Seasons

ellie

Every night – and before every nap – we follow mostly the same routine (though we have no schedule – the words “schedule” and “eleven week old” in the same sentence are laughable to me). This routine consists of nursing, swaddling, and then performing some sort of awkward dance wherein I try to simultaneously bounce and cuddle Ellie, who is usually trying to push herself off my chest and stare wide-eyed around the room at everything she could possibly be missing before sleeping.

Sometimes, this routine involves my singing quietly to her – some made up song comprised of whatever phrases pop into my head. After she finally settles down and closes her eyes, I revel in the quiet for ten minutes until I am forced to get up and obsessively check to ensure that she is 1) still breathing and 2) still asleep.

Sometimes after the first night feeding, it takes me a while to go back to sleep, so I have a lot of time to think. Last night, for some reason, a random childhood memory popped into my head.

When I was younger, we moved around a lot. But my favorite childhood house was the “Melchor house,” so named for the street on which it was located. Down the street, there was a short bridge over a little creek.

My mom and I used to walk down to the bridge and watch the water. I would pick up a few of those “helicopter” seeds (what sort of seeds they actually are, I have no idea) and throw them over the railing into the creek. I liked to watch them twirl down to the water and then float away. Or I would throw a sweet gum ball (one of those prickly little seeds) into the water and then run to the other side of the bridge to see how long it took to make it down the creek.

It’s funny to think about how such a seemingly random memory could be so deeply embedded in my mind when I think about my own childhood. It makes me wonder if my mom felt the same way watching me grow as I now feel with Ellie – the days can be so long until they drift into months and then years…and then you wonder what happened to the time.

Really, what happened to all the years in between for me and for us? A seeming lifetime of growing up, a love, a marriage, houses, death and then birth.

It makes me wonder how Ellie will remember how own childhood one day when she is lying awake at night, after feeding and comforting her own child (should she choose to have one). What sort of memories will she reflect on, and will she feel the same sort of wistfulness for a time that cannot be replicated because we all grow up eventually?

Maybe that’s what excites me the most about having a child. Certainly not the sleepless nights or the couch bound nursing sessions or the seemingly endless hours of inexplicable crying that seem to occur and then vanish for little known reasons…

No, what excites me is the chance to make new memories with and for Ellie – to give her the same love, warmth and comfort I was lucky enough to have in my own childhood.

Many people have told me that the newborn phase, with its odd mixture of vacillating joy and frustration, is just a season.

Seasons are fleeting. But, my memories let me know that even the most mundane activity can be remembered years later, polished by the passage of the years in between.

 

My Sentiment, Exactly

wiggles

There is this uplifting scene towards the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas where the Grinch’s heart expands to three times its normal size. Having a kid is somewhat like having this happen-except throw frustration, sleep deprivation, anxiety and abject terror at the responsibility for keeping this totally helpless tiny human alive into the mix.

To be honest, ever since our daughter Ellie was born six weeks ago, I have walked around with a totally different perspective on motherhood. I have looked at other mothers-especially those with multiple children-and wondered just how the hell they do it.

I don’t mean how do they do it on a day to day basis.

Yes, the sleep deprivation outright sucks. But no matter how long and frustrating the nights get, things always seem a little brighter once the sun comes up (because, let’s be honest, the first few weeks are mostly just about survival).

And yes, the constant crying and occasional screaming (newborns are sort of like dachshunds – a body that tiny really shouldn’t be able to produce that loud a sound, it just can’t be natural!) is frustrating, but at some point it always passes.

No – caring for a baby is hard work for sure, but it’s something that slipped into our lives like it was supposed to, because loving our daughter just made it so. What I wondered about these other mothers-now that I am one-is how they walk around with this expanded heart. A heart filled with boundless love but also what must be boundless anxiety and a fierce sense of protection.

I wondered – how have these women managed to temper these feelings and carry on with their daily lives, appearing so nonchalant? I wanted to know the key – I wanted to know their secret to somehow resuming a relatively normal life and regaining some sense of who I was before the baby. I wanted to know once I found her-this old Jenni-how I could marry who I used to be with this new identity as a mother. I reasoned that surely this must be possible.

Everyone else seems to be able to do it.

A few weeks after Ellie was born, I got on my horse for the first time since last October. At the barn, I felt a curious blend of emotions – a brief taste of independence and its joy mixed with the absolute visceral need to get back to my baby. Still, I pressed on and enjoyed a brief ride because it’s a part of who I am.

I also recently began running again, slowly re-building my stamina. It’s just 30 minutes, but something about getting outside, pounding the pavement with my two (giant) feet and just sweating helped me to slowly start seeing that it just might be possible to still be me

Perhaps becoming a mother for me doesn’t mean that I need to accept a completely new identity – maybe it just means accepting that I am capable of having my heart expand as such.

Becoming a parent has been everything and nothing like what I expected. I expected the day to day to be exactly like the way it is – the constant nursing, the dirty diapers, the lack of sleep. But while I knew instinctually that I would love my child, I couldn’t have braced for the depth and degree.

I learn something new about Ellie literally every day. It’s amazing to watch her grow and experience the world – at times, I definitely feel like I’m fumbling my way through this, but a few days ago, she cracked her first really big smile at Paul, and I thought there is nothing I would rather see.

I wouldn’t describe myself as overtly sentimental on the surface – but, I will take that memory and store it inside my ever expanding heart.