inside

When I was in my first year of graduate school, two of my friends had a debate about the difference between being proud and being prideful. It was one of those pedantic arguments early (and sometimes seasoned) scholars have, but it comes in handy as a frame for me from time to time. These last couple of weeks, I’ve used it in thinking about the relationship between motherhood and judgement. I say motherhood not because I think there’s something uniquely primary about parenthood in the feminine, but because there does seem to be something about motherhood that draws out insecurity and judgment. And lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how sad that is and how much we’re losing because of it.

A few months back, a close mom friend posted something to Facebook about the judgement working moms face from stay at home moms. And I remember wondering if I had contributed to this friend feeling judged. And the truth, awful as it is, is that I probably have. Because I am proud of being home with my kids. And so I am vocal. But am I proud or am I prideful? Because there is a difference, right? I hear the difference as this:

I could be proud of something I make sacrifices for and work hard to accomplish or I could pridefully use the fact of that something to feel better about myself.

In the case of being home, it’s mostly the former. But sometimes, sometimes, I know it’s the latter. Which is awful. And which is true. And which, this feels important to say, is a product of all the ways in which I feel not better but less than.

That particular mom gave birth to both of her gorgeous babies at home. She nursed her oldest until she self-weaned, and will no doubt do the same with her youngest. She is a mama-force. Those things make me insecure because my body failed at making babies. And because though I am fiercely devoted to my boys being breastfed, I will never be the one to breastfeed them. But those are points of pride for my friend. And they should be. They are markers of her strength. She is fierce and brave and maternal and beautiful and she should be proud. And – though this isn’t always easy to remember – none of that has anything to do with me.

Another friend and I were talking yesterday about the idea that in being an advocate for breastfeeding, one runs the risk of shaming women who didn’t or don’t. But how, my friend asked, can we avoid shaming while still criticizing the formula industry for convincing women in developing nations that formula is best even when their water supply is unsafe? How might we educate women – work against the decades.old.but.still.prevalent belief that formula is best or just as good – without shaming them for choosing against the breast (or for using formula when for circumstantial reasons the choice wasn’t available to them)? How can breastfeeding moms be proud without being prideful. And how can non-nursing moms hear that pride without feeling shame.

As parents and as people, we all have strengths and weaknesses. I am proud to be home with my babies (a privilege, I know, but also a sacrifice [of money, of a tenure-track career]). I’m proud that we co-sleep, and never yell or use physical discipline, and have never let our children cry it out. I’m proud that J does extended breastfeeding. I feel good about the fact that we eat the way we do, and don’t have a television, and are active. These things matter to me or I wouldn’t do them because they are all a lot of work.

But where I give my kids wonderful amounts of routine, I am not skilled at spontaneity. The spirited, wild, loud, messy, blast of a childhood that some kids have is not in the cards for these boys because neither J nor I would know how to foster it. Though I’m good at organized walks, Bram has to convince me to take him into the backyard because, well, it’s really outdoorsy out there. And frankly dirty. He’s already showing an interest in catching bugs and I am really, really, really not interested in doing that. I also show similar over-analyzing and over-explaining tendencies to Paul Isaacson from E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel, and let’s just say that doesn’t turn out well for his kids.

These are only a few of my limitations as a person and a parent. But this is where I think the judgement&insecurity trope gets especially dangerous. Because I could learn to be outside. Maybe even to enjoy it if I had the right teacher. And what I can’t learn my children can get from other people. Because J and I are not enough for them. If I have any hope of not just seeing my own limitations reflected in them, I need and want a village. But a village can only thrive if our defenses are down. And those defenses run deep. So lately I’ve been wondering if it’s possible that the whole awful Mommy War crisis might really just be an inside job.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say I’m at my library’s storytime and I’m giving Louis a bottle (of pumped milk, of course, but no strangers who see us know this). And a mama who probably gave birth to her children in a yurt and nursed until they self-weaned at six comes in and gives me what I perceive as the old judgy eye for being such a failure as to give my kids formula. I take all of this in in a second: her long flowy skirt and her long flowy hair. The fact that her children have never had a haircut and probably only bathe one a week. All of these facts of her feel like implicit judgements of me. And I admire her. I sound mocking here, but the truth is: I’m jealous. She and her children are clearly one with the universe and my children and I are awkward and out of step. And so what I perceive as her judgement about my bottle feeding is loaded already. But the truth is, maybe she hasn’t even really looked at me. She does have all these free-range children tugging at her hemp skirt; she is busy with her own stuff. But I am judging me because not breastfeeding my own children is a source of shame for me. So I put that on her. Because even worst case scenario – even if she took note of my bottle and assumed it was formula and felt better about herself at my expense – her judgement is not about me. What it is about is all the stuff that got lost in my appraisal of her wild, earthy beauty. Which is to say: all the stuff that makes her feel like a failure. All the stuff she might even think I’m doing better. But all of that becomes invisible the second I take her personally. The second I use her glance as a chance to revisit my own shame.

And the second I do that I make it impossible for her to be a part of my village. My children will never get filthy beyond my comfort zone playing with the goats outside her yurt, which is my loss, and theirs. And her children will never benefit from whatever strength I might have that they lack. Judgement kills the village. But in this case, the judgements were all mine. I will never even know what she really thought when she saw me.

So this is what I’m thinking lately. That it’s maybe sort of kind of possible to end the Mommy Wars just that simply. That it’s an entirely inside job. Because whatever her judgements are or aren’t, I get to decide whether or not to take them personally. And whether to listen past the look or the words that feel judgmental to hear what insecurities she might be propping up in herself. And whether to respond with openness to what she might be getting right, or to shut it down because I’m threatened. Whether to take her strengths as implicit judgements of my weaknesses or as invitations to grow and investigate and rely on others.

I love women. I trust women and I love them. This feeling of competition amongst women has always confused me. But as a mother, it feels especially dangerous. It’s an impossible utopia, I know, but isn’t it nice to dream of a community where kindness – to ourselves and to each other – takes over the spaces where we’ve let insecurity grow? I would like to think of the power I see in other women as interesting and admirable – and maybe even as an invitation – instead of as a threat to my own.

This photo was taken by another mom friend at a party last weekend. There are probably plenty of things that the mom who took this perceives as personal failures, but I am in awe of her. And when she looks at my family, this is what she sees. She doesn’t see all of my limitations, she sees this. Do you see what I mean?

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two and a whole entire half

That’s how old Abram Adrien is. Two and a whole entire half. And Louis will be four months in a handful of days. That’s a third of a year. Seriously. I just counted the months to be sure that math is solid and it is. So my children are growing and – like every other parent in the world – I find this baffling. Here’s a quick update on what this moment looks like.

Bram: This kid changes every day. He is obsessed with “machines”: he watches for real ones out in the world, builds complex, towering ones out of Duplos, creates them with his Imaginets set, and draws them with thick, bold, heavy magic marker strokes. “This is a toucan leaver. It leaves toucans alone.” “This is a grass picker. It picks grass.” The one below “is a cherry picker. It’s helping to build this building.”*

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There are a thousand machines and they do things that clearly need doing. You know, like leaving birds alone. When he made this machine:

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we had this conversation:

Me: What is it?
B: A machine I’ve never seen before.
Me: Cool! What does it do?
B: It picks up cash.
Me: What is cash?
B: A kind of money.
Me: Okay. Can I have one of those machines?
B: Yes!
Me: How much cash will it pick up for me?
B: Five.
Me: Five what?
B: Five monies.

He’s also still recovering from his first stomach bug. This was hell, of course. It started on my birthday (literally: at midnight on my birthday). He vomited On Me for Two Straight Days. Then it came in other ways. He ate almost nothing for the best part of a week. On one of his first nights in the clear, I woke up at midnight to a gagging sound coming from his room. I ran in to find him on his knees leaning against his bed spitting saliva out as if he were vomiting. It has been almost as crushing to watch him process this as it was to watch him suffer from it. As my dear friend MH said, this was when Bram learned that his body can betray him. Oh that lesson, my Bug. You’ll keep learning that one. Even now, when he needs to go to the potty he panics a little and says, “I’m still sick!” It will just about break your heart.

Still, two-and-a-half finds him a bright-eyed, music-loving (he can seriously memorize a song just by hearing it twice), sucessfully-pottying, funny (he says “I am cracking myself up!”), firefly-obsessed, puzzle-mastering, happy, affectionate little boy.

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Little Louis seems also to be thriving. He is still so quick to smile, though he’s stingy with the laughs. He could watch Bram till the sun goes down and he loves (snugs, flirts, nestles) with the abandon of a content four-month-old being. His eyes are so big I’m almost sure his donor was an owl, so we call him Birdie a lot. He is calm but loud as a screech owl when he’s hungry. He’s in the ninth percentile for weight now because my wife is a powerfully devoted pomo. He’s rolling over and grasping things and doing all the stuff that I thought would fail to thrill me this time around but which is just (or at least almost) as delightful. And he’s getting his very first tiny bit of pudge. I have fat baby hopes again, and I am in love.

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For my part, it’s been nice being off-line. If I’m not flying through books again, I’m at least walking with purpose. I am lonesome, but in a way that feels tolerable and interesting and honest. It’s been an emotional couple of weeks (among other things, we sent our beloved friend and sitter Grace off to Cambodia for ten months, which is a great loss), but I’m finding myself deeply engaged and committed to serenity, which is not a concept I’ve thought a lot about in the past. My world feels quieter, more still, more finite, and so there’s been more time in my head. I’m struggling some with what I guess I would describe as a heightened sense of my own failures (though not in a way that feels critical, exactly; more in a way that feels observant). I find friendship a little baffling right now. I feel not quite smart enough, not quite kind enough (despite my best intentions), not quite on the same page as most people.

We were on a walk a couple of days ago with one of our very favorite families, and my very favorite five-year-old, who knows us well and is extremely intelligent, said out of the blue, “J should be Bram’s mama and you should be his pomo because she is his mom.” His mom and I explained that parents get to pick their parental moniker. Later I realized we missed it. I should have said that you don’t have to give birth to be a mom. Because that’s what was tripping him up. That was the question beneath his question. This is how I feel a lot of the time: like I get close to handling things well, but I fall always just a little bit short. Or, on bad days, more short than that. I drop so many balls (but so far no babies). I hurt people without meaning to. I try to explain myself and fail. I’m not sure whether the goal is to strive harder or make peace with the Good Enough.

But alongside my failures, there’s so much fresh basil in my kitchen, and my joyful mom was here on Thursday. The boys’ Aunt Madeline came yesterday and Bram is Mad-Mad-Madly in Love with her. We took Bram to his first baseball game yesterday with some really great friends, and I think we made it through four innings before he felt too overwhelmed to stay. This morning, I walked to get coffee with the boys (Lou is finally really digging being on my back) and then Bram and I shelled pistachios for pesto and peas for paella, and he sorted shell from nut and vegetable so lovingly it made my heart ache (though he ate as many pistachios as he put in the bowl, of course, so it took a hundred hours). We’ve been invited to a pool party this afternoon and another summer gathering tomorrow. The livin’ ain’t exactly easy, but it is (in my dad’s linguistic style) good good.

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* Speaking of cherry pickers, they’re doing some construction at the school near the playground in our neighborhood, so they’ve had crane trucks there for weeks. A few weekends back, we took a walk and found the construction site abandoned and one of the cherry pickers low to the ground. Being my parents’ child, I set Bram in it. Because if you’re Bram that’s pretty much amazing. Then he had an accident. He peed in the cherry picker. A lot. But because the universe is sometimes kind, it immediately started to storm. One of the dear friends we were walking with even had to run home for the car because the rain was too intense to walk in. The cherry picker was old anyway. And by Monday morning, I’m sure the urine was all washed away. What I’m not sure of is whether or not J will ever let me live this story down.

reconceiving indulgence

So one thing about early parenthood: it’s not indulgent. The things we – or at least I – have thought of my whole life as sources of pleasure are either absent or rare. For me, this list includes:

  • sleeping long, interrupted stretches (like through the night. and in in the morning.)
  • spontaneous trips to the movie theater
  • discovering new foodie restaurants, preferably with a friend or two
  • Netflix marathons on rainy weekends
  • long baths with a good book and a glass of wine
  • casual day trips to big, close-by cities
  • hours and hours and hours of coffee shop reading

There’s little space for these pleasures now. And I find – two and a half years in – that I’ve compensated for their absence in ways I’m not wild about.

Because I miss Netflix marathons, I cram in an episode at night when I’d be better served by reading, or even by sleeping. Almost on principle. Because I “deserve” to relax.

Because I don’t get dinner out with friends, or many movie dates, or almost any day trips, I check Facebook fifteen times a day. Craving intimacy. Stimulation. Relaxation.

I think I’m trying to replicate the sense of adult connection that I lack, but the truth is, these things don’t fulfill the part of me that craves indulgence. They don’t make me feel like I’ve spend a rainy day in bed with my wife. They just make me feel more tired. Less whole. Less me. Less spiritual. They are poor substitutes.

I think I’ve used the fact that we’re pretty good at this stuff when it comes to the kids (at the being mostly-present with them, at the no-screen-time, at simplicity-unconditional-attachy parenting) to justify the passive indulgences I permit myself, and that’s allowed those indulgences to remain the things that feel like indulgences.

But that leaves me feeling deprived a lot of the time. Because if it takes going out for drinks, or sleeping in, or binge watching Orange is the New Black to feel like I’m being indulgent, then what is staying home for bathtime and a full hour of bedtime books? What is getting out of bed fast at 6am so your toddler makes it to the potty on time? Deprivation, right?

But of course: no.

Because singing one more Josh Ritter song with Bram’s small body pressed tightly against mine, hearing him ask me to “get fairies” out of his ears, smelling his clean hair, the skin on the back of his neck, feeling his small fingers seek out my hand or my face.

Because wearing Louis through one more nap, the weight of him against my chest and heart, the new milk smell, the kitten-like movements of new muscles stretching beneath soft, snug fabric.

All of this. This is as good as it gets. The undiluted sensory life of parenthood. There is nothing more of the body. Touch and sight and smell. Stretching limbs. Warm skin. And yet. By the seventh song near-whispered in Bram’s darkening room, I want out. I want the cheap checkout. Though the cheap checkout won’t even matter by tomorrow and his small body in that darkening room will matter for as long as I live.

So I’m trying something new. I’m trying to redefine what I perceive as pleasure. What I notice. What makes me feel indulgent. To take Cheap and Easy off the table so that I don’t count away the hours and the minutes of the Really Sensory and Really Intimate and Really Love.

The biggest thing I’ve given up is the internet (including and especially Facebook and excluding only what I need to teach and this blog, the latter because writing is a real pleasure, and because this record matters to me) except on Sundays. Now the computer stays put away. In addition to being UNcybered, this means that instead of iTunes playlists and Pandora, I’m playing our long-neglected CDs. The same songs by the same artist in the same order I’ve heard them in before, for some sixty-five minutes at a stretch. It also means that if I think of something I want to know, I have to write it down and look it up later: I can’t run away to Google Things. And it means a return to cookbooks over internet recipes. I’m also giving up my smart phone. This means, by the way, that I need a clock on the ground floor. Because with no technology, it could pretty much be any time of the day. :)

My hope is that in abandoning some of the faux-indulgences that really mostly leave me feeling empty (aside from the deep sisterly friendships that I believe will develop with even more authenticity if turned over to phones and voices and visits), I’ll do a better job of reveling in the pleasures that are real and huge and come free with this parenting gig. Some of these already happen everyday and just need to be noticed more. Others aren’t happening, but should be. These include, for me:

  • The bodily pleasures described above, and so many more. The belly laugh of the toddler. The wet sound of new baby smiles. The first “mama,” and the thousandth. The warm skin. The weight of babies in my lap and the feel of baby book pages between my fingers. The rich, deep, fleeting, overwhelmingly sensory pleasures of my children as children.
  • Eye contact. Seeing my wife and not a screen during the twenty-five minutes that I somehow maybe get her all to myself.
  • Games. Because we used to play cards or Backgammon and listen to music once the dishes were done. J would drink tea and I would drink wine. Those were good nights. Now I’m not sure I even remember the rules to Backgammon. So: games.
  • Getting to bed earlier and having the energy to read more than three pages before falling asleep. Because reading. Reading.
  • Just sitting and watching my family. Or the rain outside the window with my family. I’ve rarely been “on the computer around Bram,” but I have kept it on in the kitchen, and when he’s playing quietly, I squirrel away in there and zone out via the internet. Instead, I’d rather just be still. Or make some tea. Or even do something productive.
  • Bram’s books. Because they’re getting so much more complex and therefore pleasurable. We’ve always been big, big readers together, but now I’m really diving into the narratives of his books and it is cool. I want to notice.
  • The rituals of brewing coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. Of peeling fruit and watering flowers. The slow, messy pleasure of “mixing an apple pancake batter” (Voyage to the Bunny Planet) with Bram on Sunday mornings. Being in these moments because there’s nothing more indulgent that I could be doing.

So I started this on my birthday last Thursday, and I plan to keep it up until my birthday next year. I’m sure it will evolve. And I have no predictions for what it will yield. I just want to shake the sense that I’m being deprived of something. Because so much of this life I’m living is pleasure, it’s just work too. Which must surely be a sweeter kind of pleasure, right? We’ll see.

summer, this, now

Is it July? I think it might be July. This summer is just disappearing. Our new little squish is somehow fourteen weeks old(!). And his brother is half a month away from two and a half. Time. I’m not sure whose side it’s on.

But as it passes, we all change.

Our little Bramble Bug no longer wears diapers. He just, somehow, doesn’t. We’ve been at the potty learning gig for three weeks and one day and most days we are accident free. He doesn’t even wear a diaper when he naps now, and he’s yet to have an accident in bed. (Universe: please take the previous sentence only as a statement of fact and not as a challenge.) He still sleeps in a diaper at night, but it’s always dry in the morning, so we’ll stop that soon too. For the first two weeks I set a timer or kept track of the time and cajoled him into sitting every thirty minutes. Now I ask him to sit at transitions (if we’re headed out, if we’re starting a meal, before bed), or when he gets a certain look about him (parents of pottying littles: you know the one). But mostly, when he needs to go, he pulls down his shorts and unders and backs himself onto the potty and holds his penis down so that the pee goes in. All by himself. Same thing with poop. Just: does it. We have a potty on each floor and one in the car for travel. It is a new way of living, and getting here hasn’t been simple. But wow. But wow.

Other things Bram is up to these days: Taking on different personas. “I am Mr. Bill.” “I am Harold.” “I am the exhausted conductors.” “Introduce my name to Louis; I am Josh Ritter.” And READING. He likes to read the same books eight hundred million times, memorizing even complex narratives before moving on to something new. Grasping them. He and J just finished his first chapter book: The Trumpet of the Swan. Bram has been Sam Beaver a lot lately. Other recent favorites: Ty’s One Man Band; Peter and the Wolf (he’s read a few different narrative versions and watched [with rapt attention] the entire symphony twice); Journey (an incredible, words-free, contemporary, female-led, adventurous intertext of Harold and the Purple Crayon; The Little Island (which is Virginia Woolf-quality prose poetry, let me tell you); Grandpa Green (a recent addition to our collection from a kind friend);Otis; (which he recites more adorably than I can even handle); and about two dozen others that I’m forgetting. He also loves spatial work, so we do word-rhyming pairing puzzles, thirty piece picture puzzles, Duplos, and Imaginets on the daily. He builds “machines,” “construction sites,” “lawn mowers” (with which he mows the cats, his brother, our floor), and instruments (“this is a new kind of saxophone,” “this is a sort of slide trombone and trumpet,” “I haven’t seen this kind of instrument before”). He also, of course, loves to be outside. To get close to the ground and watch bugs. To splash in even the saddest puddle. To garden with his Bubbie on (beloved) Bubbie Days. He rarely lets me wear him anymore, preferring to walk almost everywhere we go (though sometimes when he’s sad or can’t sleep he still likes to be front wrapped). When he wakes up from naps he wants to snuggle, and though that’s tough as his brother is usually awake and in my arms, we make it happen. The other day, Louis let me lay him on the ground next to us and Bram curled up on my lap and, after a quiet couple of minutes, he said simply, “it’s hard being a big brother.” I waited a minute. “I bet, bug. It’s hard having another baby and not only being your mama.” True Things. And because I read Siblings Without Rivalry when Louis was first born, I left it at that.

But in terms of that other sweet sweet soul: Lou is every bit as quick to smile as B was as a little, though when he’s not smiling, he’s still a Worry Bird. He has an unusual seriousness: he’s far easier to soothe than Bram, and so far he’s a decent sleeper, but he’s deeply watchful, almost vigilant. He loves singing, and lights up when you look him straight in the eye and sing softly. Really, he raises his eyebrows so flirtatiously it’s impossible not to laugh. He loves long hair (thank God mine is finally getting there), and his big brother, and being worn on my front and hip (he still cries when I put him on my back). He doesn’t love bouncing the way B did (thank the lord because my legs are worn out already), but like B he never ever ever wants to be put down. He is a thoughtful, owl-eyed, affectionate Birdie, and we are all head over heels for him.

And then his Pomo. J has had a tough postpartum period. I won’t go into details as they’re hers to share or not share, but since this baby was born she’s spiked regular, sometimes unexplained high fevers, battled stomach problems repeatedly, gotten mastitis twice and plugged ducts three times, and grappled with both postpartum depression and anxiety. And she was up for a great job that didn’t pan out, so she’s struggling there too. She has been and remains a truly amazing parent, but it has been a hard path. I am hopeful that things will ease up for her soon. She deserves some lightness. We both do.

And then there’s me. I’m finding it hard, at a little over three months in, to even get a handle on how I’m feeling. The swings are just unlike anything I’ve ever known before. Yesterday, Lou let me lay him on B’s bed for awhile and Bram and I grabbed a blanket, and crawled under it together, and got nose to nose, and hid from Monster Iris (the cat) for about fifteen minutes. It was hot under there, and his teeth needed to be brushed, and I could smell his skin and his breath and he just stared at me and we laughed and stared and stayed quiet so the Monster wouldn’t find us. It was one of the most intimate moments of my life; I wanted it to last forever. And just today, watching Bram’s little calf muscles jut out as he climbed the steps, so steady on his own. It’s like falling in love every day.

But I’m also a kind of bone tired. Like, I want to cry but it would take too much effort tired. And I believe that this will get easier, believe it in an “Ooh Child,” kind of way, but the Better that comes with Older Kids feels far enough away to be an oasis in a desert right now. I trust it, but it is so far out of reach. And my mom was in a highway car accident leaving our house last week, and though THANK GOD she’s okay, the terror of it has rocked me. And everything just feels relentless. It’s funny because J and my mom were frustrated with how I responded the night after the accident – how much I wanted to control the way we got my mom back home, the way we got her things from her van before they crushed it – but this part of my life feels like the opposite of control All The Time. The Not Having Control is unending. I don’t decide when I wake up, or fall asleep, or pee, or read, or bathe, or eat, or what I eat sometimes. I mean, really, right? Each moment I bound from toddler play to baby needs to baby play to reading to reading it again to cooking to cleaning to feeding someone to dressed for outside to do we need sunscreen? to please don’t let go of my hand when we’re walking to the park to do you need to let out some pee to does Louis need a diaper change to I really need to mow to the laundry is piling up to can I wait one more day to start diaper laundry to can we skip another bath day to if I wrap Lou I’ll be able to give Bram all of my attention but my shoulders ache to trying to remember the words of that song he loves to have I even looked at my wife today? to how can it already be almost midnight again? to how are they already awake again? And on and on and all over again. Relentless. But those moments, like the one under the blanket yesterday? Or Louie’s first attempts at a laugh? I mean, that’s what remains. The next morning, that’s what’s still there. I’m so happy. I’m also sinking. “Yes,” I want to tell myself, as I tell Bram when he’s struggling. “This is hard.” True Things.

One final bright light. A dear and remarkably beautiful friend’s book of poetry is coming out. Watershed by Laura Donnelly.* Somewhere within a collection of poems that I cannot wait to read – a collection of poems each of which is no doubt as graceful and brave and kind as its creator – is one poem I’ve read before. A poem she wrote about Bram coming into the world, and Emmett Ever, and all of it. I’ve only been able to read it twice. Its existence is both an honor and a confusing source of pain. But it exists. It exists because we have the great good fortune to know artists. Which is to be seen. Which is bewildering and so so sweet. Anyway, Watershed. Because I know Laura, I know it is a gift.

*That link will take you to the pre-release order page.

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my version of a “World’s Best Pomo” coffee mug

In honor of Pomo’s Day (yesterday), a Pomo-Inspired Love List.

[Because when you have a twelve-week old and a two-and-a-half year old, it's too easy to think of the things you don't love and too easy to forget the things you do.]

  • What a dedicated nurser she is. J, who never saw use for her breasts. Who wished them away. Who vowed just to get to six months with Bram. Who nursed through a whole pregnancy. Who tandems at least once a day (“I want to be TWO boysies,” Bram begs). Who moves through the world with less autonomy and larger breasts (not great things in J’s book) because it’s right for these kiddos.

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  • How gorgeous she is. I mean, come on. I get to look at this person every day. (Well, I take the time to look at her almost every day. If you have young kids, you know what I mean.)

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  • That even on Pomo’s Day, J still cares enough to indulge my new Sunday Sushi obsession. And give me her soy sauce when mine is missing. Even when I’m not supposed to have soy.

My beautiful picture

  • That she cedes so much maternal space to me. Had I carried, I would not have been so gracious. So patient with her insecurities. So willing to step back and let her well and truly mother. She does not compete with me. She holds her ground as a co-parent, but cedes so much. It is a great generosity.

My beautiful picture

  • That she takes all these chances with me. Moving to the Midwest. Supporting me through my PhD. Having this family – not the safe, reasonable, one-kid kind, but the crazy, big, hearts-wide-open kind. Because she’s tired. She could say she’s done at two. But she loves me and therefore my dream of a bigger house and a mini-van and a house full of kids. I mean, a mini-van. JLG. It’s funny.

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  • That she handles all of our Finances and Errands and Insurance Calls and Paperwork. And little known fact: actually enjoys it. (NB: Photo clearly not related. Still.)

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  • Her love of musical theater.

My beautiful picture

  • That she knows me. Knows when to abandon our plans and take my out for a martini. When to call our sitter in for a few hours because I’m way too tired to keep going but won’t ask for help. Knows to quietly approach the B-level star we happen to encounter in an Ann Arbor movie theater to ask him to say hi to me on his way out because I’m a huge fan and too overwhelmed to form words. Knows when to encourage me to try to conceive again, and when not to.

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My beautiful picture

  • That she came up with “Pomo.” That she’s a pioneer, and so brave.

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  • The way she says, “mama” to our boys. The way she talks about me to them: with all of this reverence and respect.

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  • Her provider instinct, and how it wars with her discomfort with capitalism and her desire merely to serve. This contradiction is as admirable as it must be maddening to contend with.

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  • That she looked like THIS when she was a little baby.

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  • That she bakes. And has big tattoos. And loves cities and city skylines.

My beautiful picture

  • That she builds things for us.

My beautiful picture

  • That she shares all of my parenting values. And works even harder than I have to work to live them. That she is so great to our boys.

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for the ride

It’s startling to me, how little I’ve been writing here. I have always lived in my head, and this blog has been evidence of that: the work I do to understand my little world. How necessary I find that work to be, and natural. But there’s something about the daily lived reality of Home With Two Kids that leaves only space for doing and not for grasping. Awe but not inspiration.

Today, at the end of our library story-time, I broke a bottle. I was wearing Louis, and quickly gathering both diaper bag and borrowed potty (to have one on each floor), and watching which way Bram was going (running) so I could follow (pray to keep up), and one of our glass bottles with three ounces of J’s pumped milk fell out of the bag and shattered. Precious milk everywhere. Glass everywhere. Children having to be carried out of the story-time room while custodians came with mops and big brooms. And I cried. I just felt so sad.

Later, B was napping, and Louis was asleep on my back, and I was making cornbread. And the afternoon light was nice, and I noticed the feeling of my feet on the cool floor, and the weight of the baby, and the smell of the batter, and I couldn’t stop smiling.

And this morning, on Bram’s fifth day with no diapers, we had a whole string of accidents. Poop accidents. And Louis was crying and hungry. And we needed to leave for story time. And I hadn’t even brushed my hair.

And then we sang, B and I, on the two block walk into the library. And it was cool out, but not cold. And the sun was high. Bram sings with abandon, which is contagious, of course.

And my mom came yesterday. And when B woke up from nap he asked worriedly: Is Bubbie still here? And when I said yes, he lit up. And our friends have a gorgeous new baby. And we had lunch with someone wonderful today. And other friends had us over for dinner tonight and their daughter is the sweetest and neither she nor B wore underpants all night long. And B wanted our friend Emily to do something the other day, and I asked him to ask her instead of just telling her, and he walked over and said, “are you willing to do this?” Just like that.

And he is really doing this potty thing, and I’m not sure I even knew it was possible to feel this much pride.

And Louis is the kindest baby. He’s really just kind. Patient and willing and laid back and happy. He smiles with his whole body when I really look at him: he is in love with me. He is mad for eye contact. He is still so small, but back on the growth chart: 2% for weight. He is a small, kind, affectionate bird. He is quiet and watchful and engaged but not needy. He is still a stranger because he is still new, but oh I love him. He had the deepest lines in his feet. These two perfect lines, one in each foot, deep as canyons.

And almost everything hurts because I am not built for such a physical life, but this is the life I choose, and it knocks me down. My body and my heart. It leaves my head out of it. There’s no time for thinking. Just thinking. There’s no money, and no time, and no stillness, but so much love it knocks the wind out of me.

I miss my wife. That’s one thing. At almost twelve weeks I want more of her. But also: our tiny newborn is almost not a newborn anymore. And I made cornbread today and felt joy. And if I had a little time I might understand all of this. Sometimes I watch Louis and am struck by his willingness to be just along for the ride. But I think maybe if I could step back I’d see that’s exactly what I am too. Just riding this and trying to let as much of it in as I can bear.

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.on being human (and other updates).

A close friend, having recently been witness to a major loss, linked to this Mary Oliver poem on FB yesterday:

When Death Comes

By Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

I found so much strength and inspiration in reading these words. No, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” No, “I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened or full of argument.” And yet the daily work of making meaning from repetitive action is a challenge. I think, in having children, that I better understand the draw to religion that many find. It must be of deep comfort to feel held and witnessed in this work, in this vulnerability, and in having a path or a doctrine to turn to when the way feels so murky. Religion hasn’t proved to be my particular route through the world, but I do spend no shortage of time lately feeling adrift and vulnerable in the absence of a paved way. I’m learning to make space for it. To lean into the unknown and see what I might find. And to use it as a jumping off point for community and camaraderie (to see “each body” as a “lion of courage”).

There is so much to tell here, and yet so much is swallowed up in the work of life while trying to hold fast to myself within its need. Still, I need to be more disciplined in getting this stuff in writing before it slips away. Louis is changing and coming into himself more and more each day. He’s a calm baby. He sleeps peacefully, not in fits like his brother did. His smiles are reserved, but when you can get them, they light up the room. He smells so very delicious, and it means the world to me to have his little frame curled into me for a nap or for the night. Lou makes excellent eye contact and is already grasping toys, which is such a sweet sight. On the anxious parent side of the equation, we do have some concerns about his weight gain. Over the last four weeks, he’s dropped from the 11th to below the 1st percentile on the growth charts. I have a strong supply and, I thought, he’d been nursing strong and steady. Still, he’s only gaining at about 45% the rate he should be, so we’re implementing steps (reducing Bram’s nursing, promoting more hind milk, keeping him at the breast for extended sessions). He has a lot of reflux issues, so I’ve cut out all dairy again, which seems to be helpful. Even still, it’s a little like the exorcist with all of the spit-up, so that could be part of the problem. He has two weeks to gain at least one pound. Otherwise, our nurse practitioner will refer us to a GI specialist for an evaluation. Think chubby baby thoughts for us! I know that many people have successfully navigated this particular road (including some of our closest friends with their littles), but having had a baby in the 90th percentile for weight as an infant, it’s just a big adjustment to our expectations.

And speaking of that formerly chunky baby, Bram is amazing. Don’t get me wrong, he’s also a jealous, tear-filled, demanding, sleep-resistant toddler, but when I get a step back and can see him with fresh eyes, he blows me away every time. He is such an adept puzzler. He can build 24+ piece puzzles completely unassisted. He also has an Imaginets set that he uses to create all kinds of fantasy-scapes. He’s at the reading stage where he has memorized his favorite books and will now read them back to us. He’s also becoming more adventurous with outdoor play (stairs, slides, and big kids’ play excite him now). He still loves to nurse (a fact that is double-edged with pleasure and stress). B is such a social presence; he loves to see his friends (young and old alike), time with his grandparents, eating at restaurants, watching neighbors work in their yards. He’s always watching. As hard an experience as it was in many ways, I did relish being home with him during my maternity leave. It’s been a rocky transition back into full-time work. It’s only been two weeks, though, so I trust it will get better with time. And in very exciting news, he’ll be starting a Montessori primary program in October. He’ll be there Monday through Friday mornings! We received a very generous financial aid package from the school, which is hugely helpful in making this dream a reality.

On the practical front, it’s an open secret that I’m back on the job market. Since making the decisions both to stay put and to have R home with the boys, I’ve known that I need to get into a more lucrative career with opportunities for advancement beyond those available where I currently work. Right now I’m in the running for a full-time contract position that would fulfill both of those requirements (and the former quite handsomely). I should know something solid within the next two weeks, but I’m trying to stay optimistically detached, as I don’t want to feel totally dashed if it doesn’t pan out. Still, we’re excited about the possibility. Fingers (and other appendages) crossed!

The decision to stay in our small city long-term has brought with it a certain degree of stock-taking. The longest I’ve ever lived somewhere was Charleston, SC (where we moved from). I was there for nine years, from sixteen to twenty-five. I feel as though I lived several lives in that city and by the time we moved, I felt haunted by a lot of past people and harms. Though I had tried to make right in those situations, there was a freedom in gaining geographical distance when we came to the Midwest. Because we moved here for graduate school, I never expected this to be our forever home. And while the missteps of the last six years pale in comparison to the epic blunders of my youth, I have hurt and been hurt by others in this space. And I have been, at times, weak, catty, and very needy. Not my best self, by far. On the flip side, I was also married here, we’ve brought our babies home here, and I’ve found new kinds of personal success here. There have been high highs and low lows in this place and, through it all, I always expected that, one day, those would be wrapped up neatly in a life chapter called “Michigan,” which we would then move away from.

Now that it would seem we may spend our lives (or, at least, the bulk of our parenting years) here, I am learning to make space for the fact that I can only hope to ever clean my side of the street in past friendships, and that to expect perfection from myself (or to try to make everyone like me) is always a set-up for resentment and hurt feelings. These are life lessons that sound so simple, but feel painfully hard-earned at times. Concomitant to being on the path to acceptance, I also hope to be a better friend. We spent much of our pre-parenting years building a beautiful community of friends. Over the last three or four years, I think we’ve needed much more than we’ve offered. Now that things are feeling more settled (even with a newborn!), I hope to pay those kindnesses forward. And I trust that, as each year goes by, I will at least invent new mistakes to make, instead of repeating those from the past. And my hope is to see “a brotherhood and a sisterhood” in the mystery and mess of it all.

A few photos of life at two and twenty-eight months:

Our beloved giant kitten, Iris, (who loves these babies with all of her feline heart) snuggling Louis <3

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And Bram with R at storytime, featured in a front-page newspaper article about our local library!-24b4a85354a6d28a