Thursday, November 10, 2016

On a Night that Wasn't

It took some time for me to find these words. I have spent the past 40 or so hours in something closely resembling shock, with a healthy dose of disbelief, and a sprinkling of fear mixed in for good measure.

This morning, for the second morning in a row, I woke up and for a second I didn't remember, and then I did. And I wanted to pull the covers over my head but my son was stirring, so instead I got up and lifted him from his crib, kissed his cheeks still warm from sleep, and carried him into my room. I settled him down on my bed and as I stood for a minute and watched him drink his beloved morning bottle, the words started to come.

As I write this, I am sitting on a train heading into Manhattan for my ninth day at my new job. A job I like very much and am thrilled to have started, but that I haven't been able to bring myself to write about here or even mention very much at all. All along the train platform people have been staring at each other with glazed eyes and shell-shocked looks on their faces.

"I can't believe this happened," they say to each other. "What do we do now?" they ask.

There were tears that sunglasses worn despite cloudy, rainy weather couldn't mask, questions that don't have any answers, and whispered acknowledgment that we are suddenly hurling towards a profoundly uncertain future. One that the majority of the pundits and pollsters and talking heads on cable news assured us over and over again was unlikely, if not out of the question entirely.

I thought the train yesterday, and my office, would be emptier than usual, people having chosen to stay home, to call in sick rather than face their daily routines on little sleep and under the specter of what had happened just hours before. But they weren't. People opted to come to work, to be in the world, to face yesterday in rooms full of people, processing it all in groups rather than alone.

Last night I had a big meeting at work, and at the beginning of the hour the head of the team stood up and acknowledged that most of us were probably having a pretty bad, exhausted day. Everyone nodded. He said that he was too, that he stayed in front of the TV all night and had only slept an hour or two. He smiled. He said he understood. He said we would get through this. At his direction and insistence, more than 200 people in offices across the United States stood up from their chairs, stretched their arms above their heads, and high-fived the person sitting next to them. Ridiculous, maybe, in light of the week's horror, but damned if for a minute or two after that we didn't all feel just a tiny bit better.

It turns out that Hillary Clinton was right all along. We really are stronger together.

It's a strange irony, and a strangely comforting one. She wasn't wrong, and we weren't wrong to believe in her, to embrace her message and to champion her vision of hope and love and diversity and inclusion. And in this new reality, that message might be more important than ever. We have always known this of course, and know it even more strongly after watching her graceful and courageous concession speech yesterday morning, but the voices on the other side are loud, and our exhaustion sometimes makes it hard to filter them out and remember who we are and what is important. But we must.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have not been a lifelong Democrat. I have written about it in these pages before. I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans, but the issues that I care most about have increasingly aligned me with the Democrats over the past decade. I voted for President Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. And I have supported Hillary since the beginning of this long, exhausting campaign, not just because she is a woman and not because she was the "least bad," but because she was experienced and prepared and perhaps the most qualified person to ever run for President of this country. And because her view of the world is one in which I would be proud to raise my children. I wanted her to be my President. Their President.

And so. Yesterday morning I got up early to vote. I wanted to go before I went to work, but more than that, I wanted to take my son with me to the polls. It was still dark outside when we parked at the elementary school a few blocks from home. The gym where we voted was packed with families, mothers and fathers who wanted, as I did, their children to be there to see us vote for a woman for president. A lot of our kids were little, but we thought that one day we would tell them how they were there on the day that history was made.

I caught the eyes of some of the other mothers in line, and we smiled and nodded to each other, members of a secret club, with full hearts, in quiet understanding of the weight of the day. With the acknowledgement that we were casting these ballots not just for us, but for our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who did not live to see this day, and for our children, some of whom were literally sitting at our feet as we voted, too young to understand what was happening, so that we might raise them in a world where they take it for granted that a woman can lead a country.

I was emotional as I filled out the ballot, my eyes filling with tears as I slid it into the scanner, walked back to my car, dropped my son off at daycare, started my day. I hoped that later that night we would watch Hillary Clinton give a long-awaited and much deserved victory speech under the great glass ceiling at the Javitz Center in New York.

By midnight, it was increasingly clear that that speech was not to come. And I was devastated. Am devastated. For myself, for my son, for everyone who feels less safe today than they did on Tuesday morning. For this country.

So many of my friends and colleagues worried over how to explain this to their children who are old enough to understand what happened. And to be completely honest, I'm relieved that, as the mother of a 16 month old, I'm spared that particular conversation right at this moment. But it didn't stop me from thinking about what I would say to him if he asked me. And thinking about it has helped me process where we go from here.

If he asked me, I would tell him that this is the way that a democracy works. Someone wins and someone loses, and it's ok to be sad that the candidate that you supported lost.

If he asked me, I would tell him that women and men are equal and that a woman can be just as good a president as a man can. I would tell him that in his lifetime another woman will run for President, and that one day, a woman will be the President.

If he asked me, I would tell him that we will spend the next four years working hard and fighting to make sure that this country stays a safe place for everyone who lives here.

If he asked me, I would tell him that it's more important than ever to be a good person, and to be kind, and to treat people who are different than we are with love and respect.

If he asked me, I would tell him that hate and mean words have no place in this house and in the world. I would tell him that I won't tolerate this, ever. That this is not who we are.

If he asked me, I would hug him tight and I would tell him that I love him and that he doesn't have to be afraid. I would tell him that it is my job to protect him and that we will be ok.

And we will. Because we lost, and we might be afraid, but we aren't powerless. I keep reminding myself that I am the same person I was yesterday, and so are my friends, and the people in my family and none of us want to leave for our children a country and a world steeped in hate and fear and stripped of rights. And there are millions of other people in this country, a majority in fact, who agree. I'm not alone. We're not alone.

This isn't the way this was supposed to go. So we let ourselves mourn the loss of the world we had hoped to wake up to yesterday morning, and then we get up. We hold our families close and surround ourselves with good people, and we let our anger and confusion and sadness spur us to action. We fight for freedom and for equality, and for the families and the people who have the most to lose over the next four years. We fight because we do not, will not, accept the descent of this country into a swamp of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and hate. We fight because our children are watching and they are counting on us to show them the way through. They expect no less of us and we should expect no less of ourselves.

This isn't what we wanted, what we hoped for, what we dreamed of. But this is where we are.

So now we get to work.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Dear Will - Twelve Months Old


Dear Will,

It's your first birthday today.

Three hundred and sixty five days ago, at right about this time, I woke up in a hospital room from a quick nap that was my first real sleep in more than twenty-four hours. It was still early in the morning, and they had taken you to the nursery for a bath and a check-up. Not at all sure what I was supposed to do, I pressed the call button hanging from my bed. An unfamiliar voice blasted out of the speaker next to my head, asking me if I needed anything. "Um, my baby, I think?" I said in a tentative voice. "No problem hon," the voice said, and hung up.

Five minutes later the door to my room opened and a nurse came in, wheeling you in a plastic bassinet. She smiled, lifted you out, handed you to me, and walked out, calling over her shoulder that I should page her if we needed anything. I thought that I probably needed a lot of things, but at that moment I didn't know what any of them were, so I just let her go.

And there we were. Just you and me.

Sometimes it seems impossible that this all happened an entire year ago. I've written to you over and over again over the last twelve months about how time seems to be flying by, and I'm feeling that again today most of all because today you are one, but it really does seem like yesterday that the nurse handed you to me and sailed out of the room, leaving me to get to know you.

And I did. I do.

I know that you love to sit on the kitchen floor while I cook, but only if you have a spoon in each hand to play with. I know that the second you push your bottle away at night I have to put you straight into your crib or it takes you a long time to fall asleep. I know that you love corn and hate scrambled eggs. I know what cry means, "I'm tired" and what cry means something hurts. I know Mother Goose Club will keep you occupied for hours but Sesame Street isn't really your jam. I know you rub your eyes when you're a little tired and your nose when you're exhausted. I know that you hate pants with buttons. I know you like the blue ball but not the orange one as much. I know you never met a television remote or a smartphone you didn't need to grab, immediately. I know that when you really like something, your smile reaches all the way up to your eyes. I know how to make you laugh. I know what your face looks like first thing in the morning and right before you fall asleep.

You were mine the very second they handed you to me one year ago, even though I didn't quite understand it yet, and it's been my great pleasure to watch you grow.

And you are growing, fast and furious. This month, you discovered that books are good for reading, and not just chewing on. Your favorites are Where's Spot and Pat the Bunny, but really, anything with pictures and bright colors is just fine with you. I've started reading to you every night before I put you to sleep, and you sit on the carpet, legs spread, and listen with rapt attention.

You love to stand up, and you are getting so steady on your feet. You mastered pulling yourself up on everything from the bathtub ledge to the gate that we had to put up to keep you away from the stairs, and you'll take some steps if we hold onto your hands or if you balance yourself on your walking toy. I really love watching you figure out this new little slice of independence, and I'm pretty sure that you'll be toddling around in no time.

You are finding your voice too. Aside from "da da," which you figured out awhile ago, your first word, strangely, was "wow" followed closely by "uh oh," and, just yesterday, "see ya." I'm still holding out for "mama" though. Just humor me and get to it soon, ok?

Sometimes I just step back and watch you as you go about your business, still amazed a year later that you're here, and that you're mine. Amazed that the six pound baby I met for the first time twelve months ago is a smart, strong, curious little boy. Amazed that I had a hand in making you that way. And then you notice me watching you and you look up and grin and my heart grows wide because for all of the tough stuff and the exhaustion and the worry and the details, motherhood is miraculous, full stop, and these are the moments that remind me. That I have been given this gift - to raise you and to watch you grow - fills me with a gratitude so huge that I sometimes feel like I can reach out and touch it with my hands.

I spent a lot of time over the past year wondering when I would start to feel like myself again until I realized that the answer was, I wouldn't. Because you changed me the day you were born and you keep changing me, every day, in ways I see and in ways I haven't even begun to figure out yet. Motherhood, with its sharp edges and slippery angles, cracked me wide open and then filled me back up again. I'm not the same person I was a year ago, but I think that having you, raising you, loving you, has made me a better person. A little more open, a little kinder, a little more patient, more confident and comfortable with who I am and who I want to raise you to be.

One year ago today you came into my life, and over the past twelve months, you have made it shine.

Happy first birthday, my sweet, sweet Will.

With love as big as the sky,

Mom

Monday, June 6, 2016

Dear Will - Eleven Months Old


Dear Will,

You are 11 months old and my god little man, I can hardly believe it. It feels like two minutes ago that I was dressing you in the tiny newborn sized alligator sleeper that I bought for your ride home from the hospital and wondering if there was a size smaller than newborn because your not-even-six pound body was swimming in it. That alligator sleeper is about four sizes too small now and packed away in a memory box that lives on the top shelf of your closet, and a couple of days ago I started picking out stuff for your first birthday party that we're having in about a month.

Your first birthday party. How did that sneak up on us so fast? In between my excitement over themes and the outfit you'll wear and the big cake I'm baking for you to smash is the deep longing I feel to slow time long enough to make memories of these sweet summer days when you're not really an infant anymore but not quite a toddler yet either.

Because these days are my favorite ones so far. You are getting so big, and it seems like every day you discover something new. You are happy and curious and love to learn how things work. You are pretty fearless too, which gives your daddy and me some scary moments, like when you make a run for the steps faster than we can catch you, but secretly, I love this part of you and hope that it never goes away. This is the tough part about being a parent, I'm learning. Striking the balance between making sure you're safe and giving you the freedom to explore your world. I think this will always be hard because part of me just wants to want to hold you close and keep you small forever and ever.

Last weekend we went to visit Aunt Susy, Uncle David, Grammy Reet, and your cousins. You were a tiny bit hesitant at first with all of the new people, but you got over that fast and were soon chatting up a storm, devouring the cheese curls that Aunt Susy got for you, playing with everyone, and smiling and laughing away. From my perch on the couch I watched you and I was so proud of you. You were open and thrilled to be there, in a brand new place, in the center of attention, with so many people who love you to pieces.

For some reason I can't quite grasp, this weekend was a big turning point for you. It seems impossible that you would grow up so much in just four days, but that is exactly what happened. Over four days filled with family, food, and fun you came alive. It was like you had been growing up slowly over the past eleven months, and then it happened all at once and it was jarring and fascinating all at the same time.

It seems impossible that I would forget anything about your first year, and yet there are already parts of it that have started to blur around the edges. But there are also parts of this past year that stand out in my mind, memories that are in complete focus and full color, and I already know that this past weekend will be one of those.You aren't going to remember it but I will, and so one day I'll tell you about how we went to Maryland for Memorial Day the month before you turned one and you started to say "mama," and swam in a big pool for the first time and learned to clap at exactly the right time when Grandma sang "If You're Happy and You Know It." I'll tell you about how you stayed up past your bedtime to eat grilled cheese and french fries in a restaurant and then wouldn't go to sleep and how you really got to know your great-grandma whose husband's name is now yours. I'll tell you about how you laughed when you played with Poppy's mustache and decided that everyone's reading glasses were more fun to play with than any of the toys I brought for you.

I'll tell you about how, at 11 months old, you were silly and smiley and full of fun. How you kept me on my toes and brightened up my life. How every day, you make a mom out of me.

You are such a joy, my sweet Will. Just keep on being you.

With love as big as the sky,

Mom

Monday, May 2, 2016

Dear Will - Ten Months Old


Dear Will,

Double digits little man. I took this picture last night. We had just gotten home from Pittsburgh where we were for the last days of Pesach. There were suitcases everywhere, you had smashed blueberries in your hair from dinner, and you needed a bath and a bottle. But since we were away on the day you turned 10 months, nothing would do but that we take these pictures the very second we got home. So I laid out the blanket and arranged the blocks, and put you on the couch. You promptly grabbed all three blocks at the same time and made a quick work of escaping from your perch. I caught you before you took a header straight onto the floor, and managed to snap a few pictures before your patience with me completely ran out.

I'm laughing as I look at these pictures today because they capture the very essence of you, at 10 months. Happy and curious, smiley, silly, and full of fun, impatient with sitting still, and eager to get on with the business of whatever comes next. It's like you know that there is so much more ahead, and you just want to get to it already. 

I understand this because sometimes I do too. I can't wait to watch you take your first steps and all the other amazing things that come with growing up. But at the same time, I look at you and I wonder where my baby went, if he is still there somewhere inside the sturdy little boy you are becoming. You are growing and changing so fast that it sometimes steals my breath and I feel the conflicting emotions of motherhood more acutely these days than I ever have before; pride in how beautifully you are growing and excitement for everything still to come, all mixed up with nostalgia for the months and milestones that are already behind us.

And those milestones are coming fast and furious these days.

Last month you started scooting around, but this month you took it to a whole new level. You fly around the house, never satisfied to stay where you are when there are so many other interesting places to explore. You have started climbing up on your knees to get to things that are out of your reach, and last week you realized that, if you work just a little harder, you can pull yourself up to your full height. You aren't quite there yet, but the fierce look of determination that crosses your face every time you try makes me think you will be soon.

You are getting more and more verbal, and I see you watching us when we talk, trying to copy the sounds and words that we make. You are never happier than when you are sitting on the floor surrounded by toys and talking to yourself. You say "da-da" a lot, and we still can't decide if it's intentional or not, but we know that your first words aren't too far away. 

Seeing you discover your world these past months has been an incredible thing for me. Your eyes are bright and sharp and miss absolutely nothing. When it comes to toys and books and food you know exactly what you want and you can't be distracted, and your focus is pretty amazing for someone so little. Grandma told me last weekend that you remind her of me in that way, and that makes me really happy because I often find myself watching you, wondering what your daddy and I passed on to you, and what parts of you are uniquely yours. It's the pleasure of motherhood, I think, to look at your child and understand that they carry pieces of you that they will make into something all their own. 

In all honesty, the fact that you are ten months old just blows my mind because at this time last year I was still two months away from meeting you, wondering who you would be, what parenting would be like, and whether I would be any good at it. Time seemed to pass both rapidly and agonizingly slow, and I never felt quite prepared for whatever was coming next. Then you were here, brand new and tiny and needing me like no one else ever had before, and there wasn't space to think about that anymore. It took some time, but we settled into a groove, you and I, and I like to think I've done a pretty good job so far. There are times I wonder, but then you smile at me and let out a laugh, and I realize how silly that is. You are happy and healthy and full of fun and most importantly, you are mine. Just the way you're supposed to be.

You are the joy of my life, my sweet Will. Keep on being exactly who you are.

With love as big as the sky,

Mom


Previous Letters:

Monday, April 4, 2016

Right Where I Left It

I put the bottle of water on my desk Friday morning, but the day got away from me. Then I was rushing out the door and the bottle was still unopened. I was too lazy and my back hurt too badly to walk back around my desk to get it, so I left it there.

I figured I would drink it on Monday.

It was 4:17 on Tuesday morning and the sky was just beginning to lighten when the nurse handed me my newborn baby boy. He wasn't crying, which surprised me. His huge eyes scanned the room, observing his new surroundings. For a second his eyes locked on mine. "I have a baby now," is what I thought.

The traffic home was hideous, as expected. Ninety minutes in to what should have been a forty minute drive home I needed a snack and a bathroom. I really wished I had taken that bottle of water.

Heat was shimmering from the asphalt street when I walked through the revolving door of the hospital. Sweat seeped down my back as I sat on the bench with the car-seat beside me, waiting for David to bring the car around. I looked at my baby, swimming in the newborn-sized alligator sleeper that I bought at Target two weeks before, and wondered if he was hot. It occurred to me that he probably had to eat soon and that his diaper hadn't been changed in awhile because no one told me to change it. I was failing at motherhood already. I was tired down to my bones. 

It took two hours to finally get home. I used the bathroom and had a snack. I talked to my family on the phone and assured them that no baby had been born yet. I spent the rest of the weekend alternating between laying on my outdoor couch and my indoor one.

"I have to go," my friend said at the end of our phone call. "We're going to the Yankee game." Drowning in diaper changes, bottles, 3am feedings, and puddles of my own tears it seemed impossible that the world was still spinning, that anyone was still doing something as normal as going to a baseball game.  

I was dressed for work when I went to the doctor on Monday morning. I had a list of things to put in order before I went out on maternity leave. We parked in short term parking and I told my office I would be in by ten.

He was five weeks old when he smiled at me for the first time. His whole face opened up and I fell in love. I was a mother. They told me how it would be. They were right. Toys took over my living room. We all got a little more sleep. He grew and changed. So did I.

The doctor said something about low fluid and insufficient growth. The details didn't really matter. I was having a baby. Today. They sent me up to labor and delivery. David went home for my hospital bag. They hooked me up to an IV and I called my office. "I guess I'll see you in November," I said to them. "Sorry about that list." They laughed. I didn't.

I rocked my baby all the way to sleep before I went to find something to wear. The clothes hanging in my closet were foreign to me. I tried some of them on but nothing looked the way it used to. I felt tired, soft, unprepared. I picked the dress that looked the least bad and figured it was the best I could do. I watched him sleep in his crib and wondered if he would be ok without me. If I would be ok without him.

I stepped off the elevator and buzzed myself onto my floor. My key-card still worked. I was surprised. I walked down the hall to my office, trying to summon the lawyer that had lain dormant for four months while the mother became. I opened the door. There was the bottle of water, sitting on my desk.

Right where I left it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Dear Will - Nine Months Old


Dear Will,

This morning at 6:45, I heard you talking in your crib. It's your morning routine these days. You start stirring around 6:30, and by 6:45, you are ready to come out and greet the day. So I went downstairs to get your bottle and then came to get you. I brought you into my room and you laid on my bed and fed yourself while I finished getting dressed. Every now and then you took a break from the bottle and you chattered to yourself while you looked around my room, happy with yourself and with things in general.

That's you these days. Happy and smiley and thrilled with all the new things that you are discovering. 

And lately, there has been a whole lot of new. Last week we packed up and moved to our new house. It was a little sad for me, leaving the house where we lived when we were waiting for you to be born, the house we first brought you home to. I remember that day so well. I sat in the backseat next to you for the thirty minute drive and I was more tired than I have ever been in my life, but I was afraid to fall asleep because the nurses and doctors in the hospital just let me leave with you and now it was my job to keep you safe. Grandma and Poppy were waiting in the driveway when we pulled in. They helped us bring everything inside, and then I sat with you on the couch in the family room and you were so impossibly tiny and it was hard for me to imagine you ever getting big.

But you did, of course. You are.

Our new house might not be the house that we brought you home to, but it is the house that you will grow up in. And it seems like you have already done so much growing up in the week that we have been there. You love playing in your new playroom, and you figured out quickly that our wood floors work really well for scooting. You sit up now, and use your left leg to motor yourself wherever you want to go, instead of crawling. It's surprisingly efficient and as a side benefit for us, really funny to watch. Before we all know it you'll be walking, and when I look out at our backyard I can practically see you running around, playing on the swing set we will definitely buy next year, and I know without hesitation that this house was exactly the right choice. 

Once day when you're older I'll drive you past our old house. I'll show you the place where I used to spread your baby blanket so we could lay outside in the sun together, and I'll show you the place on the deck where you would sleep in your chair while we ate dinner, barely taking our eyes off of you. I'll show you the place where we stumbled our way through the early months of parenthood, making mistakes but loving you in all the ways we knew how. I'll show you the place where we became a family. You won't remember it, so I'll tell you and then you'll know.

Sometimes at night I come into your room and for a minute or two I watch you while you sleep, always on your tummy with your arms tucked underneath you. You barely stir when I put my hand gently on your back and that's my favorite time of the day to offer up a prayer for you. Thank you for my baby, I say. Help me keep him happy and safe. And standing there in the dark while you're fast asleep in your crib I feel the full weight of motherhood, with all of its complexity and the startlingly simple well of love that runs through its core. 

Nine months old, my sweet Will. I know I say this all the time, but I can hardly believe it. You're getting bigger and sturdier every day and it's so much fun to watch you grow and change. But no matter what happens, you'll still be my baby.

Always, ok?

With love as big as the sky,