Changing Diapers, Changing Times

My capacity for sentimental attachment is really out of control. I went digging in my basement for the totes of cloth diapers I'd stored after our youngest finally started (but still suuuuper unreliably) using the potty. There are boxed up baby clothes that certainly give me the sniffles, but there's something about these diapers that threatens to undo me.

Changing diapers is such a small, regular act with a baby, but also, it is an intimate one. All hours of the day, sometimes multiple times within an hour, you lift and clean and swathe their little bottoms. When they are very small, they are pliable and sweet with their noodle-skinny legs. Later they may giggle and kick. Later still, they are just not having it, and you devise ways to distract or entertain them while you do the necessary deed. I remember reading that as much as I was tempted to make diaper changes as quick as possible when my girls got older and less willing, actually slowing down, taking my time, talking with my baby-then-toddler, would help me get back to the littler times, when it was a moment of quiet and care. Sometimes, that even worked.

And so it is surprisingly difficult to part with these diapers, because they remind me not only of my girls when they were small, but the rituals of caring for a baby - something I will most likely never do again, at least not with my own. As much as I do not miss the laundry, realizing that there's a part of your life that's truly behind you - even with new joys ahead - instigates a surprisingly deep sorrow.

Even when what you're mourning is a diaper change.

When Your Oldest is Five and You Are Undone

There are 4x6 photographs of my oldest daughter hanging around my house - in the kitchen where we work together to prepare meals and messes, in the bathroom she shares with her sister, in the hall at the base of the stairs where she and her sister sit to calm down when they've thrown a tantrum. These photographs aren't framed, just taped up, and they're all from when she was about two years old: before Little Sister was born, and before she began demonstrating so regularly the behaviors that have convinced me she will be the CEO of a continent by 25. I hung them about a year ago when I needed a reminder that she is small and still learning, to help me remember that her fierceness is sometimes her only response to figuring out the world and herself.

Miss E is a wonder. She manages to be all of the best and worst of me and of her father and still so uniquely herself. Stubborn as mountains and startlingly sweet, at times. Her father was sick recently so I slept in the basement to avoid the contagion, and I heard her come downstairs from her room in the morning and begin to sob. I found her on the couch, crocodile tears fat as diamonds on her cheeks, and as she clutched at me she said, "I thought you were gone."

We feel such big feelings about and at each other. We anger easily and quickly. Just this week after we'd "disagreed" about how to discipline her throwing toys around when she didn't get her way, she said something equally impactful.

"Stupid mom."

I told her, repeatedly, that what she had said had really hurt my feelings. Really, really, really. She began to cry, hard, curling herself up in a ball on the floor. So I held her in the same way she'd held me when, just a few weeks ago, I'd lost my temper with her and put her rather roughly to bed. When I was unkind, when I'd inadvertently taught her just how effective unkindness can sometimes be in curbing the things we don't like to see in each other.

But she forgave me.

And I forgave her.

And as she says when we have each had time to breathe and try again to be better,

"You will always love me. There's nothing I could do that would make you not love me."

It's true, my girl, forever.

On Christmas Eve

My girls woke me this morning, both of them clamoring at the side of my bed, touching my hands, my face, tugging at what scraps of blanket my husband didn't steal. Little Sister had spent her second night in her big girl bed, and she didn't get out of bed "even one time," according to Miss E. But now they are up. They are ready. They are hungry. It's Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve

We made pancakes together while listening to holiday music. After a little while, their daddy roused, entering the kitchen holding two dolls that had been deposited in bed to keep him company.

"I woke up with these two, but I swear, it didn't mean anything," he insisted.

I snorted. My girls were oblivious.

While we made banana faces on each pancake and sprinkled them with powdered sugar snow, two delivery men arrived with a new mattress and box spring to replace the broken one we have been sleeping on for more than a year, the mattress that dips in all of the places my body did when carrying first one baby, and then another. I am not sorry to see it go. My legs and belly and hips are changed enough that even my sentimentality will not miss a ruined mattress.

The delivery men commented on how good breakfast smelled, but because my husband thinks giving them pancakes might be weird, I boxed up some cookies instead. Miss E waited patiently to hand them over, returned to her plate once she had done.

"I gave him the cookies and said 'Merry Christmas' and he smiled," she said, mirroring the expression. "I'm a nice girl."

I want to say, "Sometimes."

But I don't.

The day passed quickly after that, with errands and tidying up and naps and meals. I made sure to write what mattered to me in my journal, to remember to be grateful for what I have, to remember that there are good things, sweet, sincere, worthy little things. But even so when we each opened a present before bundling into the car to look at Christmas lights, when we clutched travel cups of homemade hot cocoa, when Little Sister was as agreeable as ever and Miss E dawdled and complained and finally relented, I felt the nag of anxiety.

"I wish my heart didn't feel so heavy," I told my husband. I have told him this before, with different words. I have been telling him this a lot lately.

There have been hard days in the past. Months. Sometimes more. Knowing it's temporary doesn't make it any easier in the moment, and neither does the guilt I feel in not being completely present, in feeling like I am wasting beautiful moments by not being able to truly give in to them. Still, I read this tonight and I am heartened. Because it is in my nature to feel first and write soon after I am here now, sitting beside my Christmas tree. There are too many presents underneath but because I am not supposed to feel sorry about yet more things I am trying not to.

The light is steady.

The light is warm.

The light is mine, and it is my children and in my children, in the love I feel for my husband. It shows us who and how we are, roots us in what we can do together, for each other, for others. I am frightened and I am sad but I am not undone.

I am daily remaking.

It is Christmas Eve and what I have and hope for myself I hope for you, too.

Twinkle, Twinkle, My Star

Here's the thing, Little Sister. I would have five more babies if I knew they would all be just like you.Audrey JaneYou need me in a way that your independent, own-agenda, making-the-drum-and-then-marching-to-it big sister never really has. And yet you still manage to get lost in your own little worlds, building, pretending, creating, inviting me in with a tug of the hand and a "come on, mama" when you're ready for company. When you sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," you often say "up above the world so high, mama," like you're wondering over it and want to share the surprise and joy with me. I can only hope you do the same with your delights and frustrations forever.

You feel so deeply for such a small person. You are free with your affection, and your tears come freely, too. Just this week I dared to share a banana with your sister instead of with you, and I missed the crumpling of your wee face before you began to sob, crushed-eyed staggering over to me with your arms up, offering your forgiveness, accepting my immediate consolation.

And a second banana.

I remember the worlds of worry I felt before you were born, unsure despite everything that I had been told that I would have room in my heart for you. There's actually a desperately sad video of your daddy and I singing to your big sister on her second birthday, and I'm massively pregnant and quietly crying. I couldn't have known then what I know now, that it's possible to love as wildly, as consumingly, but in such a different way. You were a different baby, you are a different girl, you are everything I never knew I was missing until you were here. You weren't the first, but you were the first to make me realize that I can grow and give again. You've been the baby that makes me want more babies.

But what I want right now? To treasure absolutely every day of the next year with you. I want to revel in your sweet temper, your growing vocabulary, your sense of humor. You are the light of my heart, Audrey Jane. My sugar plum. My getting bigger and better all the time 2-year-old girl. Happy Birthday, dumpling.

My Summer Love

Elinor AnnaI think about the weather every year, when it's your birthday. I have never had cause in my life to love August unless we're talking about going back to school, which was a highlight for nerd-child me. It's always unbearably hot with warm-blanket levels of humidity, mosquito bites are as numerous as freckles, and I can barely remember what a cardigan looks like, let alone wear one.

But the week that you were born, my dear Miss E, it was as though a breath of October swept through the Ohio River Valley. When we brought you home from the hospital, we opened all of the windows and in the cool blue light of the afternoon you dozed in a bassinet in our living room, the curtains lifting and as gently settling as the cap of fine, dark hair on your head.

It is cool today, cooler than it was yesterday, with sweeter temperatures still in the forecast for this weekend. You and I went to the grocery store yesterday and I didn't break a sweat pushing you in the cart as you considered the four lollipops the clerk had given you for being nearly four. You talked about which one you would eat, and who you would give the remaining three to. I was overcome by your little generosity - so big in the scope of you - thinking of when the orphaned Anne Shirley has a bag of sweets and doesn't hoard them for herself but plots to share them straightaway with her bosom friend, Diana Barry.

Of course, you threw a fit as soon as we reached the car over something we have both now forgotten. Because what sticks with me is your goodness. The rest is merely you growing and stretching into the shape you'll be, the boundaries and challenges of being a human who is learning to decide some things for herself - who may never get used to having some things decided for her. Just like her mama.

You are not perfect and neither am I, my first and biggest girl. But I am every day humbled and stumbled and absolutely in love with you. I am each year realizing how much I still have to learn about you. And as weepy-sorry as I am to have to say goodbye to the baby and big kid and bigger kid that you've been, who you profess and dream to be delights and surprises me.

Happy Birthday, Elinor. I am so, so, so proud of you.

Second Birth, Same as the First?

Here’s the thing about my second daughter’s birth. Nearly four months have passed and I still feel this sadness sometimes, this guilt that has no foundation. I still feel terror and uncertainty. I don’t know how to get it out. When I wrote my first daughter’s birth story, the word I used was “amazingsauce.” I can’t say the same for her little sister.


It was 2:30 a.m and four days past my due date. I woke and wasn’t sure if what I was feeling was the real thing, as my first experience with labor had begun with my water breaking. I retrieved my phone, timed contractions alone in the dark before retreating to our back porch to call my midwife and my best friend, who was going to be with us for the birth.

I woke my husband. We’d agreed not to wait before heading to the hospital this time, given our first had arrived less than seven hours after my water had broken. It was safe to assume this labor would be faster, and I had no desire to give birth in a car.

We had to wait in the family lounge area for nearly an hour while they made room for me in triage, and then nearly again as long in triage while they tried to get enough time on the monitor out of a very wiggly baby. I breathed and breathed and chatted with my husband and my best friend in between. With my first daughter, I was already 8 centimeters by the time I got to the hospital, and they didn’t mess around. When I was finally checked this time, I was 5 centimeters, which was more than respectable, but still felt like a bit of a letdown.

Once in the delivery room, the midwife said something to me that I feel relatively certain is responsible for some of my bad feelings about my labor. She didn’t mean to, I’m sure, but she really psyched me out.

“You’re still able to talk normally between contractions. Telling jokes isn’t something I expect a woman in active labor to be able to do, so I think maybe you’re not quite there yet."

I told myself for the next few hours that I wasn’t “quite there yet.” I felt lucid and focused in between contractions that grew increasingly longer, closer together, and more intense. I didn’t let my support people support me because I kept telling myself that I didn’t need them. But I did.

A new midwife, my favorite in the practice, came on duty and rubbed my back. My husband let me squeeze his hands while I swayed from side-to-side on the birth ball. I was afraid to be checked for fear I wasn’t making progress, because instead of listening to my body, I was listening to the voice in my head that said it couldn’t possibly be that serious. I still felt completely in control. I still thought streaming some Star Trek might not be a bad idea.

My favorite midwife finally checked me. I was nearly 8 centimeters.

“Anything you need, just tell me,” she said.

“I don’t know what I need. I don’t know what I should do.”

“Well, either you’re going to tell me you need to push or your water’s going to break. And then you’re going to tell me you need to push.”

I had a shower then. The hot water drummed against my back and I pressed my forehead into the wall with each contraction, picturing a tide in my mind that swelled and retreated with each shuddering wave I felt in my body. I remember thinking to myself in the shower that I wanted someone with me just in case, that I just wanted someone with me, that it was strange to be laboring alone like an animal, kneeling on the ceramic tile like a bear or a cat on a slab of stone. I remember thinking that I was an animal, so maybe it wasn’t strange at all. I remember wondering how I’d write about this part of my labor.

I wonder now if I didn’t go through transition alone. That makes me feel like a boss but mostly just makes me sad.

I wriggled back into my labor gown in between contractions, my skin lurid from the too-hot water. I climbed into bed, the edges of the world blurring a little with each contraction now. The sun was up and fully, and I remembering thinking that this didn’t seem like the work of daytime. I thought that because I was still having thoughts I had some time yet, I was on top of this, it wasn’t nearly over.

But then it was and I wasn't. I was suddenly howling, and the midwife told me I needed to lie down and quickly. She felt the baby’s head. She said I could feel the baby’s head, too, but I didn’t believe her. With my first daughter, I pushed for two-and-a-half-hours. With my second, it was more like two minutes.

Likely this, too, is responsible for my strange and mixed feelings about her birth. I moved so quickly from masterfully breathing my way though every contraction to absolutely losing my shit to holding a baby that I can’t even process what really happened.

And I didn’t get to hold her straightaway. With my first daughter, those intense final few moments were followed by this beautiful calm, her serene little body placed on my belly, her cord ceremoniously cut by my husband, our doula smiling at my shoulder. I relaxed almost immediately.

My second daughter had the cord wrapped so tightly around her neck the midwife told me to stop pushing. I remember looking at her, panting, “I can’t, I can’t.” I felt like every part of me was stretched and ready to snap. My eyes and mouth felt as tight as my belly. She said I had to. She cut the cord as soon as my daughter's head was free, and only after could she finish delivering her.

There was lots of shouting, then, and I saw the slick little body in my favorite midwife’s hands as she rushed into the adjacent room. I looked at my husband. Our eyes had followed the baby who wasn’t crying. My legs were shaking and my hands, too, where I held his and the rail of the hospital bed.

“Is it okay?”

“It’s okay.”

He didn’t know but he said it anyway. We didn’t know then, either, if our baby was a boy or a girl. With our first daughter, that announcement had been special, it had been his. Now it didn’t seem to matter. I was burning up to hold that baby in the next room, the baby that wasn’t crying.

It felt a lot longer than thirty seconds but it can’t have been more than that before she was. There were tears in my husband’s eyes. Even as he released my hand to move around the bed to go and see what we’d made, a nurse who’d rushed in and hadn’t been there for the delivery turned to look at us.

“She’s really mad now,” she said, and laughed.

We laughed, too.

I was holding her within a minute and I couldn’t get a good look at her, could only hear her damp little breath against my chest. She was gray and purple and red and I still felt like a maniac. I’d torn with my first daughter and I tore with her, too, but this time my husband had to gently remove my hand from her back as I was tightening my grip with every stitch. I was shaken and I shook.

Sobbing to my favorite midwife weeks later, she told me she’d left the birth thinking it had been beautiful, that I’d done a wonderful job. She said she’d been impressed with my ability to cope, that she wouldn’t have guessed I was ever as far along as I was, and that I’d performed as any other mother would have during a natural labor with such a swift conclusion. I couldn’t articulate to her then and I barely can now why I am still upset by my second daughter’s labor. I told her I’d felt like a crazy person. I was ashamed of unraveling the way I did, even though I know that unraveling is part of the process.

The first time I hadn’t known what to expect and so I hadn’t had any control. I’d surrendered to what was happening because there didn’t seem to be any other way to do it. This time, I was afraid because I knew just what to expect, and I thought I could stay on top of it because I’d done it before. And I did, for a really long time. And then I couldn’t, and it terrified me.

I had two natural childbirth experiences. Two short labors. I had no reason to expect they would be similar but they were more different than I could have imagined.

On the day my second daughter was born, I don’t believe I really settled as her mama until we were in the room that would shelter us during our hospital stay. After I’d had a shower and she’d had a bath, our skins were similarly flushed and pink. We both ate, and heartily. She drifted off to sleep and it finally seemed safe for me to sleep, too.

Kid Stuff: Dragon Daddy

When he is asleep, Elinor Anna's daddy is a dragon. And that makes Elinor Anna a dragon hunter.

When he sleeps she creeps into his fluffy den of blankets and pillows and cat fur. Her little feet pad through the carpeted tracks left by his big ones, so quiet. She waits for a great big grumble before she steals stealthily near.

Elinor Anna can see her daddy's dreams all gummy in the corners of his eyes. He's breathing fire over a great hoard of golden gaming cartridges, circa 1988. His scales are made of circuit boards and his tail hooks protectively as her arm around her lovey. She goes as close to as she dares, nose to nose, and sees that theirs are the same. She gasps and her surprise is mirrored in her daddy's face when he wakes and finds his talons turned to tickling fingers, his shrewd, slitted eyes to soft ones.

Elinor Anna can't be a dragon hunter, after all. Not when she's a dragon, too.

Listen Up

For a first time mama, I make a lot of time to read. Which still isn't a whole lot, or nearly as much as some others I know (envy!), but I do what I can. I also try to read in front of my daughter as often as she'll let me, because I want her to know that I'm a reader, that I value books, and they're more fun even than the Farscape marathons that accompanied her early nursing days. But being a baby, she doesn't have my unrivaled attention span for a new book (though she does toss the ones she doesn't like to the floor, which I can appreciate after reaching the end of Cold Mountain). So when we're not listening to "Pollywog in a Bog" or "Prairie Lullaby," I'll often listen to some old favorites on audiobook.

I indulge in Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy at least twice a year, and the full cast version of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, too. There are a few books that listening to has actually made readable, though I've gambled on others I neither enjoyed in print nor by ear. And let's just say I can't even wait to hear as well as read one of my favorite writers later this year.

Listening to a book is such a dozy pleasure, like nursing a cup of hot chocolate in December, or taking a bubble bath. I can't race right through, and I'm not competing with my cat for a comfortable spot to rest my arms. Listening also means I can get away with things like folding diapers or building block towers at the same time. While I've got to start being more mindful about what we're listening to as my baby girl grows up (I don't want a repeat of when this book got super unexpectedly sexy, super fast), listening to books seems to me like a lovely way to share some of my favorites with her.

And a way to take advantage of what precious little spare time motherhood provides.

A #baby Story

How can I begin to tell the story of my daughter's birth? With the end. After more than an hour-and-a-half of pushing and six-and-a-half hours of unmedicated labor, my eyes boiled shut as canning seals, the midwife said to me, "Reach down and take your baby." My baby. Mine. Reach down and take your baby. So I did.

And there she was, only, I didn't know yet that she was a she. I observed her slick head, plastered with dark hair, her roaming eyes and slowly pinking limbs.  So profound was M's wonder that he nearly forgot that we wanted him to announce her sex after waiting so long to find out, these last hours the longest. He lifted her leg, surprised, delighted, and told me, "It's a girl!" We'd been so sure we were having a boy. During my pregnancy I'd had only one dream where our baby was not a ravenously toothed animal, and in that dream, she was a she. It seemed this was the wicked smart and lovely gal I'd conjured in my sleep.

I lifted her from my belly to my chest and marveled at the little person we had made. We named her Elinor Anna. Already she is a passionate and pensive girl, sweet even when her howling mouth fusses at my breast or wordless wails to change and dress her as quickly as possible, please and thank you.

I find I miss her after a particularly long nap, that I need to see her face or risk mine running with tears only to begin to cry when she wakes anyway. I am overwhelmed by her existence. There are such depths in her steel blue eyes, darkening and deepening with every new day we spend together.

I really, really, really love her.

The Waiting Isn't the Hardest Part

I like mysteries. This isn't the answer I can give to the many questions I'm getting lately about baby (am I making any progress, how big is baby, will baby be late or early or emerge with just enough time to be enrolled in kindergarten), but it's the reason behind why I haven't got any answers. Contrary to the amount of preparatory reading I've done for labor and delivery and the number of sensory play activities and ways to manage challenging behaviors I've pinned in anticipation of being a parent, knowing less in this instance seems best. I don't want to spoil the surprise of baby's arrival, and I don't want to get myself wound up over nothing.

While I'm certainly and sorely tempted to ask at recent appointments with my midwives, I'm also a bit of a romantic. In novels and generally more interesting times, a woman had only her intuition and the stories of mothers and aunts and sisters to guide her, astray or otherwise. I imagine she awaited her baby's birth with only as much fear of the inevitable as is reasonable. I've wanted for the same things, and tried to experience pregnancy as naturally as possible and as woman-centric as possible, which isn't to say I don't enjoy the menfolk (and won't be relying tremendously on M, as I have and always will). But this is the place where our bodies are wondrous and strong and capable, when I'll know how to ask for what I need and when.

And I believe that what I need now is to find a little something to celebrate each day, to rest, to dream, and to let my body and my baby do what they already know how to do. Baby will be born whether I know what station he or she is in now or a week from now, whether I have weekly growth scans or whether I've scheduled my induction. I don't need to control this. And I like not controlling it, like not knowing in the same way I like not knowing whether baby is a boy or a girl, the way I like not having yet seen his or her face. We'll meet serendipitously, hopefully the way we were meant to, after so many months of strange intimacy.