Sheesh. You'd think my subconscious could give me a break once in a while.
I mentioned that Ingrid's fantastic and long searched for day care is most likely closing at the end of the summer. We have two options in front of us:
1. Cooperatively run day care center nearby but slightly off my path to work. Fourteen kids in her classroom, two teachers. Rave reviews from many, many families. Four hours of "work" required per month. Advantages: Pretty close to guaranteed reliability and stability (it's been there 30 years). Worries: Is it going to freak Ingrid out to be in a classroom with 14 kids?
2. Small (5 kids, max) in-home day care run by a woman I sort of know through our early childhood classes. She has an early childhood ed. background and taught preschool for eight years. I know some of the kids who go there, and they are on the quieter, more mellow side. She has a long list of stellar references. It's two blocks from where I work. Advantages: Many. I am much more confident that Ingrid will be comfortable in this setting. Worries: She plans to be doing this for the next five years, but with a one-woman show like this I know anything could come up and then we'd have to put Ingrid through another transition. Also, if she or either of her two kids is sick, there's no backup and we're out of luck for that day (though she doesn't charge for sick days she takes).
Iris is cutting her top front teeth and as a result she has been nursing funny for the past week or so. By "funny" I mean "clench, clench, clench, chomp, chomp chomp." For a while this was only moderately painful, but during one of last night's nursing sessions it started to be really, really painful, and then this morning I noticed there is an actual open sore on my nipple. Which I guess would explain why it has been feeling like she's chewing my nipple off: She is.
I am so taken with the pain and grossness of this that it's all I can do to keep from telling everyone about it: "I have an open sore! On my nipple! My baby has been chewing my nipple off! Feel sorry for me and be impressed with my motherly dedication!"
More worrisome is that right now it genuinely hurts too much to nurse. And this, of course, is the boob that makes literally 90% of the milk. So poor Iris is cranky, and I'm worried my whole supply is going to dry up. I am pumping on the wounded side (which hurts a lot, but much less than nursing), but not getting much milk, and nursing her only on the uninjured but wimpy side. Other than Lansinoh and Ibuprofen, what else should I be doing? At this point I wish someone would just give me a hit of (insert name of nursing-safe extreme pain reliever here) so I could let her nurse on the milky side again.
"H has polish on her fingernails."
[H is a girl at Ingrid's extra crunchy Waldorf-y wonderfully free-thinking day care, where all the women are strong and half the kids (including H) have two mamas.]
"Oh! That's very grown up!"
"Mama, I want polish like H's.
"H's is purple."
"Oh, wow! Who helped H put on her nail polish?"
"I want mine to be purple, too! On my fingers and my toes!"
"That sure sounds like fun. We'll have to think about that."
"I want to do it now."
"Well, we don't have any nail polish in our house right now. We'd have to get some from the store. I'll have to think about that. It's a very grown up thing to do, wearing nail polish. We'll think about it."
Good grief, am I ever unprepared. I don't know if I'm for this or against it. Damn hippie lesbians.
I've been working at the same place for almost six years now. When I started my job, I had no children. Had never been pregnant. Had never tried to get pregnant. A and I weren't even married.
The place has been good to me. They've given me so much flexibility, and it's interesting work that's changed enough, over these years, to keep me challenged. I like working, and not just as a form of respite from parenting. It's fulfilling, what I do. It's important, and I enjoy it.
Lately, though, I feel so strange during the time I spend at the office, and I think this odd feeling comes, somehow, from my body being (more or less) back to its non-pregnant state again. I used to work full time. Now I'm just in the office two days a week. And those days, although the work I do has changed—gotten more interesting—are weirdly like the days I spent here years and years ago. The architecture of the place, the relationships, the procedures. It feels wrong and somehow false that I keep doing all of it the same way I ever did. I have changed shape so many times in these six years—physically and emotionally. I am different. And yet that is invisible, mostly, to the people I see at the office. Now, unpregnant, no longer on maternity leave of any sort, no longer obviously wretched with sleep deprivation, I look—if you don't pull up my shirt or look really closely at my facial lines—substantially unchanged from the unmarried twenty-something of as-yet unproven fertility who first walked in the door on an August morning in 2002.
I am slow with these identity shifts; it's taken me ages to wriggle my way into feeling like a real human being while caring for one child, then two. I've thought much less about what that means for who I am elsewhere, without the little people who've stretched me out and reshaped me.
I guess I will eventually figure out some new and remarkable way look at this. For now, my work identity feels like an ill-fitting shell. Is it like this for you, working, if you do? A lot of mothers seem to experience their work as a reassuring source of enduring identity during the changes of motherhood, but for me it is starting to feel phony.
We play in the wading pool until everyone's hungry, and then we sit on a bench in the shade to eat. We pee in the sketchy rec center bathroom. I slather the girls with sunscreen again and we swing and slide and climb until Ingrid's tired, I'm hot, and Iris is putting rocks in her mouth faster than I can take them out.
The weather has been perfect for this lately—low humidity, no rain, temps in the 70s and low 80s. It feels great to take our time at the park, to eat outside, and to know we have with us everything we need for this stretch of two or three hours.
The picnic makes a huge difference. All winter (and spring) we were rushing back to the house to feed someone before her (or someone else's) nap. Eating outside buys us some crucial amount of time.
And I don't know why, but at the end of a long park trip feel a little like I've been on one of the (often gorgeous and sometimes truly hard core) backpacking or canoeing trips that A and I used to take. Sun-baked, muscle-tired, slightly hungry, toughened, and newly focused. And, oh yeah, with sand in my lilypadz.
What's the best thing you're doing with your days this summer?
I balance Iris on my hip, and all the way up the stairs she kicks her legs and bounces. "Gidd! Gidd!"
I open Ingrid's door. "Hi, chunkster!" she croons. "Good morning, little bear! Come here and let me give you a little kiss, darling."
As we cross the room Iris leans toward her big sister, doing her best to levitate and swim across the air to her.
There is still the squashing. But besides that—and even right up out of the middle of it—something sweet and powerful is growing.
Ingrid pushes Iris on the swings at the park, and for many minutes they are both amused and calm. I crouch in the sand watching them grin at each other and am shocked: they are both happy at once, and I am not doing any work at all.
They take baths together. Neither of them has ever used a pacifier, but they are both taken with sucking on the heads of little yellow rubber ducks. They sit across from each other in the water, pale little wet-haired girls, each giggling face stuffed with yellow ducky.
They play peekaboo—with blankets, or with their hands, or with Ingrid in the hall closet and Iris flinging the door wide to laugh and laugh as the finds her big sister inside over and over.
There is squabbling and tipping and squishing, but also Ingrid finds toys for Iris to play with. When she has a snack, she asks whether Iris is old enough to have some, and wants to feed it to her. She wants to dress Iris up in winter hats and blanket capes.
And as far as Iris is concerned, Ingrid's every move is material for delight. I know she is learning extra quickly because she has such a fascinating example to observe. Watching Ingrid, she swipes at her own head with a hairbrush, claps to music, tips her head back to drink from her sippy cup with a dramatic flourish.
The life of two sisters seems mysterious and wonderful to me and full of scary power. I have a brother. A has a brother and a sister. I watch sisters differently now—older kids, adults. Maybe they'll be like that. Or that. It has such potential for terrific closeness, and also for unique pain.
Almost a year ago, at the park with Emmie and her boys, Ingrid and I and the newborn Iris watched N and O slide down side-by-side slides holding hands. "N and O are brothers," Emmie told Ingrid, "just like you and Iris are sisters. When she's old enough, you'll be able to slide like that with her, too."
From there, with tiny, boneless Iris snoozing on my chest, the prospect of sisterly friendship seemed about as likely as a cascade of ripe tomatoes did in the face of my scrawny May plantings. Which is to say, darn near inevitable, and yet so far off as to be really, really hard to imagine.
But here is the start of it. Sisters. What a treasure.
Peered at bathtub turd like a medium reading tea leaves for several seconds before realizing I didn't actually want to know whose it was that badly.
Purchasing an ark's worth of Schleich animals to bribe Ingrid to poop on the potty.
Also, a case of size six diapers.
Ingrid's first really good poem:
Corn, corn, what do you say?
I put a spoon on my tray!
One day I will look back with nostalgia at my evening routine of rinsing the sand out of my lilypadz.
My excuse for the incoherence is that I've had some sort of stomach bug that had me puking all night Tuesday, bleary in bed all day Wednesday, and, until now, not really able to eat much other than crackers. Count yourselves lucky I didn't go into the cotyledons of pumpkins and the fins of sea turtles. (That will be in a poem that you won't need to worry your pretty internet heads about.)
Ingrid came down with the bug Friday morning (poor girl). It seems like a milder version than what got me, so far.
I sat next to her on her bed for a long time Friday, as she lay there all bleary and recovering from the worst of it. After a long quiet time she got a look of surprised inspiration on her face, and said, "Mama? Orange is made of orange juice."
Looks like half-sensical and thrilled-seeming talk in the wake of illness runs in the family.
I'm horrified to realize how often, lately, I've thought of the little people in our house just that way. I crave a sense of completion. I crave the moment when everything is done and put away and quiet. And from that point of view, the people who poop and throw sweet potatoes and upend baskets of toys and need stories read and hair combed and medicines administered...they start to look, in my messed up, overtired mind, a lot like Barbara Ehrenreich's customers. "Please," I think, as I wipe one's nose while the other clambers up my shirt. "Can't you please stop needing things so that I can get on with..."
But get on with what, exactly?
Like everyone, I have a list of things I'd do with a quiet hour: sort old clothes, wrap wedding gift, vacuum stairs, shave legs. And beyond that: learn Spanish, run intervals, write poems. But is any of that enough to make up the life I really want?
Lately I've been in this little house of parenthood, pressing my face up against the glass, staring out at the free, free world. Why am I in here? Why?
This is nearly impossible to write about, because I fear I'm creating something my daughters will one day be able to read but not understand. Let me be clear: our children are fantastic and deeply loved. There is no chance I'd wish either of them away. I think you understand, though: I love my children fiercely. And sometimes I wish, equally fiercely, that I were not their mother.
Years ago, without children, dreaming of parenthood, I got a lot wrong. I missed, totally, how much I could sometimes not like it. But I was right (and I'd forgotten, until recently, that I'd even anticipated this) in looking forward to our child-raising years as a time of happy chaos. Of things being in disorder, always messy, a bit out of control, exhausting. I even craved the mess and rush, fearing, as I headed into fertility treatments, a constant life of dry, plain neatness.
I've come to know the chaos of my dreams well. The library books are overdue, the dishes aren't done, and when did I last have a haircut? I've been letting the chaos get me down so much, though, that I'd forgotten happy could come in the same phrase. That I wanted this. That, really thinking about the alternative, even knowing what I know now, I'd make the same choice again.
I have thought so often about the alternate universe in which A and I were not able to conceive and have children. I think that some people who've been through infertility experience it as a great magnifier of gratitude. But when I think, "What if we hadn't been able to have them?" I feel only a kind of rote gratitude, plus a heap of guilt for not liking it enough. And I forget that something came before the fear of not having this: the decision that we wanted it.
When I think, "What if we'd decided not to do this?", that's when I see that, however much I'd love to have more breaks from this life to do all of the necessary and fulfilling things on my list, the quiet and calm—the unending space and time for just me or even just A and me—wouldn't be enough. Wasn't, and still isn't—no matter how much I crave the better parts of it—what I want for my life, for our lives.
Last week I read The War of Art. It's about about what keeps us from doing the creative work we want to do, and one of its big themes is: Do your work. He means: You know what you're here to do. Don't waste time thinking about it, complaining about it, talking about it, or trying in a million ways to avoid it. You'll never get it done if you don't do it.
Somehow it helps me lose my awful attitude when I think of my kids as my work. Work in Pressfield's sense: what I'm here to do, what only I can do.
I've never quite been one to think of motherhood as my calling. And I have other work in this world, too—fitting that in is a whole other story. But, indisputably, for a good chunk of my days, the care and love and education of these two great girls is it.
Thinking of it this way quiets me, somehow. I am not here (it is not possible) to quell all of their needs and finally arrive at some nirvana of peaceful, completed family life. I am here to see what my family needs from me, and to do it. And to find enough respite from this work so that, during the times when it's mine, I can do it well, rather than pedaling fruitlessly toward its nonexistent end.
Whether this makes any sense or not, it's what I'm using today to claw my way out of the hole.
My parents were here for about a week of A's absence, and they are rock stars. My dad built three giant raised garden beds. My mom helped with every step of the daily grind, from the sublime (the girls giggling together about their very own game of peek-a-boo) to the horrid (awful hours with Ingrid that left me, during nap time, weeping and grousing, "Why did no one tell me having kids would be like this?")
I contracted pink eye. It wasn't too uncomfortable, and it felt appropriate to look red-eyed and gooey, like I finally looked as exhausted as I felt.
A is back; we have weathered the usual reentry shock. We've figured out that our mornings suck when I sleep in, and that it goes more smoothly when we are all up early and groggy together and have a chance to adjust to the day at once rather than me stumbling down the stairs and getting slammed with tantruming wide awake girls desperate for mama time.
Oh, and we found out that Ingrid's day care is most likely closing in the fall. The director is selling her house (where the day care is hosted) and moving away, for personal reasons. This after I told the terrific preschool to give our spot to someone on the waiting list because we are oh so happy with what we have. There is still some ghost of a chance that the families and teachers will be able to pull something together to keep it going at a different location, but over all it is a pretty sucky development.
I planted the garden with tomatoes (weirdly leggy, most of them), basil, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, winter squash, peppers, beets, radishes, and a ton of herbs. It's been raining and raining and warm but without much sun, and the idea that things will bloom and produce things we can eat seems rather theoretical. The allium is blooming, though, which is lovely.
I am working on a few posts for this week. More soon.