Thursday, January 7, 2016

This Is Thirty-Three

Sunday morning, on the day of my 33rd birthday, David got up with the baby and I slept until 10am; undoubtedly and by far the latest I have slept in more than six months. I woke up alone in my room to the light streaming in from the window. It was quiet. It was glorious.

Saturday morning, on the day before my 33rd birthday, I woke up at 7am to my baby talking to himself in his crib. When I went to get him he smiled his biggest morning smile, and we went downstairs for our Saturday morning routine. Diaper change, bottle, an hour of reading books and playing with toys, and a morning nap. While he slept I drank coffee and read my book for an hour until he woke up, and we started all over again. A little different from my pre-baby Saturdays where I woke up late, drank coffee practically as soon as my eyes opened, and read my own books all day.

This, I think, is thirty-three. I just went back and read what I wrote last year when I turned 32, and I laughed because I really thought my life would just keep trucking on in the face of such enormous, life-altering change, but, well, nothing about having a baby and becoming a mother has been anything like I expected it to be. 

Thirty-three is knowing the names of ten different kinds of bottles, understanding baby clothes sizes, knowing when it's time to switch to the next size diaper, understanding the difference between a cry because something is really wrong and a "I don't want to go to sleep, I want attention" cry and knowing that there is a difference between a crib sheet and a bassinet sheet and a portacrib sheet and why in god's name does every bed my baby sleeps on have a different sized mattress? It is realizing that you can, in fact, survive on just a few hours of interrupted sleep at night, but that when everyone told you that the sleep-deprivation that comes with a newborn is akin to the seventh layer of hell, they were absolutely, positively right.

Thirty-three is being frustrated by all the roaring opinions everyone seems to have about how to do absolutely everything associated with your baby, and even with yourself once you have a baby. It is realizing that motherhood is hard no matter how you slice it, and as long as your baby is fed, diapered, and reasonably well rested, and you manage to eat semi-regular meals and fit in a shower every now and then, you are doing just fine.

Thirty-three is realizing that no matter how much becoming a mother has changed me, the core of me has stayed the same. I still watch an unreasonable amount of TV, sing along to country music in my car, hoard romance novels, and love french fries. I still prefer staying in to going out, I still devour Entertainment Weekly, I still can't get into Mad Men no matter how many times I try, and if it doesn't have a happy ending, I still won't read it or watch it. And all of this makes me happy. Because even though I am now a person who has a minor panic attack when I see a mid-day email from the daycare director, barely bats an eye (or even changes my clothes) when my baby throws up all over me, celebrates when he manages to get food in his mouth and swallow without spitting it, and thinks that the Nose Frida is the most genius invention of all time, those details have managed to wedge themselves in between the parts of me that were already there.

I wanted to say that all of those things have fit like puzzle pieces, but aside from being horribly cliche, the change just hasn't been as seamless as that. Because thirty-three is also knowing that, however inevitable most of this change is, it is still impossibly difficult. It is feeling utterly unprepared for all of the newness and sometimes a little baffled that the hardest and most unexpected parts of new-motherhood are hardly discussed at all except in whispers, as if admitting that the new parent experience is rarely filled with sunshine and rainbows and the singing of the angels is somehow disloyal to this new person that we have brought into the world. But thirty-three also comes with considerable relief that, six months into this parenting gig, I think that I have started to find the new normal that works for me and I seem to be, finally, hitting my stride.

Thirty-three is trying to hold my friends and family closer than I ever have before. It is remembering how deeply my growing up years were informed by the extended family that raised me as much as my parents did, and how it continues to shape me as an adult. Thirty-three is wanting my own children to have exactly what I did - to grow up knowing that there is a village of people surrounding them and loving them as they make their way, and giving them a soft landing and a place they can always call home.

Thirty-three is being blessed with this kind of family - the one I was born into and the one that I have made. The kind that has opened their arms and their hearts, showered my baby with fun, and who have loved him like he is their own, because he is. I understand that now.

Thirty-three is constantly being a little startled by the fact that I'm the adult now because most days I still feel like I'm in college and should be sleeping in a dorm room and snacking on Cheez-Its and orange soda while my roommate and I listen to Eminem on repeat. It blows my mind sometimes that I have a baby, a career, six nieces and nephews, and a mortgage. It seems like that should be for other people, people who are older than I am.

But it's not. Thirty-three is starting to understand that this is my life and it's the only one I get, so I am making an effort to open my eyes, to really see what's going on around me and to make the best decisions I can for my family and for myself. I'm not quite sure yet exactly what I want out of this whole life thing, except that I know I want to be a good friend and a good partner, daughter and sister. I want to be a good and interesting mother and to raise silly, happy, imperfect kids.

Thirty-three feels like the beginning of something, somehow; like I have my toes on the line and I am just waiting for the starting gun to go off. And I think I'm ready now to grab whatever lies ahead, even if I can't quite make out exactly what it is. But whatever it is, it feels like a privilege to be here now - to love and be loved, to have family and friends that are mine, to have a baby who is happy and healthy and bright. It took me some time to get here, and I feel like I want to honor where I am now and, especially, the journey to this place. More than ever, I understand that this is what's important. That, at thirty-three, these are the things that matter.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Letter to My Baby - Six Months Old

Dear Will,

You're six months old today. I feel like one gigantic parenting cliche when I say that I have no idea how this even happened. How has time flown by so fast that you are already halfway to a year old?

But time is a funny thing. I've always known this, the way time tends to stretch out and contract depending on the circumstances, but never more so since you came blazing into my life. When you were about nine days old, I was sitting on the couch with your grandma and I was holding you while you slept and I was exhausted, half-asleep. I mentioned to her that I felt like I had lived a lifetime in the less than two weeks since you were born. She smiled. Maybe even laughed a little. "That's parenthood," she said to me. "It's a lifetime and it's also five minutes."

I have realized over and over in the past six months just how exactly right she was. Because even though it seems like just days ago that we locked eyes for the first time, I also sometimes feel like I can't remember a time when you weren't here, growing and changing and becoming a person with opinions and preferences and a personality that gets bigger every day.

At six months old you are the happiest baby around. My favorite moment of the day is when I walk into the house after work and you see me in the doorway and you give me that open-mouth grin that is absolutely my favorite. You know me, I always think. You know that I'm your mom. And that's just magic.

You love to smile and talk to yourself and to us. Sometimes, when you wake up in the morning, you are perfectly content to lay in your crib and babble away to yourself and it makes me wonder about what's going on in your head, and about all the things that you'll be saying once you learn the words. You are more judicious with your giggles, holding them back until you find something really, really funny. I'm the best at getting you to laugh though, and that fact makes me exceptionally, unreasonably happy.

This past month, you were sick for the first time. You had a cold and a high fever and for two days you barely cracked a smile. On the second night it was hard for you to sleep. You were hot and restless and weepy and every time I heard you cry I came in and picked you up from your crib and sat with you in our big grey chair. I covered you with a blanket and we rocked until you fell back to sleep. And there, in the darkness of 3am, with your head heavy on my shoulder, I wanted with everything I had to make you feel better, and I thought that I had never felt more like a mom than I did in that moment.

It's funny how it happens. I became a parent in the big moments of your life - the day you were born, the day you came home from the hospital. But it's in the quiet moments - feeding you in the middle of the night when you were a new baby, packing your little backpack every night for daycare, walking with you in your stroller down a sunny, summer street, rocking you to sleep  - that I became a mom.

I want what's best for you with a fierceness that I sometimes don't recognize. I want you to be healthy and happy and to know how much we love you and that we will always, always be on your side. I want the world to be kind to you. I want to protect you from disappointment and sadness and mean kids and high school even though I know that I can't and that I wouldn't even if I could because those are the things that build character and make you interesting. The truth is, all that wishing and wanting and hoping can sometimes be overwhelming. But then, you look up at me with your big, blue, curious eyes that seem to see everything and I realize that I am trying my very best and you are exactly where you need to be and we are doing just fine.

You are getting so big, and it seems like every day some shirt or pair of pants that fit you yesterday is too small all of a sudden. And while putting clothes that you have outgrown into separate bins labeled by size appeals to my great love of organization, it also makes me a little bit sad. I sometimes miss the tiny baby you once were, even though watching you grow and change over the past six months has been my great pleasure. This is the paradox of motherhood, I think. Nostalgia for the months and years behind you and excitement for what lies ahead, all tied together with the visceral understanding that one day, if I do my job right, you are going to grow tall and strong and independent and take your first steps away from me and I am going to have to let you go.

But not yet, ok?

Happy six months, my sweet Will. I am so proud to be your mom, and I am so lucky that you are mine.

With love as big as the sky,


Monday, November 30, 2015

Five Months

One Month

Two Months

Three Months

Four Months

Five Months

And some outtakes from when he decided the sticker was food...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks

I remember the day before Thanksgiving last year, vividly. It was snowing; the very first snow of the year. I got up early to go get bagels before we got on the road to spend the holiday with my family in Pittsburgh. I was eight weeks pregnant and we hadn't told a single person. Not my parents, not my sisters, not my in-laws, not our friends. No one.

I drove through the quiet, snowy street of my neighborhood feeling a heady combination of emotions. Excited that we were going to have a baby. Worry that something would go wrong or had already gone wrong and maybe we weren't. Wonder at the surprise of it all.

It's terribly cliche of me to say, but I can hardly believe that it has been a year.

Having a baby - becoming a mom - has been nothing at all like I thought it was going to be. And yet, almost five months removed from those first turbulent, emotional, terror and tear-filled weeks, I think that maybe, just maybe, I am starting to feel steady and solid again.

At first I wanted to write that I am feeling like myself again, but that's not quite right. Because I am not the same person I used to be; I won't ever be that person again. Becoming a mom changed me in ways that I am just beginning to understand and appreciate. But I think that the most important parts of me are still in there, intertwined with the parts of me that are now charged with keeping another human being that I created happy and healthy and safe. And he is.

Life. It is complex and tricky and things don't always go the way we want them to or the way that we planned. I think that what I have learned most of all over the past five months is to be gentle with myself, and to embrace the not-knowing and just forge on ahead because motherhood is the steepest learning curve there is. I have made mistakes, both big and small, and I will undoubtedly make more.

But every night when I put my thriving, happy baby to sleep and sit on the couch with my man and a glass of wine, enveloped in the quiet of my house after a day filled with noise, I realize that I am doing as good a job as I know how to do, and really, that's the most that any of us can ask of ourselves. And I understand now more than ever that I have a life that's good. A life that is happy and rich and layered with beauty. And all of this? It's kind of miraculous.

So on this Thanksgiving-eve, as the sun starts to set over my little slice of the world and as I get ready to head for home, I am feeling a heaping dose of gratitude for the path I find myself on, for the people who walk it with me, and for this life. Exactly the way it is supposed to be.

And I am thankful.

For a growing family.

And my own little one.

For this smiley little boy. The one who was meant to be mine.

For sisters.

And for the kiddos who come from them.

For best friends.

For home.

For this life. Mine.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I'm the Mom Now.

When the nurse handed him to me, all bundled up in that familiar pink, blue, and white hospital blanket and a hat that I had to slide up to see his little face, he wasn't crying.

His eyes - huge and dark and startlingly grown-up for a baby that was less than five minutes old - were wide open and seemed to be calmly taking it all in as he observed his new surroundings. For a second his eyes locked on mine and I knew then that I was his and he was mine and it all felt heavier than six pounds, three ounces.

I have a baby, is what I thought.

I didn't think, I am a mom.

For two days I was surrounded by nurses who called me "mom" instead of by my name and a stream of visitors who managed to work the word "mom" into the conversation when they were barely over the threshold of my hospital room.

I changed diapers and fed my baby. I hobbled around as best I could, assisted by extra large doses of whatever painkillers the nurses brought to my bedside. I sat next to him in the backseat of our car on the way home from the hospital. I did whatever came next without thinking much about it. I cried for all the reasons and for no reason at all. I had dirty hair and dirty sweatpants and baby clothes piled on my kitchen table and I was too tired to sleep. Nothing was the same as it was before.

But I wasn't sure if I felt like a mom. I didn't know what it was supposed to feel like. No one ever told me.

Our third day at home. The call from the pediatrician. Jaundice. Levels rising instead of falling. Hospital. A lab tech pricking the heel of my tiny baby. His startled cry. Another call from the pediatrician. Levels rising again. Back to the hospital.

Our second trip was on the Fourth of July. It's a suburban hospital and was all but deserted for the holiday weekend. The pediatrician assured us that he took care of everything and we just had to show up and it would only take a few minutes. But there was a skeleton crew and no one could find his faxed request and there were phone calls back and forth for an hour and I didn't have any cell service and no one was answering and they couldn't find a lab tech and the receptionist was frustrated and angry with me, as if I was the one who caused this mess by having the audacity to show up at her hospital on a holiday with a three day old baby in urgent need of a blood test.

It hurt to stand up. I wanted to sit on the floor and curl up into a ball. I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to let someone else take control. I wanted my mom.

And then I looked over at the dark, empty waiting room, at my now not even six pound baby sleeping in his car seat under a blanket to ward off the hospital chill, oblivious to the goings-on, and with a fierceness I didn't recognize, I didn't want any of those things as much as I wanted to protect him. As much as I wanted him to be healthy. To be safe.

I stood up a little straighter. This is what it feels like. I understood.

I'm the mom now.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Letter to My Baby

Dear Will,

Last week, on the night before I went back to work, you fell asleep just as you were finishing your last bottle of the night, the one I always give you in your room, in the big gray chair. I didn't put you in your crib though. Instead, I sat with you and we rocked. I kissed your nose and stroked your head and tried to whisper an entire day's worth of words to you. But the words kept getting stuck somewhere in my throat and instead I just looked at you, at the way that your extra long eyelashes fan out over your cheeks when your eyes are closed and the way that your hands never quite settle at your sides when I hold you, even when you're fast asleep. And I thought about dropping you off in the morning for your first day of daycare and the tears that clouded my eyes broke free and fell onto your fresh-from-the-bath hair.

And as I sit here and write this I picture you reading it when you're a little older, all lanky limbs and blond hair and blue, blue eyes filled with embarrassment and horror at the very thought of your mom crying over your tiny, four month old head. And since I'll always be honest with you, I'll tell you that a few months ago I could never imagine myself doing it either.

But now I'm a mom and what I know now is that moms cry. A lot.

For the first week of your life I cried every day as I held you and figured out how to do life with a baby. When you were six weeks old you smiled just at me for the very first time and my heart grew about eleven sizes and the tears just spilled over. When you were three months old we started sleep-training you and on the second night your Daddy was out and as you cried in your crib I sat on the couch and cried right along with you as I resisted the urge to run upstairs and pick you up and tell you that you never have to go to sleep ever again if you don't want to. And a few weeks ago you were strapped into your car-seat and I was playing with your toes and you looked at me and laughed your first laugh and my breath caught in my throat and the floodgates opened again.

God, I know. I'm really sorry about all of this kiddo, but you're stuck with me. Right after you were born the doctor bundled you up and handed you to me and your wide-open eyes looked into mine and I was exhausted and bewildered and wondering what in the world had just happened, but I knew then that I was yours and you were mine. In the middle of all the complexity on that early Tuesday morning in June, this one thing was simple.

Every morning when you wake up, I come get you out of your crib and you smile your biggest smile of the day and while I give you your bottle in the quiet house I wonder all kinds of things about you. I wonder what you'll like and what you won't, who you'll be when you grow up and what you'll want to do, and whether they're right when they say that little boys love their moms the best.

The truth is, I don't care about any of those things (except that one about little boys loving their moms best - I'm already sure they're right about that). I just hope you live your life with passion and purpose and do the things that bring you joy. I want you to become just who you are supposed to be, and the world needs whatever gifts you were meant to give. These things might not always be obvious to you and that's the way it's supposed to be. Trust yourself and the journey and you will find your way. You are exactly enough, and if you ever forget that, I promise to remind you.

You already love words and books and as a writer and life-long reader this makes me prouder than I have any right to be. I read you a book every night before you go to sleep and you like to grab a piece of my hair with one hand and the pages of the book with the other but as long as I'm reading you listen. I hope you always love books. Those pages can teach you and entertain you and transport you to far-off lands and take you on magical journeys. The characters you meet will become friends who can cheer you up when you're feeling down and keep you company when you feel like being quiet.

And speaking of quiet, there's something you should know. You might be the kind of person who loves people and crowds and parties and noise, and that's a wonderful thing. But in case you don't, you need to know that it's ok to be quiet too. There is a great power in the gift of quiet and if that gift is yours, don't be afraid to use it. Because when you give yourself the permission to be quiet, you can discover deep wells inside of yourself that you didn't know existed, and it is from these wells that your purpose may flow. There are many different kinds of power in this world. My greatest wish for you is that you use well the kind that you have been granted.

Above all else my sweet Will, know that you are loved, fiercely and without reservations. By me, by your dad, by the aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents who will always surround you. Let that unshakable love give you the courage and confidence to dream and to live your life with joy and a wide open heart.

With love as big as the sky,