One day this past month we hit the fifth anniversary of my chucking my last packet of birth control pills and beginning, instead, to pop a daily prenatal vitamin. Eighteen months of trying to conceive, one pregnancy, eighteen months of breastfeeding, another pregnancy (while still nursing), and six more months (and counting) of breastfeeding later, I am still rattling through one giant bottle of the little capsules after another. Five years on prenatals is nothing compared to what long-term infertility veterans go through, but the image of all those purply-pink pills (oh, and the uncoated nasty yellow ones that made me sick) tumbling through my system impresses me just a little.

And I count myself infinitely lucky to have so much to show for it. I tossed those birth control pills knowing there were no guarantees, knowing I sometimes ovulated no more than once a year. I would never have guessed—and barely dared to hope—what a fruitful five years it would be.


Breakthroughs, Parenthetical Questions

Sleep was going downhill. With the baby, I mean. There were 15-minute naps at non-nap times and no naps at naptimes, and at bedtime there was nurse nurse nurse nurse nurse, fiiiiinally drift off to sleep, geeeently attempt to put down, startle, wake up and cry, nurse nurse nurse nurse nurse til I thought I would lose my mind.

There is no accounting for what happened next. Saturday night after the third nurse nurse nurse nurse, I thought to myself, I bet she doesn't even really want to nurse. I bet she just wants to lie in that crib and go to sleep. So I gave her a little head snuggle (soft baby heads! They are why I do this at all!) and put her in the crib. Lay on the bed next to the crib where she could see me. Watched the clock and tried to relax.

She cried for two minutes, but (speaking of what you hear when your kids cry) it wasn't even like Mama, you are abandoning me! Pick me up! I'm dying! at all. It was more like I'm tired! Tired! AAAAA! Tired, tired! Ti...

And then she turned her head to one side, said ummm and went to sleep. For three hours, which is the longest she's slept in days. Textbook! I should have taken advantage of it to sleep, but I stayed up until midnight playing euchre (isn't euchre quaint?) and eating chocolate chip cookies.

And then naps today were like that, too. Well, they were still pitifully short, but instead of nursing her until I felt like my brains were being pulled out through my nipples, I lay her in her crib and cooed at her while she cried for between thirty seconds and three minutes and then zonked out on her own.

Also, today Ingrid peed on the potty three times and only wore a diaper at naptime and when out for a walk. I won't go into it but this was totally unheard of before today.

And at dinner I gave Iris some bits of banana to occupy her. (Should I not be doing that? Should I be reading up on the Heimlich?) She didn't get many of them to her mouth anyway, but she pulverized some of them and scraped the rest off into her lap, and then I swear to God she very deliberately tapped her little mitten-y hands together in the sign for more. She did it three times, and then after I gave her another pile of banana chunks she didn't do it again. A saw it too. Is that totally unheard of, that a six-month-old could do a sign? She's seen me do it a few dozen times in the past week but...is that even possible?

Also, she can now scooch forward. Not crawling, exactly, but for a non-crawler she is all of a sudden damn mobile. As of Saturday.

And after months of resisting my doing anything with her hair, Ingrid is all of a sudden into wearing pigtails and it is ADORABLE.

And this week Ingrid and I discovered the kids' non-fiction section at the library. Why had we only been looking at the fiction before? She chose a book about butter, two about bees, one about lacrosse, and one called The Biography of Wheat.

The bees were what started it. I bought some honey in a honeycomb at the co-op as a treat and I felt I needed some backup for my assertion that the honey was in that thing because the bees put it there. Who put it there, Mama?

I wish I had something more coherent to say. I've been eating a lot of toast with honey. I have a lot of work-y stuff going on that I can't exactly write about. I've knitted four inches of that bag (and by the way, I forgot to mention: All that yarn? Cost four dollars!) And I'm wondering, is there sometimes something wrong with bloglines where nothing comes up for, like, twelve hours, or has the entire blogging community just taken up the practice of observing the Sabbath?


Between the Lines

This post gets at something I've been thinking about lately. The post is really about a miserable sleep situation, which hasn't exactly been on my mind, though we may be getting there. What I mean is how she describes her baby's crying:

I do believe that some crying could be endured. But my heart quails at this type. This is the type of crying you do while sitting on the floor of the bathroom after the IVF cycle has failed- the kind that takes over your whole body, with sob after sob. How can I bear to hear my baby crying that way?

First: Point taken. Hearing a baby cry like that is awful all by itself.

But also: Babies' (and toddlers'—er, preschoolers') displays of emotion push parents' buttons in very special ways, depending on who the parents are and where they've been. What Mare said was kind of a metaphor, but also kind of not. It was kind of like saying My baby's crying gets to me because it sounds like one of the worst moments of my life.

Lately, Ingrid's and my hardest times come when she wants something from me (Help me, Mama! Now! With both hands!) and, even after we've gotten through You need to ask nicely, I can't help. I'm holding the baby and/or flipping pancakes and/or brushing my teeth and/or Ingrid knows perfectly well how to put on her shoes so I'm not going to do it. I tell her that gently, and I tell her what I can do (in a second, with one hand, sing to her while she puts her own shoes on), and then her face breaks open and she wails as though I have just sawed off one of her fingers. And that's when I start to have to take deep breaths and leave the room to calm down.

Here's why those moments are the worst of my day: In those tantrums, I'm hearing something that's not there. I'm hearing You are not a good enough Mama. You are not giving me what I need. Not good enough! Not good enough Not good enough!

Sick and wrong, huh?

Because she's not saying that, of course, any more than Botany is staring at a negative pee stick. She's two. She's having some drama and some difficulty sharing me with Iris but she's not blaming me.

Anyway. This isn't the same as Mare's thing. Hers is a sort of compassion (maybe an excess, I don't know), and mine's more about, uh, me and my warped outlook on life.

But do you know what I mean? What do you hear that your child's not saying?



Well, enough odd introspection. Enough rambling holiday tales. Let's talk about yarn.

I'm only a very new knitter, and in general I'm not exactly crafty, but I'm sort of getting hooked. The meditative powers of knitting are, of course, well known. And crafting things is good creative cross-training. I get more writing ideas when I'm engaged in a physical project like knitting or sewing.

I am wary, however, of the stash. A few years back, I made a foray into quilting (and maybe I'll go back to it when the sewing machine can be set up without endangering curious little ones). I have such a high tolerance for repetitive, boring tasks that I enjoyed it quite a bit, and made one or two things I was happy with. But shopping for fabric played a large part in the whole enterprise: buying fabric that might one day be used, or buying one thing, then using another. Now we have an entire piece of furniture dedicated to storing my fabric stash. It is a little cupboard in the hall, and, although it also does a nice job holding up a decorative bowl full of fossilized clams, it also seems kind of wasteful and silly, and I'd really rather not build up a yarn stash that also needs its own piece of furniture. (Let alone spend the money that would require. The day care costs: Yowch, they are killing us.)

Enter the nearby giant thrift store. A week or so ago, I discovered the bin of plastic bags of used (or should I say pre-owned) yarn, and dug around long enough to find this:

I'm starting to make a striped, felted bag out of it, and I'm loving imagining the history of the material. It feels like I'm carrying out work the previous owner never got to, and I feel a responsibility to her. Look at those labels! This is old stuff. And the photo doesn't show this, but there were also tiny pieces of yarn coiled into meticulous little skeins. Too short to use for anything I know about, but carefully saved nonetheless.

I'll be keeping my eyes on the yarn bin at the thrift store from now on. I like the idea of basing these little projects on scavenging rather than shopping, carrying out the good intentions of someone's long-ago shopping trip. And maybe someday somebody will return the favor by putting the remains of my fabric stash to good use.


In Which I Ruin Valentine's Day And Then Redeem Myself

A and I aren't enthusiastic observers of Valentine’s Day. We appreciate the ritual to remind us of sweetness, especially during the current date night drought, but we are healthily skeptical of a holiday that does so much for the bottom line of Hallmark. So it’s our habit to celebrate, but a week or so after the 14th. This way, we get a romantic holiday without feeling (so much) like sheep. Plus, we take advantage of discounts on chocolate and flowers, and, more importantly, are better able to get a table at the restaurant of our choice, not to mention a babysitter.

So Thursday was not to be a big family holiday around our house, but I’d planned a play date with a friend, and when I realized it fell on Valentine’s day I decided I’d let my inner Martha out on parole and bake heart-shaped cookies, make frosting, and let the girls get themselves sticky with the decorating.

Ingrid and I cut out and baked the cookies yesterday morning while Iris screeched at us from the sling. Ingrid did a lot of the cookie cutting. She also ate an unmeasured but certainly very large amount of cookie dough, which may account for the trouble that began at nap time.

Just before nap time, my friend called; her daughter was sick, and they couldn’t come for the play date. When I put Ingrid down for her nap, she lay there quietly for a while, and I came downstairs, but after a few minutes I started to hear pitiful crying on the monitor.

I went up and asked her what was wrong. Remember that time I threw up in my bed? I don’t want to throw up. Huh. Was she coming down with the stomach flu? A little queasy from eating three pounds of sugar cookie dough? Worried about getting sick because she heard that her friend was? Or did she just not want to take a damn nap? Or some combination of those?

I didn’t want to be harsh on her if she actually was feeling awful and/or about to throw up. I didn’t want to get (as I often am) sucked into a lot of weird nap delay tactics. Mostly, I wanted her to take a nap, and I wanted to somehow figure out whether she was actually sick (she didn’t look it) or not.

I thought for a minute and then said, with sincere, calm sympathy, Oooh, I really hope you’re not sick. If you’re so sick you can’t go to sleep or have some quiet time in your crib, then we won’t be able to do fun things in the afternoon like decorate cookies.

I know. I know.

One long conversation, some tears, an amount of patience (on my part) I hadn't thought possible, and NO NAP later, we were both downstairs. Ingrid happily (and pukelessly) playing with puzzles and occasionally checking the current status with an unemotional Can we decorate cookies now? , and me kicking myself for holding that out as a consequence and probably sadder about missing the fun cookie thing than Ingrid was, but sticking to my guns.

I am not sure what good it did. By dinner she was so tired she was nodding at the table and saying I can’t see any of my pizza. (She couldn’t see it because her eyes were closed.) Perhaps next time I make an idle nap time threat I will choose the consequence more carefully.

But, as promised, this evening after work we all got up to our elbows in frosting. There were grins all around, Ingrid ate an unmeasured, large number of cookies, and she went to bed without a peep. Looks like the whole family grooves on the habit of celebrating Valentine’s day after the 14th.

These are just the ones that made it onto the plate.


Span (Last)

Someone mentioned knitting, and that helps, too. It induces the kind of meditative attention that happens in nature. And it feels good to make something, even if it's just a wonky sweater or some weird scrap that's destined for the bottom of the toy bin. I spent some peaceful minutes in the past several evenings doing rows of seed stitch with scrap yarn. I like the nubbly feel of it and the sense that I'm pulling something along with me. Sitting and basically doing nothing, but leaving something behind, too.

Writing is important in the same way and more.It's a way of keeping track of where I've been. If there are words put down somewhere, typed quickly here or scrawled in a notebook with the idea of someday becoming poems, then I haven't just floated through the week without leaving any footprints. It seems to matter, even though it's hardly ever clear what on earth I've made.


Span (Next to Last)

I don’t know how it felt to her, but from my point of view this—way back in December—was one of the bravest blog posts I’ve read.

Churches have been important to me—as communities, as places for questioning and reflection and discussion and activism—for most of my life. Reading, thinking, and writing about religions was essentially my job for many years (as a student and graduate student), and exploring spiritual life has been high on my list of occupations for many more years than that. My closest friends often end up being people of deep faith.

But even after all that, I’m not generally someone who prays. At Ingrid’s day care, they sing Blessings on the blossoms / Blessings on the roots / Blessings on the leaves and stems / Blessings on our food before lunch, and that’s lovely. But when it comes to saying Dear God, Thank you for this day, and by the way could you also please help me keep from screaming at my daughter this evening, I normally can’t quite get through it. I get tripped up somewhere around the word God.

Except. Except for sometimes lately. Since Iris was born, I have been praying sometimes, without even intending to. Even though there is nothing I can firmly say I believe that would account for prayer—let alone a response—being possible, I have been praying: Help. Help me be good enough for them.

That’s scary to say: I’m doing something I don’t understand. Even scarier: Sometimes—not always but sometimes—it seems to work in a way that I can’t even pretend to get. One minute I don’t have any peace, or patience, or compassion, and then, suddenly, I do.

The cliché is that parenting changes us. This, though, I did not expect: My children are driving me to religion.


Span (4)

One day last week we were in the usual start to the spiral: Iris was fussing, Ingrid was balking at getting dressed to leave the house. I couldn’t concentrate on one or the other, I was just trammelled by both.

I started to sing a song to calm Iris down: Tum bala, Tum bala, Tum balalaikaThen, hardly thinking about what I was doing, I changed the words to talk to Ingrid: Get your shoes, get your shoes, get your shoes, Ingrid. I don’t know that I expected results to this. But Iris quieted. Ingrid did a double-take when she heard the new words, and smiled, and kept listening. She found her shoes while I invented new verses, silly ones. She sung along.

Sound—which for days had felt like my enemy—was on our side. Calming Iris. Entertaining Ingrid. Smoothing the air so I could breathe it again. Connecting us.

It wasn't—by far—the first time I'd used singing to be heard, to soothe, to entertain. But it was the first time I noticed how much music does to get me through those moments.

And singing is the one thing I can do that sometimes meets all of our needs at once. I've done a a ton of singing since that day. Iris needs the tune, the rhythm. Ingrid needs the word play and the unexpected. I need to hear something orderly. And it feeds me, just a little, to be creative with words, even in that fleeting medium. (What a rush it is to rhyme Daddy with spaghetti. Huzzah!) I don't have much of a musical education, but as far as I'm concerned this is what music is for.


Span (3)

I’m reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods.

He talks about two kinds of attention: directed attention, and fascination. Directed attention is what we use up in our lives, focusing on work, solving problems, speaking and being spoken to. Fascination is a break from that. We are alert, but we are resting. This is what we find among the trees or walking through the desert. We are aware of our surroundings, but we emerge from it clear-headed instead of spent.

This makes complete, whole-body sense to me. In those bad moments, I am out of attention. I can’t focus because there’s too much happening, and because whatever part of me is in charge of maintaining focus is too pooped to go on.

I knew this instinctively, without having the words for it, before. I’d say I needed rest, and I didn’t (mostly) mean I want to be on the couch with my eyes closed, or staring at a flickering screen. I meant I need to do something restorative, something that replenishes what’s been used up. What would that be?

Louv's project is to show how important contact with nature is—for everyone, but especially for kids. So he writes a lot about how time in nature restores us. I can’t disagree. I’ve spent some joyful time in close contact with nature and come out as restored as I can imagine being. And my most frequent fantasy escape would certainly count as a natural place.

I will get us all outside more, and use some of my rest time, when I can, to be where things grow. And it helps, always, to have new words for a problem and a new kind of solution to look for.

But what, again, about 10:30 on a Tuesday morning? How can I sneak that kind of restoration into my life, into a house where the sound is already taking up all the space?

Where do you find it? What fills you up again?


Span (2)

Lately, sometimes, it feels like I can hear every sound in a room at once. At the indoor playground, it feels like every mama-conversation and every childish screech and crash is happening inside my head, and it’s impossible to pick out the words of my friend, who’s sitting right next to me. At the pharmacy, the music seems so loud I pace around wondering how I can get them to turn it down so I can concentrate on what I’m looking for.

And I feel rage. Rage. I picture myself ripping the arms off the polite pharmacy employee who informs me they don’t carry breast milk storage bags. At home, listening to A and Ingrid negotiate the bedtime routine, I want to break one pint glass after another and fill the sink with glass shards. Alone, still wound up from the last round of non-cooperation, I find things to slam my fist into: the kitchen door, the counter with a stack of potholders on it. My rage seems cartoonish in hindsight, but from the inside it is scary. I’m not afraid I’ll act on it; I’m afraid of feeling it.

Sometimes Iris fusses all day. Nothing’s wrong, it’s just the classic six-month-old discontent. Normal. I am gentle with her, always, but the sound of it fills up my whole body, and small-voiced why questions and requests for snacks pile in there, too, and before long I am made up of nothing but other people’s sounds. I am impatient and unkind with Ingrid. I snap at her. I don’t have any interest in her questions. I speculate that I could handle this all better, more calmly, if I were deaf. It’s the sounds that make it impossible, some days, to be more than mechanical. Their voices. The hours and hours and hours without silence.

I talk about this to A, to my mom, to my counselor. They all say it will help for me to have more breaks, more time away. We find ways for that to happen, and it helps, a little. But what about 10 a.m. on a Tuesday? What about 2:30 p.m. when everyone’s up from their nap already? What gets me to the other side of that, to the time when I can even think of a break?

I wonder about medication, but sometimes—this week, almost all the time—I am better than fine, all clear-minded and full of energy and ideas. I make an appointment with the MD who could prescribe something, just in case. The next available: May 6. What would get me all the way to May if things got rough again?

This isn’t new; this happened when Ingrid was a baby, too, and I waited it out without even as much support as I have now. I suspect there is a colorful bouquet of causes: hormones, stress, a little native anxiety, general temperamental ill-suitedness to the mothering of small children. I rode it out before, and I suspect it will get better soon. Right now, things are better. I feel like I've sent out a bird and am scanning the horizon for a flash of white and green. Is this the end? How much longer? And, in the meantime, what do I do with this? How do I get us all to the other side of it whole?

Span (1)

In the past several months, Ingrid has asked me a few dozen times for a name for that stretch of skin between her thumb and forefinger. I don't know one, but I don't think she believes me. Three days ago, she held hers up and said, This is the bridge of my hand.

The ear—which (Did you notice?) is shaped like Alaska—also has a bridge: that curved rim inside. And the thing under your tongue, too, the thing that holds your tongue down. That’s the bridge of your mouth.


Mama's First Sweater

I started knitting this shortly after we found out I was pregnant with Iris. Knowing how long it was likely to take me, I chose the largest size the pattern offered (12 months). The day before she was born, I finished the knitting and tucked the pieces into my knitting bag, not to be seen again until a couple of weekends ago, when I finally got up the nerve (and had time) to tackle the seams. Ingrid and I chose and sewed on the buttons during Iris's morning nap today, the day after her six-month birthday. It fits, but barely. Better late than never, right?

I know you can't see much of the sweater here, but isn't she a peach?

For you knitters: This is the Harvey Kimono from that Natural Knits for Moms and Babies book. I followed the pattern exactly, even using the same yarn they did. Any clue why the sleeves came out long enough for a baby chimpanzee? Damned if I am going to do anything about it at this point other than roll them up, but it'd be nice to know for next time.

Our Friend The Virus, Our Friend The Milk

One of the strangest things about this childful life is how very happy I find myself to get a break—any break—from the action. Maybe you have also had the experience of feeling not so well, stomach-wise, and, while leaning over the toilet, having your main thought be not Eeeww—it's coming up my nose but Thank God I am actually, certifiably sick and not just slightly nauseated. Now I can spend the day in bed.

It's sick, I tell you, this life. But I got my day of rest. A stayed home; I stayed in bed (eerrr, and in the bathroom). He brought me Iris to nurse and Ingrid for quiet visits but mostly I spent the day under the covers staring at the snow falling outside. I don't seem to be too much worse for the wear, here in the middle of the night, except that Iris, having had less milk than usual during the day, what with my inability to keep down even any liquids for several hours, seems to want to nurse every hour, and, having pretty much slept all day, I'm having a little trouble falling back asleep each time. Also, I am swilling Gatorade and keep needing refills, so I am up.

The milk thing is a tiny bit worrying. At Iris's day care, they want me to bring 18 ounces of milk for her every day. Doesn't that seem like ... a lot? I've done some minor googling on the topic and I guess I've got to try, but a) I'm only pumping, at most, 10 ounces in a work day, in two pumping sessions, and it's hard to imagine cramming another pumping session into the day, so I'm trying to also pump every evening, except when I'm, um, perched on the edge of dehydration already. And b) Really? 18 ounces in 8 hours? When she nurses, like, at least three other times in a 24-hour period as well? No wonder I'm thirsty.

Also, I feel I should document my gratitude to our friend the gastrointestinal virus. It has been responsible, this winter, for not only Ingrid's weaning, but also my first (probably fleeting, but still) brush with my pre-pregnancy weight since October 2006. Let the clothes-buying begin!*

It's kind of nice to be the first in the family to get a stomach bug. Now I will be all rested and able to deal if when A and the girls get it.

*Actually I already, this weekend, bought two new sweaters, Compact be damned. I think they were the first new non-maternity clothes I've bought in a good year and a half. It was a mental health thing, mostly, sick and wrong though that is. Are you aware that shirts are now long again? Long meaning they cover up my whole stomach? How was I not clued in about this important fashion development?