Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Family Opus

5:30am:  Morning Overture- Alarms go off, cell phone ringtones for mama, NPR for daddy.

5:45am:  Morning Sounds- the splashing of water on the shower tile, the soft hum of a pump

6:20am:  Morning Movement- Refrigerators open, plastic bottles containing liquid gold are dragged over a plastic shelf and placed into a lunch bag.  The two of them move throughout the house like pinballs in slow motion brushing into counters, hampers, sinks and each other.

6:45am:  Farewell Suite- Kisses and hugs, wishes for good days, the rumble of the garage door as it makes its way up the track releasing him into his day.

6:50am:  Water Suite- More splashing water in a silent bathroom.  Fans and radios have been silenced so the whir of the baby monitor can take center stage now that only one parent is at home.

7:30am:  Reunion Sonata- Old stairs creak as the mama travels back to the nest to wake up her sleeping bird.  Baby bird is nestled in his crib but is awakened by an invisible force that tell him that his mama is back.  His head pops up and he peers through the rails, eyelids heavy as they resist the call to brush off a now forgotten dream and greet the day. Hugs and kisses as little eyes dart around the room and little hands explore mama's face.  Bigger hands coax warm pajamas off of little legs and arms.  Sleep well my love?  I missed you all night!

7:45am:  A Little Traveling Music-The rumble of the garage door and the click of the car seat as it nestles safely into its base.  The whir of the motor, the soft voices of the radio announcers as they discuss distant lands and local crises that the mama hopes never impacts her little baby who is now gazing out the window.

8:00am:  Joyful Baby Birds- The exuberant sounds of children playing to the chorus of soft sweet voices shouting "Jack's here!"  Kisses and hugs as the mama rubs her hand over the soft smooth hair on the head that hides a billion thoughts and curiosities about this place.

8:10am:  Wistful Silence - The radio voices grow softer as mama reflects on her day thus far.  The sounds of traffic- trucks and horns.  Yellow light, red light, green light; incandescent safety officer keeping mama safe on her way. 

8:20am:  Office ├ętude- The click, click, click of a keyboard and the slower click of the mouse.  The whoosh of the air making its way through a maze of vents keeping everyone cozy as they make plans and tackle problems and smile at photos in colorful frames filled with people who are not there but are greatly missed.


4:45pm:  Reunion Sonata Reprise- The click of the key as it unlocks the door.  Joyful birds at play.  Baby bird looks up at mama with a smile of recognition, tiny arms wave up and down like wings flapping.  Mama scoops him up, the soft and airy pant of invisible words as he tries so hard to tell her about his day.  Singular consonants and extended vowel sounds express his excitement, his wonder, his fatigue.

5:00pm:  Homeward Hymns- The gruff rumble of the garage door sounds happier this time as the gates open into the nest.  An old hollow door swings open with a squeak and the silent lonely house is once again filled with energy and life.  Zip, zip, zip of a bag as the bottles are whisked away into the refrigerator.  The playful tinkling of chimes as the soft cloth toys that dangle from the car seat slide as baby is lifted up for a hug and a kiss.  Two feet shuffle across the old hardwood floors making familiar creaks.

7:30pm: Twilight Reverie- From inside the nest the soft click of the door and a welcome "Hello?"  Cheerful chatter of days events.

8:45pm:  Good Night Moon Concerto- Mama and baby climb the creaky steps back to the nest.  The whish, whish, whish of a ceiling fan as a soft light casts shadows on the walls.  Soft sucking noises as baby's eyes grow heavy.  His brain sends signals to his body to coax it into slumber.  Tiny legs covered in warm cotton dance across the mattress as they slow, slow, slow down into stillness.  In the silence of the room, billions of charges of electricity dance inside baby's head making sense of all that was seen and heard on this ordinary day.  Mama's eyes grow heavy, heavier, and close.

9:30pm:  Finale- Creaking under the weight of new feet, the daddy climbs the stairs to the nest where the mama and baby have fallen asleep.  The hardwood floors call out "wake up!  wake up!"  A soft tap on the shoulder and the mama wakes up.  The baby is sailing into a vast galaxy of sleep.  Daddy carries him to the crib.  The soft swish of cotton pajamas against cotton sheets as the weight of his tiny body adjusts into its new space.  A click of a light switch, the creaking of stairs.  The sound of water splashing against porcelain and the clink of toothbrushes hitting a glass cup.  Blankets dance in the air making whipping noise as daddy arranges the bed.  The squeak of metal springs as they climb into their own little nest.  The humming of a baby monitor which sits perched next to daddy's head.  In the darkness it shines bright green letting them rest easy knowing baby is breathing softly and dreaming loudly.  Bodies twist and turn finding their most comfortable angle amidst the pillows and blankets where warm meets cool.  And then, silence...mostly.  Clocks ticking the seconds away, the humming of appliances and whirring of fans.  Slow, steady breathing from three sets of lungs.  Imperceptible heartbeats and the constant flow of blood through veins.  Silence, mostly, as the family symphony takes its repose.

How astonishing your life would be if you listened to its pulse and felt its rhythms.  How breathtaking would the tiniest noise be when you isolated it and marveled at its music.  What is the music of your life?  

We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of the dreams.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lessons from Jack Vol. 1

Today, my sweet baby is 8 months old.  The transition from 7-8 months was a tough one for young Jack.  Some nights I'd hear this mournful little moan from his crib and as I looked down at him he'd be pawing at his mouth.  Somewhere, tiny sharp teeth are making their way down his gums electrifying every nerve ending and causing plump tears to fall onto his cheeks.  I'd pick him up and hug him and hold him and he'd rest his head on my shoulder for 5, maybe 10 seconds and before I knew it, his head would pop up and he'd be staring out into the dark room.  In the moonlight, I could see the look of realization hit his face- even in the midst of all of this pain, I am home, things look familiar.  I haven't descended into some dark scary place, it just feels that way.  I can get through this.  This mama person who is always here hasn't left me yet.  I'll be ok.

And that, my friends, is one of the first lessons I have learned from my baby.  Fear is fleeting, pain is temporary.  It might appear that we have descended into some dark scary place, but in reality, we are always right where we need to be and the people we love who love us in return are only a little whimper (or phone call if you have the fine motor skills) away.

Aside from the teething, Jack formed some pretty intense separation anxiety last month.  Whether it was a quick trip to the fridge or the bathroom, the minute I left the room I'd hear his breath quicken and then came the scared little whimpers until he saw me again.  I admit, it can be stressful to be the only person at home with a baby who won't let you leave his sight.  I'd drag his exersaucer all over the house with me so he knew I was always nearby.  This past month is when I truly realized how scary this brave new world must be for him.

Here is a passage from one of my favorite books "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" by Gordon Mackenzie

Before you were born, God came to you and said:
Hi, there! I just dropped by to wish you luck and to assure you that you and I will be meeting again soon, before you know it.   You’re heading out on an adventure that will be filled with fascinating experiences. You’ll start out as a tiny speck floating in an infinite dark ocean, quite saturated with nutrients, so you won’t have to go looking for food or a job or anything like that. All you’ll have to do is float in the darkness,and grow incredibly,and change miraculously. You’ll sprout arms and legs and hands and feet and fingers and toes. As if from nothing, your head will take form. Your nose, your mouth, your eyes and ears will emerge.
As you continue to grow bigger and bigger you will become aware that this dark, oceanic environment of yours – which, when you were tiny, seemed so vast is now actually cramped and confining. That will lead you to the unavoidable conclusion that you’re going to have to move to a bigger place.
After much groping about in the dark, you will find an exit, the mouth of a tunnel.  “Too small” you’ll decide “couldn’t possibly squeeze through there.”
But there will be no other apparent way out, so with primal spunk, you will take on your first “impossible” challenge and enter the tunnel.
In doing so, you will be embarking on a brutal, no-turning-back, physically exhausting, claustrophobic passage that will introduce you to pain and fear and hard physical labor. It will seem to take forever, but mysterious undulations of the tunnel itself will help squirm you through and finally, after what will seem like interminable striving, you will break through to a blinding light.
Giant hands will pull you gently, but firmly, into an enormous room. There will be several huge people, called adults, huddling around you, as if to greet you. If it is an old-fashioned place, one of these humongous people may hold you upside down by the legs and give you a swat on the backside to get you going.
All of this will be what the big people on the other side call being born. For you, it will be only the first of your new life’s many exploits.
God continues:
I was wondering, while you’re over there on the other side, would you do me a favor?
“Sure!” you chirp.
Would you take this artist’s canvas with you and paint a masterpiece for me? I’d really appreciate that.
I remember reading that passage years ago, but now I see it unfold for me, right before my very eyes every day I spend with Jack.  Every day on this planet is a brave new adventure for him.  He sees an equal amount of the known and unknown.  In the still of the night when he sleeps, he is anything but motionless, for billions of neurons and firing and synapses are being formed that are helping shape how he sees this world.  My greatest desire right now is that he connects Trevor and I with safety and security.  So I drag his exersaucer all over the house, knowing that someday the time will come when he wants to be anywhere that I'm not.  I enjoy him clinging to me for now.

In his 7th month, Jack discovered motion and now he can't be stopped.  He rolls and crawls and scoots his way all over the place.  How inspiring to me to see how much he wants to explore this world.  I think of all of the times I sat on the sidelines or sat out while everyone else danced.  Jack would give anything to have the freedom to move and explore that I have.  He has reminded me never to take this great gift of motion and freedom for granted.

I can safely say that month 7 was a period of immense growth for both me and Jack.  I could see the petals unfolding around him this month as the little bud became a bloom.  With each month that passes, his roots will grown stronger, his colors more vibrant and his spirit more infectious.  How did this little soul know that I was meant to be his mother?  Of the billions of genetic possibilities stored inside Trevor and me, Jack was the one.  I continue to stand in the warmth of this incredible love I feel for him and I feel so blessed that I get to experience the whole wide world again through his eyes.  It is the stuff of Louis Armstrong songs, truly.

 8 months old today!

Friday, September 2, 2011

In Praise of All Mothers, of the Stay at Home and Working Varieties

We have all heard the quote “Making the decision to have a child - It's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” 

Well I’d like to add to that discussion. 

“Making the decision (or embracing the reality of having) to work outside of the home- it’s momentous.  It is to decide to put your faith and trust in others to assist you in the caring, nurturing, and education of your child; to give them perspectives on life that you cannot; to share your joy in watching them grow; and to become members of the circle of family and friends who will help shape them into the people they were meant to be.”

People have been lamenting the state of the American family for as long as there were families in America.  In the late 80’s, Murphy Brown was at the epicenter of a hotly debated term- “family values”.  The Baby Boomer women who entered the workforce in droves came under attack for their desire to integrate career aspirations with the call to motherhood.  As a 10 year old, I remember being confused about why people were so angry at a television character.  I knew she had a baby out of wedlock, which, to my wee little Catholic brain seemed like a huge no-no; but she didn’t choose abortion, she was having her baby.  Wasn’t that what we all wanted?  More recently, Laura Schlesinger, famed (former) conservative radio host & author penned a piece of non-fiction called “In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms”.  Having listened to her talk show and read sections of her book, I can sum up her position by saying that in her world view, children are best served by having their mothers stay at home full time and that day cares are universally damaging to a child’s growth and development.  Making a blanket statement that all day cares are damaging is as preposterous as saying that all mothers have the temperament and patience to stay at home full time with their children.  This doesn’t make them bad mothers, if anything, it’s a statement about how rigorous a job it is to stay home with your children full time. 

Today, an entire generation of women who grew up with career women as mothers have become very vocal about the fact that they have made the choice to stay at home with their children.  To this, I say I respect and admire you!  I support this sacrifice; I admire your desire to be the primary caregiver, educator, and buddy for your children every day.  I applaud the mothers, like my cousin Erika, who are researching curricula and schedules to make sure her children receive as much intellectual nurturing as they will emotional nurturing. 

But there’s always a flipside, right?

For every mother who has announced her decision to stay at home with her children come the waves of supportive comments.  See if any of these sound familiar:

“Best decision you’ll ever make- there’s nothing better for your babies!”
“You will never regret being with your children, it’s the best job in the world!”

If that same mother made an announcement that she was returning to work after having a baby, how many people do you think would comment that it’s “the best thing for your children” or “you’ll never regret it”?  Instead, she’d get comments like:

“I’ll be thinking of you.”
“Keep your chin up, I’m sure your baby can’t wait to see you!”
“It’s going to be so hard, but you can do it!”

I know, because I got them.  The subtle, but damaging message in these statements is that any one of us can say with any certainty what is or is not best for our children.  We have made great strides in supporting our stay at home moms (and dads!), but let’s not make those strides at the expense of the emotional support our working mothers still need.  We read those comments and it hurts.  Our husbands read those comments and they feel badly that they cannot be the sole providers.  Every time I see a comment that says that staying home with your children is the best thing for them, the guilt that I bring with me to work every time I kiss my baby goodbye bubbles up to the surface and I start to second guess all of my choices.  And when I felt like the world was sending me sympathy cards for having to return to work after maternity leave, I started dreading going back and lost a lot of the self-affirmation I had spend 12 weeks building up in an attempt to remind myself that Jack will love me and be proud of me no matter what.  How inspiring would it be, if we all simply replied with love and encouragement?

For the stay at home mom:
“I’m so happy that you get to share so much time with your children!”
“I look forward to hearing about all of your adventures!”

For the working mom:
It’s wonderful that your children will have a positive example of how to integrate a career with motherhood!”
“Enjoy your time at work re-connecting with your co-workers and diving into new projects!”

I was raised by a stay at home mom and have wonderful memories of my childhood.  By the time my youngest sister Mary Laura was in preschool my mom had returned to the workforce.  I remember looking through her childhood photos at her graduation open house and remarking at what a happy, playful child she was.  There were photos of her at day care wearing a birthday crown while our brother Frankie playfully smiled at the camera right alongside of her.  There they were on the swings together and building forts; all the while laughing and smiling.  If you compare my childhood photos to hers you will see two happy brunette babies who loved to play and be creative- one grew up with day care and one did not and I bet you couldn’t tell which one was which.  What was the thru-line?  A loving, devoted mom who made the most of the time she had with her children and who ensured that only the most loving, creative and responsible people helped care for her children.

We knew that having a baby at this point on our lives would mean that I would continue to work full time while Trevor finishes school and enters his new career.  This is our life and these are our choices and finding self-affirmation can be hard when the guilt creeps in.  When we begin to look at our path and compare it to others - we start to resent and fail to see the great blessings of our unique and wonderful life (thanks mom).

Having talked with friends who stay at home, they deal with all kinds of stressors that don’t impact me, and vice versa.  We’d be foolish to assume that one scenario is any easier than another and for that reason, we’d be foolish to assume that children will turn out any better or worse based on who helps care for them.  A stressed out frazzled stay at home mom is as equally unavailable for her children as a stressed out frazzled working mom.  I believe it's more about the women herself and the way in which she integrates all of the many aspects of her life.  Every woman has her own story and every family has landed where they are through a series of difficult decisions. 

There is this magical moment I get to relish every day around 5:15 when I pull into the driveway.  I grab my bags and go into the house.  When Jack sees me, his eyes get big and his arms start flapping around.  He looks at me and then he looks at my husband, then back to me and then back to my husband.  It's like a little mental roll call.  A smile spreads across his tiny lips.  Everyone is together again.  And despite the long hours we just spent apart, we go on with our evening all together without skipping a beat.  We play and talk about our day, eat our dinner at the table as a family and enjoy every single second of our time together.  As I tuck him into bed at night, I pause and look around at the house we've given him, the warm clothes on his back, the cozy room that's all his own and I remember that being a mom who works outside of the home has allowed me to provide these things for him without skimping on the love and I think he's turning out simply wonderfully.

There’s too much woman-on-woman violence in the world- that is, the tendency women have to tear each other down to keep the playing field equal.  We all need to do a better job of judging less and supporting more.  In a world of social networking, each of us shares our thoughts, our victories, our failures, our fears…our lives.  When we throw those thoughts out into the universe, all any of us can hope for is a little love and affirmation in return.  I don't need any sympathy, I love my life and I love your life if it makes you happy.  And if there is anything I can say with 100% certainty- when the mama's happy, everyone is happy!