We strapped Henrietta into her stroller and I put her baby sunglasses on her, and I felt good. She was adorable--I mean crazy-adorable--in her sunglasses, and it felt restorative to be out there with my pretty baby in her sunnies, walking in the sunshine, waving at neighbors. It seemed like things were going to be fine, nap or no nap.

And then suddenly, I was sobbing. Right there on the corner. Sam and I had been teasing each other a little, and he somehow managed to push the wrong button, and then I was crying. We were both a little baffled by my response. I'm a cryer, sure, but it doesn't seem like I cry much lately, at least not to me. (He probably still thinks I cry a lot? Anyway.) And who knows what to make of that, really, except it's illustrative of how I feel--a bit ragged, you might say, whether I know it or not.

Yesterday, driving home (again) from the city, I started to get uncomfortable. This happens sometimes. It's not quite carsickness, it's car craziness. We're stuck in traffic and I suddenly want to jump off a tall building. My shoes fit wrong and my hair is itching my chin and my back hurts from sitting and I can't breath. "I'm freaking out," I told Sam, and he pulled off at the next exit and stopped the car by some random lake and told me to get out and stretch. I got out, but it didn't seem clear where to go, so I just walked a few paces away and looked at some trees, some bare trees that weren't particularly beautiful or anything, but at least they weren't my dashboard. I took a deep breath. I got back in the car.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sweet to See it Dawn: On Easter and Dread and Everything Coming Out All Right In the End

I like Easter, I've decided. There's less hubbub surrounding it, so there's no use spending oodles of money and traveling across the country for it, and it's easier to make it a quiet day. And easier to think about its religious significance, if you're so inclined. Which I am.

But when Sunday dawned, I confess that church was the last thing I was interested in. Sam was sleeping soundly, and though the day looked sunny and gorgeous, and Henrietta and I were in our colorful Easter Best, I was so full of dread as I drove to church that I frightened myself. I felt like weeping. Maybe it was because just the previous Sunday I had attended with a whole bunch of my family, but it seemed a particularly lonely thing to be doing.

Let's be honest: sometimes I don't want to go to church. Especially lately, with 9am meetings, and a new ward (because of our move) that I don't feel super close to, and a squirmy baby who doesn't want to nap when there are all sorts of fascinating people around, and going basically by myself when there are rows and rows of families that seem perfect and shiny. And yes, I did marry someone who isn't Mormon, so in a way I signed up for this. But that doesn't mean it isn't insanely hard to get myself there sometimes, and lately that's been true. My goodness, it's been difficult. And on Sunday it was harder than ever.

I drove there, praying, crying a little, wondering what to make of so much dread. I prayed one of my sassy prayers: I told Him he had to make it feel like it mattered that I was there, that it didn't seem like it mattered at all, and if it did, would He please show me that it did. I sat in the parking lot, collecting myself, and it occurred to me that I probably wasn't the only one who had a tough time coming that morning, that there were probably millions of us that weren't exactly looking forward to it, and who felt lonely while there, but showed up because they believed it was important. Thinking about other people like me helped, as did something my father told me once when I talked to him about this. He said that we go to church for two reasons: to take the sacrament, and to find someone to serve. Everything else was incidental, and could be good or bad, but those were the parts that mattered.

I can't tell you it felt great from the start. In fact, someone said something that hurt my feelings almost immediately, and I thought, "Well, you're not off to a great start here." But my friend is the choir director and her Easter musical number was beautiful. And I said the opening prayer, and that made me feel useful.

When it came time for me to teach my lesson, I was exhausted, which is always the problem with teaching the lesson during the third hour of a three-hour block of church. In fact, I sometimes start my lesson by just leveling with the girls: "Okay, I'm covered in baby vomit and I'm so tired I can hardly talk, but let's discuss the Plan of Salvation, shall we?" It started off rocky and sort of lame, but by the end I was telling them what I wanted to tell them, which is this: that the astonishing thing and the wonderful thing about Christ's sacrifice is that it applies to whatever pain/sorrow/stress/sin/trouble they are currently experiencing, no matter how small. Mormons believe that he suffered for everything--for pain, sorrow, sickness, not just sin. And I got them to tell me what they worried about--about homework, and people not liking them, not feeling pretty enough, not having the right clothes, having to practice sports when they were tired and didn't feel like it. And I told them, look, this is what it's all about, this is when you need Him. This is when you can ask for His help. And I was talking to myself, too, and feeling like I was going to cry because He was helping me right then, He was the reason I was managing to stand there. And who knows what they really got out of it; they're twelve, and I am such a tiny blip on their radar, but I do think that there were some lightbulbs. We acknowledged that on the grand scale of suffering, a lousy wardrobe was minuscule, but the wonderful thing is that God's love and help is big enough for all of us, and for all of our struggles. There isn't a size limit in either direction. This they seemed to understand, and it tasted sweet to see it dawn in them.

But it's not those small lightbulbs that I keep thinking about. It's not that lesson that has come to stick with me about Easter. It's what happened at the very end of the class. I asked a sort of quiet girl if she would give the closing prayer, since I'm working on drawing her out a little. She said, "I can't; I don't know how." This caught me off-gaurd, and I wanted to talk to her, but I wasn't sure what to say. Someone else said the prayer, and she walked toward me, and a question arrived in my head, "Do you have any questions about praying? I'd be glad to talk to you about it." We talked a little, and it became clear that she didn't feel comfortable in the structure prescribed by official Mormon prayers--the opening and closing were okay, but she wasn't sure how to navigate the middle part, and she didn't feel comfortable praying in front of people anyway. I told her it was okay; that I wouldn't make her pray in front of us if she didn't feel up to it, but that I wanted her to know that there wasn't a wrong way to pray, that if she wanted to, she could just talk to God. He would listen no matter how she went about it. She looked right at me and asked, "Really?"

I keep thinking about that "Really?" I've been turning it over and over in my head. I don't know what it meant to her. It was a short conversation, and I'm not sure if I understood what she as trying to say. But if I was somehow the first person to tell her that God would listen no matter what she said or how she said it, that He was anxious to hear from her and open, wide-open to listen to whatever she wanted to tell him and however she wanted to tell it, then I think that was worth every ounce of dread I experienced that morning about getting myself to church. If there's some point, even years from now, when she is very low and in despair and feels like she has nothing and no one, and if some part of her remembers the idea--even if she has no recollection of her awkward vomit-smelling teacher who said it--that God is listening, that He is there to comfort her, no matter what--even the chance of that happening in small part because of our brief conversation, humbles me, floods me with gratitude, makes me think I will get up every Sunday and drag myself to church for a million years.

Somehow, now, this is Easter to me. It's that quiet, hopeful "Really?" It's the deep, miraculous, eternal yes in reply.