Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Our Children, Our Stories

So, apparently July happened.

Seriously, how it is that July happened?

But it did, and here we are. And yes, I am still here, despite my unplanned hiatus. And no, there is no major calamity or crisis to report, just life being life and being all kinds of busy and stressful and wonderful and challenging.

At some point in the past couple weeks I read this essay on parenting and writing in the New York Times and between the footnotes, interviews, and word counts and the music classes, swim diapers, and clapping and waving, it stuck.

While a lot of the essay was about the author not wanting her son to hear a reading of her memoir detailing a more colorful time in her life, the part of the essay that resonated with me was the author’s acknowledgment that the people in our lives didn’t necessarily sign up for living with a writer or having their stories out there. That’s something I think about a lot as a nonfiction writer and as a blogger. In fact, I think the more I write, the more tightly I hold their stories against my chest. It is not an easy line to walk—providing enough detail and humanity so the reader is invested without betraying someone else’s privacy.

Naturally I am most cautious when it comes to my daughter. There are so many anecdotes and revelations I think about writing and then wonder if sometime down the road, she will be embarrassed or wish I had refrained, if the line between my story as her mother and her story as her own independent person should be thicker, not more diaphanous. So I write her letters each month and save them in a folder on my desktop, knowing someday I will print them and give them to her and hope I choose my timing well so she doesn’t cringe at the mushiness.

But there are moments that feel appropriate, tiny glimpses of a private life that are meant for public consumption. I can’t believe it has been four months since I wrote a morning snapshot of my sweet girl. I am not one to get too sentimental when one stage ends and another begins because each stage is so much fun and so amazing in its own right, but just like I can’t explain how I blinked and a whole month of the summer has gone by, I don’t know quite how it is that our house doesn’t look as much like a baby lives here anymore.

The bouncy chair she just adored has been stashed away since we were still wearing winter coats. The jumperoo she loved is down the basement because why jump when you can crawl or take teetering, tottering, sideways steps, or swing from one piece of furniture to another? I fear the beloved exersaucer, the scene of so many squeals and pulls and bops! is the next casualty, since the only thing she has used it for since May is something to pull up on and cruise around.

I finally got around to returning the hospital-grade pump, and broke down and cleared out all of the bottles, despite the fact she has used her sippy cup for months. My own little act of denial, I guess. The bottles and the boppy nursing pillow were what gave me pause, and really made me stop and get a little sentimental that she is now 10 months old since they represent such a physical connection to her babyhood. Just tonight as I was weeding through some of her newborn clothes to give to a new baby, a tiny purple Mary Jane sock tumbled out and my breath caught a little at how tiny she once was. (Though so far she has her Mama’s height and can still rock the 6-month clothes…)

It is too good to go this fast.

The baby gates and the sharing entrees with me and the fact that it took twice as long to get through chest PT because she was chasing down the dog, standing next to my therapist trying to pat me, and crawling on my head—all of this points to toddlerhood.

Every stage has been wonderful but even if I could, I would not go back—watching this little person emerge with every wave, every smile, every emphatic shake of her head and every triumphant declaration of “Up!” when she gets up is too good.

(Too good to go this fast.)

Friday, July 01, 2011

On Anniversaries; or, What is Necessary

Last spring and summer, before things got more complicated, every time I walked by the baby’s room I would stop and enter. I’d walk in and touch something—the side of the crib, a stack of bibs that had been washed and folded, the small pink bunny we bought at the hospital gift shop the day we found out she was a girl. The room gets a ton of sunlight all afternoon, and that’s always how it seemed to me—quiet, peaceful, and full of streaming light.

While an amazing, incredible journey, pregnancy wasn’t always comfortable for me, and I am not talking about all the physical stuff of a high-risk pregnancy. I was awkward in maternity clothing stores, awkward about letting people know I was pregnant (if waiting 16 weeks to tell people beyond the inner sanctum is any indication), awkward even saying the words “I am pregnant.”

It wasn’t because I was waiting for something bad to happen, for that other shoe to drop, or anything like that. It was more that it was hard to believe it was really happening, and if I said it out loud, if it became so very real, I would wake up from the dream. So it was a learning curve, letting go of this safely guarded secret, meshing the real world and all the risks and variables with the dream world.

But her room was different. I know many people, those who have been through infertility and loss and those who haven’t, who wait on decorating and setting up just in case, and I totally get it. I was convinced I’d be that person, too. Instead, there was something comforting about getting it ready early, about the trappings of a baby having a place in our home. (Plus, I had a feeling the third trimester would be…challenging, so I wanted to be prepared).

Her room was my compass, my private act of rebellion and hope. Every time I went in there I smiled, every time I rocked in her glider I felt peace. I needed it to remind me everything would be okay, and to remind me it was not just okay to have hope, it was intrinsic to this whole experience.

Now, I walk into her room and there is a peaceful, sleeping baby or a smiling, wriggling baby read to play. The sunlight streams in just like it did last year and I catch my breath as the two worlds collide, the world of waiting and the world of living, and I exhale.

All of this is on my mind a lot as we near the anniversary of the call that changed so much. Of course I know from firsthand experience that such calls do not just happen at 3am; they happen as you are making dinner quite often, they happen as you’re doing errands, they happen as you are about to have lunch, like this one did. We’ve had lots of calls, but this one I remember in visceral detail.

It was this time last year I learned that it is possible to have your heart literally feel like it will stop beating from fear at the same time it wants to explode into a million pieces with happiness. That grief and sadness and joy and gratitude can co-exist—not easily or gracefully, but they can, and we need them to. Becoming a mother will be forever linked with being my mother’s daughter, and there is a lot to be said for that.

Sometimes, it is hard to believe how much has happened in one year, how much life has changed from last summer to this. It is not just good to be hopeful, but it is a necessary part of being.
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