Mon 26 Apr 2010
I bend over to gather a freshly pulled string of ivy off the lawn and toss it into the yard waste bin. I breath easy. Last year at this time, I was pregnant and stubbornly trying to physically do what I always did. But bending over caused a strange sensation in my belly, a protection, a slight inhale of air that left me winded. “Aw, I can’t even clean up ivy?” I thought, plucking another strand off the scrappy fence in the side yard. The act of rising, of bending and then standing was compromising.
As the summer months wore on, I trudged out to the garden with my watering hose, desperately trying to convince my tomatoes to turn red. (I should have cut them back in August but my brain was like a sieve). The seat of my jeans grew dusty as I found myself time and time again plopping down on the dirt instead of squatting down to garden. Picking herbs from my little collection of herb pots on the back porch seemed like a huge trek from the kitchen. As the weather (which was gorgeous last summer) gave way to an ideal garden season, I found my appetite constantly changing. Salad greens seemed paltry, not enough sustenance for someone growing another human being. They quickly sprouted flowers and became stringy. The peas I grew were unappealing and ended up going to another pea-loving individual (my sister). The tomatillo plant I bought in May grew into an enormous, fence eating, creature that hung heavy with small green fruit. Its shell was like a lamp shade, crinkly and folded around a tiny tomatillo. I finally harvested the plant in October, stuffing as many of the tomatillos into plastic bags as I could before Josh hauled off and uprooted the outrageous plant. I cracked open their papery skins and plucked out the sticky green globes one afternoon and made pork tomatillo soup. This was one of the last bits of cooking I could manage before the weight and burden of pregnancy left me lethargic on the couch. After the baby was born I looked longingly at the bag of rotting tomatillos in my fridge. Such promise! Such a harvest! Such a waste as I tossed them into my yard waste bin.
Similar to my garden, I began growing that summer. I felt myself expanding, widening, my body developing a thick shell. By Fall, the quiet of the leaves and the early onset of dusk matched my behemoth self. “I’m huge,” I would think every week and then only get bigger. Items littered the floor–too much work to bend down and grab them. I tried to avoid looking at myself in a store front window when walking by–an action I normally enjoyed. My neck had meshed with my chin in the way I knew it would; Italian women tend to have weak chins when they put on weight.
After the baby, after a few months, my body began to streamline again. The thickness began to evaporate, the weight of my feet began to lighten, my clothes, thankfully, fit again. Perhaps I can blame it on breastfeeding, on the voracious appetite of my son, but I was lucky and my girth disappeared. My chin re-emerged and no longer matched my neck.
Sleep deprivation has caused me to feel fragile…sometimes paper thin. Lying in bed unable to sleep while soft breathing is all around me, I find myself feeling two dimensional…flat. My body shrinks as it makes way for the enormity of raising a child. I feel small and transparent–a whisper of a person. There are times when I rise out of bed at 4am and think: “I’m just not ready for this world, I haven’t spent enough time in the Land of Sleep…I want a break from the real dimension, the weight of life, the peace of not being awake.” When I actually get a large chunk of sleep, (say 6 hours), my mind dreams furiously, churning out images large and loosely unprocessed due to lack of R.E.M.. I wake up exhausted but sated, an actual break from the Real World!
When I was heavy, I was full and thick with night time sleep. My body soaked everything up and clung to it…hair, nails, everything stayed long and thick. Now I feel like a strand, a string, a line. My pants hang in a different way on my new body. The belt loops are hard to pull up when I’m holding a child. Food is sometimes hard to pencil in when I’m factoring in my son’s every need. At restaurants I barely taste what I am eating, so wrapped up in my kid’s every whim that I don’t have to time to savor my food. (Why focus on my Ali Goba when my son just ate his first Indian food off my plate!)
What a relief it is, despite my growing invisibility, to roam the garden again. Unrestrained by weight, my body deftly moves above the trimmed branches of an errant tree. Nature seems brighter then last year, more clear. As my husband and I spread gravel across the alley way on a Saturday morning, our son plays happily in his bouncy chair. It is chilly and we are all dressed in layers. The Chihuahuas start barking at us through the fence, a crow family starts to caw, someone fires up a lawn mower next door…the many dimensions of my life begin to form and pad my body as I silently shovel. This year we have a garden bed and free compost from the city. I’m making baby food and freezing it. Many wonderful women who share the experience of being a parent have entered my life. And I have my body back…
Thu 15 Apr 2010
Posted by MS under BabyNo Comments
When we first moved back to Seattle in 2005, we rented a little duplex next door to another little duplex. Granted, these were single family dwellings from the 1920’s that had been converted into two units–don’t get any ideas that they were fancy. Anyway, there was a family next door living in the bottom unit. They were a nice but distant hippie couple who planted flowers, hung laundry, and tinkered with their Volkswagon in the driveway. Their car sported a handmade bumper sticker–more of a sign really–that was affixed to the back window: “This car runs on bio-fuel! I supply the bio-fuel myself by going around to fast food restaurants. Because I save money on gas, I don’t have to work as much and I can spend more time with my family.” Or something like that…only much longer and more condescending.
The couple had a baby named Atticus. I recall at the time missing the To Kill a Mockingbird reference and instead thinking the name “Atticus” was way too ancient for a kid; It’s the sort of name that looks good on paper but in practice seems forced. Aside from this, Josh and I could never remember the name so we started referring to the baby as Spartacus. I’m sure this was prompted by the fact that the first Sex shop I had ever entered (illegally before the age of 18!) was called Spartacus. (It was located on Burnside near Powell’s Books in Portland; It is now an American Apparel).
This baby, like many babies, cried…especially at night. The hippie couple always left their bathroom window opened a crack and their child’s cries would sail into the late night air and into our room. We stuffed earplugs in our ears, turned our fan up, and pounded our pillows: “Damn you, Spartacus!” We would complain the following morning, (after 8+ hours of sleep), about the extra 15 minutes we could have had if only the baby were not crying. When we formally met the couple, the first thing they said was: “Sorry about the crying.” We politely shrugged them off with a “don’t worry about it” but secretly I thought if they were really sorry they would do a better job keeping the crying down…I was that naive.
Admittedly, we were not terribly sad to see the family go after a year. Granted, Spartacus was no longer a baby by then and I would occasionally see him toddling outside near the Volkswagon with his father. (I have no doubt that he is already learning how to change the bio fuel in the family car). We spied on the hippie couple as they packed their possessions into a moving van; I imagined they were probably headed out to some transitional neighborhood in the south end. Later that day, a nice, unmarried, yuppie couple moved into the unit parallel to ours. They had no children.
5 years later, I have a baby…one who cries a lot. I realize now that Spartacus/Atticus never really cried all that much in comparison. Perhaps the hippie couple believed in Attachment Parenting and slept with the baby. Or maybe he was a quiet baby who only made noise when he was was teething and couldn’t make it through the night. Perhaps when the bathroom window was closed it drowned out the majority of the baby’s cries. At any rate: Babies cry…a lot. And of course, my level of empathy has deepened when I recall the sound of our neighbor’s crying child. In the same way I’ll probably feel new found sympathy in two months when I board a plane for the first time with my own baby. I will have joined the ranks of suffering a airplane ride with a small child. I have reached a level of understanding that only those who can call themselves “Parent” can truly reach.
Mon 12 Apr 2010
Posted by MS under Baby1 Comment
I know my son. Sure, it’s been only five months since he arrived but I know that he’s a bit expressive, emotional, sensitive, and prone to over-stimulation in public places. He is an empathy crier; one who senses the sounds of other babies and mimics their cries. His eyes get big when placed inside one of those gigantic excer-saucers, all bells and whistles, and toys dangling off them like some kind of Herculean beast. He makes several grabs at a few hanging toys before settling on chewing the crap out of the plastic bar that keeps him fastened in.
So, it shouldn’t have surprised me that when required to take off all his clothes except for a dress-code required white onsie and placed on a couch with ten other babies that my boy would have a panic attack. Stuck in the middle, my son makes it very clear how he feels about being pressed into a social situation he hadn’t bargained for:
He is the one with the outstretched lip, propping up the precariously placed kid next to him, mouth set in a permanent frown. While the mothers belted out a round of “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” my son rewarded them with howling cries. Cameras flashed, a few babies actually smiled, the girl next to my son put her finger in his ear. The whole time this was going on my son searched the crowd for me, his cries letting me know his grave displeasure. The photo shoot was only a minute long–I’m sure my kid sped up the process–and when it was all over, we all clapped (yay!). I scooped him up and removed him entirely from the festive scene.
Hanging out in another baby’s pink decorated bedroom, my son and I tussled to get his clothes back on. He was still mad at me for taking them off, putting him on a couch in a fake social situation, and then taking pictures for posterity. I was mad at him for not going graciously into, what would turn out to be, one of the cutest photo sessions of his life, (can’t beat the adorableness of the baby line-up). While I admired the tight decor of our hostess’ baby’s room, my son finally settled down at the sight of a pretty black and white mobile hanging from the crib.
His peace wouldn’t last, however, because then I had the audacity to attempt an art project with him. One of the mothers had provided these really lovely colored canvases for each baby. White paint was produced and it was our job to dip the baby’s feet and then press them on to the canvas: Baby Prints! How adorable! Because I know my son, I offered to go first.
My heart sank as I removed my baby’s socks off and was rewarded with a squeal of complaint. Another mother stepped in to help me, trying to aim the paint brush at his wildly kicking feet. Carefully, we painted the bottom of his feet white while he cried in protest. Then, I hastily pressed his foot to the green canvas I had picked out. Because he was struggling, the first foot print was sloppy. “Heh, heh,” I said to mask my disappointment. The second time the canvas came at him, my son had had it: he pushed it away with his painted foot and left a smeary second print. (His cries seemed to say, “NO GOD NO, not the canvas!”) Instead of two lovely baby footprints, it looked like I had attempted this art project with a baby Sasquatch. The first print was barely recognizable as a foot but the second foot print looked like my kid was literally running away–a quick smear across the canvas. I looked at our finished art project and felt a mix of foolishness and despair.
No surprise: The other babies left much nicer foot prints on their respective canvases. While they wordlessly and silently placed their painted feet against pink and blue canvas, I was left with the task of removing the white paint from my son’s feet in the kitchen sink. He was livid. He was so outraged that I had to stuff him into the Ergo carrier and jiggle him around until he finally passed out into a brief, unsettled, sleep. Our canvas looked so terrible I polled the other moms: “Should I try this project again?” They took one look at my frowning, sleeping baby and discouraged me from a second attempt. One mother said, “It is what it is…it reflects your son.” She had a very, very good point.