confession

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While pregnant, I worried my child would be like me: shy, insecure, hesitant with friendships, with saying ‘yes!’ I remember, as a girl, my mother coming to say goodnight and being greeted with a daughter in tears who asked her, “why doesn’t anyone like me?”

(I grew out of it, found confidence, found myself, but it took years)

Now that I’ve met my son, I have the opposite worry. Like his father, he’ll often be fearless. Like both of his parents, he’ll want to do things perfectly. But I think he’ll be charming, loved, outgoing. I think he’ll have this bottomless well of joy, optimism, hope. I think he’ll be headstrong, independent, capable. I worry that he won’t ‘need’ me at all.

It’s exciting. It’s wonderful. It’s what we wanted – a child who could hold his own, who would leave home at 16 for a magnet school or to live in Chicago with Aunt Taylor, in London with Aunt Susie, anywhere. But it’s a strange feeling to look at my eight-month-old boy and already know that he’ll probably be his own man long before I’m ready.

Intimacy

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two weeks old

Experts tell us all of the time how important touch is to human beings. It’s one of the reasons the internet, they say, is so dangerous.

Once we hit the teenage years, my mother hugged us less. Not never – I never felt neglected. It just didn’t happen a lot. Whenever I left (back to boarding school or college) or came home, there were hugs. And my father hugged just as infrequently, usually when my mother told him to do so. My sister and I were never really touchy either.

It was around the same time that I was dreaming of romantic affection, of being touched, of being held. In high school we had ‘cuddle puddles’ in which a number of friends would all hang out in a big group, nestled against one another platonically. Holding hands with female friends. But I dreamed of sleeping all night in the same bed as someone.

I dated a few guys. And then I met my now-husband, and we touched. Neither of us had ever been with anyone who loved casual physical affection so much. Reading with his head on my lap. Sitting with our legs tangled together on the couch. Touching, touching, touching.

It spilled over. Without thinking I would lay a hand on my mother’s arm or initiate a hug with my father, with my mother-in-law. Giving it away.

Then I had a baby. They call the first three months the Fourth Trimester because the baby still needs to be kept so close. I remember knowing that other people’s babies, when I held them, were foreign bodies with indeterminate levels of delicacy, unknown likes and dislikes, but not mine. His body is my body. Until the spring, we were the same pale color, often the same temperature. We sleep together, eat together. I know exactly how to hold him, how to move him, how to catch him when he’s about to fall. I have touched every inch of him countless times, and he has crawled over and touched every inch of me.

Which makes it a strange sensation to hold a friend’s child. I’m friends with the parents of a 3 month old, a 9 month old, a 14 month old, and when we are together, occasions arise to hold these other boys, to carry them, to catch them. It feels simultaneously comfortably familiar and a touch foreign. Like deja vu. Each has a weight, a scent, a balance, that’s a glimmer or two off from my own son. And the knowledge flickers in my brain that they, too, have touched every part of their mothers, have hardly parted from them.

In other countries, mothers and grandmothers don’t hesitate to nurse one another’s babies. A village raising a child. If any of these mothers asked (they wouldn’t), I wouldn’t hesitate to do it for them. I don’t know that they would do it for me, though now it’s becoming less vital as the little man will be satisfied by fruit, by beans, by mashed vegetables if mama is not available.

I’m not certain why I’m thinking so much about this now. Maybe it’s because I can see how close close close he is to crawling away from me.

Wonder Weeks

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Some of those who study early childhood development have come up with a schedule of Wonder Weeks, shown most simply in a chart of Stormy Periods
of mental leaps, advances, which present themselves through clinging, crying, impossible behavior, followed by Sunny Stretches.

Motherhood, I think, has Wonder Weeks, weeks when I’m trying to keep up with this still brand new person in my life, to read his signals, to figure out when he needs help and when he needs healthy neglect,
weeks when my Patience is Thin, regardless of how objectively challenging the baby is being.

Right now, for example? Thomas is entering a Wonder Week time. On the verge. Not just first tooth, not just almost-crawling, but apparently there’s about to be yet another Big Bang in his brain as the world around him suddenly makes so much more sense. again. As he puts together the sounds we make with what they mean, light switches relating to light, time of day relating to routine. He’s nowhere near impossible, but he’s working harder than usual.

And it shows. In how close he is to crawling. In the ways everything continues to not just fascinate him but to send him into joyful giggle fits (strangers, shadows, the dog). In how much he loves to engage with others – family, friends, other people at the grocery store. My little charmer. He’s actually sleeping a little better than usual, too.

And I? After a long dark wonder week of the soul, I’m slipping into a Sunny Stretch. I have a newfound reservoir of patience and calm in watching his very necessary struggles. It’s spring, and nothing can’t be cured by a long walk outside, by sitting half an hour on the beach, our feet digging into smooth sea stones, by a little mama milk, by coffee and cupcakes with friends and their oh-so-chill baby boys, by an escape all alone to run or to buy summer dresses and sandals or to sit in the quiet of the library, by a morning waking up together as a family with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

I’m writing and I bought a new dress & a new skirt. I have a pile of library books and a full stash of tea. Fortified and ready for June, for live baseball and grilling out and family hikes.

spring fever

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as clean as it gets

I am not a scheduled person. I don’t do well with too much order, too much repetition. I love the idea of eating the same breakfast every day, the same lunch, but after a week or so I break out of. I love the idea of an organized week – washing bathrooms every wednesday, buying groceries every thursday – but I can never hold to it. By the zodiac, I am a Capricorn, but only missed the realm of Sagittarius by two days, and it definitely influences my center of gravity, my orbit.

Yes, this week there’s been oatmeal for breakfast every day and salad for lunch every day. There is a walk in the morning every day. The dishes are washed and the kitchen made spotless twice a day – one in the afternoon, once after dinner.

But there was a run on a misty Tuesday afternoon with no dog and no baby, a run, a run, a glorious run. And at the end of it I stripped off all but my underwear and bra and ran into the sea. If half a dozen houses on the bluffs weren’t there, I wouldn’t have worn anything. I needed it. I needed it. I forget how much I need it.

I have been writing. I have been knitting an octopus. I haven’t swept the house in nearly a week. I had a chocolate chip muffin for breakfast.

“I don’t care,” he says, about the housekeeping, “as long as you’re happy.”

So I’m trying to be happy. To love my house as it is the way I’ve been learning to love my body as it is. Our house is warm, cozy, lived-in. There are Things on Surfaces because we use them – his National Geographics, my books of poetry and history, the baby’s toys, my sewing machine, his brewing supplies, endless cups of water and mugs of tea. They are on tabletops because we use them. There will never be a good place to stash my current knitting project because it needs to be in reach – not just in the living room, but available to me even when I find myself trapped under a nursing/sleeping baby and only able to stretch my hands so far.

We are not slobs. We are not unsanitary. I sweep away cobwebs when I find them. There’s no food rotting in our kitchen. Our bathrooms are cleaned often enough. But my house is not spotless. It never will be, because we live here.

And outside. We live outside, too. Because we are entering the few months when we can be outside most of the day, when it is warm enough, when honeysuckle is blooming and my swiss chard is bursting.

I feel better.

incubation

02. radio show

(from the old days)

 

nine months, give or take, to make a baby, the cluster of cells that explodes over and over until it forms a person, complete, whole, ready to slip out of the womb, into the world.
and then nine months, give or take, to make a mother, the cluster of cells that is already a person, complete, whole, but becomes something more, added onto, expanding as her body contracts.

then what? when she is the mother, knows the routines, the signals he gives to communicate what he needs, the home base?
the mama?

just as he reached that moment, a little over seven months ago, when he needed to be out of that womb, his mother has reached the point where she needs a little bit of a separation herself, to be not just mama but to reclaim what she can of her old self, body and mind.

maybe it’s the spring and the whole world calling for adventures. maybe it’s knowing that my husband will soon be home from work for three warm, beautiful months, that he is itching to be just dad for a while, that i am itching to be all of me. maybe it’s just Time.

labor pains. he is a hungry boy, and though we feed him mango, beans, yogurt, banana, he still nurses and nurses, latched on, hand tickling my lips or tracing the freckles on my chest. he soaks through diapers in the night, half-waking to nurse at one am, and three, and five, and six. when the sun goes down, he only wants ‘amamamamama.’

i want to walk to provincetown at the end of the cape, or to the western edge of the state, or all the way down the appalachian trail. i want to get muddy and sweaty and lost. i want to skinnydip like you wouldn’t believe. i want to get drunk and write and write and write without keeping an ear out for a crying babe. i want to talk to people. not Moms and Dads, but people.

for seven months i have worked to be Good, and lately i’ve been there – eating mostly Good Healthy things, imbibing less alcohol, less coffee, walking our neat little 2.8 mile walk every day with dog and baby, doing the laundry, sweeping the house, watering the seedlings, cooking for my husband, or at least doing all of the dishes, tending the homefire through the baby’s infancy, through the winter. and i am so tired of being Good i could spit.

my husband finds calm in routine, in order, in occasional abstention. many people do. i feel hemmed in.

i need to run with wolves. i need to drink wine with lionesses. i need to bake outrageous pastries with divas. i need to swim with goddesses. where are my women?

every mother i meet can only talk about mothering. i try to draw them out into other things, but it always circles back, snaps back, their leashes restraining them. you are WOMEN, i want to say. you lived two or three decades of life before these children joined you – you MUST have more to talk about than them!

i’m trying to conceive of how many years i’ll be changing diapers and loosing my breasts more often for a babe than for my love. three little ones, or maybe two, we’ve said from the start. i find myself wanting to crowd them together – i want to be swelling with the next one now. i want them to pile up quickly, grow up fast (not too fast). i want them to distract one another, look out for one another. the more i spread myself between them, the more independence they’ll have to learn.

sense suggests timing the next to join the world a year from now exactly. we know of two weddings we’ll most likely attend that next summer, and i selfishly want to be pregnant sooner, to give birth sooner, so that i can shrink back down to size in time for family photos. i am alice, weighing vial in one hand and biscuit in the other, growing and shrinking and growing again. my husband says we could always wait, put off baby for the next year, but wait? waiting? another year?

i even have noticed, on the edges of my thoughts, the rebel idea of just keeping the one, just one little boy in our lives. financially, logistically, of course one would be ‘better.’ an only child? i scoffed at the idea. now it prods me with tiny pinprick nails, like those my son scrapes across my neck. i want babies babies babies. but i want me, too. i want my marriage. i want travel and work and play.

i love my son. love him fiercely. his eyelashes, his single freckle, his gummy smile, his trembling lip before the tears come, his babbling, his hobbit toes.
but i love myself, too.