Thursday, September 23, 2010

wherein i give a lesson on breastmilk. and my kids chase the dragon.

there is one woman responsible for both my of kids' 'first meals.' and that woman is not me.

when i gave birth to the duke i was transported to the hospital and he couldn't go with me. not until the next morning. so that meant that for about 12 hours i didn't get to have my newborn baby with me. sure, he was surrounded by those who love him best in the world, but even in my half dead (literally) state i was upset about this.

what would he be thinking, not hearing my voice? not seeing my face? because he had heard my voice for so long, and saw my face when he was first born. what if he wanted to nurse? sure, he wouldn't starve, but when the midwife put him on my tummy he crawled up and latched on and started nursing. he would know something was missing.

the papa brought him to the hospital after i was first admitted that night for a short visit, but by then i had been poked, prodded, and prepped for the multiple blood transfusions to come, was battling a monster migraine, and was cracked out on morphine. plus, there was that half dead thing. so it wasn't a terribly long or coherent visit

i tried falling asleep but i couldn't. not really. so i passed the night thanking god for being alive and with the vision of the duke's two huge pink cheeks peeking out of the ugliest piece of newborn clothing i had for him and wondering why the papa would dress him in that god awful thing? (in the papa's defense, not that he needs one, i think he wasn't thinking 'what's the cutest thing i can dress my newborn baby in to take to the hospital to see his half dead mother?' i have no defense. i'm a mama. even half dead i saw it could be done a 'better' way. how any relationship ever survives is a mystery.)

and i passed that night wondering if the duke wanted to nurse and if he wondered where i was. wondering if he missed me. because i sure missed him. terribly. until that night i didn't know how much i could miss someone.

so it was early the next morning and i cannot recall if it was a phone call to the room or if a family member brought the information in but in my dozy hazy state i heard the goddess mother lean into me and say

"wendy's at the house. she's nursing the duke."

and with that i was finally able to let go and rest.

wendy. we were in texas at the clinic together. and from the moment i met her i loved her. it was hard not to. if you think of looking into a face that seems to hold the whole world, is capable of anything, and yet is right there present with you, that's wendy. she had since moved to the bay area and just so happened to have been visiting in seattle with her 8 month old son when i gave birth. she came right over and dove right in. there when i couldn't be. and she put the newborn duke to her breast and fed him. a mama doing what a mama does. opening her heart, feeding a hungry baby. so basic. and yet when i was lying in the hospital, utterly helpless in this arena, it gave me the greatest comfort and meant more than i could ever express.

the trouble with this arrangement came later. when the duke finally came to stay with me in the hospital.

now, there is a huge difference between the milk of a woman who just gave birth and that of a woman who's pretty much exclusively nursing and has been for 8 months.

let's have a little biology lesson shall we? when a woman gives birth her milk doesn't come in right away. what a baby gets in the first few days of nursing is colostrum. which isn't milk, but precedes it and is filled with antibodies and minerals and all that good stuff. there's not a lot of it compared to actual milk, but a newborn doesn't need a lot. and, the lack of real flow is helpful in teaching a newborn to regulate the milk while nursing. so he/she doesn't get too much and choke, etc.

a baby will nurse on this for a day or so and then BAM the real milk comes in. as a woman you know this happens because you wake up with the biggest rack you have ever seen and it's ON YOU. that paired with the incredible discomfort from engorgement and yep, there it is. and by incredible discomfort please know that this is an understatement.

okay, so wendy had been nursing for 8 months so the milk the duke got was not the bit of colostrum he could learn to regulate but a windfall of super rich and abundant milk. the cadillac of milk. double cheeseburger with bacon milk. wendy said he nursed right away, got way too much, threw up, and then nursed some more.

so by the time he came to stay with me in the hospital he was a nursing pro (that little crawl and latch after birth gave me a glimpse of that) and was ready to nurse. and nurse. and nurse. and not that colostrum stuff either. he was ready for the good stuff. the flowing stuff.

as you may imagine, this took a bit of time for him to adjust to. newborns can look like angry little men better than angry little men can. but, after awhile and lots of mama love we figured it out. but whoo boy when my milk came in he didn't leave my side for the next few years. literally.

he nursed ALL THE TIME. in the car with him strapped in the car seat and me leaning over. like a barnyard animal. this is not recommended, by the way. in the grocery store with him in the sling while i pushed the cart and shopped. the original hands-free device. occasionally, just for fun, he would get curious and stop nursing for a minute to peek his head out of the sling and see what was going on. just because *he* stopped didn't mean the milk did. and so i would up flashing whomever was around and spraying breast milk all over. fun.

he nursed all night long. all day long. and then all night long again. he nursed so much i ate like a pack of teenage boys and STILL lost my ass. this is just a theory, but i think he was chasing the dragon. trying to recreate that first great meal from wendy. and no matter how hard he tried...nothing. but he wasn't going to stop trying.

and he wasn't quiet about it either. he nursed with great smacks and sound effects. he wanted EVERYONE to know how much he was enjoying nursing. and when he couldn't nurse right.then.and.there. he would let you know how terrible it was. when we lived in san francisco when he was a toddler he would push against the straps and STAND UP in his baby backpack and shout I WANT NEE NEE! at the top of his lungs, punching the air with his fists. all. the. way. home.

good times.

fast forward a few years and i have a 4 year old and a 6 month old and i'm getting married. in a big wedding. because that's how we do it in my family. we like EVERYONE in the pictures so you've got to have the kids first, right?

anyway. wendy. by now she had two children and came for the wedding. which was lovely and a good time was had by all.

and, as an added bonus, because i had all the important people around, the day after the wedding i planned to feed the 6 month old wingman his first solid food. cooked mashed made with love organic sweet potato. just like his brother.

i even filmed the whole thing.

his first food. such a milestone.


a few years later wendy was visiting again and she had a story to tell me. apparently the day of the wedding when i went to have my hair done wendy and her family took wingman to do some errands with them because the papa was busy with last minute details. there was some reticence because i wouldn't know about the arrangement, wouldn't know that wingman wasn't at home, and i was/am an 'attached parent' to put it mildly. but it was decided because it was wendy this would be okay.


they are at target. and the normally quiet wingman was at the end of his rope. too much going on. too many people. who were these kids? where was his own brother? he cried and cried.

so they hightailed it out of target. and they got him strapped in his rear facing car seat in between wendy's boy and girl. and he cried and cried.

and because they wouldn't be eating until after the wedding later in the day and with a crying baby there were few options they went through a fast food drive thru. got food for the adults and the two kids. and wingman cried and cried.

but about two minutes after pulling away from the drive thru wingman stopped crying.

wendy asked after him in the back because she couldn't see him due to the rear facing seat.

"he's not crying anymore!"

she hears from the backseat.

"he really likes the french fries!"

she hears from the backseat.

and sure enough, there's the 6 month old exclusively breastfed waiting on his first solid food tomorrow wingman in the back, in between her two kids, with two fists full of fries, chomping them down and as happy as can be.

and not crying.

and wendy in the front going oh. SHIT.

and wendy and the papa making a secret pact vowing to NEVER EVER speak of this to me. ever.

to their credit, i had NO idea.

until wendy told me years later. and by then i had relaxed a bit into my parenting, and to my credit, i laughed.

no wonder wingman seemed so underwhelmed by those stupid sweet potatoes.

and wingman? well, let's just say out of the four of us his palate has always been a bit less 'refined.' and further, he's always seemed less than impressed by the things he does eat. like he's looking for something...more.

i'll bet. shit, how do you top fistfuls of hot salty fries as your very first food? i almost feel sorry for the lad.

and so it goes. the baby books never tell you about the little things that crop up. the what ifs and the oh shits. and that it can all go sideways in an instant. and sometimes, it does. and then what do you do?


and what do you do? you jump in. or you let go. or you make the best of it. you try. you fail. you learn to laugh.

and you don't place too much emphasis on the stupid sweet potatoes.

and if i've learned anything about parenting it's that surrounding yourself with the very best people makes ALL of those things much easier and makes ALL the difference in the world.

i wish for you a wendy in your own life.

we should all be so lucky.

and, some of us are.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

your moment(s) of zen.

so i was sitting in the car in front of the grocery store while everyone else was inside.

this is a store we don't often go to, mainly because it's a bit out of the way. but we do enjoy shopping there as it's locally owned and operated and they have an excellent meat department for the size. it's been a long time since it was new and there is no pretension about it whatsoever. the kind of store you can pull right up and park in front of. it feels straight out of my childhood to shop there. in fact there was a grocery store near my house called 'new deal' and that's what this store reminds me of. the kind of place with some produce and maybe a shopping cart full of discounted items offered out in front.

all right so i have the radio on and all of a sudden that oasis song comes on. you know the one, 'wonderwall.' you either love it or hate but you know it. and i RARELY hear it, but when i do it always reminds me of one of the most up in the air what the fuck moments in my life. and by moments i mean months and months of moments. and now the only time i hear it something unusual happens. like the sun breaks through the rain, or there's a call from someone from out of the blue. something out of the ordinary.

so i was thinking about this hearing the opening chords and right then three teens, a girl and two boys, walk up to the front of the store. the boys kinda slump against the wall to the sidewalk near the shopping cart of discounted items. the girl catches my eye a minute, gives me that disinterested look girls her age give 'ancient' girls mine, sets down her backpack between them, and leans against it. one boy takes a cigarette out and lights it. he leans across the girl and hands it to the other boy. all the while the girl is staring at the first boy. he turns to her and says something. she blushes and shoves him a little. she LIKES him.

the second boy hands the first boy the cigarette back. he takes a drag. then he nudges the girl and motions to the cart and leans in and says something to her. she looks up at the cart and shakes her head. he says something back. she looks nervous and shakes her head again. he gives her a nudge and a smile. then puts his head on her shoulder. this all takes about a minute.

then i see her get up, back pack slung on her shoulder, and go over to the cart. she kinda looks around and then quickly reaches in and takes something from the cart and puts it in her back pack. i can't see what it is from where i'm sitting.

what *she* doesn't see is that the two boys have gotten up and gone around the corner of the building, and that there has been a store clerk watching her the whole time.

the clerk comes out and confronts her, all the while she knows she's busted and she looks as white as a sheet. then the clerk kinda takes her arm, loosely, and leads her inside. she's got her head down.

all of this in less than 5 minutes.

and the song ends.

and i'm thinking about the girl.

and i'm thinking about how she thought the boy liked her. and, maybe he does. but who knows? who knows anything so young? you just keep going along and hope for the best. the faith of teenagers. it comes so easy yet doesn't make the hard any easier. you do things you think you would ever do. and you just do them. and you wonder what in the fuck you were thinking. and you might even do them again. because he likes you. or, usually, because you like him. and because teenagers sometimes have momentary lapses of reason. and sometimes, more often than not, they last longer than a moment.

and i want to take that girl aside and save her. give her some bit of wisdom that catches fire and stirs her senses. that sticks with her. that keeps her safe and aware. that keeps her away from the boys with the cigarettes and the bad ideas. but i know i can't. and i know it doesn't work like that. you have to go through it. she has to go through it.

and it's so hard. to go through it. it's so hard to say what you feel. there's so much it's about to burst out but you don't even know where to begin. or if you can. you're too busy being nervous or unsure or in love or too cool or not cool enough. that's a lot to bust through. too much to work with.

and i think about how teenage girls grow into adult girls and how it doesn't get much easier. how those momentary lapses of reason are still around. how you STILL have to go through it. how you never quite know where you stand. because you think you do, but it's only the gift of hindsight that tells you that you didn't know a goddamned thing. you know everything and yet, you don't even know where to begin.

how there are many things you just don't know how to say. for starters. just for starters.

well, until you are 'ancient' like me. because now? now i can say what i mean. and i mean what i say. it's not just a big puzzle i'm dragging everyone in to work out with me anymore. i don't have any problem telling people how i feel and what i need and what i want. i will never again be the girl with the backpack for the rest of my life. and for that i am so relieved.

i don't know how any of us make it out alive, and yet.

it's amazing really.

and then, just when you might have figured it out, the wheel takes a big deep breath and starts to spin again.

this morning the duke (13) turned to me and out of the blue he asked

"mama, how old do i have to be to be allowed to go out on a date?"

and i think about the boy with the cigarette and the girl with the backpack and this girl crying her eyes out in that room somewhere in san francisco during one of those moments and the chubby 10 1/2 pound blue eyed baby the duke used to be. my baby. not my baby anymore. me. no longer that girl.

"i don't know, honey. let's just take it as it comes, okay?"

and in that spirit i bring you this installment of your moment(s) of zen.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

it's all about the dress. (and spanx.)

okay, so we all know i often have some difficulty in the dressing myself department. or at least i've crowed about it enough. and judging from the whole little black maternity dress debacle from two years ago, my judgment in general when it comes to clothing isn't always the best. i believe it might be referred to as 'suspect.'

so a little more than a year ago i had an important event and needed a dress. not just any dress. i needed a dress that said 'stay at home moms are the HOTTEST kind of moms!' and 'i don't look like i weigh as much as i do!' and 'no OF COURSE i'm NOT wearing spanx under this dress!'

i realize this is a lot to ask of a garment, but i believed i could find it. and, i believe i did. in a size smaller than i normally wore, too! nice!!

so i wore the dress and i felt like it did its job and life was good.

okay, cut to about 9 months later and it was awards season. and there was a certain movie out with a certain actress. in addition to being talented and young and pretty this actress was also plus sized. really plus sized. and there was all this press about her weight and whatnot along with her talent. okay, so i was trolling through a bunch of oscar party photos like i like to do and there she was. looking cute. in a cute dress. and i panned down and realized, OMG (yes i say OMG in my head) THAT'S MY DRESS.

okay not the 'same' 'exact' dress as this was longer and in a darker color, but make no was MY DRESS. the 'stay at home moms are the HOTTEST kind of moms and i don't look like i weigh as much as i do and OF COURSE i'm NOT wearing spanx under this dress' dress...and as i panned even farther down and read the comments they were mostly positive and in the following vein;

and i quote

'it's nice to see a larger girl dressing APPROPRIATELY FOR HER BODY SIZE...'

end quote.


so of course i got on the phone to sisters and friends and they assured me my dress was cute and i was cute blah blah blah. i like to do that, you know...get that positive verbal feedback after a totally manufactured and self induced and made up in my head set back. it works.

okay, so this summer i was paging through a friend of a friend's wedding photos on a certain social networking site like i like to do. i didn't know but one of the people who had been tagged in the photos of this wedding, but the whole wedding was up for everyone to see. so i looked. because wasting time looking at the photo albums of people i don't know is a fine way to spend an evening in my book.

so, i get to the family pictures of these people i don't know. all in their wedding finery. oh say can you see where this is going...guess what the MOTHER OF THE BRIDE WAS WEARING??? oh, just take a guess. i'll give you a minute.

aaannnnnddddd there it was, on a woman (albeit a very pretty and in shape woman) of a 'certain age' wearing MY DRESS. the straps were a bit different and she opted in some photos to sport the smart little matching jacket...but otherwise she was wearing MY DRESS. exactly MY DRESS. my 'mother of the bride' dress.


i couldn't ignore it now. it was like that movie where all those girls have one pair of pants. and they can ALL fit into that pair of pants. magically. no shit. it had to be magic because there's no way that stick of a girl from the 'gilmore girls' and the curvy america ferrera could fit perfectly into the same pair of jeans.

only all those girls were young and cute and sharing those jeans while they traveled and had adventures and romances. my situation wasn't quite like in the movies.

so i sulked a few days and made my usual round of phone calls.

then i started really thinking about it and realized that this was some kind of metaphor, this dress...jeeze, everything's a metaphor lately, but stay with me. because it bugged me enough to really look at it. what was going on here? was this vanity? yeah, of course, but not all of it. and i thought about that young actress, and that mother of the bride. and me.

okay, so here's this girl and she's in the race for the oscar and it's been this huge whirlwind that her life has become in just the past year. so much has changed for her. and she's standing in front of the mirror and suddenly she's no longer the famous actress in the race for the oscar. she's suddenly just like every other woman and girl in the world...she's just a girl in front of a mirror. and she wants to find the dress that makes her beautiful. the one that fits the best and gives her that extra little boost. it's not about the body anymore, or the fame, or everything that isn't the same. it's about the dress. find the perfect dress and it's like magic.

and then you have this 'woman of a certain age,' the mother of the bride. and her daughter is getting married. and everyone is coming. maybe relatives she doesn't care for, maybe an ex-husband or two, frenemies she hasn't been able to stand since high school, who knows...but one thing SHE knows is that she wants to look GOOD. maybe it's that despite her love for her daughter she DOES NOT want to look like the mother of a much younger bride. and like every other woman or girl who stands in front of a mirror she wants to find the dress that makes her beautiful. she doesn't feel as old as she is, she still feels 17 maybe. suddenly she's just a girl in front of a mirror. and it's all about the dress. find the perfect dress and it's like magic.

and, you already know my story. just a girl, in front of the mirror. find the perfect dress and it's like magic.

so i was thinking about these three dresses and the women wearing them and i swear i saw like this maiden mother crone thing going on. okay, don't tell the mother of the bride she drew crone because i'm pretty sure she wouldn't appreciate the analogy. BUT it's true. it was right there.

it doesn't matter how young or old or in between you are. it doesn't matter how much you weigh or don't. it doesn't matter what you have deep down inside or what's sitting on the surface. because when you are a girl in front of the mirror you just want to be beautiful. and it's all about the dress. find the perfect dress and it's like magic.

yeah, sure, it IS all about what you have inside. yes. that is what it's about. ultimately. but when you're walking into a room filled with people you don't know OR do know all.too.well. OR haven't seen in 20 years it's all about the dress. the rest comes later.

so i felt a little better about my 'perfect for the extra plus sized mother of the bride that we all know is really a bigger size than it says in the tag' dress.

better still that i got that fucker for half price.

because in addition to being fashion challenged i am what one might like to call 'frugal.'

and hell, as if that wasn't FABULOUS enough, now i have something to wear when the boybarians get married. one less stress during what i am betting will be a pretty stressful time.

and, judging from the evidence, it's gonna be perfect on me.

(though i do wonder if i should spring for the matching jacket?)


Friday, September 03, 2010

the shed is a metaphor.

i once read about this russian fable about women who lose their children. when this happens the other women build a shed at the edge of the village, and the woman who buried her child goes to stay there for 6 weeks. the other women bring her anything she needs and leave it with a knock at the door and no interaction with the woman inside.

at the end of the 6 weeks the shed is set on fire.

and it is up to the woman inside whether she will come out or stay inside.

i've been thinking about this fable a lot lately. thankfully not because i've ever lost a child, but because life has a funny way of being sucky sometimes. this is an interesting time in this country, in my little piece of the country, in the country my friends and family inhabit. and by interesting i mean it's kinda scary and bleak for some. for a lot. i can choose to see the positive, but it doesn't mean the negative isn't there. it still exists.

sometimes when life isn't the way you imagined it to be, or want it to be, when it's hard and painful and frustrating it's so easy to imagine the shed burning. it's so definite. you need only to make the decision to stay in or get out. how easy is that?

but what about the times when *nothing* is happening? when the decisions seem endless and the outcomes all seemingly fruitless. time just drags and things seem stagnant. and you feel like you want to just set the shed on fire yourself? before the end of the 6 weeks? just to force the decision. the outcome.

this is all metaphorical, of course, but you can see it happening. you can see it happening in a bad argument with another person. there is that moment when you are so angry and frustrated and you aren't getting anywhere and you just want to see that fucker burn. the shed, not the person. or maybe the person but that's weird and you should see someone about that.

but, i digress.

or when you're just sitting in that godforsaken shed waiting for the end of the 6 weeks and the 6 weeks DO NOT END. they just go on and on and on and you think well if i just set it on fire that brings the 6 weeks to an end. right? it would so so easy to decide then what to do. case closed. problem solved.

and you can do that. you can force the outcome with anger and frustration and impatience. it happens. and sometimes it feels good to set that flame. sort of a scorched earth approach to problem solving.

but there's something to be said for waiting for the flame to be set. for waiting out the 6 weeks just see what it brings. there's a reason they leave the woman alone in the shed. there's a reason there's a set amount of time. there's a reason they don't give the woman the matches.

sometimes it's good to just sit. to be. to be patient. to let the path clear and to let the world come to you. sure, it's not as much fun. it's not the american 'can-do' way. but it has its merits. and it works. eventually. but how many of us give our issues that kind of time? give ourselves that kind of space.

pain and loss and frustration feel desolate and powerless and crushing. and there is nothing in this world that truly can take away the impact. not right at the time anyway. nothing. and then desperation sets in. and desperation is just like that scene in the movie when everything starts to go wrong and it only gets worse from there.

so i say there *are* two things that 'help.' but you can't 'do' them. you can't force them or make them different than they are. and i've said this before to a few of you and i will say it again because i have never spoken truer words.

time and distance.

simple as that.

there are times i think it would be so easy to just not come out of the shed. or easy to speed up the process. get the crap moving and over with. no time. no distance needed. done.

but then i think about it and i realize that i don't want to go down in flames. that i want to be part of the group that builds another shed. because there is always another shed to be built. the next shed in a string of sheds that need to be built. because that's just the way life is. you're moving along and then bam, it's time for another shed. and sometimes you're building the shed and sometimes you're the woman inside. and yes, sometimes you're setting the fire.

and the women in the village don't 'do' anything for the woman. there isn't some set thing that is executed to help the woman 'get over it.' what the women in the village do is offer time and distance. and it's up to the woman inside to accept or be able to accept the space. and who knows what goes on in that shed in those 6 weeks. but the space is there. and the woman emerges or she doesn't. she chooses to battle the flame rather than succumb to it. or she doesn't. but the shed has been offered. is there.

i don't judge either way. stay in the shed and let it burn, or come out and help build another one.

the trick is to know when you've been offered the shed in the first place. to know you are square in there and now is the time. the trick is to know when it's time to be patient and let the world come to you. to resist the match and let it just be.