clear and present postpartum

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I’ve been meaning to link to this superb writing on postpartum depression on Katrina’s blog. I have experienced moments like she describes and I think she nails the elements exactly. The buzzing thoughts, the way the dark moments can tip the scale, the physical notes that come into play–eye contact, smiles. An excellent read, particularly if you’ve had friends go through this, or brushed against it yourself.

A bit of back story, so you catch the details: Katrina, a calligrapher, painter, and devoted Catholic, gave birth to her baby girl with two young boys already tumbling about her in a tiny space on campus with her husband deeply into graduate school.

Shoo fly, don’t bother me

Grinching triumph

Joan_fields“I know why the Grinch doesn’t like Christmas. Because his Sister Grinch died. And SHE was the one who wrapped all the presents and bought the pumpkins. She was the one who put up the lights. He can’t do it because he’s at work all day and he’s TIRED. That’s why he doesn’t like Christmas.”

-Joan, zeroing in on the near-Grinch lurking in all of us.

Things have felt mystifyingly terrible since that foolish and violent man was elected. It even feels hard to pray for, or hard to know where to begin with my prayers. The young soldiers who will soon be sent to more wars? The terminally sick who so-briefly had insurance that will be shoved off again? The companies that will move to other countries where skilled workers are accepted, regardless of their nationality? The police brutality that will unfold? Funny how things that feel very close and fragile can feel the hardest to pray for. Like it’s too risky for me to acknowledge how worried I am.

My friend suggested we start reading up on the resistance movement in world war II. (Here I always think of a favorite story of Norwegian citizens hopping on skiis and cleverly skiing in to disable a hydroelectric plant.) Joe’s family is Mennonite, a religious group that’s been quietly disagreeing with the government for years–deeply pacifist; attempting to redirect their taxes away from the military defense, devoted to issues of social justice and the marginalized. The idea of actively and consistently fighting with your government is not a new one. But it sounds mighty tiring. Though, I sort of fell in love with the idea of political PARTIES mentioned here.

Still, the hearth keepers must carry on, kneading the bread and chopping the kale, even as their ear tips towards the Diane Rehm Show playing in the background. Ruminate over ice skating lesson fees. Request a list of favorite Christmas books from the library. Remark upon the desperate need for plain candles in the house. Pull out coats and boots for the coat drives at church.

We didn’t guide the girls into beliefs of Santa as a gift-giver, but Joan is a big fan of his nonetheless, in the general good-citizen category. So I’ll map out a few places to take her to see him. (What if you could visit a favorite dignitary, and talk with them on a nice armchair for awhile?)

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Many Kids Club

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It seems I am the chosen jurist for everyone deliberating another child. Friendly moms I do not know sidle up to me. They’ve noted the two children, and now, the belly. They make small talk, then get to it: “yeah, so, how did you decide to go for that?” “What?” I ask innocently, “three?”

“I mean, we’re debating. We’ve been talking about it, over and over again. But you know—more kids means bigger car, bigger house, right? And the plane tickets! And what about hotel rooms? Do they let you bring three kids into a hotel room?”

I am truly the worst consultant they could resource this pro bono work to. I genuinely haven’t given thought to half the concerns they’re studiously mulling over. It wasn’t until I was 4 months into this pregnancy that my friend pointed out, to my surprise, that we wouldn’t all fit into a taxi anymore. “You think you can, and then you can’t,” she firmly said of families of five.

But instead of bringing their debate to a reasonable well-researched person of able body and mind, they’ve unwittingly stumbled on an aging Irish Catholic grandmother in the body of a petite Midwestern thirty-year-old. “Well, it’s so much better for later in life.” I state with authority. “You know—more in-laws. More phone calls. More grandchildren.” Their eyes mist a bit and they’re tracking along with the pretty picture of a quiet cozy living room inundated with telephone calls.

Then I pull out one of my darker rationals: “Just think of the burden you’ll be on them if there’s only two.” They frown, with an absent look in their eyes. Perhaps my maniacal glint of hormone-fueled-procreation goes too far on that one. Though, I’ve found I am not the only one who leans towards the darker side of these discussions. “The way they’re dying these days, you should just keep going. I mean–those motorcycles!” remarked a retired nurse to me the other day (somewhat surreally, as the girls and I licked our ice cream cones in the sun).

Clearly these are two sides of the same trippy mental coin: to me, they seem overwrought with controlling their current circumstances in a way that won’t pay off: is life with two kids actually going to be magically easier? Didn’t they already exchange so much of “normal life” just by having those two? If their lives are better with two personalities, why wouldn’t they be exponentially better with three? I guess at root I doubt the accuracy of meticulously measuring out elements of their life.

And on the other side of the coin, I have built my daily outlook on a prediction for thirty years from now. I would be wise to remember that I might not even be around then, and zen to recall that it is THIS moment, the chaotic, daily, non-stop child-rearing one, is the one that matters most anyway.

The trouble for these folks is that they walked up to me in a state of uncertainty. I have many friends firmly in the only one camp or only two camp. I’ve listened carefully to their reasoning and admire their vision. I would never attempt to argue them out of their position, nor would I think my position offered them anything. Often I think of the Bible stories involving women begging God for just one child–take sweet, elderly Elizabeth and Zachariah for example. The gift of one life-changing child is not to be lightly brushed over. As kids, my sister and I relished joining in the relative peace of our neighbor’s home–a family of four. Things seemed calm and full of possibility over there, with lots of extra craft supplies and snacks to boot.

Where’s this all going? A medley makes the world go round. Just don’t ask the old Irish lady at the playground for advice.

baptism

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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.

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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.”

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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).

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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>

baptism dress

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A couple weekends ago I spent a cold morning helping organize a tag sale. Joe entertained the girls back at the apartment while I met up with three other moms at our playground. We had our paper cups of coffee, our mittens, and tons of donations. There were big bags of clothes, and my job was to hang up each item of children’s clothing and place it on the right size rack. Organizers got first dibs on shopping, but Lux doesn’t really need anything, so I had just pulled out a box of infant socks so far.

AND THEN a woman dropped off a ziplock bag of antique linens. A bag, I’m not kidding. Folded over delicate dolls’ jackets and infant victorian-style tops, and two dresses that looked like baptism dresses to me. I pulled those out to buy for myself, and packaged up the rest of the bag for some other antique-lover to find. It seemed like too much for one person to claim all for themselves.

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This dress, the one Joan wore, is so pretty, and I feel lucky to have it. I like to think about the woman who made the dress. I bet she made it by hand, and I bet she picked out the lace months beforehand. I wonder if she made it for a boy, or a girl, or maybe both, for her whole family. It must be at least 100 years old but it’s in such beautiful shape.

So this will be for whoever comes after Joan. And maybe, just maybe, it will make it to a granddaughter someday.

 

 

grateful

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.

tomatoes

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.

sandwiches

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.

 

The Seeking Heart

I read Franny and Zooey, the book J.D. Salinger wrote after Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories, every couple years to keep up with the dramatic little-sister-existential-crisis part of me. I remember first reading it in Italy and our residential program director handed me another book, saying, “Do you know what book she is reading obsessively in that? Here it is.” And it was the strangest collection of Desert Father writings I’d ever seen, and I hated it and read about ten pages (though I left it on my nightstand for weeks to prove my interest).

But lately, like Franny I’ve been reading curled up on the couch, in the bathtub, and just before bed, reading something that feels like her ascetic text, but actually it’s a French theologian who was a sophisticated advisor to King Louis XIV. My dishelved copy of his three hundred year old writings is one of the books my mom sent me when I had Lux, with a simple annotation, “These helped me when I was at home with all of you kids.” My mom was home with seven kids and there are several books.

Fenelon says things like “let your anxieties flow away like a stream” and “do not listen to the voice that suggests you live for yourself” and “the pain you feel at your own imperfections is worse than the faults themselves.” He writes very simply and his words ping like drops of hard alcohol into my subconscious muddy puddle.

Becoming a mother has not come easily always. I’m not stir crazy. I’m not bored. Mostly I’m delighted. But at times I miss the narrative of the self propelled life. I’ve never been more aware of my urge to live for myself, aware of what Fenelon would call my self-love.

I heard a quote about motherhood in the most unexpected place the other day. Joe and I were watching a documentary about the bizarre performance artist Marina Abramovic (“The Artist is Present”). I wasn’t really listening, and then I perked up at the first sentence, and then I thought this! is! it! Because people ask what being a mom is like, and how it’s going, and I have trouble explaining it.

The hardest thing is to do something that is close to nothing. It’s demanding all of you because there is no story anymore to tell. There’s no objects to hide behind. You have to rely on your own pure energy and nothing else.”

Of course there is an object, you might say—a tiny human. But in the day to day there isn’t a narrative. The work is slow and breathtakingly repetitive. There are rarely moments of great completion. The demands feel illogical and relentless.

And yet I do feel as if this child might have chance of helping me get rid of my blossoming trifecta of impatience, arrogance, and antagonism toward sympathy. Like Marina says, I realize that the wave of selfishness that crashes when I wanted her naps to fall in line perfectly with my plans, that wave that frustrates me so, does come from the lack of anything to hide behind. Here I am, I’m selfish, and I want to do want I want. At the heart, it is not Lux that frustrates me, it is my own frustration that infuriates me.

Fenelon would say this happens to all of us, from a variety of sources. Mine happens to be Lux, yours might be a family member, an illness, a job, a quiet call that persists. I guess the turn I’ve taken lately, for the better, is to hear what else he says, this:

Learn to see yourself as you are, and accept your weakness until it pleases God to heal you. Your goal is to be as patient with yourself as you are with your neighbor. If you die a little bit every day of your life, you won’t have too much to worry about on your final day.

Does any of this ring true to you these days? Thanks for returning and reading, despite the intermission.  : )

Photos of watching the rain, something we’ve been doing again lately, from this summer.