There is a thought that’s repeated in my head over the last year like a mantra: “I write because of and in spite of my daughter.”
At this time last year, her just-turned-two-year-old self was small enough to fit in the cradle of my legs folded indian-style, nursing while my hands typed. That was my method of buying time to write in the beginning. I know I felt touched-out and drained, and the recurring sentence fragment in my brain was, “To think a clear a thought.” But I can only see it now through a rose-haze, those little hands, the newness of language, the cure-all comfort of breastfeeding. In fact, at the start of this project, I had never spent an entire day away from my baby. Not until Day 32.
Do you hear that?
Not the temporary quiet of sleeping baby. Not the little old lady from Goodnight Moon whispering hush. I’m talking husband with toddler taking a day trip across state lines to visit grandparents quiet. Blue sky almost-spring sunshine fed cats asleep in windows quiet. Alone in the house for a good big stretch of day quiet.
Drink. That. In.
This has not happened since I’ve become a mother. A whole entire day alone. I couldn’t relinquish her to the world for the span of an entire day until today. I know how bonkers that sounds. But it’s the truth. It took so long for the miracle of her to arrive, my life’s sole mission became protectress. It was nothing I planned and everything I had to be.
I’m glad I trapped that moment on the page. That version of me, now gone. Are we like snakes molting minute-to-minute or Matryoshka dolls, former selves stacked within us to be cracked open again and again?
When I was pregnant, a friend told me, when a baby is born, a mother is born too. I heard “mother”–that part I understood–but I didn’t quite hear “born.” I couldn’t grasp the way an entirely new version of myself would be born. Or the mysterious way those former versions of me would show up. My daughter reignited my desire to write, to be true to myself. And at the same time, she made it so darn difficult for me to take up the task of writing. To think a clear thought. But for all the essays lamenting the incompatibility of motherhood and writing, I think they pair well, the push-pull, the toggle. Because of and in spite of. What better training is there for a creative pursuit than motherhood? Motherhood, that supremely creative act, that exhausting slog. What else could have taught me to dig so deep?
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Before we left for Bass Pro Shop this morning, the toddler asked, “Are we all going? Together as a family?”
“Yes, we’re all going together!” I told her. And her face lit up.
This is usually an excursion she goes on with her dad while I write. We played a lot of pass-of-the-toddler this year. With just three posts left, I realize I’m feeling ready to wrap it up, make space, see what comes next.
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My little three-year-old had the most wonderful time at her party today, and it made my heart so happy.
Over the last year, she’s gone from shy toddler to party lover. So I planned ahead and booked it at our local gymnastics place, where I knew the kids would be free to run and play. Two gymnastics teachers led them in a few games, and Isabella ran around the room like a little sprite before joining the group. She went back and forth, partaking in games and running wild, and I just loved watching her enjoy herself. It was one of those parties that couldn’t have gone better. Fun, relaxed, and perfectly timed. Everyone seemed so happy.
Afterward, my sister sent me this incredible photo. My tiny, sweet just-turned-three-year-old gazing up at all those candles. Every once in a great while, there’s that shot that captures it all perfectly.
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Two weeks of little writing time and no jogging have me feeling blue, but today was brightened by my sister, who took us to lunch at our favorite feminist, vegetarian restaurant and bookstore, Bloodroot. During my postpartum summer, my sister visited many Fridays–“Zen Fridays,” we called them–and we’d have lunch under a big weeping willow tree. Isabella had her first tastes of soup there. Today she danced among the bookshelves of feminist literature, ate her own plate of quiche, and chatted with the resident cat, Gloria Steinem.
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Photo credit: Famlii
Today was a juggling running around catching up with course work almost forgetting to order cupcakes for the birthday party kind of day. Wondering if/when I’ll catch up, find my equilibrium. I do much better with a routine, and I’ve been knocked off mine for so long now, I feel like I can’t quite get traction.
When I become impatient and an edge creeps into my voice, my daughter says, “Okay, mama, just slow down.” I have no idea where she got it from. But it works so much better than “relax” or “calm down” or “take a deep breath” or “count to ten.” Just slow down, mama. Okay zen toddler, lead the way.
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This is 3! We hung the birthday sign and the paper chain and blew up balloons. I made blueberry pancakes and lit a candle and we sang, all before sun up. I was a full and present parent who didn’t try to juggle other tasks into the day. She chose the Peabody museum, so we went to New Haven and, as luck would have it, they were feeding the bearded dragons and frogs and Vietnamese walking sticks, so we got to hold and touch and marvel up close. In the afternoon it was warm enough to go to the beach and build sandcastles. I’m still off food from the stomach flu, so when my mom offered dinner and a birthday muffin, I said, oh yes please! (I’m getting a lot better now at saying, yes, thank you for your offer to help, I’ll take it!)
I would like to write another ode to age 2, but I’ve been catching up on my course, and must save it for the weekend.
Thank you, dear readers, for hanging in there and leaving so many kind comments during this stretch of thin posts and two bouts of illness. It was a beautiful day celebrating my sweet girl and I’m feeling so grateful.
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A photo from a long time ago at art school in France, sitting in the sunshine with one of the stray cats of the village. My mom has been giving us our old things that still take up space in her house–books, art work, old photos–and she gave this to me a few months ago. Glancing at it tonight I remembered that while I was there, I wrote and hand-bound a children’s book about a cat, which may have been titled simply Le Chat. I’d learned enough of the language to write it in French. I wish I remembered more about the story. As I always did with my art, I gave the book away to a friend. It’s one of the few things I wish I’d kept, tucked away in my suitcase and saved for my daughter. Anyway, it got me thinking that’s one of the things on my list this year, to write a children’s book.
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That stomach bug hit me last night at midnight and hasn’t let up. I’m just managing some ginger ale now. Feeling incredibly grateful for my husband, who juggled a very busy work day and parenting. So far, the new year has given me lots of opportunity to practice being flexible and gentle. Just hope we’re well enough to celebrate in time for this kiddo’s birthday.
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The powdery snow and sunshine made for a perfect morning of sledding with our dearest friends. It felt especially good to be out in the fresh air after surviving last night’s bout of the stomach bug–this week was a doozy! But tomorrow begins a new week and my sweet girl will turn three! I can hardly believe it.
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A big thank-you to the writers who got me through this foggy first week of 2017 with their inspiring new year’s posts. Kathy’s newest essay Voided Checks reflects on practice, gratitude, patience, and how we respond to life’s challenges. Tara Borin chose “practice” as her word of the year for 2017 and had me thinking about a word (or three) I might choose to shape this new year. Sarah at Mourning Dove Motherhood coasted me through the holidays with her infectious optimism and humor. I especially loved her post Winds Are Slowly Filling Our Sails, a meditation on the way shifting our lives in a new direction often feels slow, uncertain, and zig-zaggy, like changing direction while sailing. Rachel’s latest post at Last American Childhood swept me away with its beauty and brought me back to that place of life-as-narrative. I’m so grateful for these strong voices and the art they create and put out into the world. Whether you’re seeking inspiration in the new year or just looking for a good read, go check them out!
I’ve finally managed to organize some intentions for the new year. (Note: you’ll never catch me announcing a resolution. Too inflexible!) Which brings me to my first word.
Flexible. This year I want to be more flexible. Go with the flow. Accept the unexpected with grace. I don’t like surprises or sudden changes in plans. It takes me time to adjust. But life is full of surprises. Already, the new year has hurled curveballs at me. A few things that have helped me become more flexible: pausing, taking a breath, writing, sleeping on it (if possible). To be flexible is to be open to change. To bend rather than break. To continually meet life in the present moment.
Gentle. This year I want to be more gentle. With my child. With my partner. With my family and friends. With myself. My writing practice has made me less judgmental and more empathetic. I want to keep cultivating that. Gentle isn’t rushed or hurried or distracted. Gentle isn’t harsh or demanding. It’s not impatient or unkind. To be gentle is to take care. To seek to understand. To be compassionate.
Celebrate! This year I want to celebrate moments big and small. From newly fallen snow to milestone birthdays. I want to relax into events and holidays without getting worked up or overwhelmed or rushing around like a maniac. I want to enjoy things as they happen. Loosen up and have fun. I want to hang the sign and blow up the balloons and remember to send the card on time. I can’t wait to put this one into practice next week when we celebrate Isabella’s third birthday!
Those are my zen intentions. To counterbalance, I have a long list of ass-kicking goals for 2017 written in my notebook, because how could I not?
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