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