Friday, October 29, 2010

Freedom Reigns

I'm not sure whether to be amused, appalled, or impressed by my two year old's growing independence.  As a baby, he was a cheerful, social little thing who would seek the attention of strangers and bestow upon them the sunniest of gummy baby smiles.  By the time his first birthday rolled around he had developed a keen case of stranger danger, and has remained relatively clingy and Mama-centric ever since.  While this is occasionally tiring, it seems to me that all kids have ways in which they are easy and ways in which they are difficult.  All things considered, having a shy child who hides his face in handfuls of my hair and responds to friendly overtures with a mumbled Iwantmommy isn't that difficult to deal with.  Keep in mind that I work with toddlers who occasionally call me a bitch and belt me in the face.  It offers perspective.

Recently my son has begun to break out of his shell.  Fortunately, he hasn't made the leap to face belting or calling anyone a bitch (at least, not to my knowledge!), but he is definitely developing -or perhaps returning to- a social side of his personality, and in conjunction an independence, defiance, and sheer bossiness I haven't seen before.  Sometimes it's amusing; occasionally it's appalling.  And at times I find myself impressed with this sudden display of chutzpah.

We were playing in the backyard the other day and I stepped into the kitchen for a moment.  While I was inside, the neighbors let their large dog out, and he ran up to the fence just a few feet from my boy, jumping and barking furiously.  As I stepped from the kitchen into the hallway leading out to the deck, I heard my son reprimanding the huge dog in an even bigger -and bossier- voice:  Doggy!  No barking!  I said no barking!  I tell my Mommy!  He turned to the door and addressed me in the same domineering tone:  Mommy, get out here!  I tell that doggy no barking!  He turned back to see the dog bounding away from the fence and calmly finished his lecture:  I tell that doggy be quiet and he runned away.  Very self-satisfied, but it was clear he expected no less.  His Royal Highness, the Tyrant of Two, had spoken.  Even large dogs are expected to stop their barks when the Tyrant of Two gives his orders.

*  *  *  *  *

I took my son with me to work last week.  The morning was surprisingly productive and we had a pleasant time playing together in the toddler classroom.  Things were going so well I decided to make an appointment at the Teacher's Center to laminate a pile of curricular materials that had been piling up since the start of fall.  We arrived and the laminator hadn't finished heating up.  The room we waited in was surrounded by offices, most of them with open doors and empty desks, oh-so tempting for a toddler!  He would approach an open doorway and look to me, eyebrows slightly raised and the start of a mischievous smile on his lips, waiting for the warning he knew I would repeat each time:  Stay in this room, sweetie.  You can look, but don't go through the door.

Then he would place a hand on either side of the door frame and leeeaaan into the office, belly protruding through the doorway, back arched, up on his toes, coming as close as he could to entering the office without actually doing so.  If I said his name in a warning tone, he would respond evenly, without altering his precarious position in the slightest:  Mommy, I just yooking!  I not going.  Content only on the razor's edge of being right, parsing the language in his retort until the truth becomes exactly what he wants it to be.  Part of my brain was saying:  For God's sakes, kid, just stay out of these stranger's offices so we can laminate this crap and go home!  And another part couldn't help but take a step back and say:  True, child, true.  And if you can use language so that what you want becomes the truth, well, the world is your oyster.  Well done, ya little punk!

*  *  *  *  *

I've had the displeasure of reviewing a motley collection of parenting literature recently featuring the following commonality: deep admiration for authoritarian discipline.  It would never work for me.  Philosophically, I'm opposed to it, and personally, I admire the spirit of defiance, the magic of chaos, the messy potential and slightly scary surrender to freedom that children display in their play far too much to even desire authoritarian control over it, or them.

A recent question raised by one of these so-called parenting experts at a conference I attended was this:  How many of you want -more than anything- for your child to obey you immediately and without argument?  My hand remained in my lap.  Really?  More than anything?  I sit without judgement in the presence of parents who have no idea how to discipline without the use of a sharp smack, but in the presence of an "expert" who holds blind obedience as the highest of parenting ideals, I can't help but sniff like a snob with my eyebrows raised in disdain and think:  What a terrible poverty of imagination.  Give me literal poverty over this any day.

There are any number of things I can think of wanting more than the quick, unthinking obedience of my offspring.  I'd take a half hour of simple gastronomic pleasure, a smoky glass of Malbec and a small plate of shrimp with cocktail sauce over a lifetime of lobotomized children, trained simply to make my life easier, or neater, or whatever it is that obedience -that most overrated of virtues in my book- is supposed to offer.  If I strive to keep my possessions simple, my house neat (which, admittedly, I do halfheartedly in any case), it's only so there's room for minds, hearts, imaginations, to expand into the space, making all the mess they want.
*  *  *  *  *

Two years ago, I'm driving.  I have a newborn baby in the carseat and NPR on the dial.  I hear a radio show, and it says the best way to prevent your child from becoming an eventual smoker is to ensure that they never, ever take that very first puff.  I look in my rearview mirror and see my brand new baby reflected in the safety mirror I later learn is not so safe at all, being that it can break the baby's nose on impact, in the case of a collision.  His cheeks are so fat they protrude on both sides as he shoves his hands in his mouth, gumming his fingers like they're teething toys, drool glistening like sunlight hitting a drop of morning dew.  My love for him sparkles like glistening drool.  I turn down the volume on the radio and speak to my infant son:

Oh sweetie, I say, you will probably try a cigarette someday.  You'll hold it clumsy between your too-young fingers and if you figure out how to inhale, you'll nearly cough your lungs out as you exhale.  And if you never, ever want even a drag of a cigarette, I hope -and I'll help- you have the confidence of your own convictions.  When you know what you want, it's not nearly as difficult as the world will tell you to stick to your own guns.  Pressure from peers, and media, and our culture exists, sure, but you know what, kiddo?  You can be stronger than that.  You are stronger than that!

You know what else?  You might want a drag of a cigarette someday.  You might find yourself in an alley at dusk, under the glowing light of a streetlamp.  Maybe there's a drizzling rain, and a girl with a Marlboro between her fingers.  She cups her hand over the flame from the lighter and when her eyes rise to meet yours, smoke trails up around her face, and you find your fingers reaching out toward her mouth and you pluck the cigarette from her lips and with your eyes locked to hers, turn it around, place it between your own, and inhale.

Now if that's your first time, you'll go on to choke, sputter and spit like water just went down your windpipe.  The girl might laugh.  Can you blame her?  But sweetie?  You will survive this.  One drag of a cigarette?  Will not ruin you.  You, my dear baby boy, you are powerful beyond measure.  No single cigarette, let alone a dismal drag, can take you down.  As your mother, I'm telling you:  If you want one, go ahead and have one.  Life is dangerous.  None of us survives it.  And sweet baby, we all have more power in the tips of our pinky fingers than a cigarette has in it's smoky spark, even under the glow of a streetlamp, even in the dusky haze of a drizzling rain.

*  *  *  *  *

The house where my son goes each weekday for babysitting has a very long driveway.  When we come outside in the afternoon to get into the car, he has recently taken to running away.  It's not a safety issue; it's a private drive the length of a football field at the end of a dead end street with little traffic.  But this is the point in the day when my energy level begins to wane.  My workday is done and I'm rushing home to have lunch.  My arms are loaded down with bags and the bottom of my belly is sore with the weight of my daughter's head.  My lower back and hips -while no longer in pain, thanks to the weekly administrations of my chiropractor- remain loose enough to ensure that I waddle more often and easily than I walk.

I do not want my son to scurry down the driveway each day, laughing like a loon, head half-turned to gauge my response, tongue hanging out like a dog in the back of a moving pick-up.  My life would be easier, neater, in those moments each afternoon if I chose to prioritize obedience.  If I shut down the daily scurry before it began, prevented the loon-like laughter, the half-turned head, the tongue freed from its mouth to permit the cackle that escapes across the blacktop as he flees, yelling:  I wun away!  I wun away fwom Mommy!  Mommy gonna gitchoo!  I smile as I sigh, toss the bags into the car, and gather my strength.  I take my growing desire for lunch, the pressure of my daughter's weight on my internal organs, any lingering frustrations left over from my work day, and channel them into a growl, growing from deep in my chest and escaping across the space between myself and my racing boy:  MOMMY GONNA GITCHOO!!!

And I waddle his way, picking up speed as my growl grows into a roar.  We run together, eschewing obedience, ignoring easy, neat and sensible, fleeing toward freedom, laughing like loons every leap of the way.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fighting Fire With Prayer and Poetry

Today, before my husband woke up, breakfast was made.  The boy was fed and read to.  The house was cleaned and tidied.  The weekly menu was planned and written on the chalkboard.  The bills were paid and the budgeting was done.  Hot coffee was waiting in the pot.

Shortly after my husband woke up, my body began to whisper, urgently: slow down, slow down.  I heard it.  I acknowledged that it had spoken.  Then I ignored it.  We went to the Farmer's Market, like we do every Saturday, and I asked my son: stroller or walk?  He chose walk, which meant run, and so while my husband poked and prodded the produce and purchased our weekly supply of staples, I morphed from mother to coach (which is especially amusing considering if sports in their entirety disappeared from the face of the earth overnight, it might well be years before I noticed).   

Eyes ahead!  Watch for people!  Follow the white lines!  Okay, slow it down!  No crashing the people!  NO CRASHING THE PEOPLE!!!  We're working on this incredibly specialized sport-specific skill called watching where you're going.  It's handy when sprinting.  He's not quite there yet.  The Saturday Farmer's Market is like a grueling battle against a particularly tough team of rivals.  Multiple times, in order to avoid certain collision, I was required to intervene by tossing my little speed racer up onto my shoulders and containing him there until we passed through a danger zone.

We got in the car to come home, and my body was no longer whispering.  It fairly shrieked:  STOP already!  I listened, mostly.  There was lunchtime to get through, and naptime for the boy, and then I napped.  And woke up with a soreness more suited to a player the day after a bruising game of tackle football than the fat bellied coach I'd spent the morning impersonating.  I tried to relax in the evening, I really did, but after sitting with the television on for two hours and another hour to go until the little one's bedtime I could stand it no longer.  We went out for a walk in the dark.  Up the hill, and down the hill, and up the hill and down the hill, and this is the only way to walk in my neighborhood because we live on a hill.  And have I mentioned how steep that bad boy is?

I am sore, and hurting, and still smarting at the truth of the lecture my husband gave me when I got back inside and collapsed on the couch, about how I have to slow it down, and how I shouldn't be lifting my boy so much.  He's not the first person to tell me this and  I. do. not. want. to. hear. it.  Yes, my shoulders are burning, and my back is throbbing, and I am busy being a stubborn, bitter bitch about it.  You can see how well my yoga instructor skills are serving me now.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Consider being slightly less of a stubborn, bitter bitch, why don't you?  Good, good.  That's the direction in which we need to move, dear.

Below is a poem.  I didn't write it today.  Oh, most certainly not.  I wrote it a number of years ago.  But I probably need to read it today.  Perhaps I need to read it a few times over, repeating lines like an incantation, reminding myself that life is long, and my body is a gift, like my children, including the child my body is so kindly carrying.  And like children who whisper, and are ignored, it will eventually shriek to get my attention.  I would not ignore my children until they were forced to shriek.  I should offer the same courtesy to myself.  And so I will fight the fire in my shoulders and spine, not with harsh words and recrimination, but with prayer and poetry.  Oh, and biofreeze and an ice pack.  Even prayer and poetry appreciate a little practical assistance every once in a while.


My body is
this whole world
is my body.
Limbs stretch out like rivers;
fingers, tributaries;
toe-ponds resting at the bottom of
my sand colored skin.
Breasts like mountains,
pink snow capping
nipple buttes.
An explorer looking down could see
a vast prairie of belly,
navel looping down like
a river whirlpool.
My callused heels
are old volcanoes
crusted over with lava,
now layers of igneous rock,
and my back is testy territory,
that fault line spine
running up it.
My thighs are tree trunks
in some ancient forest,
where the sun of love peeks through
to unfold a blossoming flower.
Waking is the shift of the earth’s plates
deep beneath the surface.
Sleeping is the ocean
on a windless night.
Orgasm an earthquake,
Death a gradual erosion of my soil.
Thank-you Lord for giving me this body.
Thank-you Lord for giving me this woman
that is me. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Close Call

I woke up early this morning, and had everything prepared and packed before my son even began to stir, which is unusual for me, especially lately since my stiff back has me moving slowly in the early mornings.  I walked into my son's room and found him curled up on his side, still wrapped in his blanket, snoring.  He snores when his nose is stuffed up, which it has been the past few days, and he didn't wake up to my presence beside his crib, which is also unusual.  I didn't have the heart to wake him right away, seeing him sound asleep like that, so I puttered quietly around his room, packing extra diapers and wipes in his bag, and choosing an outfit to send with him to the sitter for the day.

When he did wake up, a few minutes later, he was sobbing.  I got him from his crib, and the poor kid was inconsolable.  His nose was still stuffy and he was slightly warm, but didn't seem to be sick other than that, and his two year molars have been giving him grief on and off for a couple months now, so I thought maybe it was that.  It took me forever to calm him.  He didn't want his diaper changed, or his teeth brushed, or to be put down for even the moment it would take me to pick up his shoes or his sippy cup of water.  Despite my early start to the morning, we were ten minutes late by the time I was strapping him into his carseat.  And then the sirens started.

I had carried him out to the car, but left my keys and all our bags inside, because he was so insistent about not wanting to be put down, and I couldn't carry everything at once.  So I was texting the sitter to let her know we were running late, and explaining what the siren sound was, and debating whether to leave the car door open or closed while I ran back in the house to grab our bags (it was chilly out, and I couldn't tell if he'd be more comfortable closed up in the cold car or with the door wide open), and I was distracted and not really processing what was happening except, damn, that siren was getting awfully loud; maybe I should shut the door, does the noise seem to be scaring him? but no, not really, let me just get these bags and my keys so we can go, and by the time I got back to the car with everything we needed for the day the siren was silent, and we were fifteen minutes late by that point and so we set out on our way.

We drove up the hill, turned left, and then right at the stop sign, like we always do, and the intersection ahead was completely obstructed by a huge fire truck, and behind that I could just make out the blackened frame of a car that looked as if it had just recently been completely engulfed in flames.  It all happened quickly, and we were so late, and I immediately began to reverse back around the corner to the stop sign so I could turn left this time and take an alternate route, that all I really remember is that the car was all black and grey, almost like an old movie made before technicolor, except that it was just the car that looked this way, nothing else around it, and somehow it had burned itself back into black and white.

We did the stop at the sitter's, and I left her the tylenol and instructions to text me if it seemed like he was sick instead of teething, and then I drove to a conference and spent all day immersed in a tool used to assess parenting skills.  It was a busy day examining the research behind the instrument, and how we can use data to drive curriculum from rubrics describing four scales and fifteen subscales measuring various abilities related to literacy instruction.  I went right from work to the chiropractor's office where I was promptly scolded for overdoing it after my appointment on Monday and told to lie down with my feet elevated and ice on my back for the rest of the evening.

I arrived home just before my husband, who picked up our son today since I had the full day conference followed by the chiropractic appointment.  I did my best to lie down and still play with my boy, letting him crawl on me as long as it didn't hurt too badly, and reading book after book.  My husband was kind enough to do bathtime and then the bedtime routine so I could continue to ice my back, but after he left our boy's room the little guy began to cry for Mama.  I'm usually the one who does bedtime and it broke my heart to hear my boy cry for me on my night off, so I hobbled in, and cuddled with him in the big armchair rocker by the crib for a few songs from the lullaby CD.

It had been such a busy day, and so mentally demanding, that I had hardly taken a moment to think until I settled into that rocking chair, kicking up the feet so as to stay as close as I could to the doctor's recommended position and relieve the back pain that kicks into gear whenever I sit.  And so it wasn't until this evening that I replayed the morning's events in my head and realized: we heard those sirens ten minutes after we should have been crossing that intersection.  Our car was supposed to be right where I saw that black and white movie of a car, except that it wasn't a movie.  It was a car, belonging to a person, and it had burned up until I couldn't tell what color it was supposed to be.  I don't know what happened to the person, or people, who were inside the car.  I don't know if anyone was hurt.  I only know that we should have been crossing that intersection shortly before the sirens began to blare this morning.  And that we weren't.

My heart began to beat harder in my chest while my daughter kicked a beat against my bladder like a little hamster running on a wheel, and my son shifted in the crook of my arm, adjusting and readjusting his blanket and snuffling his still stuffy nose.  I pulled him closer to me and nuzzled the top of his head, while my other hand moved to my belly to feel my daughter's crazy kicks.  Oh baby, I murmured into the top of his head, thank God you cried this morning.  Thank God you made us late.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

One More Day

They really trick you with those three day weekends, don't they?  Every Sunday I find myself saying: if I only had one more day...  And then I get one more day, and decide it would be a perfect weekend to finally paint the hallway.  We bought three samples back in May, slapped them on the wall, gave ourselves a week to choose, and even planned the weekend to make it easy.  I would take the toddler to my Mom's house; she was overdue for a visit anyway, and my husband would take a day to paint the hallway in peace, without battling a small boy for dominance of the whole middle of the house (the hallway in question separates the living room, where we do most of our living, from the kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms, where we do need to go on a fairly regular basis).

Then we didn't like any of the samples, so we skipped the painting that weekend.  We uploaded photos of the hallway into paint-store websites and compared shades.  Found a few we loved, and bought more samples.  Our hallway began to resemble a poorly made quilt, while the shades on the wall bore scant resemblance to the online photos.  Summer came, and if you read anything I wrote here all summer long, you know we were far too busy doing nothing to accomplish a single damn thing, and so we drifted through our patchwork existence with only the vaguest plans to eventually finish the hallway.

In the end, we settled on one of the original colors.  We could have finished the room in May!  But then where would that leave October, bereft of any extra work on its one and only three day weekend?  So in these three days the hallway was painted, and an endless amount of laundry was done (but not folded or put away.  It's still in baskets on the desk in the dining room if you're interested.  I'll love you forever.), and ditto for the neverending pile of dirty dishes (done, but left to dry piled on the kitchen countertop), but somehow on Monday night, I still found myself saying: if I only had one more day...

That extra day is an illusion, isn't it?  It's just an idea.  The Day Where Everything Gets Done.  You can't find it on a calendar anymore than you can find NeverNeverLand on a map, or the Fountain of Youth in Florida.  But I've always believed that some magic is real.  For example, it now appears predestined that my hallway was not painted until October.  And if you're feeling anything like Linus this Halloween, come on over.

This just might be the year the Great Pumpkin finally makes an appearance.  We've got the space all decked out in it's finest October glory!  This room might not have impressed me as much in May, but as the weather gets cooler outside and we prepare to hibernate indoors for many long months, I love that we went bold, and warm, and a little wilder than we usually do, with our safe greys and pale beiges.  Here is our finally finished hallway:

Now if only I had one more day, I could fold and put away all that laundry...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gestational Update

I just returned from my third prenatal chiropractic visit, and I think once the stiffness wears off (I'm always a little stiff for a few hours after the visit), I will be pain free. I was significantly better after the first visit, and almost all better after the second. She's like a miracle worker! I'm sure in a few days I'll begin to take for granted that I can sit, stand and walk without pain, but for now it's still an amazing ability! She also showed me a model of the spine and pelvis, and how these adjustments will make a VBAC more likely. The shape of my pelvis had twisted from a circle to an oval, with one hip significantly higher than the other. In addition, my spine was over-extended, and blocking the pelvic opening, so had I gone into labor that way, I would have ended up with back labor when her head bumped into my spine, and a less likely chance of her circular head fitting through my oval pelvic opening for a successful vaginal delivery.

Speaking of the VBAC, I got some bad news at my last appointment. The latest doctor I met with (I'm rotating through the practice, and it seems to be a rather large practice, so I meet someone new each time) told me that the success rate for VBACs ranges from 30%-70%. Because of the circumstances of my last birth, I'm starting off at the low end of that spectrum, with a 30% likelihood of success.  Specifically, because there was no precipitating event leading to the c-section that we can point to and say "well, if this doesn't happen again..."  With my first birth, the baby was head down, not breech.  I got to 10 centimeters, and didn't get stuck along the way.  I pushed for 2 hours, and made no progress.  He was never in distress.  I didn't gain an excessive amount of weight (35 pounds), "causing" him to be big.  My husband was over 10 pounds at birth.  My mother had 6 c-sections because her pelvis is too small.  The doctor kindly told me "you did everything right, and it just...didn't work".

While it's always nice to be told that you did everything right, given the context, it was unwelcome news.  I cried in the car on the highway coming home.  But then I thought it over, and decided: a 9 pound, 15 ounce baby IS a precipitating event!  I can point right to that and say "well, if this doesn't happen again..."  They want to give me extra sonograms near the end to see how big she looks.  If she's over 9 pounds at 38 or 39 weeks, they would prefer I agree to a scheduled c-section on my due date.  This led to a long conversation with my husband, who asked me: why do you want to have a VBAC?

I thought it over, and told him it's the same reason I always imagine that my father goes to church.  It seems like the right thing to do.  Deep in my heart of hearts, am I personally passionate about having a VBAC?  Not particularly.  But it seems like I ought to at least try.  I've never heard my father express any feelings of deep, personal connection to the Roman Catholic church.  That's not to say he doesn't have them;  I can't speak for him in that regard.  But I always imagine he attends church in much the same way one puts the salad fork on the outside of the dinner fork.  It's just the way things are done, and you ought to at least try to do things that way.  I try to exercise, recycle, and buy organic food when I can.  I know these are the right things to do, mostly because I've read about them.  Other than exercise, which has grown meaningful to me over years of practice, none of these things excite my passion.  But I do them nonetheless, because I feel like I should.  And I guess that's how I feel about a VBAC too.

In the meantime, there is nothing much to be done except to continue along the same path: eat well, exercise, go to my chiropractic visits, and keep up my verbal suggestions to my growing daughter:  6 pounds, baby girl, c'mon, 6 pounds, you can do it!  I promise to stop berating her about her weight as soon as she's born, but in the meantime she's off the white carbohydrates.  And there's another example!  Whole grains.  Tough to give a damn about them, but they're just the right thing to do.  And in the end, once she's in my arms, whether she slithers through my loosey goosey pelvis or is pulled through a precise slit in my stomach, so long as we're both in decent shape when she gets here, I will be grateful.  My dad has long told me: sometimes you just do the best you can.  And so I will.  And that will have to be enough.