Saturday, February 19, 2011

In the Winter You Were Born

My dear daughter,

In the winter you were born, in the month you were born, in the city where you were born, a record amount of snow fell. White flakes floated, or blew, or raged from the sky almost continuously, a trend that continued as your birth month passed and a new year began. You cuddled in in the arms of your family, while they huddled inside the house, staying warm and waiting for brief respites from the winter weather in which to venture out from the confines of a safe and cozy abode. You rode in a backback on your mother's chest one warmish morning while she tromped through a forest path in snowshoes, your big brother in a red sled pulled behind your father while he, too, snowshoed between the trees, leafless and draped with a heavy, wet blanket of white. You traveled similarly through the farmer's market on Saturdays when the weather was above 20 degrees (your mama's cutoff for taking you out), wrapped in a blanket so warm, soft and beautiful she was stopped by strangers to ask where she got it. But mostly, that winter, you stayed in. Snuggled on the couch alongside your daddy's legs when mama's arms and shoulders ached from holding you all day, or tucked into the fold of your brother's lap while he listened to stories. In the winter you were born, you were welcomed by mother nature in the form of a wild, white storm that lasted so long it was as if father time fell sound asleep in the corner couch at your coming-home-from-the-hospital party and was forgotten, failing to move forward to spring, suspended in that wild, white winter.

In the winter you were born your big brother outgrew his afternoon nap, and moved from diapers to underwear, and learned that letters had sounds, and sounds started words, and he could match those letters to their corresponding sounds and words if he wanted to. He sang the alphabet song loud in your little ears while you tried to eat, and sleep and lift your head to give him goofy grins which only encouraged him to sing his song again, louder. He listened for your cries and rushed to find you as soon as he heard them. He gave his parents advice on how to calm you when you fussed and he laughed out loud when you looked at him and when you made sounds, saying: she talking at me! In the winter you were born he asked, again and again, I me? And you Mommy? And that Daddy? And that our baby? We a family? And again and again, your mother told him yes. Yes, we are a family.

In the winter you were born your mama got to spend the season as a full-time stay-at-home-mom, leaving work just days before winter officially started, and returning on the first day of spring. She was scared of the season, of the constant cold and the stuck-inside and the cabin fever aspects of the whole endeavor, but in the end, she was happy, and nothing she feared was nearly as bad as her imagination had whispered that it might be. Which is a good thing to remember all your life, because it often works out that way, and so it's important to be brave. In the winter you were born your mother, who almost never left the house over the course of those frigid months, managed to catch a virus one Saturday when she did venture out into the winter weather to take you to a birthday party with your brother, to celebrate his friend's turning three. Fortunately, you did not get sick, and neither did your brother, so your mama just hunkered down and whisper-read stories through her sore and sorer and sorest of throats for over a week --it felt, at times, like the longest week of her life-- and when the pain began to lessen she realized she had only one month left at home with her babies. And she was sad. Because the winter you were born was a magical winter for your mama, and despite her deep and abiding love for the arrival of spring, in some ways she wanted the winter you were born to last forever. In some ways she wanted father time to stay asleep.

In the winter you were born your daddy spent a lot of time outside of the house with a shovel in his hands. He fixed a snowblower before you were born, but it broke again shortly after you entered the world, and was too expensive to fix a second time. He went to work early each morning, and came home happy to see you, to take you into his arms and ooooh and goooo at you until you smiled your silly smile, where the corner of your lip curls up and the rest of your mouth opens wide and exhales an aaaah or maybe it's a haaaa in appreciation of his efforts. In the winter you were born your father felt buried, sometimes, under snow and stress and the pressures of providing for a family of four. And so your mama sent him down into the basement, where he keeps his art supplies, and told him to dig into his materials, and not to come up until he had used his hands and his eyes and his heart to create some sort of order out of the chaos he kept safely from the rest of his family with all of his hard work.

In the winter you were born, you didn't care much for the motor skills you were supposed to work on. Tummy time was a waste of time, as far as you were concerned, and holding your head up was fine, as far as that sort of thing goes, but even though it was your very first season here in this big, bad world, what you really wanted to do was to stand up. You took every opportunity to push your feet firmly into whoever's thighs might be available and heave your torso up into the air above those thighs, head a-wiggling and arms a-wobbling, and a look on your face like you've both discovered and conquered the greatest adventure in the world at the verysametime. In the winter you were born you showed us what you were made of and it was: determination.

And right from the very first winter you were born: we were delighted by everything we saw in you.

Friday, February 11, 2011

This is a Boring Post

I hate fitness blogs. Not because I have anything against fitness, obviously, after all, it's my jobby (job/hobby) (more hobby than job these days). But because other people's workouts are boring. Who gives a crap about your workout! I can barely be bothered to keep up with my own!

So consider this fair warning: the title of this post ain't no lie. I'm 'bout to talk about my workout.

Here's the deal:

I read about the 30 Day Shred online, and it seemed to be the general consensus that it was one of the more intense, short, and effective workouts available via DVD. I bought it, and that much was true, but so was this: it wasn't enjoyable at all. At least to me. I'm more of a yoga/pilates girl; jumping jacks just don't motivate me to come back to the workout again and again.

So I stole the format: 2 minute warmup, 3 minutes of strength, 2 minutes of cardio, 1 minute of abs, repeat sequence twice, cooldown. And I replaced her moves with yoga, pilates and dance. I've written about this before, called it the ultimate workout. It's a great workout but it's only been done a handful of times, and mostly exists as a lesson plan on a piece of paper.

Since sometime in early January I've been doing it a few times a week after the kids go to bed, albiet a very gentle version--I do all the moves for the length of time the workout specifies, but I let myself do as much stretching, resting, nursing and other necessary interrupting as I need to throughout the workout. I just try to come back to it until I finish.

Lately, I've been having a hard time motivating myself to do the workout, even though I know it's a guarantee that I will feel great afterwards! What is up with that? I did it tonight for the first time on a few days and --as usual-- feel great. Both physically and it's a better mood lifter than anything else I've ever tried!

So at the end of this boring post, is a boring message to myself: If you're sitting there not doing your workout, for God's sake, get up and do it! You know you're going to feel great! What the heck's the matter with you?

To the rest of you: We will now return to our regularly scheduled mommyblog. Sorry for the interruption of what was, essentially, a PSA to myself. And in case you don't hate fitness blogs, here's my ultimate workout:

2 min: Sun Salutation

Circuit 1:
3 min Strength: Alternate Plank Pose & Warrior I
2 min Cardio: Alternate toe touches/sky reaches & standing Cat/Cow
1 minute Abs: Pilates Hundred

Circuit 2:
3 min Strength: Alternate Revolved Triangle & Warrior II
2 min Cardio: Alternate squat/twist/reach & plie w/side stretches
1 min Abs: varies, today was Pilates Rolling Like A Ball

Circuit 3:
3 min Strength: Alternate Bow Pose and Bridge Pose
2 min Cardio: Repeat each from Circuit 1 & 2
1 min Abs: varies, today was Pilates Single Leg Stretch

Supposed to be head to toe stretches, but I just do whatever I want here. Usually hanging out in Standing Forward Bend.

Adds up to 20 minutes plus whatever you spend cooling down. I usually do it in more like 30 minutes if I don't stop for the baby (just extra stretching and taking my time getting through it) or 45 minutes if I stop to nurse.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Report from Inside the Residence

Yesterday, watching the local closings/cancellations scroll across the bottom of the television screen, I felt as if I might go insane. It was the again-ness of the whole thing. Again!? Seriously!? It feels like it's been snowing since early December without cease.

I spent a week and a half without a car, so we didn't leave the house at all except for weekends when my husband was home. During that time I stumbled on the fact that my son has zero accidents with the hang-out-naked-around-the-house method of potty training, and he can initiate and use the bathroom completely independently (still needs help cleaning up). We've halfheartedly tried a number of potty training methods with varying degrees of success, but never 100%! The only problem with this skill is that it, too, requires never leaving the house.

So between the ceaseless snowfall, the car in the shop, naked potty training, and the presence of a six week old with age appropriate feeding and diaper needs, we pretty much never leave the house.

Wow, now that I write it out like that, it becomes clear I deserve much more credit than I've been giving myself simply for not going insane!

Yesterday was actually one of the first times I felt the pressure. The housework was killing me; I tried so hard all day to clean, wearing my daughter on my chest to keep her from crying, attempting to engage, or distract, or redirect my son through a series of tasks so oppressively repetitive (laundry, seriously!? dishes!? what is up!?) and soul-wearying..and that isn't even what was killing me. What was killing me was that five hours later, the house was somehow, still, unbelievably, not clean! I was doing my best at a boring, crappy job and I was failing!

Just to be absolutely clear, the housework was the crappy job, not the kids!

As a teacher, it was so easy to separate child care from cleaning. You did the cleaning either while the kids were asleep or after hours. While the kids were awake, you interacted with them, taught them, played with them. This is how I envisioned my primary role with my kids if I eventually stayed home with them.

This part? I love.

But the problem with this lovely vision is that it turns out when you're in the house all the time (and please remember that I do mean all the time), you create messes. And babies and toddlers? Create lots of messes. And it turns out that if you don't clean them? They TAKE OVER YOUR LIFE! Like a mild cold turns to deadly pnemonia, the baby/toddler messes will rule your home in no time flat without constant vigilance. And the other thing it turns out? Babies and toddlers suck at both constant vigilance and cleaning! I know!

But for once, the answer wasn't to chill, or ignore the mess, or even to leave the house and avoid the mess (all my usual coping techniques). I wanted these feelings --the exhaustion, the irritation and frustration, the looming sense of failure-- to go away, but instead I sat with them. And then I sat with my husband while the kids slept and we talked. We talked about things we fear and things we hope for and things we carry around wrapped tight in the white-knuckled fists of our deepest hearts while we stumble through our days at work and at home, feeling our way into this family of four.

And then I woke up this morning and made egg, cheddar and spinach sandwiches for myself and my son, nursed my daughter at the dining room table while we ate breakfast and looked out the window at a squirrel atop a fence in the deep, deep snow. I rinsed and stacked dishes, did as many loads of laundry as I could manage, changed diapers and emptied trash cans, cleaned out the kitchen sink. We spent a small part of the day with the toddler in underwear (with no accidents!), and we watched the closings and cancellations scroll across the bottom of the television screen. Again.

The answer, this time, was to dig in deeper. To try harder. To do better. To (wo)man up. Right now I'm here with my babies and it's winter, and we're learning –which is messy-- so I need to clean up.

Today, I did, with a smile. And that feels good.

Not as good as the first day of spring, or the day in my future when I finally hire a housekeeper. But for a constantly messy crew surviving an upstate New York winter, half-naked and stuck in the house? We're doing alright.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Mother's Dream

I am dreaming a daytime dream of a long nap in a dark, quiet room, uninterrupted by small cries, clamoring children, and urgent, unmet needs. My blankets are thick, soft and heavy across my limbs. My body sinks into the bed like sand packed tight on a warm, wet beach on a sweltering summer afternoon. My eyelids drop like a guillotine blade, cutting me from consciousness as swiftly and irrevocably as a beheading. The pillows embrace my ears like long lost friends at a reunion.

The white noise of the wind and snow keeps any other sounds from my sanctuary. The phone doesn't ring. No one knocks at the door. My name is not uttered for hours on end. Everyone is quiet and content in my dream, silent and satisfied outside my bedroom door.

I sleep for as long as I want to sleep. Hours pile upon lazy hours like afghans on a northeastern couch over the long winter. Not a word is spoken.

I wake slowly, deliciously dozing and peeking at consciousness at my own lingering pace. Eventually, I sit up and stretch. I want tea. When I emerge from the dark, quiet cave of my imagination my family is happily occupied throughout our home, each beloved body bathed in the early evening light reflecting off the thick, white snow outside. And there is hot tea with milk and honey.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Midnight Check-in at Just Past Six Weeks

We see everything about her that makes her different from her brother, notice everything she does that makes her uniquely herself. Everyone else who sees her notices all their similarities. They say: She's exactly like he was!

And so right from the start, family is the backdrop against which we are defined. I am not you, and I am not you, and I am not you; I am me! See me! we say to each other. And then they say to us out in the world: So, you are one of them. And we lurch to these opposing tunes for years, trying clumsily to define ourselves.

It's been six weeks; some women go back to work at this point. I've already been back to work a little bit, but I'm glad I'm only halfway through my leave. I got an e-mail about a series of meetings they're holding the week after next. I thought about attending for a few minutes.

And then I thought about this afternoon.

I stayed up hours too late last night, finishing a novel I just couldn't seem to put down. I was tired all day, and my cups of coffee didn't seem to make any meaningful difference. I took my daughter and lay down with her on the futon on the floor of her future bedroom; it's being used for guests for the time being. Moments later my son, her brother, came to climb in with us. He brought books and being too tired to keep my eyes open and read them myself, I asked him to read them to us. He recited all the words he remembered from the pile of library books he'd dragged in from the living room, leaning his head in toward my own and his sister's, tucked snug in the crook of my arm. I near-dozed to the lull of his voice and the sound of her steady, rhythmic breathing, sound asleep after nursing herself into a stupor of contented sighs, smacked lips, and eventual silence.

I never did fully wake up today, and my lids were still heavy when my husband got home from work late in the afternoon. I wondered a few times if I ought to have gotten more done, more cleaning or writing, something to point to and say: I did THAT today.

But instead I spent an awful lot of time on the floor, cooing and cuddling and kissing and repeating silly, nonsensical words and phrases, just to laugh at the funny way they roll off the tongue. HECtaDOR! in the haberDASHERY! To tickle little faces with the ends of my hair and feel it clutched tight in small fists. To look at my babies and think about what a short time it is that they are so very tiny, fitting so fully in our arms, their worlds so completely in our hands. It's such a short time I have to spend with them, this stretch of winter weeks stuck inside together, beginning to pull together and push against one another, to figure out where any one of us ends and the others begin.

I am me! See me! say my babies, with sobs and sentences, grimaces and grins. I send an e-mail and say I won't be able to make it to any more meetings until my leave is over.  

Show me! Tell me all about it! I'm here. I'm listening. I say to my babies, lurching to the floor, clumsy and eager for whatever the next six weeks will bring.