Holidays: 65/365

I wish I had a lovely photo of our Easter eggs colored with homemade beet and tumeric and cabbage dyes. Yes, I actually did that last year.

But we haven’t dyed any eggs, and it’s not looking like there will be time. I remembered to hard-boil a few this afternoon and then popped them in glasses with some old food-based dyes and vinegar. No child participation, just a big rush.

The lead-up to the holidays always feel like a scramble. In my defense, our holidays involve a minimum of two events but usually three, travel, and a good amount of baking. It will all come together. If only I could find a way to feel a less frantic…

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The Unexpected: 43/365

Today looks like other days. A hectic morning, groceries thawing in the backseat, a meltdown at the playground, thin patience. A rush-rush-anxious feeling that’s part of my hardwiring and totally unnecessary on this sunny, windy Wednesday.

We were close to home, stopped at a red light when our car was slammed from behind. My eyes dart to the rearview mirror and I see my child’s calm face, and in the car behind me, a woman in sunglasses already assuming an apologetic posture. I blink and blink, taking many long seconds to register that we’ve been rear-ended before my brain goes, oh shit, at the inconvenience, and then, wait, are we okay? Why did my brain think those thoughts in the wrong order? The impact seems to have jolted the sense out of me. I feel dazed and foggy.

The light turns green and impatient drivers are passing us as I get out of the car to talk to the woman. I suggest we pull into the Wendy’s parking lot. I text Chris, do I need to call the police? Because suddenly I feel very tired and just want to go home. Isabella must feel the same because she promptly falls asleep. Then the police are there writing up a report. And Chris comes. And my stepdad comes. And the firetruck comes. And my stepbrother, who’s a firefighter but off duty, comes. My sister is texting me from the city. My friend is texting, I’ll come now. And this is what it’s like living back in my hometown: people come running for us. Makes me want to tilt my face to the sky and say, thank you.

I have a headache and my neck is stiff, but mostly I feel dazed, that feeling of having had the wind knocked out of you. And then for the rest of the day, my brain whispers the mantra, Thank God Isabella is okay. Her car seat is still rear facing. She was full of energy and laughter and chatter all afternoon.

At around 4:30 pm my parents, who are divorced, arrive at my house at the same time. They are pleasant with each other, but my anxiety spikes, an automatic reaction to them occupying the same space at the same time. Despite my edginess, I think, my parents. Just the two of them, together, talking to my daughter. I don’t know if this kind of interaction has happened since she’s been born, certainly not since she’s been able to talk.

My mom has brought me a special heating pad for neck and shoulders. My dad talks through Isabella to my mother, saying, “did you show Grammie your new craft table?” He wants my mother to see the beautiful table he found for Isabella in Vermont over the weekend. And my mother says, “how wonderful, what a find!”

I don’t know if they sense my level of anxiety or if being in each other’s presence is so charged that they don’t notice me as much. I get a minute to take them in, my parents standing there with my daughter. They are both healthy, vibrant people in their mid-60s. Both professionally successful. Competitive. Hardworking. Both fiercely loving. I see their sameness. I see them in this moment in time, here in my kitchen with their granddaughter, like a snapshot, candid. I would love a real photo of this moment. They might even pose for it. But it doesn’t occur to me to ask. Part of me is just waiting for this moment to end so I can breathe again.

Then they leave, and I can breathe. I think about them arriving at the exact same time, just to make sure all is well. I think about the unexpected colliding with an ordinary day, knocking the lens off, changing the focus. I see the goodness in my life with clarity. And I feel so grateful.

I Worry Too Much: 8/365

It’s one of those mornings. I wake up worried, a whirlpool of panic threatening to suck me in. I’ve been up since 3am with a coughing baby who soaked through her diaper. There’s a lot of crying, coughing, nursing, holding, rocking. I’m afraid it’s croup, but I know it’s not croup; it doesn’t have the bark. Eventually she settles on my chest like a newborn, though she is far (and not so far) from newborn. Her legs stretch down the length of my thigh and her toes rest at my knees now. Her head is tucked under my chin and I’m breathing her wispy hair. We doze for a bit and then she’s up at 5:30am.

Coffee. Dishes. The panic makes me edgy and grumpy. I try to push it down, not let it creep up into my voice. Switch out laundry. Scoop cat litter (my favorite). I go through the morning routine. I keep moving. My fear is mostly around not knowing what’s next. I text my sister who texts me back with assurances and a virtual slap for focusing on my regrets instead of my accomplishments.

A text from a friend jolted me out of my anxiety and back into the present. Then I happened upon Jennifer Berney’s beautiful essay On Infertility and Magical Thinking, which talks about the struggle to get pregnant, all the magical thinking that takes hold, and the truth of how you feel when you reach the other side.

The me of nine years ago reaches forward in time. She takes the snapshot from my hand and reminds me of how badly I wanted the life I have now. She reminds me to listen in the dark as my children breathe. She reminds me of how tenuous all of this is, our lives together on this earth. We are the products of a series of infinite chances, bound to each other by the near-impossibility of it all.

My second blog post was about being a magical thinker, but I also believe in that last sentence of Berney’s: We are the products of a series of infinite chances, bound to each other by the near-impossibility of it all. It is only by chance you reach the other side of that solitary struggle with a baby in your arms. Though were you to ask my mother, she would tell you that she prayed my daughter into existence, and I believe that too. 

There have been few times in my life I’ve known exactly what I wanted. But I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted a baby. A single-minded, desperate yearning. I wished on eyelashes and birthday candles and dandelions. I saw acupuncturists and herbalists and endocrinologists. I meditated on lunch breaks in my car. I went to a shrine in New Jersey to pray at the feet of a statue. We nailed a wishbone above the bedroom door. For months we looked at ultrasounds of my ovaries, squinted at vague underwater black and whites. The tests drained all the insurance money and told us nothing. Unexplained infertility. Like the universe shrugging its shoulders at us.

For two and a half years we tried. Eventually I took the last of the insurance money to a different doctor. They began by repeating the same blood work, which had all been fine just a few months before. Chris was playing hockey at night back then. There was a Russian team who liked to get rough, and Chris took a puck to the mouth and face-planted the ice. He didn’t even call me until after he’d been to the ER to get stitched up. His eye was purple and swollen shut. He had a giant lump on his forehead and four stitches in his lip. That week my blood work came back, and according to the numbers, my ovarian reserve was gone. Poof, just like that, no more eggs. Even if we could afford IVF (which we couldn’t), it probably wouldn’t be successful. (There is a metaphor in here, both of us beat up, done in.) Then came Mother’s Day. My period was late, as it often was. I didn’t dare take a test – the irony would be too ridiculous. I was dreaming again, those whispers of hope floating like ash. So I waited two days. Two days after Mother’s Day, a positive pregnancy test. Poof, just like that, I was having a baby.

This story is lost from my day-to-day. A baby will make swift work of wiping out your former life. You are rooted in the ever-changing present and jolted forward by the rapid motion of their growth – and yours. Time stands still during sleepless nights and evaporates everywhere else. You try and catch it – it can’t possibly be moving this fast. Sometimes you are so tired, so touched-out. Impatient, delirious, frustrated, worried. Other times, joyful to the marrow of your bones, happiness coursing through blood vessels, rapture thrumming in your organs. It undulates. It ripples. It surges and swells. And you swim, a novice and a natural born swimmer both at once.

Worry clouds memory, makes me forget precisely how lucky I am. My angel girl, my heavenly creature. Here we are together! Gratitude suspends worry. We go to the playground and run through snow and slide down slides together. I push her as long as she wants on the swing. I sit in the passenger seat of the car and nurse her into pure contentment before we go. I hold her while she naps, staring at those long eyelashes and rosebud lips, perfect face. I have the life I dreamed of. My wish come true. My prayer answered. I shouldn’t worry so much.

*This post was edited on January 28, 2016.

Snow: 4/365

It’s finally here, the first real snow, a blizzard with big wind gusts and swirling flakes. Drifts on the front porch. The mute grey sky. Cats curled up. Baby napping. Chris clapping out wood and re-stacking the pile. I got the fire going again. Crackle, hiss.

I love the peacefulness of snow, the way it makes everything quiet. No cars, no sounds. That tucked-in, hunkered-down feeling. It throws a blanket over everything, even the chatter of anxiety, my frequent companion.

That’s something I’ve realized about this daily practice. Just four days in, and it’s already redirecting my thoughts. It forces focus. It quiets the swirl of rumination. It brings peacefulness too.