Saturday, October 24, 2009

One Month Old

Day 1: You emerge into the world, looking altogether like you’d rather go back to the cozy, dark, fluid familiarity of my womb. There you are, a whole human being, filling the empty space in my arms, emptying the full space of my belly. A whole person who just minutes…. hours before… had been tucked deep away inside me. I savor the smell of you, newly born. There is no scent on earth that is as delicious to me as you are – you smell of earth, of life.

Day 3: Your eyes peek open, surrounded by swollen creases yet eyes bright and shining through. It is not altogether unreasonable to say that you look alien like, and indeed, you are a brand new visitor in a foreign world. You look at me as if to say, oh, hi, it’s you who has carried me and nurtured me and loved me these long months. It’s you.

Day 5: You begin to unfurl your long, skinny limbs. I hold your hand; it is fully relaxed to the side, for the first time. I watch you stretch. I recognize your stretch when I see it; it’s the visual accompaniment to the movement I felt when you were rolling around my belly. You are trying out, testing out each limb, in a way that you’ve refused to do until now – tightly crunched in your fetal hold. You stretch, trusting that the world will be there to hold and support you. Trusting, at least, that mom or dad will be there. And we are. Here we are.

Day 10: You stretch your legs out straight, hold them high in the air as if to say, look. Look at me. Look at what I can do. Look at what I am doing with these skinny little parts of me. You are so proud of this tiny accomplishment. I am, too. One more time you stretch them long and tall at me.

Day 14: Your fuzzy, unfocused eyes try desperately to make sense of the features of my face. You know me now, know my voice and my smell and my laughter and my tears. You stare at me while nursing, while snuggling, while quietly gazing in my direction, seeming to want to know who I am yet already knowing me inside, now outside. In your constantly needy, demanding state, it is the first “I love you” I hear you say. I recognize you, you’re my mama, I love you, you say with those fuzzy unfocused eyes.

Day 21: We spend quiet minutes studying each other. You stretch, you show off your length and your ease with your limbs. You clutch my shirt, grasp at my neck as I snuggle your tiny body, breathe in the milky scent of your skin, your breath. I take deep gulps of you and still can’t get enough.

Day 28: You are one month old. One whole month, which feels both like forever and just yesterday all at once. I cannot imagine our lives without you in it. Today you accidentally catch sight of your hand waving near your face. You are captivated, astounded by the simple discovery. Watching you, I take for granted the marvel of moveable limbs.

I am watching you. All these days, I am watching you and recording you and savoring every bit of you. As you cry, I study your features, your expression, your angry little face, your gummy mad mouth. You smile at me, accidentally, and your happiness infects me in that moment. You sleep. Nothing is more beautiful than watching you in peace-filled sleep. Nothing is more beautiful than you, tiny you, one month old you. Forever and just yesterday, you are here. Here you are.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Eatin' Good... from the Neighborhood

No one ever tells you that one of the (many!) perks to having a brand new baby is the fabulous meals you're likely to enjoy - especially if you live in a community like ours. When Aidan was born, I was pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of generosity through home-cooked meals that virtual strangers brought to my door, courtesy of our local parents' yahoo group here at the lake. We didn't know a soul here aside from my parents, and I was amazed to learn just how many young, hip, stay-at-home moms were at the lake. Little did I know a few of those "virtual strangers" would become my close friends and comrades in playgroup together. I attended my first playgroup with Aidan when he was one month old, and met Stacy and Melanie, who are still in the group today.

When Leo was born, my playgroup arranged for meals to be delivered to our door, and this time, all I could think was how lucky I was to have such a great group of friends. Now, with the arrival of Pax, the feasting has never been so good! Our playgroup, along with other friends and neighbors have been so generous to us. This house may not look like an Applebee's, but we're eatin' good... [from] the neighborhood, indeed!
Recently a childhood friend emailed me for my thoughts and ideas on transitioning to being a stay at home mom. I still need to write her back, but as I was reflecting over what has made my years at home so enjoyable, one recurring theme is my playgroup. Over the past five years, we have...

-Enjoyed countless hours of play time with our kids - inside each other's homes, at the beach in the summer, at the pool, at the playground, at parks in Charlottesville.
-Participated in cookie swaps and ornament exchanges at Christmastime, plus a book swap for the kids, delivered by none other than Santa Claus himself.
-Celebrated birthdays and holidays together, including the Semi-Annual Carter Halloween Party, a Chinese New Year party with the most authentic Chinese food any of us had ever encountered, and many BBQs and potlucks to celebrate the 4th of July, New Year's, birthdays, and the like.
-Indulged in monthly mom's nights, ranging from casual movie and game nights to feasting at favorite restaurants and summer dinner cruises on the lake. Occasionally, we've even included our hubsters for couples' nights.
-Endured parties like Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, and Southern Living for the sake of one another. (Oh, admit it! Those parties are absolutely something to be endured, unless you're the benefactor of the free goods!!)
-Cooked for each other in a cooking co-op together, making dinner once a week for the 3 other families in the co-op and delivering food to their doors each week - in exchange, we received prepared main dishes 3 days a week. Our families enjoyed each other's cooking, and many new favorite recipes were discovered this way.
-Cooked for each other with the arrival of new family members
-Hosted baby and adoption showers for each other, where we shower the mom with gifts like certificates to the local spa
-Formed an "Activity Swap" for our kids last year when the economy was so terrible. In lieu of Tumble Buddies and Kindermusik, we met at each other's homes where we each took turns developing a structured, hour-long schedule of events for the kids. We each planned according to our strengths and interests, and the results were awesome: we had music classes, arts and crafts classes, physical movement classes, health and nutrition classes, and safety classes - for free.
-Babysat occasionally for each other, informally; we're trying to formalize it now into a babysitting co-op.

Our group has changed considerably over the years as people move away, toddlers and preschoolers become grade schoolers, and other obligations get in the way of playgroup. But the constant that playgroup as a whole has provided me is something that I will be forever grateful for, and the friendships I have formed are ones I cherish in these labor-intensive early years of childrearing - and I know I will continue to cherish in the years to come. Indeed, all the moms I've known from playgroup are women I consider to be my fellow comrades in this highly demanding, unrelenting, exhausting career of Motherhood.

Hooray for playgroup! And hooray for the kindness of our friends and our neighbors, who have fed us well and made us feel so happy and lucky.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

To Everything a Season

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4
To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance...

It is with a heavy and mournful heart that this passage from scripture comes to mind for me. Because of my involvement, dedication, and commitment to this child, I feel compelled to respond to her death here in my blog. Yesterday, my homebound student died of heart failure. While this was not unexpected, the pain and grief is no less enormous. I have worked with Alice* (name changed) one-on-one since she was a fifth grade student; now, as an 8th grader, she would have turned 14 on October 22. Alice challenged me with her wit, her sassiness, her giftedness of mind and knowledge, and her physical limitations resulting from her Muscular Dystrophy. I am a better, more creative teacher because of her. I am a more fierce advocate for students with special needs because of her - especially when those students are also gifted. I will never forget, in her 6th grade year, when I boldly announced to her classroom teachers that "There is no assignment that Alice is incapable of doing. No matter what it is, assign it to her and I will help her adapt it into something she can do independently." That teacher took me at my word - her first project was to create a diorama. I laughed out loud, because what could be more hands-on than a diorama? Did we find another way? Of course we did! Alice created a beautiful tri-fold travel brochure highlighting the same region of the U.S. that the other kids used in making their dioramas. And she did it completely on her own. And together, I think - or at least, I hope - both Alice and I opened the eyes of many teachers at her middle school with our absolute, rigid insistence that there would never be an assignment that she couldn't do.

I am so, so very thankful to have been able to see Alice this past Sunday. Her mom cooked a meal for our family, and I went to pick up the meal from them for the sole purpose of seeing Alice and giving her the chance to meet Pax. Alice looked terrific when I saw her - great color, and in great spirits. Her mom took a photo of us, one I will always cherish. I am forever grateful for this last chance to see her looking so well and on such a happy occasion.

Once again, I am acutely reminded of the seasons of life, the birth and the death that is a necessary and definite part of our existence. Acutely I felt this when Leo was born; Jeff's grandmother had just passed away days before he arrived, and tragically, a young teenager from our church congregation died in a car accident that same time. Additionally, Leo was born on the same day that we found out, the year before, that I was pregnant with the baby we lost. Acutely I felt the pain, and then the joy, of our life's cycles. Again, with Pax's birth, and now with Alice's death, I am reminded of both the joy and the sorrow of life.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Thousand Words

....or more....would it take me to do this picture justice....

Pax Augustus, age 9 days old.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Reflections and Reactions

Our transition to life as a family of five has been, by and large, smooth and successful. For better or for worse, life goes on for everyone when babies are born into families of school age and busy toddler age siblings. My mom and Aidan made dozens of "baby cookies" to decorate and take in to share with classmates, and Leo even got to take some to share with his Kindermusik class. The proverbial other shoe could drop at any moment, but I have to say, this has been the easiest transition by far; there's nothing quite as shocking, life-upheaving as bringing home your firstborn child; with number two, I wondered if my life would ever be the same; by number three, I think I know that life is simply three times as good. Are there moments when I want to tear my hair out? Of course. Do I break down in sobs at the tiniest thing? Absolutely. But I recognize how smoothly this transition is going, and I feel supremely lucky, and happy, seeing my three gorgeous and healthy children.

When Aidan met Leo for the first time at the hospital on the day he was born, I will never forget his first action toward his brother. Unprompted, unrehearsed, never even discussed, Aidan took Leo's tiny hand in his own and said, "Peace be with you." It was touching and beautiful. I was curious to see what, if anything, Aidan would do this time around. When Pax arrived home, the older brothers gathered around as I rocked a sleeping Pax. Quietly, Aidan reached over to Pax's forehead and made the sign of the cross on his head. He quickly glanced up at me, but I didn't quite know what to say. Aidan asked, "Did you see what I did? I put a cross on his head." "Yes, Aidan, I saw that. What a wonderful thing for you to do for Pax." Aidan responded, "I put a cross on his head because Pax has not been to church yet, and he does not know Jesus, so I put a cross on his head." It was so tender, raw, authentic. I was deeply moved. Children continue to astound me in their depth and their compassion, their love and their honesty.

In contrast to his serious brother, Leo was not quite as sold on the new sibling - although he has adjusted far better than I could have ever hoped for! On day 3 of Pax's life, I was nursing Pax when Leo came downstairs from his nap. Jeff and Aidan were out, and Leo was clearly annoyed that there were no free arms to snuggle him. As I made room next to me to tuck him by my side, he took out his pacifier and said, in no uncertain terms, "I want you put he back in your belly!!!" It just doesn't get more articulate than that, coming from the mouth and heart of a 2 1/2 year old brother. Lucky for all of us (especially me!) Leo has seemed to have abandoned this idea.

When my own words fail me, I turn to what has been better said by others. I was browsing the StoryPeople website by artist Brian Andreas, and this print's verse spoke to me today-

"He laid on my chest and his breathing filled me almost to beyond what I could hold."