Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wide Open Spaces

You may not have noticed but something very dramatic happened around 9:12pm on Tuesday, June 23. A few things, to be exact. First came the grand finale of a project 40 weeks in the making: our beautiful baby girl Cecilia Joy came into the world. 7 pounds 8 ounces of pure innocence, 20 inches of amazement. And at the exact same moment, the world doubled, tripled, perhaps even quadrupled in size.

I didn't feel any shift in the earth's atmosphere, or even notice the change until we prepared to leave the cozy confines of our hospital room on Thursday morning. As we loaded Cecilia into her car seat (the same one that brought big brother Noah home just 2 short years ago) I did a double take- did someone steal our infant seat and replace it with this giant contraption? It felt like we were attempting to strap a jelly bean into a 5-point harness. Her tiny little head seemed to flop back and forth like a flag in the wind, the straps seemed wider than her entire torso. Shaking from the experience (not to mention pure exhaustion, extreme pain and raging hormones!) I stepped tentatively out into the hallway, only to realize that it was now roughly the size and carried the same traffic volume as I-75. And the actual highway was no better. Why do the lanes seem so wide? Why are those cars going so FAST? How can this possibly be safe? I could have sworn my husband was channeling NASCAR until I peeked at the speedometer and saw he was well below the speed limit (with white knuckles, I might add). The scenery flying past us at warp speed looked familiar, but the world as I had known it pre-Cecilia had morphed into one giant danger zone, and I was quite frankly terrified.

I don't remember feeling this way when my son was born, but perhaps the changes were lost in the fog that accompanies your first child. When we brought him home we had no idea what we were in for, and looking back I realize that wasn't such a bad thing. With Baby #1 the main focus is survival: you stumble through the days (or nights? Who can really tell the difference?) doing what you can to keep your head (or at least one nostril) above water. You rush to meet the new baby's needs, trying out soothing techniques from the 18 different parenting books you diligently read while pregnant. There's no time and certainly no energy to take a very close look at the world around you. If anything, that world shrinks to baby size because that's all you see.

It's been said that size is relative, and as a corollary to that I'd add that our relatives also affect our notion of size. The morning before Cecilia was born, Noah still looked like a baby to me. Sure, I saw how fast he was growing, and at 9 months pregnant I could barely lift his 30 pounds or fit him on my non-existent lap. But I still marveled over his sweet little toes with every round of "This Little Piggy," and the way his tiny palm fit into mine as we walk down the stairs hand in hand. Now all of a sudden he's a Big Brother in every sense of the word. Did he age a few years in those 44 hours we spent at the hospital? Did Grandma give him some sort of growth hormone while we were gone? In my heart he'll always be my baby, but sitting next to his newborn sister I see him for what he is- a growing, thriving boy who has changed so much in such a short time. I'm now completely overwhelmed by a desire to slow down time to bring back my baby boy, along with the need to shrink the world to protect my baby girl.

In my heart I know it's neither the pace of the clock nor the cars on the road that frighten me. As I pause with fear at the top of the stairs (which of course now appear to tower several stories) I know I'm not really afraid I'll drop the baby on the way down. What scares me is that I'll drop the ball on this whole endeavor. That somehow I'll let these sweet babies down, that I won't adequately lead the way down the gigantic lanes of life so they have an example to follow. What if it's just dumb luck that got us all through the first two years of Noah's life (relatively) unscathed, and my personal supply has run out? These are not the questions we're meant to answer on 4 hours of broken sleep. I find myself praying harder than ever, praying my faith will keep pace with the changes in the world around me. And with that, I'll just have to put one foot in front of the other and descend one step at a time into this giant miracle.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Who's on first?

I always swore I would never be one of those moms who resorted to baby talk and referred to herself and her children in the third person. "Mommy doesn't like it when little Jackie-poo bites!" "Does baby want a chippy-wippy?" To my former teacher's ears, it all sounded so.... wrong. Not to mention silly. So I vowed from early on to speak plainly and normally with my child. For the most part, it's worked pretty well- at least on the vocabulary front. Noah may not be able to completely enunciate "elephant" or "spaghetti," but he does a darn good job of trying. I admit, I caved with regards to pee-pee and poo-poo, but that's probably a reaction against growing up in a highly medically inclined family where everything was known by its clinical name. Do you really need your 2-year-old to talk about "urine"?

The grammatical side has proven trickier. I realized early on that "I" could no longer be "I" or "me" around Noah. "I'll help you" would get a blank stare (one that said "who the heck is 'I?'"), but "Let Mama help you" was easy to understand. After all, we'd just spent the past umpteenth months coaxing, pleading and begging for him to say "Mama." So Mama it was destined to be. When he needs comfort, it's "Come see Mama." Hungry? "Mama will get you a snack." Injured? Tired? Broken crayon? "Mama will fix it." Grammatically, I still can't get used to referring to myself that way, but emotionally it warms my heart.

Now comes the sticky part... Noah thinks he is "you." Not YOU the reader, but "you" the pronoun. When he needs a hand he asks "Mama help you?" For a shortcut up the stairs he'll plead to "Get you up?" And when he falls down he'll come crying about how "I hurt you knee!" I know intrinsically it's simple imitation- the way kids learn much about the world. If I say "Can Mama help you?" it's only natural he'll turn it around... becoming "you" in the process. But again, there's an emotional side as well. Despite the big blue eyes and fair complexion, this child is part of me in ways I never knew possible, and the malfunction at pronoun junction only highlights the matter. I really do feel the pain when he hurts "you" knee or bumps "you" head.n On a particularly frustrating day, his tears can meld with my own, just like his joy is mine when the sunshine in life shines bright. But there's also a part of me that yearns to be separate, to not be completely defined by "Mama" or to have my individuality trampled on the road to You-ville. I'm still me, right? I know we'll sort out this in time- Noah will learn his pronouns and we'll both learn our individual boundaries. It will probably happen right around the time Baby #2 starts asking for Mama to "Get you up?"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How does your garden grow?

One of the first yard projects we undertook after moving to our new home 2 1/2 years ago was to carve out a space for a vegetable garden. Much to my vegetarian delight, summers (and bellies) are now chock-full of juicy tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and crunchy cucumbers. Not to mention the zucchini... and the endless batches of zucchini bread that follow! This year, Noah was thrilled to get in on the planting action. I'm not sure his 23-month-old mind comprehends that the seeds he sprinkled in the soil will eventually end up on his dinner plate, but what toddler would pass up the chance to play in the dirt? He was all too happy to "work" side by side with his Dad, elbow deep in muddy bliss, while his very pregnant mom "supervised" from a nearby lounge chair.

So while browsing the aisles at the store today, it occurred to me I should get him a watering can. You know the kind I'm talking about: child-sized, bright yellow plastic, perhaps a daisy for a spout? The one I had as a child probably cost about $1, and even factoring in a few decades of inflation, I figured this would be a simple and inexpensive purchase. Not so fast.

It all started out well. I waddled over to the toy department and with relative ease located the aisle marked "Kids' Gardening." A thought flashed in my mind that an entire aisle seemed like overkill- how much gardening do today's kids really do? But I pushed it aside and steered my cart toward the technicolor display. A cursory scan of the aisle turned up nothing resembling the picture in my mind. Oh, there were watering cans... the first one I saw was shaped like a hedgehog and carried a price tag of $10.99. Sticker shock combined with confusion- what on earth does a hedgehog have to do with watering the garden? Then there was the more moderately priced ($6.99) whale-shaped vessel. But I wasn't looking for a sea creature. The higher shelves brought scary discoveries: The Garden Gun! Yes, for just under $20 your child can blast and shoot his way to hydrated soil. Sorry, but we're trying to grow veggies, not conduct military exercises. But I think my personal favorite was the Spin-Me-Round Weed Wacker with "Guaranteed Wacky Water Action!" I won't even speculate as to what that is, why it is necessary, or who would pay $29.99 to take it home.

Though I left the store with no watering can, my enthusiasm had been somewhat doused. We live in a society that simultaneously laments the loss of innocence for today's youth, yet steals what's left from every store shelf. And I'm just as guilty as the next poor sucker. My son has toys that go beep, buzz, bang and blip. Toy cell phones, mini-computers, and I'll even admit to considering (but not purchasing) an MP3 player for his crib.

Try as we may to fight it, I think most of us suffer from a case of "Keeping Up With the Joneses-Family Edition." I grew up in a town where everyone had everything, but my immigrant parents, despite being the two most generous people on the planet, were blissfully unaware of the perceived importance of designer labels and "must-have" gadgets. We didn't wear the coolest clothes, we didn't have the latest toys, and there was certainly no car in the driveway when we turned 16. It seemed like torture growing up, but now that I have my own family I realize what priceless lessons those were. I hope and pray my kids will one day feel the same- that they will grow up in a house short on "stuff" and big on love. For now, I'm going to poke some holes in the bottom of a red plastic cup. After all, Noah still needs a watering can.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Puddle

There's a fine line between living an organized life and suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I'm not sure exactly where it lies, but I'm pretty certain I cross it from time to time. Step into my home and you won't find every last throw pillow in place, but you will find a more subtle order. Every night I lay out my clothes and my son's clothes for the next day, down to the accessories and socks. Meals for the week are planned (and often prepared) in advance, and then there are the lists. Anything that can be listed, I will list, from daily details (Kroger: milk, baking powder, apricots....) to the grandiose (Life Goals: write a book, anchor network broadcast, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro....) But of course, there's nothing that will throw "Chaos" onto the list quite like a child!

We all hear about seeing life through the eyes of a child, but I guess I never gave too much thought to what that actually meant until my own child came around. He squeals with pure glee when a red light turns green. Ant hills are architectural wonders. The washing machine? Endless entertainment- have you seen the way it goes round and round??? I've learned to budget at least 15 extra minutes into any planned departure so all the requisite discoveries and revelations between the door and the car can be made. So it should have come as no surprise when yesterday, during a brief respite in the rain, we went outside and his eyes lit up as he saw the promised land: "Look Mama! Puddles!!!"

Now I am NOT a puddle sort of girl. Their wet, messy potential goes against the very grain of my organizational framework, so I tried to hurry Noah along with a simple "Yes, my love- puddles! Now let's go inside...." But given that I am 9 months pregnant, he holds a distinct advantage: speed. Before I knew it, he had wriggled his tiny, soft hand out of mine and was ankle deep in splashville. My brain instantly went to the dark side, the side that says "His shoes will be ruined, we'll have to change socks and pants- this is a disaster!" But fortunately, I caught a glimpse of the most enormous smile stretching from puddle-soaked ear to ear. "Just like a ducky, Mama!" he giggled, running from puddle to puddle, up and down the driveway at warp speed. It was one of the most purely innocent, happy moments I've ever been privileged enough to witness, much less be part of. There was only one thing left to do: roll up my pants and splash right in with him. Sometimes it takes a rainy day to see things clearly.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


"Rest up now while you still can!" This is one of the most common pieces of advice (sometimes solicited, sometimes not) I hear now that I am 9 months pregnant with baby #2. Although "So WHEN are you due?" (translation: "You are HUGE!") is a close second. It's such a simple and seemingly obvious recommendation, but for some reason it just isn't working for me.

Here's a typical night: Heave exhausted body into bed at 10pm, read until eyelids begin to droop. Just when I'm sure sleep is inevitable, turn out the light and spend 5 minutes arranging intricate combinations of pillows to counterbalance giant protruding belly, aching back, numb legs, and sore hips. Endure 10-15 minutes of prenatal dance party as baby rebels against the mere thought of sleep. Just when everything (and everyone) has calmed down and Mr. Sandman has been cleared for landing, that all too familiar feeling strikes: Bathroom time. 5 more minutes to disconnect from the pillow network, summon the strength to lift gigantic belly off the bed and trod off to the toilet, with sincere apologies to Thomas the Tank Engine for stepping on his head. Lather, rinse, and repeat the whole episode approximately 5 times throughout the night. And don't forget to throw in a few rounds of raging heartburn, a toddler who still occasionally cries out in the middle of the night, and a snoring cat and this is what it's like to "Rest up" these days!

I actually find myself looking forward to the sorts of sleepless nights that come with baby's arrival. Yes, I remember full well what those middle of the night nursing sessions are like, the seemingly endless diaper changes and the bouts of colic that only surface when the clock strikes midnight. But in my experience, that sleep deprivation served a purpose, whereas my current insomnia only serves to add baggage to my undereye suitcases and frustration to my mind. I find myself dreading bedtime and praying for the sun to rise. So while I greatly appreciate the advice, I'm going to hope that better rest is still to come... the kind that only comes when you finally get to hold that sweet child in your arms and truly understand what all the ruckus has been for. Then we'll start stocking up on rest in preparation for the teenage years.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Alarm Clock

That's the earliest I allow myself to get out of bed in the morning these days, though I'm often up far before that.  Why 6:42?  6:30 seems too early for a non-working person, and 7am feels like the middle of the day in my world, so it's a compromise.

It's only been a little over one week since I left my job, and my body refuses to adjust.  Normally (if you could call the life of a working mom "normal") my morning routine was clearly defined:  up before dawn, check email, read the papers, scan the news, squeeze in a workout, prep dinner for the family, get dressed and ready, get Noah dressed and ready, and out the door by 8am.  Whew!  Now, I lie in bed, stare at the alarm clock waiting for it to hit 6:42.  

Don't get me wrong, there's plenty I could and should be doing with my time (aside from watching digital numbers advance).  Baby #2 is due any day and I've yet to wash a single onesie or put clean sheets on the crib.  And everyone tells me I should be resting... because Lord knows that's a word that will soon be removed from my vocabulary.  But right now I feel like I'm mourning the loss of a different word... "job"... and the identity attached to it.  

When I was working I longed to be home with my sweet baby boy.  I came home every night covered from head to toe in a thick coat of Mommy Guilt.  What major (or minor) milestone in his precious life had I missed while chasing down the story of the day?  Would he grow up feeling abandoned and neglected by his mom who spent half the day away?  Now that I'm home I find myself craving the hectic pace of the newsroom, the structured chaos of working up against daily deadlines,  the camaraderie of the team.  I know I'll never regret taking time off to be with my children, but there's another side of me that feels incomplete, and I feel guilty even admitting to that (darn that Mommy Guilt again!).  So where is the balance?  I'll start looking for it again bright and early tomorrow morning.... maybe I'll live on the edge and stay in bed until 6:43.