Friday, January 27, 2012

All the world, anew

The whole wide world is new to Desmond. Watching him discover it one finger or dog bark or leaf-patterned, cotton curtain at a time is the most charming and profound experience; I get to discover the world all over again with him and because of him. When you don't have a baby, you think, "Oh, infants are so boring. They just lay around looking wormy. They don't do anything." That's what I thought.

Babies are scientists, investigators, explorers, the wisest observers. Their bodies are new and fascinating territory, tiny tongues rolling around the roofs of mouths and over the edges of gum lines, penises spouting out pee (Desmond definitely now knows something's down there.), fingers attached to palms--little grabbing mechanisms. Lately he likes to put his hand in my mouth, grip my teeth and smile when I gently bite and tug at the fingers. Or else he stares at his hands, curiously turning them in front of his eyes and seeming to make a mental recording of each curve and line. It must be no coincidence that the hand is such an early discovery but remains, throughout life, one of the most challenging parts of the body to accurately draw, as if the subtle reminder that in the world there is always some pleasure left to discover, at any age, is physically embedded in our bodies.

Desmond's very laughter is new to him--both discovering what surprises cause it to occur and the millisecond during which the sound of it stuns him. The first time we heard him laugh it was at a stuffed bee that I was zooming over his head and toward his face. Now he laughs at a stuffed lion (Why? Why? What is it about that lion and not another toy lion that brings such a huge, wide grin to his face before giggles spill out of his belly and mouth?). He laughs when I pretend to eat his fingers and toes and tummy, and he laughs when he gets swooped, starting low, between my legs and then moving upward until he's over my head.

These are the discoveries I am making about Desmond: His hands are perfectly elegant and substantial at once. Little silver-dollar-sized starfish or a painter's palette with five paintbrushes. His eyes are dark and light at once, sparkling like God cut out two perfect circles of a starlit night sky and used them for Desmond's eyes. The humming moans he makes as he's trying to fall asleep, the laborious grunts that come out as he's reaching for a toy, and his startling and startled laughter all sound like chimes being jostled in the wind. Just listen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How does your garden grow?

Everyday is not a yoga pants day anymore. In fact, "real clothes" days are starting to outnumber yoga pants days, so that now, if I stay in pajamas for a long time, like I am this morning, it feels like a small treat instead of a massive failure. Everything is getting easier, or rather, I feel more competent. And each day I am more in love with this little boy who is my baby. Mine! That seems unreal, still. I think all the time, as if I'm trying to convince myself it's true, "I have a child." And then, "I have a child?" Baffling.

I felt guilty all day yesterday for writing in my last post that I loved him "more" while he played in his crib in the morning than I had loved him the previous night when we had had a hard time getting him to sleep. It just isn't true. It's possible I loved him "more" when he was inconsolable because I simply felt so sad and desperate on his behalf and mine and Chris's all at once.

After my mom died, I had this vision for what my life should be. It just became sharp in a matter of seconds, like a Polaroid, and I didn't even know I'd needed or wanted a vision. But the picture guided me at that time, and I return to it now and then, check in to make sure it's still what I want and to take measure of how I'm doing. In the picture, I'm outside working in a garden that is thriving. The sun is shining down, and the color of the sky and the grass are crisp. My hands are blackish-brown, covered with moist soil. A corner of my house is exposed, a corner with an open window. If you look very carefully, you can see through the window that there is a desk inside with papers all over it and a tiny computer, and it's where I write. The only part of this picture that has been blurry at times, like the part of the Polaroid that takes longest to come into focus, is whether there's a child in the garden. Occasionally, I have seen, clearly, a little kid sitting on the ground lifting soil to its mouth while the sun shines on both of us. Other times, I've seen no kid at all. So I suppose it's the first vision after all, the one with a child, that is meant to be.

I still have no garden, but I swear I am inching toward one. For my birthday, Chris gave me a wonderful book to help me brainstorm about landscaping and gardening our yard. He also made a steel planter box filled with little containers of herbs and hung the box outside of our kitchen window. I planted the herbs the same day. Then yesterday, I had this moment in the sun. I had just put Desmond down for his nap, and I went outside to water the herbs. I was watching the water mist in the air and land on all the different colored and textured leaves and my picture flashed before me. I thought, "Oh, look at you. This is sort of it, isn't it? You lucky girl. You're gardening. You're writing. You have this little house and this little baby and this husband who makes things with his hands, things that are necessary and masculine and feminine and beautiful all at once."

Earlier in the morning I'd been beating myself up because a web journal that I respect, and one whose editor has invited me to submit new work twice now (upon rejecting what I'd already submitted), had done a call for submissions from Indian authors. The deadline was January 15, and I could not muster the energy to work on my fiction or to tweak a nonfiction piece I have. I was angry at myself, thinking, "Well, there's a chance you blew off," as if I've been doing nothing else. Then I sat down and forced myself to write yesterday's blog entry, a kind of punishment.

A little while later, I was outside in the sun and had that moment, that revelation. So I decided, I will write a little something everyday. And if that something is a blog entry, that's what it will be, until eventually I am back to working on fiction and essays and back to submitting and back to the business of trying to be a writer. But along the way, I'm going to have gratitude for what my life is in the moment.

I never see my own face when I look down at Desmond's face. I usually see Chris's face. But often, while I'm nursing Desmond, and he's decided he's had enough, he puffs out his cheeks and purses his lips (think of a Cabbage Patch doll), and for some reason, the expression reminds me so much of a face my mom made often after her stroke. She'd be nodding approval at you for whatever you'd just done or just understood. and looking completely satisfied. I also see her face in his when I'm rocking him, and he finally succumbs to sleep. His eyes shut without resistance, peace overtakes him, and he looks exactly like my mom. The expression says, "Here I am with you, and I'm proud." I am not rich by most standards, but when I see the picture of me in my own lush garden and the image of my mother's face in Desmond's, I have to remember I'm some kind of quiet millionairess.                               

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A whole lot of work

Every morning, when I see the bottom of my coffee cup I get angry inside. You'd never know looking at me that I feel volcanic over this last sip of coffee, but there is definitely a fiery, eruptive rumbling present within. Hot coffee feels like one of the few relaxing comforts in the day, no matter what other stress or frustration is occurring simultaneously. I used to work in an office where, every day around 2 p.m., someone would stop whatever she was doing to make a pot of coffee. Then we all stopped to fix a cup, and the ritual and comfort of that afternoon coffee made everyone seem slightly drunk. I wish I could drink coffee all day long without disturbing Desmond's sleep pattern.

I've decided that it is criminal that women are expected to return to work six weeks after giving birth. Criminal and the antithesis of humane, moral treatment of children, women and families as a whole. A woman I've been working with on a freelance editing project told me that her first child was born in the Netherlands, where a nurse came everyday for a month to help her, and that in Germany, where she is from, women get ten months maternity leave with 2/3 of their salary paid. Nothing about those benefits seems like a luxury. They just seems fair and sane compared to the insanity of going back to a job in six weeks as if nothing has drastically changed in your life.

Yesterday I checked in on my neighbor. She is two weeks into being a mom. At one point, she looked at me, her eyes tired and slightly shell shocked, and said, "It's a lot of work." And I could tell there was so much going on that she didn't know where to begin explaining. I just nodded and understood in a way I never could have before.

I was panicked and distressed at the time, but now I am grateful I could not find a full time job before I gave birth, even if every penny of Chris's salary gets swallowed up by bills. This too shall pass. In the meantime, I get to adjust to being a parent, learn how to manage my time so that I can be a productive individual and a mom too (and there's quite a learning curve), and most of all, enjoy this little person we created. It is a lot of work, and it is surreal.

This morning I listened to him cooing and sort of grumbling in his crib for fifteen minutes. The grumblings got louder and I went into his room expecting him to be near tears. But he was just looking at the giraffes and parrots and other animals on his blanket and making boy noises. So I put away his laundry, fixed my coffee and did a few other chores. He played with toys and talked to the animals in his crib for over thirty minutes, which made me love him more than I did last night when, kicking and screaming at the top of his lungs, he fought his sleepiness while Chris and I, hungry and exhausted tried to console him.

I look at job postings every single day during his first nap. I have yet to find a single job that seems more necessary (to the world or our basic survival) and desirable than caring for Desmond, no matter how overwhelming it gets at several points during the week. This is the only job I can handle at the moment. I never knew I'd feel this way, but I do and I've decided to embrace that feeling and all of the spit up, piss and slobber without shame.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nervous or neurotic?

I'm trying to decide what the difference is between an appropriate level of nervousness and simply neurotic. My birthday is coming up, so I asked my cousin if she can watch Desmond on Saturday night while Chris and I see a movie. Today I went online to purchase tickets and saw that the movies I want to see play at times that will mean leaving the house before I get Desmond down for the night. I'm sure my cousin, a grown woman who is also a pediatric nurse at a children's hospital, can handle rocking a 4-month-old to sleep and putting him in his crib for the night, but the idea of it made me so anxious. Voice ringing like a siren in my head at seeing movie times: Desmond will freak out  he is not comforted to sleep in exactly the way that I comfort him and he will stay awake howling all night, feeling miserable, sad and abandoned. So I bought tickets to a later movie that I'm not as interested in seeing. So much for keeping my perspective and staying level.