Plowing Under, Digging Up

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him, a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”

– Pearl S. Buck

Autumn, and all of the sages say it’s the time for quiet, for mourning, for covering the beds with mulch and covering the body with wool. And part of me feels that, as temperatures threaten to dip down to freezing and I’m cooking with pumpkin, squash, cranberries, the last of the apples, all grown close by. I know as a pregnant woman I ought to be (and I feel that I should be) taking it easy, resting, sleeping a little more, running more slowly and more rarely, sticking to stretches and walks and self-care.

But another part of me is nesting not just with food (although, wow, have I been food nesting with this pregnancy) but with making. There will be another baby, another infancy, another year of sleep-deprivation and nursing for hours and my arms full, full, full of child, and all I can think of now is what I want to accomplish first. I want this novel to have a shape, to be done, nearly done, at least halfway finished before April (Tracy Chevalier allegedly was inspired to write Girl with the Pearl Earring just before she found out she was pregnant, so she researched and wrote the whole thing, finishing weeks before her child came). Though I’m not on instagram, I found this one through her blog and spend far too much time wishing I had endless hours and motivation to simply quilt, to dye good fabric with natural fruits and seeds and roots, to make beautiful patterns of it, then to stitch it all with beautiful, hypnotic sashiko quilting. And then there’s the knitting, the sweater I promised Thomas, the blanket I want for this new baby (though that could, now that I’m considering it, simply be the first thing I work on postpartum, something rather mindless and cozy during those hours of nursing), the socks I want to make for my husband. Yesterday I passed the last forty-five minutes of Thomas’s nap slipping tiny glass beads onto thread, something I haven’t done in (ten? fifteen? more?) years to make a bracelet, tied to my wrist, blues and greens and frosty whites, to remind myself of the novel, of the work, of the creating to be done.

I spend far too much time wishing I could be a single-minded dynamo, an expert, a specialized craftswoman. I know that plenty of amazing people have been well-rounded, fingers in many pies, exploring all of their skills and interests, but I confess I’m having some trouble with it.

Gestation

Not just one baby, but two.
Not twins. There’s only one tiny human growing inside of me, now the size of a lemon, now able to make faces, now growing hair, now one third finished.

But a different baby. Another novel.
I’ve been poking around this one for years, writing a few pages of it, then forgetting about it, abandoning it, knowing it wasn’t quite sure where to go. Picking it up again a few seasons later, trying it on the way you try on the dress you find at the back of your closet, and knowing that “not just yet…”
But reading an excerpt of someone else’s novel cracked open this little idea, and suddenly it’s three-dimensional. Suddenly I’m seeing connections and links and metaphors and plot lines. Suddenly I have a to-read list a mile long, literature that I just haven’t gotten to yet and scientific research and field guides. Note cards collecting on my desk with facts and references.
It’s not quite ready to be written yet. It’s gestating, incubating, invisibly forming parts all on its own while I continue to feed and protect it, trusting that when it does come into the world, whenever that may be, it’ll have the backbone it needs so that I can take full responsibility in bringing it to maturity. I’m excited and nervous and hopeful and hesitant and curious.

Two

two

He is two days and two years old. I didn’t even think about writing on his birthday. I spent it with him.
Two years and two days ago I was just starting to push, just starting to finish, on the verge of meeting my son face to face for the first time.
A year ago, he couldn’t walk. He knew a handful of words. He would climb onto things without knowing how to get down, find himself without sufficient language to ask for things or explain himself. He was waking every two hours at night, sleeping worse than he ever had as a newborn, and my husband and I were going more than a little crazy.
And now?
Running down the road, jumping, climbing rocks with an agility that amazes me. He recounts stories, makes up songs, tells jokes, plays tricks (still my Trickster). He sleeps through the night most nights, wakes with a smile, a snuggle in my bed, and demands for “oats!” “raisins!” “yogurt” or, for some reason this morning, “popcorn!” He no longer nurses, no longer needing my body for nourishment just as he hardly needs it to get around this world. He can pretty much recite “Good Night Moon” and a handful of other books to his stuffed animals and baby Nora.
Sometimes he doesn’t listen, blocking out my requests or my calls for safety. Sometimes he hits or pinches, grabs the dog’s feet or tail, and laughs, still not aware of the pain he causes. Sometimes he gets on a streak in which everything is just awful and he will whine and pout no matter what he is given. He is, after all, only two.
But he will also cross back and forth across the yard with his wheelbarrow to help us stack the firewood that got delivered this week. He loves to help me bake, to “wash” the dishes after, to help sweep, to wash his hands. He loves to carry the dog’s leash when we walk her, to carry a bag or an object for me, to help fold laundry.
He is coming along wonderfully.

And I? What about me, the mother, the Mama. While I have an unbeatable husband and in-laws who are close and parents who are insistent about Skype dates and visits and gifts, while I have friends and a sibling and brothers- and sisters-in-law who are all remarkably loving, I am the one present most of the time most days. I am the one trying to carry my patience through toddler-slowness and toddler-indecision and screaming rashy diaper changes. I am the one with the opportunity to make up songs about tunnels and trains and whales and caterpillars, the one to point out all of the things that we see when we walk, when we grocery shop, when we play in the backyard, when we visit friends.
I am the teacher, the cook, the laundress, the housekeeper, the nurse, the jailer, the emancipator.

I don’t give myself enough credit. Do most relatively new moms? Do most moms? Given what I’ve read and heard in my life, do most women? Do most people? I hem and haw that I’ve hardly written these past two years, that I’ve sewn so little, that it takes me months to make the amount of money many people make every paycheck, that I’m Not Good Enough. I’m too young, too sloppy, too selfish, too romantic. But I’m not those things. I am doing the best I can with what I have.

I keep talking about what I am to Thomas, or what I’m not. But I keep trying to steer myself toward what I am to me. I am figuring things out. I am making connections with friends, with people who could potentially help me find work in the coming years, with my community. I am percolating with and fermenting all of the ideas and emotions that go along with wife- and motherhood. I am plotting another novel. I reminded myself two days ago that I get the life I always wanted: I take walks and cook and bake and read. I linger outside. I listen to music. And I get to do it all with someone who is so excited and curious about so many things. The past few weeks have been about recognizing that, holding onto the awareness.

It’s been an impossible two years (and two days). But it’s also been pretty amazing.

lately

It’s tough to say what life has been like “lately.” I’m channeling my inner toddler/infant, I suppose, because everything seems twice as intense as it ought to, the highs higher, the lows lower, my mood changing so fast that I can never see the storm clouds coming before the downpour.

This morning I woke up in a beautiful mood, and in under an hour it was gone, no reason given. I felt raw until lunch time, the way you feel when you’re sunburned all over. Everything was painful, everything abrasive, everything obnoxious. The beautiful day, the ecstatic toddler, the beach, it didn’t make a dent.

The afternoon, on the other hand, was smooth as a worn seashell. A nap for me, then chocolate and coffee and quilting while he kept sleeping. We prepped dinner side-by-side, went running together, then I got to finish cooking while he and Dada ran around the backyard.

When I went upstairs to put him to bed after bath time, he leaned in to snuggle and whacked his head against my cheekbone so hard it ached off and on for an hour.

I can’t seem to find an even keel. Hoping the autumn, the fall, that starts in an hour will bring me some grounding. Hoping a more regular yoga practice and a little less sugar in my diet will relax the kinks. Hoping, trying, one day at a time.

Today

Today my son pooped on a chair in the living room.
He did then scramble down and finish in his potty, but, still. Poop. On my chair.

He also peed on my bed.

Transitioning from diapers to potties is not for the faint of heart.

Today I made a peach tart and a spice cake and failed at making grape fruit roll-ups.
Today my son helped me make my bed and helped me make spice cake and ate all of his meals and checked out my library books (with a little help) and learned about the button that opens the front door to the library so that now he can do it himself.

Today I snapped at my son more than once.

We all do things we’re proud of and things we wish we could undo.

So how ’bout that weather?

Ben Folds croons about Jesus on the Bose speakers as afternoon sunlight slips and trickles into the living room. Thomas is serving himself from this morning’s pot of oatmeal while finding the delivery trucks in each of his truck books, squealing as every new one is found. It is the kind of warm, thick day that we never saw all summer, not unbearable but insistent enough to make you stop and say, “yes, this is summer.” Iced almond latter weather – I’ve been cobbling together a homemade version every day this week. Mornings with toes dipped in the chilly Atlantic weather. Don’t go running until dusk weather. Sit out together on the patio after the toddler goes to bed and count the stars weather. No knowing where skin ends and atmosphere begins weather.

It’s easy to overlook these days, to cruise right by. The days when the double batch of banana bread (one with fresh cranberries, one with coconut) bakes up just right, when knitting projects look and feel like they’re progressing, when Ray LaMontagne follows Van Morisson follows that previously mentioned Ben Folds. Pillow fights. Made up songs about backhoe trucks. A half-naked barbarian child drawing scribbles in my notebook. Fridge and counters full of good food. Paychecks coming in.

In twenty days, he’ll be two years old. And I have been mothering for over 700 days. I guess we’re doing pretty well.

Pop

An Indian summer, it seems, as the heat we evaded and outran through June and July and most of August sneaks up on us, leaving all of the heavy vines and laden stalks wilting and wanting. And my own belly ripening, too, suddenly so very insistently visible, the baby already claiming her (his?) place in my body, in this world. I’ve pulled out maternity shirts and dresses, not wanting to stretch out my own usual wardrobe. I’ve told everyone. 

I am two, the baby and I. But I am two in so many other ways. I have told the husband that I can’t stay here forever, can’t grow old with shifting beach sands beneath my feet. But that is only one of my selves. The other knows we will stay, knows this place will be good to us, to our children, with farms and live music, with friends and bike rides and swims in the pond, with family nearby and the weather near spot on for what we dream. The first self wants wilderness and rebellion, off the grid, out of touch with society, in touch with dirt and trees and mountain bones. The second is still searching for the best way to pay the bills, to pay for the home birth in the spring and Montessori preschool in the fall and organic tahini and gas for the car. 

Twin sisters in my spirit, each grabbing handfuls of the other’s hair, scratching with sharp nails, biting, tattling. Neither can stand to lose, to give in, and neither knows how a compromise could even begin. 

I love my son. He drives me crazy. 
I’m thrilled to be pregnant. I’m terrified of what it will do to my soul to do this all again, the lack of sleep and financial worries and living always at baby/toddler pace.
I love the friends we’ve made here. I can’t stand the tourists, the sand, my coworkers. 

I wish I could sell my novel. Or two of them.
I wish there were reasonable half-time jobs, something at which I could earn more than minimum wage, something that wouldn’t mean 7-9 hours at a time on my feet, something that wouldn’t leave me smelling of mop water and Toasted Coconut coffee.
I wish, I wish. 

I’m knitting again. Making bread. Restless fingers, restless hands. Aching to work, to earn, to accomplish, without abandoning my son, without giving up all sleep. 

The scales shift and settle. There are so many good things. There are so many hard and frightening and worrisome and exasperating things. At least I am feeling. 
 

Tired

I am tired. 

Bone tired.

Muscle and mind and heart and hands tired. 

Tired like I’ve battled sea waves with only a breaststroke in my arsenal. 

Tired like I’ve scaled peaks, scraping limbs and carrying cargo all the way.

Tired like I’ve spent lifetimes under hot sun. 

Tired like we don’t seem to have stopped since I learned of this life within me. 

Tired like I shoehorn all of my work into three days of the weekend, 
all of the digging and carrying and standing.

Tired like I have not been on my own and awake, save in this moment, in as long as I can remember. 

Tired like I am creating an entire new life within my own humming, working, proud body. 

Eight weeks down, thirty-two to go. 

I am tired. 

 

This is not about mothering…

… except that it is about the world into which I have brought one child and will bring another.

Sometimes the world clobbers you with stories and ideas along the same theme. Sometimes you can’t help but sit down and wonder why. The day we came back from England, I learned about Robin Williams and Kevin Ward Jr. Today it was Lauren Bacall and Michael Brown. Today the main character in the novel I’ve been reading (Woolf’s The Voyage Out) was struck down by an unexpected fever, and tragedy struck in Gaza on the West Wing episode I watched with my husband, multiple killed and injured. An online mom group I’m a part of is having a mini spat about politics, not about specific issues but more about whether we want to invite discussion of political issues into our group. I have the unshakable feeling that the universe is trying to say something, but I haven’t processed enough to know what, yet, exactly.

And then there’s this, too, which feels linked all the same, an article on the values of our current culture and what that means for us as individuals, on the way that a market-driven free economy is not “free” or fair.

Maybe it’s all just coincidence. Maybe it’s just life, thousands upon thousands of people dying every day on this planet, even if we don’t notice a vast majority of them.

I feel like I ought to be paying closer attention. I feel like I don’t have nearly enough time or focus to sort through the galaxies of “information” available to me in order to really know what’s going on, what can be helped and how. Does this make spending time with my husband and son, meeting with friends, taking time to run by myself more or less important? What does all of this being human stuff mean? 

I miss college. I miss being not only encouraged but required to dig more deeply and think through more thoroughly all of these ideas. I miss the community of people with whom I could discuss it all, in person, over coffee or at parties or in class. I have trouble maintaining the steam to press on all by myself, when there are dishes to wash and bills to pay and a toddler to eye and a baby to grow.

 

a secret

Another. An other. The size of a chickpea, a heart no larger than a poppy seed, but the promise of so much more.

I’m pregnant.

It is unreal as yet. Despite the frequent hunger and constant thirst, despite how tired my whole body feels most of the day, despite the breathless rolling mood swings, I still have trouble believing it. We had only begun to allow for the possibility of pregnancy. A lark, a laugh, a midsummer dare, we left caution behind six weeks ago, and four weeks later every test was positive.

I don’t consistently put much faith in astrology, but Thomas is so clearly a Libra that I was soon curious about this future love: An Aries. A spitfire, a rebel, impulsive and blunt and passionate. Due at the start of April, on the opposite side of the year from the first, a fool in the making. Oh, this little one! What challenges and adventures will it bring? From the start I called Thomas the trickster; who will this one be?

I’ve no desire to knit in this heat. We have most everything we’ll need, at least at the start. I haven’t even called our midwives yet. Instead I read Virginia Woolf and think about picking up the Greek again. I want to clean our house, though that could just be the result of coming back from a week of travel. I savor time with my growing boy, his body lengthening, his songs more elaborate, his person so charming. Less than a month left of summer, the grace period before the school year and pregnancy proper and more editing work. Two of my husband’s brothers with their wives and children due to visit next week, wanting to be at the farm, wanting to swim, wanting chips & pico, spicy ginger ale, shooting stars, date nights. Wanting to enjoy this time of we three before we are four.