Thursday, July 25, 2013

Object Permanence & All That Jazz

There is a theory in early cognitive development called object permanence. The term is used to describe an child's ability to know that objects continue to exist even though they can no longer be seen or heard or touched.  I used to think Will had a magical 6th sense that triggered him to cry as soon as I turned the coffee maker on.  In his mind, I had vanished and he would cry out to me.  So the coffee would wait until I could reassure him that I had not disappeared.  At some point in our development we realize that things that can no longer be seen or felt or heard haven't disappeared, they're still there.  She's just traveled into the kitchen for some caffeine or as is the case this week, she has gone back to work.

I've had a lot of friends ask me how to make the transition from maternity leave back to full time employment outside of the home.  For starters, I have come to believe that lack of object permanence is the greatest gift our babies can give us.  If we linger just a little longer by their side until they drift to sleep and we can quietly sneak away, it anchors us in the bittersweet reality that this soft and sleepy, peaches and cream time with them is not permanent.  It does disappear far too quickly, so breathe that new baby smell in until it fills up your heart and brain and you can take it with you back to your little desk where you will be thrust back into projects and problems that for a few weeks will feel surreal and maybe even meaningless when compared to the life changing experiences you've just gone through.  Don't ever compare them, there is no comparison, but enjoy the time you spend tackling problems, helping colleagues, expanding your mind, perfecting your craft and yes, enjoying an uninterrupted hot cup of coffee.  Your life has so many facets and if you can see life as a wonderful un-choreographed jazz number, you won't strive for balance, you'll strive for rhythm and an ability to improvise.

After some time, the new normal life begins when you embrace, or at least accept that life demands that you work outside of the home to support your family.  Or, maybe you work by choice and God love those pioneering women who helped us have these choices.  I remember nights when I'd look at the clock and see it was 9:30 and immediately collapse onto the couch.  I'd feel something funny and wonder what I was sitting on and there was my work badge still hanging from my belt loop.  Work and home all tangled up together because it is more important for me to catch up on work when my babies are asleep so I can leave earlier during the day to see them when they're awake.  No balancing act, just the busy rhythm of this jazz number called my life.

I write this now so I can take my own advice.  In many ways, returning to work was harder this time because I knew the emotions that lie ahead, but I learned to not treat my last day of leave like the end of the world, just the end of this happy, blissful season.  In some ways it was much easier, mostly because of the warm welcome I received from my loving coworkers.  I'm lucky to work in a department that gives me the ability to find my own rhythm and make work and home life happy and whole.  But it was also easier because I have Jack to look to.  He is growing up into a curious, wonderful, bright, funny little boy and he's had two parents who have worked outside of the home.  I have loved, treasured and drunk in every single second of my time at home with Will.  I was so happy to have a spring baby.  Oh the places we'd go!  And you know what?  There were many days we stayed in bed, just holding space together.  And that was always enough.

When it comes to this time with Will, I had no object permanence.  I've known from the very beginning that this time would pass all too briefly and I know I made the best of it.  The constant feedings would slow down, his arms and legs would begin to pop out of his newborn clothes and larger sizes would be brought down where they had lovingly been stored when his brother outgrew them.  My body healed and his body grew and we went through it all together.  But now, object permanence is my best friend.  I am still his mom, all the time.  He's no more than a quick drive away if he needs me (or I need him).  And if I can't always be there to touch, smell or see him, he's carried right there in my heart, along with his "brudder" Jack.

The weekend before I returned to work, a massive storm blew through our neighborhood.  Trees fell, houses were damaged, sidewalks crumbled when massive roots came out of the ground.  Things that were there for years were just gone in a gust of nature's mighty fury.  I would love to hold on to this time a little while longer.  In some ways, returning to work feels like those trees who get uprooted.  But over time, after a few weeks of rehearsal, the jazz ensemble finds its rhythm.  I wonder if my transition back to work will be reflected in the clean up of my neighborhood.  It all feels so messy and disorienting now, but little by little the clean up has begun and as the weeks go by, the neighborhood will be itself again and I will have remembered what it's like to work through lunch to pick them up a little early.

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

 Nothing gold can stay, but if you look for it, the gold seeps in through the cracks of your life in new ways.  Days spent napping together in bed are replaced by joyful reunions at the end of the day and after all, weekends were invented for naps and you still have those. Maternity leave is borrowed time, a stolen season.  I enjoyed every second of that season.  Now I'm back to my little cubicle surrounded by picture frames of my life's greatest treasures.  On my first day back, Trevor texted me a photo of Will smiling brightly after his first bottle of the day with the following message. 

"Mama! Have a good day! We are proud of you!"

 Oh my heart.  And just like that I remembered that this little family is doing so well.  This little family has managed to cling to each other despite all the business life tries to throw our way.  We have sweet moments every day.  

My little spring baby has grown so much over these past 12 weeks and for that matter, so has Jack and so have I and so has Trevor.  The sun rises and sets on these two boys and their dad and I am a better person for loving them and having them love me.  I hope that the next time someone asks me what I do I can have the presence and clarity to tell them that I'm a full time mom who gets to have this fun gig at this cool company that allows me to help support this crazy awesome family of mine.

So the next time you hear Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington or the great Billie Holiday and their music sounds messy and alive, you'll think of this little family and maybe your own too.  And maybe you'll throw out your notion of balance and just dance to the rhythm of your life.

The last day of maternity leave, July 23, 2013

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

At the Drive-In

I've written twice about "The Other Times"- times when parenting is so hard, so rough, so brutal that you forget why you signed up for this for a few hectic moments.  But if there are "other times", that means that there are just plain "times". Times when parenting is so magical, so memorable that you believe for a few brief moments that you could do this 10 more times.  July 3rd was a time.

The morning didn't just start off on the wrong foot, it started off on the wrong feet...and hands...and elbows.  Jack had no interest in getting up and after a bout of "not nice hands", Trevor was at his wits' end.  Life with a 2.5 year old is like working on a bomb squad.  This little ticking time bomb clicks and Trevor and I just look at each other trying to figure out how to defuse him.  "Cut the green wire!" I'll shout.  "No, it's the red wire!" Trevor replies.  And as we try to figure out what wire to cut, the bomb sits there ticking until its inevitable explosion or diffusion by sheer luck on our part.  The thing of it is, for me, cutting a green wire works, for Trevor, cutting the red wire works.  Jack is not a one size fits all kind of kid.  Wednesday started out a minefield kind of day.

A few days before, Trevor had the idea to try and take Jack to his first movie at the drive-in nearby.  Could it be?  Could we tempt fate and have a magical family night under the stars with this little bomb?  We seldom dare to dream of those moments these days, but deciding it was all worth the risk, we decided to go.

We both picked Jack up from preschool that afternoon and saw his little curly head from behind running laps around the playground, his little blue running shoes kicking up dust like a cartoon character.  When he saw us, he ran over to the gate shouting "Mama!  Daddy!  Brother!"  We scooped him up and hugged him and told him of the amazing night we had planned for him.  I've learned not to over-sell him on our plans.  Once upon a time I took him to Bounce Land promising him the time of his life, promising him it was the Disney World of Kalamazoo.  And what did he do?  Play with a train table and avoid the bouncy stuff completely (until Trevor dragged him up a massive slide which he actually loved.  Joke was on Trevor when Jack begged to go back up that massive slide 4 more times).

Trevor packed us up for a night at the drive-in- blankets, pillows, bug spray, lawn chairs, diaper bag etc, etc. He remembered it all.  With Aunt Bean and her friend Sierra (She-Ra per Jack) in the back, we set off toward the drive-in.  We got into town and decided to go through a drive-through for some dinner.  And we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  We waited so long that we were afraid the elderly man in line in front of us passed away in his car.  The car ahead of him moved forward and he stayed put, un-moving with the car in park.  "Oh no!  He didn't even get his last meal because this line is moving so freaking slowly!" I said, seconds before he put the car in gear and moved up.  Phew.

Burgers and chicken nuggets were passed to the way back (I have a car with a "way back" now, I'm officially a parent) and we set off toward the Capri.  As we got closer we saw hundreds of brake lights dotting the side of the road.  We followed the line of cars down a side street and around the bend and found ourselves behind the most massive line of cars I've ever seen.  Trevor looked positively crestfallen and I was now regretting not getting any food at the restaurant.  Were we going to make it?  Would we find ourselves at the front of the line only to be told it was sold out?  I looked in the back of the car and saw the pillows and blankets and bags and the hopeful little faces of our passengers.  "Trevor," I said, "I did not drive all the way to Coldwater to watch people eat Burger King!  We're going to make it!"  With each car that inched its way through the gate, the mood got lighter in the car.  When we finally got through the ticket booth, it was like entering the gates of heaven itself.  We quickly found a spot which Trevor backed into so we could use that "way back" to its full advantage.

Trevor went into full dad mode, setting up lawn chairs, creating a cozy nest of pillows and blankets and passing out snacks he had wisely purchased at a gas station.  He even got us all popcorn because seeing movies without popcorn is like eating bacon without extra helpings of bacon.  As the movie began (Despicable Me 2), Jack climbed into Sierra/She-Ra's lap and Trevor and I held our breath waiting for that bomb to go off.  And it didn't.  This little guy was enjoying himself.  He didn't try to escape or run screaming into traffic, he just sat there eating popcorn under a Spider-Man blanket.  Thank you baby Jesus.  Meanwhile I sat in the way back with Will nursing him in the little nest his dad had built for us.  Jack gazed skyward and whispered "stars" to the group and Trevor scooped him up to point out constellations.  Little Dipper, North Star, our little boy who shares his middle name with a star looked up with all of the kind of awe and wonder that you hope never goes away.

As the credits rolled on the first movie, we thought for sure Jack would turn into a pumpkin, but that guy just kept going as Monsters University began.  Eventually I put a sleeping Will on Trevor's lap and we moved a sleepy Jack into the crook of his arm while the 3 of them climbed into the way back nest.  The sight of them back there swelled my heart up to the point I thought it would burst.  Jack finally fell asleep around 1am and at the end of the movie, Trevor put both boys in their car seats and we made our way home.  "This was the greatest parenting night ever." Trevor said and I agreed.  "The good times are starting to outnumber the tough times." I said.  And as we drove down the highway under a blanket of stars we relished that fact.

Someday, I hope Jack remembers how good it feels to have his dad's strong arms carry him up to bed, gently lay him down and whisper "good night, Jack."  I'll always remind him of it when he forgets.

The Terrible Twos can beat you down and wear you out.  Cutting the green wire doesn't always work and sometimes the bomb just goes off.  I worry sometimes that I'm losing my boy in all of the noise.  He's getting so big, but still so small.  He knows so much and so little.  But with each day that passes, he learns to control his impulses a bit more, he masters the elusive vocabulary that allows him to ask for what he needs and he becomes a bit more boy and a little less baby.

Getting into that drive-in that night was a huge metaphor for life with 2 very young kids.  You want so badly to have a nice dinner together without tantrums and tears.  You want so badly to go out to a museum or aquarium without incident.  You want so badly to do these things as a family and most of the time it just never quite works out.  Well that night, it did.  We got through that incredibly long line, we got through the evening without tears or tantrums.  Everything just worked out and it was grand.

The next day was the 4th of July and again, Trevor and I had grand illusions of watching the fireworks from the pontoon boat out at his grandparent's house. We imagined the look in Jack's eyes as he watched them explode in the sky, a rainbow of light and fire and magic!  Jack watched exactly 2 fireworks before shouting "OFF BOAT!  OFF BOAT!" and rattling the door.  

"Well Trevor, apparently we're allowed one magical family night per week and we used ours at the drive-in."

There will be many more fireworks and pontoon rides and 4th of July celebrations, but there will only ever be one of those nights at the drive-in.  

And as long as I live I'll never forget it.

At the drive-in 7/3/13

Monday, July 1, 2013

Coming Home

I come from a long line of martyrs and food addicts.  If the women in my family were Biblical characters we would have had our last supper and our last dessert before turning ourselves over to the Romans.  I thought for a long time that I had avoided that trait until I realized that women in my family don't really become martyrs until they have children.  For some reason the gene must lay dormant in the uterus until through its expansion it activates this belief that everything we are up to this moment has vanished and we must give ourselves over to our children at the expense of ourselves.

But before I get to here, I have to go back to there.

I was never a chubby kid.  Looking back I looked completely average- right down to the requisite awkward years from 4th-8th grade.  In high school I was never the skinniest.  The hips that would eventually help me bear these children began to take shape, but I never felt terrible about myself.  In college I found myself in an incredibly unhealthy relationship while I struggled to come to terms with my parents' divorce.  When my parents and siblings moved me into my dorm freshman year, it was the last time I saw them all together until I graduated from college 5 years later and all of the residual pain and confusion from that time grew and grew and I allowed it to manifest itself into a body that hid who I was from the world.  Eventually I found myself in a much healthier relationship with a man who actually had a 2 bedroom apartment with 1 bedroom devoted to working out.  He had a TV mounted to the wall, a treadmill, weight bench, the whole nine.  In his own gentle way, he nudged me toward a healthier lifestyle.  

Not too long after we began dating I found a 3 pack of Billy Blanks Tae-Bo VHS tapes that I had purchased in college.  I sat there staring at the toothy grin of Mr. Banks and on a whim put in the first tape and DIED.  That bastard almost killed me!  But dammit if he wasn't incredibly inspiring and charismatic and so I kept going.  I had to drag a kitchen chair into my office where I worked out to support myself while I tried to master those leg lifts.  But eventually, I abandoned the chair, got stronger and because enough time had passed traded in those VHS tapes for DVDs.  Working out became a 5-6 times/week activity.  By the early spring of 2005 I was wearing 5 lb weights on both ankles and 3 lb weights on both wrists as I did my workout.  I lost 56 lbs.  One of my coworkers commented to me that he had run into someone we used to work with that said, "Hey, I heard Nancy got really hot."  "Correction," I said, "I was always really hot."  As funny as this may sound, as the scale went up and down, I always maintained some confidence in myself sandwiched in between self-deprecation. My own form of body dysmorphia, I stood in the mirror overweight and always saw someone thin.  

I liked who I was back then, I liked shopping for clothes in the single digits.  I never dreaded a costume fitting and welcomed photographs.  For 4 years I managed to maintain my weight despite being in a new relationship with a guy named Trevor who had a fully stocked bar in his basement.  He converted an old refrigerator into a kegorator (which we still have) and yet I still kept the weight off.

I got pregnant in the spring of 2010.  At the time I was about 20 lbs more than what I would have liked.  Marriage brings about its own form of the "Freshman 15" once the fear of not fitting into a custom designed wedding dress goes away.

The weight crept up rapidly.  At the time I loved to think that it was all happening to me.  Water retention was happening to me, joint pain was happening to me.  I had become someone helpless to everything that was happening like I was going through an out of body experience.  Breastfeeding did not prove to be the magic bullet of weight loss that celebrities with personal chefs and trainers tell you it will be and guess what?  Chasing your kids around doesn't make you lose weight.  I want to rip the "Body after Baby" sections out of every gossip magazine on this earth.  Seriously People magazine, get an editor who's a mom.

I gained 50 lbs in my pregnancy with Jack.  I lost none of it.  Why I lost none of it would, for quite some time, be blamed on hormones, being too busy to exercise, being insatiably hungry from all the breastfeeding and any other excuse du jour that I could think of.  But the truth is that after Jack was born, I didn't see myself anymore.  If I was really paying attention, I'd see a photograph of me where I thought my eyes sparkled nicely or my hair looked good, but I'd never let my gaze fall below my neck.  How sad looking back on that time.  Everything below my neck had been what both created and sustained a person for over 2 years, first through pregnancy, then through nursing.  But I wanted nothing to do with that part of me.  I resented that part of me and eventually I just stopped seeing it.

That blindness allowed me to get pregnant for a second time before being as healthy as I should have been.  Where my first pregnancy was relatively smooth and illness free, the second one was plagued with problems.  I gained 50 lbs in my first pregnancy and gained 8 in my second.  8 lbs.  This was mostly due to the fact that nausea made me lose weight early on and kept me from eating much for over half of my pregnancy.  It certainly wasn't due to the fact that I was any better about diet or exercise.

Coming home from the hospital with Will, I felt like a truck had run over me.  The out of shape body I brought with me to the hospital had valiantly delivered this baby but had nothing left for me.  And that's why women in my family are mama martyrs.  Once our babies were out of our bodies we lost all love for our stomachs, hips, legs and arms despite all that they had given us.  We stop seeing ourselves after our children are born.  I saw it happening to me and it scared the hell out of me.  After weeks of pain and the somber realization that I don't have enough energy to raise 2 boys I made some changes.

10 years after discovering those Tae-Bo tapes, exercise still hurts, but I'm doing it.  I have decided that I'd rather get a hug from my son than from a cupcake so I joined Weight Watchers.  Trevor and I started the Couch to 5K running program.  I feel my body starting to come back.  On June 14th, Trevor and I set off for Week 1, Day 1 of Couch to 5K.  90 seconds of running felt like torture and I was taken back to my old apartment 10 years ago when I had to use a kitchen chair to get through a simple leg lift.  If a senior citizen mall-walking brigade had come through my neighborhood they would have lapped me for sure, but when we got back to the driveway after that first day, I didn't care, I was so happy to have done it.  As for Billy Blanks, we'll catch up again soon.  I have missed that sweaty bastard.

Day 1 with my little running companion

He's proud of me, I just know it
Tonight I took full advantage of a breezy, cool night to complete Week 3, Day 2 of the program.  90 seconds of walking, 90 seconds of running, 3 minutes of walking, 3 minutes of running and repeat.  The great gift that running has given me is that I can't ignore my body anymore.  I feel the earth under my feet as it travels up my legs, into my stomach and out through my arms.  I saw fireflies sail over backyard fences and I breathed in the fruits of my neighbors' beautiful flower gardens.  As I walked the last leg of the program home, I saw our house with the garage lights on.  3 lights.  I imagined that each one represented the person inside of that house for whom I am embarking on this journey.  Those cheerful beacons welcomed me home.  I want to be around for a long time for them.  I want to be around for a long time for me too.  Coming home tonight felt like I was coming home to myself and it felt good.

At my 6 week post-partum checkup, my midwife lifted up my shirt and said "Oh you poor honey."  It was covered in bumps and bruises from the injections and newly formed stretch marks.  "My stomach is a roadmap of motherhood," I told her.  "All those marks tell a story."

The story of how I became a mother is well chronicled in the dozens of blog entries I've written over the years.  The story of how I won't lose me in the process has been told here.

As a footnote, the song that came on my iPod as I started out tonight is one of my most favorites- Warning by Incubus.  No coincidence there, just another wink from God.

Bat your eyes girl. 
Be otherworldly. 
Count your blessings. 
Seduce a stranger. 
What's so wrong with being happy? 
Kudos to those who see through sickness yeah 

She woke in the morning. 
She knew that her life had passed her by 
She called out a warning. 
Don't ever let life pass you by. 

I suggest we 
Learn to love ourselves, 
Before its made illegal 
When will we learn, When will we change 
Just in time to see it all come down 

Those left standing will make millions 
Writing books on the way it should have been 

She woke in the morning. 
She knew that her life had passed her by 
She called out a warning. 
Don't ever let life pass you by.