subject to change

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

It's a lonely business, sometimes.

There is a unique kind of loneliness in motherhood. I felt it the strongest in that first month. My mother came to help when we were first home from the hospital. Around 10 p.m. she’d say her “goodnight, I’ll be back in the morning,” and I would pin a brave smile over my mouth, give her an extra clingy hug. Watching her climb the stairs and shut the door behind her, I was eight years old again, waving to her from a foggy bus window, my pillow over my lap, my stuffed backpack hung around my little frame, heading off to wilderness camp. Do I have to do it by myself? What if I can’t do it? Is this all a big mistake?

Night is when no one else can do what mother does. I could feel the weight of my mantle press deeper into my shoulders at the thought of it. At dinner time, all the lights are on and the house is alive. In a few short hours, though, everyone will be sleeping, and there I’ll be - baby and I, and the two a.m. moonlight casting its pale blue glare on the kitchen appliances we pace past. The hours on the clock go up to twelve, then back to one, and start over. I’d witness every number of night, every night. I’d give my solitude company through soft lullabies. I’d hope for an easier night. I’d whisper for maybe a longer stretch of slumber, post feeding, or perhaps not too many cries to wake my husband, who had to be up early the next day. I’d pray I could sleep when baby slept, which is much harder than you’d expect. If it had to be a rough one, my heart would cry out for something beyond myself to respond and give strength. I’m her only mother, I’m the only one here. She doesn’t want anyone else, so this is mine to do. I both loved it and feared it so greatly.

I wonder if there isn’t something altering about this experience, that carries itself into later stages. Now my daughter is 15 months, but the loneliness persists. I see it in other mothers, too. My girl and I will go to the library for “story time.” I watch us mothers file in with our kids, our bags, our car seats, our strollers, wearing our ponytails and yoga pants. The little ones bound away to find the best corner to explore. We mothers shout after them with warning or direction hardly ever obeyed. Each of us pick a vantage point, and from there we watch our kids. And that’s it. We say nothing. It’s silly, actually. It’s like riding a packed subway car, all the while acting like no one is around you. We pull out our phones, keep one eye on the child. Occasionally we float awkward comments to one another, usually when our child starts interacting with theirs. But we quickly go back to our invisible cubicles, quietly vigilizing our offspring. We think our thoughts, and feel our feelings, in solitude. Maybe we feel better in silence. Maybe we’re too tired to say more. Maybe we’re too familiar with being alone. Maybe we’re afraid of what others think of us. Maybe we’re afraid of what others think of our children. I have felt all those things and more. Sometimes, I feel lonelier sitting in a room with mothers - whom I know, for a fact, have been through exactly the same thing I have - than I do when I’m home alone. And there’s something sort of tragic in that. Motherhood can be lonely work.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dear Ada...

I've been writing letters to my daughter since she was 22 weeks old pre-partum. This is an excerpt from the letter I wrote her today.

I'm not sure when or how I will talk to her about my battle with depression. I'm not sure how old she'll be when I first use the word "depression" when describing how her mama feels sometimes. I don't want to make my disease her problem, but I don't want to ignore it either. So until I figure out how and when, I guess I'll write things like this so she knows that even people who have trouble being happy can still have such beautiful days.

*************

Let me tell you more about what we did yesterday. Because yesterday is a pretty typical day for you and I lately. You woke up around 9:15 a.m. (again, this is because you’re not napping during the day very much) and I made you a frozen Kashi waffle with pieces of banana. You finagled some cheese out of me after your waffle and banana were gone, and you drank almost a full sippy cup of milk all on your own. I changed your diaper while you watched Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. You despise having your diaper changed, so I have to have something to occupy you while I do it. I meant to change you out of your PJ’s, but I didn’t. In fact, you stayed in your PJ’s all day.


Now before you get upset with me about this, please hear me out. Most days you and I just hang around the house. If we leave the house, it’s usually to take a walk in the stroller, where I bundle you up with blankets and a coat, and no one sees anything but your face. It’s January, it’s cold, so keeping you in jammies makes a fair amount of sense. Except yesterday, I took you with me on an errand. To a store. In your jammies. And I kinda didn’t wash your face and hands after lunch before I did, so you were looking pretty shabby.


I’m sorry! If it’s any consolation (which I’m sure it won’t be) I hadn’t showered in two days and was wearing the same clothes I’d worn the day before. I just wanted to quickly run to this one place and be done. Well, it didn’t work out that way.


While in this place, this party supply store, where I had you in the seat of the shopping cart, you proceeded to have a tantrum. You were having none of this party store business. No, ma’am. Fussy, fussy pants. You were scaring me with how violently you squirmed to find freedom from the cart. I quickly bought a few things I didn’t really like and got out of the store as fast as I could. Strapping you into your car seat was like taking you out of one seat you disliked into another that you LOATHED with the fury of hell itself. I was having a sad day (missing your Dada) as it was, so this was not helping me feel better. As I drove out of the parking lot, I had a brainstorm. You and I looked so gross, but I didn’t care. We drove around until you calmed down a bit, and then I took you to the mall.


You love the mall. You love the people-watching the best. The smaller stroller I put you in helps you feel less tethered down, more in the action of it all. You tried fudge brownie for the first time from a sample we shared at the cookie place. A big hit. Best of all, I took you on your very first merry go round. (For the record, you were nervous at first, but then you loved it and didn’t want it to stop.) Then we went over to Dino-Towne, which is a dinosaur themed indoor playground. There were all these older kids running around like lunatics, climbing up things and sliding down others. I set you down and let you roam. And roam you did. 

It's profound for me to watch your world get bigger right before my eyes. You watched all these kids flying around with deep interest. After a few minutes of observation, you took off to the far side of the floor, squealing and laughing as you went. Then you stopped, turned around, and looked for me. I smiled and waved, and off you went in another direction. You stopped my heart to watch you, Ada.

Yes, you were in your jammies. Yes, you had dried peanut butter on your face. Yes, your hair had not seen a brush in twelve hours or more. And all these other moms were sitting on the sidelines, looking very done up and trendy, with their leather knee boots and faux fur vests. I was wearing dirty baggy jeans and oily hair tied in a straggly knot. And all their little ones were wearing things like ruffled bell bottom pants, floral headbands and pink Uggs. Not us, Ada. We were ragamuffins. Fresh out of Slumville. I truly didn't care about my looks, or yours, for that matter. We were on an impromptu adventure. So no, we didn’t stop to look in the mirror when the world beckoned us to go explore it. We never intended to be in public yesterday, but it happened anyway. We were having a rough day, and we needed some fun, so we changed the plan on the fly. I’m sorry if it embarrasses you to hear this story. I can tell you this, you certainly did not seem to care what you were wearing. And don’t worry, love, I don’t plan on making a habit out of public pajama wearing.  


We got home after that and you were a different girl. A happier girl.


I just love you to death, Ada. I love spending time with you. I don’t sleep well these days, and I have a hard time feeling happy. And I will work on that so you can have a happy mom. But getting to spend this time with you is my greatest joy and blessing. Other moms sometimes have to work when they'd rather stay at home with their children. Thanks to a Dada that loves us so much, you and I get to be together all the time. And that makes me so happy. You get more and more fun with each passing day. I miss the baby Ada very much. But I wouldn’t trade her for the spunky, beautiful girl you are now. My dearest girl.


Mama

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

If, for no other reason...

What an interesting day. Anyone who reads the blog knows my daughter isn't the greatest sleeper. But that's really my only challenge with her. At least, not until today.

Baby girl is usually so happy. She rarely fusses or cries, and when she does, it's for good reason. But today has been different. From the moment she woke up she's not been the girl I know. For one thing, she's screeching at her daddy and me. I could be down on the floor playing with her, holding her, after having just changed her and fed her, and she's screeching at me. Frustratedly. As if I'm not doing ANYTHING right. As if I haven't paid attention to her in hours. What gives, baby?

This time I didn't run to the internet for answers because I already know what internet would say. Growth spurt, teething, developmental changes, etcetera, blah-yadda, blah-cetera. So yes, it probably is one of those things, or more. No one can know for sure. All I know for sure is she's acting like she hasn't had a nap in weeks, when she had a good one only an hour ago, and her life is half an Elizabethan tragedy, half a Sartre-esque hell.

At first, I resisted being kind toward this behavior. Maybe I'm giving her too much attention, and now she's demanding it? Now, if we're all in the same room, all eyes/hands must be on her, or else? Oh, I don't think so, little miss. You calm yourself down this minute. But then things went from bad to worse, as they often do.

By the time I'd carried her into the bedroom for a story before her nap (earlier than I normally would,) she couldn't even sit with me on the bed. I tried nursing again. No, mom! Gosh! Throw in the towel, this girl is done. There was something distinctive in the way that she was crying that made me soften. She was obviously ticked, but it was more than that. Let me see if I can put it in words: "Mama, this sucks. I hate how I feel right now. Nothing is fun. Nothing tastes good. Nothing feels right. And I don't want to do this today." It was this sad little face, her sweet mouth turned in a frown, her torso twisting and bending in my arms, capped with a head collapsing into my chest, that changed my heart. I know exactly how this little girl feels. I've had days like this, too. Nothing helps. Nothing makes it better. I know, Little, I know.

I turned on the fake rain (from our noise machine) and drew the curtains. She cried harder. I grabbed Bear, and the three of us commiserated for a few minutes in my arms. I put Bear down, and she cried harder. Right shoulder? No good. Left shoulder? Nope. Cradled sideways? Well....not great, but I can work with this position. Over and over we tried to find a good spot to snuggle and rock in. And then I did the only other thing I could think of. I started to sing.

"Whenever I hear the song of a bird, or look at the blue, blue sky...."

There are moments in motherhood, I'm finding, that are startlingly sacred.

"Whenever I feel the rain on my face, or the wind as it rushes by...."

Now I've got her attention. The fussing slows. And something warm is washing over us both.

"Whenever I touch a velvet rose, or walk by a lilac tree..."

And then I sang higher,

"I'm glad that I live in this beautiful world Heavenly Father created for me."

She went all quiet. I think it was the high note that gave her pause. I sang the second verse.

I'm hardly ever happy with the sound of my voice. There's hardly ever a time when I think, wow, that sounded pretty good. But when I sang to baby today, I marveled. My voice was brilliant. It was clear and pure. The intonation was effortless, the phrasing, the breathing, it was perfect. This was not my voice. It was my voice, and it wasn't. It was my voice after I die, the voice I'll sing with when I'm in heaven. Not my voice here. Not my mortal voice with mistakes in it. I was so thrilled with how I sounded, I sang some more.

"Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you. Away, you rolling river...."

Baby girl stayed quiet, her eyes open, looking weary and distant. But she was listening. I sang my heart out to her. I sang as if I knew my voice was healing her pain, her discomfort, whatever it was that was making her sad. I sang like I was on stage at Symphony Hall in front of thousands of people. I filled my voice with as much love as a song can hold. And then she closed her eyes. Her breath was rhythmic. I pulled her close to me, and we swayed in silence, my head resting on hers.

It was at this point when I realized I was standing on holy ground.  Here at the Marriott Residence Inn in Charlottesville. There were angels standing in a circle around me and my girl. And all of us swayed together in the quiet, with the fake rain to soothe our minds. And I praised God for the beautiful girl I held in my arms. I never, ever, ever wanted it to end. I hope she feels better. I hope she will someday know how loved she is. I hope she knows that bad days eventually pass, but until they do, singing helps. And I know for sure, now, that if God gave me a voice for no other reason than for this day, and that experience, it was reason enough.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The thick of it

The thick of it: a few days ago, I broke out into a heat rash. I'm stressed and, apparently, I'm hot. Baby got up eight times last night. My back is in knots. My knees ache. I'm dropping things and forgetting things and I'm tired, tired, tired.

The counter-measures: I've been given an added portion of so many traits I do not innately possess. Traits like patience, endurance, optimism, self-reliance. I have my days, weak moments. But for the most part, I'm happy. I can see the blessings. I can see what a marvelous gift Summer 2013 is to our family. It's such a short time, but it's changing all of us, undoubtedly for the long haul.

The dividends: Scott's working harder than he ever has, and he's soaring. He may not think he is, but he is. He's more articulate, more mature, more responsible, more of a man (and dare I say more svelte) than ever before. He stays on top of his responsibilities and obligations on a whole new level. And I know he's doing it for me and for his little girl. How exhausted he is when he comes home every evening is evidence of his love for us, and it is a powerful motivator. It makes me want to take care of everything else (laundry, meals, bills, a clean home, a positive mood) so he knows how much I love him. Marriage boot camp cloaked in the guise of JAG training? I think so. We are better people for this; at last, it is so clear to me we needed this growth.

The milestones: Baby is waving to people now. She can get herself to a hands-and-knees position, and she can almost pull herself up to standing, all on her own. She's grown four teeth and can make a motor-boat sound like a pro. Yes, she sometimes likes to shriek a little when I'm not giving her something she wants. Whenever I wipe her face off after mealtime, you'd think there was skin-eating acid on the washcloth. But she brightens our world with her deep blue eyes and her sweet laugh. She waves nigh-night to Dada from the bedroom doors now. And she makes her parents weep for joy at every new accomplishment.

I think I write these things down here because this is where I stand on top of the peak and survey the land. Once in a while, we need to take a moment and hike up to higher ground for a better grasp of where we are and what's really going on. Baby is babbling in her crib - - nap time is over. That's okay. I'm ready to come back down the mountain and go back to work. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Miracle

Scott and I are 60% sure baby said her first word this past month: "Dada." We're more than halfway convinced she understands what it means when she says it. But there's more than enough room for doubt on that. She babbles a lot of syllables these days. Granted, every time he walks through the door, I point and say "DADA!" as obviously as anyone could. So even if she doesn't say the word, I'm pretty sure she understands the word "Dada."

Why am I saying all of this?

Two nights ago, at 5:13 a.m., out of a stone silence, a little voice from the crib cried, "Dada! Dada!" Scott rolled over and mumbled a response, barely conscious. A second later, he bolted straight up and looked at the alarm clock. Army physical training started at 05:50, and he'd forgotten to set an alarm. "What time were you going to set it for?" "5:15," he said.

I don't know if any of you have ever been late for Army PT, but I'd advise against it. Little girl had her daddy's back that morning. We still don't know for sure if this is her first word, because she hasn't said it since. But we do know, with even greater gratitude than before, that she is our miracle.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Life with Scott - Entry 01

Scott and I have never made one of those "five famous people" lists. I'm not sure what the name actually is. You know, the sanctioned five celebrities you're allowed to cheat on your partner with list? He and I discussed this recently, around the time Kate Middleton gave birth.

Me: Did you hear she didn't use any pain medication? She practiced hypnobirthing.

Him: I like her. She is so cool.*

Me: I know! I do, too.

Him: In fact, if I were to have a 'five people' list...

Me: No, I get it. Totally.

Him: Except...I don't want it to be my 'five people I get to sleep with' list.

Me: Okay.

Him: I want it to be my 'five people I get to hang out with list.' Or maybe even 'five people I get to go on a date with' list.

Me: Okay.

Him: Like, 'Princess, you're really great and all, and I'd love to do some windsurfing, maybe kick a soccer ball around. But, you know, let's keep it above the waist, 'cause we're married to other people, and that's not cool.'

Me: Very sweet, dear.

*While Scott and I both are deeply impressed at Princess Kate's choice to have a natural birth, we also think people who choose to have babies with the help of pain medication are equally as rad. In fact, if you've had a baby in any way, shape, or form, you're in the rad club.

Monday, August 19, 2013

If you think I write too much about sleep deprivation, you're right.

I'm feeling pffffft. I haven't yet gone on any grand adventures with the girl. I had these ambitious notions of getting a bus pass, visiting the library, seeing the sites, etc. But my motivation has taken a dive. Baby's upper tooth is giving her grief. Also, she's growing like a weed. As in, fast. For every minute she is conscious she is collecting data on how to be a human being. She's taking in her surroundings, with eyes and arms as wide as a mile, with such ferocity, it's so, so, so difficult to turn it off, even when her poor, weary eyes are begging for a break. And even when she does close her eyes, behind those sweet little lids, she's practicing what she collected that day. She goes over and over it in her mind, trying to master the concept, whatever it might be. Like a bride the night before her wedding, or Christmas Eve for a ten year-old, life is at maximum volume. So just how does a baby come down from that? It's simple: she doesn't.

These are the things I try to tell myself in the light of day, when my body and head ache so much I want to cry at anything. She's trying, I say. She has so much to learn, I say. She needs time and patience, I say. But my coffers are empty. Sometimes, some days, the well is dry. Sometimes, some days, the well has been dry for a while, and I'm still miles out from the promised land.

Yesterday I lost my cool. I hate when I do that. She couldn't sleep, so she cried instead. I pretend it doesn't bother me, as if I have to prove something to myself. Laundry to do, and I really want to eat something,  I reach for the Ibuprofen, I burn my fingers on the microwaved leftovers. Storm. Slam. Walk out. Sit and stew on the step. Forgot the key back into the room. Figures. Walk back with my head low. Stupid antics. I knock and husband answers. I hate when I lose it in front of him. It's not that he judges. He worries. I'm trying to hold my own here. I just need sleep. And clean laundry and a full stomach. Then I notice it. The room is quiet. "Is she asleep?' I ask wide-eyed. He nods, yes. And then we hug. A little down time, a little food, and a phone call to the Virginia Academy of Massage for an appointment next weekend. The vessel is not full, I'd say, but it's definitely enough.

So I rally. I stick to the routine, I stay the course, and I remain the constant in her expanding, high-speed world. She'll find her balance again. Sleep is something she had learned before, but she lost the file when making room for all this new stuff. Please, baby girl, find it again soon, it's in there somewhere. Mama wants to take you to the library and see the sites. But clearly, you have enough on your plate as it is.