Friday, December 21, 2007

With my whole heart

I read somewhere, maybe in one of Madeleine L'Engle's books, that there are essentially two prayers: "Please?" and "Thank you!" I told a friend earlier this week that the insanity of the winter holidays was starting to get to me, and I needed to see the ocean to give myself perspective. So today, even though there is stuff to be done around the house and errands to run before Christmas, I finally took the time to drive down to Santa Cruz. As I drove over the summit on Highway 17 this morning and caught my first glimpse over the tops of the trees of the low-lying clouds over the bay, it was that second prayer, the prayer of thanksgiving, thanks for the beautiful world, for being here, in this life, with all that has been given to me, that sprang to my lips.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A suburban housewife for one year

A year ago today, I woke up with nothing in particular to do. It was the first day after I'd quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom. I tried writing about the strangeness of it that day, and again a week later, judging by the dates of unfinished files in my Google Docs folder. I was exhausted at that point, so every time I wrote a sentence I needed a nap, which wasn't conducive to getting much writing done. And what was there to say? It wasn't a very exciting thing to write about:

This morning when the alarm went off, I stayed in bed. Brian got up, turned it off, and went downstairs, while the cat curled back up beside me. About half an hour later I wandered downstairs for some orange juice, just as Brian was heading back up to get ready for work. I did the Sudoku and puttered around a bit. When Brian left for work, I wandered around the house aimlessly for a little bit. I had told Brian that on my first day at home, I wasn't going to set any goals for accomplishing things. I was going to eat and sleep, and just enjoy not doing anything. Getting things done could wait until Thursday. But after I checked my email, I started a load of laundry, made the bed, wrapped some presents, and tried to clear out the slow-running bathroom sink with baking soda, vinegar, and boiling water (which totally failed, but did make cool noises).

So it wasn't particularly interesting, although no longer being required to show up for work was a relief, even if I had had an easy desk job. It was nice to not have to commute up to Glover Park from Alexandria each morning. When I got tired during the day, I could lie down and nap for an hour. I tried to get something done around the house each day, and I tried to get out for a walk every day, but other than that, my only task was growing the baby. It was strange to become "a stay-at-home mom with no kids," although apparently, according to what I wrote last year, one of my friends had noted when I described myself that way that the Bush Administration would probably just call me a stay-at-home-mom, and even give my fetus Medicaid. (I have no recollection of that conversation, but I know exactly which friend would have been the one to say that.) I ended up with three weeks off before Adriana's arrival--three weeks to rest up, to allow myself time for the quiet contemplation of the end of pregnancy, the strange turning inward that seems to happen for most women. That was a huge blessing.

Then Adriana arrived and everything changed. Moments for quiet contemplation seemed few and far between, even with our easy-going little girl. IN the early days, when I wasn't busy with her, I was too exhausted to think. But there wasn't that scary end-of-maternity leave date looming six- or twelve-weeks ahead on the horizon. I found it comforting that for the time being, my sole job was to nurture my baby.

Before we were ever married, Brian and I talked abstractly about kids ("our subjunctive children," we referred to them), and I recall him saying that he assumed that if we had children I would continue to work afterwards. I was thinking along the same lines at that point, but as we began to talk about starting a family more seriously, I realized that it was important to me to be able to stay home with our baby, and Brian agreed with me. I feel incredibly lucky that we were able to afford to give up my salary. That means it's important for us to stay a one-car family, and that it will take longer for us to get to a position where we can buy a house. Most of the people around us were very supportive of our choice, although there were a few comments that annoyed me because they made me feel defensive ("Your brain will turn to mush!") and others that made me want to jump to the defense of families where both parents work ("It's really the best thing for the baby."). For the most part I haven't felt the need to proclaim that "Of course I work!" or that "Adriana is my job!" when people ask me if I work, although when couple of (childless) friends have commented that they wished they didn't have to do anything Brian has had to listen to me bitch about them that night.

There are days when I have my doubts, days when Adriana and I are both sleep deprived and cranky, days when I wish someone else were dealing with her refusals to nap and the constant fussing. Then I think that trying to do another job on so little sleep wouldn't be fun, either, and I'd really only get to spend time with Adriana at the end of the day, which is not her finest time. There are those days. But most days we play together and I use her naps to take some time for myself or get things done around the house. She holds my finger and leads me around and around the apartment on her wobbly legs, stopping to laugh at the cat or investigate a magazine that was left on the couch, and I am completely aware of how good life is, how lucky I am.

In one of the posts I began last December, I wrote, "I spent most of my final commute home wondering if I'd made the right decision. All that time and money spent on grad school to become a stay-at-home mom? Would I go absolutely crazy in the first three months of being home alone with the baby? Should I have at least kept working right up until when the baby came?" A year later, I do feel that it was the right decision. That's a nice feeling to have.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Best husband I ever had, part 2

Last night we ordered pizza so that we wouldn't have to cook or do dishes, and after the baby was in bed we divided up some of the housework that needed to be done.

"I just don't know how the kitchen got so messy all of a sudden," Brian said as he emptied the dishwasher and cleaned off the kitchen counters.

"I haven't done the daily straightening up I do in here the past couple of days," I told him.

"Were you trying to make a point?"

I explained that, no, it was just that the baby had been a handful the past couple of days (that's what I get for gloating about the fact that she hasn't been teething--I think she is again), and since we had planned to go out on Wednesday night anyhow, I just hadn't done the normal clean-ups I do before I cook dinner. And then said something along the lines of being impressed that I can cope with the baby all day and still manage to do even minimal tidying up, and how sometimes on the weekends the amount of time he gets with the baby seems like a lot. Basically I don't remember exactly what he said, just that it warmed my housewifely heart.

No other sight spreads cheer so well

Last year I realized for the first time that people really do have themes for their Christmas trees. One friend's tree was all done up in blue and silver. We went over to someone else's house and their tree was decorated all in red and white. I was surprised by both trees, because in my world Christmas trees are covered in multicolored lights and a variety of ornaments of all colors that have been made and collected over the years. These themed trees were absolutely perfect, though.

I thought about those perfect trees last weekend as Brian and I decorated our Christmas tree, a tree that we both agreed on immediately, and then got home and discovered it was too fat to fit where we'd planned to put it. We passed the long string of lights around and around getting them just right--and then discovered that we'd done the strand the wrong way, so we didn't have the plug end when we got to the bottom of the tree, and we wound them back around the piece of plastic, and started over again. We dug out ornaments that I've been collecting since we first moved in together, including a bunch I made out of plastic yogurt lids, photographs, and glitter glue that first year when we didn't have any ornaments. Now we have a bunch of glittery ornaments that I bought at the Crate and Barrel outlet last year, pretty glass globes that I've picked up in various places, delicate outlines of rose windows from Cathedrals we've visited, a ceramic giraffe that says "Baby's first Christmas" and is personalized with Adriana's name and the year, and of course my photo ornaments--Brian and me at our college commencement (I miss those hot pink leopard print sunglasses), the two of us sunburned in Hawaii, his parents kissing under some mistletoe, our friend Jeff rolling his eyes, my mom and me in San Diego. We put all these treasures up on the tree--with none lower than about three feet--settled a sock monkey at the top, and stood back to admire our work and eat some warm gingerbread. It's its own kind of perfect.


Last night I sat in the dark and rested my cheek on Adriana's head. I could smell the Christmas tree behind us, and I thought about the huge trees we had when I was growing up and how exciting it was to find our favorite ornaments as we dug through the decorations every year; about decorating our first tree together, even though we weren't going to be home for Christmas that year; about sitting in a room that was dark except for the lights of the tree last year and feeling Adriana kick at my ribs; and about how someday Adriana is going to be as excited about Christmas as I am. And then I stopped myself and thought about how Christmases past and future were less important in that moment than the simple fact that I was rocking my baby and smelling the Christmas tree right then.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Maybe writing this down will help me remember sooner next time

Why is it so hard for me to remember that the days where leaving the house with Adriana seem the most daunting are the days that it is most important for me to do so? This morning Adriana slept for half an hour, about an hour after I expected her to take a nap, and upon awakening went immediately back to seeming cranky. It seemed that if I was holding her she was wiggling away, but every time I put her down she was fussing for me to pick her up. At 2 this afternoon, I realized that we were both still in our pajamas, and I hadn't even brushed my teeth. Taking a fussy baby out of the house is always somehow a terrifying thought, but eventually I remember that staying in with her when she's like that is worse. So I got us both ready to go and by 2:30 we were out the door. Immediately I felt better. We walked downtown, where I picked up a few Christmas presents and got a hot chocolate, and stopped at the park to play on the swings on the way back to the house. When we got home, Adriana was getting fussy again, but I was somehow more prepared to deal with her mood.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Eleven months

I hate telling people that Adriana is eleven months old. Whenever I do they always remind me that she is nearly a year old (because, what? I might not have noticed?), and I'm not sure I'm ready for that.

I say that, and I do sort of miss Adriana being a tiny (tiny! ha!) baby, but I'm also finding that I love and will miss every stage she goes through. Right now, she is playing with us more and can communicate with us, to a certain extent, and is just a lot of fun. Which is what I say every month. I should probably just write, "My baby is growing up! So I am sad! But she is more fun to play with now and learning lots of things! Because that's what babies do!" And then I could copy and paste that every month and save us all some time.

That would be nice, but it's not what you'd expect from the woman with the 10,000-word birth story, now is it? So:

There are some days when I wonder if this is what eleven months is like, how on earth am I going to deal with a two-year-old? That's usually when Adriana is fussing to be picked up, and then fussing to get down as soon as she's up, and then arching her back and screaming when I put her back down. But then she takes a nap (we still get two a day out of her; ssshhhhhhh) and after an hour or so we are all much happier.

Right now Adriana seems to be between bouts of teething, and it's heavenly. We still aren't sleeping through the night, but I can handle waking up only once or twice. We've talked about the possibility of moving her to her own bed, or even her own room, but she does seem to sleep for longer spells when she's snuggled up with us, and I am content to have her warm, cuddly body beside me this winter. She still not a big eater, but now that there are a few things she'll eat regularly and she seems more willing to try the new things we offer, I feel okay about it. I know she's getting what she needs nutritionally from me, and that at this age "real food" just lets her experiment with different tastes and textures.

I am constantly forgetting how high she can reach. Things set near the edge of the kitchen table are easily within her reach, and I have been surprised at how far back things need to be. We have a couple of little poofs we bought in Spain that she climbs on top of to reach things on shelves that used to be safe from her little fingers; I'm in trouble when she figures out that the kitchen chairs can serve the same purpose. She is closer and closer to walking. Over Thanksgiving weekend she pushed herself to a stand for the first time without pulling up on anything. When I set her down on the floor, she stands for a second on her own, before slowly lowering herself the rest of the way to the ground. She "cruises" easily around the furniture, and when I am in the kitchen she often pulls up on my leg, and I walk around slowly as I do dishes or put away groceries so that she can "follow" me. I get a kick out of letting her hold one of my fingers while we walk, as if we are holding hands and going for a stroll. She giggles and shrieks with excitement as she takes her pigeon-toed bow-legged steps on her fat little feet. On Saturday she took her first unaided steps. Of course, she promptly fell over and has only done it twice more since.

She loves music, and will stand in front of the stereo bouncing in time with the music. Sometimes when a song ends, she applauds. She waves bye-bye when we say to, if she feels like it. She gives hugs to her stuffed monkey, her grandparents' dogs, other children her age, and would even hug the cat if the cat would tolerate it.

She is very much a mimic. I comb her hair after giving her a bath and then hand her the comb so she can try to comb it herself. If I give her the bottle of baby lotion to play with as I am rubbing the lotion into her skin, she tries to dab on more lotion from the closed bottle. Unless she is too busy trying to fit the bottle into her mouth---she is, after all, a baby. She watches the way we feed ourselves and tries to mimic with her own little spoon.

There was a song we used to sing at camp when I was little:
Late last night while we were all in bed
Old Lady Leary left the lantern in the shed
And when the cow kicked it over she winked her eye and said
"It's gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight."
Fire fire fire!
Water water water!
Jump, lady, jump!
Adriana likes to shriek and will copy us when we do so, so I sing the song to her and she copies me when I shriek at the end. Now when I just start singing the song she begins her shrieking. It's kind of cute. And also probably a trick I am going to regret encouraging. I should have just stuck with singing "ba ba ba" instead of "na na na" for the chorus of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" so that she could "sing along" with me on that one. Well, live and learn.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

December in California

I still have the Washington Post set as my homepage, and I am still registered with a metro-area zipcode, so when I opened my browser the other day I saw that it was snowing in DC, and I was a little sad. I did love the (rare) snow that we got when we lived there. It wasn't until that afternoon when I took the baby to the park to play on the swings that I realized that it's probably best to not have snow days anymore.

Lesson learned

If you are heating milk to make yogurt and you smell something suspicious from the general direction of the baby, TURN OFF THE STOVE BEFORE YOU TAKE THE BABY TO THE OTHER ROOM FOR A DIAPER CHANGE. Because burnt milk smells bad. And also because when you hear the noise of the milk boiling over and come running out to the kitchen to turn off the burner with an undiapered baby on your hip? Well, let's just say that no good can come of that.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

At yoga on Friday there were two new moms--one had a six-week-old baby, and the other was the mother to a three-week-old. I had my normal reaction to seeing little newborns--basically a longing for the days when Adriana was that wee and squooshy. Because, you know, what I really need around here is another baby.

But I was surprised by what hit me next: a very intense series of memories of how crazy I felt those first few weeks.

I remembered being in the hospital room alone with her the day we were going to go home. I carefully dressed her in the sleeper that was to be her going home outfit. Then, studying her as she lay in the bassinet, I panicked, afraid that she wasn't my baby. I quickly undressed her again, checking the name tags on her wrist, both her ankles, and her umbilical stump. And then I held her and cried because there was surely something wrong with me if I didn't recognize my own baby.

I remembered standing by myself in a dark room, looking out the window at dusk, while Brian held the baby in our bedroom. It was only a few days after we'd brought Adriana home from the hospital--she must have been a week old at the most--and I felt helpless and scared. I cried, wondering if I loved the baby enough, if I loved her too much, if I would be able to be her mother. I felt that Brian was handling being a new parent better than I was.

I remembered cradling her in my arms in the middle of the night and, seeing her eyes shining in the dark, having a sudden fear that she was possessed by demons. I bit my tongue and made a conscious effort to keep holding her, knowing that I wasn't being rational, and telling myself that the fact that I knew I wasn't being rational was a good sign. But I didn't tell anyone--not Brian, not my midwife, not my closest friends--about that moment for fear that someone would try to keep me from Adriana.

I remembered an intense fear that there was somebody in the house. I knew I was not being rational, but to reassure myself I checked closets and under the bed, the baby clutched tightly to me. For a couple of days I wouldn't leave the baby alone in a room by herself even for a moment because I was afraid that whoever was in the house would steal her away if given the chance. I clung once again to my knowledge that my fear was irrational, telling myself that reading Outside Over There as a child had somehow scarred my psyche.

I remembered my first day home alone with Adriana. I nursed her and changed her diaper and set her down in her little chair. I sat in front of her and looked at her wondering what to do next. She wasn't hungry, wet, or fussing--just awake and looking at me. Surely there was something else I was supposed to be doing. But I didn't know what it was, so I sat and cried.

Adriana was nursing as class ended on Friday, and then she needed her diaper changed, so we were the last to leave. As I was rolling up my yoga mat, the instructor and I talked about those early days and how sweet they are, and then I tentatively confessed a couple of my moments of postpartum panic, forcing myself to laugh them off. It felt good to finally say them out loud.