Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mommy guilt

My newly pregnant friend shared with me in an e-mail this week that she had read somewhere that having children is like subjecting yourself to complete guilt all the time. I wrote her back to say that the quote that had stuck out for me while pregnant was something to the effect that being a mom is like having your heart walk outside of your body. And it got me thinking about both subjects--guilt and love--that overcome us as parents.

I told my friend that I thought love was the bigger emotion. It starts while you're pregnant and then just keeps growing as you get to know your child. Sometimes I marvel at the confidence I finally seem to be having as a mother. But then I realize that it's not because I know anything more about mothering; it's that I now know my child more. I have a deeper understanding of who she is and what makes her tick as each month goes by. That knowing translates into a deeper caring on my part because there is this joy in knowing. Deep knowing=loving? I think so. And I love loving her. I love the fact that as I get to know her more, I find it that much more easier to love her. So I told my friend that love was the emotion that took me by surprise with my daughter, that this love is so big and consuming and like none I've known before. It's a love that is altruistic in nature, and protective and nurturing. It's a mother's love that still makes my heart catch in my throat. It's one that I just never imagined would be mine to give away. It's not a perfect love, but it makes me ponder one that is, one that comes from above.

It's within this love that we see how vulnerable we really are. We know that we are forever changed by the little life or lives that we are leading and it makes us so hard on ourselves sometimes. I think that the mommy wars and competitiveness come out of this spot of weakness, when we realize how much we have at stake and how we want so much for our little ones to thrive and love and be loved and succeed, sometimes we yearn for them to achieve what we were not even able to achieve or be loved as we have not yet learned how to love. It makes us strive to be perfect parents, which of course we cannot be; it makes us sick with remorse when we decide that we have been the ones at fault for a situation that may or may not have been in our hands after all.

Twice this has hit home in the last few days. Once I lost Angelica for a brief minute (that felt like a lifetime) at the museum, as I got distracted in converation and she was off within the blink of an eye. The next time I was out by myself while she got sick and developed a fever while grocery shopping with her daddy. In the first situation I still feel this sense of dread that I was not there, watching out for my girl when she skipped away. In the second, I know there was absolutely nothing I could have done at that moment, but I still feel the guilt for not being there at that moment to help soothe her. It's the feeling of failing her. I don't want to fail her, yet I know that I will many more times in many small ways in the years to come, and that knowing pains me. The guilt creeps in because we understand that the love, as big as it is, is not always as we wish it to be because we are flawed. We are not perfect and cannot be in this lifetime.

However, the fact remains that this love--and love in all of its most basic and purist forms--is the most precious and valuable entity that we possess on this earth. We must remember to forgive ourselves and move forward, and let go of the guilt once in a while. It's not worth letting it eat us up inside, because that stagnates us while the love that we carry will move always move us forward if we let it.

Give me another day or two, and I think I'll finally get over the museum thing....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

This week in lists (Listomania)

Oh, the joys of motherhood. The ups and downs and unexpected weird turns. I realized I could make a list of them for the past seven days (I'm pretty sure that every thing on every list did happen within that framework...sorry if I'm off by an extra day or two). So then I didn't stop at one list, I realized that the listomania was like a living animal and finally I did have to reign it in. But this is what I ended up with, so read away....

Three things that make me cringe:
1.) Angelica running to the corner of her bedroom, squatting and peeing before I can get a new diaper on her
2.) my little chipmunk spitting milk all over my sweater and hair (that was actually fixed) after having held it in her mouth for a new record amount of time...
3.) What?! That smell again? four poopy diapers in one day before 1:00 PM

Three things that make me feel so peaceful:
1.) being able to shower, get dressed, brush my teeth and do hair/makeup all before going in to get my sleeping beauty in the morning (however...a sacrifice of sleep and warm covers is in the mix for this one)
2.) afternoon naps that go beyond two hours...heavenly
3.) being able to do the dishes or a load of laundry or better yet, drink a coffee leisurely while Elmo or the characters from Meet the Colors are entertaining my girl via "educational" videos (haha, well the "educational" part makes me feel better about this one, and the fact that I ALWAYS choose the Spanish option).

Three things that make me abolutely crazy:
1.) two days straight of trying to put down a super-awake toddler for an afternoon nap who staunchly refuses to sleep and even mocks me by pointing in two directions after I tell her to put her head down "here... okay then put your head down over here because it's time to sleep...." All attempts to settle her down--except by the magic one, breastmilk since this is a first step in the weaning process--fail miserably. Encouraged by her chanting "sleepy sleepy sleepy" I ask her if she is sleepy and get a wide-eyed head-shaking adament "no!" in reply. For two entire hours I struggle with her the first day, and just let her cry it out the second day. Finally on that day there is relief after an hour or so, I think, as silence (oh, beautiful silence) blankets the house and I lie down to rest my weary bones...
2.) I must be dreaming because otherwise I'd swear I'm in my classroom in front of a group of 5-6 students on the last day of class who have come to take the final after not coming to class all semester long. A situation to make any teacher's blood absolutely boil. I remember that I am vividly chewing one female student out, saying "If you didn't want to come to class, you should have bought one of those TV DVD things [What? "TV DVD things?" What are those? I think I meant to say "Rosetta Stone Language Software programs", so obviously I get flustered in confrontational situations even in my dreams...] but if you sign up for a course you ought to know that you have to be there!" when a loud bell rings, and wait, I'm obviously not used to getting much REM sleep these days because it really shocks me to realize that it is the door buzzer to my unit that has just sounded, and the UPS guy has come for a delivery. Oh, the timing. Then it takes me until 2 seconds before opening the door to even try to dissimulate the fact that I'm basically sleep-walking, you know, I do the whole "open-the-eyes-really-wide" trick to make myself look more awake, but first and almost only words out of the soft-spoken UPS guy are "Did I wake you?" (Hey--is he chuckling to himself?!) I fumble through an embarrassed response of something to the effect of "Uh...sometimes when my daughter sleeps I try to, too." Dude, if you only knew.
3.) then there's the slaving over trying to pack a balanced lunch to go and then GET OUT of the house on time for the children museum's story hour and then once ready for lunch time, seeing little Angel girl tear around the area of chairs and tables and fun condiment stands as if her mother never gets her out of the house, just to watch helplessly as this mother can only get her to take bites of the sugary flavored yogurt here and there in between the Tarzan and Jane-like wild-child running episodes and between the disapproving stares consider "lunch" a good idea, but getting her out of there and safely in the car to go home an even better one....

Wow. What a week it's been. Last, but not least, my favorite list.
Three things that make me giggle:
1) watching Angelica stealthily place a styrofoam coffee cup filled with water in the cupholder of an unsuspecting grandmother at church who upon noticing turns to her distracted daughter holding a baby and says "Did you bring a coffee in?" The distracted mother shakes her head with a blank look, and the grandmother looks bewildered. (Sidenote to this one: I got the giggles watching this and said nothing. But don't think that I'm that rude. She IS a toddler, so of course this routine of placing the cup in the holder, removing the cup and running around, and placing the cup in the holder....went on numerous times. Obviously the grandmother soon picked up on the origin of the "mysterious coffee". Although I don't think she was quite as amused by it as I was.)
2.) seeing Angelica's reunion with her daddy after work one afternoon, silly as can be...he squeals at her in this impossible high-pitched tone, and she reciprocates the squeal. (Is this some kind of whale greeting that they're practicing that I'm not aware of?) She then runs into his arms, he scoops her up and it is a Hallmark Hall of Fame moment. Until the door slams shut and she wiggles out of his arms and starts jumping up and down, yelling "Elmo! Elmo! Elmo!"
3.) gleaning words of wisdom from story time at the museum. Sandwiched in between books and songs and toddler joy the story teller dead-pans the following:
You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friends' noses.

True enough. And that's about as deep as I can get this week.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ode to her daddy

I think about sacrifices of time, of wondering if I am doing the right thing, if this work thing is ever really "working" for me now that I have Angelica. I wish it away in my mind, wish it weren't a necessity for us to have me working full-time, I fantasize about the possibility of going to part-time or maybe just working here or there or from home, and then I am running around and around in my head...again. If I were a dog I would be chasing my tail until I fell to the floor in a heap, exhausted from so much activity. It's the typical grass is always greener scenario. And so I have a lot of questions that don't have answers for the time being. How long do I have to keep up this insane schedule of teaching evenings after full days caring for my girl? Will it ever be possible for our family to not need the two incomes? How in the world would we do this with another child in the mix? How long can we go on like this, and make it work?

Discontent creeps in and I have to make a conscious effort to realize that even though it may not be exactly how I expected, somehow it really is working for now (even though very shakily at times). I have to stop and remind myself that the craziness is not forever, because in the moment it sure feels that way. It's easy to look around and compare, for example, in my case to point the finger and say "Well SHE doesn't have to work" or "Her husband has a job making much more money". Wait a minute. It was never about money when we were dating. It wasn't about how soon we'd be able to afford a new refrigerator or how much money we'd have in the bank, sitting there, waiting for the rainy day. No. It was about doing whatever it took to make it work, to let love be the north star. We sacrificed a lot to even be together; he came from a different country and learned a new language and culture just to be with me. And to think that the years go by and the lines get blurry and I find myself actually thinking that the things and the amounts and the accounts are what bind us?

I may not have the answers to the questions that haunt me; no I definitely don't have them and most likely won't get them until the questions have passed. So, I ask myself if the questions are really so important after all? What is important has been there all along. I look at my strong, independent, loving daughter (who's not even two!) and realize that she is who she is because she has a daddy. And not just any daddy, but a daddy who has always been there from day one. A daddy who's voice she recognized as she was placed in his arms, minutes after birth, her eyes locking on his as he spoke to her. Yes, she recognized that voice because it spoke lovingly to her in the womb. A daddy who learned the precise spot on my belly to rest his ear on, month after month of my pregnancy, in order to hear the heartbeat of his little princess-to-be (even though we thought she was he, the prince, in those days!) A daddy who bounces her on his shoulders, lifts her in the air standing on his hands, chases her around the living room to squeals of glee, and cradles her in his arms at night and sings the same sweet lulliby Hasta mañana, si Dios quiere, que descanses bien, llegó la hora de acostarte y de dormir también, porque mañana será otro día, hay que vivirlo con alegría...each night to her as she settles into his arms and looks into his eyes and sleepily repeats "día" at the end before drifting into dreamland. A daddy who because of the situation, spends four nights a week of one-on-one time with his little girl while mommy is away at work. They eat together, play together, he bathes her. That's after a full day of work for him, and he never complains. He lives for this time with her. Even though he's already out the door and off to work, she asks for him after waking most mornings: papá?

So I've begun to realize what a joy it is that they have this bond. It's so strong because they have this time together, time I have wished away because I resent that I have to be at work. When I look at it from that perspective, I realize that my work is our family blessing. Not just financially, but relationally as well. I guess I better be careful what I wish for, since what I have is what is supposed to be, for now, at this time, in the present. Gotta stop wishing the present away. Soon enough it will have passed and we will long for these sweet days with her. These days that I hope are laying a foundation for a strong childhood and teenage years and beyond. Where she will be able to look back and say "I don't remember how much we had or didn't have. I just remember being together".

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Angel girl

Tonight I had a few extra minutes before class, so I wandered down memory lane in the building I teach in. I hadn't taken that route down that corrider, into the bathroom and next to the classroom that I had taught in so many mornings for almost two years. I walked in and looked in the mirror, since I had snuck a glance of myself so many times in that mirror that semester. You see, the last time I had looked in that mirror, my pregnant self was looking back. I peered at myself closely tonight in that mirror and marveled at how things could be so different with that person looking back, even though the surroundings were completely the same. I could feel what I felt back then, the excitement, the anxiety, the endless possibilities. I want to tell that person to treasure those moments. I want to whisper in her ear that she is fine and things will all work out, that God has been with her every step of the way and all of her dreams of having a beautiful baby have come true.

But I ache for her, because so much else has changed in her life in those short 20 months or so. How could anyone have told that determined spring-in-her-step pregnant teacher that the boss that she had had for all of those years, so kind and gentle, loved by the entire university community would pass away that coming fall? That the work place she had known and thrived in for several years would be completely alien to her in term of leadership and direction as she reintered it after the baby was born? That her husband's family would also suffer tragic losses of family members and a year later she would lose the beloved pet of seven years that was her comfort and by her side during the physical ups and downs of those days, who was "the baby" before the baby came?

I guess now I know why I had been avoiding that particular route to get to my classroom. As I walked out of the bathroom and directly past the classroom where I would spend three consecutive hours teaching I was aware a few casual glances the students sitting on the benches outside of the door. I remembered sitting on those benches between my classes, resting in between with a yogurt drink or a granola bar. I remember joking about how the baby was hungry, or the day I taught body parts to those classes and as I pointed to my stomach, and pausing dramatically said: "el estómago graaaande". For someone who tends to forget things easily, the memories of that semester come back fast and furiously just by stopping by. By going back there, I desperately want to restore what has been lost but wasn't yet at that moment. I want to go back by going back, but there is no pathway that can lead me there.

And yet, that's just as it should be because I am not that person who I saw glimpses of in that mirror. Who could have told me I would become who I am today, because of this little being who sits on my lap and squeezes my hand and gives me spontaneous hugs and breaks into spontaneous, joyful laughter as she sees the panda bear or Elmo in one of her videos? Who was I before this little one entered my life? How did I exist before I knew her?

I can't make sense of the loss we suffer in this lifetime. But sometimes I think that God gives us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. I needed my Angel girl and she arrived just on time in May, at the end of that semester.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Just a typical day

Lately I feel like I have a little hurricane on my hands. She is always running from one activity to another, demanding "up" in the chair and then a moment later pointing down. Here to there, this toy to that, she has the attention span of, well I guess a 17 month old. I feel as tired as if I'd run a marathon when I finally leave to school to work at 4:15 each afternoon, and that's before I even start working! It doesn't help matters much that she is raring to go every morning by 6:00 or 6:30 as I groan and pull the covers over my head one..last...time before going in to her crib to start another whirlwind of a day. Every day we are out of the house by 9:30 (or earlier), because if we don't, both of us being cooped up in the house makes my pressure-cooker of a toddler start crawling up the walls with her boundless energy. We go to the library kid hours, to the musuem, to grandma's, to a playdate....we get out. We have to, because I don't want to let my natural response come out and scream at her. I have to keep my calm somehow, so we go out.

One day last week I mentally cheered as I left for work that afternoon. I was elated to have the chance to walk to my car without running behind a toddler squirming out of a jacket and toward a pile of leaves. Or to be more accurate, running from the neighbors' dogs to a pile of leaves and toward the road that leads out of our condo complex, as in--where the cars are. I kept telling her "No sweety, that's where the cars come by" and scooping her up, and not ten seconds later she was charging back through the leaves and down by the road again tickled pink in hysterical laughter, to my neighbors' chagrin who sat with their dogs watching every bit of it. Of course it was a game to her, as I left rubbing my aching back as I finally was able to scoop her up and get her to walk back to our place. By that time she had been awake for eight straight hours and showed no signs of sleepiness, even though she did take a break for a an hour or two when I finally got her down for a nap that day.

At the bookstore, the other toddlers sit on their parents' laps as the stories are being read. She proceeds to stand on the book already read, on the floor next to the story teller, until the story is done. Before story time, she had been running around delighted to be in the midst of so many other little ones, climbing on the (empty) fireplace cutout, climbing up to the top of the benches, and back down, peeking in carriers to offer her goldfish snacks to young babies, and grabbing blankets out of strollers. Is it any wonder that most days I must lie down while she naps, just to gather my frayed nerves...

As I've mentioned, I am an introvert. Big time. And as is becoming quite apparant to me as each month goes by with my daughter, she is not. She has a lot to teach me, I think about the joy of living and the freedom of letting your personality shine, shine, shine. If I were watching her in my pre-baby days, I shudder at the judgements I would have had for myself as a mom. "Get that kid to behave!" "Make her shut up!" "What is wrong with you, why do you bring a child into a bookstore?" Funny how the perspective changes once you're on the other side of that fence.

Even so, I wouldn't change her personality for the world. Like I said, I have a sneaking suspicion that this little whirwind was perfectly suited for an introvert like me for a reason.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What language are you?

Language. It's how we learn to put our world together when we first start to talk. It helps us identify, or integrate into different groups as we grow. Language is not only a system for communication, but also a whole lens for relating to ourselves and others. When I was in my last year of the master's program in Spanish, the coordinator of the teaching assistant program was doing research for his doctoral dissertation on the subject of language and identity. He was passionate on the subject, and he really got me thinking about it as well. A person who speaks more than one language has the opportunity to open another window into him or herself, in addition to being able to communicate with a much broader audience.

So toward the end of my pregnancy I began to wonder what language I should speak to my new baby. Since my husband is Mexican and Spanish is his first language, we always knew that he would use Spanish with our child. I had read about different approaches to introduce two languaes to a child, and many advised the "one-parent, one-language" approach where each parent speaks their native language. Following that course, I would speak only English to the child. Yet, I was also interested in the "hot-house" approach, where both parents speak the non-native language of the country (Spanish) with the rational that the child would be exposed to the native language (English) everywhere but in the house, so as to expose the child to as much of the second-language as possible within the family. I thought that both approaches had much merit, and wasn't sure which path to pursue. Basically it came down to this: Do I speak English or Spanish to my baby? Well, Spanish I thought. Give this baby as much Spanish as possible from the get-go. Immerse him or her (we didn't know it was her until birth...) with "imput" of the language. The more imput, the more (eventual) output. Very scientific. Being that I teach Spanish for a living, how hard could it be to teach my own child from birth?

Well it was harder and yet more natural than I ever would have imagined. There were days that I just stared at my newborn and willed myself to talk to her, but could not. I had become mute! I wanted to follow my "theory", I wanted to immerse this little being in "second" language imput, yet I could not find the words. They were not on my tongue. I became so frustrated that I truthfully felt like a failure when the maternal words did finally appear, but in English. And sometimes not even that! I used a baby jargon that honestly, I don't know where it came from. All words had to rhyme it seemed, and many were nonsense (and pluralized) words. ("It's time to change the diapsey-liapseys again luvsey girls"...What?!)

Even my husband gave me the raised eyebrow on many occasions and the "I-thought-you-were-going-to-speak-Spanish-to-her" talk (even though to be fair, I had come to a compromise and declared that I would speak English to her while it was just the two of us or in the company of others, but at home with my husband I would only talk to her in Spanish, since my husband and I communicate with each other entirely in Spanish anyway. And that was really what he was calling me out on). My only saving grace it seemed, was that we read together. All the time--in English and Spanish (and even French, but that's another story, since my pronunciation in French not always...accurate!) In fact, I read to her all the time from when she was weeks old. Why? Well apart from all the benefits that the experts preach about, it was a way to expose her to language. And I didn't have to worry about what words to say, because they were already written down for us.

As time went by, I realized that she was listening and taking in what I and others had to say. Case in point, my husband repeating "ca ca ca ca ca ca" over and over while changing her diaper, and as I've mentioned before, "caca" was right after "mama" and "papa", which she still uses gleefully to identify anything potty-related. And then there was my dad, who for months had this game of pointing to himself and drawing out the word "Graaaaaaandpa" and then after a pregnant pause pointing back to her and saying "baaaaaby". We all laughed, until months later the joke was on us. She says "grandpa" clearly and succintly now, every time she sees him, if his name comes up in conversation, or if she hears his voice on the phone...even though she has not once said "grandma" (Sorry Mom, but don't worry--it's coming).

Now I have relaxed, because I see that she is actively acquiring both Spanish and English (which was the goal of any of my studied "approaches" to the matter, anyway) and not only that, she is acquiring our (it's in both sides of the family, honestly, in both languages) silly language contortions and inventions. I mean, when that darling child exclaims "YUUUUUMmmmmies" when she's about to get lunch, I have no doubt that she thinks that the word means "food" because that's what I use to describe pretty much anything she's about to eat (in the hopes that my forced cheerfulness will go far in getting her to eat whatever it is). Or the fact that she runs by the bathroom where her daddy gives her her beloved bath squealing "aguita aguita aguita" because she loves water in all forms but especially when she's splashing around in it happily (the point being that not only is the word "agua," but daddy taught her to use the Spanish -ita suffix to "soften" the word--literally -ita means little--and make it sound more child-like, or affectionate). I actually speak to her in a mix of Spanish and English and jargon, so I've officially forgoed all of the theories at this point...

So how much does language help to shape our identity and our way of figuring out our world? Well, according to me, obviously it is fundamental. But whether you speak only a few words in another language--as so many toddlers do today, thanks to Dora and Diego--or six (as one African student of mine does, Spanish will be his seventh), it's also as deeply personal and unique to each of us and our family situations as we are as people. I value Spanish and languge learning in general, so I hope to pass those values on to my daughter. She is already engaging in two languages at the same time and showing even me (who for all of my expousing on the subject can be secretly speculative when it comes down to it) that from a child's perspective, it is the most natural thing in the world. That the fact that if I say "bread" to her and she responds with "pa, pa" ("pan" in Spanish), that it's just another way of expressing the basic idea, just as we might say "bread" or "muffin" or "bagel" which aren't technically the same thing, but they're all words that describe a food belonging to the grain category, so enough said in the eyes of the one-year old. We accept that there are synonyms in our own language ("too" is "also"), so for her, she constantly is hearing and piecing together her synonyms--which in most cases, just happen to be words in two different languages. We adults make it complicated. For a child it is simple and natural and fun.

I am proud that her identity is already being shaped and blended into a whole, with language playing its essential part. English, Spanish, and our silly family jargon (which is just as much apart of this clan as the "official languages" are), and maybe even a little French from the exposure of her French-speaking playmates, and perhaps some Portuguese from the Brazilian side of the family, and whatever other language she may decide to engage in as she gets a little older. They will all come together and form parts of who she is and how she approaches people and the world. She will decide then, how exactly these pieces have helped formed who she will have become.

Maybe someday in the U.S. we will finally "get" that second language learning is a gift we can give to our children while they are young. Shouldn't all kids have the opportunity to learn another language from elementary school on?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The plant

There is a lone, potted plant on the 5th floor of the building I teach in with a handwritten note tucked into its soil that reads "Please don't feed me". I don't know what kind of plant it is, and why it doesn't need "fed", or even why it's there. It seems pretty strange for it to even be there at all, and for all it's not-needing-to-be-fed, it looks kind of sickly.

This plant has been on my mind, since I see it almost every evening when I go into work. I wonder how it applies to my life, and then it hits me like a ton of bricks that the plant IS my life and that's why I'm so taken with it. I go around thinking that I don't need to feed adequately so many sides of myself sometimes, like putting my relationship with my husband or with God on auto-pilot and then getting frustrated by the fact that I don't feel nourished. Well, I'm unfed. When I think I don't need food anymore, I start to shrivel like that plant. There's never time, there's never time but other activities are getting my attention so that means that there is time available. I must choose to align my values with my actions and my priorities with what is lasting. I must get back to these things and everything else will fall into place.

That plant is an imposter. It must be artificial!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mom, are you a cynic?

I had the pleasure of talking to a mother-to-be last night and her husband. I was almost awed by their freshness and sense of wonder about what is to come (she's about 14 weeks along). I wonder what happened to me along this journey of motherhood and when I became so cynical? I mean cynical in the most positive of terms, but still cynical. I wonder why there seems to be exist such a large space in between waiting to be parents and living in the reality of parenthood. I say this because I give credit to the fact that I am not the only one (as mom) so heavily invested in the day-to-day of raising our daughter. It's great to see so many other couples where the dad is also 100% on board, as was this husband that I talked to last night. But still, living in the day-to-day is so different than the anticipation. I remember how I couldn't wait for pregnancy to be over because I couldn't stand the "not-knowing" of what was inside of me. That anticipation becomes so intense by the third trimester that it feels unbearable at times (not to mention the fact that you feel like a bloated beach ball and all it takes is one sideward glance from a stranger to set you off. Again.) When you are expecting your first child, the future seems uncertain yet full of adventure and incredible experiences (which, to be will be!) but there is a certain naivité that accompanies this line of thinking because no matter how many other parents snicker about the dirty diapers that will need to be changed, or the lack of sleep that's coming parents-to-be tend to not focus too much on that side of what's coming. They tend to dream about the perfect name, the perfect face, and the perfect birth that is coming. (I know, I did it too!) All of this makes me think about our weddings, girls. The focus was ALL about that day and not so much on the day-to-day reality of marriage that was to come. In hindsight (always 20/20) I do wish I had planned more for the marriage as much as I did for the wedding, and also for the child-raising as much as the birth itself. Don't get me wrong. The birth is magical. No matter how many things don't go as planned (as they will, just think about what happened unexpectedly at your wedding) and how many times you may wistfully think back about it and go "I wish X had been different" THE birth will go down in your mental bank of precious images at the very top, or close to the very top of the list. You will come back to it many many times in the first months after having your baby, and then somewhat less after that, but none-the-less, you will always go back fondly to that amazing and life-altering event. But back to the cynical part. I wish I had known what I was getting into (aka "after the big event") before the birth. I could have really understood then the sacrifice I was about to make, and be a little more prepared for the day-to-day grind that it would entail.

I would have understood that the lack of sleep in the first few months gives way to more solid hours later on, but that having a child means that you never get to be in charge of the time you get out of bed anymore. "Sleeping in" a term from your pre-baby past. I would have known that my already fragil back would feel permanently slumped over from constantly holding or helping my child to walk, or picking up toys scattered all over the house multiple times, every day. I would have had some foresight of the ongoing mental and emotional challenge of trying to find the delicate balance of giving or giving in to my child and withholding for her own good, and then often biting my lip to try to ignore the sobs and wails of a tantrum from a being who (often like me in my adult way) doesn't understand that not everything she wants when she wants it is right for her.

Or maybe I didn't really want that knowledge ahead of time. Maybe that's why we moms and dads choose to hold a few things back while conversing with those who are on this path and expecting eagerly. It's something you must learn on the job. And paradoxically, the bigger the sacrifice, the more precious the endeavor becomes to those most invested in it--Mom and Dad. Like the pearl of greatest price?

Maybe that sense of awe and wonder from the ones that are pregnant remind us of where we have been and restore a little bit of magic to our tired mommy and daddy souls. So for that, I'm grateful for the gentle reminder. Because too much cynicism (even though at times it is hilarious) is really not all that...becoming after all.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

time for a haircut

Getting my hair cut makes me feel new. It's, in my case, a quite literal freeing act (of layers of thick hair) that pushes me to imagine that I can start over in some way. I realize that that may sound like a tall order for such a routine task, but between the idea that someone else is taking over the task and the fact that I can just be for a while in addition to the luxury of purposely spending a little time on myself every once in a while is very satisfying. It's an energy drink for my soul.

The stylist that I went to today was new to me. Michelle is young and upbeat, just a few years out of high school. As she got to work shampooing my hair, she asked several questions and we made small talk. She talked about where she was from and where she had gone to school. She revealed that she had never desired to do the "college thing". Instead, she had known from a very young age that she wanted to cut hair. In fact, she added, that she had wished her parents had let her go to vocational school "because it would have been a lot cheaper!" After graduating, she pursued beauty school and is now in her first full-time job as a stylist. She obviously takes pride in the job that she does, and not only that, I mused as she started her magic shaping and molding on what I consider to be very difficult and substantial head of hair, she is performing a form of art. I had never thought of a "simple haircut" in these terms before, but I quickly realized that it was true. She has a gift, a creative capacity that she exercises it in her field. At the end of our time together she had made me feel transformed. I felt that she felt the joy in my reaction to her work.

I admire people like Michelle who have always instinctively known in which direction they must go. People who don't get bogged down by switching a major, doubting one's intrests or abilities, or just not doing what they know they must because of a lack of courage. I now also know that just because one starts out on a particular career path or life course, that it's not set in stone to stay on that path for 30 or even 15 years. We grow and evolve our talents and find new passions sometimes, which can get really confusing and sticky at those intersections of life. But we are creative beings, and I can see evidence of this just by looking at the women in my own family. I have an 86-year old grandmother who is a master quilter and whose wallhangings and quilts have adorned my childhood bed, dorm room, and now my own home for many years. My mom is a talented and dedicated writer of fiction and devotionals who has followed her particular inner creative compass for years, inspiring me to look inside for my writer's pathway. My sister-in-law makes art out of photography and acting with a purpose and passion that are remarkable.

There is something inside of us that yearns to create and to leave our own, individual fingerprint on our world. When we follow this unique impulse we not only nourish our own souls but we also rouse the artistry in those who come into contact with our calling. Haircutting as a calling? Yes. Courage is the strenth of spirit that guides a person forward in following the singular song, songs, or playlist playing in his or her heart, and then deciding to let others hear the music.

I hope I am brave enough to always point my daughter in the direction of her own heart's rhythm, and therfore be touched and moved by its unique beauty.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

work week

Today was a good day. It's Thursday, the last day of my work week which means that I woke up today ready for it to be over already. By this time in the week I have a lack-of-sleep hangover that makes me pretty irritable and means that I have little patience for the antics of my evening university students. This morning I took Angelica to Grandma's and I as soon as I left I was already spinning my wheels on the most annoying details (like meeting my husband to pick up a forgotten parking pass for the university and things of the sort), frustrated that once I was at school time had fallen like sand through my fingertips and I was already late for an afternoon meeting. An afternoon meeting of the sort I had no interest in and nothing to bring to the table from my viewpoint. Bad attitude all around.

Surprisingly it was during that meeting that things started to turn around. I was half-there half-somewhere else in my head when my colleage alluded positively to a point I had just made. I must have really been less than 50% there because as I did a quick back-flip through my mental files I honestly could not remember making a point...any which she could have been in agreement with (I know, I see the dangling preposition). It made me absolutely giddy with surprise--athough I hid it well--but it also did something else. It made me stop and think about what was being said and realize that maybe my presence there wasn't as insignificant as I thought. I listened a little better after that, (wouldn't you have?!) and by the end of the meeting I felt integrated and accomplished.

Integrated and accomplished--I think that's why we all go to work, right? To feel that way. Granted, I'm blogging about it because it is something out of the norm, something that I don't always feel on a day-to-day basis. You know, speaking of percentages...none of us can give 100% to every area of our lives at all times. Not everything is going to be successful every day. Yet this week I have received a few jewels of encouragement in this area, and maybe that's in direct response to the heaviness I have had in my heart in relation to my work lately...

As in, does it really matter what I do? Do my students care about what I say? Am I bringing anything of value to them, or am I just falling into a broken record routine, spouting out the same old contrived lessons from years past because I am too tired and too overwhelmed to make much of an effort to make things new when I am just trying to get by?
Last night at the end of class, a student who I've had for two semesters said something to me that no previous student ever had. She was excited about her progress in Spanish and she said: "It's a real blessing to have you as a professor. I'm blessed with all of my professors this semester".

My reaction is not to get a big head and say I'm doing such a great job. Because truthfully, I'm really not. I am just trying to get by, but I am trying. And that comment made me realize that it's not in vain. And so tonight, tired as I was when I started off today, I got a spurt of energy in my classes and actually enjoyed being there as I listened to my students' presentations on the Day of the Dead and the running of the bulls in Spain and while explaining stem-changing verbs. I laughed, I was silly, I got into it and said some dumb things, I was

For a natural-born introvert, that's a pretty big deal! And for all of the times I dread going to work and I doubt why I'm there, this week for once, I am content on a Thursday evening--happy with the work that's been done.

Monday, October 5, 2009

an exercise in perspective

My confession of the day is the following: I feel like a hamster running on its wheel at top speed. Unfortunately, I'm not getting the exercise in (just the futility, or at least that's how it feels). I feel guilty for even letting this one out of the bag. I mean, how many times do we new moms gush to other moms or moms-to-be: "Being a mom is the most WONDERFUL thing. It changes your life, but in a good way" (hmmm...especially to the latter group, which makes me wonder if we are purposely trying to pull the wool over their eyes? Only to then sit back and laugh and say "Welcome to the club!" while they bemoan the same struggles IF they have the courage to admit it back to us; we, who have not been 100% truthful in these matters).

So much of doing the mom thing is in the little things, and those little things have to be done today and the next day and the next day...till kingdom come it would seem. I take issue with changing diapers the least, in case that's what you're thinking. Maybe it's my weird bathroom humor but I find it absolutely a riot that my toddler now says caca in Spanish every time she has a bowel movement...or not (hey it works for pee too in toddler world) or now even when she sees the toilet. "Yes sweety, that's where mommy and daddy go caca! Good girl! You're so smart!" so that bit of tedium isn't so tedious for me (go figure!). But talk about food preparation or clean-up or activities of the day (like my new "favorite": the UP UP game: We go out into the main hall of our condo building and my daughter wants to practice her stair-climbing skills, which also includes a side-bar activity of Mommy running around like a crazy, playing peek-a-boo through the spaces between the stairs while Little Girl laughs and laughs and commands Mommy to do it again...and again...and again until said Mommy, now sweating and panting (Remember: I don't really do hamster exercise, so this is already starting to hurt) must peel dear daughter from the bottom steps now crying and flinging body parts every which way and demanding we keep playing UP UP.

Yes, that's a glimpse of my personal tedium. I admit: every morning I inwardly cringe when I wake up and think: What am I going to make for breakfast today? These are the days that skipping a meal is a criminal offense. Forget what I used to do before baby. Now I will be the first to put myself on trial if I don't get my act in gear and serve some kind of protein, fruit and grains (and I try really hard to get a veggie in, but come on, I already blogged about perfection. It ain't here) in the morning, and then before the afternoon nap (otherwise known as lunch but you see where my focus is at. How many hours left until the nap??? Ladies, you know what the Y of Tracy Hogg and Melinda Balu's Baby Whisperer "EASY" acronym stands for: [baby] Eats-is Awake-Sleeps-YOU!!! time Yes, Tracy I wish it were that EASY. But here's more of the hamster ordeal: as soon as she's asleep there is food to be eaten (oh yeah! by me!) and you know, stuff to do in the house some of which has not been touched for months (so why start now? Excellent advice. That can wait again. But I still have to stare at an untidy abode which makes me absolutely nutty at times), my work stuff (I hate grading papers but don't tell my students or they'll stop turning things in), my daily higiene, maybe a phone call made or an e-mail sent to a friend and oh yeah! There's still ME time, right? Most of the time, not really.

So I keep running and running and hoping that this week I will cross some more things off of my to-do list while keeping up with the daily hamster pace with a toddler. And I might succeed--but next week there will be even more stuff to pile up. So it's no wonder that on a Sunday night when I threw my exhasted self into bed that a such a mental image as a furry little rodent going round and round and round has entered my brain. Not even the weekend offers a true rest from the wheel. (Oh yes, right! I don't work on the weekend! But only a mother will tell you the truth: going to work is actually our break. Oh yes, don't let them fool you. We know who the real working mothers are. They are wiping dirty chins and making pillow houses in the living room.)

All of these things swirl in my brain, until I feel like the little hamster has picked up his wheel an moved into my psyche. It's enough to make me crazy until I realize that I am missing the forest for the trees. I have to honestly say that I don't enjoy every minute of what I do as a mom. But when I lift my eyes up I remember that I have been entrusted with a most meaningful task: --I get to show my baby LOVE every single day-- then I know I just have to suck it up in the moment (and the next moment, and the next) and hurry up and plan that girls' night out and the date night. Soon.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
I Corinthians 13:13

Saturday, October 3, 2009

the end of an era

Breastfeeding saved my life as a new mom. It really did. As difficult as it was at the beginning (I remember googling My baby is three weeks old and I hate breastfeeding because it hurt and of course, it kept me on feeding duty virtually 24/7), it became my link to mommy-confidence. You see, to me it seemed like everyone else knew what they were doing with a newborn except for me. Someone else always had the answer to why she was crying: she's hot/cold/hungry/gassy/tired/overstimulated/needs a bath!/needs some fresh air/she misses the womb (okay that last one no one ever said but a new mom can get kind of paranoid) and then someone else always seemed better fit to try to soothe my baby. I was really intimidated and my confidence-level was at zero. But I quickly realized my saving grace: no one else had my milk. And slowly, painfully, I got through those first months and started to tentatively develop an identity as a mom. A breast-feeding mom. It was that one constant that always worked, and as the months flew by, sealed an ever-growing bond between her and me.

Well the one-year mark came and flew by and I knew that we could stop breastfeeding. She quickly became a pro at not only the sippy-cup but the regular cup and even was using straws to our amusement. But she had not given up the breast. Other moms bemoaned "My one-year old is still using a bottle". I'd smile..."Mine's still on the breast" implying that not to worry, each kid has his or her "thing". Hey, babies and toddlers need comfort one way or another, right? Well here we are now at 16 months, and she shows no signs of wanting to stop. I know it's up to me, I must start putting limits such as "mommy's milk is only _________ (in the morning/before nap time and/or before bed--something like that) and I must take hold of this weaning process that will inevitably take some time. I have cried and moaned and said "how will I ever be able to wean this child? All she wants is my milk". But then yesterday in the car I had a revelation. She sat contentedly in her car seat, drinking her sippy cup of milk after a play date. In that moment she looked so big, so independent, and I knew. The ache in my heart was palpable. She will be ready to wean in a matter of months. She really will (in spite of the jokes that have been made... "she'll be coming home after a date to nurse". Yeah, yeah). Then she'll forget all about mommy's milk. In fact, it won't even be on her memory radar screen through the rest of toddler-hood.

But I won't forget. And I will grieve. And I will miss the incredible bond we shared. But I must let her move on. I must let this go in its time. It is the great lesson of parenthood that must be learned in increments, lest the pain be too much when they take that final step into adulthood.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The endless quest

I want to be the perfect mom because it's the most important job I have. I don't want to fail at it because my heart is on the line and there is this tiny little person who's depending on me to get it right. Not only now, in the day-to-day routine, but also in the long-term I have to get it right more times than not so that she grows up feeling confident, secure, and loved.

But that's the problem. The problem is that I'm trying to do it perfectly. Not just good, not just good enough, but it's like I have to get the "superior" rating on my performance evaluation as a mom. Yet I keep tripping up because I keep finding flaws. The more time I spend in this gig the less I am sure about. Ahhh, fall is in the air. That cool breeze is blowing the leaves around and a sudden urge for hot apple cider and evenings reading by the fireplace seizes me, and so I remember last fall when my baby was just turing 4 months old and I was the veteran mom already. I took her to a pumpkin patch complete with a hayride for the the little ones and their parents. Back then, I was smuggly crossing my t's and dotting my i's to the tune of Babywise andWhat to Expect the First Year. In other words, I really thought that I had it pretty much together. So when another mom asked me about my daughter's sleeping patterns, I didn't hesitate to let her know that my baby had been sleeping through the night since she was 2 months old (I mean really, if your read and follow the"right" books, shouldn't every baby?) She laughingly replied that she didn't know if she could hang out with me because her 10 month old was still waking up at night. (1o months? Something must be wrong with her parenting!)
Of course did I ever get a wake-up call after that. DD decided after 7 months or so that sleeping through the night wasn't what it's cracked up to be, and since then it's never been..let's say "predictable". Slowly as the months passed on I realized that the Cliff Notes for Parenting just doesn't exist. More and more I realized that it had become this intuive grope in the darkness feeling along for what worked and what didn't. And that there are no perfect, let alone "right" answers tht fit every parent, or every child.

A dear friend told me before I had my baby that "the hard thing about being a parent is that no one ever tells you if you're doing a good job". Yes, maybe that's why it's so uncomfortable at times. I hate my performance evaluations at work, but for good or bad, they give me some kind do measure of how I'm doing. With parenting it sometimes feels like a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-I hope I got it right this time adventure. But you know, honestly--deep down--I know that as long as my little girl can look me in the eyes and feel that I adore her, I'm doing just fine.

I'm finally starting to see that the less I try to be perfect the more effective I become.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

super moms

The thought occured to me in the middle of another night of fitful sleep that I was a super mom, all right. Super-exhausted, super-sleep-deprived, super-tired mom of a 16-month old "dd" as those mom sites abbreviate it (I think that's "dear daughter" or "darling daughter" or whatever, something like that). I wonder why we moms aren't more honest with each other about this struggle. I can't be the only one out there who loves my "dd" to pieces and wants to spend every waking (and many non-waking, middle of the night) moment with her, forgo daycare and basically only allow Daddy or Grandma and Grandpa the honor and priviledge of caring for her while Mommy is away, yet also yearn to run off to a deserted island and drink my long overdue long-island iced tea (25 months overdue to be exact, the amount of time pregnant and breastfeeding. Not to say I've never had a drink or two since then, but I've held off for some reason on my favorite) and spend some time alone, reading, reflecting, and remembering what it meant to be me 25 months ago. The old me. The me that's been swept under the rug but still peeks an eye out every once in a while and feels around to make sure that it's safe to come out and participate in the world. You know what? Forget the long island. I'd settle for a double espresso or something similarly super-highly caffeinated.

Anyway, I digress...I was saying that I can't be the only one who feels the polarity on both ends...not just on caring for my dd but also this going back to work thing. Since I was pregnant I have hungrily devoured any book I can get my hands out that dealt with the "work-home" struggle. And oh, what a struggle. So I seem to have the perfect situation. I stay home during the day to watch my dd while dh (dear husband) goes and slays dragons during the day, so that the minute he walks in the door I can waltz out (or should I say trip over toys and fall out) the door because it's my turn to teach in the evenings. Then Grandma and Grandpa take over whenever I need to be at my place of employment during the day for some reason. Great, huh? So once in a while I will contentedly walk out of work with a sigh, and think how I'm really starting to find a good balance. I mentally review what I have accomplished in my oh-so-short period of 3-4 hours at work, think of what I must get done still that evening at home, and longingly picture dd and dh in my mind, serenly waiting for their dm/w (yep, that's my new invented abbreviation, you guessed it: dear mom/wife) to appear so that I can give hugs all around and put dd to bed with a kiss. Then the bubble pops, and I feel the tension in my body yearning to sleep uninterrupted just one night a week, I collapse with my bag of work at the doorstep (untouched until who knows when), dd wants to be nursed, and read to, and played with way past her bedtime and my eyes are bleary-red and my mind five-layers of fog that I think "is this really worth it?" And I go back to resenting my "perfect work situation".

Can I really do both?

Do I want to?

If I give up the work thing, does more of me crawl back under the rug?

Or do I just need to keep searching for that perfect rung of balance on the ladder? Maybe someday it will be more than just a fleeting fantasy.