freewrite: on the road, in the world

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“oh, he’s so good-natured.”
“oh, he’s such a good-looking baby.”
“oh, look at that smile!”
“all babies are good babies, but… that’s a good baby.”

what does one say to such things? how do you respond to others’ recognition that the universe has given you a gift?

we’re on vacation, and he is easygoing as we ride and wait and fly and ride again, as we traipse from downtown coffeeshop to brewery tour to vegan cafe, in and out of his borrowed seat, in and out of the arms of strangers who smell different, sound different, hold his tiny body in ways unlike his parents do. he takes it all in, eyes that still look both blue and brown wide and watching – a variety of faces, a spectrum of ceiling fans, dogs in every house in which we stay (and cats and chicks in some, too), smoky mountains, mexican restaurants. all over this southern state in which i grew up.

but regardless of where we go, compliments. admiration of his behaviour, his looks.
and what am i to say?
that my husband and i endeavor to maintain an enviroment of calm in our home and lives, that when we hear him fuss we compassionately temper our infinite love with a moment of wait, of weight, of waiting, to see if he can find his own center, his own safety, that we are so very awesomely fortunate?
or that i can hear the envy in their voices, remembering the sleepless nights while we are rested, remembering long fits of screaming while we can usually soothe fussing, let alone screaming, rather easily, remembering marriages stretched to their limits while my husband and i are still without doubt in love?
how about that i continue to wait for the other shoe to drop? even though i am through the pregnancy with minimal discomfort, through the labor that went so similarly to the way i anticipated, the way i pictured it, through the early weeks of newborn delicacy and my own healing, on into the sixth month of his life on the outside, i still wait for the troubling times, sickness, temper tantrums, rebellions, hard drugs.

i still wait for the scales to balance.

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freewrite: unwell

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mark was sick (again), weakened by a trip up two flights of stairs, bed-bound, coughing, queasy. he went back to work today.
for two days, thomas has been a touch fussier than usual, wanting only mama’s arms. yesterday i caught a scent off his brow, a mustiness, a sourness. “he’s going to be sick,” i thought. “no, that’s silly. he’s probably just teething.”
before bed, his head felt a touch warmer than usual. just teething, i told myself. bone erupting through delicate pink gums. the system working through trauma. of course he’s running hot, all systems in gear.
but all night his head wavered from warm to hot, even after i threw off his blankets, even with a damp washcloth against his scalp. i curled my body round him. i dreamed i was back in college, but there was no place for me to stay – i forgot until it’s end that i graduated almost five years ago now. i’ve been dreaming a lot lately, something i haven’t done much since i was writing a lot of fiction.
and today? he is a little irritated, uncomfortable, sleeping a bit more than usual. his head is like a thermos full of warm tea. but the rest of his body is functioning as usual. no rattling cough. none of the Danger Signs. a fever is a sign that the body is fighting. i am tired of fighting. mark and me sick last month. mark and thomas this month. we are not people who often fall ill, certainly not enough to render us bed-bound for days.

nurse, my mama friends say. nurse, nurse. so we are in bed, and he is fussing, eating, peeing, napping, occasionally gracing me with that bashful baby grin as if to let me know he’s alright, he’s okay, he’s just fighting a war.

 

freewrite: keeping the home fire burning

 

a blizzard.
my husband is the baby is our dog is sleeping through this blizzard.
two feet of snow on the ground, more coming down (and up and sideways), and the sky is getting dark. no electricity for nearly a day, and i have candles lit around the room, but what is most dominant is the woodstove, glowing flames glimpsed through tempered glass, heat thrown into the room. i could stand, find a book, or my knitting, but all four of us are tangled on this couch and i would disturb them all by standing, so i’ll sit and watch the fire, keep my eyes on it, wait until i cannot not stand, wait until more fuel is needed. while my husband shoveled, while my baby nursed, it has been my job to watch this fire, keep it alive, keep it fierce. that’s what i had never thought about – the homefire is not about a little cozy warmth come the blizzard times. it’s about keeping from freezing. it’s about extreme heat. the inferno in the iron cage.
keep the calm. keep everyone fed and warm and dry. keep the spark. keep it close.

freewrite: baby lust

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motherlove is such a feral, physical thing, full of touching, kissing, belly rubs, tickling, snuggling, comforting. when words and songs cannot suffice, a simple hand held out, rested on a tiny chest, grabbed by tiny hands, can calm the beating in that chest and slow the quaking of those hands. i am constantly holding chubby feet in my hands as i nurse him. i am constantly cleaning out lint and dog hair from his tiny folds and nooks and crannies. he is delicious and addictive.

and i want more. i already want more babies now. i want the thrill of the secret, knowing a new life is growing before anyone can see it. i want the endless curves of a pregnant body. i want the tiny kicks in my belly, the yoga stretches and ninja flips. i want the flood of post-birth hormones that lasted for weeks and made me love everyone, every thing, all of the time. i want the double joy of watching my son as he grows and knowing that i’ll get to watch all of these milestones again soon soon – holding up the head, finding fingers and toes, the tiny yawns and sneezes, the rolling, and all of the things i haven’t seen yet. we’re out of the four-month growth spurt and i have such a clever little boy now, exploring and seeking and responding, and i’m already forgetting the baby reflux and the weeks of waiting for my body to heal. i have a habit of looking back with rose-colored glasses. always have. even when i tell myself, in medias res, to remember it all, the lonely, the tough, the painful, but i don’t. i look back at so many times i know were difficult and see only the romance, the perfect moments. even now, even when he is fussing and i’m trying to edit (work! real work!) and my brain is like half-melted butter, even when i ask myself if i really wish i had another… i still do.

i have practical reasons, too, to want our children close together. i don’t want to be a breastfeeding, stay-at-home mother forever – i want the baby phase to be over at some point so that i can reclaim my body and my work. i want these babes to be close to one another as friends, to have an overlap of friends.

but mostly, it’s baby lust. tiny bodies, tiny rough-hewn voices. tiny cackling giggles. tiny eyelashes on tiny eyes too young for their color to yet be determined. tiny people whose entire lifetimes can be measured in days, weeks, months. i love it.

Fontanel

No one ever told me it would pulse
Like a beacon of light
Like a heart
This tiny thumbprint-shaped spot of
softness
in the middle of his hardening skull.

I remember the day I found my ex-love’s pulse
in his neck.
The first time I’d seen such movement
on anyone.
The first person to whom I was sufficiently close.
We were in bed at the time,
The bed where I first said “I love you” to him
To any man.
He wrote a poem about my discovery
of the heart beating at his neck –
not his best work, if I remember correctly –
And then he proposed.

Over the winter, we froze
slowly,
cold and hard and bitter,
And when spring came
to revive the trees
We found we had not survived.

I think about this because
I am lying in bed,
a delicate etching of frost on the skylight above me,
With my husband –
my love –
to my right, asleep,
his own pulse a slow, steady thrumming
between stubbled jaw and bare chest,
and my son –
my love –
not quite four months old,
to my left, asleep,
Not just his neck but his fontanel –
his whole body, really –
aquiver with the tender strength of his life.

Tenuous love
between two pulses
made flesh.

Fine Tuning

Coiled.
Wrapped ring upon wring
(wrung out).
A spiral of savored secrets,
of hurts and sensitivities.

Remembering what it was like to
sprawl.

But now clenched,
held close,
a pearl at the center.

Oh, the silence.

A looseness
A ring of promise
and a ring to make the promise kept.

Though my belly swelled and carried a child,
the product of our kept promise,
and my breasts now swell to feed him

my fingers hold fast to their slender nature

Relaxed, unconstrained
by these, my vows
to love.

I sometimes forget
when I am wound tight,
chafing at the bindings,
that such discomfort is
self-inflicted,
not at all the fault
of our union.

As I did while laboring
to birth our love,
I need only
lessen the tension,
loosen the muscles,
take note of the metal and plastic that
respectively
respectfully
encircle my two
ring
fingers,

and breathe.