Two Months and Then Some

It is easier and harder. Less and more. Just as I cannot say which child I love most, I cannot say whether two is more challenging than one.

One knocked me over. Everything was new. The milestones were amazing. The hard days were impossible. I didn’t have any idea of what to expect, not really, and so it was a constant shock to the system.

Two is not surprising. It is full of the ricochet of nostalgia, of comparing photos of the two boys at the same age, comparing habits, comparing troubles. Remember when he… ? How did we ever… ? It is exhausting. It is loud. The two of them interacting with each other happily, smiles and voices and kisses and sweetness, melts, for a moment, every tension in me into a puddle of love. The two of them crying and clinging and needing simultaneously makes me want to tear myself apart.

In order to mother these two, I must be two mothers. I must be rambunctious and playful and adventurous for the toddler. Climbing and running and singing and wrestling, matching his energy, letting him be his nearly-three-year-old self. But I must be calm and soft and comforting to the baby, source of milk and coos and gentleness.

Mothers talk about tearing their love, their heart, in two for two children. My heart has grown without incident, my love multiplied without any head-scratching or erasures. But my body? My hands? How do they serve two masters?

And what about the third master, that self of mine, that makes her own very real demands? She sneaks in when she can, tries to speak clearly and succinctly. You need to run today. You need to put the baby down. You need to take five more minutes in bed.

You need to forgive yourself.

I’ve got you where I want you, and now I’m gonna eat you

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This is the life we dreamed of, wanted, planned for. A beautiful house, two children with a third not ruled out, a good dog. His job is solid and good, and I’m on the verge of being hired for a dreamy part-time-that-may-one-day-be-more job. We’ve developed friendships, friendships with people who write, who paint, who plant massive gardens, who keep chickens and goats and cows, who believe in good food. We have a farmers’ market, a favorite farm, a local music scene. We have a vase of mint and lilacs, both from our backyard, on our table. We have the dream.

And right now I am planning a vacation across the country, across the universe. I am learning about Oregon, about Washington. Researching flight costs, camping, breweries, air bnb, public transit, food, hiking, camping. Reaching out to friends who call the west coast states home.

It’s a luxury. One that is indulgent. One I don’t know if we can/should afford. I’m afraid I’ll regret the cost. We’ve a wedding to attend in New York in September. We’ll likely have to head south for a funeral in the next year. And there are always the surprise expenses in life.

On the other hand, it’s a trip we’ve wanted since we first began dating. It’s our first real trip in ages that is not for family, that is to a place neither of us has been.

I’m afraid I will never want to come back. I’m afraid that the wild coast and the mountains so near and the rains and the people and the protected places will sing their siren songs and I will strain against the bonds that lash me to this place. I’m afraid that I will leave my heart behind.

Impossible

It’s all unstoppable forces and immoveable objects around here in the mornings. It’s the baby’s cries and screams unless he’s being held right now and it’s “But I can’t, mama” and “No, I don’t want that one” and a million other toddler demands. It’s spills and smears and spit-up. It’s screeches and shouts. It’s elbows and knees. It’s completely melting down or shattering and knowing that I can’t take a moment to recover because I can’t just magic the two of them away for a moment. So I stop crying or yelling and I coo at the baby and I apologize to the toddler, explaining my emotions and frustrations in simple toddlerspeak. It’s regret that I slammed the door or threw the still-inside-out Batman underwear across the room.

If we can only get past those first hours, the needs that start before I’m even out of bed, the needs that do not let up until we are all dressed and changed/pottied and downstairs and fed, we can make it. There’s a backyard for digging, a dirt road for walking, beach boulders for climbing, libraries full of puzzles and toys, grocery stores crowded with people to charm. Lunch and nap time and Dada’s return home. A partner in parenting.

It’s just those first three hours that leave me sobbing and empty and completely in over my head.

I stole my husband’s favorite flannel shirt today.
Nothing else fits.
Everything is dirty, milk-stained,
too big, stretched strange,
too small,
incompatible with feeding a hungry newborn.

The babe stole from me hours of sleep today
and yesterday
and the day before.
He wakes too far before dawn,
snorting and snuffling,
congested,
his little body still adapting to the
food and ways of this world.
He cries and calls out.
But the silence is even worse,
and I move even closer to find the
sound of his breath.

My husband’s mother will steal my older son away today—
his morning with Nonni.
Gymnastics class,
a little walk,
and lunch wherever he likes
(though they always go to the same diner
just around the corner).
This son who yesterday bit his best friend
twice.
This son who says every night he wants to snuggle with me
forever.

Today I’ll cook down onions, mushrooms, garlic
in the middle of the afternoon.
I’ll stir in warm crushed tomatoes,
paprika, cumin, red pepper,
more garlic,
let it simmer as the day ends.
Then a few cracks over the frying pan
at the last minute.
Served with slices of homemade sourdough.
Eggs in purgatory.

Nothing lasts forever.

Presently

Muttered sighs at my collar bone. Milk leaking onto everything. A baby, a bird. A son.

I drift through days, willing my body to heal, taking things slow. Coffee and reading. Old movies and knitting. Nursing and nursing and nursing, growing chubby baby cheeks and baby thighs and baby brain. Adrift. No goals, no expectations. April sliding away. Am I doing the Right Things? (‘You do not have to be good…’) The toddler and the husband off on their own again.

Green things sprout and begin to bloom. April showers.

Words inked onto blank pages.

Unburdened

I just finished watching Tracks*, the story of the woman who crossed 1700 miles of Australian desert in the 70s with just four camels and her dog. I could tell within minutes of starting it that it would be dangerous, the temptation of Eve. The itch comes along every once in a while, to leave everything behind but a backpack and start walking. Often in spring. Often during the first straight week of nice weather. Even more so this year, now that my body hasn’t run in months, has hardly taken wandering walks all winter, has been wrapped in warming wool and kept inside, has been weighed down with baby and all of the extra blood and and fluid and exhaustion that accompanies the task of incubation.

This is when I tear through my home like a cyclone, paring down possessions, clearing out clutter. This is when I dream of the trails and wild places all over this country. This is when I am outside every day, fingers deep in the soil of my yard. I test the balance between allowing my body the recovery time it needs after pregnancy and birth and the need to put one foot in front of the other. My toddler only wants to run these days, a trot or a gallop, climbing, jumping, thundering across wood floors and racing down dirt roads, and I feel the same. Strap the baby to my chest and go.

Six years ago this month, I dropped off a boy at the foot of the Appalachian Trail and ached to be the one shouldering the pack and walking north, rather than the one climbing back into my mother’s old minivan and writing my final college papers.

Five years ago, I was newly detached from a failed engagement, just beginning to plan a solo trek across North Carolina, hellbent on convincing my parents that I would be safe, when a different (and, in retrospect, rather important) opportunity presented itself, and I headed higher into the mountains instead.

We don’t need to go far fast. Find a route that allows for toddler pace. I just want to be out, away, off the grid. Sun darkened and feral-smelling. There is so little wilderness left here where the settlers landed four hundred years ago. On the dirt road we walk each day, my son runs each time into an undeveloped plot, up through a path of mulched leaves, and I want to give to him acres of that. I want land where you can’t hear cars or chainsaws or trucks or lawnmowers. I want him to see more than just neighborhood birds and squirrels, occasional rabbits, and the flock of turkeys whom my neighbor lures with corn thrown across her lawn. I want both of my sons to know wild places

The grass will always be greener, I tell myself. Be content with where you are, with the good of what you have.

I recognize that good. But I cannot be content with it.

*The poster on the link is wildly inappropriate…

the story within the story

The point of a story is always the point beside the point.
[Hollis Summers]

There is the story, and there is the story within the story. The moral and then the meaning. The life and the interpretation. Nearly all of my fiction, all of my poems (and nearly all “creative” writing, I think) is real experience (or at least real dreaming) filtered and mulled over and mixed and distilled and scribbled over and reimagined until it best expresses what life presented in so sloppy a manner.

I gave birth to a baby boy three days and one hour ago. Numbers and facts were noted by midwife hands as events unfolded, and my own initial response I’ve written already. I’ve talked it through a little with my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law. But the story is still unfinished. It’s what happened on the outside, not the inside.

Sometimes the plot twists. Sometimes your body throws you curve balls, holding onto your baby long after you thought it would want it out. Sometimes the firecracker baby girl you imagine for months and months is the sleepiest little chirping newborn boy you’ve ever seen.

And sometimes the plot finds a theme and won’t let it go. The same emotions as before as labor goes on for longer than you want. The same sensation as the slippery, squidlike body separates from yours. The same curl on his forehead, same hairs on the edges of his ears, same weight on your chest as he sleeps.

It’s a new section to my(/our) narrative, A period and a blank page and a fresh beginning. A new season. Finding our shifted balance as a family as I rediscover the balance of my own unburdened body.

When I gave birth the first time, I thought I would find a wellspring of inspiration, creativity, fertility for my work, and instead I found the shock of new motherhood. This time I expected a shock, and though I know it won’t be easy, something tells me the words, too, are there waiting.

maybe

distant thunder.
the kind that wakes you from sleep not because you hear it, but because you feel it,
because the hair at the base of your neck prickles,
because there’s a charge to the air
even if the clouds outside the window haven’t fully gathered yet,
still loitering just beyond the tree line.

I am struck by the pale purple hyacinth in the dining room
the bold rose-coral hydrangea in the living room
the sprouted green cabbage
the white budding citrus.

this morning I want a hot, steaming bowl of buttery oatmeal
creamy and sweet and thick.
ginger tea.
regina spektor and feist and ani difranco
bittersweet, bright, unstoppable.

ready for the sudden downpour.

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Pink Moon.

Egg moon. Fish Moon. Flower Moon. Duck moon. Easter.

The month of sex and birth and rebirth, all jumbled together.

Flowing and flying and flowering.

And with all of this change, the snow melting and wildlife moving and plants surging from the earth (daffodils! tulips! not yet flowering, but soon), my own body has grown still. My hips don’t ache the way they did a month ago. I have a little more space to breathe, a little more room for food, since the baby has settled as far down as it can go. My due date, arbitrary as it may be, was four days ago, and while my brain, the “I” of myself, is restless and anxious and frustrated, my body and baby seem content to wait for the right moment. So we make plans and follow through with them. Dinner with friends, errands, household tasks. The cabbage seeds I wondered if I would have time to plant have already sprouted in their little newspaper sprouting pots, the peppers and gooseberries, I imagine, not far behind. The baby’s quilt is finished, and the knit blanket widens as I knit around and around, counting the stitches like rosary beads, begun with only eight and adding eight more every other row—now 100 around, now 300, now 450.

I squat low, stretching toward the earth. I circle my hips, an awkward belly dance. I drink pints of raspberry leaf tea, eat black licorice, spicy food. I bake morning glory muffins and honey oat bread. I marvel that my belly has not burst open like an overripe plum. I welcome days without coats, days without mucky boots. I spy frost outside only early in the mornings. I point out to my son the flock of turkeys that loiters around our house, feathered tails flaring, fluttering on and off of fences. The worms in the soil.

Everything is changing quickly these days, and I feel like a stone at the center, still and unnoticed.

dig down deep

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I can feel my mind burrowing down, away from the winds of the world and into that place it will soon need to be to birth and nourish and properly adore a new baby. I can feel the distraction tugging me away from work, from other people, from to-do lists. My nesting is not scrubbing floors or stocking the freezer (these things are mostly done, but out of practicality as opposed to biological need); it’s starting to knit a baby blanket a week before the due date with the baby quilt still on the quilt frame and needing many many stitches. It’s reading beautiful words. It’s listening to my body, waiting for the sonar to ping back with the signal that Someone is Coming.

On the first day of spring, after a winter without illness, I started battling a cold. For two days, I wasn’t sure who would win, but by Sunday it was clear that illness would. Now I am congested and without sense of taste or smell, stuffing cloth wipes and napkins into my pockets in case of sneezes that lead to rather devastatingly disgusting consequences if not caught in time. I’ll admit, I’m very much hoping baby will wait until it clears to arrive.

So it’s tea and fire cider and watching the snow finally finally beginning to melt away. It’s staying close to home, reading and doing puzzles with my son, knitting every free moment. It’s waiting for the gardening seeds to arrive in the mail, hopeful that we can get a few planted inside before there’s other life to tend to. It’s breasts beginning to ache, belly unbelievably big and so crowded by this child. And just as spring will one day soon surprise us by being real, so will this new little life.

The quilt pattern is called “flying geese.”