What I imagined to be the largest hurdle of two children has come to pass: they are sleeping in the same room. It was fine, fun even. Joe ramped up the thrill of sharing a room, and had Lux help him construct Joan’s crib. I briefed her that Joan would probably cry a bit and that Lux would have to ignore her, just like she does when Joan cries next to her in the car. She nodded solemnly. Honestly, I think Joan was very pleased to be in the same room as Lux, despite her five minutes of noisy protest. Joe and I congratulated ourselves and marveled at the convenience of using our closet in the evening again.
And this week we skimmed over another hurdle, though it was one I had not anticipated: taking Lux to a specialist at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. A “toe checkup” as we pitched it to Lux. Children’s feels like a hospital crossed with a fine hotel that boasts great service. Art everywhere. Brightly colored walls. Valets waiting to park cars, enormous airlock doors steadily opening and closing, a garage with clean signage in several languages. It felt like there was one staff member per patient as security, nurses, receptionists, doctors, students and interns churned past us.
Most of the parents looked like hell because that’s what you look like when you feel as if it’s you v. traffic in order to to be on time to an appointment you scheduled three months in advance. The kids looked like mini professors, standing quietly in their zipped up winter jackets, trooping down the halls as if they’d done this many many times. As Lux and I waited to check in at our front desk, a woman swept by with a handful of bright pinwheels and handed her one. This pinwheel apparition from heaven only topped off the waiting room stacked with books, building blocks, a chirping television, a bright plastic box labeled “treasure chest”, and three enormous cylinders filled with bubbly water and bobbing plastic fish. Dream world to Lux but it only meant one thing to me: people have to hang out here a lot.
The doctors and nurse kindly treated us like the over-concerned parents we turned out to be. When you fill out that check-in paperwork and are faced with all those little boxes, you are reminded of all the things you could be checking off. No, she doesn’t complain about them. No, she has no trouble walking. It was clear we were small beans compared to what they saw every day. In fact, they pointed out that her gently curving toes, officially diagnosed “curly toes,” are usually genetic–which reminded me that I have them too, though to a lesser degree. Ah. Odd how I never thought of it that way when I was worrying over hers.
It turns out I’m terrible at estimating these things–the trouble or ease of future events with children. What’s that trick you learn to portray perspective in art? Vanishing Points? I finally get to my scary vanishing points and they turn out to just be smears of chocolate sauce on my favorite shirt. Leaving Children’s this morning we felt lucky, but also in it somehow with all the people who weren’t breezing back home with us, in this so-worried-over-something-you-love thing, for good.
I like it for the fireplaces that are everywhere. I like it for how thirsty you suddenly are. Drink lots of water, breath lots of air. The air feels only lightly oxygenated; thin and effervescent compared to sea level. I like how even the kids that look like punk teenagers are probably athletes, outside for most of every day using their bodies and looking around them and being alive.
We just do it this one week every year, but for that week, we do it every day. We arrive and we take off our city clothes and put on fleece and long underwear in layers and walk around looking like adults in cuddledowns. After a few days our faces are burnished, ruddy cheeks with dry lips and patches of windburn. You see people rubbing chapstick over their lips constantly and patting on sunscreen and vaseline, but it does nothing. We wake up in the morning, look up at the mountain and wonder if it will snow. All anyone talks about is the snow. Will it snow, when will it snow, when did it last snow, what is the snow on the mountain like, how did it feel out there? Hey, how was it out there? you ask each other. Crunchy, soft, powdery, icy, white out, bright out, cold.
My dad taught me to ski and for most of my childhood I associated it with something he wanted me to do. Like taking long bicycle trips, or practicing for cross country weekend races by running longer and longer routes throughout the week, it was not my idea, it was his. As a kid, skiing meant that there was a lot of heavy stuff to put on, it was cold, and there was every possibility I could get hurt. The chairlifts seemed thoughtlessly fast. My peripheral vision was cut off by googles, and snowboarders came too close. I don’t know if you can ever introduce your kids to something that you love without tainting it with your own passion for it. You want it for them so much. But still you plant the seeds, and hope when they start claiming things for themselves later in life, they will recall this mother tongue and be pleased to find it within themselves.
As one of my great aha! moments of adulthood, skiing recently became a real freedom for me. Now I see it: the pillowly cushioning silence of the snow. The hush shoo of my skiis swiftly skating over the ground. The crisp scrappy-edge sound of cutting through icy patches. The glorious aloneness of it. Picking a direction, easing down the slope towards it, and just a moment later, finding yourself racing towards it. Feeling fast and strong but feeling in control. I think I see why I didn’t take well to it as a kid. It requires something aggressive in you.
The two runs I really loved this year are rated double green—the easiest you can do and supposedly for beginners, but I just love the pace of them. Ten minutes up of small up-and-down slopes. You go down a small hill and have just enough momentum to go up the next one. Then you do it again. Patches of trees are scattered throughout, to weave around if you want to feel like a rabbit racing through the woods. If it’s morning there are shadows and you can see little dips and bumps as you approach them. If it’s noon there will be no shadows, just dazzling white shining back at you. And then you ski almost as if you were blind, keeping your legs loose and easy.
There are several perfect things you can do when you ski. One is to ski for a couple of hours and then take a break for a hot chocolate in the sun. If you already have warm snow gear on, in addition to being on top of a mountain, it’s toasty in the sun. Hot chocolate on the mountain is serve yourself. First you pay something like $3.50 for a paper cup. There’s a tub of marshmallows, and several canisters of whipped cream, and a push button hot chocolate maker that asks you to stop when the cup is 2/3rd full. It’s hard to do this.
Another is take a chairlift up the mountain alone. Ten minutes of silence, the chair tugging its way steadily past the treetops. You, on a bench, not even a seatbelt to hold you back, swinging high over the ground, surrounded by views only the birds would see. The scatter of animal footprints below is suddenly so clear—their winnowing paths. It feels like you could embrace a passing pine tree, they are so narrow and soft up top.
And another is to take a chairlift with a stranger. I’ve been on chairlifts with fat men who are very good skiers. I’ve been on chairlifts with 80 year old men who are very good skiers. These trips always remind me that it’s an inclusive, happy sport. As the chairlift scoops you up, swings back for a moment, and then lifts grandly up into the sky you look at your new partner for the next ten minutes and grin. Oh, it’s great out here, they say. Yes it is, you say.
I’m experimenting with something new: having two hours to myself, once or twice a week. For Christmas my older brother bought me a two month membership to a nearby gym that has childcare. Um, woah. That was a surprise.
The girls are simultaneously in an almost freakish sweet spot where they are perfectly happy in the care of strangers. Freakish to me, after the scenes I’ve been through with Lux at a younger age, that now I wander out with nary a whimper as the door closes behind me.
I confess that I often think, “I’ll just go sit in the steam room and then take a hot shower for an hour. No one has to know that I never actually exercised.”
The gym is blissful spot really. There’s some kind of waterfall behind the front desk so the first thing you hear when you get off the elevator is the sound of falling water. There are walls of freshly folded white towels. A cafe with all the trendy smoothie add-ons I don’t want in my pantry, but I do want to try: maca root, spirulina, bee pollen. It’s thrumming with Boston’s beautiful people steadily getting more perfect. The first day I walked through the primary gym room to find myself a treadmill, I thought “Jeez you all look great. I think you’re doing fine. Treat yourself to a matinee!”
Yesterday I settled onto a wood bench in the gloriously hot and dry sauna. After a moment I noticed that the woman across from me was doing some kind of calisthenics on her bench. She had the look of someone who was older, but her skin wasn’t showing it. Neither was her hair. This must be her secret, I thought. Calisthenics in the sauna. I bet she’s here everyday.
I admire that kind of self care, but this gift is coming at a time when I’ve almost totally dropped that from my register. I’m more likely to have a strong drink in the evenings than take a soothing bath. More likely to collapse on the couch with my phone than do some stretches on the floor. I get everyone ready in the morning and then I dart around for five minutes getting myself ready. I feed everyone well, but then snack on coffee for myself.
Something that I thought about during my yoga class yesterday is the moment when people grab something to cover themselves, to get a little warmer. There’s something so nice about that movement. When a girl drapes a scarf around her head and snuggles into it. When a blanket gets piled on. Watching a man put on his hat and settle it just so, tugging it down over his ears. When you shrug a sweater over your head and continue on, feeling a little bolstered and braver.
It’s self care at its most immediate. I need a little something extra right now—ah, a blanket. Ok, now I’m ready.
Totally coincidentally I undressed in the locker room next to the exact same 70-something-year-old woman that I had sat next to in yoga. We were both very naked, and discussing the amount of clothing we were about to put on. “The difference between us and them,” she said, referring to the southern states in the midst of a deep freeze, “is that we have the clothes for this.” I looked over my clumsy pile of daily gear–the pilling mittens with useful flaps that fold back, a thin yet warm knit hat, a broad scarf, the long jacket already tipped with salt stains–and felt proud. I’m not doing all the nice things for myself that I could be, like most of the people here. But I’m doing a few of them.
The light in our bedroom in the morning is so beautiful. Almost every day I try to take a photo of it. Joan actually wakes up before the sunrise but I just turn her over onto her back and let her coo at the ceiling for 40 minutes while I climb back into bed. Funny thing about doing stuff like that with babies: they really don’t mind, you just have to bring yourself to do it. Then I watch the sunrise with her at my side and Joe still fast asleep. From our view, there’s a crane silhouetted directly in front of it, they’re building another high-rise across the way. It will be a luxury building that only a few can afford to live in, but I support the idea of higher concentrations of people downtown anyway, though I wish it had a few subsidized apartments to bolster it. To give it a little heart.
The bricks have puckered up and seem to radiate a chill, just as they radiated heat in the baked summer. As long as I get everyone dressed warmly we can wander just as frivolously as we did in warm weather. This is my new moment of accomplishment, my big inhale of satisfaction: everyone is warmly dressed. It feels like a gauntlet, reaching this place every winter, with mittens, hats, coats that fit, shoes that fit, and everything on all at once. I think of an old country song that is something something We had no shoes in the summer, but NEW shoes in the winter. Yes to that, country mama of old, I know where you’re coming from.
On that subject I really enjoyed my friend Melissa’s rumination on getting everyone dressed warmly.
Warm clothes and clean hair. I’ve come to realize that bathing my children doesn’t come as naturally as the shampoo commercial makes it seem. On top of Lux’s own suspicion of the bath, there is my general forgetfulness that it exists at all. One perk of this is that whenever Lux’s hair is clean, Joe and I can’t get over how nice she looks. Keeps us easy to please.
I find myself thinking of Sylvia Plath. I shouldn’t bring her up as I know almost nothing about her, but like all mothers I encountered in my past, I feel I have wronged her in some way. I misjudged her. I remember thinking scornfully of a woman who would kill herself while her children slept upstairs. The word abandonment occurred to me, of course. And it was, it was abandonment, and reading studies like this that bring up the role of the mother in a man’s younger years, and thinking on how Sylvia’s son killed himself late in life…the implications are undeniable. But anyway, Sylvia had two young children at home, by herself. A single mother trying to make a living with her writing. Her book comes out and it gets crummy reviews and yet she’s still supposed to make oatmeal every morning. I feel very sorry for her now, by herself like that, and think of her.
I guess I’ll have to work my way through all the mothers I ever judged before I had a baby, and quietly apologize. Light a candle for them. I’ve been lighting more candles anyway as each evening now the moment of darkness is creeping further up the clock. It lands at 4:10 now. I wouldn’t mind lighting a candle and having their ghosts keep me company until Joe comes home. Maybe they’d give me a thumbs up on this venison chili that turned out a little heavy on the chili powder. Lux is so into the pink candle on our Advent wreath. She can’t believe we haven’t lit it yet. It must feel like an eternity to her, these two weeks before lighting it.
My heart did a little skip every time I thought about Joan being the star of the show on Sunday. Even though I can’t pay attention to her most of the time, even as she has to start crying before I notice that Lux is sitting on top of her feet, I still like for her to get fair praise. I’m awfully fickle with who I feel needs attention in my household—if too many strangers coo over the baby, I direct the conversation to Lux. If everyone is laughing over what Lux is saying, I start to chirp about funny baby things Joan has done lately.
But it just seemed so right, for us to think about Joan for a bit, to light a candle and gather round and celebrate her existence and say out loud that we hoped she would know God and that we would raise her with that hope. At our Episcopal church, the Baptism part slides simply into a normal Sunday service. Between the homily (more of a meditation/story than a sermon) and communion. The four of us went up to the front, plus David, our dear friend-godfather of both of the girls. We talked through, out loud, a series of questions about what we hoped for Joan. Sammy, who was the presiding priest for the day, is our good friend. I’ve probably shared as many drinks with him as I have heard sermons from him, which is a nice thing to feel when you’re handing over your daughter for some legit blessings.
Maybe it’s the bourbon, but I get weepy thinking about this now. “And will all you who witness this,” Sammy’s voice rang out across the pews, “do all in your power to support this child in her life in Christ?” “We will,” answered everyone, strangers some, old friends others. It was beautiful.
Not to say this is what she will choose for herself in the future, not to say that she won’t have moments of thriving and withering, but to say now, in this moment, we acknowledge our part in what she is raised to believe. “…give her a spirit to know and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”
Then the entire congregation trouped to the back corner of the church, to gather around the stone font with its hammered copper bowl. This is my favorite part because from my corner you feel surrounded by a small sea of faces watching and smiling. Sammy dramatically poured water into the bowl, intentionally splashing some over the edge onto the giggling kids below. Joan got sprinkled and anointed with oil that smelled like balsam and fresh cut trees. Salt, for wisdom, was pressed onto her tongue. The kids gathered close and watched every move, laughing when she yawned and hoping she might let out a shocked cry at the salt (obviously she didn’t because she’s born to love salt just like Lux and me. Heritage).
We brought a case of Sofia blanc de blanc, the California sparkling wine that comes wrapped in pink cellophane, to celebrate with everyone afterwards, the early hour notwithstanding. It’s a fruity sparking wine, perfect for the morning. I made 70 golden gougeres (ina’s recipe, easy, reliable, five stars on the crowd-pleasing) and piled them into a big bowl next to the chilled bottles. They go best with champagne if they are hot and crunchy out of the oven, but they still taste sharply of gruyere and softly eggy, even when they are one day old.
<thanks to Kelsey and Julianne for the photos>
Life with a polaroid camera is not exactly all it’s cracked up to be. You’d like to think one’s existence would suddenly be composed of pool parties with striped beach balls and lots of ice cream cones. You’d like think it would be a day-to-day of snap-crackle-pop dispensing, candid shots of joy and birthday cake sprinkling throughout your month.
In fact, it takes a little more. It takes guts, actually. And lots of failure. Countless snapshots have turned out crummy. Out of focus, misjudged lighting, baby leg darting away at the last second. Each of these efforts, lost to the serendipity known as ugh this one turned out crappy, is mourned for a minute or two and then quickly thrown away. You can’t keep the bad ones around, they’ll weigh you down. I worry that I’ll think of them next time, right before I click the trigger, and hesitate. Hesitation is probably a polaroid’s #1 enemy. But many have turned out transcendent: square glossy peeks into a past moment, turning the moment into something more significantly representative for the future, in a how we spend our days is how we spend our lives sorta way.
And then there’s that moment when you’ve run out of film and you have to invest in the next black box of slides, a few of them, God knows, are potential failures. Like buying new ink for a printer, or, if you’re like me, getting cash out of an ATM, you know it will get whittled away somehow, and probably in many meaningful and important ways and you’re not sure on what exactly, but the future looks promising and you want to be prepared.
And of course: there is that gratifying clink-mrrumph that sounds like a vacuum working backwards and then a shiny blank slate pops out, to the delight of adults and children alike. The pleasure of an instant artifact: my old old friend Katie just came for the weekend, and before she left I snapped a photo of her and Lux together, for Katie to jam between the pages of her Bible (Katie is Lux’s godmother after all). We take photos of the girls and slip them into thank you notes. They seem stronger when they’re sent out in the world that way. A pretty bottle tossed into the sea that says you knew me once and it was lovely.
I’ve been reflecting on how many meals I ate at other people’s houses as a kid. You’d be playing at a friend’s house, getting jealous of all her awesome toys, and then her mom would knock on the door and offer a snack. Or ask if you wanted to stay for dinner. And you’d be like…yeah, sure, I guess. When I think on that now, I think, woah that was food! Someone made that for you! And shared it! And then did all the dishes!
(My best friend’s mom used to welcome us home with graham crackers and a warm pan of chocolate frosting…WHAT. Top Ten Middle School Memory, right there.)
Or how many times my family of nine was invited over to have dinner with another family. Nine. My grocery-shopping-brain says HOW MUCH FOOD WAS THAT? Seriously, that is huge amount of food.
I’m baking bread and making soup to leave behind for Joe and Lux for the weekend. Joan will fly with me to Michigan early tomorrow morning to see three wonderful friends–two of whom are pregnant. We’ll hop in the car, together with Joan’s car seat, and drive up to northern Michigan for the weekend. Campfires, chilly beach walks along the lake, good coffee, and lots and lots of good conversation await. So I’m making food to leave behind. And my friends in Michigan are making food to greet me.
One happy circle of having food made for you, and you making food for someone else. Being poured into, then pouring onward, or inward. Most of childhood, your cup overflowed till maybe you stopped noticing all the wonderful favors being done for you. Now things might be a little shallower, but I’m all the better for it ’cause I notice every drop.
I went to a Bible Study this morning in a town outside Boston, in one of those churches that could be mistaken for a high school. When I found the nursery room there were two grandmothers waiting to take Joan. I knew that she had eaten, but I also knew it would be a long road of walking-rocking-humming to get her to sleep. They nodded cheerfully at my specific instructions, clearly ignoring me with glazed-over eyes only for Joan. They smiled at me, the hovering mother, and waved me away. I dropped Lux off in a room full of stickers and checkered duplo blocks. And headed upstairs. There was coffee, and some anonymous someone made coffeecake. And some anonymous someone made those little cornflakes piles doused in peanut butter and butterscotch. I sat in a chair, and listened to older women who knew how tired I was, but wanted to encourage me anyway. I took some deep breaths and listened carefully. It took all of 15 minutes for me to fill up again and be ready to see my girls.
What’s the word? There’s a word for this…grateful.
Happy weekend everybody! and keep your eyes on instagram for too many photos of Michigan, because it’s the prettiest.
Photos of pesto and tomato sandwich makings from this summer. The title of this post is quote from Alice Waters.
Recently I’ve started feeling that I only need to get Joan to age two and then I will hand her off to Joe for her further education and edification. Joe says he’s in the “newborn disenfranchization” period with Joan. A period that we blessedly now know is short and temporary. He says that, before Lux, no one told him as a new dad that he would feel helpless and alienated from his child for a good while, that the first time he held her it wouldn’t necessarily be like a light-switch of bottomless love was flipped.
There’s a few things dads can do with young babies—get them to sleep occasionally, offer a bottle here and there—but overall for the dad who really wants to be involved, it can feel like he’s not wanted. Sometimes I exhaustedly hand Joan off to him and she just cries harder for the five minutes he’s holding her. That brief respite for me is life-saving in the moment, but there’s no moment of engagement in return for him. He’s merely an extra set of hands helping his wife.
There’s science behind the breastfeeding success rate for women who breastfeed within two hours of the baby’s birth. Scientists believe the hormones that are released in the woman’s body by breastfeeding create feelings of connection and intimacy with this newborn. Feelings that will propel her to pick her up when she cries, to carry her around for hours, to feed her every three hours for almost six weeks before the mother might get anything in return, such as a smile. There’s no doubt that it can take a little boost from nature to assure the mother of their connection. Dads don’t necessarily get that.
But now that Lux is long-since through that stage, it’s amazing to see Joe and Lux together. Despite the time he’s gone each day at work, they still get in countless games of “ghost tent” and “fly bear,” bike rides, and drawings. Before bed they talk through tucking in each of her 8 stuffed animals. He seems to read aloud at least 10 books to her every Saturday. They share their cereal bowl in the morning. He’s the only one who can get her to both try the new food on her plate and love it. If she and I find anything broken throughout the day–a ripped page, a cracked egg, a plant knocked down on the sidewalk, a creaky door–Lux declares, “Da-da fix” with a confident nod. In the last hour before he gets home from work, she walks dolefully around the apartment, looking at me like I’m some kind of CSPAN to Joe’s Disney Channel.
Sometimes I get annoyed that on the scale of self-sacrifice, I feel like I’m at an 8 and Joe is at a 3. Sometimes I feel like saying, you are a child compared to me. The things you’ve given up, the frustrations you encounter, they are so petty compared to what I do everyday. You thought that was frustrating? Try that times two, at three times the volume, then multiplied by three hours. The first week postpartum with Joan I remember saying you do realize I’ve sacrificed my body on an alter to our family, right? We laughed (that was the first week, of course. I felt much much better exactly seven days later. Worry not.). I think about him going to the gym a couple times a week and spending an hour in pursuit of nothing but a better physique, walking out to buy lunch in a cute cafe and eating it at a table by the window, having a meeting over drinks in the evening. I am almost aghast at the differences in our daily lives right now. Remember when we were dating? Remember when we were all matchy-matchy, and both liked spending an hour at used bookstores, and both liked buying scones on a morning walk, and both liked seeing indie movies at the theatre every week? I wonder, will he ever catch up to me? Or will it have just been me all these years, becoming infinitely more patient, or more beleagured, as the case may be?
I think I spent a whole week being simultaneously jealous of Joe and Lux’s evolving relationship—that she doesn’t need me wholly and comprehensively anymore—and wearied by the very same needs from Joan.
Then I think of something my friend Kellyn said to me when Lux was two months old. We went out to visit her on Nantucket and one day while I made lunch, Kellyn held Lux, showing her around the cottage.
“Lux only smiles like that when you walk into the room,” she said. “She doesn’t smile like that for anyone else.”
Oh the gravity of a compliment.
To hear a baby cry, to pick her up, to feel her relax against you in contentment. To whisper a request in your toddler’s ear and have her to do just what you asked. To have your children turn away from a stranger and search for the safety of your hand, the beat of your heart, the back of your legs.
In which our young heroine finds she was given a real baby, a waker-baby. None of this magic sleeper-baby stuff, like always falling asleep while nursing (Lux) or sleeping 5+ hours by one month (Lux) or never ever spitting up (Lux). No, this time it’s a real baby who wakes up every three hours to the dot, and would like to be held all the time extra please, who hasn’t the faintest idea how to fall asleep and gets rather upset about it, who detects a whiff of caffeine in my breastmilk and can not abide it.
It will never be this overwhelming, I said to myself last Monday morning after Joe had left and Lux was begging to go to the playground and Joan was fussing. This is it. The pinnacle of overwhelmingness has been reached. The next time I have a baby, I’ll have a four year old and she will make lunch for all us. Right?
I see normal, I see the glimmer of it, though I think it might still be two months away.
I hate repetitive conversational pleasantries. I’ve probably heard some variation of “zero to one is the toughest” or “one to two is the hardest” one hundred thousand times. THE POINT IS PEOPLE, I would like to interrupt, IT’S A NEWBORN. I remember how I felt with Lux. I remember feeling overwhelmed. THIS is the pinnacle, I imagine I probably said.
There are times in the day I have to say to myself, quit it. She is a newborn. She doesn’t have to shape up. She doesn’t have to get with the program. She can do whatever she wants. I think I perhaps see her worst, through a glass darkly, at 6pm. I’m not seeing her, I’m just seeing all the stuff I haven’t gotten done. The absolute rumpus Lux has piled around me and throughout the entire apartment. The lack of dinner plans. The two emails (just two!) I was hoping to respond to.
But I see her best at 6am. She wakes up to the sunlight. She coos and stretches next to me and I wake up too. It’s quiet and everyone else is still asleep and we’ve made it through the darkness to this very second. I love that moment, a moment when I manage to open my eyes to the present instead of chasing something else in my mind, when I can watch her facial expressions and notice that her eyelashes flit out like a Disney chipmunk’s. When I wonder who she is right now and who she will be.My mom once told me that she took up sewing when we were young so she could point to something and say “here’s what I accomplished today.” That’s probably why I find myself in the kitchen, baking something that doesn’t need to be baked by hand, dancing a very fine line where Lux is engaged and Joan is briefly asleep but perhaps soon to wake, but will it be after the dough is safely pressed into pans, or before? Last week I found an index card I had scrawled on years and years ago. “Finnish bread” it said at the top, which sounds absurd because it was always “homemade bread” when I was younger. I asked for it weekly from Mrs. B, a Dutch woman who started helping out my mom around the time when there was four of us kids. Before I left for college I finally asked her to walk me through the recipe, and I made scattered notes on this index card. And after I put it in the oven the kitchen smelled exactly as it used to when she made it.
Toast with butter and honey? Who could forget this delicacy? And what about cinnamon sugar toast? My college cafeteria used to keep shakers of cinnamon sugar casually on hand by the salad bar (like, you can have salad, or you can have…cinnamon sugar!). Throughout the semester, on not so good days, I would make a neat stack of white toasted bread with cinnamon sugar and sit down with a cup of coffee for lunch.
When people come visit our apartment, and a rather lot of them have been lately, which is lovely, when they make it up to the 5th floor after the two heavy doors that noisily buzz them access, after the tiny rickety elevator that lifts them four floors, after the small red carpeted flight of stairs from the kitchen they found themselves in after the elevator—they often look around and call it a treehouse. The ceiling is vaulted like an old attic, the windows are mostly enormous, and the tops of trees are visible everywhere. A treehouse that smells like fresh bread.
I think of this as a very easy bread, hard to mess up, leaving you with basic tomato sandwich makings or, of course, steady toast supply. I sometimes abandon the dough for more than two hours, if babies demand. And I particularly like the short baking time–fresh bread so quick!Makes Two Loaves of Mrs. B’s Homemade Bread1 package active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 t from a bulk container)2 cups whole milk (or skim)1 cup whole wheat flour4-5 cups white flour2 tablespoons butter1 tablespoon brown sugar2 teaspoons saltDissolve the yeast into 1/4 cup lukewarm water with your finger and let it sit for a bit. Mix together one cup of the white flour and all other dry ingredients. Microwave the milk for 1.5 minutes and then drop in the butter to melt.Mix the bubbly yeast into the dry ingredients. Mix in the melted butter and milk. Add 4 or 5 cups white flour and mix it with a wooden spoon. Dump the dough out on to the counter and knead it for a bit, adding flour if it’s too sticky.Leave the dough to rise for 20 minutes under a damp towel or a bowl.Split the dough into two sections and drop them into bread pans. Let rise for two hours.Bake at 425 for 30 minutes.
I have always been one to strive forward, ready for the next thing and the next level, breezily leaving the past behind the bend and looking to the future. The woman we’ve hired as my doula suggested I try to cherish these last weeks with only Lux by my side; to focus on the ending of something instead of the impending beginning. The three of us were sitting next to each other with our feet in the murky duck pond of the Public Garden. It was 90 degrees, and Lux was periodically jumping up to gather sticks and then tossing them into the water, joyfully shouting “stick!” with each throw. She was almost completely soaked with pond water and she was loving it. Lorenza said words like “cherish” “dwell” and “relish.” I was sweaty and thinking about how many diseases Lux might be contracting from the water which contained at least three different kinds of bird poop.
But later, when the heatwave finally broke and as the rainy days have come, I have engaged this intention. We stroll through June’s afternoons, rainy or not. We stop to sit on stoops along our street. We pet whatever dogs have the time (according to their owners) to stop and talk to us. We wander on for ‘treats’ (one of Lux’s first firm words), trying chocolate croissants across the city, lemonade from a street vendor, a new box of cereal at the grocery. We climb into bed with a pile of books and share the pillows. (Somehow our hand sign for share turned out like most people’s ‘hang loose’ so I find myself reminding Lux to both share and just relax, dude). We sit in the garden behind our building and meow, hoping the nameless neighbor cat will hear us and climb over the wall, as he does every now and then. “I wait,” she says when I ask if we should give up and head inside. “I play,” she says when I suggest it’s time for lunch instead. We buy strawberries and melons and eat the whole thing in one sitting. We finish our dinner so we can have popsicles. We discuss when Dad will be home, and how he took the train to work, and how he’s probably going to be all wet because it’s raining.
It’s a season of receiving advice, most of it terrible, some of it is gold. My midwife Connie finally told me to quit it with trying to talk to Lux about the baby.”You’re just stressing her out.”
What a relief. I thought back over the times I’d attempted the conversation, all of them met with confusion, anxiety, or denial. The future is a frustrating concept to someone Lux’s age. It better be five minutes away, or don’t bring it up.
And it’s a little hilarious to imagine what I thought all that prep work might ideally add up to: was a screaming infant going to arrive in our apartment and Lux was going to walk up and say “soo good to see you! at last! just what I’ve been waiting for, someone to completely screw with my life and schedule!”
Connie also suggested I encourage Lux’s interest in talking about the baby growing in her belly. A parallel imagination game that, I’m really sorry to say, I’ve so far been correcting. “No, I have a baby, you don’t have a baby,” I’ve actually said. In hindsight, I feel like a real jerk. Now, we’ve started talking about the baby in bunny‘s belly. It was Lux’s idea, but to me this feels like a very wise and safe proposal: a tiny fluffy baby from bunny could hardly do us any harm, right?
So here we are, we’re not waiting. We’re relishing. One of us might be a little tired, a little sore in the back, and little overstretched, but we’re relishing all the same.