Imprints

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Fossil palm frond with fishes. Early Eocene (50 million years ago). Lincoln County, Wyoming. Currently on loan at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT. 
I believe that during times of transformation, when we are vulnerable and malleable, experiences and images, people and places, imprint upon us deeply, the way they do during childhood. We carry fossils in the soft clay of our bodies.

When my daughter was a baby, when I was a malleable new mother, the days stretched out long before us. We read lots of books and took lots of walks and sang lots of songs. Around the time she was 7 months old, I discovered that the Peabody Museum had free admission from 2-5 p.m. every Thursday. The timing was ideal since my daughter only napped in the car. She would fall asleep on the drive to New Haven, and then I’d let the car idle in the parking lot, enjoying a blissful half hour of reading while she slept.

Inside the museum, we spent most of our time in The Great Hall, a place imprinted upon me from childhood. I would slowly circle her stroller around the colossal Brontosaurus. When she was learning to walk, she toddled between the smooth benches and the exhibit railing, the great skeletons towering above her. Soon she was off exploring, walking through the different rooms, making her way up the stone stairs.

Today, a rare unplanned afternoon before us, I ask if she wants to visit the dinosaurs and she says, “Yes, yes!” This place, imprinted, feels familiar and sacred.

Today we did not need a stroller. She follows the dinosaur prints herself and swats my hand away when we reach the stairs, announcing, “I can do it myself!”

We practice pronunciation as we go. She recites: Triceratops, Neanderthal, javelina, sarcophagus.

She points to Darwin and asks if he is Santa Claus.

Darwin’s work showed that at a very basic level all life is related. The vast diversity of plant and animal species, including humans, has evolved over time from one original source. 

We make our way to the fossils, the palm frond and fishes discovered in Wyoming, preserved for 50 million years in siltstone. Underwater evidence. These things we get to keep. Does that many years count as forever?

(Post 219 of 365)

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Milk and Cake

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Detail of Camila’s Ceremony by the artist Alonso Guevara.

It occurred to me just last week, I’ve stopped counting my daughter’s age in months. It wasn’t a conscious decision; it just tapered off, which I suppose is typical after age two. This morning I measured her height on the pantry doorframe. She’s grown an entire inch since we last measured her on her birthday in January. Then I started counting days on the calendar and discovered her half-birthday, June 11, is exactly halfway between her dad’s birthday and mine. I told her we’ll bake a half-birthday cake.

Her legs suddenly look so long. “She’s stretching out,” my mom says. That’s what it feels like too, stretching, both of us. Drifting from our perfect dyad, stretching toward autonomy. The evolution of nursing newborn to nursing toddler–the dramatic growth and change, the intimacy and beauty–is almost impossible to capture. From balled fists to dexterous hands. From curled toes to toddler feet flung in my face. It feels like only months ago I sat glassy-eyed and thirsty, nursing my newborn, so voracious, it felt like she was sucking milk from the bones of my back.

There is the magic of that transition from cut umbilical cord to latched breast; nine months of nourishment invisible, now suddenly right before your eyes. And you see, how perfect the design. For us, breastfeeding was that easy. Instant and harmonious. Nursing my baby evolved almost as unconsciously as my heart pumping blood. From singular being to synchronistic dyad, nourishing and nurturing on the primal plane.

When my daughter was six or seven months old, a sort of hyper clarity bloomed. I would listen to conversations, observe the behavior of others, and have sudden insights, new depths of understanding. I remember saying to Chris, it’s the strangest thing, I feel like I can almost see right through people. I called them popcorn epiphanies, these realizations that came in quick succession like kernels popping in the pot. I tried to write a few down, but they felt indescribable and came too quickly. How Breastfeeding Changes Your Brain speaks to the plasticity and creativity of the lactating brain. I felt the changes in myself as surely as I saw the changes in my daughter, both of us growing together.

I more often use the term nursing, which feels all-encompassing and true. Because breastfeeding is about so much more than nourishment. It is medicine, comfort, bonding, security. You have only to nurse a toddler who has just finished a breakfast of banana pancakes to understand that nursing is pure contentment. Pure peace.

And sometimes pure hilarity. When she’s in her father’s arms calling out, “Goodnight, Mommy! Goodnight, milks!” When she charms and cajoles, “How about milks on the couch? Sound like a plan?” Or when I step out of the shower, and she’s there handing me a towel, her face so full of glee, calling out, “My milks! My milks!” Such celebration of my body. Such love.

I’ve been reflecting so much as it begins to taper. I’d never set any specific goals around nursing, no timelines or numbers. I have followed my baby’s cues and my body’s cues. And I will follow that wisdom into the next phase, as we grow together, celebrating the glittering increments, marking the doorframe, baking half-birthday cakes.

(Post 138 of 365)

Out Loud

Reading my work out loud is becoming more comfortable (or less uncomfortable). It’s all about getting past that space where the first breath meets the first word.

Writing in this space feels more comfortable too. Sometimes there’s still that prickly feeling when I post something more vulnerable, when I’m up for telling a bigger truth. But it doesn’t last. In less than twenty-four hours my focus shifts to the new day’s truth. Days fly. I’m watching them add up. I’m feeling all the shifts and changes. I’m growing accustomed to living my life out loud.

(Post 113 of 365)

 

Faith, Miracle and Motherhood

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A picture from 2014 that captures all the joy in my heart.
This Mother’s Day I feel settled into motherhood, not so new anymore, not so green. There is a rhythm and a dance and a comfortability in knowing. There is the sacred tapestry of our finely-woven bond of cells and blood and breastmilk. There is self-trust. And there is the powerful feeling that my baby-turned-toddler is now fully of this world. Throughout my pregnancy and during those first fragile days, weeks, months, it felt like there was always the small chance of losing her. Nothing hinted at vulnerability, other than pregnancy and infancy being inherently vulnerable. I’d had an uneventful pregnancy, a natural birth, and a baby deemed “perfect” by the pediatrician. But it took so long for the miracle of her to arrive, an almost 3-year journey to become pregnant, that I could never quite believe it was finally happening. This blessing, this good fortune, this miracle of miracles.

The odds weren’t against us, but we were approaching our our mid-thirties, biologically short on time. Everything was normal and the eventual diagnosis was “unexplained infertility.” A mystery I was determined to solve. Life was suspended during those years of not-knowing. All energy was focused on one intent. I changed my diet to gluten-free, caffeine-free, alcohol-free, sugar-free. Mixed maca root and water like a magic potion. Consulted with doctors, acupuncturists, clairvoyants, priests. Nailed a wishbone above our bedroom door. Prayed Catholic novenas, Lakota blessings. Meditated. Built cairns on the shore. Asked of the sea, of the air, of the trees.

It was two years before we lucked upon health insurance that included fertility coverage, which would end up being exhausted on months and months of tests. Tests that ultimately provided very few answers. The endocrinologist lost interest in us as our coverage bled out, so eventually we decided to take the last bit of money to a new doctor. He seemed friendly and more hopeful. When journeying through a test of faith, the act of hope-seeking is repeated again and again. Omens arrive as great blue herons, roadside signs, changing weather. You must renew and renew and renew faith. When it is written on your heart, etched in your bones, you do not give up.

The new doctor began by running blood work, the same blood work I’d had seven months before with normal results. It was an easy hurdle the first time and would be again this time. But when the call came, he said the numbers had changed. The blood work indicated almost no ovarian reserve; suddenly, supposedly I had only a few eggs left. Even if we’d had additional fertility coverage, I would not be an ideal candidate for IVF. A few days later came Mother’s Day. I focused on my mom, on gratitude. But I carried a heavy heart. My cycle was a few days late, but after receiving the devastating blood work results, it seemed past foolishness to even hope. I did not bother with a pregnancy test for another two days.

It was Tuesday morning after Mother’s Day 2013. Chris was in the shower. We were getting ready for work, a regular day. I ripped open the foil wrapper on what felt like the millionth pregnancy test. I started breakfast while I waited for the result. Hope, that irrepressible little drummer, thumped in my heart. I returned to the bathroom to check the test, not wanting to look. I wanted to suspend that tiny hopeful feeling, hold it a little longer. When I picked up the test and found a plus sign, I screamed and my heart exploded and I jumped around like a maniac on a pogo stick. Elation will send a body straight into the air. Chris pulled back the shower curtain with a big beaming smile and said, “I knew it.”

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Spending a rainy Thursday among the dinosaurs.

(Post 110 of 365)

Transformation: 68/365

“Literature is my religion. Books have been the thing throughout my life that have offered the greatest consolation and enlightenment and illumination and all the things that we go to religion or spiritual practice for.” 

Cheryl Strayed

This weekend we will celebrate Easter without church or religious ritual.

We will hunt for eggs filled with little dinosaurs and finger puppets and animal crackers. We will spend time with family and eat lots of good food. Togetherness and gratitude as forms of prayer.

Every Easter my mother gives us a container with caterpillars. Dark, unremarkable insects that move very slowly. We will watch them grow fat and eventually make their way to the paper at the top of the cup. They will shed their skin for the last time and reveal chrysalides. We will carefully transfer the chrysalides to a netted butterfly house. In the stillness their bodies will break down into imaginal cells and form an entirely new shape. Eventually they will begin to twitch and break free, emerge as bright winged creatures. After a few days of feeding them honey water, we will take them outside and watch them take flight. A tangible reminder of the power and possibility of transformation.

Well Visit: 51/365

Today Isabella had her two year well visit. She has never had a sick visit. I realized today in the waiting room, I wasn’t nervous. And why should I be? I don’t know. Doctor appointments make me anxious – or they had, until today.

While we waited for the doctor, my mind drifted back to our first visit, just three days after her birth, when we had to pack our amazingly tiny creature into an impossibly heavy car seat and take her out into the world. I felt so fragile, like I might shatter. I was puffy and make-up-less and shaky as I breastfed my jaundiced newborn. It didn’t occur to us we’d be undressing her; we hadn’t even packed a blanket. What was in that diaper bag, a single diaper? My brain was processing minute-to-minute, unable to leap ahead and anticipate what might be needed at the pediatrician’s. It seemed outrageous that we were being forced to leave the safety our home.

Today I felt myself sitting there in my boots and my jeans, make-up on my face, hair recently dyed, breastfeeding my two-year old, a single diaper and two children’s books in my purse, completely self-possessed and confident in my mothering, knowing exactly what to expect. The well visits measure and weigh and assess all the growth and radical changes that happen to the child, the astonishing transformations. It’s easy to forget how radically we grow and change with them, the myriad ways we too transform.