Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 2, 2010

Dear Oliver,
I think I have seasonal affective disorder. You see, people around the world sometimes suffer depression when the days get shorter and the weather colder - they need the sun and the warmth that summer provides to keep smiling. Each year I get a little sad, a little melancholy, a little more tired as the calendar continues to flip. But it's not because I miss the energy of the sun. We live in Houston, Texas. I see plenty of sun. For me it's the cold, the dark, the snow that I crave. Waking up day after day to warm breezes and blue skies is exhausting to me. It feels so "go go go" without the natural quieting rhythm of autumn and winter. It's all action, all the time. Me? I want to hunker down and hibernate.

Now that you're here, my S.A.D. is all the more pronounced for every day postcards of winter flit through my head and with them a realization that your childhood will be so very different from mine. I realize that you will never know the anticipation of a blizzard - the kids all atwitter in class the afternoon before, inflating the expected accumulation, taking bets on whether school will close. You will never know the irony of waking up extra early to watch the local news at 5am, fingers crossed so tightly, willing the talking heads to speak your school's name. You will never know the frustration of bundling up in layer upon layer, fingers unable to wiggle, arms comically pointed perpendicular to your body, only to suddenly really really have to pee. You won't spend hours making snow forts, throwing snowballs, jumping into the banks taller than you left by plows. You won't feel the awesome stillness that a fresh coat of snow provides. You won't hear the absolute quiet that even flurries somehow bring upon a city, a world muffled and somehow infinitely smaller.

And it makes me so sad.

However, I hesitate to give the impression that my childhood was picturesque. Sure, cold weather has it's burdens. Burdens I am no doubt lucky to have left behind when I packed up a U Haul trailer and moved south. But I didn't leave behind all of my seasonal childhood trials. Unfortunately some of them were waiting for me when I unpacked.

I know Norman Rockwell didn't paint from life - he painted an imagined hyperbolic world of perfectly carved turkeys and rosy cheeked santas. But I do believe there is a place in this world for some of his scenes of holiday delight. There are few things I want for you more than happy holiday memories. I want you to experience Christmas magic each year. Wonder. Delight. I want you to know that your family loves each other and is grateful for their many blessings. I want you to feel joy.

But I have lived through enough of our family celebrations to know that the joy you will feel (and you will feel it) will be tempered by awkwardness. It will sink as the day progresses and the wine bottles empty. You'll watch family members be callous and unkind to each other. You'll hear words slowly begin to slur and see naps that aren't really naps at all. And you'll no doubt watch me grow ever anxious, ever annoyed and frustrated; my reaction adding to the mounting misery. The magic will fade, the curtain will be pulled back and you'll see that dysfunction hides among the brightly colored boxes stacked beneath the Christmas tree.

I want to protect you, but I don't know how to protect you while also gifting you the memories you'll never accumulate if you don't spend this season with your family. Your daddy and I will make as much excitement in our house as we can - the elf already sits on the shelf, you are staring at brilliant twinkling lights even now, and when you watched the Grinch while smiling in my lap...well *my* heart grew three sizes that day. I will do whatever I can to make these holidays all that you deserve them to be. And for now I am thankful that you won't notice anything but the cookies and stockings this year (and maybe next). But beneath my mounting excitement about witnessing such a exhilarating time through your blue eyes, dread is lurking. The worry of how to protect your innocence from your own loved ones stirs and grumbles and grows. And I don't know how to cage this beast.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 28, 2010

Dear Oliver,

I've been thinking a lot about who you are today and also so much about who you were. Maybe because of how grown you seem these days; how mature and how much more independent. Or maybe it's due to an imagined (and much hoped for) pregnancy that wasn't. (What do you call a pregnancy "scare" that wouldn't have been at all scary? A pregnancy dream? A dream so torturous to wake up from...) Something has me consumed with babies these days - both remembering and imagining, past and future.

Who you were as a baby was such a great contrast to who you are now. You were difficult, trying, angry and screaming. Purple faced and thrashing. Sad and scared. I look at you today, sitting so contentedly with simple things: a staircase, a bucket full of dried beans, books and mardi gras beads. And I wonder how you could possibly be the same baby who came out terrified and miserable. What changed so much over the past 17 months?

You are an old soul, Oliver. I really believe that. You are gentle in a way that I see so few babies be gentle. You are deliberate in every move you make. Not a muscle twitches without you thinking, like a chess player, 10 steps ahead, knowing the eventual outcome of your decision. You aren't fearful - petting zoos and thunderstorms leave you grinning, strangers have you hesitant but never scared. You stand your ground with quiet determination. You don't give into bullying or snatching toddlers, but you don't fight them either. You have a presence and real intuition and I know you've been here before. I know it.

So how, then, could you - this wise old being in a fresh young body - have been so scared for so many months? Why would you scream and thrash, needing constant reassurance and such abundant attention?

As an infant I had always imagined you as a frightened baby bird: wet, wrinkled and immature, bulging eyes closed and blinded, beak gaping, searching for sustanence. But I think I misjudged you. Rather than an underdeveloped and frightened animal perhaps you were an old man, a yogi. Someone who had been here so many times before and had tasted infinity. Someone who believed their journey on earth was nearly complete and that he would finally return to the freedom of eternity. Someone who had glimpsed Nirvana, so close to peace he could smell it. And just before breaking free into boundless grace you were thrust violently back into a new and struggling body. Denied beauty and enlightenment and forced instead to live again. And who wouldn't be pissed about that?

I am so grateful that I chose to gently guide you through your anger and pain in those early days. I could've forced you to conform to my mold and asked you to fight your demons on your own. But I decided instead to love you through it. To hold you through your confusion and rock you through your fear. And maybe in doing so I showed you that this life isn't something to be fought and scorned. Maybe you saw that the world is kind and good, that this journey is exhilarating and fresh. And maybe as your gift to me, you are in turn reminding me that this world is kind and good. That this journey is exhilarating and fresh.

I know every parent believes their child is something amazing. (And they are right. Oh, they are so right.) I am no exception. You might not become an astronaut or a priest. You might not save lives or paint renowned works of art. But I know that you are good. So good. And I am so lucky that you chose me to live this life with.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

August 17, 2010

Dear Oliver,
Before you were born your daddy and I would muse about what characteristics of ours we hoped you would inherit. "I hope he has your lips," I'd say. "Your lips and your eyes...but my skin." Daddy would wish for my teeth and his height. We agreed that we wanted you to be outgoing like me and musical like him. Some days your dad would hope you'd arrive as a big bundle of me, but with bright blue eyes and some days I realized that his generosity, sensitivity and sensibility were what we should really hope for. Neither of us had the foresight to ask for my appetite and either of our sleeping habits. Oops.

When you were pulled from my tummy and into the bright lights of your new world we would stare at you and try to identify where you'd come from. "Definitely your nose," your daddy would announce triumphantly. "And the shape of your eyes, but the color of mine. Perfect." I would nod and smile at his appraisals, but wouldn't play along. From the moment you were born any preconceived notions of inherited traits were swept aside. From the moment you arrived you were no longer bits of me and him, but simply you. Entirely, wholly, beautifully and frustratingly you.

And so it has continued. Others see you as your daddy in miniature. Occasionally I'll hear that you have my smile. Your grandma says you look like her when you're happy, then pauses to say that I looked just like her as a baby, so she supposes you look like me, too. And once in awhile I'll get a glimpse of your dad - both of you making the same face as he dances with you, or scrunching your nose the same when offered corn - and on very rare occasions, I see myself peering out your bright blue eyes. (Yesterday, when you woke up from your nap I was sure I was looking at a photo of myself as a child.) But for the most part I just take you at face value - your own unique face.


Monday, August 9, 2010

August 9, 2010

Dear Oliver,
Something is brewing. Perhaps a storm is forming. Clouds are swirling as winds pick up - deep grays and a strange green hue at the edge of the horizon, signifying a change in the weather. Or it maybe it's just a fresh pot of coffee, hot water dripping slowly through sopping grounds, rich scent wafting around the corners of my mind, shouting "wake up! greet the day!" Either way, change is in the air.

I feel today, like I'm on the cusp of an awakening. Like the foggy edges of my dreams are just starting to pick up nudges of reality. As though there's a sudden awareness of a soft pillow at my head, of daylight creeping in, that the noise of an alarm clock (or let's be honest - a crying baby) has seeped into my sleep, blending lines between the conscious and unconscious. I feel like I'm about to start a new day for the first time in 14 months - for the first time since you've been born.

In some ways I have been asleep for the duration of your life. Don't get me wrong - I've had my eyes wide open and have been fully present for so much of you. I've been drinking you in, enveloping you as you simultaneously fill me, but there's a part of me - the creative side, the selfish side - that has been unconscious. I haven't done for me in a year. Haven't had but 1 haircut, haven't bought a single pair of uncomfortable shoes or a top that I couldn't nurse in. I haven't knit a blanket or a sweater (or even a hat!) since you've been born. Haven't painted a picture and until so recently haven't written hardly a word. Long ago I shut myself down and went on autopilot until I had successfully navigated through our early days together. I needed to be consumed by you and truth be told, I wanted to. But there's a yearning within me today for something more.

I don't know what I'm going to find when I open my eyes and greet this new day. I just know I want to create. For a moment I thought I'd learn to sew, learn to quilt and make beautiful things from scraps of fabric. I got a machine for my birthday in May, but it sits, still in the box it was shipped in, forgotten. I tell myself that I don't have the materials I need to get started, or the know-how. And that's true. But mostly I don't have the drive. No, not now. Not sewing.

Surprisingly knitting hasn't really crept to the surface either. Perhaps because it's so very time consuming and I know how little time I have to be consumed. Unlike when I first picked up the needles, after losing your siblings (sisters, I think), when I needed a deliberate, repetitive, meditative craft to simultaneously help me remember and help me forget what I was going through, today I need quick bursts of creation. A finished product to rejoice in.

I announced to your grandma the other day that I was going to take a creative writing class, like the one I took back in college. The one in which I was the only college student (on a Saturday morning - why was I surprised?) surrounded by real life adults who were there, learning and writing, not for class credit but just for joy and expression. But my search for a workshop hasn't yielded much. Unless I get a babysitter or an unexpected inheritance I don't think classes are in my future.

I don't want to exercise, I can't afford to shop. I might want to cook (do you know I almost went to culinary school once? so long ago?) but it's hard to be passionate about food when your husband and baby don't want to eat anything more than pancakes or toast. (In my next life I'm marrying a Frenchman, not a Brit.) It might be in photography, but I need to re tune my eyes to find simple beauty before I can click click click that shutter.

I wonder if this yearning to create is something deeper - if what I really have is baby fever. I wonder if things were different (finances or anatomy) if we'd be embarking on this mad journey all over again already. Because I feel it, for sure. But is the baby fever a manifestation of my desire to create or have I repressed my hopes for a growing family and am now seeing them struggle up to the surface in other ways? And does it matter?

I don't know where I'm going with this or how to get there. And I don't know how to attempt to balance you on one hip and passion and creativity on the other. But I hope to learn and soon. I hope to stand in this storm as it grows and feel it's cold, refreshing rain wash down on my tired face as it renews me. I hope to drink deep from this cup and feel the hot, bitter coffee warm me from the inside as it awakens me. It's time. Time to wake up.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29, 2010

Dear Oliver,
Oh my Ollie boy. What a week - or two - it has been. You have tested my patience and I confess that I have not always passed. For months I have felt that each day I've become a better mother than I was the day before, but not this week. Oh no. I've slipped and slided, sometimes into a mama I don't recognize, one I don't want to get to know.

You've been teething 4 molars for what seems like an eternity now. Teething so badly that one morning I strapped you into your car seat and dragged you to the doctor, honestly hoping that you had an ear infection to blame the moaning and whining on. But no, just teeth. Big, mean, pointy teeth forcing their way through your tender gums. I felt terrible for you and thankful that I couldn't remember my own teething pain, certain that I wouldn't be able to bear watching you experience this if I truly knew what you were feeling. Two of those teeth are in now, but two keep pressing, keep pushing, keep making you miserable (though you always find a smile and a cock of your head to bestow upon charmed strangers). Through all your pain I remained patient and devoted and kind. How could I not?

But then, in the midst of the teething, we climbed aboard an airplane and headed north. I'd booked an early morning flight (will you be old enough when you read this to hear me say "fuck all o'clock"? Because that was the official departure time.) in the hopes that you would sleep. But you didn't. From 3:30am when we roused you (with smiling success) through 2pm when we reached your grandpa's house, you were awake. Awake and happy, but awake. So awake.

Those first few nights at grandpa's house - the house that found us sleeping in the same room as you, The Lightest Sleeper in the History of Sleep - when you were up every hour and a half, sometimes for an hour and a half; when you woke for the day at 5am; when you were lucky to net a total of 6 hours of choppy sleep - I think I kept it together fairly well. I wasn't as gentle as I might've liked, not quite as bright as you deserve, but it was ok.

But as the days mounted, things went south.

You'd think I'd be used to sleep deprivation by now, considering how terribly you've slept this past year. But this week was like being thrust back into your newborn days and before long I couldn't cope. There were moments in the night when I held you in front of my face, legs dangling, begging you angrily to sleep. Moments when I could see the confusion on your face - wondering where your kind mommy had gone and why I was shouting at you. There were moments in the day when you stood at my knees, whining and moaning and I wanted nothing more than to turn and walk away from you. To let someone else deal with it all, the waking, the not eating, the whining the whining the whining. But instead I'd pick you up half-heartedly, sling you on my hip and hope you'd be quiet, if not happy, for just 5 minutes.

If we'd been at home I think it would've been ok. We could've lazed around the house during the day or we could've gone to Gymboree to distract us both from the exhaustion. But this was meant to be vacation - this was meant to be restful and fun, I was meant to smile and chat and reconnect with family and friends, we were meant to be happy - but all I wanted to do was sleep. And I think I resented you a bit. For the first time in your life I resented you. Nothing dramatic happened - I didn't hit you or shake you or abandon you in your bed. But I was angry with you, against my better judgement, regardless of knowing that you were all out of sorts and couldn't help your behavior, not really. I tried to find moments of joy with you, but I couldn't deny the veil of resentment that hung between us.

So I pushed your daddy's buttons, wanting to take my frustrations at you out on somebody, anybody else. And we argued and we lay in bed at night sweating (grandpa's never been a fan of a/c). We tried to make small talk, but sometimes we failed. We didn't go to the places I'd wanted to go to. We didn't do the things I'd wanted to do. We didn't see so many of the people I'd wanted to see. It was the anti-vacation.

We've been home a few days now and while I'd hoped to sink back into our routine it's been upset instead by illness. I think you and I both were so worn down from our trip that the first nasty little bug we encountered dove straight for our broken immune systems and hit hard. So you're still not sleeping. And I'm still not sleeping. And I'm wondering if either of us will ever, please god, sleep again.

I hope someday soon I can look back on this trip with half a smile. I hope I'll reflect and rejoice in the fact that you bonded so triumphantly with your grandpa, and beam as I recall how you charmed everyone, even through your exhaustion. But for now, today, I mostly look back with shame.

But know that I love you, Ollie Robin. I love you more than anything in this world, more than anything in any world. Even when it seems like I don't.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 13, 2010

Dear Oliver,

You and your grandma came with me to the optometrist a few weeks ago - an errand which I knew was risky considering your persistent sneaky grabs at my glasses, but you did so well. You sat patiently and played with grandma while I tried on frame after frame, even giving one pair a decided thumbs down when you refused to even look in my direction so long as I was wearing them. And while I went back to get my eyes tested you went to the waiting room and waited. I'd spotted a big latch board on the way in and knew it'd be right up your alley. All those shiny brass fixtures to twiddle with your fancy twiddling finger. (You perfected your twiddling at a very early age while you nursed...but if you're old enough to read you probably don't want to know anything about that). Pupils dilated, prescription in hand, ready to go, I asked grandma what you thought about the latch board. "Oh, he really liked it. But what really surprised me was that he liked the MagnaDoodle!"

Be still my beating heart.

Could it be? Could we have reached the age of coloring already?

We sprinted to Target the next afternoon and got our hands on a MagnaDoodle of our own, wanting to see if grandma had once again exaggerated her grandchildren's abilities. As soon as we got home I opened it up and sat you in front of it. And you picked up the pen. Passed it back and forth from hand to hand - lefty? righty? lefty? righty? - and finally put it down on the screen. And away you went. Scribbles, of course, but scribbles with a purpose. Scribbles, I really believe, that attempt to fill in big open shapes I draw. A good day is measured by a screen full of jaggedy lines, an even better day sees the pad cleared over and over while you color (although I confess, blushing a bit, that I cringe every time I erase your masterpieces, wishing I could tack the whole board to the fridge).

With magnetic coloring a success, I brought out the big guns and moved on to toddler markers - cute little round animals with felt tip heads. I was shocked by how much ink they spread - making them almost more suitable for finger painting than coloring - and disappointed to find that Crayola's inventors clearly didn't have toddlers. Because if they did they would realize the shape guides little hands to hold on to the ink, not the base, and that the tips are so flat they have to be held perfectly upright to work. Clearly a tall task for even the most passionate of budding 13 month old Van Goghs - a skill beyond your scope at the moment. And crayons? Well, after you saw the vibrancy of the markers the dull, broken crayon colors far from thrilled you.

But after your dad called one evening to say he'd be late from work after a hard, hard day (and going in over the weekend as well) I knew he needed a pick-me-up. So I grabbed a plastic bucket by the handle, popped you on my hip and out we went to the driveway. For sidewalk chalk. We drew your daddy a giant sign to welcome him home: "We love you, Daddy! xo, Ollie & Mama". You aren't so good at your letters yet (although your eyes light so bright every time you hear the alphabet song) so you helped add character to our masterpiece. Your cheeks and knees covered in chalk dust, your lips a little pinker after a gentle taste of the red, you looked like an artist. You wanted the whole bucket within your reach - not because you were greedy but because you wanted every color in your arsenal. A little blue scribble, a big swirl of purple, slashes of orange and yellow and pink, you were in heaven with your concrete canvas. And as your dad pulled up and saw our creation I could actually see the fatigue of the day wash off him and when he got out of the car he danced.

You've pointed at the chalk every time we've entered the garage since - you've got the coloring bug for sure. And soon (maybe tonight?) we'll head back outside and get ourselves messy. This is the life I've always wanted. These are the moments I was waiting for. And it seems they're the moments you were waiting for, too.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

July 8, 2010

Dear Oliver,
You're doing it again. And you gotta stop this. You're changing, losing parts of your essential you-ness. I'm sure that you'll be doing new, new things any day now and that they'll be irresistible and adorable, but they'll never be the habits I've grown to love of yours that day by day I'm losing.

For a long time your dad would get you into your jammies then leave the room as I put you to bed. (By the way, have I told you I have a real thing for babies in jammies? I love nothing more than to see you, freshly bathed, crawling around happy and sleepy in your footie pajamas. And when you start toddling around in your pjs? Good lord, I get giddy just thinking about it.) But one night after getting you ready for bed, for some reason, your dad sat down in the chair in your nursery, I sat on the floor, you crawled between us and we talked about our day while watching you wind down. It fast became my favorite part of the day - a chance to reconnect with my husband in a quiet room lit by a dimly glowing lamp, all while you played happily between us. So even though it took your bedtime from an already-late-8:30pm to an insane-for-a-one-year-old-9pm, we kept it up. The crowning glory of our evening ritual, the cutest part of the night, would come when we decided it was finally time to put you to bed. Daddy would get up and stand just outside the room and announce "night night, Ollie". I'd make a production about saying "night night to daddy, I love you daddy" and you'd giggle maniacally as you frantically crawled to the door to shut it. But being that you're a clumsy little munchkin with a big ol' head, closing doors can be a difficult process and it would often take a few tries before you'd succeed in shutting daddy out. Each attempt cuter than the last as you tried to maneuver your body (tangled feet, a stray shoulder) out of the way of the door. And sometimes you'd get distracted when you rediscovered the mirror hanging on the back of the door. It wasn't a quick process, and for your daddy it might've even seemed slightly cruel (slamming the door in someone's face isn't usually considered a delightful practice) but it was adorable. And memorable. And I thought it would last forever.

And then there was the fascination with the kitty door, or more specifically, poking things out it. It started small: a marker here, a block there, but before long you were testing much bigger objects. You'd push a full size top through the flap on a regular basis, often using the long metal handle to pull it back in (usually for a second go). And I often found your ring stacker - the base and all the rings - in a pile on the patio. I always thought it was cute, your fascination with seeing things slip from inside to out, but it didn't strike me as anything special. Until you stopped. I didn't really realize it had been awhile since you'd shown an interest in the cat door until a few days ago when I spotted a small pile of your trinkets in a heap outside. And suddenly I realized what had been missing - I realized it had been days (weeks?) since I last collected your toys from the patio and that this thing you'd been so delighted by, this thing that seemed so very very YOU, was slipping away.

Some people can't believe I still wear you in a sling, being that you're 25 pounds and 30-some inches, but it's something we've both always loved. I couldn't wait to first wear you - before you were out of my body I wanted to strapped to it. I have a photo of us getting ready to leave the house for our first babywearing adventure - you just a week old, nestled happily in the sling I wore you in for every nap, every grocery trip, every everything for ages. You hated strollers, couldn't stand shopping carts and generally didn't want to be anywhere but pressed against my chest, back or hip for nearly a year. But recently something clicked and you decided, like most boys do, that riding on wheels is good fun. Suddenly you're whining to get into the cart as soon as you see one (that sweet, pudgy finger point point pointing at the rows of them as we walk up to the store entrance), and today you asked, as much as a barely verbal baby can, to stroll around the house in a stroller that until recently never held you unless you were screaming to get out. You're still mostly happy in the sling when there aren't other options and when you're tired there's nowhere you'd rather be than strapped to your mama, but you are most definitely spreading your wings and taking baby steps towards independence. (Next thing you know I'll be handing you the car keys.) I already miss wearing you in stores. Having you slung on my hip made shopping feel more like bonding time and less like an errand. But you deserve to be (relatively) free if that's what you want to be. And besides, the smile and giddy kick of the legs you give me as I buckle you in to the cart - well, that's a fine reward for letting go, even if not quite an equal exchange. (Oh and your coy "I'm so shy" face you make when you're flirting with strangers? Well, it worked so well when you could bury your head in my shoulders, twinkling eyes peeking out just enough to bat eyelashes. But in a cart you have nowhere to pretend hide. But it's so damn cute to watch you try.)

Keep growing, keep getting bigger and smarter and stronger. (The alternative is just too terrible to comprehend.) But please don't give up all your babyness just yet. Don't give up those tiny things that make you, you. Even as each day you become someone new.