About a month ago I read a blog post about being a working mom. Or so I thought. Being a working mom myself I got excited, because so many of the posts that tend to come my way are written by SAHMs, and I can only relate to those so much. There are challenges that SAHMs face that I do not, and challenges I face that they do not. Not to say one is more difficult that the other, but I was looking forward to a post about something more specific to my situation. Instead, work meant work-at home, and talked about the difficulties of that–which are, to be fair, immense, if my imagination and the internet are in any way accurate. But as this night I was feeling particularly stressed about working long hours and then coming home and being a mom, I thought I would just write my own post about it. Then the mom job kicked in before I could write anything and I didn’t get to it that night, and then the next day I found out about a promotional opportunity at work.
And I decided to hold off writing my post until I knew if I would get that job (I did!), since it adds an extra dimension to being a working mom. I’m now a working mom who will be working longer hours, traveling overnight 1-2 nights a week, and will take phone calls and answer emails from home. I will travel out of state for meetings periodically. I will spend a significant amount of time during the week away from home. I will miss many bedtimes, will wake up in a hotel half a state away from my family, and will no longer be able to go home and see my daughter on my lunch breaks.
In return, my husband is taking fewer hours at his job, and we will gain weekends as a family. Not all weekends, but far more than we have now (which is none, unless we request them off).
But for my original point–what is it that makes working outside the home hard?
Leaving in the morning. When she’s being cute. When she’s upset and just wants mommy. When it’s a beautiful day and we could go to the park. When it’s dreary and perfect for hanging out inside and playing with toys. When my friends are having play dates. When I pass her off to daddy, or grandma, or our family friend who babysits her once a week, and she cries because she doesn’t want me to let go.
Coming home at night. When she’s in a good mood and I missed it all day. When she’s in a bad mood and I’m exhausted and just want to sit for a few minutes but can’t even take the time to pee to try and unwind from work because she’s trying to climb into my lap, or unravel the toilet paper, or pull all of my earrings out for the drawer she got tall enough to reach since that morning. When I’m hungry and can’t make dinner because she didn’t take her afternoon nap and needs to go to bed so dinner has to wait. When I have an errand to run I can’t put off and we get home after bedtime, and the only chance I even get to cuddle with her is when she’s nursing, and I look at her and just want to cry that another day went by that she didn’t get to see her mommy.
When I see her do something new during the time I do have with her, and when I tell Billy, he already knows because he saw it happen earlier in the week.
When I have one day off and I need to buy groceries, run errands, make phone calls, catch up on paying the bills, do laundry, possibly squeeze in a visit with my friends to remind them that I exist, attempt to cook a real meal, clean up the gambit course she’s created during the week from her toys, and mow the grass, and at the end of the day I feel like I’ve spent about as much quality time with my daughter as I do on a day that I work. When I get annoyed with her for wanting my attention because this is my only day to take care of everything else, and then feel guilty for being annoyed with her because it’s also my only day to spend with her, and all those cutesy memes on the internet about how you can have a clean house when your kids are old because they’re only going to be little once flash through my mind.
When I just want time to myself.
The mix of guilt and exhaustion and yes, resentment, that comes in the time after work, after she has gone to bed, when the only thing I can do for myself is write or watch tv or sort laundry (hah!) because my craft room is a bunch of fabric shoved into a corner in the same room as her crib, and Billy is at work for another three hours so I can’t even take a walk.
So why take this new job? Why add longer hours, less time to do anything during the week, and more time away from home, when it’s already such a source of stress?
Because Billy gets to be home more. He can take on more of the household chores so I don’t have to spend every Saturday morning at the grocery store. Because, by being home more, he can have Billy time, as our babysitting needs will be reduced by necessity so we might be able to take advantage of Grandma to give him a few hours each week to take care of himself–write, get a haircut, even take a nap, which will make him a happier, healthier person.
Because I get alone time. I might spend most of it working, but I get one night in a hotel room every week completely by myself. I am not looking forward to going to sleep without my husband. Or to knowing that when Kairi wakes up wanting mommy I won’t be there. Or to have to say goodnight to her via Skype and not being able to kiss her, or see her smiling at me first thing in the morning. But I will have time to take a shower without worrying that I’m either missing her crying for me when she wakes up early from a nap, or trying to climb into the tub with me despite dad’s best efforts to entertain her. I will be able to pay bills, and make phone calls, and catch up on emails. I might even be able to write. And if nothing else, I get to spend 3 hours in the car each way listening to music, rocking out, and clearing the junk out of my head.
Because for the first time in our entire relationship, Billy and I will get to spend time together on the weekends where we don’t already have other plans. We’ll have days off that aren’t devoted to going out of town, or being social, or running errands. Kairi will get to spend time with both of her parents, instead of us taking turns the way we do now.
Because I’m trading an hour a night during the week where Kairi and I don’t get quality time anyway for weekends where we do.
I’m not fooling myself that it will be hard, or that all of the reasons I listed above that make being a working mom hard will become even harder, or that there are going to be times when I completely regret this decision and want to go back to the old way. But parents are constantly told we have to take time for ourselves. And taking this job has given me a chance to not only get a little bit of time to myself, but that will allow Billy to take time away for himself as well, and that will ultimately give the three of us more time together. And hopefully, the times when I’m not at work, and when I am Mom, I can be mom fully, and without distraction.
We are cynical.
I hesitate to say that the internet has made us cynical, because it hasn’t–cynicism has always been there. But social media has made it easier to find other cynical attitudes and build upon them.
There are two ways I see it happen most frequently.
The first, is whenever a tragedy happens. A school shooting. Violent conflicts in other countries. Natural disasters. As soon as breaking news hits, there’s a race to be the first person to post about it on Facebook. And then once it’s out there, there’s a competition to be the most sympathetic to someone else’s plight. Who can make the most poignant comment about the deaths of children? The most profound statement about an act of war?
And almost immediately, there are the cynics. Someone who posts the everyday statistics of gun deaths followed by “why do we only care when it’s a mass shooting?” Someone who links to places you can donate money to help organizations in the trenches, fighting to make change when nobody is watching, with a smart-aleck comment about how sad Facebook messages aren’t going to change anything. The people who post off-topic conversations and then draw attention to how they aren’t caught up in the trend of talking about [said tragedy here.]
I’ve been both. More often than not, the cynic.
I think it’s all a search for authenticity, personally. That’s a much broader topic than I care to cover here, but ultimately, no matter your social media response, I think it’s a desire to express to the cyber-aether that you know something has happened in a way that isn’t just parroting what the person before you said. Maybe because what happened is too horrifying. Maybe because you feel helpless. Maybe because you don’t really care all that much but don’t want to appear heartless. (Or maybe because you don’t really care and want to make that known). But the sympathetics and cynics alike are all trying to acknowledge awareness, in whatever way seems best for them at the time.
The other cynicism I see isn’t as much a product of social media, but of academia, and that is the idea that pop culture is the numbing of society, and that if you’d rather play a video game than read a history book, watch a tv show than spend time in a research library, that you’re–whatever it is they say. Weak-minded. A drone. Something about False Idols.
I haven’t been there as often. But I have. Sometimes. It’s okay to obsess over a TV show, but only a smart TV show. I’ve struggled to make peace between the fact that I am a raging fangirl and the fact that I read non-fiction for fun, grow some of my own food, and look up to people in academia who dismiss fandom as trite and unenlightened. I have frequently referred to the “____ and Philosophy” books as ‘Pop Philosophy,’ and admitted they are enjoyable reads, but dismissed them as having no academic merit.
Maybe it’s a way of shutting millennials out of discussions about climate change, terrapsychology, philosophy. Maybe it’s a hipster thing, for millennials who want to sound like they are above their peers who go to see movies on opening weekend, and flock to twitter after a season finale to flail about a fictional world. That discussion is also for another time though–a time that talks about Jung, Lewis, and Campbell, about archetypes and myth.
This discussion is about Robin Williams, and the complete lack of cynicism I’ve seen on social media since the news broke of his passing.
I haven’t seen people clamoring for the best eulogy, or trying to break the news in an authentic way. I haven’t seen the predictable commentary on the cause of death (unless you count the outpouring of support for mental illness, the genuine messages of hope and love for people fighting a similar battle, and the links to places to find support). I haven’t seen the cynics, mocking people for getting upset over the loss of somebody they never knew, while children are dying in the streets overseas.
I’m not saying those posts aren’t out there–but they’re not nearly as vocal as they normally are.
What I see, are people talking about the impact his movies had on their lives. People bonding over which one of his films were their favorites. People remembering the laughter he brought to their childhood. People connecting.
I remember, back when I was in college, defending Theatre as my major. I remember having conversations about making the world a better place, and feeling a degree of shame that here I was, learning lighting design, and costuming, and how to create art, while elsewhere in the world there was genocide, deforestation. That bees were dying and the oceans were rising, while I climbed up and down ladders dropping colored gels into lighting instruments that cost more than a huge number of American families make in a week. A month. My defense was always: people needed to escape. They needed to smile. They needed to feel. That art as a craft might not do much for world hunger, but that it served humanity, and that it might bring humanity to the people who could do something about world hunger. That if I could be a part of something that made people smile, they might go back to their lives a little more willing to focus on something bigger.
It felt like an excuse. And maybe it was. Maybe it was my own way of justifying my disappointment in myself that I wasn’t protesting in the streets, or joining the Peace Corps, or focusing all of my energy into research that would help people on a more quantitative level.
But if anything, I think the response to Robin Williams’ death shows how important art really is. That no matter who we are or where our priorities lie, that no matter the helplessness, heartbreak, or cynicism we might feel at things out of our control, that we need those things that unite us, connect us. That we need common ground. That we need to laugh.
The world is so divided. Politically, culturally, idealistically, financially.
But one thing we all have in common is the amazing depths of emotion we are capable of. And art brings us to that.
And today we lost an artist who could tap into that, and remind us that whatever else was going on that it’s okay to cry, but especially that it’s okay to laugh.
I live by invisible mileposts. Or at least, I did.
Maybe it’s a complete indecision about what I actually want to do with my life–I have a broad, overall idea of how I want my life to go, but ultimately, there are so many things I want to do, to study, to learn, to influence, that trying to narrow that down makes me uncomfortable. What if I choose the wrong one? What if I choose too soon and miss an opportunity? Why can’t one person do everything?
So, I look at short, achievable goals.
Make it through to the weekend.
Just get to the con.
Get through this month and finances will be a little better.
At work I’ve lived this way for a long time. I worked seasonally for a very long time–working in theme parks, there was always an end date to my job, so no matter the stress, the drama, the financial strain, the whatever, there’s been an end point.
It’ll be easier at the end of the summer.
The season is almost over.
The season starts in just a couple of weeks.
And the same went for my off-season jobs: I worked in theme parks for the majority of the year, and looked for seasonal work in the winter. As a result, my early employment history is very variegated. I have stage management, retail, administration, and…laser quest? All within a few years of each other. So as an adult, once I graduated and got a “real” job, there’s been a sense of impermanence about it the whole time I’ve never been able to identify.
This is a good job until I go back to school.
This is a good job, until I get to a strong enough point in my research to feel comfortable contacting industry professionals.
Then I got promoted. Then it was a good job, until we decided to start a family.
And then that opened up a whole new set of variables. I never planned to be a working mom, so now the milepost was, work until we were financially stable enough for me to not work (or at least, to work part time) so we could have a baby.
Then we decided to have a baby anyway.
So then it became–just make it until the baby’s born.
Going back to work after my maternity leave ended was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I like my job. And I don’t think I would be a very good stay-at-home mom. But those first few months were an impossible adjustment of learning to balance two things that require 150% and don’t make compromises, and learning to be at peace with only giving about 90% to both, and learning to accept the reality of that.
But I was also out of mileposts. We weren’t–and aren’t–planning to have another baby for another couple of years, so I didn’t have a family change/maternity leave to set as the light at the end of the tunnel. I all but abandoned my research within my first year in my current position, so I didn’t have the “one day when I’m published” goal. What I had, was my husband’s goal of a promotion in his job, and the knowledge that once that happened, I could reduce my hours to part time. But without a clear timeline for that–it’s always been one of those situations that could happen in five months or five years–I couldn’t segment my time.
So I latched onto Kairi’s first birthday. The whole time, the whole struggle at figuring out how to be a working mom, has been about making it through that first year.
Billy says, as a joke-that-isn’t-a-joke, that it’s about being able to celebrate keeping an entirely dependent human alive for a full year. I think that’s partly true–the fear of SIDS was a huge source of anxiety for me, at least at first, and crossing that first birthday definitely reduces a lot of that stress.
Regardless of the reason, Kairi’s first birthday was an invisible milepost for me. It was the thing I told myself I had to make it to when I felt like I was drowning–at work, at home, as a wife, as a mother–if I could make it until she turned one, things would get easier. I didn’t know why–I would have the same job. Billy would have the same job. But something inside of me was utterly convinced that things would get easier once we made it through that first year.
And the thing is…they have.
For no reason.
Billy and I still work opposing schedules and usually only see each other at night. Our finances haven’t changed. I still see Kairi for about an hour a night on workdays, and our weekends are still filled with errands. I don’t have time for my hobbies, I don’t have the energy for mommy-and-me projects like I wish I did, and family outings are things that require advance planning and time-off requests that still usually fall through.
But things are easier. Lighter. Happier.
True, as she gets older, Kairi is better at keeping herself entertained. I can set my purse on the floor and she will amuse herself tearing through its contents long enough for me to do the dishes. I can leave the pantry open and every bag of tea I’ve ever owned might be strewn across the kitchen, but I was able to make dinner. If I wear her, she’s content to hang out on my back while I do whatever it is I’m trying to do. But what is the difference between the week before her birthday, and the week after?
The only reason I can come up with, is that I don’t have an invisible milepost anymore. I don’t have a great what-if (A Great Perhaps, if you will), that will be a change from whatever difficulties I’m facing in the Now. And when you remove that “I just have to get to ___” mindset, what’s left is finding balance in where you are. You’re no longer rushing through your current experiences, already living with one foot past the present.
It doesn’t work for everyone. And a few years ago, it wouldn’t have worked for me. And it’s not about a lack of goals–Billy and I both still have goals, but we’re not basing our present actions around an endpoint once a certain goal is met. We’re not waiting for a current situation to end so we can move on to the next one. We might be working on future goals, thinking about what is to come, but not defining what we’re doing now by the moment that it will end and we can start focusing on another end point. (Okay… I say both of us, but this really isn’t news to Billy. He’s always been better at living in the moment than me…)
Without a point of expectation for when things might change, the present is the definition of the experience.
And it makes it so much richer, and so, so much more fun.
We took Kairi out camping for the second time last weekend. The first time, she was only five weeks old, which made her a pretty easy camping buddy. The trip was definitely different with an infant, but she didn’t require a lot of extra work at that age. Now, she’s 9 months old, crawling, and very curious, so we knew we were going to have our work cut out for us. Still, camping is a big part of our family life, and we both really needed a trip out into the mountains, and we figured we may as well get her started early so she grows up with camping being a normal activity.
Kairi’s first camping trip. She got the relaxing part pretty quickly.
We went to Sherando Lake, which isn’t my favorite campground normally, but it’s really the closest, and it’s the least rugged (if you can call campgrounds with flush toilets “rugged”). This turned out to be a good choice as we cut the trip a little short, although despite that I consider it an overall success. I found a lot online about taking babies and small children camping, but I found there wasn’t as much about crawlers, or babies at this particular age. Maybe I should have taken that as a sign–that you really should just skip the time between when you can lay them on a blanket and when they can walk around, but we went anyway, and now that we have, I don’t think it’s a time that needs to be skipped at all. Difficult? A little, but not surprisingly so. Here a few of the things we learned:
-Babies eat dirt. I knew this. I knew it without anyone having to tell me. I knew it because every website I visited and parenting group I asked for tips in said, be prepared for baby to eat dirt. So I was. But knowing still doesn’t really prepare you for exactly *how* much dirt she would eat. And we were mostly okay with it. Leaves and rocks we tried to keep away from her, and then once she got interested in the fire ring where the dirt was more ash than anything it became a challenge, but yes. She ate dirt. I’m pretty sure she’ll eat worse as she gets older.
Oooh, what’s this stuff? I bet I can eat it!
-You really don’t need as many toys as you think you will. Kairi doesn’t have a lovey yet, so we just brought a bag full of the toys she’s been playing with the most. The first thing we did was lay down a tarp and empty her toy bag onto it, which distracted her for all of about two minutes before she found the dirt. I don’t even know if a lot of toys will be more useful as she gets older, when she gets better about not putting everything in her mouth, since there are so many natural “toys” all over the campsite. This might not be the case for every baby, but ours was pretty content to explore all the new stuff. The only things she wanted with any consistency were her sippy cup and snack bowl.
This taken just minutes before the above shot of her crawling right off the tarp.
-You do, however, need as many clothes as you think you will. And probably more. We were well prepared for this and ended up bringing more than we needed, though I think if we’d stayed the second night we would have had just the right amount. She got messy. Not just dirty, but with her food as well. We didn’t bring a bib, but it wouldn’t have mattered, since she managed to stick her hands right into my plate of lentils and then smeared them into her hair, her pants, and all over mommy. The next morning she got eggs all over her shirt. And then there’s just the weather. We had a temperature range of over 40 degrees from night to day, so we needed a lot of layers to keep her comfortable, especially at night, and then to strip down to something lighter as the day got warm. On a longer trip I would have been fine rinsing her clothes out and letting them air dry, but for a short trip like this bringing half the clothes she currently fits into turned out to be a good idea.
She looks ready for a day in the woods!
-Sleeping trouble is amplified. This is the reason we ended up going home late on our second day, rather than staying the second night and packing up that morning. This was also the only problem Kairi had the entire trip. She isn’t the easiest sleeper at home. We co-sleep at night, which I figured wouldn’t be an issue camping since we were used to it, and it would give her something familiar. But she really, really struggled at night. Granted, it got down into the mid 30s, so even Billy and I were not at our most comfortable, but Kairi would not fall asleep unless she was suckling, which made things very uncomfortable for me, and she would cry if one of us shifted and she fell off the breast. However she also had a hard time taking naps, and it was rather warm during the day, especially in the tent, so her trouble was not entirely temperature-based. We didn’t take the pack and play because we figured we didn’t really have room for it in the car, and we didn’t expect to actually use it. We wouldn’t need it during the night, and during the day we figured she would only fuss if we had her in that while we were walking around where she could see us. But it turns out, we really could have used it for nap time. We think the openness of the tent made it really hard for her to fall asleep, so she would only nap if Billy went in there with her. Which was great for him–daddy naps! But it meant we couldn’t take advantage of her napping to have some quiet time where we could talk or just sit together, and it also meant that at night when she got tired well before we did that we couldn’t go ahead and put her to bed. She wouldn’t even fall asleep if we were wearing her–on a three mile hike, she sucked on her fingers and rested her head against my back but never actually went to sleep. I don’t think there is anything we could have done differently on this one. If we’d had the pnp she probably would have napped, but it wouldn’t have helped night sleeping. All I can think is that in this regard, maybe she really wasn’t ready for such a radically different sleeping situation, and we should save our next trip until she’s sleeping through the night, or at least doesn’t need as many daytime naps.
-It’s a lot of fun. It’s different–very, very different. Gone are the days of opening your first beer at 10am and spending the entire day reading and lazying about, napping (amongst other things) whenever the mood strikes, and sitting up with a bottle of wine while you watch the fire die. It’s all about baby. We never expected it not to be. You have to manage your time differently, particularly when it comes to nighttime, and make sure everything is cleaned up and ready for the night before the sun goes down. You can’t help each other as much, since someone has to make sure she doesn’t climb into the fire pit, crack her teeth on the rock she just picked up, or go tumbling down the steps leading up to your campsite. You need to have more of your day occupied (this one actually suited me just fine–I love taking hikes, while Billy is more of a “finish 3 books in one day” sort of camper, so the extra walking I only found to be a benefit!). But seeing how absolutely happy she was to just be outside with her two favorite people easily makes up for the changes. We might try again next month if she’s sleeping better, but if not we’re definitely going to when we go visit my parents up in Canada this June, and then at least once more towards the end of the summer/early fall.
“Reading” one of her bath books in front of the fire.
I’m not unprepared for the possibility that as she gets older, she’ll hit a point where she doesn’t want to camp with us. Whether that happens when she’s a toddler and doesn’t want to leave the comfort of her own home, or when she’s a teenager and is too cool for camping with her family, I know it will happen at some point. Until then, we’ll keep going. We’ll let her eat dirt, and play with sticks, and “help” with setting up the tent, and with any luck, she’ll continue to love it as much as we do.
Today was a challenging day. I had to be at work an hour earlier than normal, and it was an exceptionally busy day once I got there. I found out my husband did *not* get the time off request he put in for next week despite requesting it a month ago, which throws a wrench into our plans. He got a ticket for his car inspection being expired, which is an expense we now have to budget for.
And Kairi would not go to sleep.
It’s interesting timing that she picked today to have a bad night, as I read this article earlier, and did a thing I try never to do on the internet: left a comment (granted it was on a fb page where that article was linked, but still). My comment was not inflammatory as it was just defending the author for stating on work days she only spends two hours with her son, because honestly, I would love a two hour average with my daughter on days I work. Instead, I usually don’t even get to the babysitter’s until between 5:30 and 6, and then I stay and chat for a few minutes (considering our primary babysitters are actually Billy’s parents, it would be kind of rude to just show up, take Kairi, and leave without a short visit). If I can go straight home, this allows me just under an hour before I need to start her bath. Less, if she didn’t take her afternoon nap, a little more if we can skip a bath (which has become increasingly difficult as she has learned to nonverbally ask for one) and she took a late nap.
But I rarely get two hours. The one night a week I work late I come home at bedtime, and have, on a couple of occasions, gotten home after she goes to sleep. If I have any errands to run at all, she goes to bed late, because I just can’t bring myself to take her from the car, to the bath, to the bed, and getting home that late usually has her too hyped up to go straight to sleep anyway.
I’m getting off track–my point isn’t to complain about how little time I get as a mother with a full time job outside the home, though that is an easy topic to go on about. But my point, is about the comments to the above article, and how (predictably) horrible they got.
In the things that happened to make this a less-than-ideal day, I am allowed to complain about all of them, save one.
I write my own schedule. Therefore, I knew I had to get up an hour early today. If I was going to complain about it, shouldn’t I have thought about that before writing this day in? Never mind the fact that it’s part of my job to be there early on days we open early–and for that matter, shouldn’t I have thought about that before accepting this job at all? Once I made that choice, I forfeit my right to wish I could sleep in from time to time, didn’t I?
My husband also works in retail. Therefore a time off request is never more than just a request. Therefore I have no right to get upset that his request was denied. After all, that’s part of the package. Didn’t I know that? I should have considered that before making plans. Retail schedules are unpredictable, if I’m going to try to plan events in advance, I should be prepared for disappointment when things don’t work out. Who am I, to be bummed about this?
And the car. Oh, the car. The sticker is right there on the windshield. Nobody ever has any excuse to miss a state inspection. If you forget, or just got busy with everything else going on, you deserve everything you get, and you better not complain about having to pay a fee, because you made that decision.
See how absolutely ridiculous it sounds to say you can’t get upset or frustrated over something just because the outcome is a result of a choice you made?
So why is it, when you get frustrated with the challenges of parenting, the internet feels like it’s okay to tell you they feel sorry for your children, that everyone knows parenting is hard and you’re an idiot if you thought it would be otherwise, and you should always push back the frustrations you feel because you’re just a monster if you get annoyed with your baby.
I get annoyed with my baby. I stood in my kitchen at 8:45 tonight after going back and forth more than once trying to console her, after turning the heat off on the water I was trying to boil for pasta for the third time, after letting her comfort nurse for half an hour, after giving her a bath she didn’t need just because it was one of Those Days where we didn’t have much time together and bath time is bonding time, and just closed my eyes, and whispered “please shut up please shut up please shut up” over and over and over again, with varying degrees of language added in. (Spoiler alert: she didn’t.) So I put dinner on hold yet again, went into the bedroom, and soothed her until she fell asleep, and put her to bed.
I get frustrated. I get so frustrated that I send my husband texts stating I’m going to stab myself with a steak knife if she doesn’t let me eat–and then I take a deep breath, go into the room, and pick her up and rock her, and sing to her, and speak to her in a soft voice. I do my very best not to show her I am frustrated (although I fail at that as well sometimes), and as soon as I can I pour a glass of wine and think about how silence really is an amazing sound.
Maybe someone else would have kept going with dinner, and let her cry it out. Maybe that person didn’t feel frustration, because babies cry, and they accept that part of it, and steeled themselves long before not to let it bother them.
Maybe on a different day I would have continued to go back and forth and it wouldn’t have bothered me, because my day would have left me with more patience.
Maybe a million other people would have responded a million different ways, because every child, parent, and situation is different.
In customer service, there is a culture of rewarding people for venting their frustrations on total strangers who had nothing to do with the situation that initially upset them. But in parenting, you not only are not rewarded for expressing yourself over a situation that you find frustrating, but you’re ostracized for daring to admit you got frustrated in the first place.
We obviously don’t have a problem with misplaced anger. We don’t have a problem with people getting annoyed–even angry–over situations that honestly do not warrant anger, and that we entirely brought on ourselves. Billy could vent about his ticket online and have people tell him the cop (who was just doing her job) was an ass who should have let him off with a warning, rather than admonish him for not getting the inspection taken care of. And yet, if you are brave enough to admit that parenting is anything other than magical every second of every day, your character is called into question. Presumably because babies are involved–they can’t help themselves, after all, and they don’t mean to upset us. But the cashier you just spent half an hour screaming at wasn’t even working the day you had bad service, and yet, it’s socially acceptable for you to walk out of the store with a coupon after your horrible behavior.
Getting frustrated is a lot different than taking your frustration out on somebody. Hurting your children? Bad. But loving them, taking care of them, and giving them a safe place in the world–and then exhaling everything you pushed deep down until your kids’ needs are met in a place they aren’t exposed to? Not so bad. And probably pretty healthy.
So why is that something nobody seems to be allowed to do?
I never intended to live in RVA.
I remember when we first left the southwest and moved to Virginia. I was seven. I remember pulling away from our house as the sun went down and being overwhelmingly sad that I wouldn’t sleep in my bedroom anymore. That I wouldn’t be able to climb the mulberry tree again. That my friends would no longer live down the street. At seven, the idea of uprooting was something I could barely grasp, I only knew I didn’t like it.
I remember playing on the playground at my new Virginia school and having people make fun of my accent. I remember telling people how much I missed Arizona, and that we were going to go back soon.
Then we moved again. And then again. And eventually, Virginia didn’t seem so bad.
Still, even by the time I was looking for colleges, I wanted to leave. After college, I wanted to leave, if not for different reasons. I thought a lot about Asheville. It seemed to embody the sort of thinking I liked reading about. Mostly I thought about going back out west. I wanted to study at Pacifica, or in Prescott. If I stayed on the east coast, I was willing to brave the traffic of Northern Virginia where GMU held the only graduate program in the state I found even remotely interesting.
In the meantime, however, I ended up slinging coffee in the cafe at Barnes & Noble, and while I was looking into everywhere else I wanted to study, I inadvertently put down roots. I made new friends. I had an old, very close friend move back to the area. I got married.
And despite all that, I didn’t want to stay here. Not now, at least. I wanted to leave and come back, maybe. Explore, but use Richmond as the home base we would eventually return to. Because, of course, I had dreams. People I wanted to study under, communities I wanted to be involved in. I still thought about Asheville. I thought about Portland. I thought about Boulder. I felt that by staying in Richmond I would always be trapped by the familiar. That the only way I was ever going to get out of the rut of working in retail and actually start doing research, of living the life I thought I wanted for myself, was to make a fresh start.
The thing that ultimately changed my mind, however, was beer. Not my friends, my wonderful, amazing circle of friends, with whom I was so convinced I could keep in touch with and maintain closeness even if Billy and I lived on the other side of the country. Not having Billy’s family here and knowing that when we had children they would have at least one side of their extended family nearby. Not finally feeling like I was in a job I was good at, one I could grow with that would allow me to do research at my own pace, or knowing that Billy was working towards a promotion in his. Not even the geography–being able to spontaneously plan beach trips or overnight camping trips because of our proximity to both the beach and the mountains.
It was beer.
Of course, there is beer everywhere. But what really, finally, drove things home, was a trip to Maine that Billy and I took last year. Burgeoning craft beer enthusiasts, we were thrilled to find that while early June was not the best time weather-wise to go camping in Northern Maine, there were a lot of breweries. We spent the rainiest day of our vacation away from our campsite doing a pub-crawl through Bar Harbor, and sharing excitement over all the craft beer Maine had to offer. On our way home we stopped in Portland figuring we’d pay Allagash a visit, and had dinner at a place with painted windows advertising over 120 different beers. The grocery stores had a great offering of the state’s own craft beer, and we thought it was so much better than home where, great though it may be, Legend was the only readily available local brew on the shelves.
Then we got home, and we opened our eyes. We knew, of course, about the Brew Ridge Trail, and had been to Blue Mountain, but had classified that as unique, limited to the mountains, and not a statement about beer in Virginia at large. But by then, Hardywood was making a name for itself and showed up regularly at Whole Foods. We talked about how weird it was that we got excited over this Portland beer bar, when Mekong was so close (and for the record, Mekong is much, much better). Center of the Universe opened up later that year practically in our backyard, even if by that point I was pregnant so we couldn’t enjoy it the way we might have if it had been there sooner. In addition to Hardywood, Whole Foods consistently had Virginia beers if not on tap, at least by the bottle, and we brought growlers there often enough that a couple of the beer guys started to recognize us.
I love drinking Virginia beer. But much more than enjoying it as a drink (because there is a lot of good craft beer anywhere I could go), the rise of Virginia beer is what finally banished the “grass is greener” mentality I’ve held since moving to this state 22 years ago. I needed that moment of self-awareness we had on returning from Maine at how foolish we were to geek out over something in one state, when we had the same thing at home.
I don’t need to go out of town to feel like the area around me is exciting. Whether it’s because I’ve changed, or Richmond has changed, I don’t feel the need to leave in pursuit of the life I feel like I should be leading, because the places I’ve wanted to go no longer have anything that home does not. Do I always participate? No. Part of that is due to life changes. But part of it is realizing that what I was looking for, was for my scenery to kick start me into doing the things I said I was going to do. And once I realized I was already in the right setting, I was able to look at thing things I *was* doing, and realize…I’m already doing the things I want to do. The choices I’ve made have put me in a place where I’m happy, and the problems I have are not with the city I live in or the external limitations I have, but with the decisions I make for myself every day–and I can live with that. Maybe my research is slow–and lately non-existent. Maybe I’m not studying under the people whose books I have read, and maybe I’m not changing the world. But I’m also not missing out on the life I’m already living while I dream about the life I thought I wanted.
I have another entry that I thought was going to be my next post here, all about beer, and a sense of place, and where you call home. And given that new year’s coincides this year with a new moon, there is part of me that wants to write about the reckoning of time, and the way, judging by social media, the Gregorian calendar holds so much power for something invented wholly by man…but I’m going to be cliche, and reflect on what 2013 meant for me.
If not to the day then to the week, I spent the first half of 2013 pregnant, and the second half as a new mom (and the last quarter as a working mom), so I have probably lived more in the moment this year than any other year I can remember. Or rather, I’ve spent the year trying to catch up to the moment, and feeling perpetually like I am falling behind. I haven’t had much of a goal to speak of other than: keep myself healthy so I can have a healthy baby, followed by trying to keep this tiny, perfect little person I was somehow deemed worthy of alive. Most days I considered a success if I managed to make myself dinner.
But here at the end of the year, I think the lesson for me has been learning to accept my faults. I haven’t–not by a long shot. But this year has put me in a place where I’m ready to start trying.
I’ve had this idea of who I’m supposed to be for such a long time, and I find a great deal of my stress comes from when I deviate from that ideal. I feel as though I am supposed to be altruistic, patient, compassionate, empathetic. One who yields with grace and exudes a gentleness that can influence those around me. Somebody who accepts things as they come–water that moves around the rocks and keeps going, on a new path if necessary, without comment.
And the truth is, I’m not.
I feel. Passionately. Loudly. And frequently without grace. I have high highs, and low lows. I can be very short-tempered, and I can be very selfish. I may move quietly through some obstacles, but others I splash against and make my interruption known.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t be all those other things as well. Maybe I’m not as gentle as the picture I hope to paint, but…maybe I don’t need to be.
I have this thing I consider to be the “white mage rule.” It’s the same notion as putting your own oxygen mask on if an airplane loses cabin pressure before helping anyone else put theirs on. And it’s hard. But it’s the basic idea that if you’re the one somebody else is relying on to do something, you can’t completely neglect your own needs. I used to think this was awful. I admired any story of great acts of selflessness, and hoped that if tested, I would prove to do what I considered to be the right thing. But motherhood is helping me come to terms with the realities of this.
For example: Thursday night I got hit with a stomach virus. I left work early Friday morning, which meant I would be home the rest of the day, and told Billy we didn’t need to take Kairi to his parents’ that afternoon while he was at work after all. Billy disagreed. He thought if I was sick it was a good idea to take advantage of prearranged childcare so I could get some rest, since if she stayed home I’d be occupied with taking care of her. I argued him on it. What kind of mother was I, to make that decision? It wasn’t fair to his parents or to Kairi for me to stay at home without her. But ultimately he won, largely because I was so dizzy I was worried it wasn’t safe for me to carry her around and try to play with her. I slept the whole time he was at work, and then went to bed as soon as she did that night. And the result? On Saturday I was, while not completely fine, well enough to properly care for her. And I might have been anyway. But without taking a few hours to just sleep, I might not have been.
It felt like the wrong decision, because it felt like the selfless, motherly thing to do was to put my own health aside. But putting my own health aside was potentially endangering her. Taking a small amount of time for myself allowed me to be a better mother for the rest of the weekend, instead of stretching myself so thin in the name of altruism that the only thing I ended up serving was my own idea of selflessness, and not the people I was supposedly giving myself away to take care of.
It’s a hard lesson. And I feel most of the time like I’m making excuses for why I’m not helping someone. But I think that’s what 2013 was trying to teach me. Not that I don’t need to be those ideal qualities anymore, but that I still can be those things even if I do overreact, get angry, and put my own needs first some of the time.
Because I’m now a role model 100% of the time. There’s been a lot of talk over the internet about the way mothers influence body image, and that elementary school girls worry they are fat because they see their mothers constantly critiquing themselves and it teaches them to focus on the way they look. But there’s also the healthy modeling of emotions. I don’t want Kairi to grow up unable to process negative emotions because I try so hard to deny that I have any. Being unable to ask why she got angry, when she sees anger as something she should be ashamed of.
It’s not a free pass to behave any way that I want–but it is an invitation to accept that I am not always calm. I do not always feel peace. That passion and open emotions can be as much a strength as patience and grace. I’ve always been able to accept that some people see compassion as a weakness–if I can use other people’s weaknesses as my own strengths, why can’t I see the strength in my own perceived weakness?
So if 2013 was leading me towards admitting that I have flaws, I’m hoping 2014 is coming to terms with what they are, and that there’s no such thing as a true good and bad trait (other than the ones that deliberately hurt others, of course). Learning to accept all of my qualities and use them for what they are. Because as long as we’re on a taoist metaphor, it’s the disturbances in the water as it moves around the obstacle that alerts river travelers to any dangers.
I’ve never considered myself a writer.
I suppose I shouldn’t say never. I’m certain there was at least some small amount of time in my teenage years I did. The time between when I left fanfiction and came back to it, and wrote a lot of short stories, angsty poetry, and one-acts plays. I know a goal of mine for a huge chunk of my life since puberty has been to have something published–and respectably so. I was never partial as to what. Photography, fiction, research; it didn’t matter what, I just wanted to be published in some way that meant my work was deemed by somebody else to be worthwhile, and for an audience that included more than the others being published, and my friends and family. I still do.
But I’ve never considered myself a writer in the sense that I wanted it to be my career.
Billy says I am a writer, by the simple definition that I write, so I am a writer. Which is funny, since I consider *him* a writer as that *has* been his career goal for his entire life, even though I produce far more words at a far greater rate than he does. But whether I am a writer by practice or not, it’s not my chosen career. It’s a hobby. It’s one I enjoy a great deal. I don’t know if I’m good at it or not. Sometimes I think I am. Most of the time I think I’m just okay. Given the only writing I have available for the critique of others is fanfic which has a limited audience, I don’t know. I’m far from the most popular writer in my fandom, and while I get good reviews, they are few, and mostly from people I know.
Except, there is a story. One story. One I thought of years ago, that I want to tell. I want to write it, and for people to read it. At first it was a dream–literally. This story came from a dream. Then it was something I thought I would write for NaNoWriMo, thinking if Billy and I were writing together it would motivate him to start producing words until he caught enough momentum to do it without my help. Then it became an unfinished work I might pick back up in a future NaNo just to see how far 50k would get me.
But lately, I want it to be real.
And lately, the time to write as much as a grocery list is difficult to come by.
I want to do NaNo this year. Not for this story, maybe not even for 50k. I want to make November 30th my deadline for finishing The Successor, and the couple of off-shoots for it I’ve got in my head. I want to finish the story I started for Jana as a gift-fic last spring. I want to write and post blog entries I’ve been writing in my head for the last year (and in doing so, maybe start writing blog entries with some consistency).
And then, I want to start on this piece of original fiction. Maybe it will be the thing I publish. Maybe I’ll print a few copies from lulu.com so my mom can have a book on her bookshelf with my name on it.
Maybe I want to write it just to prove I’m not a writer.
I just know it needs to be written.
This is a personal post, plain and simple. I want to post it where it has a wider audience than livejournal, but still a more personal audience than tumblr, but this is a personal post with no attempts to disguise it as otherwise.
Friday July 5th at 12:59 am I gave birth to my first child, a baby girl we named Kairi Elanor. I started writing it right after she was born, but most of my typing has been done one handed in the last three weeks, with very little time to actually concentrate on anything except Kairi for more than a few minutes at a time, but as she is currently having daddy cuddles while I hurry down breakfast, here is my window of opportunity for finally posting her birth story.
It starts at the end of last October, when after several months with no luck there was finally a “+” sign on the home test. Those months felt like they lasted forever until the wait was finally over, and I (moreso than Billy for sure) found myself in a state of extreme happiness, combined with extreme “ohholyshitwhathavewedone.”
I started my prenatal care with the same OB office several of my friends use, without being entirely certain if I wanted to give birth through that office. I am not a hospital person. I’m not much of a medicine person in general, even for minor things like painkillers or cough syrup. My general philosophy on health care is to eat well, stay active, and get lots of fresh air and sunshine, viewing doctors as a first world luxury in place for when something really nasty breaks past all of those preventative measures. The idea of giving birth in a hospital with an OB where I ran the risk of IVs, constant monitoring, strangers coming and going, not being able to move around, and people trying to talk me into medications I didn’t want when I wasn’t sick…it was not appealing. I have a friend who had her baby with the midwife unit at MCV and that sounded like a good avenue to explore–she had nothing but positive things to say about them–but then my friend Colleen asked me about a home birth.
I’d thought about it prior to even becoming pregnant, but wasn’t really sure where to start with researching it–prior to becoming pregnant you think you have time to answer all of your questions, and then it happens and time starts moving much faster than it did before. Fortunately Colleen is a walking guidebook on pregnancy and childbirth and gave me some places to start, and introduced me to a local homebirth midwife. I stuck with the OB office for another couple of months waffling about the decision: I knew I didn’t want to deliver with the OB, but it was a good place to keep receiving care while I debated between the MCV midwives or having the baby at home. I was never actually worried about the safety of a homebirth, which always seems to be the first place people go when you mention it. We’re about 10 minutes from a hospital so if something really terrible happened, we could get there in the same amount of time it would take to get an OR ready anyway, and I just didn’t really feel like there were any concerns (I guess that goes back to the complete distrust of hospitals and doctors–childbirth, to me, is nothing new, and while I disagree with the *cultural* notion that women are designed for childbirth, biologically we kind of are. My body is hard programmed to know how to give birth whether I ever chose to use that programming or not, and given that my pregnancy was low-risk, I just didn’t see where I needed the so-called “safety” of a hospital. The more I read up on childbirth (from the admittedly biased perspective of midwives), the less I wanted to do with a hospital birth, my fear of unnecessary interventions increasing all the time. Still, there remained the appeal of knowing the environment would be clean, that I wouldn’t be responsible for anything immediately postpartum, and the birth team would have their needs met by the hospital instead of me feeling caught between laboring mom and hostess. The MCV midwives were becoming more appealing, but after meeting again with Mary, our homebirth midwife, and really talking to her, we decided that even with midwives, a hospital birth just ran the risk of feeling too institutionalized for our very, very “trust nature” way of life. We hired Mary, and she took over my prenatal care. (A point of interest, when I first mentioned the idea of a home birth to Billy, his response was “I always kind of assumed you would do that.”)
In order to skip making this any more about my opinions on the difference in attitudes there are surrounding medical interventions in birth (and on birth choice being a huge part of reproductive choice), the only thing I will say about the change in my prenatal care was how much more responsibility was placed on me–and in a good way. At the OB’s office I was rarely asked questions. The doctor I saw was very nice and I didn’t feel bullied by her, but it never felt personal. I think her nurse asked me on my first visit about my birth plan, but even by my last appointment there around 26 weeks I don’t recall ever having a conversation with the OB about who I wanted in the delivery room, if I wanted pain medication or not, were we planning to circumcise if we had a boy, and my feelings on interventions. Mary asked us questions I hadn’t even given any thought to because they’re so far removed from the medical world of birth–what would I like to eat during labor, for instance, and what did I plan to do with the placenta? And that’s not to mention learning about the stages of birth. I’d never heard of “transition,” before. I hadn’t thought about different positions to ride out the contractions since my experience with childbirth is based on pop culture where laboring moms are on their backs and that’s that, and I hadn’t heard of delayed cord clamping. We were planning a water birth because we both love the water and liked the idea of the baby leaving a liquid environment and arriving in a liquid environment, and while it made complete sense as soon as I heard it, I didn’t know that water was also used as a natural pain reliever. I would love to attribute this to my own naivety, but that itself is based on a communal exposure to a birth experience that is more and more out of the hands of the woman actually giving birth.
So, I learned more. Not about the clinical side of how the baby would move, but the holistic experience–the physical stages of labor, the changes I would feel, the mental and emotional states I could expect.
The last piece before the day of labor, goes back to Colleen. The most important thing about Colleen is that she is that friend you just kind of wake up one day and realize you can’t imagine your life without. We met when all of us were working together at Barnes & Noble, and our stories have woven together since in such a way we didn’t notice until the threads were tightly bound. And, as mentioned before, Colleen knows more about pregnancy and childbirth than Dr. Google, and awhile back expressed interest in becoming a doula. I told her that if she did, I would hire her when I had a baby. It turns out I got pregnant before she made a decision about doula training, so I said I would still be comfortable with her being there if she wanted a sort of “practice run” at doula-ing, and thus assembled the birth team.
Kairi was due on July 1st, though for some reason, all of us thought she would come early. Possibly because I’m very short torsoed and we figured she would just run out of room–I know I thought as much because historically I ovulate early. Partly also because in our group of friends we already had two babies born in July but none in June, and partly because there was a Supermoon a week before her due date. So a lot of factors contributed. And I did have prodromal labor in June that kept me up all night, but then disappeared come daybreak. So June ended. July 2nd I had more prodromal labor–much stronger this time and we were sure that was it, but again, it ended.
I did not want a July 4th baby. I am admittedly not very patriotic, but my reasoning was more that I did not want her, as an adult, to find she always had to share her birthday with Independence Day cook-outs and family traditions–fireworks notwithstanding. So when I woke up to very painful contractions around 7am on July 4th, I could only shake my head, figuring that this time of course it *wouldn’t* be prodromal, given it was the one day in the 5 week range I could deliver at home that I *didn’t* want her to be born. But because the last two times the contractions stopped, I kept trying to convince myself it was just gas–I didn’t want to get my hopes up again that I would finally be able to meet my baby.
These contractions, however, were much stronger, and much closer together than the previous ones. Billy was supposed to go into work at 1:30 that day, and we spent the morning wondering if he would be able to make it. It was becoming difficult to walk around, and I needed his physical support through most of the rushes. By the time he needed to leave, we were both pretty sure this was it, but I sent him into work anyway, promising I would call him if I needed him to come home. During this time I texted Mary, our midwife, and told her what was happening, and at one point she called me and determined by how I sounded on the phone that no, this was not in fact gas, and she would be heading our way. I called Billy to home come, and sent Colleen a text.
The rest of the night becomes a bit of a blur. If I’d gotten to this point of her birth story the day after, or even a couple of days after her birth maybe I could articulate what it was like, but this long after the fact, the experience is beyond retelling. I talk a lot about C.S. Lewis’ essay “Myth Became Fact.” It influenced me strongly in college and I referenced it in my wedding vows, but the basic gist is that you cannot simultaneously describe and experience something–the moment you start trying to describe it, you lose the experience. And I wholly experienced my labor.
Here is what I remember:
When Mary got here, we filled the birth pool, and I discovered that it did not make as huge a difference in the pain as I thought it would (not to say it didn’t help, it just wasn’t a magic cure). The water was not warm enough for me, though I’m pretty sure that’s more because *I* was just so hot it didn’t feel as warm as it probably was. I remember Colleen getting here a bit later and us making jokes over my extreme nakedness. I remember the birth team reminding me to make low moans and horse lips in favor of higher pitched sounds during the contractions. I remember feeling somewhat disheartened that it was taking so long, because after all the prodromal labor and going past my due date I was so sure it meant the real labor would be easier, or at the very least, faster. I remember it getting darker, and hearing fireworks being shot off by the neighbors, and music coming from across the street. I remember feeling very, very weak from needing to eat (I’d had a large, healthy breakfast, which I proceeded to throw up before Billy went to work, and only managed half an apple and some crackers for the rest of the day), and I remember trying to tell Billy how weak I felt, only to have him continually assure that I was strong, because he didn’t realize I was talking about actual, physical drain. I remember being *exhausted,* and trying to sleep in between contractions (which is not that easy to do). I remember feeling disappointed in myself, because I had hoped I would labor more gracefully–quieter, and without the shame of being so darn tired I wasn’t sure I had the physical strength to continue. I remember how wonderful the birth team was with helping me physically and emotionally, and how utterly amazing Billy was the entire time. We had talked about what he could do beforehand of course, and I told him two things–keep me fed so my blood sugar didn’t drop too severely (which he tried to do, I just couldn’t stomach the thought of food), and to keep his hands on me. Billy has the most wonderful hands. Whether I am in a bad mood or not, when he presses his hand against my back, or in my hair, or my face, or my arms, or anywhere, it’s an automatic mood elevator, and I asked him to just do that, because it would help–and he did. He kept his hands on me, and continued to talk into my ear, encouraging me and making the whole thing so much easier. This is not to say anything less about Colleen, Christina, or Mary, only to state exactly how lucky I am and how wonderful Billy is.
My waters didn’t break until well after dark, and it was spectacular. I had been laboring on the bed for quite some time and stood up, and on the next rush, SPLASH! just like on television. And while things did not necessarily get easier after that, it was the beginning of the end. Kairi was posterior at this point so Mary had me try several different (and not entirely comfortable) positions to push through to try and get her to turn, and then, sometime after midnight (at which the others cheered me on that no, I would not have a 4th of July baby, and I wanted to cheer with them but I was *so tired*), Mary suggested I try to urinate–I made it to the bathroom when another contraction hit and it was like somebody had lit me on fire–and so I reached down, and felt something. I called out to Mary and she did a quick exam and said that no, she did not see the head yet, but I knew I had felt something, and that the baby must have just moved back up. Another contraction, more pushing, more of the horrible, wonderful burning feeling, and this time Mary confirmed that yet, that was the baby’s head. So they helped me back into the bed (despite how much we had really wanted a water birth, the water in the tub had gotten cool and it wasn’t quite full and I just wanted to push, to meet this baby who I spent all day working towards), and I pushed and pushed, with Billy behind me, and then there was a head, and then there was a baby.
She cried right away, and they put her on my chest with a towel wrapped over her, and she was slippery and crying and perfect. And someone (Colleen, I think?) asked if we had seen the sex of the child, which we hadn’t yet. I honestly hadn’t even thought of it. I had a baby on my chest and Billy had his arms around me and we were both touching her and kissing her and each other and I didn’t even think to see if we had a boy or a girl. But we looked, and saw we had a daughter, and I couldn’t tell you what was happening outside this tiny little circle that was my family.
Time started again. Billy cut her cord once it stopped pulsing; Mary, Christina, and Colleen cleaned up; Kairi nursed for the first time; they weighed and measured her; and sometime around 4am everyone was gone, and it was just Billy, Kairi, and myself. 40 weeks of gestation, 18 hours of labor, and now suddenly there was a third person in our home for whom we had sole responsibility. I was afraid to sleep, like if I closed my eyes for too long she would disappear, because the idea that this little being I had felt moving around inside of me for so long was now on the outside–whole and separate and so vulnerable–was so surreal. I slept in an armchair with her on my chest, and Billy slept on the floor at our feet–just a few hours, and then naps throughout the next day, and we let it sink it, more or less.
Even now I say more or less because I don’t know if it has fully sunken in. I keep waiting for somebody to come evaluate me, to make sure that we are fit to be her parents. It’s hard to believe that this little person came into our house all of our own decision making–we didn’t have to get permission or prove we were capable beforehand and that just baffles me, because it just feels like something as huge as making a new person should have more red tape involved, and yet–it doesn’t. We made her, and grew her, and birthed her, and now here she is, every day more alert and more aware.
I can’t say enough positive things about Mary and her team, starting from our first meeting where she talked to us about home births. Her knowledge is incredible, as is her support–both at our visits, the birth itself, and the many worried emails she always answered so quickly. If you’re in the Richmond, VA area, I highly recommend her!
I also owe so much of Kairi’s birth story to Colleen, not just for being there, but for being supportive of a home birth from the beginning. On my own, I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to make that choice, but, despite the anxiety leading up to her birth of wanting to make sure the house was ready for me to labor in, and the time immediately postpartum of thinking that yes, it would be nice to be in a place where someone else was here to clean up at all times (that thought didn’t last long, as my mom came into town the next day and did so, so much to help us), a home birth was definitely the right choice. I don’t know what would have happened in a hospital. The only thing I feel certain of is they would have broken my waters well before they broke on their own–from there, who knows? Maybe that would have sped things up. Maybe it would have caused labor to stall. Maybe they would have tried to put me on pitocin, or I would have caved under the exhaustion and asked for an epidural. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day I had a successful home birth, where Kairi and I are both completely healthy, and I know that my daughter got to control every aspect of her birth story. Having a home birth is empowering, and in a way, a political statement. My success story is proof that women ARE capable of bringing a baby safely from the womb to the world regardless of how interventive medicine wants to be, and while I know it isn’t for everyone, and people make decisions for any number of reasons and this doesn’t make me better or worse than any other mother out there, I like that I will be able to tell my daughter that her first experience of the world was in her home.
And finally a note on her name. While she is not named after the character, I fell in love with the name Kairi (pronounced ky-ree) years ago when I first heard it as one of the main characters of the Kingdom Hearts video games. I know that her entire life she will be called Carrie, or people will assume she is named after the character, and for that, despite wanting to name a girl this for years, I hesitated on actually giving her the name, but Billy really liked it as well and talked me into sticking with it. And given that Kingdom Hearts is a collaboration between Disney and the company that makes the Final Fantasy games of which Billy and I are both huge fans, there’s nothing wrong with people drawing what I understand is an obvious conclusion.
Elanor was more of an 11th hour decision. Billy has always wanted to name a girl Xen (pronounced Zen), and for the longest time that was the middle name we had agreed upon–during most of this time, we were both certain we were having a boy, so I wasn’t as concerned. Then an online friend told me she had dreamed we were having a girl, and I started thinking more about that idea, and it really started to feel right. I had two dreams in my entire pregnancy where the sex of our baby was revealed, and in both of those dreams we had a girl–and in one of them, we called her Ellen. As Elanor was a name I’d benched anyway, it seemed significant, given that Ellen is a derivative of Eleanor. After that dream I brought up the idea of changing the middle name–while I didn’t necessarily have a problem with the name Xen, it seemed harsh–K and X are both very solid consonants, after all. And then there was the dream. So taking a cue from another friend, I wrote the names on our bathroom mirror, and in time Billy agreed with me that Kairi Xen just didn’t look quite right, and he consented to Elanor. The name itself comes from Tolkien. Elanor is a golden flower that grows in Lothlorien, and is the name Samwise Gamgee gave to his first daughter, allowing him to name her something Elvish, while keeping with the hobbit tradition of giving little girls flower names. Sam Gamgee is my mom’s favorite literary character, so it felt like giving her a name for her maternal grandmother as well. Then when looking up information on it one day I saw that Lenore is also a derivative of Eleanor–and my particularly geeky friends might know that Lenore is the name of another favorite video game character of mine, Rinoa, in the French translation of Final Fantasy VIII. Finally, Elle is a nickname, which is also a nickname of one of the key characters in Final Fantasy VIII, as well as a nickname for a character in a story I’ve writing. So really, with all of the built-in acknowledgements in the name, it stuck pretty quickly. Then a week or so before she was born, another online friend had a dream that we had a girl, and that her name started with an E–this was after we knew Elanor would be her middle name, which really just reinforced we had made the right decision. It did take about a week after she was born for me to really feel we’d made the right choice, but now I can’t imagine her having any other name.
So that’s Kairi Elanor’s birth story. The day after she was born I didn’t think it was possible to forget just how painful labor was, but now, it is. Three weeks later even the soreness is gone, and going back to Myth Became Fact, the pain of both labor and the healing afterwards are things I experienced so greatly I can barely describe. I know it was painful because I can say that it was, but the experience of the pain is gone. I’m not in a hurry to relive it anytime soon, but it is only a memory. The present now is Kairi looking at me while she nurses, or her sleeping on Billy’s chest, or the little noises she makes when she is waking up. It’s frustration from helplessness and sleep deprivation at 3am when I can’t figure out what she needs. And it’s a deeper love than I have ever experienced.
I’ve been working on a story for a few months now that takes place at the end of October, and I needed a scene for a character to observe that might take place on a beach at that time of year, which led me to researching Samhain rituals (Billy and I are what I consider the pagan version of “Chreaster-ans,” or, for those who have never heard that term, the pagan version of Christians who only attend service on Christmas and Easter. We acknowledge the major holidays/festivals, but spend most of the year content in our observation of religion from a philosophical standpoint). And of course, in researching Samhain I came across a lot of images and descriptions of what is probably my favorite time of year, despite the dramatic decrease in sunlight during the day and the drop in temperature.
Fortunately, as spring is breaking here, I can appreciate these images of October and dream about the smell of cider and burning leaves, the feel of the crisp air, and the brilliant reds and oranges of the leaves, and then walk into the dining room and admire my new seedlings, and feel grateful that at 6pm I still have another couple of hours of sunlight–and the days are just going to keep getting long.
I’ve been waiting for spring since winter started–since before, really, since the leaves finished falling and the novelty of cozy pajamas and hearty soups worse off. But here I am, contemplating working on some homemade Halloween decorations, and wondering if I shouldn’t have bought a squash to make for dinner instead of the asparagus I thought I had been craving all afternoon.
The shoulder seasons are a lot of people’s favorite time of year, and it’s not surprising. The pear trees are finally blooming, and my DC friends have been monitoring the progress of the cherry blossoms at the tidal basin for the last week. We have been stirred from the indoor nests we create during the winter, and are looking forward to action–whether it is gardening, baseball, vacations, or simply being able to sleep without shivering. In the fall, we are looking forward, like the trees, to dormancy. These are seasons of change, of movement.
The other thought these pumpkins gave me, is more complex and needs another post as others have written on it far longer and far more eloquently than myself, but it is related to festivals themselves. To the smells and memories that, no matter the season, take place outside. Sending eggs down a river or letting children with baskets seek them out; the burning of a log or the illumination of a tree. We mark the coming and going of the seasons outside (because why wouldn’t we?), and then spend the time in between indoors, waiting for the next time we can go out to mark the changing of a season.
One of the last really nice weekends of last year, I spent with a very close friend who lives just far enough away that for extreme introverts like us we don’t visit each other often. We sat on her deck and enjoyed the remains of the warm weather, drinking wine, and snacking on fresh vegetables. Yesterday, one of the warmest days we’ve had so far this year, I went to visit the same friend and we passed the afternoon in a similar fashion. Last time we talked about my attempts at getting pregnant (I found out two weeks later I was), this time I let her do most of the wine drinking and we talked about her future plans for getting pregnant. We marked the start of the first frost and the end of the last in the same fashion, in what we realized and joked was now our own ritual.
The seasons, ritual, and being outdoors have been linked, of course, throughout history, and we experience that collective consciousness whether we give a name to it or not. In America, we mark the beginning and the end of summer in the same way–three day weekends spent beside a grill, shared with friends and neighbors. In this way, I can sit here and stare longingly at pictures of pumpkins less than an hour after cheering the eruption of pear blossoms.
It is deeply bred within us to mark change outdoors, in the presence of the uncontrollable forces of change that give us cadence. It is the time spent in between, the time spent indoors, where this collective memory is often forgotten and we become either stagnant, or impatient. And maybe we need the occasional picture of pumpkins in the spring and cherry blossoms in the fall, rather than exclusively the secular marketing we’re all so accustomed to, to remind us not of the meaning (for that is personal and diverse), but the experience of the season.