Thursday, February 26, 2009

Maybe Not Baby

Last week, I couldn't stop thinking about having another baby. It started innocently enough: resale shopping almost always involves mild confusion ("There's no way this is a Medium!") followed by realization ("Oh, it's maternity!"), but my most recent trip to Goodwill yielded almost exclusively cute pregnancy finds. I didn't buy anything, but I was sorely tempted. Because we'll probably have another child, and it's always good to be prepared for next time, and a mod-print maternity dress for $4.99 is hard to pass up.

"Next time" has been firmly established in Rob's and my minds as starting sometime around Summer 2010, and I still think that's a good plan. Westley will have turned three by the time the baby is born, he'll probably be in preschool, and we might even have a little bit more money than we do now. But somewhere between contemplating pregnancy duds at Goodwill and purchasing a gently-used pair of orange sneakers for Westley at one of our favorite kids' clothing shops, I started to think that "next time" could be now-ish.

Suddenly, every other sentence out of my mouth started, "When we have another baby..." or "The next time I'm pregnant..." I started looking back at pictures of Westley as a newborn, feeling sad that I'd been too depressed and insecure and disappointed by unmet expectations to enjoy his tiny-babyness. Rob observed, "You know, this is why so many kids born about two years apart." It's true that if I were to get pregnant as soon as possible, Westley would be almost two when his little brother or sister was born. There must be something deep and biological at work here. The more I noticed Westley walking on his own with his arms at his sides (instead of curled up by his chest, T-Rex style) and looking less like a baby, the more having another child seemed like the right thing to do, somehow. I mean, they're just so little and sweet.
Hold me closer, tiny duder.
Last week, I couldn't stop myself from entertaining thoughts about starting all over again with another tiny, precious baby. I was actually convinced it was a good idea.

Then this past Monday, I came down with the stomach flu. I woke up in the early morning shaky and nauseated, threw up in the kitchen sink, and spent rest of the morning crying and dry-heaving over a waste basket. Rob got the doctor's number off the list on the fridge, and polled me about my symptoms.

"Has she felt like this before?" the nurse asked him over the phone.

When she was pregnant," Rob answered. He quickly added, "We don't think she's pregnant."

It really was just the flu, and I'm not pregnant. And I've changed my tune completely. Thanks to this little stomach bug, I remember just how completely awful it was to be pregnant, I'm in no hurry to have another baby again any time soon.

Nothing like a bonus round of morning sickness to squelch your baby lust.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Homewrecker

Now that he walks, Westley is a force of nature. He is a big, bad toddler-wolf, and he's going to blow my house down. I never knew that a determined 14-month-old could tear a room apart in ten minutes. A room that then takes an hour to put back in order.

The speed and thoroughness with which Tropical Storm Westley strikes is driving me insane. I'd like to throw my hands in the air and my eyes to the heavens and say, "All right, I give up!" and embrace the clutter and chaos. It would make my life a lot easier, but I can't do it. I'm one of those visually-oriented people, whose mental and physical well being are significantly influenced by their environment. I'm not a neat freak--not by any stretch of the imagination. I just feel better when my books and CDs and kitchen utensils are not strewn all over the apartment.

Let me quickly say that this is not an issue of childproofing. Not really. We're childproofed as best as we can be without completely replacing major belongings. This is an issue of a boy with a newly discovered love of walking, and all that it enables him to see, reach, grab, and fling. And it's an issue of space. If I haven't said so before, our apartment is teeny. It's a converted basement, and there's not a lot of room for storage, built-in or furniture-type. The kitchen/living room area has a small pantry built-in with the cabinets. Westley's room used to be a laundry room; no closet there. The one closet in the house is actually just the space under the stairs. There's a lot of stuff that I would love to store out of toddler reach, but there's nowhere to put it. So it all stays out, and gets flung across the living room.

Every time I tell my mother about Westley destroying the house, she mentions a woman she knew who had four children whom she was home with all the time. This woman would clean and tidy up her house, and then promptly get herself and her children out the door. They would come home from whatever their errand or activity was to a neat, clean house. I love the sound of this, except I can't imagine how it works. In the time it takes me to get Westley and myself ready to leave the house, he can make a pile of books and toys and lingerie bigger than himself in the middle of the living room rug.

Cleaning up after an active, curious toddler is truly a Sisyphean task. It's the Myth of Messephone, Queen of the Underwear Drawer, doomed to pick up her bras and panties and nightgowns while her son simultaneously tangles them up with his stacking rings and stuffed animals...forever.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

My Tiny Valentine

You could have heard a pin drop in the mothers' group when I said I didn't love Westley right away. The topic was "Falling in Love with Your Baby," which made me cringe a little inside when I heard it. But I'm all for sharing openly about this crazy parenting stuff. The good, the bad, and the not-so-lovey-dovey. So I admitted that I didn't love Westley when I was pregnant with him, that I didn't love him the minute I saw him, or even a month after he was born. In fact, it took me a good four months before I could say out loud that I loved him and not feel like a faker.

The other mothers, who liked to expound week after week how deeply bonded to their babies they were--how open and tuned in they were in this yoga-class-is-my-religion kind of way--didn't resonate with this AT ALL. It was all blank stares and crickets chirping. My suspicion is that I'm not the only mother in the world who felt the way I did, and probably not the only one in the group. But no one seems to want to talk about it.

Admittedly, it's not my favorite thing to talk about either. It's fucking painful, even now when it seems so long ago and strange. It wasn't how I expected to feel, and definitely wasn't what I wanted. I was ready to fall in love with my baby from the minute those two lines showed up on the pee stick. I was very happy to be pregnant, crazy symptoms and all. But my body was more of a science project than a sacred vessel. I didn't really feel connected to my pregnancy as the act of carrying around a tiny person. Sometimes I'd rub my belly and think something lame like, "Hi, baby." But trying to imagine my fetus as a little human, who had a face and a sex and a brain (and would someday have a name and a voice and opinions and and and...) made my head spin. Every midwife appointment was surprising, with a doppler on my torso revealing wush-wush-wush. That little heartbeat was like a miracle. Although I looked forward to the sound each time, I never expected to hear it, and it sent my own heart racing with the re-realization: Holy shit, there's something alive in there.

That's all it was, though. Some thing. Maybe if I had known with absolute certainty that I was having a boy I would have felt more connected to the thing as a "him." Maybe I would have called him by his name, and pictured him with blond hair (yes) and brown eyes (nope), wearing tiny corduroy trousers and button-front shirts. Or maybe not. Maybe he would have been just as much a stranger to me when he was born.

As Westley lay floppily across my chest in the birth pool, I searched his tiny face and body for something familiar. But he was a total stranger. I felt no bond with him, and I thought I knew nothing about him. Apparently, growing another person inside of you isn't always an adequate way to get to know him. There was no "My baby!" moment when the midwives hoisted
Westley out of the water and into my arms. In fact, I think I had forgotten that I was going to have a baby, and even though I'd pushed him out just moments earlier, I didn't really believe he was mine. I didn't dislike him at all, but love didn't even enter the equation.

I forced myself to believe that as time passed, I would start to love this little dude who had mysteriously come to live with me. Despite my intent to let feeling love for Westley be a gradual process, I was very hung up on not feeling this incredible Love that so many other mothers talk about experiencing with their new babies. As far as I could tell, I was just doing it wrong. He was beautiful and healthy and very lovable, so it was something about me. Bad mother, I would think. Isn't loving the baby a major component of your job? Only bad mothers don't love their babies.
Right now, with Westley cuddled on Rob's lab to read books, it's hard to believe I ever felt the way I did in those first few months. Because although I remember not loving him, I don't really remember falling in love with him. In my mind, there is only Then--taking care of a little lump of human and feeling more like his underpaid employee than a loving parent--and Now--flirting with him and calling him "my little boyfriend" because he sticks his tongue out to kiss me. The only conclusion I can draw is that it wasn't just me falling in love with him, but the two of us slowing getting to know and love each other that changed everything.

Loving Westley is almost effortless now that I know what an awesome dude he is, though sometimes it's strange to think that he loves me--and not just because I fed him with my body for 14 months, and continue to do so. No one is or has ever been as visibly happy to see me as he is. No one has ever whipped his head around to follow my every move (with the possible exception of my brother when he was a baby), or greeted me with an ear-to-ear grin. I feel undeserving of such pure, unchecked, joyful affection. Especially when I think about him loving me before I loved him. It feels a little shameful, actually, and that is something I still have to work on.

Not loving your baby right away sucks, but what sucks even more is being ashamed for feeling the way you do. Feelings are information, not character flaws. But when I spoke up in that yoga studio full of mothers, it felt like a confession. I felt like I was revealing something awful, something that I was wrong for having experienced. Fourteen months later, I still sometimes wonder if I was wrong. What is unquestionably wrong, though, is beating ourselves up over imaginary ideals. There's this concept of A Mother's Love as something perfect, pure, unwavering, instant. But that type of love, like any love-at-first-sight-then-happily-ever-after narrative is fiction. Not something to strive for. In fact, when I think of "instant," I think of instant coffee and instant pudding, which both suck.

It's not important when or how you love someone, only that you do.

Dear Westley,
Will you be my Valentine?
Love, Mommy

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Girl All the Small Guys Want

Westley and I spent the morning at one of our new favorite hang-out spots. It turns out that the giant inlaid chess board and accompanying playing pieces that occupy the space between Third Place Books and the food court are perfect for amusing a new walker. And there's just something about seeing my little dude supporting himself on a rook two-thirds his size that makes my day. On weekends, the food court area is filled with all types, but on weekday mornings, it's strictly moms and kids.

I immediately spotted a couple of twoish-year-olds running around. Their mothers were sitting on the nearby benches, sipping coffee, watching. I followed Westley closely, oscillating in and out of high-alert mode as the kids charged through the open space. And somehow, without really noticing it happened, I made a friend.

He was two: small and blond, with big blue eyes and slightly babyfied, but mostly understandable speech. Westley was doing his version of a Sun Salutation on the chessboard: lots of reaching waaaay up with his arms, then bending waaaay over to touch the ground. I quickly got my two-year-old fan engaged in a game of "Up to the Ceiling, Down to the Floor" which is pretty much exactly what you'd expect. Say, "Up to the ceiling!" enthusiastically while stretching up as tall as you can manage. Follow it up with an equally-enthusiastic "Down to the floor!" and touch your toes if you're sufficiently bendy. Before too long, we were using the photo booth as an spaceship-elevator, and the boys were drumming loudly on the adjustable stool inside.

This isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened. Over Christmas, I made quite the impression on Rob's little cousin by offering him cinnamon toast and listening as he talked about lions. Little boys talk to me on the playground, at the grocery store, waiting in line, out of nowhere. In fact, since Westley was born, little boys seem to love me. They bat their eyelashes and talk to me about their lives. Or maybe they always would have loved me except that now that I have a little boy of my own, I'm spending more time at little-boy haunts.

I never thought I understood little boys, or even liked them. One of my biggest fears when I was pregnant was that I would have a son and not know what to do with him. I have a younger brother, and when we were growing up, he always seemed so boy-ly. The things he liked to do and talk about just didn't make sense. Boys in general were mysterious enough (so rowdy, so mean) and I was sure I'd never "get" them (or get them to like me) because I couldn't even figure out my own lousy brother. So maybe having a son has helped me relax around little dudes. And maybe little dudes pick up on that. Or maybe it's because I'm someone else's mom. If there's a collective unconscious, there might be a collective Oedipus complex--I don't know. Whatever it is, boys just flock to me now. My theory about this most recent small-guy-incident is that I was the only mom not sitting and drinking coffee, but that doesn't explain the ones who just walk up and start talking about Star Wars.

I thought my adult guy-person might be able to shed some light on the subject, so I asked Rob about my sudden popularity. He thinks it's the hair. Rob explained that when he was growing up, with Disney and comic books as the utmost authority on women and what was desirable about them, long hair--long blond hair, specifically--was the epitome of beauty. It didn't really matter what the other features were like; long hair was key. According to my husband, boys get a load of my mid-back-length blond tresses and decide I'm cool. At least, he added, "It would have worked on me." Says the guy who still pulls on my ponytail to tell me he likes me.

I'd be interested in testing Rob's theory if it didn't mean a drastic change of hair style. I guess I'll just go along with the boy-friendliness. It's certainly nice to be liked, and I can pretend that it bodes well for my future as mom to a little boy-ly boy.

(Please say it does.)

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

14 Months

Dear Westley,

You are recovering from your first cold. Until a few days ago, you had never been sick, ever. It was amazing and no one would believe me when I told them. "Not even an ear infection?" Not even an ear infection. And as colds go, this one isn't so bad. You have a runny nose, and there's lots of crying at bedtime, but that's it. I wish I could take some credit for this, but it's all you. You are some kind of superhuman child with a mutant immune system, I swear.

I missed your 13-month birthday, because it was New Year's Day, and I couldn't believe it was 2009. I'm sorry. I should know better by now, be more on top of recording your leaps and jumps, but I guess I don't, because I'm not. I think if I were to write down everything new you do and say, I would have writer's cramp by 10 AM every day. You really do change all the time. You discover a new food every day (spinach is a favorite). You talk and I realize "That's a new sound." You don't always nap, but when you do, I think you wake up taller.

You walk all the time now, which I still find incredible and adorable. You pick your feet up deliberately and march along, like a supermodel walking in second position.

I wish I had your energy and stamina. I try to keep up, but you leave me in the dust, always. I feel so sluggish around you, and I still don't know what to do with you a lot of the time. It's like The Runaway Bunny, only you haven't told what you're going to do in advance. I never know whether to be a gardener or a tightrope walker or a tree. Sometimes I think I'm not very good at being your mother at all.

But you still want to be with me. Tonight you flopped all over the mattress on the floor of your little room, cuddling me and kissing me, and putting your head on me pretending to sleep. You cry "Mama, mama" and nothing else when you're upset, and you shake your head "no" and hold on like a monkey when someone tries to take you away from me. I'm so lucky: to be showered with love from a sweet little boy, and I've done nothing to deserve it.

Love,
Mommy

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