Thursday, February 16, 2017

One Year

One year ago, you were a gleam in my eye and a swelling in my belly.

Pregnancy was a different experience than I anticipated. Logic and science told me that my body was growing a tiny human. I felt you all the time, swimming along with me as I trucked through the final days of sharing a body with you. I could identify your bottom, your knees and feet; I could feel your clenched hands reaching and pushing and exploring. Clearly, there was a baby inside me, but I didn't know you. I didn't know who you'd be, what you would look like, how you would change everything. It was shocking when you made your way into the world - you were real and perfect and you'd finally arrived. I struggled to reconcile this tiny, gorgeous babe in my arms with the exuberant fetus who had been using my bladder as a trampoline.

The evening before you were born, I was getting your sister ready for bed when I realized that your debut was imminent. She wanted me to lay next to her in bed and cuddle, but I couldn't do that. My muscles were clenching and releasing, starting to make space for you. I told Mom that you were on your way - she was still at work, but we were doing fine.

I got E tucked in, dinner dishes cleared, dishwasher humming along quietly. I left the light above our wooden table glowing and turned the rest of the lights out. I glanced back down the hall as I padded to the bedroom. The soft amber light gently lit our colorful kitchen and dining room. I recall feeling that our lovely little home seemed... expectant. A wave of gratitude washed over me that your first address would be this house that had seen so many wonderful moments in my life.

I labored through the night and into the morning. I saw my last sunrise without you in my arms. Your grandparents arrived, we went to the Birth Center, and a few hours later, you were born.

Sometimes it seems that it's only been a few hours since that happened.

But now we are celebrating your first birthday, son of mine. One whole trip around the sun. A year of love and laughter and joy and gratitude.

On the day of your birth and every anniversary after, the February sun will rise and its warmth will tease open the first brave gold poppies. The globemallow and brittlebush will bloom and as they do, I will always think that they are celebrating the time when you entered this world and set your own path into the earth.

You are a magical child, C. You are everything and more that we didn't even know we needed. Your smile lights up the room. Your squeaking laugh is impossible to not join in on. You are incredibly loving and sweet. You are ravenously curious and intelligent. You are bold and confident and strong and determined.

This world needs you. It needs you and your sister. I believe we are all here to do important work. We are here to love deeply. To be kind and generous. To be selfless and to serve one another. To be compassionate and empathetic to our fellow humans and the creatures who share this planet with us.

I don't care what you do with this life of yours, my darling boy, as long as you find joy in it. The small things are what matter. Not how much money you make or how successful others believe you to be. No one can determine your worth but YOU.

I am elated to be your Mama and to be given the privilege of walking beside you.

We are so glad you've come!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Women's March

This morning, we crawled out of our warm beds and dressed in warm clothes. We chose things that were pink, had inspiring messages, or were rainbow. E's shirt, a pink one, proclaimed across the chest - "Though she be but little, she is fierce!" She wore a rainbow skirt and a pink jacket and waved a Pride flag she chose from a locally owned bookshop on Fourth Avenue. T wore a "Vote ME for President!" shirt, I wore a rainbow scarf I crocheted a few years back, and C wore rainbow leg warmers.

We ate breakfast and piled into the car. We parked on campus and met T's parents. Together with several others, we boarded the streetcar bound for downtown. We didn't realize how fortunate it was at the moment, but we boarded at the end of the line and just stayed on - the very next stop was jammed up with people wishing to board at the first stop. Our streetcar could only accommodate a small portion of the crowd waiting at the stop and none of the people at any stop after that. Stop after stop, we rode past crowds of energetic marchers waving signs. The wheels of the streetcar groaned and ground against the metal tracks laid into the concrete, car full to bursting with the weight of our collective hope.

I looked around. I marveled at all these people and wondered what the day had in store for us. Women standing close to us chatted with E and played peekaboo with C. The kids smiled and laughed and charmed everyone. While sitting there, I received a text from one of my friends in Texas. It was a photo of my family, sitting in the streetcar! One of the women who boarded first was standing directly in front of us; she had taken a photo of the packed streetcar and posted it to Facebook. Turns out, she's friends with my friend J, who currently lives in Texas but is from here. Our lovely city is a fair size, but at times like these, it seems downright tiny! We all laughed and were jubilant.

Once downtown, we filed out of the streetcar and streamed towards the park where everyone was to meet. It began to rain. The sky was full of bright, full, white clouds and the sun shone as the rain came down. Undeterred, marchers gathered in groups. Signs were wrapped in plastic, taped with packing tape, or started to curl due to the rain. Women, men, children, dogs. All of us together. C had fallen asleep in the carrier on my back, so I stood in one place and swayed back and forth to keep him asleep. I looked at all the faces around me and thought, My family isn't alone.

All the people there at the march felt strongly about women's rights. About people of color. About LGBT people. About fighting bigotry, hatred, racism, misogyny.

When my family walked to the streetcar stop earlier that morning, the people there looked at us and smiled. They saw E with her Pride flag, me with my rainbow scarf, C with his rainbow leggings. They saw two small children with two mothers. It was the most "out" we've been in a long time, as we don't typically go out of our way to identify ourselves to strangers as a lesbian-headed family. It's simply too scary to do that. My anxiety level climbed, knowing we were about to go into a very visible liberal event labeled as gay. But when we stepped into the midst of the other marchers, I felt a safety that I've rarely encountered. Suddenly, I knew that if someone wanted to harass us, there were thousands of people around who would step forward and say, "THIS ISN'T RIGHT!" Who would help me protect my family. And a warm flame burned inside my chest, knowing that other people in the crowd recognized that I would do the same for them and their families.

Finally, the actual march got started. It took a long time to get all the marchers funneled into the street, so we moved slowly. E was losing her patience, but her grandfather had a great idea. He lifted her up onto his shoulders just in time for a cheer to go up among the marchers as the first ones hit the street. Signs and fists were thrust into the air all around us as a cry of joy left many lips. Grandpa turned for a moment to check that we were all still together, and I caught the look on my 4 year old daughter's face. Her face was alight with joy and awe. It would have been impossible to be in that crowd and not feel swept up in the exuberance of the moment, plus, E had the best view of anyone. Proudly sitting atop her (tall) grandfather's shoulders, she got to see the march stretch out before her, as far as her eyes could see. While I watched her, E turned and looked straight into my eyes. I am so full of love and pride in this little girl. I hope she remembers this. She is one of the biggest reasons why we marched - her, and every other little girl out there who has hopes and dreams. She deserves a fair shot, given on equal footing. She deserves a world in which men don't think they are entitled to her body or her mind, one in which she's in charge of herself and nobody gets to decide anything for her.

This is for you, daughter. And for you, son of mine. May you grow into adults in a world of equality, hearts full of love and minds full of the knowledge that your parents adored you and fought for you and wanted you to be happy.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Thank you Gran

Today is the day my mom (and the kids' Gran) was born! Typically, this day is pretty straightforward - you wish the person a Happy Birthday, maybe you go out for dinner, you give the person a gift. The honoree feels warm and happy and appreciated, then the day ends and you move forward into the new year of your life.

My wonderful mother though... this is a hard day for her. Every year, I acknowledge to myself that Mom doesn't like this day, she doesn't wish to consider the day she was born, and she dislikes being the center of attention. And yet, every year on December 18th, all my thoughts start with her. I cannot resist writing about it. I guess I just really need her to know how vitally important she is to me, and to understand that while this day, to her, is a day of sadness and loss, for me it's a day that I'll be grateful for forever. The dichotomy between the ways we each feel about it is hard for me, because I would hate to think she feels I'm being disrespectful by always bringing it up.

I'm truly sorry, Mom, if you feel I'm disrespecting you. This thought distresses me.

But what would we do without you? My family, my children... they love you deeply. This year is the first birthday you've had with two grandchildren. I'm elated that they are blessed with four grandparents who adore them so much but... you are something special. You relate to children in a way that no one else does. I wish we had more photos of you with the kids - let's rectify that in the new year, okay?

So bring on this next year. Did you know that the Winter Solstice is in only 3 days? You're nearly a Solstice baby. As one of my favorite books says, "A baby born at midwinter is born during the time of year when the days are shortest. This child will be forever walking into the light, as each day after birth, the days become longer." And that is how I think of you, mother of mine. You are always looking for the silver lining, living in sunlight and loving eternally. My midwinter mother. I'm so happy you were born.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

On permanence

You fell asleep on my lap this afternoon, darling boy. This happens less and less often with every passing day. Your chubby hand clutched onto the inside of my elbow, your foot hung up on my chest, you slept deeply and peacefully. I watch your face as you drift off, waiting for your eyelids to close all the way and for the breath in your chest to hitch in exactly the right way - this is how I know you're finally asleep. Experience has taught me that if I wait too long to transfer you, you'll wake up, so I can't admire your sweet bowed lips or your rosy cheeks for very long.

I press my cheek to your toes, which are located conveniently close to my face, and whisper to you, "Let's stay like this forever."

"No," your toes reply quietly, as they flex and resist the pressure of my desperate wish, "nothing is forever."

Friday, October 7, 2016

Thirty Years

Last month, I turned 30. T turned 30 near midsummer. It's a big year; a big season for our family. First year as a family of 4, first year into our most grown-up years yet.

My birthday is pretty close to E's, and frankly birthdays just lose their special-ness as we age into adulthood. They tend to fade even more when your vibrant young daughter celebrates hers a week previously. Our parents usually do a sweet, loving dinner and give gifts or money to celebrate our adult birthdays, and I always really appreciate it. I guess I was spoiled by my mom, who made my birthday into this incredibly magical day - even the year I turned eighteen on a weekday and lived 100 miles from home, in a dorm room, she still showed me how much she thought about me. It makes becoming used to these adult birthdays more difficult. I also find that I'm now old enough for people to start asking if I'm "ready" to become my next age, or if I'm dreading my birthday.

Maybe someday I'll grow to dread that date rolling around, but... I hope not. I guess thirty didn't feel like a big deal to me. I have everything I could want. I'm married to the love of my life and we own this home together, have two phenomenal kids, an adorable and sweet puppy, a good and steady job, a retirement fund, a savings account, insurance. I no longer know quite what to say when asked what I want for my birthday. Apparently asking for clothes for your kids, or necessary household goods is insufficient. My coworkers asked, and I replied that I wanted brownies. Hahahaha. (They outdid themselves with a lavish brownie sundae potluck, by the way. Because they're fantastic.)

When my wife asked this year what I wanted for my thirtieth... I knew I wanted something more. More than I've ever asked for my birthday. I wanted to book a photographer whose work we admire very much to take our family photos. This is a big gift because it's a fairly sizable investment, but I figured, we only turn 30 once, and C will only be a baby for a short span of time. I wanted photos. One of the plagues of both being photographers is that, while there are many photos of one parent or the other with the children, there are very few photos of everyone together. So we did it! I'm in love with them, and I'm so grateful that we were able to do it.

Sometimes, in the brief moments of silence, I think about my life. As the saying goes, the days are long but the years are short. Especially this first year of infancy for C. He's changing every day and I feel like it's going impossibly fast, and yet I still yearn almost daily for him to be older and develop more independence. Then I take that back, and wish for time to stand still. And then it's 7:30 pm, he's a crying mess, rubbing sweet potato into his hair in his high chair and E is arguing with us about not wanting to put on pajamas and the sink is full of dishes and there's a pile of bottles that need to be washed for tomorrow and I remember that I still haven't made E's lunch yet or packed my own lunch or stuffed the pup's Kong with kibble and peanut butter and the living room was hit by a 4 year old tornado in a Rapunzel dress and I think to myself, "I may never get to pee again."

In these moments, I will admit to sometimes missing my old life. The one where we could spend the whole day in bed watching favorite television shows on DVD. The one that I could sit at the table and literally paint for eight hours straight, stopping only to go to the bathroom. The one in which I could listen to whatever music I wanted, or stay up late to read, or eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream without being accosted or made to share. And yes, I even miss being able to clean my house on my own time frame and without having to consider whether someone would eat my toilet brush if I left it unattended.

I tell myself, "I'm only human. It's normal to miss these things." I know that one day, these things will come back to me one by one as my children grow and need me less. And I know on those days, when I realize what the return of my own independence means, I will cry and wish for these infinitesimal, endlessly fast days back.

And so I take a deep breath and close my eyes and breathe in the scent of dirt and fresh cut grass from my daughter's hair. I smell the sweet milky scent of my son's breath as he giggles and coos and chews on my chin. I will wait for the laughter to bubble out of my daughter's belly like lava from an erupting volcano, and I will open my lids again to catch my son's brown eyes sparkling with joy as he gets to experience his first Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas this fall and winter.

I think about all those days and weeks and months and years in my early twenties that I spent wishing and waiting and yearning for children. I chuckle to myself before admitting that yes, there is room for all these swirling emotions and desires. I am so grateful; so fulfilled by these tiny dictators who have so thoroughly won over my heart. Easy days, hard days, in-between days... I don't have any regrets about my choices.

Thirty years seems like a long time... but I'm happy to have so much life left to live in front of me. I'm so happy to get to parent these little people and watch them navigate the world around them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Six Months

And in a puff of smoke, suddenly six months have passed since C was born. He'll actually be seven months old in about ten days... yeesh.

These last six months have been challenging, for sure, but C is such an amazing little boy and the way I love him sometimes takes my breath away.

We've had a lot of challenges in our breastfeeding relationship, but it's become more important to me to preserve that than I had anticipated it would be. You see, in 2009 I had a breast reduction surgery, knowing full well that it may affect my ability to breastfeed any babies I have. I prepared for his birth, knowing that my body would likely not be able to make a full milk supply for him. I also suspected that I would have problems with him nursing because my nipples are flat - I worried there wouldn't be enough for him to latch onto. When he was born, sure enough, he couldn't latch properly. Our lovely nurse and IBCLC Judy, whose praises I cannot sing enough, helped us to use a nipple shield. The shield is a piece of thin, formed silicone that goes over the flat nipple in order to give the baby something to latch onto. There are holes in the tip of the silicone nipple, so milk can get into the baby. We got pretty good at using the shield, and I was satisfied.

But then we were hospitalized two times, and the second time C began refusing to nurse. He would get so worked up that he couldn't calm down enough to try to latch. Fortunately, we got one night nurse who saved our sanity and was able to help C get settled and latch. But after that, he had increasing problems with latching and nursing successfully. He'd lost weight while hospitalized, so we were under close scrutiny by our pediatrician, just as nursing became increasingly painful for me. I offered to let him nurse nearly constantly. We heard time after time, from family members and well-meaning strangers (and certain nurses who were jerks in the hospital), "My, he sure seems to nurse quite a bit! Does he ever do anything else?!" I never had the energy to explain why it took him longer, even once I did know why. I cringed and had to practice deep, concentrated breathing techniques to handle the pain stabbing through my nipples as C suckled.

We began offering him supplemental milk that I had pumped and kept frozen. T would give it to him, at first, through the Supplemental Nursing System via her own breasts. She was the first one to tell me that something was wrong with his latch. She suffered through his feedings just as I did, but with thin tubes taped to her breasts that he continually ripped off with flailing, frustrated arms. T pressed me about seeing Judy the IBCLC, she wouldn't stop telling me things I didn't want to hear. No no no no... our baby is perfect and if I just keep going, soldier through, it'll all be okay...

One day, T sat down and looked me in the eye. "You are not just going to power through this. This is not going to get better. We have to get help." My cracked and bleeding nipples that stuck to all my breast pads and bras agreed.

It struck me then that I really had believed I could power through it. I knew she was right. We made an appointment with Judy right away. I cried, trying to explain to Judy what had been going on and acknowledging that he wasn't getting enough milk; that I wasn't good enough. She gave me the space to compose myself and dry my tears before telling me that he was eating and gaining weight, just slowly, and that we were going to do everything we could to make the hard parts easier. Then she cradled C in her lap and gently began to evaluate his mouth. She believed he had a tongue tie and perhaps a lip tie. She noted that he struggled to latch, that he had difficulties getting all the working parts to coordinate in order to have an effective suckle. She suggested seeing a pediatric ENT and a chiropractor specializing in infants.

The pediatric ENT worked us in within a few days, and agreed with Judy about the tongue tie. He performed a frenotomy that day in the office - he clipped the flap of skin that was holding C's tongue too tightly to the bottom of his mouth.

Naturally, nothing's ever easy, and nursing didn't improve right away. We had to stretch open the cut in C's mouth with every feeding to prevent the flap from reattaching. We had to do tongue and mouth exercises with him so he could relearn how to latch properly.

Finally, after a couple weeks and several visits to the chiropractor, who told us he was all out of alignment, things began to settle into a more comfortable rhythm. He was gaining more weight; the pediatrician was satisfied.

Our final hurdle: the damned nipple shield. We used that for five months before we could kick it. It took some effort to get him off it, but once he realized that he got even MORE milk without it, he was ready to transition. I could have benefited from a slower transition time, because nursing for the first time without the shield HURT! My nipples had just barely healed from the improper nursing when I subjected them to nursing without the shield. Fortunately, we didn't end up with any more cracks. Since then, his weight gain has been very good and nursing has been relatively smooth sailing. I'm intensely grateful to be past those first five months of struggling to breastfeed.

You might be thinking to yourself that I'm a bit crazy to be "oversharing" all these intimate details about milk and breasts and nipples and my challenges. But I'm writing about this because as a society, we've lost the normalization of breastfeeding. As my wife so frequently bemoans, our culture has lost its generational knowledge of breastfeeding our babies. Many of us have mothers who didn't breastfeed us and are learning alongside us as we go. Issues that could be fixed with old traditional remedies or techniques now leave us stymied, in need of professional intervention.

Since C was born, two close friends of mine have experienced similar breastfeeding struggles. Both their babies had tongue ties, and one also had a lip tie. Both babies had weight gain issues. Both my friends worried and grieved and wondered what they were doing wrong.

The truth is that sometimes we just need some help. That breastfeeding, while very natural, doesn't always COME naturally. Sometimes it takes hard freaking work. That all babies don't breastfeed the same way, that some come with innate challenges.

We need to relearn breastfeeding culture, so we can all support one another. So we can offer sound advice to our daughters and our granddaughters when one day, they become mothers.

Now, I don't want anyone thinking that my life has been a shambles for the last six months. Far, far from it.

All I have to do is gaze into this baby's big sparkling brown eyes and everything else melts away. He's been a part of me, of us, forever. We didn't know he was missing because he somehow was with us all along. He is a perfect fit, this charming and bold boy. With his thatch of brown hair and a mischievous grin, he's marked his place in our family. He is just as much wonderful trouble as we anticipated he would be - unafraid when his sister was cautious, strong and forthright when his sister was gentle, more level when his sister was a baby of extremes. Both babies have been witty and clever from the start, though we had hoped C might be a better sleeper than he is. Oh well; you can't win them all.

Before he even turned six months, he was finding ways to get where he wanted to go. Scooting, army crawling, rolling, pulling himself along, wriggling. From the get-go, this boy has been so strong. Now he's full-on speed crawling and working on pulling himself up onto things. He is intensely curious and wants to be a part of everything. He is so into food! He loves mealtimes and experiencing any food he can shove into his mouth - even the chunk of bleu cheese he swiped off his grandfather's salad plate like a tiny ninja.

I am trying so hard to hold onto these precious, short, long, wonderful. frustrating, sleep-deprived days with my children but especially with C. He's growing so fast, and the days just slip through my fingers like sand in an hourglass. I know how fleeting this time will end up being, and I'm determined to just be with him in these moments when he reaches for me, and when he sings his milky song, and when he falls asleep in my arms, holding my fingers. Sometimes I feel as if I'm barely scraping by, and yet sometimes I wish desperately that he would stay small just a little while longer.

It's the best part of my life - watching my children grow and change and learning who they are. I am in disbelief that my baby is already halfway to turning a whole year old.

Happy half-Birthday, you sweet and wonderful child.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dear Ev Jane,

You're about to turn 4 years old, my darling daughter. Four of the longest, shortest years of my life.

I dreamed about you for years, sweet one. Wondered what you'd look like, what things would interest you, who you would be and how you'd change me. I waited (not so) patiently for you while Mom grew you within her. I couldn't wait to touch her blooming belly every night and sing to you. As the end of her pregnancy grew near, Mom and I could barely contain our anticipation for your debut.

She came home from work four years ago today, around 5:00 pm, in tears that she was going to be huge and pregnant forever. I hugged her tight and didn't say anything, because there wasn't anything I could do to hasten your arrival. Sometimes I think it would be fun to be able to go back in time and tap myself on the shoulder with a knowing smile, and say, "Everything is going to change after tonight. Just you see. She's on her way." Four years ago, Mom's body was slowly going into labor.

EJM, you are a fixed star in my universe. You're exactly who I expected, when I dreamed of you all those years ago. You're sweet and kind, clever and funny, stubborn and good at looking for loopholes. Your laughter is contagious; your smile lights up the room. You are genuinely GOOD, down to the core. You've made me more patient; more understanding, and better balanced. I'm a better mama because of you.

I knew you loved us, but I couldn't foresee how deeply you would love your brother. Your love for him brings me to my knees with its power. You are the most natural-born mother I've ever come across and I am awaiting the magical day on which you become a mother, to see you with your own child for the first time.

Happy Birthday, my girl. I can't wait to celebrate with you at your Dress-Up party, with your Belle dress and cake and all our family and your friends. You are one of a kind, and I'm looking forward to this next trip around the sun with you.

Love always,